Thursday, September 11, 2008

Writing upside-down, and sideways

An indirect measure of tutoring experience

Last week, a student made this comment to me:
“Wow! You write not only upside-down but also sideways!”

Then I realized I have gradually acquired this ability over the years as a direct result of my continued math tutoring practice.

As a tutor, many times you have to correct a result, or an equation the student has just written. You are sitting across the table from them, and the correction may be a minor one. Reaching for their notebook across the table, grabbing it, turning it, putting it in front of you, writing what you want to write, and giving the notebook back to the student may not be extremely time consuming; however, the couple seconds it takes to move the notebook back and forth across the table may sometimes add up to something of a hassle if you find yourself having to make a lot of corrections and/or suggestions to keep the session moving forward.
In such cases, especially when the corrections are minor, once your hand is on the notebook at the other end of the table, it is much easier just to write whatever you have to write, right then and there, without ferrying the notebook to your side of the table.
For me the process started inadvertently, just by changing minus signs to pluses. From there it went on to changing y’s into x’s, inserting parenthesis, adding missing zeroes at the end of a number, and things like that. Still easy stuff but increasing in difficulty a little bit at a time.
The easiest digits to write upside-down are 0, 1, and 8. Before long, you can write all the digits upside-down. One day, all of a sudden you find yourself writing whole formulas upside-down. By this time, most likely you have started writing a few things also sideways, because often the student sits next to you but at a 90 degree angle.
I never had any independent practice writing upside-down or sideways on purpose. The only times I write sideways or upside-down are during my tutoring sessions. So I can say this ability, in my case, is a direct result, and therefore an indirect measure, of my tutoring experience.

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