Adult Literacy Tutor Training
The Citrus County Library System’s Adult Literacy Education Program is managed by library staff utilizing volunteer tutors. After an initial 12 hour new tutor training, the trained volunteers are then matched with adult learners in a one-on-one relationship. These literacy teams, consisting of one learner and one tutor, meet on a regular basis in one of our five libraries around the county.
Citrus County has an estimated population of 141,416, according to the latest published U.S. Census. Approximately 24%, or 33,940 residents, are considered to be functionally illiterate or illiterate. Of this total, 7% of these residents come from non-English speaking countries. Seeing the apparent need, the Citrus County Library System began the research process in starting up a county-wide adult literacy program in the summer of 2008, relying on the “best practices” and recommendations of non-profit literacy agencies, such as: the Florida Literacy Coalition and ProLiteracy America.
In November of 2008, the Citrus County Library System formally began its Adult Literacy Education Program, with the recruitment of both learners and tutors. At the time, we hoped to get 10 adult learners. Soon thereafter, the need for adult literacy services became concretely apparent when the number of registered adult learners climbed to over 100. In Citrus County, the greatest need for adult literacy services has been found to be in Beverly Hills (32%), followed by Homosassa (24%), Inverness (21%), Crystal River (18%), and Floral City (5%).
Most of the adult learners in the library’s literacy program are Adult Basic learners (61%) as compared to English for Speakers of Other Languages, or ESOL (39%). ESOL learners are not native English speakers and are usually seeking English language assistance in addition to reading and vocabulary guidance. Currently, we have learner participants from 17 countries, including: Spain, Germany, Russia, Ukraine, China, Japan, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, Mexico, Brazil, Venezuela, Columbia, Costa Rica, Haiti, Dominican Republic, and the Philippines. To meet the needs of these ESOL learners, in September 2009, the library system initiated group English language sessions entitled Conversational Café.
The focus of this “Promising Practice” is the Citrus County Library System’s methodology of implementing new tutor trainings and continuing education workshops for tutors.
Our library system has five tutor trainers/literacy staff members that are involved in the process of training volunteer tutors. The trainers have graduated from the Florida Literacy Coalition’s Train the Tutor Trainer Course and all have almost completed ProLiteracy America’s national certification requirements. This is important because literacy staff can bounce curriculum ideas off one another and as a result, there are always improvements made after trainings. We continually investigate new teaching strategies and improved technologies.
New tutor trainings are typically held at the Homosassa Public Library for several reasons. First, Homosassa is the home of the Adult Literacy Program Manager, making it physically and logistically easy to prepare the room for the two day workshop. Second, the meeting room has a ceiling-mounted InFocus projector, making PowerPoint usage readily accessible. Third, physical comforts are important to all learners, and tutors are no different. The Homosassa Public Library is a newer facility, complete with a kitchenette, located directly inside the public meeting room. Having a full size refrigerator and microwave located inside the training room makes it convenient for workshop attendees who would like to bring their own lunches, rather than go out. It also makes it easier for us to provide light refreshments of coffee, tea, bottled water, and cookies throughout the training. Furthermore, this library has a spacious atrium equipped with whimsical café style tables and vending machines. Regarding location, it should be noted that out of the 115 tutors that we have trained, only two actually opposed having to drive to a library other than their home branch for the initial tutor training. When skillfully utilized, much insight into a potential tutor’s flexibility can be gained through conversation. If a tutor is not willing to drive an additional 15 or 20 minutes for a free workshop, will that same tutor show flexibility when meeting with his/her adult learner?
One of our best resources for recruiting new tutors has been the submission of literacy-related articles to our local newspaper The Citrus County Chronicle. After every new tutor training, we submit a photograph of the graduating class of tutors with the names of the tutors listed. We have also submitted press releases on upcoming tutor trainings which have generated a great response. Another successful tutor recruiting methodology is to have literacy staff members publicly speak to various groups in the community, such as: rotary clubs, women’s clubs, and other private foundations – armed with volunteer tutor applications. We have also made special presentations, including speaking engagements with a tutor and a learner, to our Board of County Commissioners and to our Library Advisory Board. In addition, we created a trifold brochure entitled “Do You Want To Be An Adult Literacy Tutor?” which we distribute at outreach events, as well as, display in our libraries.
