Mixed-Format New Tutor Training Available

The Hillsborough Literacy Council has changed its training format, and we are seeing some good progress so far. As many of you know, the old training format was a 5-hour session that took place about four times a year, and we would average about twenty people per session. That meant that in between sessions, there was nothing to get people going, and we were possibly losing new tutors before we got them trained. Now, we have a hybrid format that gets people going much more quickly. It is half online, and half in-person. 

We have developed an online training module using an online course software made by Google. It’s not a perfect solution, but we are tweaking as we go along. Now, whenever ten people or so have filled out the application to become a tutor, we enroll them in the online class. Then, they can work through the class at their pace. When they are finished, they can choose a time and location for the face to face training, which is no longer five hours…it’s only two!

There are other benefits to this format as well. First, all new tutors have online access to training materials that they can review at their leisure. Also, tutors can meet one another through the software and share their thoughts and responses to the online assignments. Furthermore, instead of only meeting four times a year, we offer in-person training at least once a month, but usually twice. This helps us get people trained and tutoring a student much faster. 

The in-person training also serves a different function now. Whereas in the past the in-person training covered everything a tutor needed to know about working with the HLC, we now use our face to face time to work directly with the tutoring materials and help new tutors feel more comfortable with tutoring. All other information is covered in the online portion of the training, such as how to request materials, where to report hours, etc. All of this has shown a potential to increase our overall tutor intake, despite having smaller groups per in-person session.

So, now might be a good time for anyone interested in volunteering to go ahead and send in that application! We can get you trained and tutoring on a schedule that may be more amenable to your needs. And if you are already tutoring, tell anyone you meet that it’s easier and quicker than ever to become a tutor for the Hillsborough Literacy Council! 

Book Recommendation: Picture Stories

I would like to take just a brief moment here simply to point you to a video I made about a book in our Adult New Reader (ANR) Collection called Picture Stories. I think HLC tutors may enjoy using it in a lesson or two. You’ll hear all about it in the video, and have a look for yourself.

There are many resources that we have in the ANR collection that I would like to raise awareness about, so I plan to do more of these videos in the future. If you have used a book from the ANR collection that you think is great, let me know, and I’ll make a video about it. 

To refresh everyone’s memory, the ANR collection consists of English language learning books, adult easy reading books, some dictionaries, and teaching resources as well. The collection is located in every library branch in the system, usually right after the Spanish language books. These books circulate like regular library books, which means they go out for three weeks at a time, and can be renewed twice. Also, if you don’t see this book (or any book you are interested in) at your location, you simply look it up in the catalog and place a hold for it so it will be sent to you. If you need help with that, just ask the librarian!

So, enjoy the video. I hope you give this book a try! 

Hillsborough Literacy Council to Offer 6-Week, Classroom Format Sessions

As many of you know, the Hillsborough Literacy Council does not offer any educational experiences in a classroom format, nor do we have any shorter-term volunteering opportunities. Well, I am pleased to announce that we are addressing both of those issues in one swoop by designing a series of six-session courses that focus on English that students encounter in their daily lives. Test runs of the courses will be occurring over the next few months. 

The courses focus on various themes that language learners encounter in their daily lives such as English for the Citizenship Test, Communicating with Your Children’s School, English for Medical Visits, and On the Job English. Tutors are not required to grade students or give homework, and there are no certificates or other credentials offered to those who complete the course. Student participants will register for the courses through the library system’s online calendar, and in some cases, they will need to purchase a text book at the typical rate of five dollars. Class size will be capped at twenty participants per run.

The courses all include six-sessions of two hours, and can be hosted by volunteers once or twice a week. The courses are also intended to be an option for volunteers who cannot commit to tutoring over extended periods of time throughout the year, but would still like to help. The program is designed to be led by anyone, regardless of teaching experience, and the content of the courses currently aims for mid-level (for our program) students. We will be working on a process to try to screen participants before courses begin in order to avoid filling seats with people who will not benefit from the program. 

