Learning Lab provides online tutoring for local kids

Concurrent Education tutors from Brock University have been helping local children develop their literacy skills outside of their virtual classrooms.

The Brock students were enrolled in a Reading and Literacy Development class taught by Learning Lab Administrative Coordinator and Interventionists Coordinator Paul Ferrara, Teacher Education Instructor Rachel St. Hilaire Director of the Brock Learning Lab and Professor Tiffany Gallagher.

The course normally includes students tutoring at the Brock Learning Lab or local schools to help them put theory into practice, but with Brock courses moving online, the experiential education portion of the course moved online as well.

For local families, the online tutoring program offered extra support for online learning at home.

“We chose to participate in the online tutoring program to further support the development of her reading and confidence and also to further develop our skills as parents in teaching literacy,” said Angela Bovine, whose daughter Ila was tutored by Concurrent Teacher Education student Ashley Sanelli.

Bovine says her daughter’s reading skills, as well as her confidence and enjoyment in reading, have improved after participation in the Lab’s online program.

For many of the Brock students, this was their first experience tutoring online and working with the Brock Learning Lab. Adapting to online teaching was a challenge for these future educators, both in terms of using new tools and technology and of finding ways to engage with the children they were tutoring.

“I learned that teaching online is much more difficult than it seems,” said Tereza Borges, a Concurrent Teacher Education student. “Not being able to do hands-on activities and read the client’s body language and face makes it difficult to know if they are struggling, engaged or disinterested.”

Despite the challenges, the experience of tutoring online has given tutors a unique opportunity to prepare for their future careers as teachers.

“I think this course has given me a head start on how to create lessons and make learning fun online for the future,” said Sanelli. “As a future educator, this course online has given me a chance to broaden my ability to teach lessons in the virtual world.”

Tutors made use of different resources and approaches to plan interactive online lessons to help the children they worked with develop literacy skills while not attending school in person. An important part of the process was tapping into the children’s interests and finding materials that would make learning fun.

“Initially I was worried that it might be too boring for Mason and difficult for him to sit still and pay attention for a full hour,” said Kim Carmichael, whose son Mason was tutored by Borges and Mariam Barnes, another Concurrent Teacher Education student.

Carmichael praised her son’s tutors for identifying books that match his love of hockey and engaging him in physical activities to encourage him to move while learning online. He has been a Brock Learning Lab participant for several years and looks forward to doing his online tutoring sessions each week.

“I wanted Mason to have access to as many resources as possible,” said Carmichael of her son’s education during the pandemic. “To be honest, I wanted Mason to be able to read and learn with someone other than his mom, which gets old for him after a while.”

As well as games, resources and activities provided by the Lab, the Brock tutors and families were also able to make use of Edwin, a resource that Gallagher and Ferrara are studying.

Edwin is a repository of various digital and video texts created by Nelson Education Ltd. Using Edwin gave the tutors more options for teaching reading fluency and comprehension skills online during a global crisis. Families were also given free at-home access to these digital resources.

“The resources on Edwin have been a great help, especially with reading,” said Barnes. “With limited handheld resources available, this has been great in supplying an abundance of books with multiple topics for each level.”

Children attended two one-hour sessions a week over four weeks using Microsoft Teams, which were supervised by Ferrara, Gallagher and St. Hilaire. Gallagher anticipates that online tutoring will be available during Brock’s Fall Term. Families interested in participating in the next session should visit the Brock Learning Lab website or follow the Lab on social media for updates.

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