Thursday, February 4, 2010

Giving them space

Another great day at the Sportsmens' Tennis Club and MathSTARS. I find there are very few days that I don't enjoy at MathSTARS. The students are such great kids, hard working students, and very dynamic personalities.

I sat in the quiet room yesterday just to mix things up a bit. The quiet room is the designated room for people who don't want loud music or distracting conversation. Students who need the quiet are encouraged to study in the quiet room and enforce the level of quiet they need. For a while, the quiet room had a "no talking at all" rule, but that quickly changed when the students voted otherwise.

It's interesting because the quiet room definitely has a different vibe and flow to it. Most of the students who use it go to socialize more than do their work, but yesterday I found the students who had homework were very productive. O, N, and A stayed in the room most of the time, so I'll talk about my interactions with them in this post.

I was surprised to come into MathSTARS yesterday and O waved to me enthusiastically. We haven't worked that closely on his homework in the past, but being waved to and acknowledged made me feel really good. He's a very social young man with his peers and friends, but definitely enjoys and needs independence in his homework. I've rarely seen him working closely with another tutor, so sitting in the quiet room, he did his work by himself and finished pretty quickly.

N is one of my favorite students. I know we're not supposed to have favorites, but she's definitely up there. She's a very strong leader, mostly positive, and very silly. She didn't have much homework either, so she decided to paint her nails instead, which is all right by me and the afterschool director. She was also helping her friend A with homework on imaginary numbers and the quadratic formula (which I have regretfully forgotten...) so that was very helpful of her.

The last student is A, who is new to MathSTARS this year, and we've bonded over several weeks. I think we connect so well because she reminds me of myself a little bit. She's a very caring girl who is quiet more often than not, but is quick to laugh and joke around. She's also quite hardworking and gets her homework done pretty much every time I've worked with her.

I think the best part of yesterday was that when N stepped out of the room, A come over to ask me for help. She approached me! In the MathSTARS tutoring world, this is huge! She was working on imaginary numbers (which I told the kids is practially useless in the real world) and the quadratic formula, good ol' algebra. I managed to struggle through and asked A to re-explain the quadratic formula to me, which worked out well. She retaught me something then I helped her through the rest of the problem.

At one point she missed a simple computation and I called her out on it. "-7 + 2? Where'd you get that -4 from?" Sometimes I worry that questioning their answers is detrimental to the tutor-tutee relationship, but I think it's better for the students to get the right answer and to remember to check their work.

What was so great about the session yesterday was that I sat at my own table and started a craft project while the three of them were working. I was semi listening in to their conversation and concentrating on my project at the same time. I think middle school students need that space to dictate their own work pace. I've noticed hovering and imposing oneself onto this age group ends negatively. It's tough though because when I was starting out as a tutor at MathSTARS, that's all I wanted to do, was to ask the students what they were working on and if I could help or sit with them and work along with them. Some students need the tutor to initiate while other students will ask for help when they need it, but need their space when they don't need help.

I think the MathSTARS format is unique in that way. Students don't have a matched tutor, they can choose to work with any number of tutors who come, or they don't work with a tutor at all. It allows the tutors and the students lots of flexibility in who everyone is working with from week to week. Sometimes this is great, I get to work with lots of different students. But sometimes it's harder to build a strong one-on-one relationship with "your" student.

Either way, I love my time at MathSTARS. Yesterday I managed to crack some jokes the kids really enjoyed. We were laughing so loud the other room had to run in to check on us, we had a good time.

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