Friday, December 1, 2006

December 2006: Cailin Trinh, Poetry Superstar


December 2006 America Learns Strategy of the Month


UC Berkeley

"Cailin is fantastic!"  Those are the first words one of her supervisors used to describe her.  We're sure you'll agree by the time you finish reading this post.

Cailin Trinh is a freshman at UC Berkeley and tutors with the Bears United in Literacy Development (BUILD) program through the Cal Corps Public Service Center. 

Cailin TrinhGiven the task of building her middle school students’ vocabulary, she found her students getting bored with her tutoring sessions.  “Because they couldn't make a connection,” said Cailin, “they didn't seem to be interested.”  So rather than continuing to work on drills and flashcards, Cailin purchased a book that her students could relate to deeply.  Her students jumped at the opportunity to read text that was aligned with their own lives and neighborhoods.  Beyond just reading, Cailin gave her students the opportunity to think about and express how they feel about life in their own neighborhoods through an art project and by writing poetry about their lives in relation to what they read in the book.

Please take time to read her students' poetry in Step 5 below.  It's so important to understand how some of our youth experience life across our nation's disparate communities.

The Strategy


Created by: Cailin Trinh, Bears United in Literacy Development (BUILD), Cal Corps Public Service (America Learns Network member since 2005)
Topics: Poetry
Reading Comprehension
Reading (Your Students Read to You)
Vocabulary Development
Grade Levels: Sixth - Twelfth
Arrangements: One-on-One; Small Group
Materials: Our America: Life And Death On The South Side Of Chicago, by Lealan Jones, Lloyd Newman, David Isay (1999)

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Situation: My students had a hard time focusing on vocabulary because it was a topic they did not relate to.  Because they couldn't make a connection, they didn't seem to be interested.

America Learns Note: This activity shows you how to help students make what are called "text-to-self" connections during reading. Helping students make personal connections to texts is important because it helps them check for comprehension, as well as makes literature more meaningful.

Step 1: I ordered a book called Our America: Life And Death On The South Side Of Chicago, which was created out of interviews with two thirteen year old boys on Chicago's South Side.
Step 2: The first chapter of the book introduced the two boys and "the hood." But before my students took turns reading the book aloud, they took five minutes to draw their own "hoods" (or neighborhoods) and to then write and share a little about it.
Step 3: My students then took turns reading the book aloud.  I found that having my students read aloud encouraged them to focus and follow along.
Step 4: After reading the first chapter, I asked my students to compare their neighborhoods to that of the boys' in the book.  We talked about the different ways that people can share about their neighborhoods and where they come from: art, interviews, poetry.
Step 5: The book featured poetry from the boys, so my students decided to write their own poems using a similar, vertical word format found in the book.   

You can read one student's poetry by clicking the images below.  The student does a really good job in giving the raw truth and conveying what her life is like in comparison to the two boys written about in Our America.


Poem 1

Poem 2



Following this poem, you'll find the student's explanation of what she's expressing.

America Learns note: This exercise proved to be an incredible opportunity for Cailin's students to express themselves.  It also gave Cailin a chance to better understand their daily lives and thoughts.

Step 6: America Learns Note: Try to help your students make text-to-self connections like the one illustrated here any time you read with them. Of course, you don't necessarily need to ask students to draw or write about these personal connections. Instead, you might want to briefly discuss questions like, "Does this passage remind you of anything?" or "Have you ever felt the way this character does?"

If you're an America Learns Network member, also check out:


Please share your thoughts about this strategy and any messages you have for Cailin by sharing your comments below.

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

November 2006: Paul Dean, Being in Two Places at Once


Dwight Hall at Yale

November's strategy was created by Paul Dean, a student at Yale University and mentor with the Dwight Hall Academic Mentoring Program at Yale (DHAMPY).

Paul Dean and one of his menteesPaul joined DHAMPY last school year "because I was very interested in education, specifically urban education, and I liked the idea of being involved in a program where I could learn first-hand about the challenges of urban education, but at the same time hopefully be helpful to some kids in New Haven....  I love going to the middle school or the kids' neighborhoods, because it gives me a chance to be a part of the New Haven community instead of [just] the Yale community."

About the Strategy
Paul's strategy should be a lifesaver for tutors and mentors working with two students at the same time.  The strategy helps us answer the question, "How can a tutor or mentor provide meaningful, individualized support to two students simultaneously when there's only a couple hours to spend and the students have very different needs and interests?"  Paul offers one concrete tool you can use to provide high quality, individualized support in these situations.  You can check out the strategy below.

