By Ryan Gruby, 2021-2022 Literacy First Tutor
With one-to-one tutoring, you don’t often get an opportunity to see how your students interact with one another, beyond when they go back into their classroom. Of my three kindergarten students – Annabelle, Juliana, and Nina – two are cousins, and both are close friends with the third. The entire year, each would always ask about how the other two were doing. “Is this the lesson Juliana was doing?” “How many words did Nina read?” or something similar to that. It was often a little competitive, but they would also show kindness and thoughtfulness, even though the others weren’t around. Despite Annabelle’s lesson happening after Nina’s, Annabelle would pull out her chair, turn her seat around, and leave it ready for Nina to sit down. One time, we were halfway back to her classroom, and Annabelle remembered she hadn’t pulled out the seat (for Nina, whom I had already picked up for her lesson that day) so we turned around so she could leave the chair ready. It was really heartwarming to see these three and their friendship flourish as their reading scores went up.
One of my favorite stories about these three is when Juliana was really struggling with words, having trouble putting syllables together. She could read syllables just fine, but when she went to read words, she would forget the first syllable by the time she had read the second. “Pa” and “to” would become “to” and whatever other syllable came to mind. “Toma” was a big one. I tried method after method to help her remember the first syllable, eventually finding success with teaching her to repeat the first syllable several times before moving onto the next. It required a ton of patience, and I think she knew she was reading at a lower level than her two friends. Despite that, she always talked about how she was slowly getting better. It was so easy to tell her she was absolutely right, and that with time she would be a better reader than I am. By the end of the year, I really think she believed in herself and her ongoing improvement, even if she was still a bit behind the other students.
Juliana would also ask to draw pictures at the end of class for her friends. Whenever we had a few minutes left over, I gave her the whiteboard and let her doodle, and it was always her, Nina, and Annabelle that would appear. She would proudly display her drawing, announcing each friend and describing how they all loved each other. Then, by the time she arrived to class to show Nina and Annabelle, she had completely forgotten which doodled stick figure was which friend, and made up another order. Fortunately, no one ever noticed.