Tutor Tip: Navigating the Road to Student Success

December 20, 2013 at 6:08 PM | Posted in Basic Literacy, Tutoring | Leave a comment
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How much can students progress in the tutoring program?  The answer may lie in what they do at home.

Earlier this month, LCNV offered a three-hour training for a few new volunteers to join our corps of assessment specialists in the literacy program. These individuals perform an important activity for the program—the periodic testing of students to benchmark their progress. The goal is to assess students after every 40 hours of instruction on measures of word recognition and reading comprehension.

So many factors influence the amount a student learns in 40 tutoring hours, but we are convinced that practicing skills during the week is one of them. Adult learners understand the importance of learning to read, but they may believe that tutoring sessions in and of themselves will enable them to meet their goals.  This is not always the case.  The most successful learners routinely practice their skills on their own and complete homework during the week.  Some carve out time at home, others make creative use of minutes spent on public transportation. Tutors who create manageable assignments and convey the importance of doing them can help students join their ranks. 

Practical Application. One assignment that fits neatly into a ten minute time slot consists of studying new sight words and reviewing those already learned. Sight words are those words the learner memorizes so that they can be recognized instantly. Prominent among them are common phonetically irregular words such as the word said. A learner must recognize a word instantly on sight five to ten times for it to be considered a sight word.

The learner (or tutor) prints each prospective sight word on a separate index card, and prepares the reverse side with an illustrative picture and sentence using the word. The learner practices reading a word, using it in a sentence, and then reading the word again. The back of the card serves as both a prompt and a means of checking accuracy.  This technique is modeled by the tutor and practiced until the learner is able to replicate it independently. Tristen Mimiaga, one of our AmeriCorps volunteers, suggests hole-punching small index cards and stringing them together on a metal ring.  “It makes them more portable and easier to pull out of a coat pocket when the student has time,” he said.

It is reasonable to begin by assigning two new words a week as homework and to increase the number of words only when the student shows the capacity to easily master more. To learn more about teaching sight words, view a short video by ProliteracyMedia at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wJiIWhqVHgQ.

One way to increase motivation and jump start the homework habit involves having learners set skill-specific goals (such as the number of new sight words they want to learn in a given period of time) and then participate in tracking their own progress via a check list or graph. To learn more about increasing motivation in English language learners, read an article by Donna Moss and Lauren Ross-Feldman at following link: http://www.cal.org/caela/esl_resources/digests/sla.html

Do you have difficulty getting your student to practice skills between lessons? What ideas do you have for motivating students to do homework or creating assignments that can fit into tight schedules?  I would love to hear from you. Please feel free to comment on this post.

Carole Vinograd Bausell, Ed.D. is an English language and literacy specialist with LCNV.

Carole Holiday Spirit

Literacy Council of Northern Virginia
2855 Annandale Road
Falls Church, VA 22042
www.lcnv.org

From the LCNV Library: Easy English News

August 6, 2013 at 2:42 PM | Posted in Basic Literacy, Tutoring | Leave a comment
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Easy English News is a monthly newspaper written in simple English and controlled vocabulary for high-beginner and intermediate readers, with special features designed for English language learners who are newcomers to the U.S.

Each issue features…
•    News stories of special interest to newcomers
•    Articles about American events and holidays
•    Civics and citizenship information
•    True stories written by readers
•    Consumer information
•    Health and safety tips
•    “Life in the U.S.A.”
•    A crossword puzzle with answers in the same issue
…and more!

A recent Easy English News issue included national news, articles on summer safety around
water, popular events and national holidays in the summer months, healthy tea drinks, the birth of the United States, a national park feature, and features to help build language skills.

LCNV Volunteer Tutors only:  Check out the latest issues from the LCNV Library for two weeks at a time; earlier issues can be checked out for the standard two-month loan period.

The LCNV Library is open during the Council’s regular office hours Mon. – Fr., 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Returns can be made during office hours or after hours to the After-Hours Book Return located just outside the Council’s entrance door inside the James Lee Community Center (open Mon. – Sat., 9 a.m. – 10 p.m., except holidays). Renewals can be made in person, by email (library@lcnv.or) or by phone (703-237-0866).  Questions? Contact library volunteers at the email address above.

Reminder: Do you have LCNV library books that are due? Please return or renew!

