Saturday, April 2, 2011

Tutoring and Community Service Part One

My high school, as do many other high schools, has a graduation requirement of community service. Thirty hours of volunteer time must be served in a mutually agreed upon field or fields. The requirement's intended purposes involve both prevocational exposure and the promotion of volunteerism. In my particular situation, I was, for the most part. unable to serve the community of my high school because I've spent very little of this school year in that community. My community service instead has consisted of playing the piano in childrens' wards and at various functions associated with my hospital, as well as upon tutoring other students in English, math, and science, both in person at my hospital and via computer through skyping.

The musical element of my volunteer hours exposed me to very little to which I hadn't already been exposed, although a part of the musical service I hadn't mentioned included providing piano lessons to an eight-year-old girl with gastro-intestinal issues that have kept her confined to the hospital almost as much as I have been since I arrived here in October. That experience, which sort of fell into place when the child's parents materialized as I was playing the piano in a playroom in a children's wing one morning, has been delightful. The little girl had begun studying piano a little more than a year before I first had contact with her. When her parents learned that I would be spending substantial amount of time in the hospital, they offered to pay me to instruct her in piano. I convinced them that the hours of community service would be of greater benfit to me than cash payment for lessons. Spending time with her has been fun, and it has been gratifying to see her progress from playing only the most basic of piano primer tunes to tackling simple classics.

The math tutoring has been just like math tutoring always is. High school math students are basically one year ahead of where their parents were at the same age, for the most part whether or not they're ready to be. Curriculum has trickled down. In previous generations Algebra 1 was taught in the eighth grade, but as often as not it was repeated in the freshman year of high school. It is now standard for students to take geometry or even Algebra 2 as freshmen.

My mother, who is both a school counselor and an administrator, says math classes themselves are not usually taught as they were twenty or so years ago. Back in the olden days, a teacher did more explaining to the group as a whole, calling students to the board for guided practice. Now group lessons are often shorter, with the teacher then splitting time between individual students and small groups, while students work independently and with other students on both daily assignments and projects, or on taking computer math tests that assess benchmarks and standards. The end result is that many students have not had sufficient direct instruction or guided practice.

I provide instructon and clarification to the students I serve. Today's math students are not slow; they're just struggling with a more complex curriculum while receiving less instruction and academic supervision. They need more repetition, and they need explanations of concepts they don't understand in a somewhat timely fashion. While I'm not finding a cure for cancer, and I'm certainly not exploring a profession I have any intention of pursuing, I am at least helping a few people who would otherwise be struggling more if I were not there.

Science tutoring sometimes includes explaining of diffiuclt concepts, but mostly I help students to determine which concepts, terms, definitions, and formulae are the most essential to comnit to memory. Additionally, I help them with ways of mentally organizing the material for quick retrieval. This includes grouping of terms and the use of mnemonic devices when necessary. Nothing I'm doing with any of these students is bona fide rocket science, but most of them tell me that my assistance has been a benefit to them.

Tutoring in English has consisted mostly of guiding students in analysis of literature and to assist them authoring compositions, which most often address specific topics of literature analysis. This is the area of tutoring that has been most enlightening to me. Math and science are more cut and dried. While opportunities for creativity in instruction of math and science occasionally come up, for the most part the instruction, the assignments, and the concepts are reasonably similar for the specific course regardless of the students' states of residence or teachers for particulr courses. Teaching of literature, on the other hand, is far more subjective, and brings all sorts of creatures out of the woodwork. Asignments and composition topics even within the confines of a particular subject of English or American literature can and do vary widely.

Some assigned topics for composition make perfect sense to me. One student was to select for analysis, comparison, and contrast, both a Shakespearean sonnet and a more modern sonnet. Arguably, this topic may have been done to death to the extent that Shakespeare, if he's able to observe what's going on in high schools today from wherever he is now, regrets ever having penned even a single sonnet only to see its essence massacred by yet another high school senior. Still, all but the least culturally literate members of our society should have exposure to and knowledge about Shakespeare's sonnets, as well as the ability to count the lines of a poem and determine that it is, indeed, a sonnet in structure. Other assignments are similarly practical if unimaginative.

to be continued

1 comment:

  1. This sounds as if you are having a good deal of fun helping other people. Which is a win-win situation, I hope.