A Tutoring Success Story

January 28, 2010 at 9:00 AM | Posted in Development, Tutoring, Volunteers | Comments Off on A Tutoring Success Story

Here at the Literacy Council, we reassess our ESOL tutoring students after every 40 hours of instruction.  Of course, these testing results constitute only one measurement of success:  Different students learn at different rates, there are many types of progress that are not captured in a test, and everyone has a bad day now and then.   Nevertheless, I look forward to receiving the results since, more often than not, our students’ scores increase appreciably.

The case of Aicha, a Moroccan woman who never had the opportunity to attend school, especially gladdened my heart last month.   Recently separated from her husband, she desperately needed to learn English in order to take the bus, read signs, and generally function independently.  Before starting her tutoring, she only scored 13 out of 81 points on the test of oral English and 7 out of 45 points on the reading and writing test.  After 40 hours of one-on-one instruction, her test score rose to 52 on the oral test (an increase of 4 SPL levels) while her score on the reading and writing test doubled.  She now can carry on simple conversations and read simple words.  She has also mastered basic life skills, such as telling time and identifying the values of coins and bills.  She and her tutor are so motivated and work so well together.  I can’t wait to see the progress she will make on her next 40 hour assessment.

Elise Bruml, Tutoring Programs Director

Slow Speech

January 27, 2010 at 9:00 AM | Posted in AmeriCorps, Class, Development, ESOL, Teaching | 2 Comments

While gearing up for our first week of classes, it’s important to choose an aspect of teaching that you want to strengthen and make it a habit from the beginning. Call it a New Year’s Resolution. As mentioned in my previous post, I plan to practice pronunciation in two ways: repetition and speed. Students need to hear the words from the teacher, again and again. Chanting a word so many times that your students break in laughter can be helpful as long as they’re not beleaguered. While probably thinking about how absurd the excessive repetitions are, they will simultaneously internalize the sounds and make them their own.

Talking too quickly is one of the biggest problems in TESL. Unless the students can grasp your words, you’re wasting their time. Yet, the rate at which we naturally speak is always considerably faster than what a beginner can handle. In fact, it’s remarkable how much a teacher will say in a beginner class and not be understood. Moreover, students want to save face; many find nodding and smiling to be easier than stopping to ask for a repeat every few sentences. Without adapting a slower speaking pace, however, the class will make less headway than the teacher thinks. To avoid subjecting my students to an onslaught of gibberish, I will remember to speak unnaturally slow. It may feel uncomfortable as the speaker, but it will be easier on their ears. When I have remembered to use slow speech during class, there was marked improvement in student involvement because they were able to follow along. Slow speech means more progress.

~Matt Arnold, AmeriCorps Instructor

Oral Skills

January 26, 2010 at 9:00 AM | Posted in AmeriCorps, Class, Development, ESOL | Comments Off on Oral Skills

As a new session of teaching is upon us, I find it helpful to distrust the aspects that I think I know about teaching and put them to the test. There is sometimes a sense of foreboding that sets in when I write a seemingly simple vocabulary word on the board only to turn around and be met by an audience of quizzical stares. It can be difficult to recognize the words that we take for granted as words that need to be thoroughly drilled with students. Yet, unless the gap between the way a word sounds and is spelled can be bridged, learners will struggle. English class serves as the best platform to tackle mispronunciation before bad habits sink in.

As Ken Wilson states, one of the reasons why English classes are so important is because it is nearly impossible to learn the language on your own. The rules of English are governed by a sense of logic that is more subtle and less intuitive than other languages. Take the incongruence between spelling and pronunciation in a poem written by Gerard Nolst Trenité and featured on Wilson’s teaching blog:

Just compare heart, beard and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word,
So be careful how you speak –
Say break and steak, but bleak and streak.
Blood and flood are not like food,
Nor is mould like should and could.
River, rival, tomb, bomb, comb,
Doll and roll and some and home.
Aria, Maria and malaria,

Sea, idea, Korea, area.

Learning how to pronounce a word from text seldom produces the right result. English class is thus one of the only places a learner can go to truly correct their speech. As teachers, we should take advantage of this opportunity.

Wilson’s teaching blog


~Matt Arnold, AmeriCorps Instructor

The Numbers Gal

January 25, 2010 at 9:00 AM | Posted in Development | 1 Comment

As Director of Operations, I am often sequestered in my office producing financial statements, writing checks and deposits, or drafting work papers for our auditors. In short, I am the “numbers gal”.

It is such a delightful experience for me to “change hats” and be able to help our students or prospective students, whether in person or on the phone. Several times, students seeking information about our programs have wandered into our office not knowing where to go. If I see them standing around looking puzzled, I ask how I can help them. Sometimes, they struggle for words in English. Sometimes, they’re accompanied by a friend or relative who can speak English fairly fluently. However, I always get the same reaction: they are grateful. They’re grateful to see a friendly face smiling at them. They’re grateful that a native speaker is taking the time and making the effort to understand them. They’re grateful to hear that registration is soon. Most of all, they’re grateful that we have programs that will help them to learn English.