The Strategy


Created by: Paul Dean, Dwight Hall Academic Mentoring Program at Yale
(America Learns Network member since 2005)
Topics: Group Cooperation
Setting Goals
Grade Levels: Fourth - Twelfth
Arrangements: One Tutor/Mentor with Two Students
Materials: - The schedule/goal sheet template
- Example of a completed schedule/goals sheet

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Situation: When I began mentoring, I had a lot of trouble working with my two students at the same time. They have very different interests (one is really into sports, the other hates sports and is into music), they aren't friends outside of mentoring, and they have opposite strengths and weaknesses (one is stronger in math, very weak in reading, and the other is the opposite).

To address this issue, I created a schedule/goal sheet that we use during each session. The sheet helps me to work with the students separately and go back and forth between them. It gives the one I am not working with at a given time a clear idea of what to be doing.

Step 1: Create the Schedule/Goal Sheet

Create a schedule/goal worksheet, broken up into one column per student and one row for each section of your session.

For example, I meet with my kids for two hours at a time and break up our sessions into five components. On my sheet, the first and last rows represent 15 minutes (for our opening and closing activities). The three rows in the middle represent 30 minute sessions during which we focus on significant work or projects.

At the bottom of the sheet, create a box for each student to write out their short-term, weekly/monthly, and long-term goals.

You can see a copy of one of my sheets here.

Step 2: The First Time You Use the Sheet

You'll likely spend more time setting up this sheet the first time you use it than later on.

If you know what you'll be working on with your students when you see them, you can come into the session with the "meat" of the sheet already completed (e.g., everything except the opening and closing activities).

When you see your students, explain that you want to make your time together as valuable as possible for each of them. In order to do that, you're going to begin using this new sheet so that you can spend as much time as possible working on the individual things they need to work on.

Show your students what you've already written and ask for their feedback on it. Then, complete the portion of the sheet you don't yet have completed based on what you've learned your students need to work on as well as your student's ideas for any "anything you want" time you may give them. Also spend this time setting goals for the week, month and the future. You'll likely spend more time on this portion on your first day than others. I always spend the first fifteen minutes of each session completing the sheet.

If necessary, my students can have different activities at the same time. The structure will allow them to know what to expect, set goals to accomplish them, and will help me figure out how I will give each of them the one-on-one time they need. The process also communicates to the students (without you having to say it) that you will have to spend time not working directly with each of them at some point, but that you will work with both of them.

Step 3: During the Sessions

Closely monitor your students' work. You may check in with the student you're not working with directly by asking questions or making statements such as:
- How are you coming along on your work (or goals)?
- Do you need me to look at anything?
- I'm going to check out your progress on that assignment/project/goal in a five minutes.

If your students accomplish their goals ahead of schedule, create additional goals for the day.

Step 4: Ongoing Sessions

As noted earlier, we spend the first fifteen minutes of every session completing this sheet. I also keep all of the goal sheets in order by date in the notebook I bring each week. We check the longer term goals listed at the bottom of each sheet every week. We talk about what needs to be done in the short term to reach them, and whether they have changed or added any new goals.

How Have You Addressed this Issue?

Please share your thoughts about this strategy and any messages you have for Paul below.

Friday, September 1, 2006

September 2006: Sherry Martin, Uppercase & Lowercase Superstar



Meet Sherry Martin, author of the September 2006 America Learns Strategy of the Month.

Sherry is a second year AmeriCorps member with America Reads - Mississippi.  The smiles of her students in the picture you see speak worlds about Sherry's commitment and to her successful efforts in creating engaging learning opportunities for her students.


Sherry tutors in the Natchez-Adams School District, where she has been working for the past eight years.  Prior to joining AmeriCorps, she worked in the district's Parent Center, where she would help parents identify enrichment materials for their children.  Sherry's supervisor writes that Sherry is "an incredible tutor" who "tries different approaches to meet the needs of the students she tutors."

Sherry's strategy is below.  We hope her passion, creativity and smarts will benefit your students as well.

The Strategy

(Recognizing Uppercase & Lowercase Letters)

Created by: Sherry Martin, America Reads – Mississippi
(America Learns Network member since 2004)
Topic: Alphabet (Letter Recognition)
Grade Levels: Preschool & Kindergarten
Arrangements: Four or more students
- Two different colors of construction paper (one dark colored, one light)
- String or yarn
- Die cuts or large cutouts of the alphabet
- One hole puncher and one pair of scissors for you to use

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Situation: Some of my students were having a challenging time learning to recognize the letters of the alphabet. We sang the alphabet songs and pointed to alphabet letters on the wall, but those methods weren’t working for my students. I decided to try something new.
Step 1: Using die cuts of alphabet letters, I cut out large uppercase and lowercase letters of the alphabet on the dark colored construction paper (one letter on each page). (If you don't have die cuts or don't have time to use them, print and cut out the letters you need from this file.) If your students need to work on specific letters, be sure to include the uppercase and lowercase forms of those letters, along with some letters they already know.

