Setara Habib: My AmeriCorps Year

August 10, 2012 at 2:51 PM | Posted in AmeriCorps, Announcements, Class, Development, ESOL, Family Learning, Teaching, Tutoring, Volunteers | Comments Off on Setara Habib: My AmeriCorps Year
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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

Raymond Chow: Thoughts and Thanks.

August 7, 2012 at 12:29 PM | Posted in AmeriCorps, Announcements, Class, Development, ESOL, Family Learning, Teaching, Tutoring, Volunteers | Comments Off on Raymond Chow: Thoughts and Thanks.
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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

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

Jessica Raines: My AmeriCorps Year

July 27, 2012 at 12:10 PM | Posted in AmeriCorps, Announcements, Class, Development, ESOL, Family Learning, Teaching, Tutoring, Volunteers | Comments Off on Jessica Raines: My AmeriCorps Year
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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

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 

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

“At 98, Once-Illiterate Lobsterman Is Now An Author”

April 2, 2012 at 1:36 PM | Posted in AmeriCorps, Announcements, Class, Development, ESOL, Family Learning, Teaching, Tutoring, Volunteers | Comments Off on “At 98, Once-Illiterate Lobsterman Is Now An Author”
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The Literacy Council of Northern Virginia considers “At 98, Once-Illiterate Lobsterman Is Now An Author,” a must read! Friends at the Ionia County Literacy Council recently shared the article, which was published by the Associated Press at the Hartford Courant.

The article “At 98, Once-Illiterate Lobsterman Is Now An Author,” charters the life of James Arruda Henry, a lobster boat captain who learned how to read in his late 90s. Henry found inspiration in “Life is So Good,” by George Dawson, a slave’s grandson who learned to read at 98 years old. Driven by Dawson’s narrative and supported by his family, Henry labored over words until he could compose whole essays. Now, Henry’s essays have been compiled in the book “In a Fisherman’s Language: An Autobiography,” available as a Kindle Edition.

An excerpt of article written on James Arruda Henry follows:

Henry said he was taken out of school around the third grade to go to work making concrete blocks, baking bread and doing other jobs. He recalls getting a dollar from his father on the Fourth of July.

“I was so happy that I went straight to the ice cream parlor,” he writes in his book. “I got a glass of milk, a piece of apple pie, a dish of ice cream. After I finished eating I had just enough money to buy a small pack of firecrackers. I lit one and they all went off!!”

His granddaughter had read him an excerpt of the book, “Life is So Good” by George Dawson.

“I said if he can do it, I can do it,” Henry said. “That’s when I started to learn…”

Take a moment to read the article “At 98, Once-Illiterate Lobsterman Is Now An Author.”

Consider reading James Arruda Henry’s collection of autobiographical essays:In A Fisherman’s Language: An Autobiography.”

Lastly, consider reading the story that motivated Henry to learn how to read and write at 98:Life is So Good,” by George Dawson.

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

More Photos from the 2012 Reading: A Family Affair!

March 30, 2012 at 2:58 PM | Posted in AmeriCorps, Announcements, Class, Development, ESOL, Family Learning, Teaching, Tutoring, Volunteers | Comments Off on More Photos from the 2012 Reading: A Family Affair!
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Another big thank you to everyone who attended the 6th annual Reading: A Family Affair.

Make sure to read our previous blog, which also highlights Reading: A Family Affair: Thank You for Supporting RAFA.

Also, visit the Literacy Council’s flickr to see more pictures of our programs and events: LCNV Flickr Photostream.

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

Thank You for Supporting Reading: A Family Affair!

March 28, 2012 at 3:00 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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The Literacy Council’s Reading: A Family Affair is always a fun event, but there was something special about this one.  Maybe the rainy, cool weather brought more people inside, because the attendance was  higher than ever – over 600 people.  LCNV Staff also had the support of 56 volunteers and very engaged members of the James Lee Community Center staff.

Six years ago, when the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia started Reading: A Family Affair, the idea was to create a fund-raising event that was fun, accessible to our adult learners and their families, and promoted books and storytelling in an active, creative way.  LCNV was bringing books to life – for families – for free.

Reading: A Family Affair has really become a local community event:  showcasing local performing artists and storytellers; promoting one of the best community centers in Fairfax County; engaging volunteers and civic organizations, like Crystal City – Pentagon Rotary Club; and hosting Clifford the Big Red Dog, a celebrity from our local PBS TV station, WETA.  The Literacy Council has created an event that brings the community together to celebrate the joy of books.

This year was also special because our local elected officials attended, demonstrating  their vote-of-confidence in the Literacy Council’s contribution to the community.  Congressman Gerry Connolly was in attendance, and took the time to present the Literacy Council with a Congressional Commendation for  50 Years of Service to the community.  Delegate Mark Keam, representing the Vienna and Tyson’s Corner District in the General Assembly, attended RAFA and  Supervisor Linda Smyth, from the Providence District, made her annual visit.  It is always a privilege to see our community leaders engaged in local events, and with such busy schedules, the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia is honored that they chose to come to RAFA.

Thank you to all who attended, and particularly to Verizon for their signature sponsorship and long-time funding for Reading: a Family Affair. The Literacy Council also thanks WETA-Kids for sharing Clifford the Big Red Dog, and Target and Crystal City – Pentagon Rotary Club for their continued support.  Lastly, LCNV thanks Day and Night Printing, Jason’s Deli and Cosi for their in-kind contributions, as well as the many volunteers who gave up their Saturday. Thank you to all for making Reading: A Family Affair a big success.

Patricia M. Donnelly
Executive Director
Literacy Council of Northern Virginia
2855 Annandale Road
Falls Church, VA 22042
(703) 237-0866

Come to Reading: A Family Affair Tomorrow!

March 23, 2012 at 3:02 PM | Posted in AmeriCorps, Announcements, Class, Development, ESOL, Family Learning, Teaching, Tutoring, Volunteers | Comments Off on Come to Reading: A Family Affair Tomorrow!
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Reading: A Family Affair (RAFA) is just a day away! RAFA is a free family literacy day presented by the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia (LCNV). This event brings books to life through a variety of venues:

•   SEE a Book (on stage performances by puppeteers and musicians)
•   HEAR a Book (storytellers)
•   BECOME a Book (audience participation)
•   READ & WRITE a Book (reading/writing activities; book giveaways)
•   CLICK a Book (guided computer activities)

Reading: A Family Affair provides an opportunity to introduce kids and their parents to the literacy activities available throughout the community; it also has become a way for the Literacy Council to get the word out to potential volunteers, adults who need LCNV services, and businesses and individuals looking for a great mission to support.

Come and attend Reading: A Family Affair. The event will spotlight storytellers, musicians, dancers, and puppeteers from the greater Washington Metropolitan Area. Stories are told in many ways. Engage all of your senses in the magic of literacy!


WHEN: This Saturday, March 24, 2012 from 9:30 AM – 2:20 PM

WHERE: James Lee Community Center, 2855 Annandale Rd., Falls Church, VA 22042

*Parking will be available.

*For safety and space reasons, baby strollers cannot be allowed at this event.

For a complete list of RAFA performers:

For a complete schedule of events:

Join the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia this Saturday and celebrate literacy.

Literacy Council of Northern Virginia
2855 Annandale Road, Falls Church, VA 22042
(703) 237-0866 x 115

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