Renew the Spring in Your Literacy Step

Spring! It’s that time of year when we are surrounded by renewal and rebirth. Now, without slipping too far into the poetic, I would like to offer some inspiration to all of our wonderful tutors out there who may be looking to reinvigorate themselves and their tutoring this spring, just like a fresh magnolia flower. So, I came up with the following list of three ways to bring new thinking and energy to your tutoring.

Put limits on yourself or your student to renew your thinking
Have you ever seen an old karate movie where the wise master helps the trainee to improve their skills by tying the trainee’s hands behind their back and making them learn to fight with just their nose or something? Or, remember the scene in Star Wars when Luke has to learn to use his light saber while blindfolded? I know you remember that scene, right? Sometimes a good way to get to a new place is to take away a tool that you have come to depend on. Take that tool away, and you’ll be forced to think creatively.

For example, perhaps your student has a certain phrase they like to use. Often times students will develop a general phrase that can serve as a catch all for many occasions.  The problem is that these phrases are usually vague. If you notice one that your student relies on, prohibit it for the lesson and work with them to make a handful of replacement phrases. This will help them become more sophisticated in their language use. Some great examples are any phrases that use the words “things,” “stuff,” “people.” These types of words don’t really express anything. 

To illustrate, work to change, “I need to learn new things” into “I need to learn to speak to people at the store,” then to, “I need to speak to the clerks at the supermarket.” Take away, but build something new with your student and see what happens. Or, prohibit Google Translate, and put the monolingual dictionary on the table. What change does that make?

Is this just “a person?”

Also, if you, the tutor, have any crutches that you use when tutoring, analyze yourself and try going without them to see how that energizes your thinking. You know what I mean…how many times have you used that one activity you love so much? Heck, maybe there’s a phrase you use that you could give up. You never know when a small change is going to snowball into a whole new way of tutoring. 

Throw away the tools 
While we’re at it…what if we just threw away all of the tools we are using. Don’t panic! I don’t mean forever. If you’ve been tutoring awhile, you might notice that the lessons in the books can be a bit repetitive. Don’t forget that we have games and other supplies you can use to take a break from the book. Also, from time to time, make it a goal to not open the book at all. Instead, talk to your student and let them try to express to you what they really want to say. You’ll find out more about what they really need to learn as well. Don’t forget what I told you above; however, you might need to talk with them for a while to get to the specifics. This will be the fun part!

There’s actually a movement in some educator circles to do away with formal materials completely and let all learning originate with the students. This is a controversial idea, but something that is worthy of thought. I wouldn’t advocate permanently getting rid of the books, especially for volunteer teachers, but I whole-heartedly support doing so periodically. I would recommend having an approach—something to guide your discussion at least—and see what comes out of it. Come in with the goal of finding something the student wants to learn, and help them get there with a few impromptu lessons or even a walk around the neighborhood, if that would fit the bill.

Find your tribe
One final thing I would recommend is, of course, talk to like minded people as much as you can! Nothing energizes us quite like seeing and hearing what our peers are doing. They can inspire us, and you can inspire them. You’ll feel more confident and creative when  you hear about the ways other tutors have tried ideas.

So, don’t forget the many ways we provide to help tutors connect to one another. The first is our quarterly meet and greets, the times and locations of which are posted on our web page. Secondly, please join our Facebook group for tutors. Here you will be able to talk directly to one another about any topics that you like. And finally, right here on this blog is a comments section for every post. If you don’t see it, click on the title of the blog post you would like to comment on, and you should go to a screen that has a comment box right below the post. 

So, go out there and experiment this spring. And don’t forget to share your experiences to let the rest of us know what you discover.

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