Category Archives: Tutor Perspectives

Making Math Fun (a tutor’s perspective!)

I first moved to Washington D.C. to attend college at American University in the
summer of 2014. Coming into this great, big city, I was slightly overwhelmed as to what college life was going to be like in such a famous city. I wanted to get involved in something because I wanted to make the most out of my college christineandjocelynexperience. During the first month of college I attended my school’s involvement fair. As I walked around, I saw a table that said “FLOC.” I was intrigued to figure out what those letters stood for so I walked up to the table and introduced myself. As we were talking, I found out that FLOC stood for “For Love of Children.” I asked some questions, got some pamphlets, and then proceeded back to my dorm room. Over the next couple of days, I looked through the massive amount of emails and papers I received from signing up for every little club and organization possible. The one organization that kept resurfacing was FLOC.

I am an intended elementary education major with a mathematics minor, so I thought that this was the right thing for me. I decided that this was a perfect way to get some experience with something that I will be doing for the rest of my life. This opportunity was perfect for me because I was able to combine something I love while having the chance to help out someone. I decided to sign up for one of the training sessions and it has been the best decision I have made here in D.C.

I came to the conclusion that tutoring in math would be the best option for me due to the minor I had chosen. From the first day I met my student, Jocelyn, I instantly felt that we were a perfect match. We seemed to mesh really well together and I knew that the rest of the year would be something incredible. I loved FLOC’s mission to make math fun for the students. I look forward to coming to FLOC every Saturday morning and working with Jocelyn. I enjoy playing store with Jocelyn and helping her add up all of the Frozen themed items she has bought.

Each and every Saturday, I look forward to working with Jocelyn and seeing her grow as an individual. Every week I learn more and more about her, like how her favorite color is purple and she loves seeing the pandas at the National Zoo. I especially love seeing Jocelyn pass unit tests and watch her expression after realizing she solved a math problem correctly, all by herself. FLOC has given me such an amazing opportunity that I couldn’t receive anywhere else and it has been the best decision ever!

(Christine Mazzocchi is a first-year tutor in the Saturday Morning Math program at FLOC and a student at American University.)

Malik and Me: Adventures in Reading and Writing with FLOC

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When I moved to Washington, DC in June 2012, I wanted to volunteer with an organization in the area where I could work one-on-one with someone to have a sense of consistency and to have a more tangible grasp on how my time was making a difference.  When I found FLOC, through the recommendation of a friend-of-a-friend, it was icing on the cake that I found an organization where I would not only serve my community, but also strengthen my skills in curriculum development and lesson planning.

The first day I met Malik, I knew FLOC had made a great match.  We completed the getting-to-know-you worksheets in his guidebook and learned about the countries and places we wanted to visit and our favorite subjects in school.  I learned that Malik had visited my hometown, Virginia Beach, and that he likes to go fishing with his grandfather.  I shared some stories from my time in Mali, where I served for close to four years as a Peace Corps Volunteer, and Malik told me about the West African drumming he does in school.  Who knew that I would find so much in common with a 6th grade boy?

Four months later, I still look forward to every Tuesday evening when Malik and I meet at FLOC headquarters for two hours in Adams Morgan.  We use a curriculum guide to get his reading and writing up to his grade level and a vocabulary workbook to improve Malik’s store of words.  We’ll read aloud, or silently, from one of his favorite books, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and we usually wrap up our sessions with a rousing game of Connect Four or Monopoly.  I love learning more about Malik and seeing him flourish as a student.  I think he likes having two hours of undivided attention and seeing his reading and writing improve so much.

It’s already early February and Malik and I only have a couple more months together before summer break.  As I look ahead, I hope that we can maintain the momentum we’ve had thus far and continue to enjoy our time together as much as it seems we both have.  I continue to learn from Malik about what it means to be a sensitive, curious and joyful person and I hope I can share some of my qualities with Malik, too.  When I moved to Washington, DC I wanted to be able to see how my time was making an impact.  It’s such a treat to work with Malik and see the results of our hard work right in front of me with a smile on his face – and mine!

(Jennifer Bangoura is a tutor in the Tuesday Night Reading program).

A Lesson in Perseverance

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“I see that you’re getting stern with me.”

Say what? That bit of dry wit comes courtesy of my student, earlier today as we headed to the Fishbowl for a retest. I almost burst out laughing, but instead I just reassured my student that I was simply confident in his abilities and wanted him to do well. As I stifled my laugh I realized that I had gotten stern with him as we reviewed a few things, because I know that he knows. I know he does. I was so confident that he’d ace this step test. But testing can be unnerving, and he tends to rush and muddle the “i” and “e” sounds… so we work at it patiently. We persevere.

I’m not known to be a patient person, so sometimes persevering with my student is difficult. But I can never get angry or frustrated. Not only is that counterproductive, but he doesn’t deserve that reaction. His easy-going manner, wit, and delightful willingness to learn ease things along so much that I’ve become keenly invested in his success at FLOC. I see how and when he tries (hard) and, as I said, I know that he’s capable.

At the end of today’s program when I learned that he had to retest yet again, I immediately began thinking about how I could present the material in a fresh way. I began to mentally prepare myself to review the material carefully and patiently. I know that it’s important to persevere until he understands the short vowel sounds and automatically sounds an “e” instead of an “a” or “i” when I ask him to tap out and spell “cheb,” a pesky but useful nonsense word.

