This series on how to tutor is written for people involved in City Gospel Mission’s Whiz Kids program in Cincinnati, but the principles apply in many different situations, especially where people are being taught to read. In this first of ten posts, we’ll look at the importance of establishing a relationship before diving into teaching:
Most people need to be listened to, especially children and youth. They may not want to read, or to learn at all, but if we listen to them well, and are prepared to tell them about ourselves too, that begins a relationship. And once we’re in a relationship with a child, they will often work with us even if they’re not all that motivated, simply because they trust us and know we care about them.
So relationship is always the place to start. When our tutoring site begins a new school year, we start with a handout full of non-threatening questions, such as:
What do you like to do when you get home from school?
What are your favorite games?
What are your favorite TV shows?
Where would you like to travel?
What reward do you like best for good work?
If you had $50 what would you buy?
irst, the tutor interviews the student, and writes down their answers in spaces after the questions. Then students are guided to ask tutors the questions and write their answers. This gives you an idea of the new student’s reading and writing level, as well as helping you get to know them. With kids under third grade, and even with some older kids, you’ll have to help them a lot when it’s their turn for reading the questions and writing the answers.
If your child comes from a tough or complicated family background or has experienced a recent trauma, they may not want to answer questions about family. Be sensitive about that and don’t push. Also avoid questions that assume a nuclear family, like, “Do you live with your mom and dad?” or “Do you have contact with your dad?” or “Why do you live with your grandma?” Keep questions open ended, like “Who do you live with?” As you get to know children better, they may want to disclose more about their families, but often they need time to build trust first.
It’s also important to do fun things with kids. Some kids would rather do stuff than talk at all, in which case you don’t try for too much discussion, you find things to do. After we have the question time in our first session, we give the children bags to hold their tutoring supplies, and let them decorate them with permanent markers and stick-on decorations.
Only after connecting in these two different ways do tutors begin to talk about what sessions will be like, and what the rules and expectations are for the time.
Sessions after that are focused on reading, but tutors always begin by asking kids how their weeks have been and how they are doing in school. A quick fun game precedes the tutoring session, and tutors finish by praying with kids about their needs and concerns.
Sandwiching tutoring with a focus on relationships makes the whole experience better for everyone and improves outcomes. Tutors and kids look forward to seeing each other and there’s great potential for tutors to become role models and mentors as well as reading coaches.