At all of our tutor trainings, we strive for a maximum of 25 participants. Our trainings prepare new tutors with a combination of teaching strategies that can be utilized with both Adult Basic and ESOL learners. Some specific topics covered in our 12 hour new tutor training include:
We, as tutor trainers, constantly emphasis to the tutors that we are here to help them succeed. This is repeatedly stated at the initial 12 hour new tutor training. After the training, our roles change from tutor trainer to advisor and mentor, as we suggest, gather, and deliver specific materials to aid the individual needs of our tutors. Moreover, literacy staff and tutors get together for quarterly continuing education meetings, which are held at alternating library branches throughout the county. Tutors are given a list of these meeting dates almost a year in advance, at their initial tutor training. At these 2 to 2½ hour meetings, a literacy program update is given, new teaching content is shared, and a tutor or learner is sometimes put on the agenda to speak. There is also a “Tutor Share” component, where tutors share the teaching strategies that have worked for them and the difficulties that they have encountered and overcome. Overall, we believe that our comprehensive trainings and personalized mentorings have contributed to our 61% tutor retention rate.
One successful “Promising Practice” that we have incorporated into both our new tutor trainings and quarterly continuing education meetings has been the tutor and learner match up process. We post a western-themed “WANTED” display, showing learners, anonymously listed, who are waiting to be matched with tutors. This colorful and impactful presentation evokes interest from tutors in the workshop, as well as the general public. Most importantly, this helps to reduce the wait time, so that none of our learners are on a wait list for more than three weeks.
Project Rationale and Background:
We now have realized how important it is for an adult literacy program to be self-sufficient and confident in providing tutor trainings. Being self-sufficient allows for flexibility in being able to offer on-the-spot, as-needed, tutor trainings. Completion of the Florida Literacy Coalition and ProLiteracy America tutor trainer requirements lends credibility and gives respect to the staff of an adult literacy program. Having multiple tutor trainers on staff also allows for constructive criticism and feedback, and thus, consistent improvements to the training curriculum can be made. For instance, one of the special skills we gained from the Florida Literacy Coalition’s Train the Tutor Trainer Course was to be able to constructively give criticism to one another, without harboring ill feelings. Our team of tutor trainers comfortably reminds each other on such things as: get out from behind the podium when speaking, point out the relevant pages in LitStart to the tutors, and give enough “wait time” to participants after asking for questions.
Prior to each tutor training, members of the team get together to review the successes and shortcomings of the previous training, taking participants’ evaluations and comments into account. At these meetings, improvements and changes to the handouts, PowerPoint presentations, and schedule times are often made. One major change that we have made to our new tutor training curriculum is to immediately address the internal specifics of our literacy program as the first topic on the first day of the workshop. Not only does this provide a basic overview and a clearer picture of our adult literacy program, but it also helps to eliminate many questions that would otherwise occur, which would take the focus away from the reading, writing, and speaking strategies that we are teaching. Sharing the anonymous personal stories of the learners in our program at the beginning of the workshop, opens their eyes, and sets a warm tone. Another positive change that we have made to our training schedule is to teach the strategic concept of Graphic Organizers on the second day of the workshop, rather than on the first. We tend to stick to the “basics” on the first day, while introducing more intermediate and advanced strategies on the second day. Most importantly, at the end of the workshop at the close of the second day, we have “Graduation” listed on our Workshop Agenda, rather than “Certificates”. With a “Graduation,” we have prepared them to be successful tutors!
Quality new tutor training is a common challenge to many literacy organizations, especially when just starting out. Having no trained or experienced tutor trainers on staff, the Citrus County Library System also faced this challenge. While we did have educated library staff with Master’s Degrees in Library Science, none had ever studied or worked in adult literacy services. Therefore, in the beginning, we lacked the knowledge to sufficiently train our own tutors. We had many unanswered questions regarding our tutor training, such as: What materials should we use? What reading, writing, and speaking strategies should we teach the tutors? How long should the tutor trainings be? How does tutoring ESOL learners differ from teaching Adult Basic learners? Luckily, through the Florida Literacy Coalition, Certified Tutor Trainer and Mentor Roberta Reiss, was sent our way to train our new tutors, as well as the library staff involved in the Adult Literacy Education Program. To date, Roberta has made the trip from Collier County to Citrus County three times - first, to train our tutors, and second, to supervise our first efforts to train our tutors ourselves. Since then, the library system has successfully held two additional new tutor trainings independently. All in all, the road to providing new tutor trainings entirely on our own took the literacy staff of the Citrus County Library System just one year from the first initial new tutor training.