When I began at FLOC I didn’t anticipate a lesson in perseverance. Obviously I knew that the students at FLOC needed help mastering some skills, but I had no expectation of the degree of difficulty to help them accomplish that mastery. Maybe that was that way to begin this experience that I’ve come to enjoy and learn much from an open mind. I just wanted to fill some of my time with something helpful and meaningful. Not to be too sentimental about it, but the exercises in patience and perseverance are welcome, and a reminder that tutoring is as much a gift of your time as it is a gift to yourself.

(Renée-Lauren Ellis is a tutor in the Saturday Afternoon Reading program).

Maintaining Your Cool

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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).

Passing on Life Lessons

Howard Thurman QuoteThis quote began to have meaning for me when I started volunteering at FLOC in September 2012.  I was a recent college graduate, finishing up my very first internship in DC, and yearning for an opportunity to give back in this community.

For just a couple of hours a week, I started helping a Scholars Program Instructor facilitate a workshop for a diverse group of 10th graders.  The curriculum sought to empower the 10th graders to build the skills they would need to succeed in college and beyond.

As they started to work on their 10 Year Plans – a project that enables them to reflect on high school, navigate college and postsecondary life, and explore careers – I realized how little time I spent thinking about my own path.

What are my personal strengths?  In what environments do I work best?  How can I be both happy and successful in the work I choose?  What makes me “come alive”?

Before long I realized the answers to these questions all pointed me back to FLOC.  I wanted to help FLOC students feel empowered while navigating the ups and downs in their individual journey.  I wished that they would develop a life-long love for learning.  I aspired to be a caring adult in their lives who would help them identify – and not lose sight of – what makes them “come alive.”

A year later, and with a greater sense of clarity about my purpose, I am so grateful for the opportunity to continue serving our FLOC community as one of three Scholars Program Instructors.  I am looking forward to build relationships with our 6th and 10th grade Scholars this 2013-2014 school year!

(Jessie Garrett is a Scholars Program Instructor at FLOC). 

The Joys of Tutoring

I’m posting this to say thank you to FLOC for the opportunity to be a tutor.  I’ve been tutoring at FLOC for nearly two years and it is one of the most enjoyable things I do.  I am delighted when I see my student’s eyes light up as he gets enthusiastic about what we are studying, when his mom says his grades are improving, and when he enjoys writing so much he takes a story home to work on.

The tutoring room is less formal than a classroom – just a big open space with tables, chairs, bookcases and file cabinets; but it comes to life during class.  I get there 15 minutes before the students, pick seats, and review feedback on what we accomplished last week and the plans for this week.  When Christian, my student arrives, we spend a few minutes catching up on events of the week and then get down to work.  We are working on language skills, so time is spent on vocabulary, grammar, structure, reading, etc.  There is a lot of back and forth as we think of new ways to use the vocabulary words or expand on the stories.  There are breaks for snacks and activities like trashketball – essentially catch with points for answering language questions.  Recently, a lot of our study time has been devoted to writing, Christian’s favorite.  He is writing a story about how a janitor in a museum was attacked by robbers and then practiced and became a karate legend.  It has been a lot of fun to see the story evolving as he works on it.

The other tutors are having pretty much the same experience.  By this time in the year, relationships are established and the students are no longer shy about asking questions or making jokes.  It is so fascinating to see how differently the children see the world and how much more open their view is from an adult’s view.  When I look around the room, I see the other tutors and their students smiling, joking, and congratulating each other.  At the end of class, everyone seems grateful for the time together and looks forward to next week.

I found out about FLOC when someone in my alumni group sent a recruiting email.  Much earlier in my career I had taught one class at a community college.  I almost didn’t cash the paycheck because teaching was so much fun.  Unfortunately, the paycheck was too small to make a career of it. Remembering how much fun that had been, I signed up with FLOC.

I’ve had about eight students so far and they have all been different and enjoyable.  Both the students and I have increased our self esteem.  They are happier because they are doing better in school.  I am happier because I have helped them become better able to contribute to society.

I have enjoyed volunteering at FLOC so much that I signed up for a Masters in Education program at the University of Maryland so that I can be a teacher in my next career (I’m semi-retired now).  I hope to use my background in science to show students both the marvelous simplicity and complexity in the world around them.  I would like to help them develop the critical thinking processes and creative negotiating skills that have enabled us to develop an ever more peaceful and equitable society.  I want to teach them that respect for one another and for nature will continue to make human life on earth sustainable.

I am very grateful that signing up as a FLOC tutor opened these new doors for me!

(Mike McAvey is a tutor in the Tuesday night Reading program.)

Tutoring for Tutors

At FLOC, there have been many good tutor-generated tips for successful tutoring sessions. One specifically helpful tip that tutors have discovered is letting their students occasionally become the tutors! Narissa, a tutor here at FLOC, has found it very useful.

Narissa and her student have been working on fractions for about two weeks. Although Narissa felt her student was getting the concept rather quickly, she wanted to approach the subject in a new way. She asked her student to take on the role of the tutor. Instead of Narissa explaining the information again, her student taught Narissa how to reduce fractions.

Narissa found this tip to be helpful for several reasons. Having the student become the tutor allowed her to become more invested in the session, therefore strengthening the relationship between Narissa and her student. Second, this strategy became a great tool for assessment. Narissa was truly able to tell whether or not her student understood fractions – and indeed she did!

Narissa experienced a very successful session by using this tip. She was able to create a stronger bond with her student, help her student feel more invested in the session, and assess her student’s progress on fractions all at the same time. Overall, switching student tutor “roles” was a perfect strategy for Narissa. Try this cool tip out with your student, and it may work great for you too!

(Lindsay Davis is an NTP Site Coordinator for the Thursday Night math Program.)