Learning to Learn

By Sophie Mullaney, 2021-2022 Literacy First Tutor

Enzo is a kindergarten student I have worked with since October. When we began daily lessons, he knew very few letter sounds, and had a lot of trouble with writing. Enzo has worked so hard throughout the school year, not only with me, but also in his other classes, and it shows through his incredible progress. Now, he is reading full words, and writing with more and more confidence. 

Enzo can easily become frustrated when he does make a mistake, so this is something we have been working on together. Sometimes he, and other students I have seen, become concerned or disheartened when they make a mistake, as if mistakes are not a natural part of learning. I believe that this is as important to teach as it is to know.  

I have watched Enzo transform in his abilities, not only to read, but in his emotional capabilities, as well. I think he is better able to recognize that mistakes are okay, that everyone makes mistakes, and that they can help us learn. When we change our perspective, it can open our worlds. I think this has been one of my favorite parts of tutoring this year. Of course, I have learned about phonics, coding, decoding – all of those wonderful technical concepts that help our students learn to read, but I have also learned so much about what it takes to learn. The emotions, the behavior, and the beliefs.  If we don’t think we can succeed, we probably won’t. As tutors, we have to recognize that students need emotional support just as much as the reading support. Without the emotional piece, without the encouragement and teaching that it is okay to make mistakes, we would never learn. 

Enzo is a student who has really shown me this. He needs motivation and encouragement in the form of colored pencils to write with, stickers, and lots of verbal recognition of his hard work. For all of our students, you can see so clearly that when their hard work is recognized, they feel better, they feel more capable, they feel smarter, they feel more willing to continue the hard work and to keep trying!  

As a tutor, a huge part of the job has been not only learning how to teach the material, but learning how to tailor the material to each student, because each student will have different behaviors, emotions, frustrations, personality, and excitements. Once we start to recognize what each student needs, how they learn, and what they could benefit from, we can adjust accordingly within the framework of the lesson. 

Even if they might not recognize it directly, a student can feel if you are invested in helping them succeed, and when this is the case, I think learning, growth, and a positive outcome are much more likely. Some days are harder than others, of course, but at the end of the day, watching a student like Enzo read a word they have struggled to recode for weeks is one of the coolest and most rewarding things for both student and tutor.   

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