Kerri Chard is a leading voice in Child Protection with a background in psychology and over two decades of professional experience in the Non-Government and Government Sectors.To help you get the most out of the sessions with your Little Stars Learners, Kerri has put together the following “Tutoring Hot Tips”.
1. Don’t Talk In Front of Your Little Star, Unless it’s About Their Awesomeness!
Don’t talk about your Little Stars Learner in front of them to the carer or any other person: your Little Star Learner is most likely very attuned to the adults in their world talking about them; their history, their behaviours etc. Unless you are saying how awesome they are, communicate via phone or email with the carer when they aren’t there. Sometimes the carer might want to tell you about problems with school or learning in front of them, avoid this as it will activate their shame shield and you won’t get good work out of them.
2. Where is Your Little Star Developmentally?
Remember a lot of children impacted by trauma are developmentally stuck and are often half their age or sometimes younger. You can usually tell this by what they look like when they feel under threat – ask the carer (via email or privately of course!). This can be hard if your Little Star Learner is chronologically 11 years old but developmentally 7 years (and street smarts of a 19 year old). If you suspect your 10 year old Little Stars Learner is developmentally 5 or 6 – approach them like you would a 5 or 6 year old and you will get better engagement.
3. Set Up For Success!
Make sure your Little Stars Learner is fed and watered.
- Research into the effects of brain functioning show children have less resources to manage cognitively than adults when they are dehydrated and one study found a cognitive loss of up to 40%! Take a water bottle and model water intake and have your Little Stars Learner have their water nearby. If you are struggling with engagement, pause and take a drink together.
- There is research that also indicates that children impacted by trauma have quicker blood sugar spikes than children who have not been impacted by trauma. High protein snacks regularly help with keeping blood sugars up and brains functioning.
- See if you can find out when your Little Star Learner has family contact and ask the carer to give you a heads up via email or text if they haven’t had a good day at school or aren’t having a great day – you may need to activate plan B and spend more time on connection. More on scaffolding next time and how to prepare a plan B for these days.
- Does your Little Stars Learner have sensory issues? Be mindful of their tolerance to noises, personal space or touch. Sensory processing disorders or a “sensory profile” is common with children in out of home care.
4. Managing Expectations
Sometimes you might get a carer who expects you to come in and lift your Little Star Learner from a prep reader to a year 5 reader in four weeks. Talk to your carer about what your plan is to engage and teach them and that sometimes it might just look like you are playing. Reassure them your little star will achieve success but you have some ground work to do first, don’t assume all carers are trauma informed. More tips on this one to come.
5. Ready to Learn
Get your Little Star Learner used to the phrase of “ready to learn”. Often they associate learning with negative experiences, we want to show them that learning can be fun! See if you can weave this into your greeting to your Little Star Learner. Next newsletter we can create some “ready to learn” visual aids for your Little Star Learner.
Your Little Star Learner will not work with you without a connection. They will have a magnitude of different people who come in and out of their life and will most likely be wary of new strangers. Connect with your little star before anything else – remember a weak connection will yield disengagement and a lot of “no’s”. Ideas to connect
- PLAYFUL ENGAGEMENT – THE POWER OF FUN! (PLAY disarms fear, PLAY builds connections, PLAY teaches social skills, PLAY teaches competencies). To begin with, you may need to do a lot of play-based learning with your Little Star Learner that may not look like learning to the carer (as above on managing expectations). More ideas on play based learning to come.
- MATCHING: matching is a good way to test how connected your Little Star Learner is to you. Think games where you get an opportunity to match and they can match with you.
- i) “The my favourite…” game – take turns to ask things with your Little Star Learner (my favourite dinner, colour, ice cream, super hero, flower, movie, song) if your Little Star Learner starts matching your favourites – you it is a good indication they feel connected to you. See if there is anything you can match to your Little Star Learner! You will also get to know a bit about your Little Star Learner and if you can show them in little ways you remember the things they like – bonus points.
- ii) Mirror game: this strengthens mirror neurons in the brain and also strengthens neural connection. Stand in front of each other and take it in turns to move slowly and the other person has to follow you like a mirror image. Make it silly!
- iii) Silent matching: if you have a reluctant Little Star Learner who won’t look at you or engage. Sit down and match what they are doing quietly. This gives the child the sense of presence. If they get up and move away, you have more work to do!!
Get into the habit of transitioning your Little Star Learner for what is to come. A lot of Little Star Learners need a lot of predictability and won’t do well with sudden change. If you have a Little Star Learner who really struggles to focus and move to the next task, use more transitions “Okay, we have two more lines to read before we do our next brain break” “ready, one more line to read before we do our brain break”. “Okay, we are going to do a 2 minute brain break and then do two more lines and you get to choose how we end today”. Kmart have some awesome 2 minute glitter timers at the moment for $5. They can be used and managed by your Little Star Learner to help with transitioning
8. Process Praise
We want to give lots of praise to motivate and encourage our Little Star Learners but not all praise is created equal! Check out the work of Carol Dweck for more.
- Process praise: is what we should be aiming for as it builds intrinsic motivation (internal motivation to do it again) as opposed to extrinsic motivation (motivation to please you). When we use process praise we are emphasising what our Little Star Learner has done and the efforts they have made. Examples of process praise is “I really like how you stuck with that math’s problem and worked it out!” or “that word was really hard at first but that was great how you sounded it out and figured it out by yourself”. Think of yourself as a commentator and commentate back to your Little Star Learner what efforts you saw them make.
- Behaviour praise: again we are being the commentator and relaying back to them what behaviour we saw and giving positive praise. “I saw you really wanted to get up and play with the cat when it walked past but you didn’t! you stuck with what you were doing and finished your work, great job!”. This is effective praise for our little star learner and a great positive reinforcer.
- Personal praise: This one is the least effective and tends to focus either on the skills or talent of your Little Star Learner or is general. If children aren’t very confident in their abilities to learn, they often lose motivation and are less likely to try new things.
9. Growth Mindset
This also comes from the work of Carol Dweck but is super relevant to a lot of our Little Star Learners who may not have much experience with success, especially educationally. Growth mindset teaches children to become more resilient and work harder than those with a fixed mindset. If your Little Star Learner often says “I can’t do maths, I’m too dumb” or something like this, then they have a fixed mindset. We want to cultivate a growth mindset and the best way to start is by adding the “yet…” to the end of that statement. “you mean you can’t do this math’s problem yet, but I remember last week you smashed the maths we did together by the end of our hour! Let’s keep working on this”.