Thursday, January 27, 2011


Is there anything more exasperating than an inconsistent blogger? Possibly not. Sorry.

Here I sit, on a late winter afternoon, having a snack of toast between writing a survey for Mercy Corps and writing lesson plans for my four new students. My internship at Mercy Corps provides a sense of accomplishment each week, and I only resent having to get up at 5.30 for it at 10 pm, when I know I should go to bed but would rather stay up another three hours, and 5.25, when my first alarm goes off and I wish I had gone to bed at 10. I'm working with the intern recruiting team, coming up with better ways to gather, store and present information. The projects are bite-sized. No 300 page documents to manage here, which means I end each week feeling like I finished things. And while itty bitty projects might get frustrating if that's what I did for a full time job, it's perfect for how disjointed my weeks are right now.

Tutoring has been going fine. Once I settled into a routine with the kids and with my lesson plans, I was enjoying it. Monday was the last day of tutoring for my group of 3, however, and they are doing post assessments with other teachers now. I picked up a group of four new students yesterday--all different grade levels, three for math and one for reading. I'll only have them for a few weeks before I administer their post-assessments. My two off-site students will be done toward the end of the month. I really don't enjoy the upheaval and changing routine. It takes me longer to plan and leaves me feeling a little bit disorganized as I try to quickly assess how much can be accomplished in each new situation.

Juan is sounding out words like a champ, however, and I usually leave his house feeling at peace with the tutoring process. Shortly after my last post about him, we had a not-so-good session in which he cried and said reading was hard, and I felt terrible for not realizing pre-tears that he was feeling pushed. He was also sick that day, and in retrospect, that seems to have been the main problem. The very next day, I went with some dread that we'd have another difficult session. But instead, he was animated and engaged, and by the time I pulled out his little red book (the one that had pushed him over the edge 24 hours earlier) he said, "I LOVE reading!" and soon after that he was standing on his kitchen chair, arms in the air, doing a victory dance over what an accomplished reader he is. I think this change in tune might have had something to do with the two very sweet little girls who were visiting that night. One way or the other, he's reading quite well with very little help, and we're both pleased. We have a lot of fun too. He's come around from his original "no games" stance, and when I read to him, he says, "oh, do the voice, do the voice!" and then giggles every time when I read in my goofy man-impression voice. (don't ask me to do it for you; I only do it for cute 5 year olds). Monday he asked if I thought maybe I could come over sometime and we could play with his toys. Tuesday he assured me (without consulting his parents) that I would be welcome to join his family and their guests for pizza if I wanted to do that instead of going home. :) So I guess we're friends. Also, the little girls are there at least once a week, and one has taken to sitting in my lap and participating for the whole tutoring time, even though she doesn't understand English (but I think she's starting to know colors). She enjoys the books and writing, and when we play a game, she's on my team. It works out fine.

I had an interview for Intel almost two weeks ago, and was supposed to have another one this week. It's been postponed indefinitely due to changes in their hiring priorities, but the manager said that as soon as he knows that they're still hiring for this position we will reschedule. He won't know for at least another two weeks. Last week I also submitted an application for a PhD position in Basel. Those are the most promising two long-term jobs I'm following at the moment.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Five Little Peppers

Tutoring re-started this week after a two week break for Christmas. Two of the first graders were moved to a different group and I picked up two off-site students, so I now see two kindergartners and a first grader in a group session, a fifth grader at his home, and another kindergartner (Juan) in his home. Juan's preliminary assessment test indicated that he didn't know his letter sounds, colors, or numbers, and basically didn't understand the material on the test. I was told to expect really low English comprehension. At our first meeting, though, I discovered he not only knows all his colors, can read numbers, can count reliably, can asses same/different, and can order pictures into a correct sequence; he can also correctly identify many letter names and sounds, come up with words that start with a given sound, eliminate words that don't start with the same short, I don't know what he was thinking when he checked out of that assessment test, but the kid is clearly a smart little dude. Also, he never accidentally switches to Spanish. He is all English when we're together.

In our second meeting, we began to review letter sounds again. He shrugged his shoulders and said "I don't know!" when I asked him letters he had known just yesterday. Suspecting he feigned ignorance, I circled back to a few of the letters he'd said he didn't know. "Ok, this is a really hard one..." I said. That successfully jogged his memory every time.

Thursday, I asked if he'd like to start with a story. He shook his head no. "No? ok, would you rather start with a game?" no. "Alright, well how about some letter flashcards to warm up?" nope, he didn't want to do that either. I said he had to pick one thing, so we started with flash cards (no memory problems today!), but any time I asked him for input about an activity, he said that actually, he didn't want to do it. I like that he's so frank, and I can hardly blame him! I wouldn't want to do an extra hour and a half of reading after school either! I also like that he didn't have a bad attitude, and when I said each time that I understood he didn't want to, but I wanted him to do it anyway, he got right to it.

I take a pile of books each day for him to pick read aloud stories. He picks long and complex stories like Owl Moon, The Three Little Javelinas and Lentil-- books that bore the the other ESL 5 year olds--and he stays engaged through the whole book and can answer questions and write a sentence about the story.

I think he probably is bored with reading material and exercises that are at his level (he's still learning to sound things out, and doesn't know all his long vowels yet). I picked up a set of "Bob Books" for him to start on - simple books that should be perfect for building his ability to sound things out, and I'm going to make a goal chart. Maybe he's motivated by lists, levels and prizes. I am. Also, I got a funny Skippyjon Jones book with some entertaining Spanglish:
"Ay, Skippito," said Don Diego, a purple dog. "It is good you are here. El Bumblebeeto has stolen our beans!"
"Holy guacamole!" Skippito Friskito cried. "We must get them back!"...
Skippito and his amigos found Bumblebeeto resting in a tree.
"Ay, Bumblebeeto," Skippito called out, "give Los Chimichangos back their beans!" But El Bumblebeeto didn't hear him. He was asleep!

I hope to see Juan reading independently soon!