Planning the next tutor leadership day

two people drawing on whiteboard

On Thursday, December 20, 2018, we will be having our Fall Tutor Leadership day, a part day professional development seminar with two goals: continue to build a community for tutors and address emerging challenges tutors are facing in their practice. I am frantically trying to finish a pressbook with the tutors’ blogs for the OntarioExtend 9x9x25 challenge to use at the Leadership day and have decided to remove some of the suggestions about how to use the guide. I am going to let others decide for themselves how to use it, so I have moved some of the materials I thought about adding here:

Getting tutors to talk:

This section is a quick summary of ideas have used to increase discussion participation during meetings and training.  It is a goal of our training to give tutors an opportunity to continue to build communication skills as well as to build relationships with staff and other tutors. Tutors can and should be a support to one another, be a source for answers to questions when staff are not immediately available and this process is improved when tutors begin to know each other and understand that they can learn from each other.

These first three ideas are from the Cult of Pedagogy,  specifically Jennifer Gonzales’ 2015 blog post on Class Discussion ideas

Affinity Mapping

Affinity mapping begins with a big question. Tutors generate ideas and jot these on a post-it note, one per note. This notes are added to a wall or sheet with the question in no particular order. After many ideas have been added, tutors examine the notes and begin to group in to themes.

Snowball Discussion

Students start in groups of two to discuss a question and then join another group of two to have a discussion with four. These four can join another group of four, and so on. I like to use this technique with Think-Pair-Share instructions at the beginning.

Talk Moves

This technique appears to have been developed for elementary and secondary level students, however, I have found it gives tutors a model for having discussions about tutoring topics where opinions may differ and during early training sessions when some tutors may still be reluctant to join in. Talk moves gives up to five sentence models to use when adding to a discussion that requires the tutor to listen to another speaker and respond to what they have said.

Examples: I agree with what __________ said, because ________________. I want to add to what __________said, I think ________________. I disagree with __________________ because ______________. I have a connection to what ____________said. Can you explain your thinking?

A couple of my own ideas:

Introductions with crazy questions:

At the start of each training or meeting, I ask the tutors to give me their name, their program, a course they like to tutor and then I add a crazy question. The question is relatively risk free but revealing of the tutor as a person. I find these questions often lead to connections and other conversations between tutors.

Examples:

  • What are you freakishly good at that has nothing to do with what you are studying?
  • What is something you are proud of in the last year/ 6 months?
  • What do you collect (as in have more than 3 of)?
  • What is something you would like to learn to do?

Pick a card

Using a deck of playing cards, when the discussions first begin, I give a card from the deck to each tutors as they speak. I ask the tutors with a card to wait to answer gain until everyone has a card. Once everyone has a card, we use them again but this time, tutors can leave the card face down and turn them over when they have spoken. I have found this gives a representation of who has spoken and a gentle reminder that it is important to hear from everyone.

General Techniques:

Whether you are planning a one hour meeting or a day long event, there are a couple of techniques I use that have made the training better:

Name Tags:

Use name tags, it will not only help you remember everyone’s name but it makes it easier for tutors to learn each other’s names.

Burning Questions:

Before the session begins, hand out or have available some half sheets of paper and pens and invite tutors to write down their burning question. A burning question is that one that they hope you will cover or is foremost on their mind. I collect them and review during a break. This way I can address common questions or emerging issues even if they were not on my original agenda.

Parking Lot:

Before the meeting begins, set up a space on a whiteboard or use flip chart paper on the wall for your parking lot. Explain that is something comes up that can’t be addressed during the meeting, you will writing it in the parking lot and return to it if there is time or respond in some other way, such as be email. Sometimes, tutors have questions that require you to gather addition information or seek approval. Using a parking lot ensure that those matters are not lost.

Takeaways:

For longer sessions in particular, during the last 10 – 15 minutes, I like to ask tutors to write down a takeaway from the meeting, for example, something they learned and tape this on the wall. As the closing, I review some of the comments with the group.

How does this relate to the act of tutoring?

We ask tutors to where their name tags when meeting with students so that it is easier to identify who is a tutor in our lab space. We also encourage tutors to begin their sessions by asking their students what they would like to work on during their session together, what is their student’s burning question. The idea of the parking lot can also come up in a tutoring session when a tutor may need to gather additional information or when some other issue may need to be set aside so that the tutor and student can focus on the material at hand. And finally, we ask tutors to confirm student learning before the session is over, to ask for a summary of what the student has learned or now understands.

