Each semester, AmeriCorps’ Project MARS collects ‘Great Stories’ from each of our members—entries where they reflect on their experiences mentoring in the classroom and the progress that they see students making. This month’s story comes from Katrina Ledford.
L is a sweet (but very stubborn) first-grader that I have been working with for a couple of months now. We work together three days a week on math and reading. From what I can tell, after talking with L, she comes from a family that has meshed well together the past few years. Her mother remarried a few years ago to the man she now calls dad. She seems to have a good relationship with her family, including her toddler little brother.
However, often L will say she didn’t have time to read her book the night before or do her homework because her mom and dad were “gaming” and didn’t have time. Often times, because she doesn’t have her homework done, we work on it briefly so she is prepared for class and at least has her book read so she can answer questions about it. Like most children, L holds attention for a very short amount of time. For these reasons, we meet for 30 minutes at a time. In those 30 minutes, we work on academic work provided by her teacher.
The first few weeks of working with L were pretty easy. Every time I went to get her out of class, she was very excited to go with me and get the chance to escape out of class. But a few weeks into our meetings, L began to figure out that receiving academic assistance isn’t as fun as she thought it was going to be. She began to realize that although she was getting out of class, she had other work to do, and that work was very challenging to her. Even if it was a “fun” academic game, it challenged her and included words she didn’t know. When we first started meetings, L was motivated to get her work done. I think she was trying to impress the new mentor. When that motivation began to fade away, I knew I had to find other ways to motivate her. Honestly, who wants to do work all the time without any reward?
My first attempt to motivate L was with the use of animal stickers. For a few weeks this was successful, I was able really tell a difference in her attitude toward academia and our mentoring sessions. However, like with most children, the stickers got old and were “just a sticker.” I was back to the drawing board. I spoke with L’s teacher and she said she was experiencing the same kind of “attitude.” The “I really don’t want to do this” attitude. The “if you ask me a question, I’m going to look at you like you have two heads, because I really, really don’t want to do this” attitude. I was stumped.
One day, it hit me – a game! The next session, I made a deal with L. If she finished all her work, we would play a game the last 10 minutes before I took her back to class. On this day, L finished all her work that would normally take her at least 45 minutes in 20 minutes! I had found the way L’s heart.
While I’m normally not for bribing, in this situation it was necessary, and it works. I can’t say L doesn’t come to me some days absolutely refusing to do her work in a timely fashion, but most days the thought of playing a game helps her get her work done and helps her look forward to our sessions. The more work we are able to complete, the more modules we are able to cover. After speaking with L’s teacher and other volunteers and teachers in the school, all report seeing an improvement in L’s attitude toward academia and her ability to complete her work easier than at the beginning of the year.