Confirm that you made enough letters for all of the students in the group and that you created the uppercase and lowercase form of each selected letter.

Step 2: I then glued each letter cutout on a single page of the light-colored construction paper.
Step 3: I placed construction paper with the glued letters on the floor so that all the students could stand in front of them and see them. We then reviewed each letter's name and sounds.
Step 4: I then punched two holes at the top of each page and tied a string through the holes so that the students could wear the letters around their necks. Take a look at the picture below to see what this should look like.
Step 5: I then asked all of the students to stand up. I handed each one a letter and asked the students with the capital letters to walk around the room, search for, and then introduce themselves to the student with the corresponding lowercase letter. You can also ask the students with lowercase letters to look for the capitals, or just have all of students look for their match simultaneously.

When both students agreed that they matched, they would shake hands. You can also ask students who "meet" their match to say the name of the letter, to say the sounds that letter makes, and to come up with a word or two for that letter. Once they've done that, they can raise their hands and have you come over and listen to their letter sounds and words.

If the students determine that they do not match, ask them to say, "Nice to meet you, Letter __" to one another and then move on. Encourage these students to search the room together for their respective matches.

America Learns Note:
We recommend posting a large chart of the uppercase and lowercase letters you’re using in this activity so that students can reference it during the activity to determine which letters they’re supposed to look for and to confirm that they’ve “met” the right letter. As your students become more familiar with the alphabet through this and other activities, you can begin using this activity without the chart.

How Have You Addressed this Issue?

Please share your thoughts about this strategy and any messages you have for Sherry below.

Tuesday, August 1, 2006

August 2006: Elena Kamenetzky, Character Tracker


August 2006 America Learns Strategy of the Month       

Meet Elena Kamenetzky, author of the August 2006 America Learns Strategy of the Month.

Elena just finished her term of service with City of Lakes AmeriCorps in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and is following her dream of becoming a teacher by heading to Japan to teach English through the JET program.  "City of Lakes reaffirmed for me that I want to become a teacher, and I know that this is the right path for me," Elena recently told us.

About the Strategy
Elena KamenetzkyWhen we first read Elena's strategy, one of our team members said, "I wish I had written that!"   The strategy helps students keep track of and organize character information while reading.  The practice is especially useful when reading texts with tangled relationships such as King Lear.

Though Elena is in Japan, she left a strong legacy at her service site.  Here's how Elena's supervisor, Jennifer Valley, describes her: "Elena is a fabulous tutor.  She jumped into a new high school site we started this year and flew with it!  She started a speech and debate team and the students competed across the state.  Most of the students in her group were new to the U.S. and still learning English -- so imagine the challenge in helping them research and debate topics such as Eminent Domain!"

Elena's strategy is below.  We hope her passion, creativity and smarts will benefit your students as well.

The Strategy


Created by: Elena Kamenetzky, City of Lakes AmeriCorps
(America Learns Network member since 2004)
Topic: Reading Comprehension
Grade Levels: Seventh - Twelfth
Arrangements: One-on-One; Small Group
Materials: - Notebook paper
- Construction paper (small enough sheets to be slipped into a folder or notebook)
- Markers
- Optional: old magazines, scissors, glue

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Situation: My senior English students struggled to read several difficult works of literature this year.  The first was Beowulf, in which characters were almost never called by name but were always referred to as "Son of So-and-so." The second was King Lear, in which it was difficult for students to remember the tangled familial relationships of Edmund, Edgar, Cordelia, et. al. between readings.

I used this strategy to help them organize and retain basic character information between tutoring sessions, so that we wouldn't have to start all over again every day with "Who was Edgar again?"

