Happy National Book Lovers Day!

August 9, 2017 at 10:11 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Happy National Book Lovers Day! Here at LCNV, all of us care deeply about books. Our LCNV library is filled with great books for our learners, and there is nothing more exciting than seeing a learner connect with English through the power of written word.

In honor of the occasion, read LCNV learner Tyler’s essay from 2017’s Learning Gives Me Power essay book. His words illustrate the power of books, and how his life – and his community – has changed through English literacy:

“After I learned to read, I enjoyed reading library books and magazines. By reading magazines, I learned about how to fix up an old home.

Learning to read helped me to understand the community. It helped me to understand the homeless. The church asked my Sunday school class to help build some walls at the place where they were building apartments for the homeless.” – Tyler, LCNV Learner


LCNV Welcomes New Executive Director Roopal Mehta Saran

August 8, 2017 at 9:53 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Dear LCNV Community,

As you may know, Patti Donnelly, Executive Director of the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia, is retiring after 15 years of leadership. Patti’s unwavering commitment and dedication to adult literacy is truly inspiring, and her positive impact on the Literacy Council cannot be overstated. During her tenure the Literacy Council has grown to serve roughly 1,500 learners yearly throughout its 400 square mile service area. Under her leadership LCNV introduced its revolutionary new program model which provides the highest quality program to best serve the needs of the beginning-level English language learner. With LCNV’s new program model in place and a wonderfully talented staff, Patti leaves the Literacy Council poised for further growth and success under its new Executive Director, Roopal Mehta Saran.

All of us on the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia’s Board of Directors are thrilled to welcome Roopal. We came to this decision after an extensive process led by the executive search firm The McCormick Group. In the end, the Board-appointed search committee unanimously chose Roopal to take the reins at LCNV. She has the intellect, creativity, and understanding of the Literacy Council’s mission to take this organization to the next level.

Roopal most recently managed public-private partnerships with KaBOOM!, a national non-profit dedicated to bringing balanced and active play to the daily lives of all kids. Prior to KaBOOM!, she worked as Senior Director of Community Development at First Book, a national non-profit literacy organization. She received her BA in English and MA in Education from Stanford University, and her JD from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Roopal knows that excellence and collaboration are hallmarks of successful non-profit management. This, along with her background in education and passion for literacy and service make her the perfect fit to continue guiding LCNV’s growth and advance its reputation as a national leader in beginning-level adult education.

Roopal begins as Executive Director at LCNV on August 28. On behalf of everyone at LCNV, we look forward to welcoming her to our family, and to all that we can accomplish together.


Anne Spear
President, Board of Directors
Literacy Council of Northern Virginia

Destination Workforce®: Working Towards Literacy

July 7, 2017 at 1:09 PM | Posted in Destination Workforce, ESOL, Teaching | Leave a comment

Nationwide, 24% of the educated immigrant and refugee workforce is underemployed or unemployed [i], while over half of all immigrants in Fairfax County have limited English proficiency [ii]. LCNV’s Destination Workforce® is a response to these demographic and workforce demands. Developed as a fast-track language program for on-the-job or job readiness English language learning, each Destination Workforce® course is created in partnership with a local business or community organization. The class is customized to the specific needs of the partner, to cover industry or job specific vocabulary as well as U.S. work culture and professional etiquette. In the last few months, LCNV launched two unique Destination Workforce® programs in collaboration with different industry partners. Each is oriented towards helping individuals advance in their careers and job prospects.

The City of Alexandria’s Workforce Development Center VIEW Program sought LCNV’s expertise with beginning level English language and literacy learners to develop an intensive course to help newly arrived refugees – unable to read or write in their native languages and lacking any English proficiency – gain basic English literacy. As recipients of TANF funding, these clients are expected to assimilate and begin working within 90 days. With this 90-day deadline in mind, LCNV developed its most intensive beginning level Destination Workforce® program to date. The four week pilot class met four times a week for four hours at a time in Alexandria and was led by one teacher and three class aides, keeping the student-instructor ratio around 3:1. The course curriculum covered the very basics of workforce-English readiness to enable new immigrants to assimilate into the world of U.S. employment.

