Category Archives: TutorMate

Staff reflections: Caryn Weiner

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In this series, “Staff Reflections,” we introduce the members of the Innovations for Learning team, who will tell us what brought them to our organization and why they’re excited to do this work.

Today: Caryn Weiner, Co-editor, Publications.

I have known Seth Weinberger, Barb Goodman and their family for many years and had the pleasure of watching Seth’s wheels turning as he conceived and incubated what is now, 20 years later, Innovations for Learning. 

Our children were young, and Seth, Barb, and I helped to found a nonprofit preschool in Evanston, Ill., that focused on inclusion. For years after that, Barb and I worked as partners in a volunteer capacity to raise funds and awareness for our venture, all while raising our families.

I didn’t know 30 years ago how my work and personal life would intersect and come full circle.

My first job after completing my masters degree in social work was with a YWCA program in the Uptown neighborhood in the Chicago which housed an early childhood Title XX daycare program and an after-school program for school-age kids.

My next job was as a therapist with adolescents and families at Response Center in the Chicago suburb of Skokie. I also worked closely with the schools in the area presenting programs and workshops for students and parents, as well as school staff.

I also had a stint for many years as a Roving Reader, a program founded by the Foster Reading Center in Evanston to promote literacy and now part of Child Care Center of Evanston. It was originally designed for school-age children, but by the time I joined, the program focused on early literacy skills — the building blocks for future success in school.

I visited a number of daycare homes twice each week. My job was to expose the kids and their daycare providers to quality literature and to offer stimulating and enriching experiences related to literacy.  

Over the years, I formed lovely relationships with the providers and watched as their charges grew up and moved on to kindergarten. My hope was always that I had left them with a love of books and reading.

Then, four years ago, I had the good fortune to join Seth and the amazing IFL staff, part time, as Barb’s work partner. Our mission then was to grow the online tutoring program, which today is known as TutorMate. That program grew, and as new full-time staff came onboard, Barb and I stepped back. 

To watch TutorMate develop into the program it is today has been amazing.

Back in the day, Barb and I did trainings in person with a slide show. The program itself was much less interactive and dynamic. There was no help desk, no online sign-up nor phone conference training, and there were way more bugs!

Still, each time we went out to talk with or train volunteers at their workplaces, it was quite clear that something wonderful was going on.

Tutors loved being part of their students’ lives each week, and their coworkers were hearing about it and wanted to participate, too. Heartwarming stories about tutoring and its rewards were being shared. And when Barb and I went out to visit classrooms and had the privilege of meeting the students and teachers, that was just further confirmation.

We spent lots of time online and on the phone with tutors and teachers: training, helping with scheduling, troubleshooting technical issues, and getting to know them personally. Many are still with the program. Compared with the scope and quality of today’s TutorMate, they were pioneers!

Today, my role is a bit in flux as Seth’s wheels continue to turn and new projects and ideas form. Barb and I are now working on communication projects and the annual report. I look forward to whatever my new role with IFL will be – and to watching the organization grow.

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Staff reflections: Frank Spranze

DSC_0025 - Version 2In this series, “Staff Reflections,” we introduce the members of the Innovations for Learning team, who will tell us what brought them to our organization and why they’re excited to do this work. 
Today: Frank Spranze, Help Desk Manager.

I’m known at Innovations for Learning as a tech guy, but I’ve done a little of everything over the years — from restaurant ownership to law enforcement to mortgage brokering, as well as computer repair and maintenance.

I came to IFL in the summer of 2009 to fill a temporary position doing TeacherMate field installations in Chicago Public School classrooms.

My position has morphed. Now it’s mainly online tech support for our TutorMate program. My main task is to provide real-time support for our volunteer tutors and students coast to coast. I work from a bank of computer screens in suburban Chicago, communicating to dozens of classrooms every school day.

Frank's command post

Frank’s command post

Keeping that all going has its challenges.  When you combine kids and personal computers, you’re going to have lots of little things go wrong: adjusting the volume, resizing windows, closing programs that students open by accident.  Children often change settings on the PCs in the classroom, sometimes disrupting tutoring sessions in mid-session, or prevent them from starting.

