Thursday, March 24, 2011


I love the way this little dog's big black eyes shine at me out of the gloom of the darkened living room. She says that it's really past time for a walk. She is correct, but she'll be okay for a few more minutes.

I've been substitute tutoring this week at an elementary school across town, and it's been great. Really great. I've never tutored in math before at all, but these kids--two in fourth grade and one in fifth--were working on multiplication tables and elapsed time/algebraic expressions, respectively. I've discovered this week that work sheets are really not helpful, and can actually be a hindrance. I've discovered this week that encouragement and a smile can go a long, long way. I've also discovered that there are a lot of uses for Phase 10 dice and cards. One boy had worksheets left over from previous tutoring sessions, and he mainly worked on those. He made some progress, but not a huge amount. The other fourth grader came in knowing almost no multiplication at all--she had been described to me as having the most trouble with it--and spent most of each of our two sessions playing multiplication games with the dice and cards, and left today being able to give me quite a few answers to questions. She knows 6 x 6. She knows 8 x 8 and 9 x 9 and 6 x 5 and many others. She knows how to multiply tens now, and elevens, and she's starting to learn the logic of multiplication. The third girl, in fifth grade, never really had very much trouble that I could see with algebraic expressions, and she made progress in her understanding of elapsed time. She was the best worker in the group though, and as such probably received the least attention: and that right there is the biggest reason I prefer one-on-one tutoring, and one-on-one interactions in general. I absolutely loved working with these three children this week, but I would have loved even more the opportunity to work with each individually. There is an energy in small groups, though, that is hard to find elsewhere. I guess there are advantages and disadvantages to everything. It was a wonderful experience.

Pro tip from today: small children love balloons. I mean, they really love them. Do you remember that? I'm not sure I do, but I love seeing it. The magic of those soft, floaty, brightly colored orbs isn't easy to describe. The three kids I was sub tutoring this week mentioned on Tuesday that their usual tutor had talked about bringing cupcakes on their last day--today. I didn't really want to bring cupcakes and ran out of time anyway, but I remembered that I had some balloons in my bag-o-tutoring-supplies, left over from the days that the only way to get Layla to write letters was to let her write them in sharpie on a balloon. I thought that they'd be disappointed by this trade, but I figured that it would be better than nothing.

But no--they were so excited about the balloons. And then some of the kids from other groups wanted balloons. And then some kids in the hallway saw me walking with one, and asked if they could have balloons. And there is just something really wonderful about making kids happy in such a simple, easy way. And then one little boy asked me whether I was a balloon fairy, and suddenly the whole world sparkled.

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