In the classroom, the students started tentatively but made great strides in a short period of time. The students’ initial fears of learning a new language – for some, this was their first formal classroom experience –evaporated quickly, and they readily made introductions and spoke about their newfound English skills by the end of the course. One of the key achievements that the students reported was their ability to speak about their personal information (such as their address, name and phone number) and their improved comfort and confidence while speaking English. The testing results also demonstrate just how far these students have come in a short period of time: all but one of the post-tested students made gains in their Best-Plus 2.0 scores. In fact, a majority of these students jumped one or even two Educational Functioning Levels! The husband of one of the students recently wrote, “Although the duration of this course was short and its content was very basic, [my wife] has learnt a lot. She is so happy the way she was [taught] and treated by her class teacher and class aides. According to some of her classmates who have been to other similar classes, this was the best class they have ever been [in].”  LCNV is thrilled to provide these students with the first steps toward the path to workforce readiness, and is already planning a follow-up class for the same cohort focused on their speaking skills and how to approach the job application process.

One of the core competencies in Destination Workforce® programs is to improve the learners’ understanding of formal speech. Success is measured when formal requests by supervisors are understood correctly the first time, leading to higher levels of productivity and better communications. In industries where formal requests come from customers such as hospitality, this improves levels of customer service and satisfaction.  An example of Destination Workforce® in the hospitality industry is LCNV’s partnership with B.F. Saul’s Crowne Plaza in Tysons Corner, VA.

LCNV began its partnership with B.F. Saul with the help of Tysons Partnership, a nonprofit collaborative of Tysons Corner Stakeholders. B.F. Saul had previously tried on-site ESL instruction for hospitality staff that was met with limited success, and sought a partnership with LCNV to increase employee successes in learning English. With 12 different employees participating, the Crowne Plaza-Tysons Corner class is off to a great start. Curriculum is focused on the day-to-day service provided by these employees, all of whom are housekeeping or banquet staff. One of the goals outlined by B.F. Saul is for their employees to “Know Your Hotel”. This means that employees will be able to answer standard job-related questions such as “where is the pool?” On an average day in the classroom, employees can be seen practicing dialogues about special requests for room preparation, or learning how to answer questions from customers about food options. During the development of this program, Crowne Plaza-Tysons Corner has been an outstanding partner. Employees meet twice a week for two hours while on the clock, and receive free lunch during class time. LCNV applauds Crowne Plaza-Tysons Corner for making this investment in the professional development of its dedicated employees.

LCNV will be expanding its Destination Workforce® programs with the help of new and committed partners during the 2018 fiscal year. The Literacy Council looks forward to expanding access to employee literacy programs with even more partners in the coming months.

[i] McHugh, Margie and Madeleine Morawski. 2015. Immigrants and WIOA Services: Comparison of Sociodemographic Characteristics of Native- and Foreign-Born Adults in the United States. Washington, DC: Migration Policy Institute.

[ii] PolicyLink and The USC Program for Environmental and Regional Equity. 2015. Equitable Growth Profile of Fairfax County. Oakland, CA: PolicyLink.

Family Literacy Definition for LCNV

December 16, 2016 at 11:49 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


At LCNV, our Family Learning Program (FLP) is defined by both the Federal Adult Education and Family Literacy Act and by our own unique mission statement. The Federal Act states, in part:

Family literacy refers to a continuum of programs that addresses the intergenerational nature of literacy. Under the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act, Title II of the Workforce Investment Act of 1998, family literacy programs integrate (1) interactive literacy activities between parent and child; (2) training in parenting activities; (3) literacy training that leads to economic self-sufficiency; (4) age appropriate education to prepare children for success in school and life experiences…Family literacy programs vary from one community to another as each program works to meet the needs of the participants and the community as well.

Further, LCNV specifies that family literacy includes language and literacy education that empowers adults to participate more fully and confidently in their communities. The population that LCNV serves is primarily that of non-native language speakers. Our Family Learning Program focuses significantly on building the English language skills of the parent which, in turn, provides positive modeling for the child. The English language skills that the adults are taught are done so within a framework of family-related topics such as school, community, work, health and nutrition to name a few.

