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Tutor's Challenge:
Sustaining commitment

Adult Literacy Center

The most exciting part about tutoring an adult is the feeling you are doing something important and worthwhile. The hardest part is the feeling that you are failing and wasting the adult's and your own time.

I enjoy my sessions with my adult. He says he does too. He hardly ever misses a class. But I know he is not learning and I think sometimes he is not even trying. He never brings in things from home as promised. Sometimes we spend entire sessions just chatting and never read. I know just chatting is good but it is not the same as using the time to really help someone learn to read.

My challenge to fellow tutors, adult literacy students, researchers and anyone involved in adult literacy is simple: How can I keep myself going?

*Sara is really three adult literacy tutors who presented this issue orally. They have been tutoring for varying periods of time but none for more than three months. I tried to keep their wording and voice here. nb

Reader's Responses! :
acceptance date: 1/29/96

    Response #1 - Clarify roles/goals

    Set learning goals for your students and create a plan for reaching these goals. Each session reassess your student's progress toward these goals. Regularly discuss with the student why he came into the program. Ask what he hoped would be different. Tell him that it is your job as tutor to make sure sessions are productive. His job is to do a few tasks at home so he builds on what is learned. Together plan something he can and will do.

    Response #2 - Provide wider recognition

    I, too, have had students like that in my program. One tutor when faced with such a person, suggested the two of them write a play. They described and then assumed the role of the characters and worked out a situation and dialogue.Then they wrote out the play. The play was a short humorous skit about a wily man, two women and a cop. Professional actors (friends of the tutor) gave a dramatic reading of the play at an in-house program and again at a public program. The student loved watching his work being performed. This definitely improved his language. It also captured and held his interest.

    Response #3 - Reading material

    Although new strategies to try are not always the answer to tutor and learner motivation, they are something to consider. New strategies are available in a new four book set called Literacy Resource Series. This set is available (at $19.95) through the Curriculum Publications Clearinghouse at Western Illinois University, Malcomb IL. 61455. Call 309-298-1917.

    Response # 4

    It sounds like you are doing a good job helping your adult with self esteem. Because you communicate so well , maybe language experience stories , where you write down what the adult says and the adult reads it back to you would be helpful. At some point as your adult chats, say:�Let�s write that down .� Write as he chats. Then say �Great. Read that back and we can add some more.� You can branch this out to independent writing. Start with short segments -then move to stories . It can be a big help. (Lisa)

    Response # 5

    I run a volunteer literacy program for a homeless shelter in Palm Springs. I also volunteer at the local library for their literacy program. I have run into this problem and what I have done is have the learner write down his goals for reading in the first session. Basically, I ask them why they want to improve their reading skills. I point to this statement at the beginning of the session --and when needed, as a gentle reminder of what we are trying to accomplish. This usually put the motor of motivation back into gear. ( Rich)

    Response # 6

    Let the adult know this is not a one-sided activity. Use his chats to identify what interests him and what would inspire him to read. He must commit to putting in real effort as well. I am of the firm belief that tutors many times unwittingly �enable� a student to continue in attitude and actions that say I cannot read. and I cannot learn. (Anita)

    Response # 7 Model Reading

    How can I keep myself going? If the student has not had the opportunity to see or hear readers modeling good reader habits, their perspective of reading is limited. Our ESL students need models to read to them first. Tutors read aloud to them at least 10 minutes every session. This may seem very simplistic but the results are soon evident.

    Response # 8 Keep a Journal

    Begin a student journal. Each session ,or every other session, ask the student to write a short paragraph or whatever he/she is capable of. Keep them in a folder or two or three ring binder. Watch the progress as it slowly unfolds. Topics can include reactions to the latest news, family stories, work, or any topic of interest to the student. Make it different each time. It is motivating because your student will make progress.

    Response # 9

    Some students just simply need to be read the riot act.


    Response # 10

    I have used the most unusual things to promote interest in reading. My student has brought in his cable bill, the registration slip and instruction booklet for a new rifle he purchased, and a piece of "junk mail" asking him to join a music club. We have discussed the various aspects of each and made decisions accordingly. I always let him fill out the necessary forms. I was surprised to learn that he does not know when to use a period, a question mark, etc. at the end of a sentence. When you explore various areas, you learn what they need. I've found the resource material provided by the literacy program to be only mildly helpful, because it really doesn't interest my student. You have to give them real life applications to hold their interest at that age (he is 38).
    name: rday@powertel.com