Step 1: Have students sketch out a family tree from the book or story that they are reading on a sheet of notebook paper. Make sure that they include important main characters. If you're reading something like King Lear in which more than one family is central to the story, feel free to make separate family trees.
Step 2: Optional: Have students cut out pictures from magazines -- or print out pictures they find on the Internet -- that remind them of the characters on their family trees. For example, one of my students used pictures of Lord of the Rings characters to illustrate his family tree for Beowulf.
Step 3: Once students have a rough sketch of their family tree planned out to their liking, have them draw a nice version of the family tree with markers on a sheet of construction paper. If they are using pictures of characters to illustrate their family trees, have them cut out and glue the pictures to their family tree.
Step 4: Make sure your students keep their family trees in a safe, accessible place where they won't get lost!  Encourage your students to keep their family trees at hand whenever they read their story or book, at home or in class. Now your students can read Beowulf without having to mentally trip all over themselves every time "Son of Healfdene" is mentioned!
Step 5: Optional: You can easily adapt this strategy to make a "character tree" instead of a family tree.

Have your students draw a chart of characters in a book, then draw lines between characters describing their relationships. One line could be labeled "best friends," another line could be labeled "rivals," and of course you can include family lines as well - "cousin," "father," whatever. Use different colored markers for different types of lines, or one color for all the lines emanating from a particular character.

How Have You Addressed this Issue?

Please share your thoughts about this strategy and any messages you have for Elena below.

Monday, July 3, 2006

July 2006: Virginia Raucher, Sight Words Superstar



Meet Virginia Raucher, a volunteer reading partner with KOREH L.A. and author of the July 2006 America Learns Strategy of the Month.

Virginia RaucherVirginia created an excellent, engaging game for students who need extra practice recognizing and reading common words they encounter while reading. We've loved playing Virginia's game, called Racetrack, and we think you and your students will too!

More About Virginia
Virginia has served fifth grade students through KOREH L.A. for five years. She writes that volunteering with KOREH "was a natural fit for me after I retired from the Los Angeles Unified School District where I worked for 22 years as an Aide, helping mainly ESL students with reading and language development. I enjoy being in the school environment and I appreciate the support that KOREH gives its volunteers. The satisfaction that I get from doing something that might improve another person’s life and thus the world, is of infinite value." On top of being a dedicated KOREH L.A. reading partner, Virginia also volunteers in the Los Angeles Public Library's "Grandparents and Books" program and teaches one-on-one computer lessons at her local library.

The Strategy

(A Sight Word Game)

Created by: Virginia Raucher, KOREH L.A.
(America Learns Network member since 2003)
Topic: Sight & High Frequency Words
Grade Levels: Third - Fifth
Arrangements: One-on-One; Small Group
Materials: - These card templates (pdf) or your own blank index cards
- The Racetrack game board (pdf)
- One die
- Small objects to use as playing pieces (such as matchbox cars or plastic figurines)

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Situation: For five years, I have partnered with fifth grade students who read at a second or third grade level. They need practice recognizing and reading common words they encounter in the books we read together.
I use this game at the end of the session as a pleasant way to get in a little more practice.

Step 1: I took note of the words that my student had trouble recognizing, then copied them to flash cards. This was an ongoing process as new words/cards were added each week.

Step 2: I made a drawing of an oval racetrack on 8 1/2 x 11 paper. The racetrack has a start/finish line and the course is divided into several sections, large enough to accommodate two of the playing pieces. Some of the spaces on the course contain numbers such as +1, -3, +5, -4 etc.

Step 3: To play the game, place the flash cards face down in the middle of the race track. The game pieces for both players are put at the start/finish line. The players then roll the die to see who goes first.

Step 4: The first player takes a card from the top of the stack and reads the word. Then the player uses the word in a sentence.

If the student can't read the word on the card, there is no penalty. I just help her/him to figure out the word as I would if they were reading the word in a story. (If you're a Network member, you can access a number of strategies to help you do this here). Since the words I use are words that they are already familiar with, it hasn't been a problem. Similarly, if the students use the word in a sentence incorrectly, I explain why the sentence isn't quite correct and we fix it.

America Learns note:
If you're working with an English Language Learner and she is using grammar in sentences incorrectly, check out this strategy: Helping Students with Spoken Grammatical Errors (for Network members only).

Step 5: Next, the player rolls the die and moves the specified number of spaces on the racetrack. If the space has a number in it, the player moves the specified number of spaces forward (+) or backward (-). The players do this in turn. The first player to cross the start/finish line wins the game.

How Have You Addressed this Issue?

Please share your thoughts about this strategy and any messages you have for Virginia below.

Thursday, June 1, 2006

June 2006: Syndee Kraus, The Go-To For Reinvigorating Relationships


June 2006 America Learns Strategy of the Month
Blue Ribbon Mentor-Advocate

Meet Syndee Kraus, a mentor with Blue Ribbon Mentor-Advocate and co-author of the June 2006 Strategy of the Month.

