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June 04, 2010

DeKalb High School, NIU students chalk up
success during initial semester of free tutoring

Math proves most popular subject

DeKalb, Ill. — Add up the statistics collected during the first semester of Northern Illinois University-provided tutoring for DeKalb High School students, and the results are clear.

DeKalb High School - District 428/NIU Partnership Schools

More math tutors are needed next year.

Of the 200 tutoring sessions conducted over the spring, 88 involved mathematics. Nearly half of those – 43 – centered on problems with algebra. Geometry concerns accounted for 22 sessions, equaled only by the 22 sessions rooted in biology questions.

Tutors suspect that the daily frequency of math homework and the immediate confirmation of right and wrong answers helps high school students to better measure their understanding of the subject and whether they’re in trouble.

“Our students overwhelmingly need that math support,” agreed Jennie Hueber, assistant principal of DeKalb High School. “We’re hoping to put something in place next fall so we can better support our students who need tutoring, and we’re hoping to spread the NIU tutors throughout the school day rather than just having them available after school. The after-school service was really well utilized, though, so we will continue that.”

“We already have more math students signed up for next year because we want to serve that need,” added Judy Cox-Henderson, the coordinator of clinical experiences in the NIU College of Liberal Arts and Sciences who designed the tutoring internship course with DHS psychologist Stacy Bjorkman.

“The DHS teachers are very, very supportive of our continuing the program and want to work with us on ways to make things happen to encourage more students to come. We were all kind of disappointed we didn’t have a lot of students coming for help with English – we had a really good group of English tutors.”

NIU’s new tutoring internship awards academic credit to students who tutor three hours a week at the high school.

They attend workshops, interview and observe teachers and analyze textbooks for user-friendliness. They also keep strict activity logs that produce rich data on what kind of academic support was needed, what advice and plans were delivered and what feedback was communicated to teachers.

For DeKalb High School, which offers free after-school tutoring to a targeted group of students, the NIU interns greatly expand the number of teens able to access academic assistance.

Ninety students took advantage of the NIU tutoring; 80 percent of those came only once or twice, although 11 students attended three, four, five or six times. Five students had sessions in the double digits; the most by one individual was 16. One student tallied 15 visits, another 11 and two at 10. Most students – 80 percent – brought only one subject to the tutoring table.

Tutors also taught skills involving reading, writing, vocabulary, problem-solving, research, studying, completing homework, general organization and exam anxiety.

“We think that, for the first time, this went extremely well. We’ve had a chance to look at the data the NIU students collected, and we’ve had chances to speak with Judy Cox-Henderson, so this was really a learning experience for us,” Hueber said.

“Our students got a lot of one-on-one help. We did have a lot of NIU students compared to the number of high school students, and there were some real positive relationships formed because of that,” she added. “What’s important for next year is that we want to make sure that the tutors are on the same page with the math teachers regarding calculator usage or with the humanities teachers on how papers should be written. Communication is key to success.”

NIU’s future teachers gained valuable lessons, Cox-Henderson said.

“They learned from working one-on-one that they could find out a lot about the students’ understanding through their facial cues and body language and that they would be much more sensitive to those kinds of things in the classroom,” she said. “They told me that sometimes teachers give assignments in ways that are unclear. They said to me, ‘I became very aware that when I gave instructions, I had to be as clear and as simple as possible.’ They also learned that teachers need different ways to explain things for different learners.” 

NIU student Matt Crocco, who plans to teach high school math, enjoyed the semester.

“I wanted to get some hands-on experience with students to see what their issues are. I think math is probably one of the most important subjects in school, and kids really aren’t learning it well. I want to make math easier to explain to them so they can understand its relevance in their life. I give students a reason to know math,” Crocco said.

“There were a couple regulars I saw who improved drastically over the semester,” he added. “The ones who came in regularly benefited a lot.”

Jaclyn Curtis, who plans to teach high school social studies and government, wasn’t as busy as Crocco and the other math tutors but found the experience valuable nonetheless.

“All the tutors got to know each other. We bounced ideas off one another, we learned from each other and the workshops really complemented our observation class,” Curtis said. “We’re trying to make changes – looking at the data – to get more students who need help with reading and writing to come to the center.”

Some of that work began the old-fashioned way, advertised through word of mouth at a high school orientation fair for eighth-graders from Clinton-Rosette and Huntley middle schools.

“We had a little table set up with our tutors,” Cox-Henderson said. “We hope we can get the incoming freshmen to see that tutoring is a normal part of the high school experience. Maybe it’s the new freshmen who are really going start utilizing the tutoring center.”

Media Contact: Mark McGowan, Media Relations & Internal Communications
Phone: 815/753-9472
Email: mmcgowan@niu.edu