Confidence, Earned

By Illan Kunik, 2019-2020 Literacy First Tutor

One of the things that I am most frequently asked about regarding my experience as a Literacy First tutor is simple: what is my favorite part of working with the kids? Such a simple question can be one of the most difficult things to answer.

For starters, there is nothing more entertaining than the stories kids will share with you on the walks to and from class, getting a glimpse into the incredible imagination of a young child. I also love building relationships with my students, asking them about their favorite things to do, watch, eat and so on, sharing with them my experiences and perspective. But I think to answer the question, I want to dig a little bit deeper and respond with something more meaningful. 

I think the one thing that is truly my favorite part of my role is the opportunity to help students instill confidence in themselves. For some students, improvement happens rapidly and with ease. However, for many, reading is something that they genuinely do not think they are capable of. When we first meet our students, some have a closed mind regarding the ability to read, and even the necessity to read. Students may see themselves falling behind their peers in class and see the gap growing too large to bridge.

I like to use the metaphor of an onion with my students, with the idea that there are many layers to them that must be peeled back in order to really gain their trust and willingness to work with you.  I strongly believe that all of my students are capable of reading, some will just take more time and energy to work with in order to get to the point that they can begin to really take off with the skill.

I think that some of the most important and powerful moments of my year of service have been in conversations with my students that are struggling the most. It is not an easy task to convince a child who is continuously failing at a task that they are capable of doing it. It is not enough to say you believe in them, and insisting that you are confident they can do it is likely not something that registers in the mind of a struggling student. Instead, you have to show them why it is you are confident. You have to trace back to the beginning of your time with them, showing them the progression in their abilities, regardless of how small or big that progression may be. Remind a child that at the beginning of the year they were only able to do something such as say the sounds of the letters, and now they are able to blend letter sounds together in order to read full syllables. If you can truly demonstrate a tangible form of progression, students can latch on to this and run with it.

The moment a student realizes they have progressed in some capacity, their eyes light up with excitement and their willingness to engage in a lesson increases exponentially. And a lot of the time, this lights the fire in them to really delve into their work, soon finding themselves on the path to becoming fluent readers.

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