Scenes from a Tuesday afternoon: Part 1

July 2, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
July 2, 2014

Tuesday was another hot and humid Durham day in an early summer stretch that’s already had plenty of them.

I spent part of the afternoon at a coffee shop, finishing off my blog post about the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision. When I was done with that, I hauled my laptop back to my car, drove a short distance and set up shop at another establishment with a separate bag. It was the briefcase that contains my tutoring materials from the Durham Literacy Center.

I sat on the porch of the second establishment, sipping Japanese sencha tea and reviewing tutoring papers. On Monday evening, I’d given my student the standard twice-yearly assessment (that’s educational jargon for “test”) to measure his progress. After scoring the results, which were mixed, I began preparing my lesson for that evening.

There’s a certain flow to this procedure: Start building the lessons with a core set of words, which typically include phonemes, or sounds, that my student needs to spend more time mastering; pick out specific sounds to practice; select word lists and sentences for the student to read; pick out sight words, which don’t follow the normal rules of pronunciation, for the student to read and write; and select, or sometimes create, nonsense words and sentences for the student to write.

(Nonsense words are meaningless but give the student practice applying the normal rules of pronunciation.)

The teaching approach the literacy center uses, which is called the Wilson Reading System, places a premium on repetition. The student reads and writes the core set of sounds and words multiple times per session. She or he will read the words when the tutor assembles them using magnetic letter tiles; read them again from word cards; assemble the words her- or himself using the magnetic letters and board; and then write them down.

I’ll typically ask my student to read the words two or three times. And I will often ask him to assemble the words two or three times using the magnetic set.

The most labor-intensive part of lesson-planning usually involves the word cards. After roughly two and a half years of tutoring, I’ve created a stack of index cards that’s about as tall as my two fists stacked one atop the other. They’re roughly organized by types of phonemes, but it still takes a few minutes — and, often, two or three tries — to riffle through them and find the cards I need.

Since the universe of words I have my student practice is always expanding, and because I sometimes can’t find cards that I know I’ve already created, it’s common for me to write on two or three new index cards prior to a lesson.

I finished up a little after 4 p.m. I brought my tea cup to the bus station and walked back to my car. There was soccer to be watched!

To be continued


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