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

Using Tech to Solve Tutors’ Confusion

Man sitting at desk working on a laptop

The Ontario Extend Technologist Module has been a thought-provoking adventure into considering what would be most helpful for my tutors. Let me walk you through my path.

First up, I defined digital literacy back in May, 2018:

So what does all this musing mean for me as a teacher in a digital world? This is the space I must occupy and I need to be both an explorer and a guide. I need to seek out, learn and understand new ways of expressing information and ideas in this digital medium while practicing creation, appreciation, and discernment.

Standing where I am now, the key for the Technologist Module has been “new ways of expressing information” in terms of the training of tutors which has been my focus for this exercise.

After a review of Design Thinking, next up was empathizing with my tutors by gaining feedback. This is the step that held me up from some time as I explored ways to gather this feedback. I spoke with my tutors over the spring semester and gathered some information about the training through a simple survey.

The training that tutors experience is in four parts:

  • Orientation – general overview of tutoring system, tutor responsibilities and forms.
  • Payroll & Health and Safety – hands on training in a custom PeopleSoft module and review of policies along with direction on completing mandatory H&S modules.
  • Tutoring Techniques – philosophy of tutoring at our college, techniques and practices of good tutoring, and review of roles within the tutoring team. This is followed by an opportunity for new tutors to shadow experienced tutors.
  • Ongoing meetings and leadership events.

The survey indicated that tutors, in general, were satisfied with the face-to-face training including the time spend on each section, but there were lingering questions or confusion that regularly occurred after the training was over. While there were some questions about policies and procedures that covered rare circumstances, most of the confusion was over payroll. This was confirmed by the number of issues that pop up during bi-weekly payroll and errors tutors made.

During the Spring Leadership Event, I conducted further investigate into tutors experiences and charted this in a Empathy Map.  This showed that Payroll was a definite pain point for tutors and this aspect became the narrow focus for the rest of my work with the Technologist Module.

The next step in the module was to add to the Learner Challenge Padlet and explore others’ contributions. I did gain some ideas about what could be possible as an alternate way to presenting payroll training beyond the face-to-face hands on model that we are currently using.

Then, I moved on to Ideate. Using The SECTIONS Model by Anthony William Bates, I worked through the questions and downloaded the document to Google Docs. It was working through this activity that I realized that the problem is the Ease of Use of our PeopleSoft Module. The technology we use for payroll is NOT user-friendly, easy to learn or intuitive. Given the linkages to other data about students and tutors that is needed for analysis and reporting, I can’t change that. Helping students deal with this unwieldly software is the problem I need to tackle.

I created a prototype on paper for my ideas and through that process, I found that some of my ideas, while cool, were not the right approach. For example, I have rejected the idea of creating gifs for the payroll appointment entry process as the process is just too complex for this method. I tested out prototyping with another process I was working earlier in the summer for work I was doing on a BlackBoard course for new students. These two activities led me back to BlackBoard and I ultimately decided that providing guides and information through a BlackBoard course was the way to go.

The Solution

Screenshot of Payroll Module

The Tutor Training BlackBoard course contains content areas that relate to the different parts of our training with a discussion board and weekly updates. A special feature is the links to Flipgrid, which we used very successfully in the Spring for Tutor Introductions.

The Payroll training section is still under development but will have Guides with step by step instructions and screenshots of the payroll program to help tutors understand how to enter the different types of tutoring that they do. It will include video walk throughs and Pro-Tips as reminders. At the moment, the Walk-in Tutoring Guide is available.

By having this available 24/7, tutors can learn to first try to solve a problem with their payroll with the guides while knowing that they can contact staff with questions or additional training as needed. The discussion area can be used for tutors to help each other with questions as well. I believe this will help tutors in the future to deal with other software that is similarly unfriendly.

Of interest to me and to our staff is tutors’ response. I uploaded the first sections on Friday, Sept 7th and released it at noon. By 5 pm, 80% of tutors had logged in. By Monday, 95% had logged in. I updated and added two articles this morning and 50% of tutors had logged in an hour later.

Over the next couple of weeks, I will continue to upload and refine the training documents and plan to continue with the weekly updates and announcements for new and timely information. I will also gather tutors’ feedback to ensure the course is meeting their needs.

Given the early reactions of tutors logging in and the kind comments tutors have made over the last few days in person, I am calling this one a success!

Feature image: Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Empathizing with Tutors

Group photo of staff and tutors

It is time to return to the Technologist Module for OntarioExtend. The next step is to empathize with my tutors as the course I am exploring is Tutor Training.

At the end of the spring/summer semester, we held a leadership day and I asked for some feedback to help me complete is this activity.

This is the summary:

Textbook Reading: You’re doing it wrong!

Stack of books

Reading to Learn

Active reading is a planned, deliberate set of strategies to engage with text-based materials with the purpose of increasing your understanding. This is a key skill you need to master for college. Along with listening, it is the primary method for absorbing new ideas and information in college. But active reading also applies to and facilitates the other steps of the learning cycle; it is critical for preparing, capturing, and reviewing, too.

