Thursday, January 21, 2010

MathSTARS, strength-based approach

So I've been volunteering with an organization called MathPower that has an afterschool math tutoring program called MathSTARS that provides tutoring and mentoring help for middle school students in the Boston area. I've been volunteering for almost a year and go in once a week to help any students who need help.

Yesterday I got to work with a young man, B, whom I hadn't interacted with much and we worked on an exponent problem. While the work and being able to focus was difficult, I was surprised at the non-academic aspects of our time together. From out of the blue, he told me a story about another student who got hurt because of his friends and he was concerned for her and also wondering what he should tell his friends. It was interesting for several reasons: he approached me about it, he showed genuine concern for the injured student, and he had a conflict about his friends' behaviors. After talking to the afterschool director, she told me that he trusted me enough to talk to me about it.

I also attended a MathSTARS tutor training in the evening called the Strength Based Approach to working with students which basically boiling down to using what you know and what you learn about a student to connect to what kind of individual they are and what they can do in the future with such strengths and qualities. Sometimes we forget that mentoring relationships mean that both sides are learning and growing in some way.

In the previous example, I told B that he was a very caring person for walking the injured student to the nurse. Of course, middle school students don't express themselves as easily as younger students, but I think and hope that B appreciated hearing that he's a caring person. I think we don't hear about our own good qualities enough, but at MathSTARS we really try to incorporate it into everything we do.

The student also asked me what he should say to his friends about the situation, and he said that it was messed up that they had gotten her injured. He had the answer and said it to me right there, so I pointed that out, "You could just say what you said to me." It seems like most of the time, we all know what we really want to say but having a sounding board helps encourage us that we were right all along.

I did link the situation and story back to what kind of person B is, but I hadn't been through the Strength-Based Approach and didn't link it to how his concern would be useful in the future. I hope more of these situations will come up in the future so I can try to use the approach.

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