Written by: Carole Bausell, Ed.D., Director of Academic and Student Affairs, and Patti Donnelly, Executive Director, Literacy Council of Northern Virginia
The Literacy Council of Northern Virginia is keeping up with the times. Like many community-based literacy organizations around the country facing changing demographics, LCNV has responded by studying the needs of its population and ultimately changing the way it delivers instruction.
Back in 1962 when the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia first opened its doors to the public, the client base comprised English-speaking adults who had not completed secondary education. These native-born adults enrolled at LCNV to learn to read and write, and one-to-one tutoring represented state-of–the-art instructional programming. In just a short time, this basic adult literacy (BAL) program accumulated long waiting lists, as the recruitment and training of volunteer instructors struggled to keep pace with the need. The broad geographic service region presented a host of logistical challenges in matching trained volunteers, supporting the over two hundred tutor-learner matches, and supervising the quality of instruction.
Historically, Federal legislation would play a major role in the inception of BAL programs, recognizing that adults who lacked basic skills faced significant challenges in the workforce. In 1964, under the Johnson administration, the first federal grants flowed from the Office of Economic Opportunity to states on the basis of the relative number of persons 18 years old and older who had completed no more than five grades of school. More than 15 years would pass before President Reagan would sign into law the first discretionary program to support English as a Second Language (ESL) programs in 1981.
Over the ensuing 35 years, LCNV witnessed a steadily increasing demand for English as a second language (ESL) over BAL programming, as immigrants replaced native speakers as enrollees to the point where today they comprise 95% of its adult learner population. These students differed in their learning needs from the previous cohort of native speakers, and LCNV changed its programs accordingly.
An Evolving Academic Model
In response to the influx of ESL students, LCNV started an ESL classroom program, where students could experience a dynamic and interactive environment more conducive to teaching verbal communication. While part of the tutoring program would also be allocated to these learners, the social learning environment of the classroom program proved more conducive to their needs than the relatively isolated and solitary tutoring paradigm. The classroom program also provided a more intensive approach with two-hour class sessions offered at least two evenings per week, a structure that yielded stronger educational gains.
Recently LCNV rolled out its most powerful intervention to date, wherein supplemental tutoring acts as an adjunct or boost to classroom-based instruction. In this new model, the classroom provides a socially interactive milieu multiple times per week, while teacher-supervised tutoring at the class site supplies explicit instruction in discrete areas of need. During a limited pilot trial, the combination of classroom and supplemental tutoring resulted in many unexpected benefits including continuity of instruction between the classroom teacher and the tutor; elimination of logistical problems associated with creating matches since tutors work with all students present on a particular day, and an influx of volunteers attracted by the shorter term tutoring commitment. The new model also satisfied learner demand for additional instructional time.
Plans for the Future
This fall LCNV will begin to expand the new Supplemental Tutoring program. The original tutoring model—Designated Tutoring—will be deployed much more strategically, continuing to serve the native born student for whom it was designed some fifty years ago, as well as those ESL matches currently in existence. New ESL registrants, however, will be assigned to tutor-enhanced classrooms. In the coming years LCNV looks forward to analyzing the new model and continuing to make program improvements aligned with the characteristics of its ever-changing learner population.
Current Learner Model
|Learner Type||Learning Environment||Frequency|
|How we provide most intensive instruction|
with small group instruction
and Supplemental Tutoring
|Classes meet two or three times a week. Supplemental tutoring occurs once a week.|
|Native Born||Community-based Designated Tutoring||Once or twice a week|
Written by Xavier Munoz, Faculty Support Manager, LCNV
Grammar has to do with rules. To what extent do you agree or disagree?
To explore that opening statement, let’s take a partial look at the English articles – a/an, the, and the zero or no article.
