On December 4, 2017, Cambridge School Volunteers (CSV) hosted a workshop on Math in Focus at Vassal Lane Upper School (VLUS). The workshop served CSV tutors volunteering at the five learning center programs across the school district. Elsa Head, a seventh-grade math teacher at VLUS, led the session. Ms. Head led a discussion about developing math skills in middle school youth during one-to-one tutoring.
Some tutors expressed anxiety towards math tutoring, with questions about the expectations of math teachers and how to best approach math problems with their students. Head shared some words of wisdom, “Being a tutor is not necessarily about getting all of the answers right, but about facilitating reasoning in your students.”
Participants worked on math problems from the sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade curricula, Math in Focus. Tutors worked individually and in pairs while visualizing equations, using bar models and algebra tiles. Along with participating in and dissecting the activities, tutors received a resource packet that included curriculum goals for each grade level. The packet included prompts tutors to encourage students to use prior knowledge to solve challenging problems. Some examples include:
“What is the problem asking you to do?”
“What resources do you have that can help?” and
“Can you explain your first step to me?”
Ms. Head reassured tutors that they don’t have to master middle school math to support students in their learning. Head spoke about how important it is for tutors to have students lead them through problems, while helping students frame follow-up questions for future classes. She also spoke to the differences between elementary school and middle school. During the middle school years, she said, students need encouragement to speak up and ask for targeted support. The most important role of the tutor is to show their students that they believe they can succeed. This kind of encouragement from a trusted adult is one of the building blocks of a successful learner.
—Vanessa DeNino, Program Assistant, Cambridge School Volunteers
Vanessa DeNino is a graduate student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education