Tutor/Mentor Connection

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Each month I write an article with a simple tool volunteers can use to help their students succeed. Hope you enjoy it!

Maria Murphy

Mentor Rap?
By Maria Murphy
“Break it down” - MC Hammer

For anyone who knows who MC Hammer is, you may be wondering why one of the first mainstream rap singer’s lyrics are in an article about mentoring and tutoring kids. Good question. But I have to say, the words, “break it down,” from Hammer’s famous “You can’t touch this,” keep reverberating in my ears.

Lyric lore claims the phrase means either, to dance wildly, or break down the dance steps. Either way, the words do stick. And, I believe, they are relevant to mentoring. I have been thinking about barriers to learning for kids and teens. There are two enormous barriers to their success listed below, for both of which I think MC Hammer can offer a bit of guidance.

Not understanding the task at hand.
It’s so easy for us to assume kids know all the steps it takes to complete a task. But multiplication, for instance, is not that simple. It’s remembering how to stack the numbers and which side to start multiplying from and when to add. It’s several very different and seemingly unrelated steps. Let’s face it, even a simple task like making your bed is many steps attached together. Without direction, a bit of demonstration and follow up, even a bed can end up looking kind of tragic. Watch your student carefully and assess if they know the steps they need. Be careful not to assume. Kids are good fakers. They are aware of what they “should” know and many have learned to survive by covering up. By evaluating what they know, you see exactly what their needs may be.

Feeling overwhelmed.
Some kids may have the skill set to perform tasks, but emotionally are blocked because of being overwhelmed. Appraise the situation. Observe their capability and proficiency and measure it against actual performance. As adults, we know the impact that being overwhelmed can have on our productivity. Even when we know how to do something, feeling overwhelmed can stop us in our tracks. Same goes for the kids we are helping.

Good news.
Once you evaluate your student’s barriers, MC Hammer has the answer. “Break it down.” It’s as easy as teaching a skill in small steps or teaching the ability to break down tasks so they are not overwhelming. Hammer’s got it. See where your student is coming from and then “break it down.” When I say “break it down,” that also means show them. Hammer demonstrates his famous dance moves on his music videos. Demonstrate your own “one step at a time” moves for your student. Demonstrate the steps over and over till they get it. If, instead, they are overwhelmed by all they have to do, show them your step-by-step moves to break it down and get it done.

Have fun, and remember, just like teaching dance moves, once you know what your student needs, you can “break it down” and instruct them step-by-step how to make the changes they need to succeed.

Maria Murphy writes monthly for Tutor/Mentor Connection in Chicago and has been a presenter for Cabrini Connection’s Tutor/Mentor Conference. This column is distributed throughout NE Florida via Kessler Mentoring Organization. Maria is a speaker, consultant and writer. Other mentoring articles can be found on her blog column at http://www.simplyputtogether.com .

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This is great advise. It also ties in very well to what one of our keynote speakers at the May 29 and 30 Tutor/Mentor Leadership and Networking Conference will be talking about. Marilyn King is a two-time Olympian (Munich 1972 & Montreal 1976) in the grueling five event Pentathlon. Her 20-year athletic career includes five national titles and a world record. An automobile accident in 1979 rendered her unable to train physically for her third Olympic Team. Using only mental training techniques she placed second at the Olympic trials for the 1980 Moscow Games. She has created a Olympian Thinking process that can coach kids to take charge of their lives. You can see it at http://www.waybeyondsports.com/marilyn_king.html


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