Today I had to prove that I knew about Drake and, in fact, I was ridiculously pleased to announce that I owned his first two albums. Last week I proudly shared that 2 Chainz would be performing back in my home country. The looks of awe on my student’s face was priceless. Score, big time. Major cool points. I’ve rarely been more grateful for friends who are DJs.
This is how I maintain my cool with my FLOC student, an eager and very laid back young black man. As we weave through our Saturday afternoon reading lessons it helps to keep the conversation going by being able to drop a reference or two about the things that matter in his non-FLOC world. Sometimes I use those references to teach a concept but more often than not, we have little conversations to connect as we work on tapping and learn the difference between digraphs and welded sounds. It’s important to be able to relate. It’s important to connect.
I am thrilled when a student passes a test or sounds out and successfully pronounces a tricky new word while reading. But I feel a special thrill when my student and I are able to have a little chit chat about pop culture or their interests. That kind of exchange is not only beneficial on the first day as we get to know our students, but it is useful throughout the yearlong program. As tutors I think it’s important to be active about connecting – engaging – with our students.
As I mentioned before, being able to discuss popular Rap and Hip-Hop artists helps to smooth over conversation gaps…but there’s more involved. Active engagement is the foundation for building trust, and trust is an important ingredient for successful tutoring sessions. Let’s face it, attending tutoring after school or on a weekend is big time commitment for our students. The least we could do is show an interest in them as much as we are interested in ensuring that they get the help they need to excel at reading and math. Let your students know that they can trust you to help them with the reading or math hurdles they’re facing. Connect.
Don’t worry if music (or sports or video games ) isn’t your thing. I’ve paid attention enough to have a passing conversation on everything from the Redskins to the Vampire Diaries to Taylor Swift (yes, even Taylor). Plus, you may be surprised at the common ground you find by talking to your student about random things.
There are also tools built into the FLOC program to help build a rapport with your student. I’ve learned that many cool points are earned by allowing frequent games of trashketball. When I began at FLOC I struggled with what trashketball is and how on earth to integrate it into lessons. But over time I’ve realized that it’s a valuable teaching tool. It’s as simple as a small basket and tight wad of paper being tossed every time your student gets something correct as you review phonics during the Wilson quick drill or words for Wordly Wise. Usually games don’t go beyond 10 minutes but I’ve found them a remarkable low-stress way to check a student’s knowledge. Students (boys in particular) love to take those shots.
Tutoring at FLOC is as much about helping students as it is about enjoying the tremendous opportunity of volunteering. We’re at FLOC to teach, but we’re there to learn as well. Seize the opportunity…and look cool while doing it.
(Renée-Lauren Ellis is a tutor in the Saturday Afternoon Reading program).