An Interview with my Mentee

The picture my mentee and I drew together.

The picture my mentee and I drew together.

Yesterday was the last session of Homework Zone for the semester. I am always amazed at how fast the time goes! For fun I conducted a little interview with my mentee on the last day and thought it would be great to share it here.

What was the best thing about Homework Zone?

Doing arts and crafts! (see the above drawing, one of many from the semester) 

What’s your favourite colour?


What’s your favorite thing to have for lunch?

Kraft Dinner

Continue reading

Preparation for second reflection event: effects of socio-economic inequality on learning

Next Wednesday evening, we will be holding our second reflection event of the semester, during which Homework Zone volunteers will discuss the underlying issues behind the need for our program, and relate them to what they have learned themselves this semester.

In preparation for this reflection event, here is a book chapter that would be of interest. Pay close attention to the sections called “Effects on School Behaviour and Performance” and “Action steps” – although the whole article is very informative and relevant.

Here is an excerpt:

Embody respect. You can’t change what’s in your students’ bank account, but you can change what’s in their emotional account. It may require a considerable shift in your thinking. It is fruitless simply to demand respect from students; many just don’t have the context, background, or skills to show it. Instead,

  • Give respect to students first, even when they seem least to deserve it.
  • Share the decision making in class. For example, ask students whether they would prefer to do a quick review of what they have learned to consolidate and strengthen their learning or move on to new material.
  • Avoid such directives as “Do this right now!” Instead, maintain expectations while offering choice and soliciting input (e.g., “Would you rather do your rough draft now or gather some more ideas first?”).
  • Avoid demeaning sarcasm (e.g., “How about you actually do your assignment quietly for a change?”).
  • Model the process of adult thinking. For example, say, “We have to get this done first because we have only enough time for these three things today.” Keep your voice calm and avoid labeling actions.
  • Discipline through positive relationships, not by exerting power or authority. Avoid such negative directives as “Don’t be a wise guy!” or “Sit down immediately!” Instead say, “We’ve got lots to do in class today. When you’re ready to learn, please have a seat.”

Double Reflection

The title of this post may seem a little peculiar, but while trying to come up with a title I realized there is no good way to use “reflection” twice in a five word title, so I settled for the vaguer but easier to say: “Double Reflection.”

So, on to this semester’s Reflection Workshop! It was a couple of weeks ago now, on October 22. If you weren’t able to make it, do not think that you were the only one, there was only a small group of us there. An unfortunate, but inevitable, outcome of midterm season.

Despite our small numbers, the workshop was incredibly instructive and insightful. It was given by Megan Webster (a PhD candidate in the Department of Integrated Studies in Education) and focused on how to help students make sense of their own thinking. I thought that this was a great topic to address in a workshop because understanding how people other than ourselves think is incredibly difficult, but utterly essential to any kind of teaching. Continue reading

10 Questions with Sanya

During Homework Zone we are always learning more about our mentees. However, it is also nice to continue to learn about our fellow mentors. Since many of us are in different schools and do not get the chance to talk and since even those of us in the same school often do not get a chance to talk while keeping track of our mentee(s), I thought I would post a little Q&A about one of the many excellent mentors volunteering this semester. I would like to thank Sanya, a mentor at Verdun, for answering these questions, and I hope you enjoy learning a little more about her.

  1. What’s your name?

Sanya Bhalla

  1. What year and what program are you currently in at McGill?

I am a U3 student studying Economics and Finance.

  1. When not at McGill, where do you call home?

Originally from India, I moved to Montreal for my Undergrad. India is the place I call home.

  1. Why did you decide to volunteer with HZ?

I decided to volunteer with Homework Zone because I like to spend time with children. With this opportunity I had hoped to interact with them and help them in whichever way I can. Also, I expected Homework Zone would provide me with some teaching experience and an opportunity for personal growth. Continue reading

Orientation Round #1

This Saturday was the first of what is really a two part orientation to Homework Zone. Not all of the 97 volunteers could make it to the Carrefour Ballroom on Saturday (apparently there were quite a few people writing the LSAT), but for those who did it was a great way to launch into the semester. Continue reading

Facilitate a workshop with Homework Zone


Led by McGill’s Social Equity and Diversity Education Office (SEDE), Homework Zone is an alternative mentoring program for McGill students and schoolchildren aged 7-12 in three schools of the Lester B. Pearson School Board. Through the development of a relationship of trust between the volunteer mentor and their mentee, the program aims to helps McGill student volunteers forge a link with the wider Montreal community; and to support the schoolchildren’s success, both academically and socially.

The goal of the activities offered through this program is to make the kids discover new interests and horizons, all while having fun with their mentors.

Continue reading

A semester with Homework Zone

This semester, Erin will be writing on the blog about her own experiences with Homework Zone. After reading this beautiful piece, we’re really looking forward to what else she has up her sleeve!

