Delia Pompa: Tutors are central to tutoring programs, obviously. So how should they be trained? What tutoring options are available for students in unique situations? Please join me for tutor training, specialized tutoring programs, part three of the Reading Rockets webcast, “Talking Tutoring.”
Narrator: Funding for the Reading Rockets Webcast series is provided by the United States Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs.
Delia Pompa: Hello, I’m Delia Pompa. In the previous segment of “Talking Tutoring,” we discussed some of the important elements in a strong tutoring program. In this segment, our panelists will discuss one more piece of the puzzle, tutor training. We’ll also explore specialized tutoring options. Welcome, Dr. Invernizzi, Ms. Prest, and Ms. Hoover.
And I’m going to start with you, Marcia. We’ve talked about lots of different tutoring programs, how many are available, what they do. Can you talk about the minimum requirements for training and qualifications?
Marcia Invernizzi: Well, that’s a complicated question. Because it kind of depends on your context and the scale. I know if when Carole has a chance to talk about her tutor training in BELL, it will be a lot different because of the scale.
I’ve been involved in three different tutoring models. So it’s a little complicated by my personal experience. In one situation, the McGuffy Reading Center, I’m dealing with graduate students. So their minimal requirements are getting into grad school.
But they have to have twelve hours of clinical practicum in our master’s degree to become a reading specialist. So that’s the… that’s one set of requirements. I’ve also been involved in volunteer reading tutorials, Book Buddies, and an adaptation of Book Buddies through the Experience Corps in New York.
And they each had different requirements. In the Experience Corps, of course, they had their own qualifications to be an experienced Corps member. But in addition to be a Book Buddy tutor in that particular program that I was researching in New York, they had to participate in an onsite training that lasted a week.
They had to take quizzes and tests and pass them. They had to provide a writing sample. So they had to demonstrate their own literacy. They had to be a high school graduate. And they had to be able to read and write well themselves.
In the Book Buddies program in Charlottesville, which is not through the Experience Corps, volunteers are recruited, trained by reading specialists who write the lesson plans, provide the materials and provide ongoing training throughout the year. They’re never left alone.
So they’re supervised by reading specialists six at a time. The minimal requirement for Book Buddies in Charlottesville would be, gosh, I would say a lack of a criminal record. Certainly they go through a screening process. Again, they do look for college graduates. But I can’t say for sure that all of them have been college graduates.
We have tutors from every walk of life in the Book Buddies program in Charlottesville, rock musicians, laundry cleaners, city council members.
Delia Pompa: An interesting mix.
Marcia Invernizzi: Attorneys, retired teachers. But they all have demonstrated love of reading and commitment to literacy. I do not believe as in New York did they… they don’t take a literacy test as they did in the Experience Corps.
But when you’re talking about a much larger scale as in the BELL model, you would have to be much more rigorous about your minimal requirements and screening. In Book Buddies, I think we simply screen for criminal records and talk to them about their love of reading and their experience with children. That’s another I would say minimal requirement is some experience with children.
Delia Pompa: Carole, you do have a large network of tutors. So do you think training should be continuous? Can a couple of intense days be the training teachers get or tutors get?
Carole Prest: No, we take training very, very seriously as Marcia mentioned. We’re providing tutors to work with over 12,000 children in five different states. And so training is an integral piece to how we run our program and guarantee results.
So in addition to a rigorous screening process to make sure we’re hiring the right people, they go though about fifteen to twenty hours of e-learning. It’s a web-based, interactive program. They have to pass every segment before they’re actually hired. And then after that, they go through additional classroom instruction.
Once they’re actually tutoring, we have a lead teacher and a site manager at every site who observes how they’re delivering the tutoring, models behavior if that’s appropriate. And then we do reviews of those tutors.
So how we train them, how we monitor them and then how we support them is critical to us in terms of delivering a quality program.
Delia Pompa: You described three different approaches and how much training the tutors got. But what sort of supervision and support should tutors get in any program?
Marcia Invernizzi: Oh, I was just going to say what Carole just said about the feedback. The modeling of the behaviors and the feedback is so important. Whether you’re talking about graduate students who are getting their master’s degree in reading education or whether you’re talking about volunteers or paid tutors through a program like BELL’s, the modeling, the ongoing supervision, the quality control and the feedback is absolutely essentially to any good tutoring program.
If I were a parent looking for a tutor for my own child, I would be very suspect of tutoring programs where tutors were left on their own without some kind of feedback, quality control, ongoing fidelity kind of mechanism in place. Because that is really, really critical.
Delia Pompa: And we’ve talked about a good fit between the child and the tutor. What does a good student/tutor relationship look like? And why is it important?
