Maintaining the focus and simultaneously engaging the student.

Challenge:
Maintaining the focus and simultaneously engaging the student.

Scenario:
It has been a chaotic past couple of weeks! I’ve been to my school a few times now and my tutee has been absent. I was worried that he might have moved. However, today he was back and as it turns out he was visiting a learning specialist. The specialist seems to think he my have some psychological problems, in addition to learning problems, which coupled with being an ELL has stymied his academic progress. I guess I have my plate full. I actually worked with the learning resource teacher today and helped conduct a lesson with her. My student needed help in phonemic awareness. The teacher copied a bunch of photos of lips showing the pronunciation of specific sounds such as “k” or “pa” or “t”. We then used these photos (two cards per sound) as cards, and flipped them over to make a game out of this lesson. The game was to find two of a kind and correctly use the associated lip movement and sound. My student did really well and appeared to enjoy himself. Immediately, following this lesson, we spent sometime on math. Once again, I played the role of helper/observer.

Finally, I was able to have some alone time, during which I helped him with his alphabet. Although he knew the alphabet in Spanish, he still has trouble with the translation. He would call the letter “K” instead of a “Q”. I felt that teaching reading before he had even developed an understanding of letter-sound correspondence was putting the cart before the horse. My strategy teaching the alphabet was to mix up a bunch of letter cut-outs and have him put the letters in alphabetical order. I sang the alphabet song and tried to get him to participate. After that, we played alphabet Tic Tack Toe…or circle the three letters that are in the correct sequence (G,H,I). He has gotten into the habit of asking me to draw him pictures when he does a good job. I guess drawing is a cheaper reward than candy!

Possible Strategies:
1. Working with students who have “psychological” issues can be very tricky for a tutor who is just getting her feet wet at teaching second language literacy. I commend you for taking such a positive attitude (You will have this type of student so it will be a useful experience, especially if you can figure out what are the most appropriate/effective approaches in these cases. If his issues are some type of disability then it will be challenging to you if you don’t have experience in special education. Some special education students may need more “systematic teaching” of phonics, although I will say that learning oral vocabulary first is a rule I apply to all.

2. In regard to the special education question, some students work really well with a systematic phonics program, but with others the focus is just language, language, and language. You really need a lot of time to tell what will work, probably more then we have. But any language input if slow and clear will help a student, especially in oral language, so I would recommend focusing on one phonics plan or language concept and sticking to it.