Now, those of you who teach might be thinking that English articles are incredibly difficult for students. “I taught them the rules for when to use a/an vs. the, and they can answer grammar exercises correctly. But, unless I tell them to, they don’t apply the rules in their speaking or writing.” Sound familiar? Even advanced learners may make errors when using the articles. And, in truth, research in second language acquisition has found that language learning is not linear, not sequential. Language learners continue to build accuracy, meaningfulness, and appropriateness to their grammar and vocabulary as their proficiency develops.
But how would you explain or teach the English articles? Chances are that you might be thinking of descriptors like nonspecific or general for the indefinite article – a/an. Or you might be thinking to pair articles with count and noncount nouns in a unit on, say, food, clothing, or furniture. (Side note: the word some is often considered the plural form of the indefinite article.) If we take our cue from textbooks, we might see a leveled approach like the following. The low-beginning text All-Star 1 explicitly presents it as such: Articles: a and an
We use a before a singular noun that starts with a consonant or consonant sound. We use an before a singular noun that starts with a vowel or vowel sound.
The high-beginning text All-Star 2 explicitly presents it like this: Count and Noncount Nouns
Singular count nouns: We use a and an before singular count nouns.
Plural count nouns: We use no article before plural count nouns.
Noncount nouns: We use no article before non-count nouns.
The low-intermediate text Downtown 3 explicitly presents it like this: Indefinite vs. definite articles
We use indefinite articles (a, an) for singular count nouns. We use them to talk about a general category of something. Example: Give me a book. (any book, not a special book)
We use the definite article (the) for a special or specific thing or things. We use the when there is only one of something (the White House), when the speaker and listener both know which thing they are talking about (the beach was wonderful today), or when they talk about a noun for the second time. Example: I saw a movie last night. The movie was really boring.
There’s more to articles than is mentioned above – generic sentences, abstract nouns, geographical places, illnesses, etc. But we don’t want to overload our students (or ourselves, for that matter!) with all of the nuances. Can we make it easier though? Yes! Larsen-Freeman (2000) suggests that learners can better understand and use grammar if they learn the reasons behind seemingly arbitrary rules. And the core reason is listed in the Downtown 3 description: a/an is for introducing new information, the first mention; the is for information known by both the speaker/writer AND the listener/reader, the second mention. We can see this discourse-level use especially in jokes and stories. Just as I might do in class, I will try to draw your attention to the target grammar by using bolding and underlining.
A reporter meets a man carrying an eight-foot-long metal stick and asks, “Are you a pole vaulter?” “No,” says the man, “I’m German. But how did you know my name is Walter?
See if you can fill in the appropriate article in the following excerpt, from an Indian folktale.
Once upon a time, __ fox and __ squirrel were friends. Farming was their livelihood. __ squirrel was jealous of __ fox because his crop always turned out so much better. This time __ fox was cultivating pumpkins.
Source: Excerpt from “The Dexterity of a Squirrel” in Folktales of India by Brenda Beck, Peter Claus, Praphulladatta Goswami, Jawaharlal Handoo
In both of the examples above, the difference between a/an and the is revealed through the discourse-level context (i.e., above the level of the single sentence). Even at a beginning-level, I think it is to our learners’ benefit that we not shy away from exploring language above the single sentence. We needn’t necessarily expect them to produce that much language, but we can draw their attention to meaningful and appropriate use of grammar to prime them for future learning explorations. Check it out for yourself. Look through a textbook you’re currently or recently have used with a student. Or look through something you read recently. Do you notice instances of first mention, second mention?
In summary, Grammar has to do with rules AND reasons. Reasons can help learners see the logic woven into the grammar, rather than just seeing it as random or arbitrary rules. At the discourse level, we can see that there is a shift from the indefinite article a/an to the definite article the based on what the speaker/writer assumes that their audience knows. We use the indefinite article for new information or first mention of a particular thing. We shift to the definite article for familiar information or second mention of that same thing. The definite article is also used when referring to unique objects.
Larsen-Freeman, D. (2000). Grammar: Rules and Reasons Working Together. ESL Magazine, 3(1), 10-12.