Today was an exceptionally challenging day at Saturday Tutoring. For the first time ever, I had to tutor three kids at once. Since Case Western is on spring break, the number of tutors was significantly lower than usual. At first, however, I only had two first-graders.
One was Salil, the boy I tutored last week as well. He had his familiar sly smile, but this time, I was much more prepared to work with him and keep him on task.
The other was a little girl named Justice. She seemed fairly shy and quiet at first, but she was never afraid to challenge the boys in the group.
Salil brought a few math worksheets with him, and I instructed him to work on them for a bit while I helped Justice, who didn’t have much material to work on independently. While she didn’t have many worksheets, Justice did have a book in her backpack that really fascinated her. It was a book on all of the presidents, but it seemed like it was meant more for a sixth or seventh grade audience than for a first grader. Despite this, the presidents book looked as if it was Justice’s prized possession.
“I can name all of the presidents!” Justice proudly declared.
“Wow, that’s incredible! Wanna show me?” I responded.
I’ll admit that I didn’t really believe her, since she was in first grade. Most first graders I had worked with in the Saturday Tutoring Program struggled to read words like “boy,” let alone names such as “Franklin Delano Roosevelt.” However, I always try to keep an open mind since there are always situations where kids surprise me with how much they do know.
This turned out to be one of the situations where I was very surprised, and for the better. With virtually no mistakes, Justice pronounced the names of all of the presidents correctly. She even knew the order of the presidents. For example, while we were still reading the page on Abraham Lincoln, she told me that she knew Johnson came next. I’m pretty sure that some of Justice’s knowledge regarding the presidents surpassed mine, and I even took AP US History last year! This just goes to show how much something as simple as a book can impact a child’s life and inspire in them a genuine love of learning.
Salil, on the other hand, was struggling to stay focused on his math worksheet. At this point, I let Justice read her book for a little while so I could help Salil finish up the double-sided page of homework. While he was somewhat reluctant, Salil cooperated with me better than last time and understood the importance of completing his homework. I also told him that he could play a little with the calculator after doing his worksheet.
Just like last week, Salil remained just as fascinated with the calculator. Sometimes, he would get a bit out of control and start slamming all of the keys down or banging on it. I explained seriously to him that you could not bang on a calculator because it would break, so he settled down a bit. However, Salil was always on a mission to create the biggest number.
Since Salil’s short game time turned out to be playing with the calculator, I decided to make it into a group lesson of sorts for everyone. I gave each kid an arithmetic calculator and showed them how to add, subtract, multiply, and divide. By using calculators, I helped them learn things, such as the fact that multiplying makes numbers bigger and dividing makes numbers smaller.
After a few minutes of incorporating the calculator into my lesson, J’Shawn and Salil both tried to get the biggest number on their calculator by multiplying large numbers together. Each time they believed they got a bigger number, they would show me the screen of their calculator, incredibly excited.
However, the minutes with the calculator were short-lived. I decided to take away the calculators and instead make the three kids work on their addition and subtraction facts. Salil was manipulative, though, and acted like he was going to go to the bathroom but instead grabbed another calculator. Soon, J’Shawn picked up on this and followed Salil’s lead to get more calculators. Eventually, I was able to make the boys hand me over their calculators. For the rest of the tutoring session, they did math in their head rather than using a calculator.
For a while, I held up flashcards and called out addition and subtraction facts to be answered by the kids. I decided to make it sort of into a game to see who could answer each problem first. I got really enthusiastic about the game, and even Salil found himself enjoying it with a wide grin on his face. In fact, he answered his addition and subtraction facts without needing to use a calculator at all.
About halfway through the tutoring session, the kids wanted to take a break and play with blocks. Since they did cooperate with the math facts, I thought that they deserved a little break. Soon, however, things got out of control, mainly with the boys, since they were building large structures with the blocks and then proceeding to knock them down, which was distracting other people who were working. As I was putting the blocks away, Ms. Wilson luckily intervened and used her authority to get the boys to behave.
After the fiasco with the blocks, I decided to read a book with the kids in order to keep them all on task. Ms. Wilson picked out the book, which was titled Henry’s Freedom Box. This story chronicled the journey of a slave named Henry who managed to escape to the North by hiding in a shipping box. The four of us took turns, each reading a page. Salil in particular protested when he reached a page with lots of words on it, but he knew that I would not let him back out of reading. Henry’s Freedom Box kept everyone’s attention very well, and we even had a small discussion about the historical context of the story.
Even though tutoring three kids at once was a challenging experience, it opened my eyes to how hard it must be for teachers to deal with a classroom of twenty, thirty, or more students.