Featured Image: Photo by Kaleidico on Unsplash

Temporary Disabilities

man with hand bandage wearing backpack standing

Staying within the theme of students with disabilities, I have been thinking about students with temporary disabilities, perhaps because I have seen a number of St. Clair College students recently on crutches. I expect that all colleges and universities provide acommodations for students with a temporary disabilities such as a broken arm, sprained ankle or other injury. A student comes in with a broken arm and I expect the reaction is: Well of course! You are going to need more time to write your test because you broke your writing hand! Often, temporary disabilities are obvious – you can see it!

Let’s do a self test. When you are asked for accomodations from a student with a broken arm, how do you react? Do you:

A. Ask them for a doctor’s note and copy of their xray to prove that their arm is broken?

B. Question them about if they REALLY need extra time to write their test? After all, employers aren’t going to want to give extra time!

C. Accept their excuse but call them out in class for making you do extra work by having to get their test to Student Services 48 hours in advance and making you go back there to pick it up!

D. Accept their accomodation plan and ask if there is anything else you can do to help them while they recover?

Do you think that my A – C answers are ridiculous? I do, but I have heard stories of students with other types of disabilities including learning disabilities and mental health issues describe these kinds of reactions from faculty and I have heard faculty express concerns about whether students with disabilities REALLY need them.

I just wonder, do we give students with invisible disabilities the same acceptance and care that we do for students with temporary disabilities? It is something to think about!

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Learning Strategies for Students

person holding pencil near laptop computer

All students come to us with a certain set of study skills but most don’t realize that there are a variety of ways to approach and interact with materials and learning experiences in an educational environment. When students have struggles with their learning, often they do more of the same rather than trying something new; usually because they don’t know that there is something new to try. For students with learning disabilities, Learning Strategists are the best source of new ideas.

Students with learning disabilities, in particular, benefit from explicit instruction in strategies that mitigate the challenges in the education environment that their learning disability presents. But like many enhancements in our environment that we have made for persons with disabilities like automatic doors which help persons without disabilities as well, learning strategies can help all students. Here’s a couple of examples:

Two Finger Reading: If you are reading a textbook and come across a figure or chart, use two finger reading. Before reading the full text in the chapter about the figure, read the text beneath the figure. This often is a brief summary of the material presented and can provide a quick overview of the big picture. Place one finger of one hand on the figure. Place one finger of the other hand on the text in the chapter. This will help you keep your place in the text and on the figure as you move your attention between the two. Read a chunk of the full text that describes or explains the figure. Then shift your attention to the figure and trace the area of the figure that the text described. When you have reviewed that section of the figure, return to read another chuck of the full text. For more on reading see my previous post.

3 + 3 + 3 In Class: This strategy is to help shift your focus to the class that is beginning and prepare for new information as well as close a class before you leave. It involves taking three minutes before the class begins and 3 minutes at the end of class before you leave. Before start of class, take three minutes and quickly review the material presented in the last class. Scan your notes or other materials to remind yourself of what has come before. This can help you build connections between information presented from one class to the next and it wakes up your brain so that it is ready to receive new information. At the end of class, before you pack up and leave, take three minutes to quickly review the notes you have just taken and make a list of three concepts or ideas that were most important TO YOU. A quick review, coupled with decision making and writing down your list can help make the information more meaningful to you and increase the movement of information between short-term and long term memory.

While learning strategies and study skill instruction can help all students, for students with disabilities, working with a Learning Strategist allows for the exploration of strategies tailored to their particular learning needs. It can take some trial and error to find the method that matches the student, but the effort can mean the difference between struggling needlessly and making the most of a student’s finite study time.

Featured Image: Photo by Helloquence on Unsplash

Joy in Junk Mail

six black mail boxes on a wall

Lucas burst into my office and excitedly proclaimed “I read the junk mail! All of it!” Now you would think a 24-year-old young man would have better things to be excited about, but it was the first time he had ever done so.

When Lucas first started at St. Clair College, his Individual Education Plan (IEP) from highschool called for a reader and a scribe because of his learning disability. At the college level, we were striving for greater independence and had introduced him to speech-to-text and text-to-speech software. Text-to-speech software such as Kurzweil and Texthelp allow one to scan in printed material and the software will capture the text and read it out loud while highlighting the text on the original image. Textbooks can be converted to PDF files so that the student can see the page as it exists in the book and hear the text spoken in close to real life voices. For student with disabilities that interfere with reading skills, this makes text material more accessible and in a more timely fashion.