In college, most professors do not spend much time reviewing the reading assignment in class. Rather, they expect that you have done the assignment before coming to class and understand the material. The class lecture or discussion is often based on that expectation. Tests, too, are based on that expectation. This is why active reading is so important, it’s up to you to do the reading and comprehend what you read.

Note: It may not always be clear on an professor’s syllabus, but the corresponding textbook chapter for the topics listed for that week should be read before coming to class.

Person sitting at table with book and notebook open
Photo by David Iskander on Unsplash

How Do You Read to Learn?

The four steps of active reading are almost identical to the four phases of the learning cycle—and that is no coincidence! Active reading is learning through reading the written word, so the learning cycle naturally applies.

Active reading involves these steps:

  1. Preparing
  2. Reading
  3. Capturing the key ideas
  4. Reviewing

Let’s take a look at how to use each step when reading.

Preparing to Read

Your textbook as a whole – Start by thinking about why your professor has chosen this text. Look at the table of contents; how does it compare with the course syllabus?

Your chapter as a whole – Explore the chapter by scanning the pages of the chapter to get a sense of what the chapter is about. Look at the headings, illustrations and tables. Read the introduction and summary. Understanding the big picture of the chapter will help you add the details when doing close reading.

Give yourself direction by creating a purpose or quest for your reading. This will help you become more actively engaged in your reading. Create questions to find the answers to in your reading using the headings of each section. You may also have learning objectives listed at the front of each chapter which could be turned into questions or you may have chapter review questions prepared for you at the end of the chapter.

Reading

Take the first question you have prepared and think about what you already know about this question. Jot the question down on paper. Begin to read the chapter and stop when you have found the answer.

Write down the answer in short form. Leave some space for additional notes you may want to add later and add the next questions. Continue reading this way until you are done the chapter or are done studying for this session.

Capture the key ideas

Before you put away your textbook and notes at the end of a reading session, go back through the questions you answered and pull out key ideas and words. You can highlight these, jot them in the space you left below your first answer or note them in the margins.

Reviewing what you read

For each question, cover up the answer and key ideas you have written. Can you still answer the question? Check your mental review against what you have written.

An open notebook on a wooden surface in front of a laptop
Photo by Nick Morrison on Unsplash

Additional Reading Tips:

The four steps to active reading provide a proven approach to effective learning from texts. Following are some tips you can use to enhance your reading even further:

  • Pace yourself. Figure out how much time you have to complete the assignment. Divide the assignment into smaller blocks rather than trying to read the entire assignment in one sitting.
  • Schedule your reading. Set aside blocks of time, preferably at the time of the day when you are most alert, to do your reading assignments.
  • Read your most difficult assignments early in your reading time, when you are freshest.
  • Get yourself in the right space. Choose to read in a quiet, well-lit space. Your chair should be comfortable but provide good support.
  • Avoid distractions. Active reading takes place in your short-term memory. Every time you move from task to task, you have to “reboot” your short-term memory and you lose the continuity of active reading.
  • Avoid reading fatigue. Work for about fifty minutes, and then give yourself a break for five to ten minutes. Put down the book, walk around, get a snack, stretch, or do some deep knee bends. Short physical activity will do wonders to help you feel refreshed.
  • Make your reading interesting. Try connecting the material you are reading with your class lectures or with other chapters. Ask yourself where you disagree with the author. Approach finding answers to your questions like an investigative reporter. Carry on a mental conversation with the author.

Adapted from College Success, University of Minnesota Libraries Publishing edition, 2015. Original licensed as Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike.

Featured Image: Adapted from Photo by Kimberly Farmer on Unsplash

Note: This post was prepared in part for OntarioExtend Daily Extend #oext264 Crank out a Viral Edubait Robot Image.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Connecting some SoTL dots

Dot patterned socks

As I continue with the Scholar Module, I need to set a foundation for my SoTL research question. I want to focus on my work with Tutors in the college setting. When I became a Retention Coordinator, about 10 years ago, and took on the role of Faculty Advisor to Tutoring Services along with my partner, Marko Jovanovic, I thought about a “vision” for tutoring and what we could offer our “stakeholders.” Very businessy of me, but you draw from what you know.

We developed a Purpose Statement. Not a mission statement, because the college already has one, but a statement that would describe how Tutoring Services could fit into and advance the college’s overall mission. This is what we came up with:

The purpose of Tutoring Services is to develop and maintain a credible and responsive system that:

  • Gives students access to academic support in course specific material and core skills through individual and group tutoring, workshops and resources that support success and independence in learning;
  • Encourages tutors to develop their tutoring practice and job skills through training, guidance, resource and support services while respecting their personal academic goals;
  • Provides accurate, timely data and information to administration, the Student Services sector, and the Academic sector regarding student needs as well as individual and institutional barriers that impact academic success. (St. Clair College, 2017)

I talk about the purpose at every training session and every meeting. I tell tutors that the most important aspect of what we provide for students is the opportunity to become more independent in their learning – so that they don’t need us anymore. I toss out maxims like “work your way out of a job with your student” and “never do something for your student that they can do for themselves.”