Fahrenheit 451 and LCNV

August 26, 2011 at 12:27 PM | Posted in AmeriCorps, Basic Literacy, ESOL, Family Learning, Staff, Tutoring, Uncategorized, Volunteers | 1 Comment
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In honor of Ray Bradbury’s 91st birthday this week I decided to reread Fahrenheit 451.  Rereading this book as an adult, I found myself thinking quite a bit about the work we do at LCNV.  Arguably Bradbury’s best known work, Fahrenheit 451 is an eerie novel set in the near future in a society that outlaws books.  Rather than fight fires, Bradbury’s firemen are charged with finding and destroying outlawed books, and all books are outlawed.  Owners of these books are punished severely.

 

We can thank our lucky stars that Bradbury’s fictional world does not exist in northern Virginia.  People are free to read what they like in books, magazines, newspapers or on the electronic device du jour.  However, this isn’t the case for many people across the globe.  Around the world women are routinely denied access to education and punished for trying to improve their lives and the lives of their families through education.

Lack of education and illiteracy is a problem in our own back yard as well, as evidenced by the many natural-born citizens who contact the literacy council every day.  Regardless of where someone comes from, LCNV tries to help, because without the skills to read the many texts available to us, we are denying access to knowledge, just as though we were burning books.  Bradbury’s hero comes to the realization that destroying knowledge is a terrible mistake and says, “We have everything we need to be happy, but we aren’t happy.  Something’s missing.  I looked around.  The only think I positively knew was gone was the books I’d burned in ten or twelve years.  So I thought books might help.”

Many LCNV students have full, happy lives.  Many have exceptionally complicated lives with some of those complications being caused or exacerbated by their limited literacy skills.  It can be overwhelming to try to help someone who is surrounded by difficulties that seem larger than life.  Giving someone the tools they need to become fully literate provides access to the larger world and all of the services to which people are entitled.  Denying access to literacy marginalizes people and limits opportunities to lead a full, productive and happy life.  But, teach someone to read and there’s no telling what might happen.  I have to agree with Bradbury, “books might help.”

Molly Chilton, Tutoring Program Specialist

Exciting Changes to BAL Tutor Training

July 27, 2011 at 3:51 PM | Posted in Basic Literacy, Training, Tutoring, Volunteers | Leave a comment
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Summer can be both busy and relaxing.  We often spend a lot of time trying to relax and take a break from the work we do all year.  This isn’t the case for many old and new members of the BAL tutor training team!  On a beautiful Saturday in July, five volunteer members of the training team (Nick Rosenbach, Mary Kate Dougherty, Pat Thompson, Anne Spear and Claire Brown) and two staff members (Katie Beckman and Molly Chilton) met to discuss changes to the content, structure and presentation of the already strong BAL tutor training.  We discussed revisions to the training and made suggestions about how we could improve our support for tutors and our services for students.  In a mere two and a half hours we managed to update the content of the training, rearrange lessons to make them more relevant and condense the face-to-face learning time into two Saturdays rather than three, hopefully making tutoring a more manageable commitment to prospective tutors.

 We prepared for this meeting for a long time, rewriting modules from the training and raising concerns and conflicts.  We didn’t always agree with each other or have the same priorities.  However, at the end of the morning, we were all satisfied that this was a step in the right direction and eager to move forward.  The current training is good, but we all know it can always be better and this is a belief that drives us all in our commitment to LCNV’s mission of providing literacy to all.

 -Molly Chilton, Basic Literacy Tutoring Specialist

What Makes A Good Lesson Plan?

July 6, 2011 at 4:55 PM | Posted in Basic Literacy, Teaching, Volunteers | Leave a comment
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Nothing can replace knowing your student’s needs, preferences, goals and learning style when it comes to a good lesson plan, but there are some other principles that are also helpful when designing a great lesson.  The Basic Adult Literacy Training Team is in the thick of revising and updating some content and delivery for our fall training.  One section that we are revising is the overview of lesson planning.  So far we have come across some excellent guidelines that we plan to include in our new and improved presentation.  Here are some of the highlights:

  • Make goals, objectives and expectations clear and explicit
  • Include strategy instruction; instruction that focuses on how to learn by making thought processes clear and signaling students as to when and how to apply strategies.
  • Scaffold instruction: support students as needed and gradually remove support as students become more independent
  • Make instruction intensive.  Students should be actively engaged in targeted practice with feedback, rather than just passively listening and/or observing
  • Be sure that instruction is structured so that content and skills are broken into manageable pieces and taught in a logical sequence that builds one skill on top of another and ultimately relates to the student’s goal(s)

These principles and more are discussed in Applying Research in Reading Instruction for Adults: First Steps for Teachers by Susan McShane (National Institute for Literacy: The Partnership for Reading, 2005) which is available in the LCNV library.  Take a look and see if you can find new ways to support your students!

