During my bachelor’s I found a side-job as a student coach for elementary and secondary school children. I noticed that learning math or reading was not always as easy for others as it was for me. You sit next to a student, trying to explain one algebra exercise for the 10th time. While they are racking their brains or having lost concentrating from the start, all your efforts seem lost. I am sure that I am not the only person who experienced a lack of patience during these moments (props to all parents and teachers). Through this experience, I learned that if you want to help other students you need to do more than explain dry theories or hide math in a game. And it became very apparent to me that other students need help. So how do we do this successfully?
Enter Match for Brighter Futures (MFBF). This project enables teenagers from secondary school [middelbare school] who cannot afford normal homework services to match up with university students who voluntarily coach them. Not only do the students help teenagers with their homework, but they also coach them with planning and guiding their ambitions. MFBF differentiates itself from ordinary homework services since the underlying intention helps younger students to be aware of why and how they study. Hence, the project has seen great results. Two weeks ago Julia wrote a blog called ‘Emma and I’ on her wonderful experience with the project (read here). This week we will share an interview with another student coach as well as the results from the 2018 and 2019 reports.
For today’s interview, I found myself talking to a third-year law student named Daan Groenewoud, a MFBF coach in the school year of 2019-2020. Daan shared why he set aside time to help out a young student, saying that “the rapport of 2019 shows that one-third of secondary school children get supplemental education such as homework support or exams training. I find it undesirable that children of lesser-off parents cannot make use of that.” Indeed, in the research results from the Dutch Government, it shows that a third of secondary school students get extra education (read here). Fortunately, Match was able to help out some teenagers that could not necessarily afford it themselves. As seen in the latest report, Match successfully supported 49 teenagers with their homework and ambitions from January 2018 to May 2019 (see figure 1).
Figure 1: Total of Participating Students
The Importance of Setting Goals
So how was Match able to help? Daan shared that he coached a teenager weekly with his studies from October to March 2020 [due to Corona]. “The experience was great. He [the student] really benefited from it. In the beginning, he was slightly chaotic, but I helped him to plan and to bring structure to studying.” I asked Daan how he experienced the coaching himself. “I did not know much about coaching. I noticed that it was not only studying, for example, a list of words. It was the planning, asking about his background and home situation, and asking what he wanted to achieve later in life.” Daan continued that establishing future goals was important because it became easier to motivate the student. “He said that he preferred to do something with his hands. And that was also what he wanted to do later in life. So, you have to explain to him that he has to study for the duration of ‘Pre-vocational secondary education’ (VMBO), which includes learning French words and math questions, in order to realize those ambitions.” Daan shared that he saw a change in the student’s attitude “In the beginning, he behaved like ‘Why do I have to learn all of this’ until I said that he needed to gain his start qualification. It is better for his own development and later he will look back at it with satisfaction. I think that truly worked for him.” Daan further stated that maybe teenagers might not understand why they need to study french words. “They ask themselves ‘Why am I doing this? I prefer to go outside and play soccer.’ With awareness, the learning process becomes a bit easier. They do have the motivation to do math exercises.” Daan shared that he, as a student coach, perceived his task to create awareness. “To not only think short term, but also long term. This in order to achieve his future goals.” In the report we can see that the coaching indeed helped out the students to increase their school performances, getting them one step further with their future goals (see figure 2)
Figure 2: Decrease in Loss of Points
Overcoming Learning Barriers
I wondered if Daan had a certain approach to teaching that worked well for him. “I didn’t want to make the coaching like an obligation of school. I wanted to have a nice and fun experience. So he would look forward to the extra lessons. I noticed that he enjoyed it which was nice for me to see. I wanted to create a trusting relationship with him. In the end, this improved the performance of the student.” Daan shared that besides the fun, he also experienced some concentration issues with the student which did not make it easy to study. “It was very different from me, also with studying. It means that you have to deal with it differently. So you have to figure out what suits him and what I can share with him from my personal experiences. But also what I should not share, because it does not suit his situation. It was constantly reconsidering what felt right for him.”
A Personal Lesson
Although MFBF is meant for the secondary students to learn, I wondered if Daan also learned something from the experience himself. He shared “If you need to communicate with a 12- or 13-year-old and need to make something happen… that asks something new from me. I had to adjust to that. You have to explain everything simpler. So I learned to better communicate with a 12-year-old.” Besides the lesson on communication, Daan also experienced a feeling of contentment. “His performances, both at school and on a personal level, improved. It showed that the supplemental education paid off. He could more easily bring himself to start working on school work, and he came to my classes with joy. I was happy to see this and it gave me contentment.”
Continuing Down the Road As Student Coach
Daan will continue next year to be a student coach. Although he is not sure if he will be able to help the same teenagers, because “maybe another student needs me more this upcoming year than the boy who I taught last year.” Since Daan enjoyed the experience a lot, he has also recommended it to his friends. “You gain a lot of satisfaction from the coaching. It is only for two hours a week. If you see what you can do in a week then spending a few hours helping another student is relatively little time while that student can benefit a lot from it. Also, I simply thought it was great.” Daan continued that it is not only the personal experience but also the larger picture. “I think that is important that these projects keep existing. I think that otherwise, the gap between students with and without extra learning opportunities will become too large. Especially if you look ten years ahead. So the existence of these types of projects is beautiful.”
Daan taught me that helping other students is not only about breaking down the theories, but about connecting the students with his or her long term goals. It will help them understand why they are learning and may even make them enjoy the extra teaching sessions. I end the conversation by thanking Daan for the interview while hoping he will have another great MFBF experience this upcoming year.
Interested in the Match For Brighter Futures project? You can find more information here: https://matchmaastricht.nl/projects/match-for-brighter-futures/