With the month of June comes the end of the school year. Here at Literacy Nassau, it means the end of post-test season. With the student path established last fall (see graphic below), we need to be intentional about improving the language skills of our English language learners.
Change often presents great opportunity and opens doors to growth for both tutor and student. It also enables Literacy Nassau and its tutors to provide services to as many of the highest needs students as we can. This month, we thought we would give you an inside look at the process from the perspective of some of our staff members.
Umama: A few years ago, when I started learning Spanish, I heard a quote, “Do one thing that scares you every day.” It continues to resonate with me and attests to the idea that we need to go outside of our comfort zone in learning a new language. My fear was talking to people and making mistakes. Luckily, I had a friend who was willing to help me for free. I worked with him on and off for about a year, practicing whatever I learned in my everyday life. I would look up words every day and try to use them. I would tell people to repeat or slow down when I didn't understand. He encouraged me by giving me resources and I would add my own strategies to help me learn better. Eventually, I noticed that I was starting to go out on my own and didn't need to talk to him as often as I thought I did. We need to encourage adult learners to accept all those nerves and feelings of fear and use that fear as a motivator to help themselves learn.
Alison: One of the most difficult conversations I had with my student was explaining that I had taken her as far as I could. While she had partially achieved her goal by working in the classroom as a paraprofessional, she still yearned to lead her own class here in the U.S. as she had done in India. In her case, we worked together to help her locate resources through the UFT to help her prepare for the teaching certification exams. While I no longer actively tutor my student, I have made the commitment to still be there for her as a resource, and it’s always fun to see her!
Ocaria: There comes a time in our language acquisition that we go from learning new words and phrases to actually using them and incorporating them into everyday conversation. As a 1-to-1 tutor, you have become so comfortable with your student and worked hard to build a rapport based on trust. Because of this trust and level of comfort, it could prevent the student once again to step outside of their comfort zone and speak to others and practice! As the manager of the small group program, I want to reassure the 1-to-1 tutors that in the small group, students get that opportunity to practice all that they’ve learned from you. Students often tell me how happy they are that they can practice with their peers and listen to different accents and pronunciations. After the 10-week program, they move onto learning more intensive grammar, group work and projects in our ELL classroom instruction. This gives them the skills they need to pursue other educational opportunities outside of Literacy Nassau. Let’s keep contributing to this positive cycle of growth!
Barbara: Adult language learners are not all the same. We have different aptitudes and preferences for how we learn language best. Aptitudes can be physiological, such as well-developed auditory discrimination, which means that the sounds (pronunciation) of another language can be heard and replicated easily. Other aptitudes can be psychological, such as the hesitancy (reluctance, shyness, fear) to speak “in public.” Literacy Nassau is fortunate to have exceptionally caring volunteers who want only one thing: for their students to be successful with English. It is not uncommon for our students to experience less than optimal opportunities to practice and use their English speaking skills outside of the two hour weekly lessons with their tutor. Enter: small group instruction - - the solution for speaking more English!
The Literacy Nassau pathway for learners allows a student who has progressed from the beginner to intermediate level to become immersed in a small, dynamic class of 6 to 8 students maximum. In these classes students are presented with authentic opportunities to practice and use spoken English in a non-threatening, yet empowering environment. As a volunteer tutor, you have done everything humanly possible to prepare your student for the next step in his/her English language journey. Similar to all human beings who must move from one growth phase of their lives to another, leaving the comfort zone of the one-to-one tutor nest, and flying to small group instruction will allow students to take responsibility for their own learning and successfully continue their journey.