Lessons Learned

The Fantastic Four: Our Time at the O'Brien Center

Tutoring at the O' Brien Community Center in Winooski

Over the course of the semester, our group met once a week at the O' Brien Community Center for an hour and a half to help students of Winooski High school with their homework. We each worked with the students on various course subjects such as English, Math, and Science. We learned valuable skills such as patience, care and kindness, and we saw theoretical concepts come into play each week. We will eventually take all the important lessons we learned into our own classrooms someday.

Katy Arend - Motivation & Achievement

One of my biggest take aways from tutoring was how when students get frustrated and decide they can't do something, its almost impossible to convince them that they can. Many times during tutoring, students would throw up their hands and expect the tutors to do the work for them, not always because they wanted to offload the work, but because they felt that they couldn't do it. One time when I was helping a student she told me verbatim that she sucked at science, and that she didn't care about the project she was working on because she had an F in the class already. Her self-concept in her Motivational Vulnerability was so terrible she had given up entirely because she thought she couldn’t do it. In cases like this I think that Vygotsky’s Magic Middle was lost because the student was too challenged, and became frustrated as a result. So, what I learned for my classroom was to really try and monitor which students are doing well and which students are struggling in the class so they do not get to the point of hating what I'm teaching.

Jay Bianco - Learning

Over the course of my service learning at the O'Brien center one of the most important things I learned is that everyone learns in different ways and are always at different cognitive levels. These levels may be different depending on the subject area. A student may thrive in one subject, and that same student could struggle greatly in another subject. Each student has their own needs and methods of learning that work best for them. Since I did not know all of the students very well, it was difficult to quickly try and discover which method of tutoring worked best for him/her.

According to the constructivist theory on learning, people all learn differently. Each comes into a learning situation with prior knowledge and skills into a new learning environment. We have an activation of prior knowledge during a learning situation that contributes to our overall learning experience. While at the O’Brien center I noticed a lot of this happening, everyone came into the tutoring session with their own prior knowledge the impacted how they learned and I would have to adapt to meet them at their current understanding. Another constructivist idea I noticed was that sometimes the best help a student could get was from a peer. Peer-to-peer learning where peers build off each other to grow. Sometimes the best tutor is a peer who has just learned the material. Being at the same cognitive level it is sometimes easier to learn from a peer.

Emily Fenuccio - Risk-Taking and Cognitive Development

During my time at O'Brien, I discovered that there are so many factors that influence an adolescent's education. Since many of these students are English Language Learners, not only do they have to deal with average high school struggles like challenging classes and assignments and navigating social relationships, but these students also must deal with all of this in a foreign language. This language barrier seemed to prove problematic for some students' self-concept and also their self-efficacy. These students have all the necessary knowledge and skills to complete their work, but many of them struggle with finding the right words or phrases in English to express their views and ideas. This results in the student believing he or she is not smart enough to complete the assignment, and thus, struggle with self-motivating. It was definitely clear to me that these students are taking a huge risk in pursuing an education in a second language. Furthermore, I learned that it is important for teachers to account for all types of learners in their classrooms, including those who speak other languages. Teachers must understand their student's zones of proximal development; for these students, we learned how to understand the way each student learns, and how we as tutors can provide proper scaffolding to help them work through any language challenges they may face and fully access their material and knowledge.

Michelle Goldsmith - Identity

One of the biggest lessons I discovered during my time at the O'Brien center is that it can be very difficult to tell when a student doesn't know how to do something, versus when they don't want to try or don't think they know how. I've seen a lot of Freud's ego-defense mechanisms in action - particularly intellectualization and rationalization. A student may be having trouble, and instead of saying he or she doesn't understand, he or she may say the teacher never covered a point thoroughly, the assignment is bad, or because I know all of these other components, it is ok to skim over this one. Sometimes, students tried to hide it when they were struggling to avoid embarrassment, which can have a negative impact on their self-concepts. I had to start developing my own strategies for getting past those defense mechanisms subtly, without making the students feel embarrassed or upset.

The Folks at the Center

Sarah & Todd

We asked Sarah & Todd a number of questions about why they have chosen to work at the center, what impact they see both the center, and how they see us as tutors impacting the students and community.

What Made You Decide to Work at the O'Brien Center?


What Is the Greatest Challenge New Tutors Face?



As stated by Todd in his interview on the toughest things that new tutors face at the O’Brien center he mentioned that the unstructured nature of how the tutoring is set up. The tutoring is not set up to be a one-on-one setting with a tutor and a student. They let kids float in and out at their leisure. One thing I noticed is that it can be difficult when you are in the middle of working with a student and another one comes in out of the blue that wants your help immediately. It tricky to leave a student who I have been working one-on-one with to go and help out someone else. Sometimes they are shy and don’t ask for help and just sit there waiting for help, and I may not notice they are there. I personally have noticed it can be difficult to properly help everyone out who needs it as they come and go randomly. Especially challenging during the first few weeks.


How Have the UVM Tutors Impacted the O'Brien Center?



As Todd explains in the video, the tutors play an important role in the O'Brien community and the dynamics of the relationship between O'Brien and UVM. This opportunity is one in which both the students and tutors can learn from one another; the students obviously receive academic help but also can get to know college students and learn about their experiences in college. The tutors, in turn learn how to form connections and effective "teacher/student" relationships with the students at O'Brien, while at the same time being able to incorporate subjects we are learning here at UVM. The cooperative relationship building between the students and teachers provides a unique learning opportunity for both groups involved and helps to foster a greater sense of community in the area.


What Does the O'Brien Center Mean to the Community?



I worked with a student who was writing a paper for his senior project about the impact of the O'Brien Center in his life. He told me that it provided a lot of opportunities for him, in terms of resources, facilities, and friends. He had moved here from Somalia, where he encountered a lot of violence and obstacles - the O'Brien center here was a safe place for him to develop his identity (personally, academically, socially), and find productive ways to channel his energy and potential. He said he wanted to do something in the future to help community centers like this remain successful and accessible.


What are the Most Important Things Tutors Should Know/Do for the Students?



One of the biggest things seems to be knowing the difference between when a student really needs your help and when they want you to do the work for them. Many times it's hard to tell because the line between helping and over-helping is a thin one. Many time students really need a good shot in the arm to get a project done, but only experience can really tell you when you are becoming the student as opposed to helping the student.



Explosions In The Sky - Your Hand In Mine by mikephlurry