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Shifting Mindsets

When tutoring, praise such as “good job” or “you are so bright”, seem so common and innocent, that one doesn’t even think about the effects that these comments can have on a student. At E.K Powe, I have primarily been tutoring three students, who the teacher has described to me as being the most advanced in her class. Initially, they had been working on addition and subtraction worksheets, but were zooming by them so quickly that instead, the teacher sent us to the media center and asked me to have them conduct research. It was difficult for me to get second graders excited about research, and they frequently complained to me that it was too difficult and that they wanted to go back to doing the math worksheets. Often times, I would give in to their wishes, having them complete more addition and subtraction worksheets and congratulating them for correct answers. At the time, my comments and actions had seemed ordinary and harmless, but after reading more on teaching techniques in class, I realized that I was in fact discouraging a growth mind set.

In class, we watched a video on Carol Dweck, a professor of psychology at Stanford, who researches the idea of a growth mind set. This is the idea that we can grow our brains’ capacity to learn and solve by attempting challenging tasks. I have noticed, that many of the classrooms I have tutored in, including the 2nd grade classroom I am currently in, have been discouraging this growth mindset, often rewarding students for correct answers while ignoring effort and tracking students very early based off of their performance on intelligence tests, as if intelligence was fixed. As a result, I have noticed that many of the students I work with, are afraid of failure, and often avoid challenging tasks, and instead choose tasks they know they can succeed in. For example, the three students I am currently working with gave up easily on their research projects, and preferred to go back to doing the math worksheets that they knew they could complete quickly. Although, these students have been labeled as advanced by their teachers, this same label is keeping them from attempting challenges, as they feel that they are only valued when they over achieve. Likewise, my own praise has been contributing to the fixed mindset of the students. By praising them for correct answers, I am disregarding their effort, and instead only showing value in their ability to reach the solution and not the process.

Also, in educational psychology, we have discussed Erikson’s model of psychosocial development and this has allowed me to further understand the students that I tutor. Currently, most elementary aged children are going through an Industry vs Inferiority crisis where they begin to question their competence. Children use their school performance as a measure of their competence therefore failing grades often negatively affect their self-esteems. Students who don’t excel as quickly as their peers, often begin to feel unintelligent and view challenges not as opportunities to learn, but as opportunities to fail.

My service learning experience is currently allowing me to critique myself and my own methods and I am working towards making a change in my tutoring. I will be more cognizant of what I say, and think before praising students. Instead of congratulating a student for a correct answer, I’ll say something along the lines of “I am proud of you for working hard”. If a student gets a wrong answer, I will also praise them for their effort but have them explain to me their method in figuring out the problem so that I can see what went wrong and assist them. Although, I want to encourage my students, I will be careful to not equate intelligence with achievement. I have utilized some of these techniques already in my last tutoring session, and they made a huge difference. I decided to split the research into different sections and on that day simply focused on having each student choose a topic they found interesting. By splitting up the research this way, it took some pressure off of the students since they no longer felt that they would be in competition with each other to finish the project, because now they would all be working on the same sections. I also explained to them, how important it was that they choose a topic that they did not have much knowledge on already, so that they could learn something that they did not know before. By encouraging them to learn, and taking away their focus from the final project, they became more interested in the idea of a research project. I feel that it’s crucial for today’s teachers to emphasize to their students the importance of learning, over simply achieving. As it is evident in many older students, an obsession with achievement can result in cheating and other negative habits because students lose sight of the learning process and focus only on attaining a grade that they feel defines their intelligence. It is also important to recognize that students each have different learning skills and levels. While a research project may be challenging enough for these second graders who seem to be bored by regular class work sheets, other students may actually find the research project to be too difficult. I want to challenge students, by giving them possible yet difficult tasks. Giving a student a task that is way beyond their capabilities, is not only inefficient, but can also frustrate a student.

By: Vanessa Agudelo

Changing the Way I Tutor

This past week, I got to tutor in an afterschool setting at Carter Community School. At first it felt kind of strange because I haven’t tutored in this kind of setting for nearly a year. The past year, I’ve been working with a mentor teacher so I got very specific assignments in working with students and got to know them over the course of a semester. In the afterschool setting at Carter, things were a lot more laid back and I was given the freedom to walk around and help as I see fit. I found myself trying to figure out how to develop rapport with this new group of children. It’s always hard to ask tutees if they need help especially when they haven’t been assigned to you. So I tried to first get to know their names and asked them to explain to me what they were working on before asking if they needed any help. Then, as I started to help them with things, I found myself thinking a lot about what interaction approach to use e.g. questioning, conversation, instruction, etc.

I think interaction strategies was very relevant because we have been discussing them in Dr. Malone’s education psychology class. This semester, we’ve been talking a lot about our role as teachers. We’ve been trying to move away from the word “teach” because it is not the most accurate verb. Teaching is often associated with telling a student what to do. However, as we have learned, teaching is much more than telling; teaching does not equal learning. Learning is a verb which entails that children have to be just as active in their learning experience. Thus, teachers can do a lot by giving children the opportunity to construct knowledge and participate in their own learning experience. Instead of using the word teach, we have tried to think about what it means for teachers to foster, facilitate, or cultivate learning in children.

