Saturday, February 28, 2015

Saturday Tutoring #2

February 28th, 2015

Today, I had the opportunity to work with first graders again. One was a boy named Salil who seemed pretty mischievous, almost like he had something up his sleeve (which he literally did, at one point). Kai, on the other hand, was a very sweet girl who wanted to stay on task and get her work done. 

In school, both Salil and Kai were working on addition and subtraction facts. I decided to grab a set of flashcards that covered both addition and subtraction. 

“I’m not going to do math in my head,” Salil told me as I pulled the flashcards out of their box. “Doing math in your head isn’t cool. I just don’t feel like doing it.”

I sighed, already sensing that Salil would not be the most cooperative student that I’ve ever tutored. Because of this, Kai and I worked on addition and subtraction, while Salil remained generally unwilling to participate. 

“Come on, Salil! Why won’t you join us?” I said. “Doing math in your head is really cool. And don’t you want to see if you can do math faster than Kai can?” 

“Oh, I definitely know how I can do math faster than Kai can,” Salil said with a smirk. He left the table and came back with a calculator, still smiling triumphantly. He tried to hide the calculator from me in his shirt and then by keeping it under the table, but I quickly caught on. Meanwhile, Kai had already made a lot of progress as far as answering her addition and subtraction problems with speed. 

“Alright, well let’s see who’s faster: Kai using her brain or you using your calculator,” I replied. 

I then began giving both kids the same math problem, seeing who could answer it first. Almost every time, Kai was able to get the right answer before Salil, who was somewhat slow at using the calculator. 

“Awww man…” he said after “losing” to Kai. “I should be faster with this calculator, not slower.” 

“Well why don’t you just try doing the math without the calculator and see how fast you are,” I suggested.

Even though he was somewhat reluctant, Salil still took my advice and set the calculator aside. Salil and Kai became very competitive with each other, always trying to outdo one another as far as speed and accuracy. After seeing math more as a game than as an academic subject, Salil had a lot more motivation and was much more excited about learning.

After doing lots of math and going through the pack of flashcards multiple times, Salil and Kai picked out an educational game called BrainQuest. We played this for a while, with me asking them questions. Salil thought he was very cool whenever he answered a question correctly, and this actually encouraged him to continue participating. Kai, on the other hand, seemed more interested in learning for the sake of learning. Maybe Salil actually liked to learn but his school environment made it seem uncool, so he pretended to be disinterested. Either way, both Salil and Kai were very smart.

Soon enough, it was 11:00am, meaning that half of the tutoring session was already over. Kai and Salil were both very excited for juice and doughnut time, but not as much for the writing prompt. The prompt of the week was on reading, with a range of suggested subtopics such as favorite books, reading habits, reading being done at school, and goals for reading. 

Kai was very cooperative and wrote about four sentences, which was the goal I set for her. Even though I had to help her fix some spelling, grammar, and punctuation mistakes, she wrote complete sentences that were related to the topic.

Salil was not too excited about the writing, so I tried to have a conversation with him about the topic first.

“Do you like to read?” I asked.

“No. I don’t read,” he replied, as if not reading was something to be proud of. 

Well, great. How was I supposed to get Salil to write about a topic that he hated? 

“Look at how much Kai has written. Why don’t you try and just write a little bit about reading, even just three sentences. You can even write about why you don’t like to read, or why reading is challenging for you. If you write three sentences, then we can play a game when you're done.”

Salil reluctantly picked up his pencil and began writing. As he worked on the prompt, Kai picked out the subtraction bingo game, which I played with her. As soon as Salil finished his writing, he joined in on the game, too. For the most part, everyone was really excited about playing bingo, and luckily, it also had an educational component to it. 

As the session ended, I was impressed with both Kai and Salil for different reasons. For Kai, I was happy that she stayed on task and seemed very eager to learn. While Salil had a rough start, he eventually became more cooperative and did end up getting a substantial amount of work done and following my directions.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Saturday Tutoring #1

February 21st, 2015

Today, I tutored a little boy in first grade named Nicholas. Out of all of the kids I’ve tutored, he was one of the most shy and quiet. Boys in particular tend to be a bit more challenging to tutor, but Nicholas was very well-behaved and stayed on task.

Nicholas brought some math worksheets with him that covered basic addition and subtraction. He was fairly slow at math and also lacked confidence in himself. 

Since Nicholas struggled with this basic math, I encouraged him to “draw out” the problems. For example, if the problem was 8 - 2, I would have him draw eight circles and then cross out two to see that six were left. This enabled Nicholas to get the right answers instead of just guessing and giving up right away. Eventually, he became a lot quicker with his addition and subtraction and didn’t always need to draw pictures to get the correct answer. 

Because Nicholas had difficulty adding and subtracting, it took a while for him to complete the worksheets. However, during this time, he remained focused. I could tell that he truly wanted to work hard and get better at math.