Syndee Kraus and her menteeLong term tutoring and mentoring relationships sometimes fall into a rut in which the tutor/mentor and student run out of activities to do together or simply lose the excitement and energy that once existed between them.

As Syndee will show you below, this situation presents a wonderful opportunity to grow and fill the relationship with a wealth of new purpose, meaning and excitement.  Syndee and her program coordinator, Graig Meyer, co-authored this strategy based on Syndee's successes.

More About Syndee
Syndee, who is a Project Co-Coordinator at FPG Child Development Institute at UNC-Chapel Hill, has been mentoring her mentee for five years.  She writes that "Being a mentor is a unique opportunity--neither parent nor teacher, and yet half-way between parent and teacher.  Finding where the boundaries lie as well as how far-reaching the role can expand has been a tremendous 'stretching' experience for me."

The Strategy


Created by: Syndee Kraus & Graig Meyer, Blue Ribbon Mentor-Advocate Program
(America Learns Network member since 2005)
Topic: Engagement & Motivation
Setting Goals
Your Relationship with Your Student
Grade Levels: Fifth - Twelfth
Arrangements: One-on-One
Materials: - Sample of Syndee and her mentee's goals (PDF)
- A clean goal-setting form you can use (PDF; Microsoft Word)

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Situation: Has your relationship with your student fallen into a rut? Do you wish you had more creative ideas about how to support your student? One long-term mentor-student pair tackled this challenge by creating specific goals for their relationship. At regular intervals (once a year in this case), they use one of their visits to focus on setting goals for the upcoming year.

Many steps in this strategy refer to the actual goals this mentor-student pair created. To download a copy of their goals, please click here.

Step 1: Why Set Goals?

Have a conversation with your student about the reason it's important to set goals for the relationship. You might say, "It's important to me that you get the most out of our relationship and the time we spend together. To make this happen, I thought we could spend our time today setting goals for the next ___ [insert time period]. Our goals will help me make sure that we're spending time doing what's important to us."

You may want to share examples of how you set and pursue goals in your own life. Emphasize that to accomplish goals, especially long-term ones, one must take steps to get there (which can be goals in and of themselves). You may say, "Goals take work to realize, to accomplish. They often involve accomplishing other goals along the way. To become a doctor, one has to complete years and years of study and practice. It usually takes careful financial planning and hard work to earn enough money to buy and keep a home. What goals have you accomplished that have required that you accomplish something else beforehand?"

Step 2: Choosing Goals

Check out Syndee and her mentee's goals.  This is just a sample of what they planned; they actually made 14 goals, which is a lot!  But they meet every week and these are their goals for an entire year. You may choose to create fewer or more goals; in fact, you may want to begin this process by just setting one goal to be accomplished in the next week or two to immediately give your student a sense of accomplishment and to show that it's possible to accomplish goals with you.

Whatever goals you set, be sure they fit the guidelines of your relationship. Try to select goals that are fairly specific and accomplishable. Avoid broad goals such as “Become better friends” or long-range goals such as “Become a writer.” While those are good goals, they’re also hard to break down into a few simple activities. Instead of using “Become a writer,” Syndee and her mentee thought about the steps needed to become a writer, and then selected smaller goals that would help the mentee explore writing and other career paths related to writing. 

Step 3: Identify Activities to Support Your Goals.

Goals are great, but you’ve got to figure out what you’re going to DO to accomplish them. Coming up with concrete activities to support your goals will keep your relationship on track. You and your student should work together to consider what activities you’ll do. If you look at the first goal on Syndee and her mentee's goal sheet, you’ll see evidence of the mentor-student collaboration. The goal is about reading, and the main activity is that the mentor and student will discuss the books they read.

You’ll also see that they agree to combine these discussions with “something else.” Apparently, they agree that they want to read and discuss, but they might be able to couple that with another activity that they'll decide upon later.

Goal #3 (cooking together) is accompanied by two types of activities, but the activities could be done multiple times or over multiple weeks. The first activity is to “learn about cooking foods from other countries.” That implies that they will spend at least a few different times cooking various ethnic cuisines. The second activity is to “put together a cookbook of foods from these different countries.” Clearly, this would need to be done over time. Also consider how this goal allows for the mentor and student to work on math, reading, writing, and research skills along with cooking skills.

Step 4: Designate Roles and Responsibilities.

Like most activities in mentoring, pursuing your goals should be a joint activity. So it’s important to designate roles and responsibilities for both you and your student.

