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|