I have created my own systems to keep us afloat. My mornings are filled with preparation, preparation, and more preparation — making sure I am properly connected remotely to all the classrooms, for starters.

As you might imagine, new technology is not always 100 percent, so we are almost always finding ourselves thinking outside the box when trying out solutions. And I’m always communicating with teachers to correct problems or fix the settings themselves.

Although I provide support to so many, I myself receive support from many team members. This goes a long way to getting to our collective goals.

My perfect scenario is seeing all the processes of tutoring flow together to create that great tutoring experience.

Every year there are certain classrooms, teachers and tutors who just get it. They come together time after time to get their sessions up and running, like a mini orchestra. From these observations, I can always predict which classrooms are excelling, it’s a pleasure to watch it unfold. That makes my day.

My goal is to see more of those classroom-tutor-teacher combos excel as they get it.

Frank Spranze
frank@innovationsforlearning.org

Comerica touts TutorMate

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Comerica Bank is so proud of its participation in Innovations for Learning’s  TutorMate program that it boasted about it in a special section it sponsored in the Michigan Chronicle, a newspaper for Detroit’s black community.

See the article here.

Thanks, Comerica!

Photo: Michigan Chronicle

Staff reflections: Sybil Anderson

In this series, “Staff Reflections,” we introduce the members of the Innovations for Learning team, who will tell us what brought them to our organization and why they’re excited to do this work.

Today: Sybil Anderson, Teacher Ambassador in the District of Columbia.

Sybil Anderson

I came to Innovations for Learning in October 2011, after retiring from a long career in my hometown District of Columbia public school system. I taught for 25 years and coached teachers for seven more years, including as a Reading First literacy coach.

What I’m doing now is much what I did as a literacy coach, with the addition of  TeacherMate technology.

Among other things, I support teachers with guided reading, create bag-of-books with “just right” reading levels and help with classroom management and room environment. I  also aid teachers in the use of iPods and MP3 players, as well as computers used for TutorMate, troubleshooting technical issues that may arise.

I’m there, too, to lend a listening ear and to model and share best practices to all teachers and support staff when needed.

What motivates me is my love for teaching and helping children by way of coaching and supporting teachers.

I really enjoy interacting with teachers in a supportive manner, sharing, networking and giving feedback because I know how overwhelming it can get as a classroom teacher. To a teacher, having support can make all the difference.

What also motivates me is seeing the excitement and enthusiasm of teachers and students from having the latest technology — technology that’s equipped with literacy support that’s kid-friendly, teacher-friendly and fun.

The teachers love it because it requires little planning and no paperwork, it’s highly motivating for students, the feedback is immediate, and they can access the data from home or anywhere to track students’ progress.

One of my goals is to help teachers feel successful in reaching and teaching their students through the use of technology in the classroom. When this happens, they will in turn help their students succeed and achieve the district’s goal of bridging the gap in literacy.

One example: Ms. Frizzell, first-grade teacher at Randle Highlands, is new to TeacherMate. She is a young, fresh teacher and very excited about the program — especially the technology. She beams and bubbles each time I walk in her room to give her support. She always has something positive to say.

She said her students were more excited about the MP3 players when they received them than the iPods. Now, they are equally excited about both. She welcomes new ideas, suggestions, any and all collaboration, teaming and especially the tutors in TutorMate.

Sybil Anderson

See it now: How TutorMate turns office workers into allies for kids’ literacy

 

Check out this great new video about TutorMate, the project from Innovations for Learning that allows office workers help young children learn to read by giving just half an hour of their time a week.

The video was produced by Make It Better, a Chicago-area nonprofit that gave IFL its 2012 Philanthropy Award for “Educational Innovation, National.”

Enjoy it! And feel free to pass it along.

 

 

 

 

Staff reflections: Tahra Tibbs

In this series, “Staff Reflections,” we introduce the members of the Innovations for Learning team, who will tell us what brought them to our organization and why they’re excited to do this work. Today: Tahra Tibbs, Teacher Ambassador in the District of Columbia

Tahra Achieve2As an educator first, it brings me sheer delight to serve both teachers and students as an Innovations for Learning ambassador and coach.

I have the pleasure of unlocking the door of doubt, confusion, resistance and fear, and partnering with teachers to ignite change.

