Attitude? Awareness? Vision? How Can a Tutor Know?

Needing glassesI used to tutor.

Once, a young mother came to me for help with her first-grader daughter. The girl had been in a private school and was producing perfect work, daily, but on the following days, she seemingly knew nothing from the day before. Everyone was puzzled. The mom had heard about home schooling, found my phone number on a poster, and thought I’d know something the girl’s teachers did not.

Scary scenario!

However, I’d recently received a copy of a learning styles test a friend had written, and thought that with it, and with private tutoring, perhaps I could discover something an overworked teacher had missed.

The child was sweet, bright, and eager. This was going to be fun. I gave the mom a copy of the test to fill out at home, since she probably knew her daughter better than anyone else. I began carefully disguised check-ups of the girl’s reading and math skills.

She was a puzzling bundle. She could know something one moment, then know nothing the next. We read from an early reader, and she would do very well after I told her almost every word. I wondered—was she guessing? Memorizing?

The learning style test had come back showing her to be a visual learner. She ought to love reading.

I turned to the back of the reader, and showed her vocabulary lists placed there for the teacher. I pointed to a word from our day’s reading, and asked her what it was. That’s when everything became clear.

“Oh, Ms Kathy! I could never read that word; it’s too little for me to see it.”

Dear me. A visual learner who cannot see. Of course. She was, indeed bright enough to memorize each day’s lesson, but had inadvertently missed learning to read.

That day, she and I made huge yarn letters together, one per page of construction paper, and did copy work on the board with letters one foot tall. Immediately she knew what was going on and began making enormous progress.

When her mom came to pick her up that day, I asked her if either she or her husband had vision problems. She said they both had trouble seeing much of anything, that their vision was corrected with contacts of a strong prescription.

I told her, “I think your little girl cannot see. I think that is the basis of the problem, plus missing out on the foundations of reading readiness.”

We both had tears in our eyes that day, and eventually the girl received her first pair of glasses. I lost that tutoring job soon afterward, but the joy of helping such a needy one, so quickly, was compensation enough for me.

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