when things click

I am currently in a cheery mood from a successful tutoring session today, so I thought it would be a prime opportunity to share some of the journey so far.

The past few sessions, my student has seemed underwhelmed with the activities I’d planned. I know how much a drag “summer school” is to kids, so I am trying extra hard to make the learning fun and engaging with lots of game-based and hands-on elements. I even created a lesson that was done entirely outside and incorporated physical activity (which also didn’t seem to appeal to my student).

Today, though, seemed to go over really well, and those little moments of victory are always worth it, no matter how long awaited they may be.

The thing I am struggling most with this summer is finding larger chunks of text that my student will actually enjoy reading. This calls for an exciting subject matter with skill-level-appropriate difficulty. As an avid reader, I am really passionate about getting kids to read for enjoyment, not just because their teacher/parent says they have to. I have tried some short stories the school teacher supplied me with, mad libs, books from my own collection – all to no avail. So my search for a winning story continued…

Despite previous lacklustre attempts, something just seemed to click with today’s piece of literature and the strategy my student and I used to read it. I, personally, find that if a student comes across too many difficult words in a sentence/paragraph, they will slowly ‘shut down’ and lose their momentum with a story (which, believe me, is not a good thing to happen when they are only a quarter of the way through the reading!). With this in mind, I decided to use a new strategy (that I have christened “Tap Out”) for this two paged short story, which I predicted may cause a reading slump if my student were asked to tackle it all on his own.

Tap Out is simple – one person starts reading and can continue for however long they’d like. Once they want a break, they simply tap the other person on the shoulder and it is then their turn to read until they feel they are done. The listener also has the job of place keeper, and had to point out the words for the reader as they went. This strategy can also be used with student reading pairs. It allows students to only read as much as they feel comfortable and not feel so overwhelmed when looking at a long piece of text. It also ensures that the student not reading will still be paying attention and keeping an eye on the place in the text. Strong readers may just have to be encouraged to save some story for their partner to read!

I figured that this strategy of reading a text together would help my student if he started to have a reading shut down. I could give him a chance to recharge, and still have control over the situation so I didn’t end up reading the entire story. To my delight, my student ended up reading a chunk of almost half of the story by himself with little difficulty! This is the link for the story we read. I highly recommend you check out the whole site – which is full of short stories at various skill levels that can be read on tablets, smartphones, laptops, or printed out and read on good old fashioned paper.

After reading the story (it’s called “Jacob is a Car,” by the way), we had a little chat about the things that happened in the story. I made sure to focus more on open-ended questions that relied upon imagination and critical thinking, rather than asking for specific details from the story. He seemed to enjoy this comprehension conversation much more than having to write out answers to formulated questions. As a final, wrap-up activity, we both made movie posters for the book, intended to highlight the important parts, make the story look interesting, and get other people to read the story.

Here are some example questions we discussed:

-why do you think the nickel is magic?

-what colour would you be if you turned into a car?

-what colour do you think Jacob’s dad would have been in car form? Why?

-what else do you think the magic cars could do (go underwater, have races, etc.)?

-if you had a magic nickel, what would you use it for?

-if you could transform into anything in the world, what would it be?



Let me know if they did the trick!

Until next time, keep reading and learning!


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