How do I tutor a HS senior in reading?
November 8, 2005 1:43 PM   Subscribe

Next week I'm going to start tutoring a high schooler in reading. This is new. Help me!

Background: I'm a sophomore in college, and he's a senior in high school. I've never tutored anyone in anything before (I got this gig through my university's community service program). There is no curriculum or program to go through.

I spoke to his mother briefly on the phone, but she couldn't narrow down what he needed help in (e.g., vocabulary, comprehension). She did, however, seem to expect me to have something planned out, so this isn't one of those "bring in your homework and get help" deals.

What should I do?
posted by danb to Education (13 answers total)
It really depends on the student's level of aptitude.

When I was teaching ESL to highschool students, I'd choose an article out of the newspaper. Have them read it aloud, have them read it to themselves, then have them relate the article to me in their own words and then I'd try to discuss it with them.

That helped ne narrow down which aspect of language they most needed work on but it really depended on whether the student wanted to learn and whether or not I managed to pick an article that they could relate to.
posted by PurplePorpoise at 1:47 PM on November 8, 2005

I too have been tutoring ESL - not exactly the same, but there are some parallels. There are a ton of ESL resources on the web, you might want to look around for adult literacy lessons. It is truly important to have a few activities planned out before you meet with your student/learner, especially if they may already have a negative attitude towards education. Keep them entertained and interested, don't lecture at them. Good activities to keep a high schooler engaged will depend on your ability to find out what his interests are, and plan activies around those.

For example, if he loves computer games, get him a copy of some gaming industry magazine and do a comprehension exercise based on that. Have him write a review of a new game, who knows, it could end up in the school paper. If he's not confident about his writing skills, you can start small (list pros and cons of the game) before getting into bigger projects.

Also, find out if there are some ESL tutoring programs in your community - in my experience people who are involved in this are very eager to give advice, even in your situation which isn't strictly ESL they may have some great resources to recommend. Start with the local library. Good luck to you and your learner!
posted by pants at 2:15 PM on November 8, 2005

I teach esl...the nice thing about reading is that one of the best ways to get better at reading is simply to READ. Figure out what they can do, and ask them what they think they need help with. Find out what their interests are. Newspapers are a great place to start. Read with them, and see if they can synthesize what they read afterward. Ask them if there were any words they do not know. Look for the main idea and supporting details. I could go on and on.

For a high schooler, you could also try reading a short novel with them. Or possibly have them read a book as "homework" and then tell you about what they read. Whatever they read, make sure it is something that they enjoy! If you get any more information about what their specific troubles are, I could probably help you out more. But the key principle - just READ.
posted by jetskiaccidents at 3:16 PM on November 8, 2005

Best answer: Be careful not to constantly interrupt to offer corrections. For example, you could just note which words he mispronounces, and go over them later. (Or, in the best of all worlds, give him the list along with a tape of you saying them out loud.)

Offer a lot of positive reinforcement (without faking this). As others (above) have noted, one of your main concerns is whether your student sees these reading sessions as positive (as in, reading something of interest) or not; if he gets a lot of criticism and negativity from you, he's likely to go apathetic, and it will be very hard to reverse that once it happens.

And it probably wouldn't hurt, while doing introductions, to say something like "I've never helped out someone with reading, so this is a learning experience for me too." (And, maybe after the first session, tell him of anything you're thinking about doing differently next time, and ask him if those changes seem to make sense, and if he has any suggestions.)
posted by WestCoaster at 3:44 PM on November 8, 2005

I have a few more things to add. Teaching reading strategies works well...this sounds fancy but it's really just all the things good readers do to help themselves out. Such as using context clues to figure out unknown words, predicting what the reading is going to be about from the title or topic sentences, skimming and scanning to find needed information, and using the question words to summarize the reading (5 W'S and how). Those are some additional ideas to actually build skills if you need to get to that. But, I wouldn't do this on the first day or two - do what everyone else has already said. I'm really done now.
posted by jetskiaccidents at 7:31 PM on November 8, 2005

If there really is no structure to the tutoring assignment, I'd try to discover some common ground as far as personal interests are concerned, then identify a reasonably accessible book (Harry Potter?) that you enjoyed, and assign a few chapters to be read which you can then discuss. A half a chapter aloud apeice together, and a couple of chapters on his or her own. Repeat.

