Setara Habib: My AmeriCorps Year

August 10, 2012 at 2:51 PM | Posted in AmeriCorps, Announcements, Class, Development, ESOL, Family Learning, Teaching, Tutoring, Volunteers | Leave a comment
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I can’t believe today is my last day of my service year here at the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia. Overall, I have had much success and feel I have gained much from this experience. I have gained confidence in myself as a teacher and pride in the work I have done. I would really once again like to thank EVERYONE at the Literacy Council for being wonderful people and doing good work. I feel lucky to have been able to work with this organization for a year. As I move forward in my life, or rather South to Richmond, I can take with me all my new skills and experiences and the knowledge that I have spent one year of my life devoted to helping others. Teaching adult ESOL was such a rewarding experience. I can only hope that I find something equally as rewarding in the future. or maybe I’ll just come back some day.

Setara Habib
Americorps Instructor
Literacy Council of Northern Virginia
2855 Annandale Road
Falls Church, Va 22042
(703)237-0866 ext 112
www.LCNV.org

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Raymond Chow: Thoughts and Thanks.

August 7, 2012 at 12:29 PM | Posted in AmeriCorps, Announcements, Class, Development, ESOL, Family Learning, Teaching, Tutoring, Volunteers | Leave a comment
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I am grateful to AmeriCorps and the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia for my exciting and rewarding year as an ESL teacher.  I have nothing but admiration and respect for the dedication and hard work of both the Literacy Council’s staff, volunteers, and students.  I have grown as an educator and as a member of my community through the work I’ve done here.

At the class graduations this summer I told my students that they were my family.  Specifically they were all my parents, only 40 years removed.  They came to America for the same reasons, the same aspirations – something better for themselves and for their children.  My parents were able to own their own house, their own small business, and put two children through college.  And I told them this not to brag about my parents’ successes but to confirm theirs.   All those great Frank Capra American dreams are possible.  I am proud of every one of my students.  I only hope they continue to gain knowledge and confidence as they continue to better themselves.

But if they are my parents then I am their son.  And in that I have to reflect on the question of whether I have been a good one.  I can only say that AmeriCorps has been a reaffirmation that I’m trying.  I want to help others.  I want to do good and take advantage of all the gifts I’ve been given so that I can give back to others.  To that end, when I take my leave of LCNV I will be going back to law school to become a better advocate (in some fashion) of this community.

Everyone at the Literacy Council has been both dedicated and kind.  Although I will not be able to teach in the coming year I have every intention of helping LCNV in its mission.  I sincerely thank the Literacy Council for helping me be a better person.

Raymond K. Chow
Americorps Member
Literacy Council of Northern Virginia
2855 Annandale Road
Falls Chuch, Virginia 22042
(703)237-0866 ext. 118
www.lcnv.org

Is My Student Dyslexic?

August 1, 2012 at 1:46 PM | Posted in AmeriCorps, Announcements, Class, Development, ESOL, Family Learning, Teaching, Tutoring, Volunteers | 1 Comment
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“I think my student has Dyslexia.”  This is one of the most frequently heard comments by new and seasoned tutors alike and deserves some attention to help tutors understand a little bit more about reading difficulties and to clarify the role of the tutor at LCNV.   First, the Literacy Council does not diagnose students with learning disabilities and LCNV tutors should not do so either, regardless of their background outside of their tutoring experience.  Dyslexia is a specific neurological disorder falling into the category of general learning disabilities and the term ‘learning disability’ carries numerous clinical, legal and financial implications that are beyond the scope of the Literacy Council.  A tutor’s role is to meet a student where he or she is in his or her reading and writing, and use the various tools available through the Literacy Council to address specific questions and concerns in order to help a student attain specific literacy-related goals

The term Dyslexia literally means word blindness and it was coined by a German ophthalmologist in the late 19th century.  Today it is generally accepted to refer to a severe impairment in the ability to read, which is generally thought to be due to neurological factors.  Nobody ever knows for certain what causes a person’s difficulty reading and writing, and regardless, reading difficulties are not intractable roadblocks to learning.  Treating difficulties empirically can make a big difference and it is essential that a student’s educational history (i.e. no education in a native language) be considered and kept in the forefront of a tutor’s mind.  Still, many tutors are surprised and frustrated by the types of errors their students make while learning to read and write.  Students may confuse similar-looking letters such as b and d, p and q or u and n.  Students may transpose sequences of letters, reading ‘was’ instead of ‘saw’.  It may seem as if a student is incapable of remembering ‘easy’ sight words such as ‘the’, ‘here’, or ‘of’.  Vowel sounds may seem particularly elusive to the adult learner.  All of these may, in fact, be symptoms of a specific learning disability.  Then again, all of these are almost always behaviors typical of new readers.