A Semester with Homework Zone

I don’t think that I’m alone in feeling that September, as the month of “back to school,” is like a second January. For students, September can be a chance to either reawaken dormant January resolutions or set some new goals for the new semester. Or, of course, do neither, which is also completely acceptable in my books as we all have a lot on our minds. My own experience with start of semester goals is something like this, I start them, keep up with them for a few weeks, and then promptly forget about them three days before my first midterm. However, this September I am happily continuing with something I decided to start last January: volunteering with Homework Zone. Continue reading


Before applying, don’t forget to carefully read the information below!

Please note that we have enough volunteers for Riverview on Tuesdays, and are still in need of volunteers Wednesday and Thursday afternoons.

This page is for McGill students interested in volunteering with Homework Zone.

Deadline to apply for the Fall 2014 semester: Monday September 22nd, Midnight.

Do you like working with kids? 

Do you need an outlet for your creativity?

Do you want to explore new neighbourhoods in Montreal? 

Do you want to get involved?

Then you’ve found the right place to look!

We ask from our volunteers an enthusiasm for working with kids as well as a regular, weekly commitment over the course of at least 1 semester. Because this is a mentorship program, commitment is our main focus.

Time Commitment:

3 Hours per week (including travel time to and from the school) for a duration of 10 weeks.

For the Fall 2014 semester, the program begins on  September 30th, 2014 and finishes by December 4th, 2014

For the Winter 2015 semester, the program dates will be confirmed shortly.

Volunteers can choose what day works best…

  1. Tuesday 2-5PM
  2. Wednesday 2-5PM
  3. Thursday 2:30-6:00 PM

3-hour Mandatory Orientation session (Saturday September 27th, 1:00 – 4:00 PM) in Carrefour residence. A catch-up session is offered to the volunteers that cannot attend due to religious restrictions, work, or illness. 

Two 2-hour Reflection Dinners with guest speakers (DATES TBA)

Optional: volunteer as group leader for My Day @ McGill (Late March or early April)

Benefits and Recognition:

  • A Letter of Attestation from the Dean of Students for a minimum of 30 hours
  • A 20% voucher at the McGill Bookstore
  • Volunteering in a group with other McGill students

How to Apply…

Step 1: Fill out the 2014 Homework Zone application form. When marking your availabilities, please keep in mind the time slots mentioned above (see: “time commitment”).

Step 2: E-mail Gabrielle at with your CV and confirm you filled the above form.

Step 3: Wait for confirmation e-mail.

Note: If you have already volunteered with Homework Zone, please email Gabrielle at if you would like extra responsibilities as team captain.


CAT information

A refresher on simple math exercises!

For a lot of volunteers, remembering how to explain simple math problems is surprisingly… difficult. Either because their own math classes date back to high school, or because they haven’t had to think about simple equations in years because it has simply become second nature to them.

The website Math is Fun! offers a nice refresher, and covers everything from long division to fractions, adapted to every grade, with step-by-step instructions. Check it out here:

Don’t forget that if you’re ever stuck, you can always ask a fellow volunteer to give you a hand!

Five ways to get kids to want to read and write

Combining academic research and hands-on tips, this article explains how you can instil a love of reading in your mentee (and in any other child in your life, really). You can read it here:

Here’s a summary of what would be particularly helpful for Homework Zone volunteers:

  • Talk about the books you read. Talk about them with the kids, with other mentors in front of the kids…. lead by example!
  • If you have a favourite story or book you think your mentee would like, try to find it in the school library, or from the McGill library, and read it together every week. 

Ella Enchanted was definitely in my top 3 when I was ten.

  • Read out loud to your mentee, and make it fun. Act out voices, e-nun-ci-ate, point out the words you read (or get them to point them out), and get really invested in the story. For the first few weeks of the semester, you can read out loud more than you make them read, in order get them used to a “reading voice”. If you’re reading out loud, go for books with more interesting stories, even though – especially if you think they might be too hard for your mentee to read on their own. That’s how you plant the seeds…

If I get one more young person interested in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, my work here is done.

  • Create opportunities where the kids can see their improvement, and keep building on it. If you think your mentee is already pretty good at reading out loud, now encourage them to be more theatrical about it; to emphasize commas and exclamation points, and encourage them along the way. Keep note (really do, with pen and paper!) of the kinds of books they read, and of how long they are able to read without taking a break, and point out the progress they make.
  • Encourage them to write and be creative. You know your mentee better than anyone else in Homework Zone, so you be the judge of when and how to encourage this, but some homework assignments are more prone to creative bending, especially in the 5th and 6th grades. I found that the kids had a ridiculous amount of fun with the synonym and antonym dictionaries I brought over from McGill’s library last semester, and it really helped them with a writing assignment. Keep an eye on the kind of homework they have to do, and don’t hesitate to bring over extra learning tools!