This partnership is an integral component to properly cultivating change and nurturing a spirit of excellence in the classroom. Therefore, at the foundation of this relationship with the teacher is trust. My non-threatening approach encourages teachers to see me as valuable resource and team member.

I was a classroom teacher for five years, mainly in Virginia. From 2007 to 2012, I worked for Achieve 3000, a private company that provides web-based tools for teaching literacy, training administrators and teachers in the Washington, D.C., metro area, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina.

I joined Innovations for Learning in July. Now I coach teachers to use our TeacherMate literacy-learning program most effectively, and help them become better reading teachers by serving as a resource and partner in the process of learning.

I love to visit classrooms and hear the captivating hum of engagement.

It is such a joy to see students on-task, interacting with games and activities on TeacherMate. I smile from ear to ear when I sit next to students in their comfy spot in the classroom and hear them “echo read” in Story Read and Record. This is a program in which students hear a page being read to them, and then are recorded as they read the same page aloud. They listen to the playback of both versions to see if they had read it correctly.

To hear students use phonetic clues to sound out words, then see them gleam with elation to hear the fruits of their labor!

We celebrate together with high-fives as learners match the correct rhyme unit and prevent an animal from missing the trampoline in Circus game. (That’s an activity that uses the names of animals to teach students how to identify the initial sounds of a word.)

The teachers are also beaming with excitement, as they scan the room and see their students purposefully engaged. When the class is so productively occupied, they are able to focus on the small group of students in front of them with differentiated, targeted instruction. I have observed that teachers who have established a good classroom management plan arrive at this place sooner.

It is my goal to make this model environment I have described the standard in all the classes that I serve.

I embrace the challenge and anticipate the adventure with great expectation!!!

Tahra Tibbs
tahra@innovationsforlearning.org

Tutors, kids benefit in Detroit

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The Detroit News tells how a tutor, working at her desk at General Motors, is helping a second-grader learn to read.

The two are 20 miles apart, but connected by headphones and laptop computers.  Software from Innovations for Learning’s TutorMate program is making the session possible.

Seven-year-old Daniel Estrella-Rodriguez “meets” twice a week with Tracie Zettler, of GM. She’s one of 120 volunteers working with IFL in the Detroit

Former Detroit News logo

Former Detroit News logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

area.

The twice-weekly tutoring has improved the 7-year-old’s ability to read — from 14 to 35 words a minute. It also has benefited Zettler, who has donated her time to other causes such as Habitat for Humanity and the Special Olympics.

“I love to help people and I love to volunteer,” said Zettler, a logistics planner at GM. “I have butterflies when we talk. I feel like I want to hug him. And he tries so hard.”

Daniel, a quiet boy with brown hair and an easy smile, said, “Miss Tracie helps me sound out a word if I don’t know it” and she “tells me that I’m good and that I’m paying attention.”

At GM, the program is so popular there’s a waiting list for would-be tutors.

The second-grader’s teacher tells the News’ Jennifer Chambers that the 30-minute tutoring sessions, which began in October, have helped him beyond improving his ability to read.

“I’ve seen an increase in his self-esteem,” said teacher Cecelia Ly. “They get special time with someone who cares about them. It makes them feel special.”

Read the whole story here.

photo: The Detroit News  

Staff reflections: Michele Pulver

biopicIn this series, “Staff Reflections,” we introduce the members of the Innovations for Learning team, who will tell us what brought them to our organization and why they’re excited to do this work. 
Today: Michele Pulver, National Director for Teacher Services

I am a speech-language pathologist by training and began my career working in schools and in private practice. I see fascinating connections between learning language and learning to read, and believe technology can be useful in both.

I left the classroom to shift my focus toward teacher training and professional development. For 10 years I worked with the reading-instruction program Earobics and its parent company Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, eventually managing the professional-development team for technology-focused programs for the north half of the USA.

I joined Innovations for Learning in 2010, and now I oversee the teacher training and coaching around  TeacherMate and TutorMate programs. I work directly with teachers — and also manage our Teacher Ambassadors, IFL’s own little literacy army. These knowledgeable folks work one-on-one with teachers to help them get the most out of IFL’s programs. I’m so grateful for them!

