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Florida Literacy CoalitionFlorida Literacy CoalitionFlorida Literacy Coalition

 

Adult Learner Mentor and Orientation Programs
Program of the Lake County Library System Adult Literacy Program

About The Organization:

The Lake County Library System (LCLS) Adult Literacy Program is designed to serve Limited English Proficient (LEP) adults and adult English language learners who are interested in improving their English skills - conversation, reading, writing, comprehension, and basic math. It is a volunteer-based program which offers one-to-one and small group tutoring. Trained volunteer tutors and adult learners meet weekly at their local library or other established community-based satellite location and have access to student workbooks; adult literacy materials; a computer-based literacy lab; and other library resources. The adult learner, with the guidance of the tutor, identifies their learning goals and sets the pace to achieving them.

Purpose:

In an effort to improve the Adult Literacy Program at the adult learner level, we have implemented a Learner Mentor Program (launched March 2009) and a Learner Orientation Program (launched December 2008). They focus on providing support, information and improved 'service' delivery.

As the program grew LCLS realized that they were not effectively pairing learners and tutors.  Tutors might only know a brief bio of the learner (see attached Learner Information Form), which included no assessment, and would go to their first meeting ‘blind’.  Many times this resulted in an abbreviated first meeting with no actual literacy activities occurring.  In addition, it made it quite difficult to ‘market’ learners to volunteer tutors as we had limited or basic information and little to no goal identification.

Promising Practices 2010
Adult Learner Mentor and Orientation Programs
Volunteer Literacy Tutor Trainings
Workplace ESOL Conversation Cafes
Adult Literacy Instruction with Motheread®
Adult Literacy Blogs

Promising Practices 2009
Promising Practices Home
eLearning Broward
ESOL for Adults
Lake Wales Family Literacy Coalition
Lawyers for Literacy
Workplace Literacy Program


Description of Project:

Learner Orientation

LCLS requires learners meet with a tutor for a Learner Orientation meeting prior to their being paired with a tutor. This meeting will include an informal assessment and interview as well as a brief description of the expectations of the literacy program.

You will note from the overview sheet that LCLS utilizes an informal assessment approach. The tools provide LCLS with literacy skill levels that relate back to the materials and resources LCLS has available in the Adult New Reader (ANR) collection located at each library. These materials are almost exclusively based on literacy levels (literacy, beginning, low intermediate, etc…) versus grade levels.

The tutors have the choice of assessment tools that they feel are appropriate to the learner and usually combine multiple tools at each orientation meeting.

The Learner Agreement form outlines the basic expectations of the program, volunteer tutor and adult learner. LCLS asks that both the learners and tutors respect each other – specifically, be prepared, be on time, and, in a timely manner, notify each other when you cannot make meetings or need to reschedule meeting days or times. Also included is what can be expected of the program – availability of space, free materials and resources, and confidentiality. In addition, during the Learner Orientation meeting the tutor attempts to provide a sample of literacy materials and computer-based and Adult New Reader collection resources and/or discusses the process and next steps so that the learner is more prepared. Finally, they will offer a tour of the literacy space and library, time available and as appropriate. (See: Learner Agreement Form)

Most importantly the orientation meeting provides the learner with a sense that the program is organized, has a process for enrolling learners and matching them with a volunteer tutor, and that it is important. This process provides an opportunity for the learner to decide how committed they are to the program. Sometimes the process is much more difficult or demanding than the adult learner initially realizes.

Learner Mentor Program

LCLS recruits from existing or recently 'graduated' learners to act as Learner Mentors to their peers. The Learner Mentors reach out and answer questions, provide support and act as a liaison between staff and learners.

  • Initially, the Learner Mentor program was created to increase and enhance communication with LCLS’ English Language Learners (ELLs). LCLS has 15 libraries and 3 satellite locations offering tutoring and does not always have access to bi-lingual staff at all locations. As a result LCLS was not able to successfully follow up with learners who dropped from the program. With the introduction of the Learner Mentor program we have been able to reach out to learners on a variety of issues: lack of attendance; invitation to special events or newly created classes; scheduling of initial tutoring appointments; and general feedback. (See: Learner Mentor Report)

LCLS has seen an increase in successful pairings and attendance at special events as well as having been able to reschedule meeting days/times for learners who would have otherwise left the program (fearing they did not have the right to ask to make changes). Probably the most important outcome to date has been the identification of struggling tutors and learner frustrations.