Recruiting potential tutors can be challenging for some adult literacy programs. Thankfully, this has not been an obstacle for us. Rather, we faced a mini challenge of keeping potential tutors interested while they were waiting to get their new tutor training. We did have some tutors having to wait a long time between new tutor trainings, since we were initially only offering them twice per year, in April and November. This past summer, we did hold an additional new tutor training in June that was filled to capacity with 25 in attendance.
Many organizations starting up adult literacy programs often lack the appropriate and necessary materials to support their tutors and learners. Tutors succeed when they have multiple resources readily available to them, including workbooks, reproducibles, teachers’ guides, learning games and flash cards, and specific content teaching materials. Learners especially benefit from Adult New Readers. These are special high-interest, adult content books that are written on a lower reading level, thus eliminating their embarrassment of having to read only children’s books. Our library system was able to face this challenge through the generous monetary contributions from various associations to purchase materials for our Adult Literacy Education Program.
The rural aspect of Citrus County and the widespread area that it includes, has given us an added challenge. Tutors almost always prefer working in the specific geographic areas where they live rather than travelling around the county. Even when tutors have expressed a willingness to travel to other library branches to tutor, they quickly realize that they do not want to drive fifty miles or more roundtrip on a weekly basis.
Evidence of Impact and Effectiveness:
After a new tutor training event, the Citrus County Library System has the tutors fill out a two page Workshop Evaluation. Our mentor Roberta had pointed out the necessary inclusion of using open ended questions, while our original evaluation was multiple choice. After sharing our evaluations, we incorporated some of her specific questions into ours. Our most recent training indicated that 84% of the surveyed workshop attendees felt “very much” prepared to be adult literacy tutors, while 92% reported that the training was a “valuable investment of their time”. In addition, 96% stated “very much so” in regards to how relevant and useful the handouts were. Workshop evaluations are important because they provide quantifiable statistics, as well as insight for improvements. Based on some of the written comments below that were taken from our recent workshop evaluation, we know that the usage of the German Language in a Total Physical Response exercise was effective.
While we do utilize workshop evaluations at the end of the training, we actually gauge the effectiveness of our tutor trainings throughout the two day process as well. Since there are five of us who are tutor trainers, we are able to have one or two literacy staff members sit in the rear of the training room while the other(s) are presenting. This allows us to inconspicuously scan the room of tutors to gauge body language and facial expression. We also mentally note what questions were asked and what comments were said. Based on these informal, yet worthwhile observations, we tend to know who is feeling uncomfortable in their new role of becoming a literacy tutor. This gives us the opportunity to casually talk to the uncomfortable tutors during breaks to feel out what it is that they need from us. It is also beneficial to utilize individual tutors’ strengths. For example, we have a few tutors who are extremely proficient in mathematics, who prefer to tutor in that area.
At our quarterly continuing education meetings, the literacy staff surveys tutors using large white posters and colored dot stickers. Items are listed on these poster papers and hung around the room. Tutors then mark their priorities/answers using colored dot stickers that are provided to them. For instance, we use the poster surveys to gain insight into their interests and needs for future training opportunities. We also use the poster surveys to determine how we are doing, and what the tutors need from us. Some popular requests in the past have included: a monthly electronic newsletter, more private meeting rooms, and the usage of office equipment, especially copy machines. Poster surveys have also indicated tutor interest in further trainings on learning disabilities, fluency, financial literacy, writing strategies, and ongoing assessments.Evidence of learner impact is especially important. A “Promising Practice” is to collect first-account interviews of learners regarding their positive experiences in the literacy program. We do this via “Literacy Stories,” which we have framed and prominently displayed during tutor trainings. Another tool that we use in monitoring learner outcomes is the issuing of Certificates of Achievement for all the goals set and accomplished by the learners.
Words of Advice:
Ten Tips for Terrific Tutor Trainings:
Costs and Funding:
Material costs for providing our new tutor trainings have been modest for the library system. The largest expense has been staff time.
Costs for Library System, excluding staff time:
Susan A. Mutschler
Cherie R. Byrnes
Written by Susan A. Mutschler, with a special thanks to my literacy colleagues:
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