It’s important to give your student some control and choice here. You may have strong ideas about what he can take responsibility for, but if he is going to follow-through, he has to agree. You might start by asking him what role he would like to play in pursuing each goal. You can follow-up by providing him with some other options, but give him the opportunity to choose what he’ll do.

Similarly, you should state what you’re willing to do to help reach the goals. This doesn’t mean you have to dictate your list, though. Consider asking your student what he thinks you should do or how you can support him in his pursuit of the goal. Then you can decide whether you can meet his expectation. Be sure you do not take full responsibility for the accomplishment of any one goal that's supposed to be accomplished together.

Step 5: Set Deadlines / Due Dates

When will you do these things? How long will you give yourself to make progress? Which activities will you undertake first? Set some deadlines that are realistic but keep you motivated. 

Step 6: Follow Through and Monitor Your Progress.

Doesn’t it feel great to accomplish your goals? You can help your student understand this feeling if you follow through and celebrate the goals you successfully accomplish. Maybe you can make a calendar with dates on when you’re going to check in on your progress. You also might come up with something you’ll do to celebrate once you and your student have done all you set out to.

Before you get to the end of the time period outlined on your goal sheet, check-in every once in a while. Monitoring your progress is the true key to making this process work. Are you on-track or do you need to adjust timelines? Did you realize that you and your student would have to complete additional activities to accomplish specific goals? The process of modifying goals based on new information and life circumstances is a huge lesson in and of itself. Pull out your goal sheet at pre-assigned times and evaluate how you’re doing!

How Have You Addressed this Issue?

Please share your thoughts about this strategy and any messages you have for Syndee below.

Monday, May 1, 2006

May 2006: Sheena Darty, Reading Comprehension Maven


 May 2006 America Learns Strategy of the Month 
University of Michigan

Sheena Darty Meet Sheena Darty, a member of the University of Michigan America Reads Tutoring Corps and author of the May 2006 Strategy of the Month.  Sheena created an engaging strategy to help develop her student's abilities to retell stories they read together.

Sheena, who is studying to become a History teacher, joined America Reads out of her commitment to children's literacy issues.  She writes that, "Through tutoring I have learned to take pride in the small victories and light bulb moments I experience with my tutees.  Tutoring has brought so much joy and fulfillment to my life, and I encourage others to become involved."  She is also a member of Black Educators of Tomorrow, the first organization devoted to encouraging young black collegians at the University of Michigan - Ann Arbor to join and thrive in the field of education.

We hope that you and your students benefit from Sheena's strategy.

The Strategy

(Using Pictures to Retell a Story)

Created by: Sheena Darty, University of Michigan America Reads Tutoring Corps
(America Learns Network member since 2004)
Topic: Reading Comprehension
Grade Levels: First - Third
Arrangements: One-on-One
Materials: - Photocopier
- An illustrated book you’re reading with your student
- Reading journal or blank sheets of paper
- Pencil

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Situation: One of my students has difficulty retelling stores in order, so I thought the following strategy would be a fun and creative way to get her to retell a story.

Step 1: Before meeting with your student, photocopy illustrations of the most significant events of the story.

Step 2: After reading the book with your student, tell your student that you will play a game that has to do with the story.  Set aside the book and spread out the photocopied sheets on the table face down so that she cannot see the pictures yet.  (Don't forget to mix up the pictures so that they are not in order!)

Step 3: Ask your student to turn the sheets of paper over and to put each picture in order according to the events in the story.  Help her if she has trouble by referring back to the book if necessary.

Step 4: After your student places the pictures in the correct order, ask her to use the pictures to retell what happened in the story.  Give her praise for retelling the story well.  (If you're an America Learns Network member, access tips on giving meaningful praise here).

Step 5: Afterwards, ask your student to write down the summary in her journal*, using the pictures as a guide.  Continue to give her lots of praise and support as she writes.  (If you're an America Learns Network member, access tips on helping students learn to write summaries here).

*If your student doesn't have a journal, just ask her to write the summary on a few pieces of paper or other notebook.
Additional Resources for America Learns Network Members: Here are some related strategies you may find useful:

How Have You Addressed this Issue?

Please share your thoughts about this strategy and any messages you have for Sheena below.

Monday, April 3, 2006

April 2006: Andrew Myers, Homework Completion Motivator



Meet Andrew Meyers, EdBoost Learning Center tutor and author of the April 2006 Strategy of the Month.  

image Andrew began tutoring at EdBoost in fall 2005.  A UCLA undergraduate, Andrew decided to become an after school homework assistance tutor at EdBoost to help students achieve during their middle school years.  Andrew is learning a ton along with his students.  "My students have taught me to hold patience and compassion as my pillars for self conduct," he recently wrote.