Listen to this post in a mp3 file produced with Text 2 Speech, a free online service that converts text using a basic quality computerized voice. This will give a flavour of what text sounds like for a student with disabilities although most commercial software has better voices.

While these tools have an impact on academics, it also has on impact on a student’s everyday life and provides opportunities for self advocacy and self actualization. For Lucas, it meant that for the first time, he was able to decide what was junk mail and not worth reading and what was of interest to him. Until the day he set up the scanner at home and was able to scan all the mail he received to read with Kurweil, he had relied on family members to sort through his mail and decide what was worth reading. Often, and understandably, the family members would read his mail and summarize what was in it because reading the whole document took a lot of time. All Lucas’ correspondence was filtered through what someone else determined as important. With Kurzweil, Lucas could decide for himself.

This filtering or bias happened for Lucas with a reader during tests as well. When Lucas would ask for a question to be read again (and again), there was a chance that the inflection, emphasis and body language of the reader would change and sometimes even show frustration, boredom or disbelief. Sometimes, Lucas got the impression that the reader though he was really stupid and would read the question slower and louder. With Kurzweil, Lucas could hear the question as many times as he chose and it would sound the same each time.

Kurzweil has other active learning tools that encourage students to use highlighters for important (to them) information, definitions, key terms and more. The software can extract the highlights to a separate document for study notes or to an mp3 portable audio document to listen to away from the computer. Here too, Lucas could listen to his text as often as he needed to without having to worry about someone becoming bored or frustrated and he could make decisions about which of the information presented was necessary for his study notes.

I have heard some faculty express frustration because testing centres at their institution require tests to be provided in advance, sometimes 48 hour before the test is to be written. Often, these tests need to be converted into a text-to-speech format and that does take staff time to prepare. It does mean that faculty have to prepare their tests in advance to meet those deadline but to me, use of text-to-speech software for students with disabilities who need it represents a better way of ensuring academic integrity where students can independently demonstrate their knowledge with no outside filters or bias.

Featured Image: Photo by Chris Kristiansen on Unsplash

The right to education for student with disabilities

macro shot of stainless steel padlock

The accommodations given to students with disabilities are sometimes questioned by faculty who are concerned that these are not fair.  Some will go as far as challenge students about their disability and their need to tape record lectures or writing in the testing centre, for example. I believe this does our students a disservice and that faculty should fully support accommodations as approved through our student service departments.

Maya Venters (2017), in her OUSA blog, said it well:

The purpose of accommodation is not to give them an edge over other students, but to bring them forward to the starting line with everyone else.

Canadians with disabilities continue to face discrimination. Is this an urgent issue? I believe so given that over 50% of human right complaints in Canada, including those investigated by provincial commissions, are disability related  according to the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC, 2015). Consider that 13% of all Canadians have a disability that impacts their daily life and 20% of Canadians will have a challenge with mental illness this year (CHRC, n.d.). We can expect students in our classrooms who are experiencing disability and mental illness and it is our responsibility as educators to create an environment where they can learn to their full potential.

In Canadian schools, 25% of students with disabilities faced bullying and 35% reported exclusion;  37% of students with disabilities took fewer courses and 11% left their studies early because of their disability (CHRC, 2012). It is vital that we be a part of the solution for students with disabilities. Education is the way to opportunities for a better life through employment as well as development of citizens that improve our society. We need to recognize the educational barriers that exist for our students with disabilities in Canada and do our part to advocate for access for all. 

The CHRC (2017) identified four significant barriers for students with disabilities in our education system:

  1. lack of disability accommodation and support;
  2. lack of services and funding;
  3. ineffective dispute resolution;
  4. lack of special education and disability supports on First Nations reserves.