After completing the worksheets, Nicholas and I read a Dr. Seuss book, with each of us taking turns reading a page. Nicholas told me that his favorite books were Dr. Seuss books and he definitely perked up while reading. 

Since Nicholas struggled the most with math, I decided to try and find a way to make it more exciting for him. I picked out a bingo game called “subtraction bingo.” In this game, you read a bingo card with a subtraction fact on it and see if you have a spot on your board with the correct answer. This game allowed Nicholas have fun but also helped him work on his math skills at the same time.

Another way I worked to improve Nicholas' math was through money. We first reviewed the value of each coin and how to count money. Then, I found a box that had various shapes in it: circles, triangles, rectangles, squares, and hexagons. On a piece of paper, I wrote down the “cost” of each shape, as if they were goods being sold at the store. At first, he was the customer and I was the cashier, so he would “purchase” a shape and have to give me enough money for it. Through this, he was able to practice counting money.

Then, Nicholas and I reversed roles so that he was the cashier and I was the customer. I would give him a certain amount of money for a product and he would have to give me back the correct amount of change. This proved to be a lot more challenging for Nicholas, and understandably so. I walked him through the process of giving change several times, and he eventually started to get the hang of it. For simpler problems of this kind, he easy got the correct answer. For example, I would pay him 25 cents for a square that cost 20 cents, and he would be able to give me 5 cents back in change.

After we finished playing with money, it was juice and donut time, as well as time to complete the writing prompt, which was about good manners. Since Nicholas was just in first grade and also fairly behind in writing, he wasn’t able to write a lot for the prompt. For younger students especially, I have discovered that the best way to go about the writing prompts was first through having a conversation. I asked Nicholas to tell me about situations in which he had good manners. He came up with a few ideas, such as holding the door for people and being nice to his parents and other family members. After talking, Nicholas wrote a few complete sentences. This took a while, since I had to help him with spelling, grammar, and punctuation. I also motivated him by saying that he could choose a game or fun activity to do for the remainder of the session upon finishing the prompt. 

Toward the end of the tutoring session, most of the kids were playing with games, and Nicholas wanted to pick out a puzzle. Since he accomplished a lot academically today, I walked over to the table with him and found a geography puzzle that seemed to catch his eye.

The puzzle was of the United States. Nicholas really didn’t know much about geography and struggled to put the pieces in the correct places. One thing I was able to teach him through the puzzle was directions: north, south, east, and west. The puzzle had a compass on it, so I was able to give Nicholas hints about where certain states were geographically. For example, I would tell him that Maine was in northeast corner of the United States and he would put the piece in the correct spot. Nicholas became really familiar with directions and really enjoyed doing the puzzle. A fellow first- grader who was also sitting at our table even joined in on the fun and helped us complete the puzzle.

During this session, Nicholas gained a lot of confidence in his reading, writing, and math abilities and managed to have some fun while learning at the same time.

Saturday, February 14, 2015


Hi! My name is Kate and I am a senior at Hathaway Brown School in Shaker Heights, Ohio. Since my freshman year, I have been working towards my designation as a service learning fellow. I also was a service learning officer for two years, helping to promote volunteering and community service at Hathaway Brown. Through the service learning program at my school, I have volunteered at various organizations throughout Northeast Ohio, such as the Cleveland Foodbank, Transitional Housing, Canine Lifeline, 2100 Lakeside, and MedWish.

While I enjoyed the volunteer work I completed at these organizations, my true passion has always been tutoring and education, even at a young age. For example, at my elementary school in New York, I tutored a girl in my grade with Down Syndrome and learned a lot from that experience.

Since 9th grade, I have volunteered at the Saturday Tutoring Program, which is an organization located in University Circle at the Church of the Covenant. The Saturday Tutoring Program is my formal service placement through HB. This program was founded in 1990 and provides students with free tutoring in a variety of subjects, such as math, reading, writing, science, and social studies. Tutoring sessions occur most Saturdays throughout the school year from 10:00am-12:00pm. The vast majority of students come from schools in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, though I have seen a few students from Cleveland Heights and Shaker Heights as well.

I typically tutor kids in grades 1-6, both boys and girls. Sometimes I only tutor one student; other times, I've had to tutor up to three students at once. I'd estimate that 98-99% of students in the Saturday Tutoring Program are African American, and most come from underserved schools.

The next five blog posts will chronicle five sessions of Saturday Tutoring during my senior year. They will demonstrate the diverse range of experiences that I have encountered throughout my time at Saturday Tutoring and hopefully give my readers a better understanding of the Saturday Tutoring Program. My final post will talk about education in Cleveland and summarize my time as a tutor.

I hope that my blog posts will inspire others to give back through volunteerism. Even just dedicating two hours a week to service can make a huge difference in someone else's life (and even in your life, too).