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Timing and distractions

et502's picture

On Tuesday, I worked with Erica again on both reading and homework. “Work with me, work with me,” she asked, so I agreed to come upstairs and work with her. After 20 minutes of reading, we switched to work on homework.

Looking back over my notes, I was surprised by the number of distractions we had. While we were reading, a tutor and a student came upstairs and started reading out loud too; another student had a tantrum in the corner and the director, Mariah, and 2 other tutors were talking to him for 5-10 minutes to get him to settle down. Erica was, for the most part, able to stay focused during that time. However, when we were doing homework, she was more prone to distraction – both of her own making, and others.

Erica had one double-sided worksheet of math problems. She wanted to work upstairs instead of downstairs, where students usually do homework – I assumed this was because it was a little quieter and less hectic upstairs. We sat down on a couch, and Erica took out two whiteboards, and put her paper on top of them. She also got a sharpened pencil and a dry-erase marker.

The first page was about 6 or 7 word problems. Erica read them out-loud and then selected the “best answer.” She read her answers out loud to check with me on a couple of them, and then did some on her own. When I noticed a mistake I told her to check it again. After doing a few of these problems successfully, she wrote on one whiteboard, “I am good at math.” I wrote, “I agree.” Then she added a “dis”- before the “agree.” I erased it, and we both laughed. I said she literally changed what I said – and that that was not at all what I meant. Erica said that she’s 11 and in 5th grade.

The problem that took the most time was one about baking something for 26 minutes – the question asked, if one started baking at 11:48, at what time would the baked goods be finished? Erica added 11:48 and 26, and got 11:74. I asked her how many hours there were in 74 minutes. We talked about this for several minutes, and I wrote out 74 min = ___ hr and  ___ min, on her whiteboard. Erica tried drawing a clock; but this wasn’t very helpful. She said several unrelated answers, choosing from the multiple-choice under the question. I asked if she was guessing, and she said yes.

While we were working, Jared came upstairs and sat down next to me. He had a comic book and a timer. Steven, another volunteer, came upstairs and said that Jared hadn’t finished his homework yet. After a few minutes of talking, Jared went back downstairs. He left his timer and comic book on the couch.

Later, when he returned, Jared had a new comic book. Steven came up the stairs after him. Jared said the other comic book wasn’t his. He was about to sit down, but then started looking under the cushions. I don’t know what he was looking for – he wouldn’t say. I told Erica to just focus on her own work, and try to not get distracted.

On the second page of the homework, Erica had problems like, 135 min = _____ hr ______ min; and 42 mo = _____ yr ______ mo. For the second question, I asked if she knew what “mo” stood for. She said no, so I said that mo means “month.” Then I read the question, “42 months equals how many ---“ here I prompted Erica. She said years, and days. When I asked again, pointing at “mo,” she still said “days.” I corrected her, saying that they were asking about years and months. For the most part, Erica knew that she had to divide the smaller units by how many of them there are in the larger unit (ex: divide 135 minutes by 60 to figure out how many hours there are). I wished I’d known this strategy for the problem on the previous page – I didn’t know that Erica was familiar with division. Erica tried using division for all the problems after that, even the ones that started with a larger unit, and asked for the number of smaller units. A few more times, she also tried using the drawn-clock strategy, but she got more and more frustrated as we went on.

I don’t have a central question here – just some things that I want to point out. I think it’s interesting that she wrote “I am good at math,” on the whiteboard – I wasn’t sure whether this was a sarcastic remark or if she actually believed it. Why make a comment right afterwards that she is 11 and in 5th grade? I assumed that she was held back a year - I wonder how much this affects her?

Working on math concepts related to time was very confusing, especially since I didn’t know what tools she already had for it. It seemed like Erica wanted to take a lot of shortcuts so she didn't have to fully engage with the questions - guessing one of the multiple choice answers, or like when she said "days" instead of "months." I remember thinking that I would have liked to have a fake clock that we could have manipulated. She kept drawing a clock – this made me wonder whether she works better with visual tools. Maybe we should have used blocks that represented units of time.