A new learner, which characterizes all LCNV students, will make errors and learning to read is no small task.  Below are a few common errors that new readers and writers make, and some tips that can help tutors address them.

  • Keep Errors in Perspective – When students make any word reading errors, note them but try not to worry about them more than necessary.  Reading accurately is important but if a word reading error doesn’t interfere with a student’s comprehension then a student may be making some self-correction internally already.
  • Comprehension Check-Up – We can’t always count on a student’s errors not to interfere with comprehension so it is important to be sure that they understand that they have made an error and to be sure that they can paraphrase or summarize the main points of what they have read.
  • Mnemonics – If a student is having trouble discriminating (visually or auditory) between specific letters and/or sounds, teach some memory tricks such as writing the word ‘bed’ to discriminate between b and d, teaching keywords to help recall the correct sounds, or using pictures to cue the correct sound.
  • Discrimination Activities – Create a stack of index cards with the two sounds that are difficult for your student to distinguish, such as short e and i.  Spend the first five minutes of the lesson reading the words aloud to your student and sorting them into piles.
  • Teach Syllables – Blending individual sounds in words is difficult for almost every beginning reader.  Students need to know individual sounds of words but some people chunk different pieces of information together differently, and for some learners separating words into individual sounds is too many pieces of information to hold in memory at once.  Numerous studies demonstrate that people with reading difficulties have weaker phonemic awareness and phonemic memory than people without reading difficulties.  This means they don’t automatically see or hear similarities and differences between words and sounds so these need to be taught directly; the smaller the unit, the harder it is to discriminate and remember.  Giving a larger chunk or a regularly used analogy can be very helpful.  Be prepared to teach things slowly and be sure to incorporate plenty of practice – a weaker phonemic memory means it is harder for a person with reading difficulties to store phonemic (sound) information so they will need continued, intensive practice.
  • Context – Teach your learner to use context while reading.  Adult learners have many coping skills and context can be a lifeline for such a new reader.  Many new and struggling readers come to see reading as a performance and forget that the goal of reading is understanding text, which requires active engagement with text.  Have your student repeat the word they misread and ask, “Does that make sense?”  Give your student a second chance to reread. It is also helpful if you can record the reader and have him/her listen to his/her own reading.  Students need to learn to monitor their own understanding by continuously asking, “Does that make sense?”
  • Appropriate Reading Level – Any time you notice students making many errors, be sure that the level is appropriate.  If a student is struggling with something, you will often notice that skills you thought were secure are now falling apart in application. This is because the learner is attending to too many things at once.  Try the following: shorten the passage length; give the learner a chance to preview the material before reading; or be sure you are reminding the learner of only one or two things to focus on while they read instead of trying to correct all aspects of reading at once.  If none of these suggestions work, simply find easier material.

The Literacy Council trains volunteers to work with beginning readers and writers.  We define a beginning reader as someone reading below a fifth grade level, or someone who is unable to read and understand an English newspaper independently.  When a student with such limited literacy skills is faced with the task of learning to read, confusion is part of the landscape.  Nobody expects tutors to be reading specialists and the initial training provided to all new tutors should only be considered a jumping off point.  If you are struggling to meet your student’s learning needs, do not suffer in silence – reach out to Placement Advisors, staff, and fellow volunteers.  Each learner presents unique challenges and strengths, and an outside observer can provide surprising insight, advice, and peace of mind.

Molly Chilton
Basic Literacy Tutoring Specialist
Literacy Council of Northern Virginia
2855 Annandale Road
Falls Church, VA 22042
(703) 237-0866 x 104
basiclit@lcnv.org
www.lcnv.org

Jessica Raines: My AmeriCorps Year

July 27, 2012 at 12:10 PM | Posted in AmeriCorps, Announcements, Class, Development, ESOL, Family Learning, Teaching, Tutoring, Volunteers | Leave a comment
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I came to the Literacy Council with practically no teaching experience. My background is in psychology and political science, but I wanted to try something new. I did not really know what to expect from this upcoming year of teaching, but I knew it would be hard and rewarding.