-Molly Chilton, Basic Literacy Tutoring Specialist

Upcoming Computer Workshop for LCNV Learners

June 20, 2011 at 10:48 AM | Posted in Basic Literacy, Community, Tutoring, Volunteers | 1 Comment
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Last winter a group of IBM employees from the DC metro area gave up a Saturday afternoon to come to our computer lab at the James Lee Center and work one-on-one with our tutoring and classroom students, helping them learn how to use the computer or improve their computer skills. These wonderful volunteers will be returning on Saturday, June 25 from 1:00-3:00 for a repeat performance.  In addition to providing the types of assistance they offered last time (e.g., instruction in using a mouse, setting up an e-mail account, and surfing the web) they have expanded their repertoire of offerings to include how to use Skype.  This should be of high interest to a lot of our foreign–born students who would like to learn another way of communicating with their friends and relatives back home.

If you know any LCNV learners who might be interested, do encourage them to attend this free workshop.  They’re welcome to bring interested friends and family members along.  There are bound to be some Spanish speakers there, along with speakers of some other languages, who are fluent in English and can help translate.  However, it would be helpful for students who speak very little English to bring their own translators with them.

This is a great opportunity, both for LCNV learners who were unable to make it to the previous workshop and for those who attended but would like to learn more.  I’m really looking forward to the occasion.  Last time it was great to see such a large turnout of our student population and to meet learners who were so intent on acquiring computer literacy skills and so grateful for the opportunity to do so.  I’m sure it will be the same this time around.

 -Elise Bruml, Director of Tutoring Programs

Beyond The Book Tutor Panel: Focus on BAL Tutoring

June 13, 2011 at 2:10 PM | Posted in Basic Literacy, Training, Tutoring, Volunteers | Leave a comment
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Educators often talk about creating a community of learners. In such a community, teachers and students learn from one another’s challenges and successes, trials and tribulations. Unfortunately, this community is very difficult to build in a tutoring model. Difficult, not impossible.

On June 8th, five tutors from both tutoring programs presented to a small crowd of fellow tutors. Tutor presenters from the Basic Literacy Tutoring program were Anne Spear and Amy Spencer. This space is far too small to applaud all of their great ideas, so I’ll just include some of the highlights.

Anne uses a variety of materials with her lucky student, including the Washington Post Express, student and tutor created dictionaries and many word games generated by http://www.edhelper.com ($25/year). She emphasized the need to know your student so every lesson can be tailored to his or her needs. She also stressed the need to circle back to material to be sure students are retaining information and to give them practice in multiple contexts.

 Amy shared many valuable and creative materials she developed for one of her lucky students to meet her goals. Rather than simply stick to Laubach 1, as she and her student were assigned, Amy created exercises that integrated the basic reading skills of Laubach 1 into relevant, practical tools, specifically, a visit to the doctor’s office. Amy used pictures and keywords to build functional vocabulary with her student so the student could independently fill out forms and advocate for herself.

Anne and Amy are just two examples of the excellent tutors we have in our community of learners at LCNV. It was inspiring to hear their ideas and even more inspiring to hear the discussion that ensued with all of the tutors present. In-service events like June 8th’s tutor panel are valuable for every tutor who attends and for each of their students. Be on the lookout for our next in-service and please let us know if you have any ideas or needs for any tutoring support – chances are you aren’t alone!

-Molly Chilton, Basic Literacy Tutoring Specialist

Jim Goes Through Hard Times: Student Creative Writing

May 26, 2011 at 1:36 PM | Posted in Basic Literacy, Student Stories, Tutoring | 1 Comment
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The following story is a piece of creative writing by a Basic Literacy Student.  The student, who requested that his name not be shared, wrote this piece independently and shared it with his tutor.  We are happy to publish students’ writing and are very impressed with all of the hard work that students and tutors put into their writing.

