A Learning Journey

Since mid-September, I’ve been working with a local non-profit to provide an after school tutorial/computer program for local kids. We have a group of about 16 ranging from pre-K to 7th grade that comes to us on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Volunteers help with homework and provide a meal before taking the kids home.

My original plan was to work with upper elementary and middle schoolers to teach them to program with Scratch. I’ve done a bit of that with a few middle school girls but haven’t been able to really dig in yet. With the little bit we did do, only one seemed particularly interested. I am wondering if I need to give them more choice including doing something with digital storytelling. My larger goal is to help them see that they can create rather than consume on the computer and maybe programming isn’t the only way to achieve that.

Part of the problem is space. We meet in one big space, and even with a few rolling walls, it’s noisy and a little chaotic. There’s an empty elementary school just behind our building, and we’re hoping to work with the county to get access.

The other issue that became glaringly clear last evening was the depth of the educational needs in the group. My girls had a pile of math homework so they started with that, and I spent some time with two first grade boys working through a language arts worksheet. This is the first time I’ve really sat with some of the youngest kids. These two boys were really struggling. They can sort of decode, but they aren’t really reading or comprehending. They couldn’t read the directions for one of the assignments so they merrily copied the out-of-order words that they were supposed to be putting in sentences. When I wrote the words on cards, they were able to manipulate them into sentences and then copy them onto the paper.

Other activities didn’t even make sense to me…a series of sentences with blanks and a word bank. We used  a process of elimination to finish it, but with no context for the random sentences, it was sometimes hard to figure out which word made a comprehensible sentence. If I hadn’t been there to supervise and advise, I’m sure they would have simply guessed just so that there was something on the line since that had been their strategy on the first few pages. I couldn’t help but wondering how much feedback they got on the packets.

I also wondered how much time they get to hang out with books. I’m already planning to take my pile of children’s books when I go next week and get them reading together. The middle school kids could sit with the younger ones and help them and probably improve their own skills. And then we could use digital storytelling tools to create our own books. It would tie the program pieces together.

I worry that by just focusing on helping them get their homework done, we are missing an opportunity to give them larger experiences that they don’t seem to be getting in school. There must be a balance. I have to remind myself that we have only been doing this for a few weeks. We had some sketchy plans but didn’t really know how many kids would come and what their needs would be.

We are definitely on a learning journey together….



Leave a Reply