The first semester, my fellow AmeriCorps members and I hit the ground running. I had to learn to teach through trial and error. Quickly, I discovered that teaching is not an easy task. Often, there are so many available resources that you can feel like you are drowning in textbooks, websites, and advice. Plus, actually being responsible for someone else’s learning felt incredibly overwhelming. Part of me expected teaching to come naturally, but I found myself spending substantial amounts of time lesson planning and feeling incredibly nervous before each class.

Teaching is an art AND science; skill and practice are required if you want to hone your craft. As time went on, I became more comfortable with it.  I took advantage of trainings, sifted through resources and articles, and practiced five times a week in front of my own class. Eventually, lesson planning and teaching became easier.  I also stopped stressing about being responsible for someone’s education and focused on enjoying my time with my students; as the saying goes “showing up is half the battle.” Students are ecstatic that someone is willing to take time out of her day to show up to class with a smile on her face and talk to them. I really enjoyed conversing with my students, even though it was extremely difficult at times given their limited language skills. While working with my students to accomplish their goals,  I learned about their lives and cultures, and this was incredibly rewarding – more rewarding than words can express.

Jessica Raines
AmeriCorps Member
Literacy Council of Northern Virginia
2855 Annandale Road
Falls Church, VA 22042
(703) 237-0866 x 104
www.lcnv.org

My First Tutoring Session

May 15, 2012 at 12:12 PM | Posted in AmeriCorps, Announcements, Class, Development, ESOL, Family Learning, Student Stories, Teaching, Tutoring, Volunteers | 1 Comment
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By. Lisbeth Goldberg

There was an announcement by the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia regarding their next volunteer tutor training for ESOL; it’s a structured training program on three consecutive Saturdays, and they assign you a specific student.

I immediately phoned and signed up because I’d been wasting my Saturdays, and I always liked training classes. The three Saturdays were really excellent, with about 35 people in the class. I was assigned an Ethiopian lady who’d completed eight years of school in her home country. She knew a few English words and some of the letters, but couldn’t write her name in English and could not converse in English.

Yesterday, at 4:00 pm, I met with my student, and two of her daughters at an Alexandria Branch Library. The eldest daughter is a college student. Her sister is a senior in high school, and there is another sister who is a junior in high school. The girls were delightful, with an easy laugh. Mom had a solemn face, and she just looked down and sighed. The girls were doing all the talking.

The Literacy Council sends you off to your first meeting well prepared.  There are three flyers on a) what to do in your first session; b ) needs assessment and goal setting, and c) a form to be signed by the student, an agreement to study and practice. The eldest daughter read the student agreement to her mom. When they got to the sentence, “Promise to do my homework,” the girls started giggling and laughing at the idea of Mother doing homework.  When the daughters got to the statement, “If the student doesn’t do her homework, the teacher might not teach her anymore,” they couldn’t stop laughing. Mom remained rather somber, sighing, and with no eye contact.

Then we began the lesson introducing ourselves by name. I asked the student how I should pronounce her name, and practiced it several times. She listened and practiced pronouncing my name. We did lots of repeats. Needless to say, Amharic and English have very different sounds to some letters and vowels. When Mom got it right, I gave a big smile and clapped my hands — very good. She clapped back and looked me in the eye, even smiled.  I had explained to her, she may be a beginning student, but I was certainly a beginning teacher.

I was about to give her a homework assignment, to practice copying her name in English and then write it next class, but she was a step ahead of me. [She] told her daughter to tell me she would practice for next class, and proudly said my name with a big smile.

After the first meeting, the class is one-on-one. But the eldest daughter said that her mom really needed help, so the three daughters will rotate accompanying Mom to class. I’m extra lucky. I have these beautiful, enthusiastic daughters to work with me and to help their Mother learn English. They each thanked me with a handshake, a smile, and a bow on their way out.

I was on a high; it was the best of times!

Please consider becoming a Volunteer Tutor like Lisbeth. Visit Tutoring or email volunteers@lcnv.org. 