In tutor training, I present different techniques tutors can use when working with students that includes direct instruction and explaining, the two techniques that new tutors often start with and fall back on, but explain that these tools should be used sparingly. I move on to other techniques such as modeling and anchoring.

Math text open to part of a math problem
Photo by Deepak Gautam on Pexel
 

It is the modelling technique that I am interested in exploring with SoTL. The modelling approach I use is based on SIM technique I learned as part of the Learning Disabilities Specialist program at Cambrian College. (Thank you Jessica O’Reilly from Cambrian for helping me find the document). Basically, it works like this for Math problems:

  1. Choose a problem that is similar to the homework problem the student is struggling with. Solve that problem and talk out every step you take, every thought you have as you work. The idea is to make your thinking real for the student so that they can see and hear your process.
  2. Have the student tackle the same problem on a fresh page. Ask the student to talk out their steps and their thinking. Listen for mis-steps and misunderstandings. If the student is missing information or steps, review that with the student and point out where they can find that information in their notes or text (or online).
  3. When the student is successful with the first problem, ask them to try a new similar problem on their own and with out your help or prompting. Repeat process until student is successful in solving those types of problems.

This technique works well, but in the past couple of months, I am seeing tutors fall back on direct instruction and explaining without giving the student an opportunity to try the problem, confirming their understanding. My thought is to first research if there is a better but similar model to this and then determine an active learning process to teaching tutors this technique to see if we can get better uptake.

References

St. Clair College. (2017). Tutor manual 2017/18. Windsor, Ontario: Author.

Featured Image: Photo by Rafael Lodos on Unsplash

 

Crossing the threshold from peer lecturer to peer tutor

peer tutor

When we begin to work with students who are hired to be peer tutors, one of the barriers we must cross is the false idea that tutors teach. When I ask which courses they would like to tutor, I hear: “I want to teach math.” And what they usually mean “teach” in the sense of an expert who will explain the topics to a novice. This is the lecture part of teaching: I know it so I am going to tell you so that you will know it too or I know how to do it so I will show you and after you watch me, you will be able to do it too. Many first-time tutors are surprised to find out that the best tutoring sessions are where the tutor says very little and the student does all the talking and where the student holds the pencil or controls the mouse.

Tutor do need to have excellent knowledge of the course material and do need to be able to explain concepts and demonstrate skills but that is a small part of what a tutor should be doing in a tutoring session. Good tutors move from being a lecturer and demonstrator to acting as a facilitator and guide. They need to understand that tutoring is more about questioning and listening than speaking. This is the threshold concept that tutors need to work through.

Once you pass through that threshold, you can’t go back. You sit down with a student and start asking, what do you understand now about this material, where are you getting stuck, what questions do you have, what have you tried? Show me your text, your notes, your materials. Walk me through the problem you are struggling with. This is the blind spot.

Even as I write this, it is hard for me to explain the transformation that happens. So, in tutor training, I talk about tools and techniques. These are the smaller skills that lead to tutoring instead of lecturing. I use the example of tutoring Math and begin with the idea that the tutor should put down the pencil and the whiteboard marker. The student begins the problem while the tutor observes. Not the other way around. The tutor listens for confusion, missed steps and misinformation.

To ease tutors into this practice, I recommend they use the Simulated Instruction Model*, a technique I first learned in my study of Learning Strategies and Assistive Technology for student with disabilities.

After identifying a math problem, the student finds challenging, the tutor works through a similar problem (because we don’t do student’s homework). As they are working through the problem, they must say out loud everything they are thinking as they tackle the problem. They must make real their internal thought process. They talk out every step to solving the problem.

Then the student starts the same problem and they are asked to say out loud everything they are thinking and the tutor listens intently looking for missed steps, missing knowledge or concepts that have been misunderstood. The tutor and student can then discuss the errors in thinking, if any and in some cases, the tutor can identify the missing knowledge and help the student develop a prop. For example, the student may have forgotten about order of operations. The tutor can reintroduce BEDMAS (Brackets, exponents, division, multiplication, addition, subtraction) and invite the student to create a prop by writing BEDMAS and an explanation of their own on an index card.

The student then attempts a new similar problem with the prop visible on the desk still working out loud while the tutor listens and guides if needed. The student can try this problem or the first again until successful. When the student is successful, they attempt a third similar problem. The student is encouraged to turn the prop over and only access it when needed.

This process is very effective for tutoring math and is also very effective for moving a tutor from an expert lecturing/demonstration mode to a facilitator and guide mode. It can be used in a group setting as well where students solve problem together with the guidance of a tutor by having the students, in turn, up at the whiteboard solving the problems instead of just watching the tutor do it.

*Note about Simulated Instruction Model (SIM), I do not have a citation for this model. I have search the internet for more information about SIM and where it came from to no avail. Perhaps I am remember it wrong. If anyone has insight, please let me know so that I can credit this.

This post is in response to Ontario Extend’s Teaching for Learning Module’s Blindspot Extent Activity.

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!