Help me be a better tutor!
September 15, 2014 1:26 PM   Subscribe

I'm helping elementary school kids with their math and English homework. I really need math resources and strategies for helping kids with their reading/writing homework. Some are English language learners.

1) I worked with a second grader, a fourth grader, and two fifth graders last week. The kids I worked with were doing subtraction (second grade), and basic algebra (fifth grade). I want to be a helpful tutor. What math topics and resources would be the most useful for me to review?
2) What are some strategies I can use when I'm going through critical reading or writing assignments with kids who struggle with reading and/or English vocabulary?

If you have any other suggestions (they don't have to be related to those two), I'm all ears. The organization I'm tutoring with gave out a handbook with tips (a.k.a. "Use the Socratic method! Check for understanding! Don't just give them the answer!"), and I'm looking to get beyond that. I'm the least experienced tutor, and it shows.

posted by topoisomerase to Education (4 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
For your second item, I suggest some basic etymology, particularly if those who are English language students already speak a language that has some connections with English. This might get you going.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 1:41 PM on September 15, 2014

This video might interest you:
Teaching math without words

Make sure they understand the basics. I tutored math in high school. I tutored English as a foreign language in high school. I homeschooled my sons. If you are anything like me, you are worried about fine distinctions that would trip up a native speaker of English and it is probably not relevant to their needs. When I first tutored English as a second language, the teacher who oversaw the program had to go "Yeah, no. These are the kinds of basic things these folks need to know."

Some things that helped my sons:

I explained where the language of math came from and what it meant. "Times" means if you have THIS number THIS many TIMES you get this other number. "Square" means if you have tiles and make a pattern (2x2, 3x3, 4x4) of those dimensions, the shape will be a square. "Cube" means if you make a three dimensional shape out of it, it will form a cube (3x3x3, 4x4x4, etc). You can use blocks to physically demonstrate that cube numbers form cubes and you can use CD boxes or any other square items on hand to demonstrate that square numbers form square shapes if laid out that way.

My oldest son could not wrap his brain around division until I pulled a pie out of the fridge and began cutting it. I asked him to count the number of pieces and demonstrated why the amount gets smaller as the denominator gets bigger ("two halves are not so tiny, but four quarters are starting to get small, and eighths are obviously pretty small..."). I showed him the physical connection between this bizarre idea.

Also, if they are really little, make sure they understand even more basic things like "the number 2 stands for two physical objects." I don't think I am saying that well and maybe you will never deal with a kid who has such basic problems, but my oldest son did struggle with stuff like that. He didn't understand at first that the numbers on the paper stood for actual measurable amounts. They were just words to him and he was just trying to memorize rules and had not way to relate it to real life at first.

Adults often assume a lot of basic background knowledge that is sometimes just lost on young kids. Word problems sometimes help with that because it gives it a real world context, but, again, sometimes adults assume knowledge a kid does not have. My son has talked about how "two trains going X mph" meant nothing to him in school. He didn't drive a car. He didn't know what "mph" stood for. No one explained it. It just added to the mystery.
posted by Michele in California at 4:49 PM on September 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

I would look up the grade level standards for your state because more than likely, the teacher is following those standards as a rough guideline. Then, if you are looking for resources or interesting ways to teach or understand the topic, I (as a 2nd year 4th grade teacher) religiously use pintrest and teacherspayteachers. Teachers pay teachers has many different free things you can download, you just need to create a free profile in order to download items. For the ELD kiddos I would work on vocabulary and basic comprehension understanding. Honestly, if you start searching pintrest for ideas you can find so many ideas, I discovered this year that teachers just LOVE pintrest. It is a miracle I tell you.
posted by ruhroh at 7:22 PM on September 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

For math especially, you may need to put some effort into changing the kids' mindset from "I'm not good at math" to "I can become good at math if I practice enough." Some kids don't do well at math because they don't think they can do well at math.

Praise effort and persistence over "natural" intelligence and let them know that the struggle to figure out the answer is part of what math is all about. It takes time to learn things.

A little bit of attitude re-shaping goes a long way with many kids in math.
posted by greenmagnet at 8:15 AM on September 16, 2014

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