SOS LEARN: The Tutors’ Perspective
SOS LEARN is a free online tutoring and homework help service that has operated through LEARN for the last five years. The strength of SOS LEARN comes from its tutors, Quebec classroom teachers by day who, by night, transform into Super Tutors, ready to help solve whatever homework problems are thrown their way.
To give you an idea of what these tutors might face in an evening, I spoke with a few tutors for their perspective on why helping students in the evening is so important to them.
The Super Tutors I spoke with are: Stephen Kohner and Nancy Langlois from Eastern Shores School Board, and Neil MacIntosh from Western Quebec School Board.
What is your day job?
Stephen: I work at Baie Comeau High School. Currently, I teach secondary one and two combined for English Language arts and multi-media. Multi-media complements the ELA program. In secondary cycle 2 ELA, I have two groups: secondary 3 and 4 combined and secondary 5 alone. I also teach secondary 5 Contemporary World history and secondary 3 and 4 history.
Nancy: I am a French second language teacher. I teach at Evergreen High School and I teach sec. 1 to sec. 5 so I have all the levels. I started tutoring…in 2008.
Neil: I am a full-time science teacher this year at Pontiac High School. I teach secondary 4 Science and secondary 5 Physics.
What are some questions you are commonly asked about tutoring online?
Stephen: A lot of people cannot even imagine what it is like to not have the student in front of them. They don’t ask a lot of questions because it is a foreign concept.
Nancy: I have questions that are asked by colleagues and friends, but as well students. The first question that they ask me is, “Do you get paid to do that?” (Yes, tutors are paid.) They also ask me a lot how it works, “Do you have a board? Can you talk to students? Can you write?” I explain that we can chat orally but also we can type in. And they also ask me where the students come from, which is often the big region of Montreal. They want to know how it works. Some people are afraid of online sessions, so … they just want to know how all this works.
Neil: They want to know if there is a cost. No, there is no cost. What sort of internet access do they need? (Answer here.) Can they talk online? (Yes, but they can text chat, too.)
Teachers ask what resources they can access online. I remind that beyond tutoring there are other programs for students: the Success Checker programs, the videos and course materials, VodZone (all available from LEARN Homepage.)
Describe the interaction with students in an online tutoring session.
Stephen: A lot of times they want to work on a particular piece of writing, a particular genre. The other thing that they really want help in is revision. They bring in their work and they put it on the white board, or they e-mail it to me. Often the sentence structure or the flow of ideas needs to be tweaked to make the piece much more fluid.
Nancy: We often think that because it is online, the human part won’t be there but I am realizing that is not the case. It is often the same customers that come back. They do create a relationship with us. When there is no SOS LEARN, they ask me when it is starting again.
Neil: I tend to like it when they come with a specific problem to work on. Otherwise, I invent a question, or take one from a text.
I enable the students from the get-go to draw the question themselves so that they pick up the technology. I unlock the tools and they write the question on the board themselves. That way, they take ownership of the problem.
How do you deal with multiple students being in an online session at the same time?
Stephen: If it is very busy, I sometimes ask students to come back in a few minutes and so then I can give them very individualized attention.
Nancy: In languages, it is easier, because it’s not linear, so I am able to deal with it better than in math. I ask all the students that are online with me if they have homework. That is a priority. If needed, I ask the students to come back in a little while. Sometimes, I have students that come in and they don’t have any work to do. They just want to practice their French. If I have a student that has homework and another student that doesn’t, I will scan the work and send it to the student who has no homework and we work on it as a team. I have all the books at home and a printer that scans so I send it by e-mail.
Neil: Students are very patient and very respectful. They take turns.
Sometimes they wind up helping each other. We work through questions together. It tends to be one-on-one, but the kids wind up enjoying listening and sponging up knowledge from the questions others ask when there is a larger group.
How does tutoring at night impact your daytime teaching or vice versa?
Stephen: I find that the online tutoring gives me a better understanding of what is going on in the province in terms of ELA. There is no other secondary ELA teacher at Baie Comeau High School, so the other ELA tutor, Phil, who does two of the nights of SOS, is one of the closest teachers to me, not in terms of collegiality, but in bouncing ideas off because we can each see what the other has done with students the night before. We have never met each other but we’ve got this bond, in terms of belonging to a wider community.
Nancy: It made me more familiar with issues that cities have to deal with like out of province students or new immigrants who have French as a third or fourth language.
The other impact that it had is that I am using more and more technology in my classroom, I have a Smart Board, so I am integrating that and discovering websites that I used for LEARN and am now using in my classroom.
Neil: It makes me aware of the areas of confusion that students have so I relate that back to my classroom situation and determine areas where I might need to concentrate more.
I just enjoy it!
What aspect(s) of teaching online do you wish you could import into your school classroom?
Stephen: I am away from my class quite a bit for meetings and what I would like to be able to do is to use the online platform Zenlive and have my students listen to me while I am away. I am also intrigued by the use of the online classroom described in Audrey’s blog.
Nancy: I have two. The first one is motivation. The students who come online come here because they want help. You don’t have to deal with their motivation, it’s already there.
The other thing is the students are really respectful and they appreciate so much the help they are getting. I have no students who leave my SOS classroom without saying, “Thank you! I really appreciate it. You helped me tonight.” Usually students tell me every night and usually they say it twice. They say it and they type it in the chat log.
The goal is to make a difference and to help them the best we can, and you feel like you are doing so.
Neil: I wonder about using Zenlive in class to bring people into my class for a presentation. I was recently talking to some third year teaching students at Bishop’s. I had to cobble together a variety of tools. But with Zenlive, I could have controlled the classroom myself.
Budgets are shrinking. We go to face-to-face meetings where we have established relationships, but after that we could meet online. Not much technical expertise is required to use the platform.
Describe one session when you knew you were really helping a student.
Stephen: [Stephen told me a wonderful story in response to this question. It was so wonderful, in fact, that I asked him to use it as the basis for his own post for the LEARN blog.)
Nancy: Some students had written assignments to do, a text to write. And they had problems with that, with the introduction, the development, the conclusion. I would ask them to do a fast e-mail and then I posted it on the board. I would help them edit, so we would edit together and I would explain all the grammar and sentence structure as we worked on their writing. I was helping them and teaching them at the same time.
I also try to give students different websites and tools to be able to fix their problems when I am not there.
Neil: That’s easy. There was a secondary 5 class a few years ago that lost their teacher near the end of the year and I wound up essentially teaching that class at night time. All of them passed the final exam. I got a huge amount of thanks.
To help get a better idea of what SOS LEARN online tutoring and homework help looks like, and to hear from a few more Super Tutors, please watch our short video (click on the SOS logo to view.)