Challenges:

“I don’t truly believe that we had any major ‘kinks’ but, rather, evolved as we went along. Updating report forms, increasing duties for the mentors, growing the programs to more literacy locations, etc… I would say that that the only possible kink could be that we do not have learner mentors at all of the literacy locations. A goal I am striving to accomplish!” said Erika Greene, LCLS program director.

Evidence of Impact and Effectiveness:

LCLS uses forms for reporting, utilizes verbal feedback from the mentors and orientation tutors, and encourages feedback from tutors and adult learners.

Learner Orientation Program

Since the implementation of the Learner Orientation Program we have seen:

  • an increase in the number of tutors expressing an interest in working with new/additional learners (at times resulting in multiple tutors wanting to work with one learner!);
  • newly trained tutors feeling more empowered and less anxious about their first meeting with new learners;
  • increased excitement of the tutors who see different ways they can volunteer within the literacy program – some tutors volunteering solely as orientation tutors;
  • increased learner commitment and reduced tutor frustration with first meeting ‘no shows’

Learner Mentor Program

The tutors have been very satisfied with the learner orientation component and we have identified issues through the learner mentor component that otherwise would have gone unnoticed.

As discussed above, we were fully cognizant that we were not consistently and effectively communicating with our ELLs which was greatly reducing learner and tutor satisfaction as well as impacting learner attrition.  Furthermore, we did not have in place a process for providing leadership roles.  This program supports both needs.

Both of these program components have enhanced the LCLS Adult Literacy Program and enabled the program to deliver literacy services to the adult learners more successfully.  And, in a sense, allowed the literacy staff to focus on developing new initiatives and respond to other programmatic and learner needs.

As discussed above, awareness of learner interests and concerns would have gone unaddressed or sporadically addressed, at best.  Some typical concerns:

  • Meeting times
  • Appropriateness of class or lessons
  • Childcare concerns
  • Class dynamics
  • Additional topics of interest
  • Attendance at events due to miscommunication or confusion
  • Personality conflicts (to date, we have only identified one experience that required ‘intervention’)

Words of Advice:

LCLS advises that:

  • You evaluate your actual need
  • Obtain buy-in from staff
  • Create a program outline indicating why, how, when, where before calling volunteer tutors together (I have attached one plan for your review, if helpful)
  • Educate your literacy team through a newsletter or email or both and then call a meeting to discuss the program(s) with those volunteers initially interested. A small group of tutors stepped forward and expressed their desire for learners to be ‘tested’ before they were paired and they gave enough feedback and ideas and offered their help that we were able to launch it within a few months!
  • Be prepared for a small number to step up to the plate at first – others will follow once they understand what it is all about and the value added by the new program(s)
  • Provide training!
  • Provide support!
  • Provide feedback!
  • Be prepared to tweak your ideas as you move forward and allow volunteer tutors to provide feedback to enhance the process – from their perspective
  • Talk to the adult learners – get their feedback – How could it have been better? What could we have done that would have made it easier? Etc…
  • Say ‘Thank You!’  We have a website and we post pictures and stories about the Learner Mentors and other program news highlighting their accomplishments.

Costs and Funding:

Other than printing costs for forms there really are no additional costs associated with launching and maintaining these programs. Other than time, that is:

  • Volunteers conduct the orientation meetings.
  • Literacy staff organizes/arranges meetings.
  • The orientation volunteer or the literacy coordinator enters information into the online management system.
  • The literacy coordinator provided all of the training – which can be conference calls, face-to-face meetings, and tutor professional development workshops.
Evidence of Effectiveness:

Learner persistence and goal achievement as it relates to those learners who have been reassigned to a new tutor in response to feedback received by the learner mentor.  I believe that we have also seen improved attendance at locations that have access to a learner mentor.  Communication has improved, scheduling of initial meetings with new learners has improved, and tutor frustration has been reduced as they have a source of learner feedback.

Resources:

Contact Information:

Erika L. Greene, Literacy Coordinator
Lake County Library System - Adult Literacy Program
(352) 253-6183

 

 

 

 

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