15 August 2011


Tutor Tales, Volume 33

This post is all about my eleven-year-old tutee Skid Breaker, who moved to the Philippines one year ago for the sake of his English.

He still struggles with the language today--particularly with the level of reading comprehension expected from him in his fifth grade classes. He's not very verbal to begin with, but I'd say his biggest hurdle is an inability to step back and watch himself when he's learning.

A few weeks ago, he was having an awful time with a lesson on long and short vowel sounds. He simply couldn't tell the difference between them, even when he said the words aloud, and had resorted to guessing. (At least when you have only two possible choices, you have a 50% chance of getting the right answer!) And I couldn't understand why he wasn't hearing the difference, when the contrasts were as plain as day to me. We were both getting really frustrated when it suddenly hit me that the problem was that he wasn't seeing them. The English alphabet and Korean characters are very, very different, after all.

So different, that I had to film another (horrible, terrible, awful, etc.) video to show you what I mean.

My hair doesn't always look this bad.
I swear.

Long A and short A were just the beginning. I got him to do the same thing for all the other vowel sound pairs, and soon he was getting perfect scores on all the drills I made for him.

Now, I was able to watch him learn because I was right there with him; and I think this post lets even those who've never met him see a bit of the same process. This is insight into the way his mind works when it's up against slippery sounds, clumsy characters, and words he's suddenly supposed to hear but not to comprehend.

What I really want to do for him--and for everyone I tutor--is to lead him to the same knowledge of how his own mind works. If he can figure out how to learn something on his own, then he won't need me. But the best tutors are those who can make themselves redundant. Thank goodness I'm not that great, then. ;-)

But I did get a progress report of my own just this evening . . .

All smiles upon my entry, Skid Breaker couldn't wait to show me his quarterly exam marks. The sight of them, however, nearly gave me a heart attack. They were low. =(

Science, 60%. Reading, 63%. Language, 64%. And so on, with Maths being the only bright spot. But his mother takes care of his Maths.

"This isn't funny!" I moaned when I saw him laughing. "I've been fired from tutoring jobs for better results than this."

His eyes widened. "No, Teacher! It's good!"

He went on to explain that before I had waltzed into his life, he was barely clearing the 50% mark for all subjects. These grades were the highest he had earned since he had moved to the Philippines and had to take all his subjects in English.

Ah, when you put it that way . . .


Syrin said...

You are far too hard a judge on your videos (says the girl who spent most of the weekend deliberating over her own). I enjoyed it, but then I'm always pretty fascinated by language and cultural differences in general. Also, you have a lovely smile.

Enbrethiliel said...


Thank you! And here's an emoticon smile to go with my real one: =)

Whenever I judge myself harshly, it's usually a preemptive strike. =P If I'm tough on myself at the beginning, maybe potential critics will hold back at the end.

Lesa said...

haha, quit fishing-- the hair looks great! I on the other hand haven't been to a hair salon in a year-- really.

at first, I didn't realise he was an esl learner-- I was thinking he might qualify for language therapy with a focus on increasing phonemic awareness and auditory discrimination.

Very cool that you made the lesson visual. It is a shame that English is so wacky-- it would make everything a lot easier if words were spelled phonetically. Did you know that in the phonetic alphabet the long 'a' sound is written as /ei/ because it is made up of two sounds?

Enbrethiliel said...


I'm not fishing! I'm preemptively striking! LOL!

It has been a while since I seriously buckled down to phonetics, but that makes so much sense! And of course it would be easy for me to read/hear things the way Skid Breaker does, because the Korean "long A" is the correct representation of the same sound, while it would be much harder for him to read/hear the English version, which is just, to quote your elegant phrasing, "wacky."

antiaphrodite said...

Another video!! Yay!!

It's really great how you are able to write while holding up the board, facing us :-D

Enbrethiliel said...


Lots of practice writing standing next to a board, trying not to choke on chalk, while still facing my students. ;-)

antiaphrodite said...

Yes, teacher dear, indeed :-)

mrsdarwin said...

OMG, you're adorable, and I don't think I've ever used OMG in any application before.

When my small fry were learning to read (from, I kid you not, Teach Your Child To Read In 100 Easy Lessons) the long and short sounds were differentiated by using the phonetic markings for long vowels (the vowel with a line above it). The theory was that the children would learn which applications in which the long sound was appropriate, and then the markings would be phased out of the lessons. I wasn't sure how useful it was in the instruction of five-year-olds, but someone used to different symbols for different sounds might find that a useful crutch.

Enbrethiliel said...


Thank you, Mrs. Darwin! =)

Skid Breaker still has trouble reading in English, so I'll definitely check that book out. Come to think of it, when I was studying Latin, many of the vowels had long sound markings on them, too.

christopher said...

I couldn't watch the video until now ma'am, but very interesting lesson, thanks :)

Enbrethiliel said...


You're welcome. =) And thanks for watching!