Editor’s Note: Anne is a tutor with FocusedLD and a certified English and Social Studies teacher in the Massachusetts high school system. She has a passion for helping students with learning disabilities, having earned a learning disabilities teaching certificate in 2002.
In this guest blog she recounts her success in helping one of her tutoring students, Stacey, who had been diagnosed with ADHD.
Stacey W. was diagnosed with moderate-to-severe ADHD shortly after entering Grade 3. Throughout the next seven years, she continued to struggle with her English classes. By the time I met her, she was several grades behind than her peers in reading level, hid quietly in the back of her class and would get very anxious at the thought of writing an essay.
Stacey’s family had not had much luck with the available local tutoring options. With two other growing kids in the house and both parents working, driving back and forth to tutoring centers was becoming more and more of a problem. Stacey also resented running back and forth to tutoring centers and various private tutors, especially as she got older and busier with extra-curricular activities.
Stacey’s mother called FocusedLD when she was just starting the 10th grade. After a series of interviews with Stacy and her mom, I was asked if I could tutor her. It was thought that I would be an excellent fit as I was a certified English teacher with over 15 years of experience working with students with ADHD and similar difficulties.
After meeting with both Stacey and her mom online, I agreed to tutor her twice a week in the evenings.
Setting realistic goals
The first thing we did was to outline three tangible goals that Stacey, her mom and I agreed were most important and attainable.
We decided that for her English grades to improve Stacey would have to:
learn how to write a good essay
improve her vocabulary
improve her reading comprehension
We all agreed that not only would this result in better grades, but, equally importantly, would increase Stacey’s self- confidence in class.
As a teacher I knew that the first thing that I had to determine was how Stacey learned most effectively. Building upon the initial assessments from FocusedLD, I discovered that she learned best when information was presented orally.
I designed each lesson around her learning style, going over written information verbally to make it more meaningful and memorable.
Because Stacey and I could see and hear each other when we were online in the virtual classroom, I could easily monitor her attention and understanding pretty easily. Since she was pretty familiar with working on her computer and so felt at ease, I was easily able to redirect her attention if it drifted.
Working on Essay Writing Skills
Since one of the main goals for Stacey was to learn to structure and write out an essay properly, I utilized a number of helpful educational websites that we could work on together in real time, practicing writing short essays on various topics. As we worked on these sites together, we would discuss each step and then type it out, fitting her oral learning style.
To simplify things, I broke down the process of essay writing into chunks and, with lots of practice, Stacey learned how to:
select her topic
write the central fact or idea she had to prove or explain ( her thesis statement)
write at least three reasons explaining why the idea or fact is true
write at least three good supporting details for each reason
how to re-phrase the central idea or fact to form an automatic conclusion.
Developing a Greater Vocabulary
In order to achieve our second goal of developing vocabulary, Stacey and I worked with some great online vocabulary oriented games that I was familiar with.
We started at the level she was comfortable with and, as she successfully progressed, the sites automatically gave her words that were more challenging. If she answered correctly she got points and if she answered incorrectly, she was automatically given slightly easier words.
Together, we created a “Winner’s Vocabulary Book” and any new word whose meaning she knew and could remember went into that book. I chose to use the title “Winner’s” specifically to let Stacey know that, while she had some delays that were the result of her disability, she was a winner and no less than any of her classmates.
Improving Reading Comprehension
Finally, we worked on reading comprehension. Before we attacked the literature she was studying in class, I prepared detailed notes that to help Stacey understand it’s meaning and importance. Stacey and I would always start by discussing with what she already understood and then work from there.
It was important that Stacey not only understand a particular piece of literature, but also be given the tools to be able to attack any piece of literature. We focused our discussions on:
how to identify and understand the major characters
where the action took place (setting)
a summary of the plot
what was the author’s message (the theme).
These discussion points formed the basis for a written template that Stacey and I filled in for every piece of literature, which would be emailed to her after every lesson.
As she developed her vocabulary, essay writing skills and reading comprehension, Stacey’s marks and behavior in English class began to improve.
At first, her English teacher reported that she had become more active in class discussions, more attentive and more confident in her writing exercises. Stacey would tell me that essays no longer frightened her that much and that she didn’t feel “dumb” or “as behind” in class as she used to.
Eventually, and with a lot of hard work, Stacey improved her English grade from a D to a solid B, and for the first time her mom told me that she was actually excited to be going into the next grade.
And I couldn’t have been prouder of her.
If you’re interested in receiving tutoring from specialized tutors like Anne, visit us today at focusedld.com or call us at 1-800-806-7172.