Planning instruction without a requisite level of background information

Challenge:
Planning instruction without a requisite level of background information

Scenario:
Today I had my third session with my tutee. His teacher finished filling out the background information form at the end of my hour with him and I felt terrible. Since I did not know much about his background when I started today, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to work on vocabulary and Total Physical Response (TPR) concentrating on this aspect. We practiced mainly on the family, home, and basic school concepts. He was very good at labeling things in the classroom (I discovered he loves to draw so he would draw pictures and label them). As we began discussing our families, I modeled by drawing a picture of mine & labeling them. He would only draw himself and write “Mi Familia” at the top of his paper. Later, his teacher handed me his background information and it said that he lives with his aunt & uncle, and that his parents are not here with him. I told her about the tutoring session and she told me that he doesn’t talk about his parents, even in Spanish!

On a more positive note he was very eager to work with me today & seemed much more motivated to learn English! He even shared some of his new English vocabulary with his classmates as they read their stories in Spanish. He can read words in English and translate them to Spanish for me, but when I point to the word and ask him what it means, he says he doesn’t know. I think he may just be decoding and not really comprehending the meaning behind it?

Possible Strategies:
Switching to another topic may have presented a better gauge of his true knowledge of the subject. This scenario illustrates the importance of obtaining background information in designing instruction because there may be invisible factors that can have a profound impact on how our tutee’s think.