Having someone read aloud while you follow along helps set the rhythm and music of the language, matched with the visual aspect. You read the first part, student reads the second part. Make sure the student undertands that they should interrupt you if they fall behind or have trouble with a passage.
posted by jimfl at 7:35 PM on November 8, 2005

Who recommended the high school student for tutoring? Could that person identify the problem? If it is simple unfamiliarity, practice will help if not make perfect.
If there is something like an underlying vision problem, there should be professional help/advice.
posted by Cranberry at 12:25 AM on November 9, 2005

Best answer: My tip – in addition to all the other excellent advice above – would be to use the first session to work out what’s up with his reading, and what you, together, are going to do about it.

Try having him read something short, and listen to hear what he stumbles over. Is it multi-syllable words? Particular consonant combinations? Or is his pronunciation OK, but it’s a comprehension problem?

Share what you’ve noticed - gently.

Reassure him that reading is a skill that can be learned – you don’t have to be some awesome superbrain or anything. Practice and persistence, with someone to help you, will really pay off over time.

Talk a bit about what you expect from him (homework? practice on his own?), and what he can expect from you (help, patience, one fifty-five minute session a week?), too. P'raps involve his mother in this bit.

And, before you leave, make a plan for the start of your next session. Even if it’s only something like leaving him a short news story to read and having him ring words he’s having trouble with for you to go through together next time.

When you go, all three of you should have a clear(er) understanding of what needs to be done and what’s going to happen. Good luck!
posted by t0astie at 12:53 AM on November 9, 2005

If he's a senior in high school, has he taken the SAT? If he hasn't and he's thinking of college/university, it may be worthwhile to have a look at some SAT reading comprehension problems with him (if the SAT still tests that).
posted by juv3nal at 1:34 AM on November 9, 2005

It could be useful to speak with his high school teachers, to get an idea of what they feel his deficits are. Perhaps you could also find out if he has been tested or diagnosed for dyslexia or other neurological disorders, and if there are specific exercises he needs to do to overcome such problems. If the problem is motivational, you could perhaps get greater interest from him by incorporating "graphic novels" in your sessions. Seriously, comic books have played an important role in helping people with poor reading skills since at least WWII.
posted by paulsc at 3:24 AM on November 9, 2005

Are there any testing material that you could borrow from your program or the Education department at your college? Getting a baseline for his needs is crucial to help set goals.
I remember when I was in fifth grade we had a box of cards wtih stories on them which got progressively more difficult and had more abstract questions. I think they were called SSR cards.
posted by Sara Anne at 8:25 AM on November 9, 2005

Also here are some websites that might help:

I have some experience with tutoring, although it was with much younger kids. From my experience: systems of praise and reward work, systems of punishment do not. Praise everything done well to a level that would ordinarily make you blush, give qualified praise to unsuccessful effort ("good try! But what sound does 'n' make? That right, lets sound that out! You got it! Excellent!") A high schooler will probably sense that constant, unflagging enthusiasm might not always be sincere, but I think that you can find other ways to positively reinforce the kid for progress. When in doubt: bribe, bribe, bribe (although I doubt that High Schoolers will work for stickers or funny erasers as a first grader would. Does your program offer anything for you distribute as incentives, like cool pens or pencils? Or perhaps you can have the kid work up to a reasonably priced prize, like a gift certificate for a movie ticket or music store).
Good luck!
posted by Sara Anne at 8:51 AM on November 9, 2005

If the only material that you work with is newspapers that might be pretty tedious for a teen. Hopefully you can find a not too intimidating book that strikes a chord with your pupil. Popular magazines might work too.
posted by deanj at 10:18 AM on November 9, 2005

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