Literacy Council of Northern Virginia
2855 Annandale Road
Falls Church, VA 22042
(703) 237-0866
www.lcnv.org

Highlight: BEST Plus Training is a Success

April 23, 2012 at 2:19 PM | Posted in AmeriCorps, Announcements, Class, Development, ESOL, Family Learning, Teaching, Tutoring, Volunteers | 1 Comment
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The Literacy Council of Northern Virginia had a busy week of training for LCNV’s classroom programs; we held two trainings for our Student Assessment Specialists (SAS) Team on Saturday, April 14, 2012 and Tuesday, April 17, 2012. Saturday’s six-hour BEST Plus Oral Proficiency Administrator training hosted twenty trainees from five different literacy programs across Virginia.  The Best Plus test is an oral question and answer interview, so there is no reading or writing components.  A tester’s task is to listen to how well the learner uses the English language to express themselves and respond to the questions.

The three-hour training on April 17, 2012, focused just on scoring the test.  Not only did the new volunteers commit to attending these two days of trainings, but several SAS have made time to visit the class sites to get to know our students.  We’re so grateful for their time commitment and I can’t tell you how important this is for our classroom students!

As a SAS, volunteers take their passion for LCNV’s mission and use their BEST Plus certification to test classroom students. Our Student Assessment Specialists get a very special opportunity to exchange with our students, and we hope they feel a sense of community with the class sites where they volunteer.  During our registration days, LCNV administers the test. We also administer the test during the last two class days at the following sites: Herndon, Falls Church, Springfield, Lorton, and several areas of Alexandria.   The test scores are used to place students into their class levels or help redirect them to more appropriate literacy programs.

Big kudos to Ruba Afzal, our Director of Volunteers, for recruiting six of the BEST Plus trainees to be LCNV volunteers!

If you or someone you know is interested in volunteering as a Student Assessment Specialist, please refer them to Ruba (volunteers@lcnv.org) or myself (kbeckman@lcnv.org) with questions!

Katie Beckman
Program Assistant
Literacy Council of Northern Virginia
2855 Annandale Road
Falls Church, VA 22042
(703) 237-0866
www.lcnv.org

Kalavaridhi Dance School at Reading: A Family Affair

February 28, 2012 at 3:06 PM | Posted in AmeriCorps, Announcements, Class, Development, ESOL, Family Learning, Teaching, Tutoring, Volunteers | 1 Comment
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Come watch Sheela Ramanath & the Kalavaridhi Dance School at LCNV's Reading: A Family Affair

Get ready to be awed by the Kalavaridhi Dance School at the sixth annual Reading: A Family Affair (RAFA).  The Kalavaridhi Dance School brings books to life through Bharatanatyam, an Indian classical dance form that dates back to 1000 B.C. RAFA will take place Saturday, March 24, 2012; it will run from  9:30 AM to 2:30 PM at the James Lee Community Center.

After training with Guru Bhanumati for over a decade, Sheela Ramanath moved to the United States and started her own dance school, Kalavaridhi, in 2001. Kalavaridhi is a Sanskrit word, meaning Ocean of Art. Sheela states: Art is like the ocean – boundless, mysterious, and intriguing. A lifetime is hardly sufficient to explore any art form to its fullest. The experience of art is truly humbling; the more you learn, the less you know. In art, the journey is itself the destination. Founding Kalavaridhi was the natural progression of Sheela’s artistic journey.

Sheela builds upon her gurus’ teaching methods, creatively adapting them to each student. Even in grouped settings, she coaches each student individually. Through lecture-demonstrations and illustrated recitals, she strives to mold young artists into versatile dancers. Following the traditional curriculum for Bharatanatyam, Sheela teaches both the theoretical as well as practical aspects at each level. She draws upon real-life comparisons to help communicate depth of feeling. A group of 8 to 9 senior Kalavaridhi students will be performing this March 24, 2012 at Reading: A Family Affair.

The Kalavaridhi Dance School will awe and dazzle you with their dramatic art of story-telling and pure dance movements. Come watch their dramatic hand gestures, and elaborate eye and neck movements.  At they pat their feet,  you’ll enter into a new and enchanted world that only the Kalavaridhi Dance School could create.

Download the Reading: A Family Affair poster! Spread the word this upcoming family event!

Literacy Council of Northern Virginia
2855 Annandale Road, Falls Church, VA 22042
(703) 237-0866
www.lcnv.org

Patience & Teaching Go Hand in Hand

February 24, 2012 at 3:06 PM | Posted in AmeriCorps, Announcements, Class, Development, ESOL, Family Learning, Teaching, Tutoring, Volunteers | 1 Comment
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AmeriCorps Instructors Raymond Chow & Jessica Raines with LCNV Students

One of the things that I sometimes struggle with in teaching, and in other areas of my life, is patience. I teach beginning level English classes with a fair number of literacy level students, meaning I have some students that can read and write in their own language but struggle with the Roman alphabet, and some students that are not fully literate in their native language. It can take a long time for these students to master what to me seems like a simple task: writing their name or saying the letters of the alphabet, for examples. Sometimes I am just in awe of how long it can take. I find myself thinking “How can they not get it? It is so easy!” But it is not easy.