I couldn’t ask for a better job. I get a front-row view of the nearly miraculous changes and growth that happen in these critical early school years.

Kids in K and 1 are still learning the “rules” of school. They are still figuring out how to “be” and how to sit still and how to focus their attention on a task for longer periods of time. Teachers are artful shepherds, gradually shaping behaviors and teaching new skills that help students gain independence. K and 1 teachers set in place the building blocks of life-long learning.

The days in K and 1 are often filled with the mundane: tying shoes, wiping noses, celebrating successes (“You did it! I knew you could and you tried and you did it!”) and correcting off-task behaviors (“I think your voice should be at a level 0. Please use your words”).

They are filled with modeling, guided practice and establishing (and reestablishing) routines (“Let’s talk about how we line up…”).

Most importantly, they are filled with wonder.

Wonder is a powerful thing. When children begin to wonder, they are taking the first step toward visualizing texts and imagining outcomes. When a teacher wonders how to improve a lesson or how to reach a child, she is taking the first step towards self-improvement.

And it IS wonderful….

It is wonderful to see a student’s eyes light up when they’ve read a whole page (or a whole book!) for the first time. It is wonderful to see little brows furrowed in deep concentration as they coax their eyes and brains to try something new.

It is wonderful to hear kids say, “I need to read now. Please be quiet.”

It is wonderful to enjoy the non-sequiter observations a child can make. Recently, a first-grader raised his hand while I was discussing the riveting concept of initial consonant blends, and — completely disconnected from the subject — told me that “Praying Mantises don’t really pray.” Wonderful.

Take a little time to enjoy the wonder that our world and our classrooms provide.

Wonderful.

Michele Pulver
michele@innovationsforlearning.org

Innovations for Learning: The video version

Check out this wonderful video about Innovations for Learning. It gives a great picture of how IFL is helping children learn to read in public school classrooms.

It was produced by the group Make It Better, as a prize for winning one of its 2012 Philanthropy Awards.

Make It Better elaborates on Innovations for Learning’s work in this blog post.

We’re very grateful for the recognition!

(If you have trouble accessing the video from the links above, you can find it on our website.)

Staff reflections: Heather Kamenear

In this series, “Staff Reflections,” we introduce the members of the Innovations for Learning team, who will tell us what brought them to our organization and why they’re excited to do this work. 
Today: Heather Kamenear, National Coordinator, Online Tutoring.
 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy main role at Innovations For Learning is to train tutors, assign them to students, and then manage them throughout the year. This is quite a rewarding job, as I know that these tutors are helping students all over the country improve their reading skills and develop a passion for books.

As a former pre-school teacher — and lifelong, avid reader myself — I am very proud to be part of this process.

TutorMate and TeacherMate are IFL’s two principal endeavors, but during my two years with the company, I have been lucky enough to be part of several smaller projects. These projects excite me to no end, because they demonstrate IFL’s unlimited creativity and potential.

Of course there are many reasons that children fall behind in reading, but one such reason is that students, especially those really struggling, don’t find it exciting enough. When kids are excited about something and when they can relate to it, they are more likely to try harder and persist.

The project I worked on last summer involved writing out scripts for dozens of books and then recording myself reading them. I also added my own questions and comments to make the reading more engaging for the students. These recordings are targeting students who are unable to read these books themselves without assistance.

We put the recordings onto mp3 players, so that students can listen to my voice and simultaneously follow along with the actual books in front of them. While this is going on, another group of students can be reading on their TeacherMates, and yet another group can be receiving instruction from the teacher.

While I admit that it’s pretty neat to think that first graders all over the country are hearing my voice read these stories, this is genuinely an incredible idea on its merits. It allows students who would otherwise just look at the pictures without getting much out of the books to actually comprehend what’s going on and even make predictions. They can feel as though they are really reading, which will enable them to stay engaged and excited.

I was lucky enough to have parents who read to me every day and bought books for me whenever I asked. Not all kids are this fortunate. So I am thrilled and proud to be part of an organization that helps kids all over the country learn to read and develop a passion for it.

I find it exhilarating to think of the possibilities that the future holds with IFL. There are so many potential projects to undertake and so many students to reach. I look forward to being a part of it all.

Heather Kamenear
heather@innovationsforlearning.org
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