They may not all speak the same language, but they have one thing in common. They see learning English as hope. Hope to become a more productive citizen; hope to help their children with schoolwork; hope to communicate with doctors, dentists, teachers; hope to get better jobs; hope to find a nice neighborhood to live in; hope to assimilate into our society.

I love my job at the Literacy Council. However, working with numbers can never give me the feeling of elation that I get from helping our students.

~Randi Littman, Director of Operations

Outstanding Children’s Literature

January 22, 2010 at 9:00 AM | Posted in Announcements, Development, Family Learning, News | Comments Off on Outstanding Children’s Literature

The winners of the 2010 Newberry Award for an outstanding contribution to children’s literature and the Caldecott Award for most distinguished picture book along with other award winners and honors were announced yesterday January 18 at the American Library Association’s mid-winter meeting. To read more about the Newberry award winner Rebecca Stead and her novel When You Reach Me and Caldecott winner Jerry Pinkney’s picture book The Lion and the Mouse take a look at this article in the New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/19/books/19newbery.html?8dpc.

A complete list of winners can be found here http://www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA6715153.html.

Some awards that are often overshadowed by the Newberry Awards and the Caldecott were also announced yesterday. A couple that are worth a second look include the Coretta Scott King awards and the Pura Belpre award.

The Coretta Scott King awards commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and honor Mrs. Coretta Scott King. They recognize outstanding books for young adults and children by African American authors and illustrators that reflect the African American experience. The Coretta Scott King awards are particularly timely, as we recently celebrated Martin Luther King Day. The 2010 Coretta Scott King author award went to Vaunda Micheaux Nelson for Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshall and the illustrator award went to My People illustrated by Charles R. Smith Jr.

The Pura Belpre award is presented to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator for work that represents and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth. The Pura Belpre author winner for 2010 was Julia Alvarez for Return to Sender and the illustrator award was given to Rafael López for Book Fiesta!: Celebrate Children’s Day/Book Day; Celebremos El día de los niños/El día de los libros written by Pat Mora.

For more information about the awards and about the American Library Association visit their website at www.ala.org.

~Carisa Pineda, Family Learning Programs Specialist

Database Efficiency

January 21, 2010 at 9:00 AM | Posted in Announcements, Development | Comments Off on Database Efficiency

During January, the IT area has been updating the LCNV database to enable staff to more efficiently enter the detailed demographic statistics provided by students registering for classes each session. Prior to this update, the entry of student demographic information required toggling back and forth between 3 tabs. To provide for a more natural flow, Matt Arnold, one of our Americorps staff, and I designed a new user interface that requires only one screen to enter the data. This new process will be put to the test this week with the entry of student data provided during the January class registrations. In addition to saving time, we anticipate that the improved flow will also contribute to more accurate data entry and, thus, less time spent identifying and correcting errors. With slight modifications, this new screen also can be applied to the Tutoring, Volunteer, and Development programs.

Other IT initiatives being undertaken include:

1) increased efficiency in LCNV’s required monthly upload to the Virginia Department of Education

2) developing ‘wish-list’ buttons on the LCNV database to assist program managers and other staff in computing statistics ‘on-the-fly’ in order to rapidly complete reports, grant proposals, etc. Examples include, year-to-date statistics, the computation of the number of volunteers performing a specific task as of a specific date, the number of donors in a particular zip code, etc. These and other initiatives have been given voice, conceived and developed during meetings of LCNV’s Nerd Herd. The Nerd Herd is made up of IT staff and end users, and its primary goal is to improve LCNV’s IT/end user processes.

~Wayne Shewmaker, Director of IT

Registrations Ongoing!

January 20, 2010 at 9:00 AM | Posted in Announcements, Calendar, Class, Development, ESOL, Family Learning, News | Comments Off on Registrations Ongoing!

Registrations ongoing

The Learning Centers and Family Learning Programs are prepping for their winter and spring terms with registrations this month. Please check the website for the schedules (http://lcnv.org/schedules.cfm). New classes to look for are Connections for Hope in Herndon and a conversation class from 12:00-1:00pm in Falls Church. Some helpful tips to remember when signing up for classes are:

  • Registration is required for all participants.
  • The class costs $50 with a $25 discount for returning students with excellent attendance.
  • If you have missed a registration – it’s okay! You can go to any other registration at any other location to sign up for your preferred class.
  • Scholarships are available. Inquire at registration.

We hope to see you there!

~Erin Finn, Director of Classroom Programs

Conversation Classes

January 19, 2010 at 3:26 PM | Posted in AmeriCorps, Class, Development, ESOL, Lesson Plans, News, Teaching | 1 Comment

As the Literacy Council prepares for winter classes, we have added a vital task to our agenda. We are working on ways to increase the involvement of beginning-level ESOL learners in our conversation classes. We would love to receive any comments or suggestions from our fellow instructors in this endeavor. In case any of our comrades are in the same boat, here are some strategies that have produced a good setting for student conversation in my classes.