 Jim Goes Through Hard Times

 Jim lives with his girl friend, because his mother is dead.  Jim is a good man.  When Jim was a little boy, his dad was a hard worker, but he loved Jim.  Jim’s mother Pat loved them, but when Jim was eight, his mother went away.  She said that she was going to send for Jim, but she never did.  When Jim was ten, his mother was killed in a boat that was going too fast.  Jim missed his mother very much, but he loved his father, too.

                “Dad needs me,” Jim said.  “I can keep the house clean.  I can do a lot to take care of Dad.”

 Jim did need help.  After Jim’s mother was killed, Jim started drinking bad.  At first, he just drank on Saturday.  He never drank on the job.  Jim stopped working and he started drinking all the time.  Jim’s dad said to him, “You need help.  Please.  For me, Jim.  I love you.    

 Jim got help for his drinking.  Jim has not had a drink in a year.

Three Cheers for the BAL Training Team!

May 24, 2011 at 1:25 PM | Posted in Basic Literacy, Training, Tutoring, Volunteers | Leave a comment
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What do a securities analyst, a librarian and a retired reading specialist have in common?  No, it isn’t a joke; it’s just part of the BAL training team, and just one thing that makes this team so special.  The current BAL training team consists of Marykate Dougherty, Pat May, Lisa Bellamy, Sandi Eisenstein, Nick Rosenbach and Pat Hayden.  The last BAL training session trained over 20 volunteer tutors to work with Basic Adult Literacy students from all over northern Virginia, and they all go forth well-prepared by this excellent group of trainers. 

The training team has worked together for over ten years, with some members serving LCNV for more than 20 years in various roles, from tutor to staff member to board member.  The current training manual was written almost entirely by volunteers, many of whom still serve on the training team.

During our last training workshop we were lucky enough to be joined by two prospective new trainers.  Pat Thompson is a current tutor and Max Postman is a former tutor – both looking to become more involved with the Literacy Council.  Pat and Max brought fresh energy and new perspectives to the training and we all look forward to sharing ideas as we head into summer to freshen up our already excellent training for the next crop of tutors.  Stay tuned for more updates on our new and improved BAL training and if you have any ideas, please let us know!

-Molly Chilton, Basic Literacy Tutoring Specialist

Why I Like Quarterly Reports

April 28, 2011 at 10:25 AM | Posted in Basic Literacy | 1 Comment

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I think lots of tutors don’t like quarterly reports.  After all, who enjoys paperwork?  Or getting reminders about paperwork that is overdue (no matter how friendly those reminders may be)?  I’ll admit that I’m not crazy about generating and editing lists of active matches from the database.  I’m not wild about plodding clumsily through the steps of a mail merge only to realize I just sent the wrong link to over 100 people.  And, what’s worse than having to go through all the mail merge steps again only this time include an apology?  I don’t even want to talk about creating labels for the snail mail set.  But still, I like quarterly reports.

The Basic Literacy program has over 100 actively matched pairs of tutors and students.  When I read the quarterly reports these pairs come to life.  Tutors share their student’s successes as well as their challenges, and sometimes both can be inspiring.  For example, today I read a report that described a student’s incredible network of support from family and friends.  The tutor went on to write that she loves tutoring because she so enjoys her student’s company and now she finds she doesn’t take anything for granted, like being able to read her own mail.

Tutors ask questions, clarify procedures and vent frustrations.  Although nobody needs to wait for a quarterly report to do any of these things, the reports are a terrific opportunity for stopping, taking stock of how things are going and reflecting on the bigger picture.  Tutoring is hard work and sometimes it can be pretty lonely.  As you fill out your report, know that it is being read and appreciated.  The more a tutor shares, the more I am able to understand and help.  Any job can get monotonous, so when I read that a tutor has become an indispensable companion to a student, helping him navigate the politics of his new assisted living facility (and do we have any books that have practical vocabulary for nursing homes?), I am reminded of the incredible range of needs we serve and the inspiring commitment of our tutors.  So, there you have it – quarterly reports – they’re not just paperwork.

-Molly Chilton, Basic Literacy Tutoring Specialist

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