Andrew's strategy is ideal for working with those students who often refuse to do any work with their tutors or mentors.  Andrew's admirable patience and persistence led him to find a strategy to help his student learn without resorting to endless arguments with the student, to punishment or to simply giving up on the child -- all too common occurrences.

The Strategy


Created by: Andrew Myers, EdBoost Learning Center
Topics: Engagement & Motivation; Behavior
Grade Levels: Sixth - Eighth
Arrangements: One-on-One
Materials: Checkers board and pieces

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Situation: I work with a student who, at times, can be quite obstinate in refusing to do any work during the tutoring session. Sometimes there is an all-out refusal to work and I feel like we waste our entire tutoring session fighting over whether or not we'll do any work.

Important America Learns note:
This strategy is not meant to be used for every student; just for those students who always or almost always refuse to work. Tiffani Chin, the director of the organization from where this strategy comes, explains:

"Andrew [the tutor who created this strategy] is the master of what I like to call 'Plan Z' strategies. Because of his almost infinite calm and patience, I tend to give him our most obstinate students: the ones who don't respond to typical strategies and who can sit through an entire hour refusing to do any work at all. Many of these kids are bright and learn quickly, but we struggle to get them to listen, think, and work. Andrew is excellent at diffusing tension, avoiding arguments, giving these students a stake in their own education, and, finally, coaxing them into learning."
Step 1: After I realized that the tutoring session might spiral into one hour of continual arguing, I asked my student what he would like to do. He suggested playing a game. At first, I refused, but then asked him which game. He said checkers.
Step 2: Trying to work with him, I said that was a great idea and I tried to figure how to incorporate checkers into learning science and pre-algebra. The student had math problems to do and had to learn about the parts and functions of the human heart (he had to answer questions on a worksheet).
Step 3: We decided that we would play checkers, making a move only after the student had answered a question correctly.
Step 4: We continued like this for the entire hour, and actually made progress. Although we did spend some time playing the game, in the end, the student learned a lot about the heart. And, we wasted far less time than we would have if we had engaged in our usual fighting. Moreover, we had fun playing the game and had a much more positive tutoring session than usual!
Important Note: Obviously, the point of any tutoring session is to give the student as much academic help as possible.  Playing games cuts into that time (which is why we don't recommend this strategy for students who are willing to work with you). However, on hard days, when you feel like you and your student aren't going to get anything done (e.g., because the child is too argumentative or to unmotivated) games can be really helpful. But as you build a relationship, and your student starts to see the benefit of working hard and learning, you can begin to stop playing games and focus more and more time on actual tutoring.
Additional Resources for America Learns Network Members: If you begin to build this strategy in your routine, as your student learns to tune out distractions and focus on work for short periods of time, increase the number of problems answered or pages read before taking a turn at the game. To learn how to do this, check out this strategy.

How Have You Addressed this Issue?

Please share your thoughts about this strategy and any messages you have for Andrew below.

Wednesday, March 1, 2006

March 2006: Sarah Kurachek, Vocabulary Sculptor


 March 2006 America Learns Strategy of the Month   

Meet Sarah Kurachek, City of Lakes AmeriCorps member and author of the March 2006 National Strategy of the Month.

Sarah Kurachek and two of her students Sarah joined City of Lakes AmeriCorps after graduating from Duke University in 2004.  She tutors and mentors 15 students in small group and on-on-one settings at Minneapolis North High School.  Sarah decided to serve a second year with AmeriCorps to continue building upon the meaningful relationships she and her students have formed.

We're sure you're going to love her strategy -- an engaging vocabulary development exercise for students in elementary, middle and high school.

The Strategy


Created by: Sarah Kurachek, City of Lakes AmeriCorps
(America Learns Network member since 2004)
Topic: Vocabulary Development
Grade Levels: Third - Twelfth
Arrangements: Two or more students
Materials: - Dictionary
- Pen/pencil
- Paper

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Situation: I work with a group of three 10th grade English students.  Each week, we learn 10 new vocabulary words.  This activity helped them learn new words AND have fun with each other!  This is also a great activity for kinesthetic learners.
Step 1: First, we used a dictionary to look up the definitions of each word.  Students wrote the definitions in their notebooks and came up with sentences for each word.
Step 2: I asked my students about sculptures.  We discussed that sculptures convey a message, are usually completely solid, and do not often have moving parts.