The most important part of teaching any class is proper preparation. While preparing for a conversation class may not be as time consuming as preparing for a grammar lesson, it is still essential that you come to class with a game plan. If you get the chance, I highly suggest having your students propose several topics that they would like to discuss throughout the semester. My students become greatly motivated in class when our discussions relate directly to their own lives and interests.

Although the goal of a conversation class is to have the students speak as much as possible, you still need to take your time to adequately introduce the lesson or discussion topic. I like to start off with very simple English phrases that build in complexity throughout the class. I find that starting with familiar phrases builds confidence in my students, and they are more likely to participate in class. I repeat this process every time there is a shift in the focus or topic of conversation. This way, students who may get lost in one part of the conversation can still rejoin the group at a later time.

Other possible activities include:

  • Reading and discussing magazine and newspaper articles
  • Holding debates among students (religion may get a little dicey but food is always an excellent topic!)
  • Have students role play with scripts
  • Games (Monopoly or UNO, for example, where students have to figure the directions out in English. Pick the difficulty of the game according to your students’ abilities. The children’s game “Guess Who” has been a bit hit with several classes at LCNV so far.)

Current LCNV class schedules: http://lcnv.org/schedules.cfm

~Erin Andrews, AmeriCorps Instructor

Culinary Education

January 13, 2010 at 2:52 PM | Posted in AmeriCorps, Class, Development, Teaching | 1 Comment

What common thread connects every man, woman, and child around the globe? Food. Yes, many other things connect us, but food has been on my mind. I spent much of the last week nibbling on toast thanks to a stomach virus, but now that I have regained my appetite, I am searching for spices to trigger my taste buds!

Where do I begin? Hot habanero chili, a dish that could warm the heart (and esophagus) of any soul brave enough to eat it; Rainbow rolls, sushi that has various aquatic critters enshrouding the tightly rolled sticky rice; Vietnamese pho (pronounced “fuh”), a soup traditionally made with beef broth and rice noodles, though the “tradition” can only be traced back 100 years; Greek yoghurt, a great source of protein that is most delicious when homemade and strained through, not cheesecloth but… a t-shirt. I could go on, but my mouth is already watering.

These examples have ingredients that our students use in their daily lives. One reason I am so excited about the upcoming session’s theme – health and nutrition – is because we can discuss healthy, inexpensive dishes.

Here is a simple recipe I hope to bring to class as a teaching tool and a treat:

Banana Bread (Vegan!)
5 very ripe bananas
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

1 Tablespoon oil
2 cups flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoon cinnamon

Mix the wet ingredients and dry ingredients separately, and then combine. Add walnuts if desired. Cook at 375°F for 45 minutes, then check.

– Minta Trivette, AmeriCorps Instructor

Practice Makes Perfect

January 11, 2010 at 4:23 PM | Posted in Announcements, Class, Community Partners, Development, ESOL, Family Learning, News, Testing, Training, Volunteers | 1 Comment

LCNV’s Classroom Programs are busy gearing up for another session of classes starting with this January’s registrations. At every site we take the information and assess the students using the Best Plus Test. As always we need all the testers we can get, and with no training for new volunteers, we’d like to encourage our less active testers to come back.

I’m not sure about you, but I was trained as a Best Plus Test Administrator a long time ago. With the sporadic intensity of LCNV’s ESLC and FLP classroom schedules it’s not difficult to fall out of habit, even if you test every cycle. The initial training focuses heavily on the how and why of the test and more so on the computer version that LCNV isn’t able to use. The practice CD-Rom offers only practice administering and no practice assuring the accuracy of the scoring. When you need that practice but don’t want it to affect a student’s scores, there is now an option!

Using the Best Plus Refresher Kit, we held a training last night to recalibrate our scoring accuracy. After a brief introduction, we watched the video which reviewed each of the three testing components (Listening Comprehension, Language Complexity, and Communication) one at a time and then finally together for a general scoring practice. Though it was a modest turnout, the training really helped those of us that had the opportunity to attend.

“I feel ready and more confident about the upcoming testing cycle.”-Carisa Pineda, Family Learning Specialist

“The training video clearly reinforced the ways in which we should be scoring students. The training also identified several situations in which confusion about how to score an answer may arise, and explained what score should be merited in these situations.”-Erin Andrews, AmeriCorps

“It’s always good to have practice scoring tests and get back immediate feedback on your accuracy.”-Courtney Pergal, AmeriCorps

The opportunity to refresh is a great tool for new or out of practice testers. The training will be made available again and moreover, the DVD for the refresher is great for stand alone practice. If you’re interested in readjusting your scoring, please contact me kbeckman@lcnv.org and we can arrange something!

– Katie Beckman, Programs Assistant

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