Bonding Over Punctuation

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By teacher Noah G.


Coming from the background of a home-room teacher in large population schools, the transition to single-student tutoring through VIPKID came as quite a shock to me. Many of the techniques, methods and tricks I’d picked up in the real-world classroom simply did not apply in the brief, one-to-one, learning exchanges of the digital learning space. I found myself forced to take on some skills I’d neglected and adopt wholly new responsibilities which immediately challenged me. There was another feature of teaching with VIPKID that I did not expect, however. With my attention focused on just one student at a time, I found that, despite the thousands of miles and deep cultural and logistical barriers that came between us, it was much easier to develop the personalized mentor-student report with my pupil that’s so vital to the teaching process.

It’s been all of a quick two months since I started working for VIPKID but the camaraderie of mentor-ship has already set sail. One of my regular students in particular, let’s call him Bruce, has been conquering lesson material with such haste that I’ve been forced to search the confines of my miniscule brain for relevant material to add into every lesson. Distance, depth and ‘this/that’? Too easy. Amounts, categories and ‘too little/too much’? Bruce breezes right through it. Finding myself at a loss for content and exhausting the suggested “expand” topics in the teacher directions, I decided to improvise.

Several of the “order the sentence” jumble slides come with punctuation even though we don’t teach punctuation in the levels at which many appear. So, “what the heck,” I thought, and taught Bruce some punctuation to which he caught on fast and was eager for more. We went over the pronunciation of “exclamation mark,” ex-cla-ma-tion, and he soon had it memorized. “What does the exclamation mark mean when you see it at the end of a sentence?” I asked him. “Loud,” he said. “It means you say it loud!” Since then, if a lesson is moving too quickly (which with Bruce is always) I can stop at a sentence on the page and draw an exclamation point at its conclusion. “Now read the sentence,” I’ll say. Bruce leans back in his chair and bellows it across the room.

Last week we came across another piece of punctuation: the question mark. This one he already knew so I decided to have some fun with it. As we came across the “Activity Time” screen, Bruce took the initiative and drew his own exclamation mark, shouting as loud as he could in excitement. I got clever. After he calmed down, I cleared his exclamation mark and wrote in a question mark instead. “Finally, a real challenge,” I thought. Nope. Bruce was cleverer. With a quizzical look and faux, confused inflection he answered, “activity time?” I feel off my chair with laughter and Bruce soon joined me. I was so impressed that I gave up the lesson’s last star just for that. Bruce and I have only had a dozen lessons together but that rapport, like that of a great comedy duo, is there, and in a much shorter span than I ever knew possible teaching American students in real-world classrooms. As my student, Bruce learns a great deal more than just the lesson material and as his teacher, I enjoy the teaching experience much more because of it. VIPKID has proven to me that possibility is reality and for it I am very grateful! (Exclamation!)

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