I am taking an online course in how to teach literacy level learners. A quote from an article we had to read really stood out to me: “Literacy-level learners may be beginning learners, but they are not beginning thinkers.” This quote really struck a chord with me. I think a lot of people in our society take language for granted. Many people, when they come across someone who is unable to answer a question or express themselves, write them off as unintelligent. I think they fail to recognize how challenging it is to learn and use a language, and they therefore lack compassion when someone struggles with speaking.

It feels better to fully master a task than it does to tangentially cover a great number of items. It’s the age old adage of quality over quantity – and obtaining that quality can require a great investment of time. Learning a new language is an extremely difficult task, as I know from first-hand experience, and our students deserve our patience and compassion as they attempt to learn our language. I think that patience can sometimes be the most important thing when it comes to teaching, and it is important to keep this in mind.

Jessica Raines
AmeriCorps Member
Literacy Council of Northern Virginia
2855 Annandale Road
Falls Chuch, Virginia 22042
(703)237-0866 ext. 118
www.lcnv.org

Does My Student Have a Learning Disability?

February 20, 2012 at 11:21 AM | Posted in AmeriCorps, Announcements, Class, Development, ESOL, Family Learning, Teaching, Tutoring, Volunteers | Leave a comment
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One of the most common concerns of tutors is that their student has a learning disability.  At the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia we use the term learning difference, because we are not equipped to diagnose nor take financial responsibility for testing that would be required under federal law with the term learning disability.  LCNV accepts students regardless of any kind of disability they may choose to disclose, and tries to meet the needs of all beginning readers and writers. Yet, LCNV does not provide any screening or diagnoses; tutors are not in the position to diagnose or suggest any labels.  Still, if you suspect that your student may be struggling beyond what you would consider typical growing pains, please consider some of these struggles and solutions.

Learning disabilities are multi-dimensional and occur on a continuum, so you may notice varying degrees of certain behaviors in different people – maybe even yourself.  Over the next few weeks, check back in this space for brief descriptions of some typical learning problems and ways to help learners succeed in spite of them.   Attention is necessary for all learning – if we do not attend to something, we send a signal to our brain that it is not important so it does not get stored fully in long-term memory, making it unavailable for future use.  For example, if a student is texting while you are explaining the difference between long and short vowels, this material may sound vaguely familiar to him/ her later on, but it will not be stored sufficiently for him/her to apply the information later.

Students who struggle to attend their tutoring sessions may do the following: make frequent and careless mistakes on schoolwork and on the job; fail to attend to details; appear not to listen when spoken to; have trouble sustaining focus for a long period of time; struggle to follow through on things; approach tasks in a disorganized manner; fall short of organizing their materials; and lose things frequently.

If this sounds like your student, first remember that many factors can interfere with attention including life stressors such as loss of a job or fear of this loss, lack of sleep, inadequate nutrition, etc.; your student does not necessarily have a diagnose-able condition.  However, attention is essential to learning, so if your student struggles with any of the behaviors listed above, you might want to try some of the tips below.

  • Minimize distractions as much as possible – reserve a room in the library rather than work in the open part where there is high traffic; turn off cell phones; clear the table of unnecessary papers; don’t interrupt your student with questions and conversation while they are learning – stay focused yourself!
  • Notice how long a student is able to attend to one task and break instruction into separate, discrete segments – i.e. 15 minutes of phonics practice, 10 minutes of word reading, 15 minutes of passage reading etc.  If possible, schedule tutoring for shorter periods and meet more frequently for regular review.  Review often.
  • Pace yourself and your student – do not be tempted to move too quickly as every learner needs time to digest and master material before they can absorb new materials.  If the material is at the appropriate instructional level, all learning should build in a logical way so that one skill flows into the next.

Molly Chilton
Basic Literacy Tutoring Specialist
Literacy Council of Northern Virginia
2855 Annandale Road
Falls Church, VA 22042
(703) 237-0866
www.lcnv.org

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