Recently, I was asked to tutor the teenager of a very dear friend. This kid was struggling in school. Teachers leveled him at a grade 3 reading level in grade 8. My friend cried on the phone… “can you help Shawn?”
How could I say no?
I gave the first session lots of thought. I considered what I knew about this young man. He was a snowboarder, a risk taker, he loved dogs, he was a gentle kid, had a good heart. I realized that Shawn would be expecting traditional teaching from me, but why would I do that if it hadn’t worked til now? I didn’t even know if he really wanted help. I had only heard about his situation through the tears of his distraught mom. I could only imagine the rest.
So, here’s what I did:
I split the hour long session in four parts.
*Tip from a Mentor-When tutoring a teenager in reading. Do not start with books!!
Part 1-Oral Language/Physical Activity-The first fifteen minutes of our session were spent outside. You should have seen the look on Shawn’s face when I handed him the leash of my golden retriever and said, “Let’s go!” While we walked around the block, I asked Shawn about himself. I actively listened and replied with questions about what he told me. I avoided anything too personal. I learned from him and modelled active listening.
Part 2-Media Literacy/Hands On-The second fifteen minutes was spent in my office. I gave Shawn my special chair and the mouse. “Show me a good clip from youtube.” He looked at me funny but then got right to work. By showing me an exciting clip (through a clumsy route) about a famous snowborder, Shawn was showing me how he used the Internet as a tool. He demonstrated that he understood that he needed to be appropriate with me as his audience. He showed nothing that would shock me, was able to describe why he liked the clip and even paused the vid to provide proof for his arguments.
Part 3-Writing/Using the Tools/Cookies-fifteen minutes #3-we switched rooms to the dining area of my home and I added an enormous chocolate chip cookie to his hand. Now that a half an hour had passed, we had a combined experience to write about. Handing him a marker and a blank piece of paper divided down the centre, I asked, “Shawn, could you please jot down three things you learned about me today?” He worked quickly while I filled in the right side with my learning about him. This task showed me how he was processing the experience and his ability to communicate through writing.
Part 4-Reading/Wrapping It Up-Finally, I spread out three non-fiction choices in front of Shawn. These books were tailored to his reading level and interests-colourful graphic texts including pictures, captions, diagrams, etc. Shawn’s eyes widened. I said, “Have a look through these three texts. Talk me through your thoughts.”
Shawn paused, “You mean I should just LOOK and TALK not read? I thought I was coming here to learn how to read.”
I smiled gently and winked, “but Shawn you have been reading since you got here!”
You read my expressions, that’s how you communicated with me on our walk.
You were reading when you navigated the Internet by reading captions and rating scales.
You read my values, that’s how you chose an appropriate clip for me.
You made sense of our time together by jotting down what you learned about me and reading what I wrote about you.
Reading is not about words. Reading is about meaning making and my dear boy, you are a reader!!
Now which book would you like to take home with you??”
I have never seen a kid more astonished. He sat back in his seat, a big smile spread across his face, and to my surprise, he passed on the snowboarding book and grabbed the one called BUGS. “I’ll take BUGS.” he beamed. “I don’t know enough about BUGS.”
Nothing sounds as sweet as a teenager with confidence!
What conversation do you think happened between Shawn and his mom during the ride home? What surprised you about this method?
You might also like Do You Really Want to Know?
Janet Lee has been an English teacher/Department Chair, Nipissing University Reading Part 3 Instructor, Student Success Literacy Consultant, and Nelson Literacy 7-10 instructional writer and media specialist. Janet Lee recently presented literacy resources at The Great Moon Gathering in Fort Albany, Ontario. She enjoys maintaining her blog This Side of the Mirror-A Journey Through Reflection to communicate with teachers and address current issues in education.