Ellen Smith, a 2011 Mack I. Davis Award winner for her extraordinary service as a volunteer, began tutoring at the Tobin School after teaching at the elementary level in the Wellesley Public School system. After two years at the Tobin, she transferred to the Graham and Parks to tutor math under the guidance of two 1st and 2nd grade teachers.
As a tutor with CSV, Ellen visited the school for one hour, twice a week, to meet with her student. Ellen says she had many memorable students who needed one-to-one tutoring in order “to gain greater understanding of their math assignments” as well as to work on their number facts and “to generally finish what was assigned to them.” She kept this relationship with the student all year, working in the classroom and in the school library.
With one particular student, Ellen could tell that he was easily distracted and had some difficulty concentrating on work at his table with other students. “I noticed that he did not sit close to the teacher when she gathered the students in front of her and explained the day’s lesson in math.” Ellen also noticed that while he did have a general math understanding, his work was often inaccurate or unfinished. “He was more eager to talk with classmates than complete his jobs,” Ellen says of her student. “He was an active, busy child with lots of interesting things to say.”
The teacher soon suggested that the student and Ellen move to a quieter spot: the school library upstairs. “He was really excited about this prospect, and this worked so well,” says Ellen, as together, she and her young student, who relied on counters and hundreds charts for figuring in math, worked through different ways to count using these devices. He was becoming quicker with his assignments in the library, and he began to show greater concentration on reading directions and in listening to his classroom teacher as she spoke about the day’s lesson.
Her student’s independence grew throughout the mentoring. Ellen encouraged him to explain how he arrived at some of his answers in problem-solving, yet still, he wasn’t always eager to express these things. Steadily and throughout the year, they worked on this communication, and he truly progressed. Some of the ways that Ellen engaged him were to vary their activities and give him the choice of things to complete, some of which included math games, and occasionally acting as his scribe in the written problem-solving. These methods kept his interest and motivated him to use the hour in a more constructive way.
“I thoroughly enjoyed this particular student,” Ellen says. “He was a creative child with such an engaging personality. He was always eager to work with me.” Throughout the year, Ellen noted the improvements in his math figuring, and more importantly, his increasing pride in completing his assignments. “I was proud of him too.”