The first issue, lack of disability accommodation and support is something we as educators can improve. Here are few suggestions on what educators can do this school year:

  1. Learn more about human rights. Did you know there are 30? And the beautiful thing is that we don’t have to earn them, we were born with them. You can check out the illustrated guide from the United Nations (2015).
  2. Learn more about the Canadian Code of Human Rights, which along with the applicable provincial Human Rights Codes, governs the accommodation services provided to post secondary students. The CHRC’s (2010) guide is an excellent place to start.
  3. Learn more about the accommodation processes at your institution by meeting with disability service providers, attending workshops by your student services departments and reviewing your institution’s policies.
  4. Accept your students’ accommodation plans graciously and express your support for their use of the accommodations. Protect their confidentiality by meeting privately with them to discuss any questions you may have. Trust your accommodations protocol and if you have concerns, address them to the disability service providers first, rather than your student.

The accommodations often represent additional work for educators, but I hope you will see this as equity work, human rights advocacy work. The extra time you are spending is time you invest to support a student reaching their full potential and it is worth it!

References

Canadian Human Rights Commission. (n.d.). Disability rights. Retrieved from https://www.chrc-ccdp.gc.ca/eng/content/persons-disabilities

Canadian Human Rights Commission. (2017). Left out: Challenges faced by persons with disabilities in Canada’s schools. Retrieved from https://www.chrc-ccdp.gc.ca/eng/content/left-out-challenges-faced-persons-disabilities-canadas-schools

Canadian Human Rights Commission. (2012). Report on equality rights of people with disabilities. Retrieved from https://www.chrc-ccdp.gc.ca/sites/default/files/rerpd_rdepad-eng.pdf

Canadian Human Rights Commission. (2015). The rights of persons with disabilities to equality and non-discrimination. Retrieved from https://www.chrc-ccdp.gc.ca/eng/content/rights-persons-disabilities-equality-and-non-discrimination

Canadian Human Rights Commission. (2010). Your guide to understanding Human Rights.  Retrieved from  https://www.chrc-ccdp.gc.ca/sites/default/files/chra_guide_lcdp-eng.pdf

United Nations. (2015). Universal declaration of human rights. Retrieved from  http://www.un.org/en/udhrbook/pdf/udhr_booklet_en_web.pdf

Venters, M. (2017, August 30). Equality Is not equity: The argument for academic accommodations. Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA) Blog. Retrieved from https://www.ousa.ca/blog_equality_is_not_equity

Photo credit: Photo by Jose Fontano on Unsplash

Imagine no student services

Erase your field Daily Extend #173 – imagine a world where a field you work in does not exist. I am a faculty member working in Student Services, the so-called non-academic side of post-secondary education. I say so-called because many student services have a definite academic role and focus such as library and tutoring services. I think I prefer out-of-class services, but no one asked me.

Imagine what our campuses would be like with no counselling services or library or tutoring or health services or accessibility services or financial aid or ….. it would be a lonely, bleak place, in my opinion. Often, it feels like student services are seen as nice to have, not need to have.

As it happens, yesterday we had a Tutoring Services staff meeting and we reviewed our purpose. In brief, at St. Clair College, we develop and maintain a credible and responsive system of tutoring that focuses on academic support to students through peer, walk-in and group services as well as resources and workshops to support independent learning; opportunities for tutors to build communication and employability skills while protecting their own academics; and providing accurate and timely information back to the institution as a whole to highlight trends in student’s needs and barriers to student success. Because I come from a business background, we talk about having three customers:

  1. Students – where our goals is independent learners, we are working out way out of a job with individuals students.
  2. Tutors – where our goal is to enhance skills and provide experiences that helps them get their future job without jeopardizing their education. (Think workplace that doesn’t care if you have two exams tomorrow.)
  3. The college as a whole – where we can identify student issues within the semester and try to identify solutions to barriers to success.

This last function of feeding information back to the college is a fascinating one. Let me explain. Because we linked tutoring services into our business enterprise system, we can track semester trends to historical trends. We can see when tutoring request unexpectedly spike and move to discover why. Sometimes it means adding a service such as targeted walk-in or facilitated study groups. Other times, we can identify a class or program issue. For example, a probe into a sudden spike in requests (more than 25% of a class) in one class lead to the realization that two co-curricular classes had gotten off sequence which was causing student confusion. It was fixed within that semester and tutoring requests dropped off and student success increased.

I believe student services is a need to have in post-secondary education and, my fellow faculty, if you have a change to be involved in that field – take it – you will learn about your students in new ways that will improve your teaching when you return to the classroom.

P.S. The featured image is my first attempt at a GIF using Gyazo and it is not very smooth. Trying out new things and not being perfect is part of practicing out loud so I am running with it!