We are planning on launching our first test-run of a course, English Lessons: American Civics (English for the citizenship test), in May at the Town ‘N Country Regional Library. We will be communicating with tutors and Conversation Corner leaders to promote this session among our current students. We will also focus heavily on waiting students as our first enrollees.

After test-runs of the first few programs, tutors will be able to lead a program, but please note that only a few people at a time will be able to do so because of limited demand, tutoring space and time. Furthermore, there will be a few stipulations. Anyone who wishes to facilitate a course will have to observe a session or two or take a supplemental training beforehand.  

More details will come as we move towards concretizing the process. We hope that these courses will be a new opportunity to serve more students, and a helpful way to attract tutors with less availability. And of course, we are hoping that the experience will be a new source of fun and interest for all members of the Hillsborough Literacy Council! 

Renew the Spring in Your Literacy Step

Spring! It’s that time of year when we are surrounded by renewal and rebirth. Now, without slipping too far into the poetic, I would like to offer some inspiration to all of our wonderful tutors out there who may be looking to reinvigorate themselves and their tutoring this spring, just like a fresh magnolia flower. So, I came up with the following list of three ways to bring new thinking and energy to your tutoring.

Put limits on yourself or your student to renew your thinking
Have you ever seen an old karate movie where the wise master helps the trainee to improve their skills by tying the trainee’s hands behind their back and making them learn to fight with just their nose or something? Or, remember the scene in Star Wars when Luke has to learn to use his light saber while blindfolded? I know you remember that scene, right? Sometimes a good way to get to a new place is to take away a tool that you have come to depend on. Take that tool away, and you’ll be forced to think creatively.

For example, perhaps your student has a certain phrase they like to use. Often times students will develop a general phrase that can serve as a catch all for many occasions.  The problem is that these phrases are usually vague. If you notice one that your student relies on, prohibit it for the lesson and work with them to make a handful of replacement phrases. This will help them become more sophisticated in their language use. Some great examples are any phrases that use the words “things,” “stuff,” “people.” These types of words don’t really express anything. 

To illustrate, work to change, “I need to learn new things” into “I need to learn to speak to people at the store,” then to, “I need to speak to the clerks at the supermarket.” Take away, but build something new with your student and see what happens. Or, prohibit Google Translate, and put the monolingual dictionary on the table. What change does that make?

Is this just “a person?”

Also, if you, the tutor, have any crutches that you use when tutoring, analyze yourself and try going without them to see how that energizes your thinking. You know what I mean…how many times have you used that one activity you love so much? Heck, maybe there’s a phrase you use that you could give up. You never know when a small change is going to snowball into a whole new way of tutoring. 

Throw away the tools 
While we’re at it…what if we just threw away all of the tools we are using. Don’t panic! I don’t mean forever. If you’ve been tutoring awhile, you might notice that the lessons in the books can be a bit repetitive. Don’t forget that we have games and other supplies you can use to take a break from the book. Also, from time to time, make it a goal to not open the book at all. Instead, talk to your student and let them try to express to you what they really want to say. You’ll find out more about what they really need to learn as well. Don’t forget what I told you above; however, you might need to talk with them for a while to get to the specifics. This will be the fun part!

There’s actually a movement in some educator circles to do away with formal materials completely and let all learning originate with the students. This is a controversial idea, but something that is worthy of thought. I wouldn’t advocate permanently getting rid of the books, especially for volunteer teachers, but I whole-heartedly support doing so periodically. I would recommend having an approach—something to guide your discussion at least—and see what comes out of it. Come in with the goal of finding something the student wants to learn, and help them get there with a few impromptu lessons or even a walk around the neighborhood, if that would fit the bill.

Find your tribe
One final thing I would recommend is, of course, talk to like minded people as much as you can! Nothing energizes us quite like seeing and hearing what our peers are doing. They can inspire us, and you can inspire them. You’ll feel more confident and creative when  you hear about the ways other tutors have tried ideas.

So, don’t forget the many ways we provide to help tutors connect to one another. The first is our quarterly meet and greets, the times and locations of which are posted on our web page. Secondly, please join our Facebook group for tutors. Here you will be able to talk directly to one another about any topics that you like. And finally, right here on this blog is a comments section for every post. If you don’t see it, click on the title of the blog post you would like to comment on, and you should go to a screen that has a comment box right below the post. 