The traditional model of family literacy focuses on small children, but at LCNV, we also conduct programs in middle schools. In the traditional model, PACT (Parent and Child Time) activities are conducted in the classroom once or twice a month to foster family literacy. Activities include arts and crafts, singing and more but mainly focus on caregivers reading to and conversing with their children. In the middle schools, we encourage family interactions through conversations around timely issues that affect middle-schoolers. Activities are based on family discussions around the dinner table. Emphasis is on understanding and discussing topics with reading and writing to follow.

Additionally, Family Service Projects can also serve as PACT activities is both types of programs. In these activities, the parents and children come together to identify and work on a community issue of interest and importance to them. Family Service Projects can be varied and diverse. It can be anything from volunteering at the local food bank, visiting the local library to learn about their services, to helping with voter registrations in their neighborhoods or helping their school with an ongoing project. In both programs, family interactions promulgate the notion that “parents are supported as the first teacher of their children.”

The Hidden Equity Factor

November 16, 2016 at 10:04 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Written by: Carole Bausell, Ed.D., Director of Academic and Student Affairs

LCNV Director of Academic and Student Affairs Dr. Carole Bausell recently attended a National Advancing Equity in Adult, Community College, and Career and Technical Education Symposium about advancing equity in adult education.

Since we have spent considerable time over the past year voicing our concerns about equity issues affecting the population we serve, I was tremendously interested to attend the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education’s (OCTAE) symposium—the National Advancing Equity in Adult, Community College, and Career and Technical Education Symposium on October 31, 2016.

In his keynote address, Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr. talked about the many groups in our society that face equity issues and celebrated the role of educators in their lives. When he lauded teachers who choose to focus on people’s potentials in lieu of their challenges, I couldn’t help but think of some of our own teachers here at LCNV who do the same.  But it was especially moving to hear Dr. King—who holds the top education job in the country—give tribute to the public school educators who mentored him and invested in him after he had lost both of his parents by the age of 12 years.

Dr. Johan Uvin, Acting Assistant Secretary for OCTAE, also spoke eloquently, addressing the importance of equity in federally funded initiatives. One such initiative, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), is intended to help advance those facing the greatest barriers to education and employment, including English language learners. (You may have read about WIOA in the Director’s Letter Spring 2016 by LCNV Executive Director Patti Donnelly). Dr. Uvin stressed the importance of access, persistence, and completion in education, the three pillars upon which all else relies. I couldn’t help but notice that included among Dr. Uvin’s impressive credentials is a Masters of Arts in teaching English to speakers of other languages.

We at LCNV see firsthand that adults who lack proficiency in English are unable to access many opportunities that the rest of us take for granted. Language limitations can serve as barriers to furthering your education, getting a job, obtaining medical attention, accessing social services, voting in an election, making friends, talking to your children’s teachers, and more. Language barriers also have multigenerational consequences, most notably affecting the achievement of children from homes where the adults do not speak English very well. Even when these first generation American children manage to go to college, they are much less likely to complete it than their peers.

Back during the 1990 census, the term linguistic isolation emerged to describe households where none of the adults speak English very well.  An effort was made to count and identify these families as they could potentially have difficulty communicating in the event of a disaster.

This concept continues to hold relevance today. Consider that according to the 2016 Fairfax County Human Services Needs Assessment, a quarter (25%) of households that speak Asian and Pacific Island languages and almost one fifth (19%) of those that speak Spanish live in linguistic isolation (based on 2014 Fairfax County data).

What is the emotional toll upon these families? At a profound level, language skills appear to build resilience in fragile refugee populations according to Language for Resilience, a research report from the British Council that my colleague Xavier Munoz shared with me.

Essentially, learning English not only enables folks to improve their lives, it also provides a protective factor for individuals who must restart their lives in new lands.

As we continue to develop and improve upon our academic program at LCNV, we rely on many of the things I heard that day at the symposium. We look to the power of teachers, instructional volunteers, and student advisors to help our students learn the language that will open doors in their lives. We look to the application of contextual learning in our Destination Workforce program to facilitate the ability to solve real world problems on the job. We look to the strength of our Family Learning program to help bridge gaps affecting both generations. We look to the potential of partnerships to assist our students in transitioning to other programs once they complete ours. And we know that as a society we have much more work to do on advancing equity, as some students continue to have less access than others to educational resources and success.