I told my students that I wanted them to become "human sculptures" of a word.  I provided an example of what a human sculpture of one of their words might look like (e.g., if the word was "scold", I might look angry and point to another student while the student hid her head in her hands).

Step 3: I left the students to themselves for about a minute as they chose ONE word to define.  I went to the other side of the room so as not to hear their deliberations.
Step 4: I came back when they said they were ready.  They formed their "human sculpture" of one of their vocabulary words, I guessed the word, and they laughed throughout the process!  They repeated the exercise and said it was a lot of fun.
Additional Resource for America Learns Network Members: For step-by-step instructions on a similar activity that combines reading comprehension and vocabulary, click here

How Have You Addressed this Issue?

Please share your thoughts about this strategy and any messages you have for Sarah below.

Wednesday, February 1, 2006

February 2006: Will Dudenhausen, Role Model for Addressing Behavior Challenges


 February 2006 America Learns Strategy of the Month    
Blue Ribbon Mentor-Advocate

This month's strategy is from Will Dudenhausen, a mentor with the Blue Ribbon Mentor-Advocate Program in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Will has mentored with BRMA since 2004. Professionally, he is the youth programs coordinator at the Orange County Dispute Settlement Center, where he works daily to help youth develop peaceful conflict resolution skills.  We hope your tutors, mentors and students will benefit from the experience, tact and understanding Will shares in his strategy.

The Strategy


Created by: William Dudenhausen, Blue Ribbon Mentor-Advocate Program
(America Learns Network member since 2005)
Topics: Behavior
Conflict Resolution
Your Relationship with Your Student
Grade Levels: Fourth - Twelfth
Arrangements: One-on-One

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Situation: In discussing some behavioral issues at school with my student, I really wanted to make sure he felt heard, acknowledged and supported, while at the same time help him hash out the issues that led to his problems at school.

In this particular case, I was not the authority figure, the school was, so my role was to support the student in resolving the problem, rather than act as an authority figure.

Step 1: Listen and show that you hear.

While the student describes the situation, listen attentively without outside distractions. Turn off your cell phone, TV, radio or anything else that can get in the way of a good conversation.

While listening, remember that you are hearing the student's perspective, and that you need to leave your judgments at the door. Absolute truth isn't the important thing here. Focus on understanding the student's point of view. Listening does not constitute agreement, so even if you disagree with what the student is saying, suspend your judgment and comments. The goal here is to support the student in solving the problem, not to find out who is right or wrong.

Step 2: Use reflective listening to acknowledge and show the student that you understand.

Reflective listening is a way of summarizing what the speaker has said ("reflecting" what they said back to him).  The goal of this process is for the student to confirm that you understand his point of view and feelings, or to correct your reflection, so that your student feels more comfortable exploring this issue with you.  As with Step 1, to practice reflective listening well, you don't have to agree, just understand.

- Student: "I got in trouble at school today, and Michael is going to get it!"

- You: "Wow! you sound really upset."

- Student: "You bet I am upset, he kept talking to me during the test and now I got a zero on it, and I am going to get a D on my report card."

- You: "So, you received a zero on your test and you are worried about your report card?"

Step 3: Ask open-ended questions to discover more information.

Close-ended questions lead your student to respond with "yes or no"-type answers, while open-ended questions can help you discover more about the situation by requiring answers that are longer than "yes" or "no."

Here’s an example of a close-ended question:
- You: "Are you and Michael friends?"
- Student: "No!"

Here's an example of an open-ended question:
- You: "Tell me more about how you know Michael."
- Student: "Well,..."

Step 4: Come up with an action-plan.

The most important idea in this step is that students are much more likely to follow through on a plan to resolve a problem if they come up with the plan. You can help do this by continuing to listen, reflect, and ask good questions.

Sometimes, a reality check can be in order too. A reality check is the process of asking probing questions that allow the student to think a little bit more about the best way to solve the problem.  If it feels necessary to make suggestions, try your best to limit them and make sure the student's input is taken into account.

What are the differences between the following two types of questions?

#1) "Do you think that your teacher would be willing to accept you retaking the test?"

#2) "What else do you think you could do to make this situation better?"
In the second question, I focused on the student, and not someone else (Michael in this case). This encourages the student to take responsibility for the situation, and encourages the student to take action.

Step 5: Follow up!

Later, ask the student about the plan they created and about the reasons it is or is not working out.  If things aren't going well, you may need to go back to Step 1 to continue exploring the issue and set up a modified or new plan.  Contact teachers, school personnel and supervisors about the situation.

How Have You Addressed this Issue?

Please share your thoughts about this strategy and any messages you have for Will below.