So, go out there and experiment this spring. And don’t forget to share your experiences to let the rest of us know what you discover.

Using YouTube in a Tutoring Session

I have some good news! The HLC has been awarded an American Dream Grant from the American Library Association and Dollar General Stores. With this grant we plan to purchase tablet computers to use for a series of citizenship classes and for use in our daily HLC tutoring sessions! We are very excited.

With that in mind, I thought I would take this opportunity to think about ways we can use the tablets in our tutoring sessions. They will come pre-loaded with some applications, and I am sure I will talk more about most of them in the future. What I would like to start out talking about is using YouTube in a tutoring session.

There are a variety of ways and reasons for using video in your lesson. The first is that adult learners appreciate and excel with visual learning materials. Video is an excellent, multi-sensory resource that can activate learning in the brain. Many of our students are almost certainly using YouTube to learn many things, so we can use our new tablets to augment those activities.

There are multiple features on the YouTube platform, and many ways to approach a learning situation with YouTube that I would like to discuss. Perhaps some of you have some favorite videos and approaches that you are already using. If so, tell us about them in the comments!


Closed Captioning
One good use of the videos is to have spoken words, and visual stimulus at the same time. Most ESL students may already know this, but YouTube has closed captioning for each video. In the YouTube App, which works slightly differently than on your computer, you select the menu in the top right corner (three vertical dots). There you will find the option to turn on the Closed Captioning.

One word of warning, the captions are computer generated most of the time, and they can contain various errors. Also, although literacy students can see words as they are being spoken, you’ll probably need to find a video that has words at their level. This can be a challenge.

Finally, you don’t need to use closed captioning all the time. After all, we want people to learn how to hear the words and know what they are, so try watching a video without the captioning, talk about what the learner understood and what they didn’t (ask them comprehension questions), then watch a final time or two with the captions on.

Speed control
Another feature of YouTube is that is has the ability to slow (or speed up) the video. Of course, this is very handy for language learners. The option to change the playback speed is located in the same menu in the top right of the video.

List save
One other option that you may find handy, especially if you look at videos beforehand, is to make a list. To do this, at the top of the video you will see an icon with three lines and a plus sign. Press on this, and you will see a line pop up saying “Saved to Favorites.” There will also be the word “Change” in that pop up. Press “Change” and you will get more options, including to make a new list instead of saving to your favorites. You will have a few options, like “Watch Later,” but you can go ahead and make a list called “Tutoring” if you want, and then save videos there.


Of course, there are myriad videos about ESL. They will range from lessons about grammar, speech, pronunciation, to going to the store. You can look at videos of language lessons if you want to, but these aren’t really a priority unless you are trying to answer a learner’s specific question about a grammar form, per se.

Pop culture or topic specific videos
Take a look at some of these from time to time to add spice to your tutoring sessions. These will be fun and entertaining for both the student and tutor. You can really watch any video you want so long as you have a technique for incorporating the video content or language input into your session. One of the best ways to do this is to have a pre-discussion session where you talk about some ideas or information you may get from the video based on its title, or an image from the video. You may want to discuss any vocabulary that is important to understanding the video. Then watch the video (numerous times, with closed captioning, slowed down if you want). Afterwards, discuss what you saw. Discuss what was learned from the video. Interpret the video. Just describe the video. You be the judge, based on the level of your learner.

Many learners love music. You can use YouTube to find all kinds of music videos, music games, and karaoke. One popular activity is to make a fill in the blank form for the song where you give the learner some of the words, but leave out keywords that you want them to listen for. Often times, you can find these pre-made on the internet.

Some final Advice
Try to watch videos in advance. You probably want to know what you’re facing before you get into it. Be especially aware of certain music videos, which may be a bit racy or have language you may not appreciate. You be the judge. And, all you have to do is practice the approach of talking before watching, watching, and talking after watching, and you have a lesson!