LCNV Revises Academic Programs: Tutoring has a New Role

August 26, 2016 at 10:13 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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.

Our History

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[1] 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
ESL Classroom
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

For a brief history of the Adult Education Act, see the following link http://bit.ly/2bFWhqj

Indefinite and Definite Articles

August 19, 2016 at 11:30 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

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?

Source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/olympics/9462225/London-2012-Best-Olympic-jokes.html

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.

Indefinite and Definite Articles

Larsen-Freeman, D. (2000). Grammar: Rules and Reasons Working Together. ESL Magazine, 3(1), 10-12.

Late Registration Saturday February 6

February 5, 2016 at 5:05 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Late registration for beginning-level adult English classes will be held on Saturday, February 6 from 3-6pm at James Lee Community Center. Please see the Schedule section for more information on registering for our classes.

Thank you for another great year

December 30, 2015 at 11:00 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

As 2015 comes to a close, all of us here at the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia (LCNV) would like to take a few moments to reflect on the last year, and to thank you for being a part of our wonderful community of learners, volunteers, donors, community partners, and supporters. Some of our notable accomplishments this year include:

Family Learning Program in Herndon

Family Learning Program in Herndon

  • Added three new sites to our Family Learning Program
  • Served over 1,500 learners
  • LCNV volunteers provided over 30,000 hours of service
  • Completed the pilot program for the Destination Workforce™ initiative, which delivers career-specific language and literacy training
  • Awarded the Bank of America Neighborhood Builders Grant, which recognizes strong nonprofit organizations that provide essential services to their communities
  • Featured in the 2015-2016 Catalogue of Philanthropy: Greater Washington as one of the region’s best community-based charities
  • Board President Kitty Porterfield recognized by Volunteer Alexandria as Board Leader of the Year

We would also like to take this time to remind you that tax deductible donations are due by December 31st, so there is still time to make your year-end gift! Twenty-six percent of LCNV learners receive scholarships to pay their $60 class fee. Your donation can help cover their fees as well as offset the additional costs of providing teachers and books. You can also still take advantage of our matching gift challenge* and see your donation dollars go further.

We hope that you are enjoying the holidays, and thank you once again for all that you do.
* During LCNV’s matching gift challenge any new gifts or increase from your last donation will be matched by an anonymous donor up to $20,000, so your gift will have an even greater impact on LCNV learners. The maximum individual match is $2,500.

Exciting Events This Week

December 7, 2015 at 3:18 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Thanks to everyone who participated in Giving Tuesday last week, showing their support to the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia (LCNV) and the charitable giving movement. Along with continuing to raise awareness about the importance of adult literacy, we received over $4,400 in donations! As the holidays approach, if you haven’t made your end of the year gift yet please consider a donation to LCNV.

AmCorpsandSantaWe’d also like to remind you about two exciting events coming up this week – our annual Holiday Potluck Party on Tuesday December 8 from 6-8pm at the James Lee Community Center and a Conversation and Book Signing with Tom Gjelten on Thursday December 10 from 7-8:30pm at the Arlington Central Library. All are welcome and we hope to see you at one or both free events!

LCNV’s Holiday Potluck Party on Tuesday evening is a chance for students to take part in a holiday tradition from this country, with fun for the whole family. There will be pictures with Santa, arts and crafts, and new this year – the opportunity to win Target gift cards as door prizes. There will also be a video game station with games like FIFA! The party is a nice continuation of class and further educational experience, as we are providing conversation starters to help students practice their English.

Tom GjeltenThen on Thursday, hear author and NPR correspondent Tom Gjelten discuss his latest book, A Nation of Nations: A Great American Immigration Story. The book describes the dramatic and compelling story of the transformation of America during the last fifty years, told through a handful of families in Fairfax County. With special guest, Delegate Mark Keam, whose story is featured in the book. One More Page Books will be there selling copies of A Nation of Nations, with 10% of all sales benefiting LCNV.

p.s. Holiday shopping on Amazon? Support LCNV by making purchases through AmazonSmile. Go to smile.amazon.com and use your same Amazon.com login. Select the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia to ensure that 0.5% of all eligible purchases that you make goes to LCNV. Thank you!

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