Sunday, June 29, 2008

English Tutoring Training at Learn to Read

In response to some friends--space advocates and non--I decided to find a new hobby. I also decided that a frivolous, non-productive hobby wasn't quite my thing. I've already got one of those, and it's called beer. No, I thought I'd try to do something worthwhile, something, dare I say it, important with myself. Teaching was an idea, but I don't have the time, money, or inclination to pursue a teaching certificate. As I've noted elsewhere on this blog, I'm going to Europe next year. So when my pastor's wife suggested attending a class at Learn to Read, where I could learn how to tutor ESL students, I thought: "Great! I can pay the English major gift forward and get some foreign language back!" Of course this would depend greatly on assuming there will be someone from France, Germany, or Italy in the Huntsville area looking for a tutor.

I can tell you now: the answer to that wish is no; my options right now are undereducated Americans and non-English-speaking Mexicans or Guatemalans. Not that that's completely bad: I have some Spanish in my background, and theoretically I should be able to communicate with an American. However...last night after class, I began having doubts about my ability to do the work. I've been reading since before I could walk. It's as natural to me--and as necessary--as breathing. Will I be able to relate to someone who hasn't read much, someone for whom it doesn't come naturally, or (God forbid) someone who actually doesn't enjoy reading as I do? Perhaps it's to my benefit, then, that I've got to teach myself some German, French, and Italian for my trip next year. I'll have at least an idea of what my student(s) are going through.

I'm not sure pairing me with an American is a good idea, though that would be one hell of a lesson in humility and patience, wouldn't it? Heck, I lack patience with the literate! I'll give the matter some thought until Learn to Read (LTR) finds a suitable student who can match my availability.

So, the notes are below.

  • One of the first things the nice ladies at LTR informed of--and kept reminding us of throughout the day--was that the class used to be 15 hours and stretch over three days. Now they do it in 9 hours and one day. The reason for this shift was that people would sometimes leave after the first day. I can appreciate their candor, but the learner in me was wondering, "What am I missing?"
  • Anyhow, they explained that they dealt with a variety of issues and learning levels, from Americans who dropped out of school early and never got past X grade in the basics to Mexican immigrants who need to start fresh to Asian immigrants who received English training but need help translating "Southern."
  • Most of the students are adults, with adult learning styles, rather than children who can tolerate a lot of drill-and-kill.
  • The word "test" is avoided, since that's often one of the things people didn't like about school. Instead they call them "evaluations" or "checkups." I'm partial to what one of my junior high school students called them: "learning experiences."
  • This process requires a great deal of patience and positive reinforcement--the students need to be told and encouraged that they CAN learn to read.
  • Here are some scary stats: 1 in 20 adults in the U.S. are not literate in English (11 million people). High-literate adults' salaries average $50,700, $28,000 more than non-literate adults. 95 million adults have intermediate skills.
  • My classmates included my pastor's wife, who's been a teacher; J, a mayor of a local municipality here in AL, and L, an occupational therapist.
  • The LTR uses primarily the Laubach Literacy method, which is phonics-based. They also use the Challenger series for students who have basic English skills--say, up to 2nd to 4th grade--but needs work on building grammar, vocabulary, and reading comprehension.
  • The only book we took home was Teach Adults: A Literary Resource Book. However, we spent a great deal of time reviewing the Laubach and Challenger materials--teaching manuals, student books, workbooks, and other activity books--just to get a feel for what was in them and how they taught.
  • Asking the students a lot of questions can be offensive--listen.
  • Depending on the age of the student, you might not be able to change their handwriting habits (e.g., writing in ALL CAPS).
  • The standard method, for individuals or groups, is to start with an image (e.g. a cup). We tell them, "This is a cup. Say 'cup.'" [Student/class repeats.] Point to the word cup. "Cup begins with the sound 'k'. Say 'k.'" [Student/class repeats.] "Repeat." [Student/class repeats.] "Repeat." [Student/class repeats.] "The 'k' sound comes for the letter 'c.' Say 'c.'" [Student/class repeats.] "Good!" The tutor then moves down to the next picture on the page. At the end of the line, the student is asked to repeat the item they just read plus the previous item until they get it right. Drill and kill, baby.
  • Learning to read goes through four phases: recognize (letters/words), understand, react, and apply.
  • The books start with the consonants, the move on to short vowels, long vowels, and lower and upper case. Along the way, quirky spelling exceptions, basic punctuation, and grammar are learned as well.
  • Some words qualify as "sight words," meaning you just have to learn their appearance and sound, because the two don't necessarily match (e.g. say, says, said). Students also learn phonics, words patterns, context, and word parts.
  • Don't throw everything at the student at once, but start from the basics they know (once they've been assessed), and work up at their own pace from there.
  • The English alphabet has 26 letters and 43 sounds.
  • Word sounds include: vowels (a,e, etc.) and consonants (b,c, etc.), voiced (g, v, etc.) and unvoiced (p,t, etc.), continuants (m, o, etc.) and stops (d, t, etc.), and nasals (m, n, ng).
  • Characteristics of adult learners include: they are used to making their own decisions, are busy people, often have to deal with emergencies and unexpected situations, have learned a lot from experience, and build on what they already know.
  • Communication learning includes listening, reading (incl. text, symbols, body language, and tone), speaking, and writing.
  • Learning styles include visual (learn by seeing), auditory (learn by hearing), and kinesthetic (learn by doing). (I happen to be a visual and occasionally kinesthetic learner. I have been called on this by one manager because I don't always listen as well as I should and write down a lot of instructions in my journal, which I keep on hand nearly constantly.)
  • We saw a video of a single, illiterate mom, hearing her thoughts as she faked her way through her day, sometimes by getting help, but often changing her circumstances so she didn't have to do any reading or writing. Scary, but you can get an idea of how they do it.
  • Focus on the relationship with the student: what is his goal? What do they want/need to do with their reading/writing? How can I help? How can I make the experience more interesting, comfortable, and enjoyable?
  • Don't assume your needs or behaviors are theirs (Non-Tribal Thinking Training 101).
  • Don't interrupt!
  • Some things I hadn't considered in a long time: a long 'a' usually appears at the end of the first syllable. Syllables are determined by the number of vowel sounds.
  • Controlled writing includes things like filling out forms, writing letters, and signing checks.
  • Reading with the student can include the following methods: reading to the student, duet reading (reading at the same time), echo reading (student reads after teacher, copying pronunciation), alternate reading (each person reads a bit back and forth--most often used in groups or when reading plays).
  • N, my pastor's wife, asked if the LTR taught "The Language Experience" approach, where you connect reading and writing directly to the reader's experience. LTR does not use this method.
  • LTR is a non-profit and has a lot of old or outdated equipment and books.
  • We finished up the session by discussing other texts the LTR had available and then specific logistics.

Anyhow, I have a book to read and will have to wait awhile before I get a student. They have three students waiting: three foreign nationals (Spanish-speaking), who are available on days when I've usually got NSS-related activities; and three American girls who are all 17 or 18. That might be doable, but I'm not sure how comfortable the girls would be with a 38-year-old single white guy. We'll see. Maybe a European grown-up will show up.

Do I feel ready? Hell, no! Again, this will require a lot of patience and humility. I've got a lot of work ahead of me.

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