Anne Hoover: Well, it’s important because, as we all know, we learn better if it’s something that is meaningful to us and we want to learn. In a good student/tutor relationship, the child is usually anxious [in a good way] or at least neutral about going to tutoring. They don’t complain about it. Now, we all know that there are some children who kind of are chronic complainers.
Delia Pompa: They’re eager to get there.
Anne Hoover: Yes. But what we would like is a child to feel that they’re looking forward to their tutoring session because they are beginning to see success and the fact that they’re learning. And they have a special, I mean, not many children have the time to spend on a one-to-one or a two-or-three-to-one relationship with an adult for an hour twice a week or three times a week. If everything’s going right, it should be a positive experience.
Delia Pompa: Well, with all your experiences, can you give us a good example.
Anne Hoover: A time…
Delia Pompa: When there was a good fit, a good match.
Anne Hoover: When there was a good fit. Well, I could give you many examples. For the most part, that’s one of the things we almost take for granted in matching tutors with their students. We do do quality assurance by asking parents to give a rating to their tutoring, their tutor, each semester.
And by and large, that’s one of the things that we look for. The parent says how grateful they are and how much the child enjoys the tutoring and feels good about it.
Delia Pompa: So there are signs. They actually talked about…
Anne Hoover: They actually talk about it, absolutely. And years later, we have students who write back to say how much the tutor has changed their lives and enabled them to be successful in the academic world.
Delia Pompa: That is success.
Marcia Invernizzi: Very encouraging.
Delia Pompa: Yes.
Marcia Invernizzi: It is.
Delia Pompa: Carole, you’re currently involved in intensive interview process for your tutors. But you don’t just look at a person’s resume. What else do you look for?
Carole Prest: Well, more than anything else, we look about… look to their commitment and their passion for making a difference in the life of that child. So we go through a multi-stage screening process.
The first thing they have to do is provide a writing sample as Marcia was saying. If they’re going to be tutoring in literacy, we want to make sure that they can write a coherent sentence and that it is grammatically correct.
But beyond that, we look to see why are they doing this? Is this just a mechanism of gaining income? Or do they really want to make a difference in the life of that child? After that, they go through a phone screen. And then the third thing is they go through an in-person interview.
And then they have to complete the online e-learning system. So by the time they’ve gone through all of those stages, we’re pretty convinced that they’re here and they’re here for the right reason which is to change the life of that child.
Delia Pompa: The word commitment has come up a lot in these segments. Marcia, I know your Book Buddies program is staffed mainly by volunteers. How do you keep them returning year after year and dedicated and happy?
Marcia Invernizzi: We actually have volunteers who have been tutoring for almost fifteen years now. And that’s one of the things we’re most proud of in addition to the success that we’ve had with the children.
I think what keeps our volunteers coming back, at least in the Charlottesville Book Buddies program, is the success that they see visibly with their child. When they see their child learn to read and become a good reader and actually enjoy reading, they know what a difference they made in the life of that child. And they’re eager to repeat that experience.
I’ve had many volunteer tutors who have come to Book Buddies saying, you know, I’ve been involved in many other volunteer programs. But this is the first volunteer program I’ve ever participated in that’s been a planned experience where there’s a definite lesson plan that’s a framework, a structure. The materials are organized and prepared.
I have been trained and supported in delivering this lessons plan. And I get feedback at the end of every lesson plan. If I’m struggling with a part of the lesson plan, my Book Buddy coordinator, who is a reading specialist, steps in and demonstrates and models how to do that particular aspect.
They tell me their coordinator listens to them. So if they say this didn’t work, this part didn’t work, I struggled with that, the coordinator is right there the next time working that out. And either showing them how to do it properly or changing it, taking another tack.
So I think that that’s what makes them come back, the fact that they’re seeing their child learn to read. They’re seeing the success in their child. They bond to their child. They form relationships. And, um, they come to a planned situation that is structured and supported. So that they feel good about what they do. I think that’s the key.
Delia Pompa: At Kingsbury, the majority of kids you work with have learning disabilities. How does that impact the structure of the tutoring program?
Anne Hoover: Well, you’re right that many of the students that we see have learning disabilities. And it certainly affects the tutors that we choose. We train all of our tutors to work with students with learning disabilities, including dyslexia, the most common one. They must take two graduate level courses.
And so, it affects how they plan their lessons and how they communicate both to the student and the parent and the teacher if they’re involved, that this really is remedial work, that they need to start where they are. That they need to use a teaching method that takes advantage of their strengths rather than their weaknesses.
