As the instructor of Human Relations and South Dakota Indian Studies classes, I am beaming with pride that our university students choose to tutor K-12 American Indian students. Not only do the pre-service teacher education majors gain valuable experiences with one-on-one tutoring, but as an added benefit, the academic achievement of the K-12 students is improving.
For the past nine years, we have been engaged in this university-public school partnership. The results have exceeded my own expectations. About every other Monday night for 30 minutes, university students share a light supper, usually pizza and soda, with K-12 public school students. For the next hour, the student-tutor pairs work on homework or prepare for the math and reading portions of state standardized tests. In South Dakota, students take the Dakota State Test of Educational Progress (STEP) in third through eighth and eleventh grades. These high-stakes tests are given every April to comply with the mandates of No Child Left Behind.
Students from our tutoring program have maintained the highest or second- highest percentage of “proficient” and “advanced” scores of any school district in the state. When young students attended at least half of the tutoring sessions, their grade point averages also improved.
Perhaps the most remarkable improvement was seen in the adequate yearly progress (AYP). During the 2009-10 school year, the AYP of sixth- through eighth-graders in our program was 78 percent. That represents a 24 percent increase from the 2006-07 school year. Among high school students in our program, the AYP was 60 percent. It was 27 percent in the 2006-07 school year.
While these gains were tremendous, the tutoring program is not without challenges. Some public school students – I know this may be difficult to believe – are not motivated to be willing participants in the tutoring session. This is a challenge for our pre-service teacher education majors. But this reluctance presents a perfect opportunity to put theory into practice. Things like motivational theories, using culturally relevant literature, patience, pace and all the other things we talk about in class come to fruition.
At the conclusion of the tutoring program, one university student reflected, “From teaching these boys, I learned a lot about myself. I learned the importance of being patient with kids because they want to do well but they also want to have fun.” Her reflection is everything, in a nutshell, that I hoped to have imparted to her in my class.
In his final journal entry, another teacher candidate said of the tutoring program, “Overall, it was a good experience for me. I got a chance to see, practice, and apply much of what we talked about in class.”
Making a successful cross-cultural tutoring program is not complicated. Here are a few tips to help you plan:
- If access to university student tutors is not an option, outstanding junior or senior high school students could be selected by faculty to serve as tutors.
- In addition to the tutoring session, include time for some type of social interaction, such as a light meal, games, etc. This will allow the tutors to build relationships with the students outside the academic setting.
- Offer additional incentives for attendance. For example, you can offer a certificate of completion, movie passes, etc., for at least 50 to 100 percent attendance.
- Obtain some funding through local donors or organizations to help provide the incentives and food.
- Encourage and enlist parents to volunteer their time to help prepare the meal, eat with their student, help tutor, serve on an advisory committee or whatever else they may be willing to offer.
Initially, my goals for the tutoring sessions were selfish, to enable our pre-service teacher education majors to work with K-12 public school students. Not only have our university students been able to work with the public school children, they have developed positive relationships, served as role models, implemented classroom management strategies, diagnosed and assessed learning and helped raise the academic achievement of these young students.
Neville is an associate professor of education in South Dakota.