As I tried to evaluate and regulate my own tutoring interaction strategies this past week at Carter, I have also been setting expectations and goals for myself in tutoring this semester. Reflecting on my past tutoring experiences, I feel that I have done a lot more teaching than fostering. I feel like I did not give kids enough time and space to figure things out on their own. Often if they were still stuck after I gave them an opportunity to figure something out, I would just jump straight to modeling for them how to do the problem and then expect them to show that back to me. This semester in tutoring, I don’t want to be so quick to show my kids what to do but rather I want to cultivate in them the capacity and the desire to figure things out on their own and to take more ownership in their own learning. I want to help bring or draw out their inherent capacities and strengths.

We have discussed some strategies in class that I want to use. For example, we’ve talked about the three C’s, or critical areas that kids need to develop in order to be successful: content knowledge, critical thinking, and character traits. In addition to facilitating opportunities for kids to learn information and knowledge and cultivating in them critical thinking skills such as word recognition and reading skills, I want to make sure they learn how to learn e.g. express what they have learned in their own words and connect and apply what they learn to the real world. I also want to foster in kids the ability to manage their own learning process e.g. analyzing their own learning needs and strategies. Within self-regulation is also the idea of self-efficacy. I want to help my students develop a growth mindset and become confident learners who feel a sense of accomplishment in putting in effort and working hard.

There are some other education psychology strategies we have learned in class such as reciprocal learning, scaffolding, and guided learning that I want to apply to tutoring this semester. Reciprocal learning is important because it is embedded in the context of a dialogue between teacher and student. By having learning activities be part of a dynamic conversation and experience rather than be done in isolation will help a child learn with purpose and motivation. In other words, students will be more motivated and likely to engage in the activities if they are interacting with another person, and they will learn more effectively if they fully understand the activities they are doing as well as the goal of the activities rather than just passively responding to instructions to perform the activities. I think that although we should not just show kids what to do, it would still be good for them to learn through guided learning or scaffolding. In this process, they learn under expert guidance and receive feedback so that they can learn to their full potential and gradually take on more independence.

Other than changing the way I approach tutoring, I also want to be cognizant of how I perceive and interact with my students. I want to honor my kids and learn to see and appreciate their inherent strengths and capacities. I want to seek to understand where they are coming from by asking more questions and listening instead of making assumptions or placing judgments. I hope these things will help me to better understand my students individually and help both of us to develop more positive and mutually trusting relationships.

Initial Thoughts

I have had some experience tutoring in the Durham Public Schools before, however, my experience thus far is extremely different.  When I was tutoring in the past I worked with children ages 4, 5, 6, and 7. Now I am working in a class where the children are 13, 14, and 15.  Although both of my experiences were Montessori, the manifestations of such a teaching style are extraordinarily different in both settings.  I have only had a few students with my middle school students so far but I already have a good bond with the group.  My younger brother is 14 and he reminds me of some of the students in his social and friendly way.  I am already worried about maintaining the line between friend and tutor for this exact reason.  So far I have been extremely professional but I do like to joke and make my students laugh so I just have to remind myself that this is not the true goal of why I am there.

One thing that is also interesting about the age of students I am working with is where gender and gendered relationships come into play.  Firstly, one of my students told me that she is bad at math and this is because she is a girl.  Not only did I want to appropriately dissuade her from such a stereotypical and incorrect belief, I also wanted to work away from her ‘fixed mindset’.  I wanted her to establish a growth mindset meaning that she would not use terminology like I cannot but instead I struggle with this and I will work on it to get better. We talked about this idea and she actually understood and liked it.  On a personal level this was also important to me as a woman.  I explained to her that I used to struggle with some math concepts too but I worked at them and eventually got better.  Of course this was just one session but she seemed at least slightly more positive.  That was something that was different then I was expecting.  I thought working with students at such a mature age would mean they would take anything I said as corny or teacher-ish.  I was pleased to find she did not abuse the schema or prior knowledge she had of duke tutors but instead seemed to have a lot of grit and resilient self-efficacy in terms of working cooperatively with me.

Another component of the initial sessions that I found interesting and reflected on often in the recent days is the ability of my students to activate their minds very quickly. We have been working mostly with math but my students were able to use some higher-level thinking and prio knowledge activation to connect their problems to other real world and classroom examples.  For example, when working with negative numbers, one of my students helped another by using the example of taking out library books, in this case owing the books to the library would be like a negative number.  What I found to be touching about this exchange was that the girl at first asked “do your parents ever give you allowance?” which I assume she was going to use to suggest that if you asked for allowance a week early you would be in the negatives and not get any the next week or something along those lines.  When the other student said no she did not and looked embarrassed, the first student thought very quickly and used some higher-level questioning to say well what about the school library books.  She was able to find a common ground immediately and that sort of shared schema or even metacognition to clarify an example was a great thing for me to learn.  Ergo, this was a strong moment of reciprocal teaching and learning.

By: Gaby  Nesmith


Due to the inclement weather policy for both DPS and Duke, all tutoring and groups based reflections have been canceled for today.

Free Online Books

If you ever feel that your student has memorized all of the books in his/her classroom you can find free books online. You can access these books using the classroom computer, your iPad or laptop. Before you begin reading online, make sure to ask your host teacher if it’s alright to use technology in the classroom. Below are three links to online libraries.

Story Jumper

Me Genius

Children’s Library