It focuses on their interests, if at all possible. And usually, it’s going to take a long time. We try to give them some hope by talking about famous people who have been successful in spite of the fact that they didn’t learn to read at seven years old. They may have been twelve, thirteen, fourteen. But with the proper help, they were successful.
Delia Pompa: Well, at the BELL program, you focus on inner city kids. Are there special considerations for working with these kids?
Carole Prest: I think part of it is to be sensitive and be culturally aware. As I mentioned before, we have selected books that specifically target our children because they’re sharing stories of hope, overcoming obstacles, community and democracy. So that’s part of it.
Part of it’s the training. Every one of our tutors goes through a culturally relevant segment of the training. You also have to be aware of the home situations they’re coming from. So when we enroll a child, we have the parents fill out a form to make sure we know how to reach a variety of people.
We also make sure that we understand who the child cannot go home with. So we are very focused on the child’s safety. And then we also want to make sure that whatever situation they find themselves born into, that that does not limit their possibilities to succeed in the world.
And so we want people who communicate that hope for that child and give them the academic skills. And also address the self-esteem issues to create a whole new life trajectory for them.
Delia Pompa: What about parents who find school intimidating? How do they react to the tutoring program? What do you do to bring them in and make them part of that?
Carole Prest: Well, one of the things we do is we try to make this a positive experience. Many of the parents that we’ve dealt with, the only time they get a call from school is when their child has acted up. And so before the program starts, every parent will get a phone call saying, hi. My name is Marcia. And I’m your tutor. And we’re really looking forward to having you in the program tomorrow.
And then every parent will get a phone call in that first week saying Anne did a phenomenal job today in read aloud. And you should be so proud of her. And when they start getting positive calls, then they want to become more part of the system.
Every parent gets a small word of encouragement and support every day that that child goes home. They get progress reports that focus on the positive. And we try to help them understand that they need to be involved in their child’s education for that child to succeed in school.
And we can make measurable improvements about how parents see themselves in terms of being engaged in their child’s education.
Delia Pompa: Great. English language learners, Marcia. How do tutoring programs help them, how do you adjust tutoring programs for them in order to serve them well and appropriately?
Marcia Invernizzi: That’s a really good question. And I’d say there are three parts to answering that question. Number one is to find out as much as you can about the native language and about their… any history of schooling, if any.
But so often, English language learners do quite well at the word level instruction in tutoring, but not as well with the text processing level of tutoring. Because background knowledge and vocabulary play such a big role in text level processing and comprehension.
And so these will need particular emphasis in working with English language learners. Because the language development component is so very, very important. Even English language learners who appear to have good social vocabulary, often referred to as basic interpersonal communicative skills, may have huge gaps in their academic, core academic vocabulary.
And there maybe unexpected gaps in their vocabulary knowledge as well. So that basic terms that we take for granted like paragraph or stanza or these kind of academic terms maybe missing. So we have to pay particular attention to vocabulary and language development in adjusting a tutoring program for English language learners.
Also, cultural aspects as well are very, very important. It’s very important to find out about the cultural background of students in your tutoring program. Because you don’t want to commit any taboos inadvertently and lose them because of something that you didn’t realize was not acceptable in their culture.
I always joke in Charlottesville to my graduate students that every tutor needs two books. One’s called, Kiss, Bow or Shake Hands, which is about cultural mores of the social interactions and taboos you don’t want to commit in working with students or anybody from a different culture.
And the other one is called Learner English. And it’s a great little book in which it lists for every language the phonemes that are in English that don’t exist in that language. And also the most glaring differences in syntax.
Because if you know what sounds in English don’t even exist in a student’s native language, then you can… you’ll know that you’ll have to pay particular attention to emphasize and be explicit about those and maybe even going attention to your mouth and using a mirror. But there are three things that I would adjust.
Delia Pompa: Quickly… Parents of these kids, the language barrier often can get in the way of good parent involvement on both sides. So how can these programs address that issue?
Marcia Invernizzi: Well, that’s a challenge, especially as we work with children from countries where nobody in the school or school system or community or very few people speak that language. That’s a particular challenge.
My own personal experience I working with the Book Buddies in the Bronx project was that almost all of the students were native Spanish speakers and almost all of the tutors were also native Spanish speakers.
Even as the tutoring was going on in English, often vocabulary questions came up or conceptual issues came up. And they would switch into Spanish and get it straightened out and then switch back into English. It was very fortuitous.
Unfortunately, that’s not always possible when you get children from countries where there aren’t other teachers or adults that speak that language. But where possible, it’d be great to find someone who can assist in that regard. And as much as you can find out about the parents’ language as well as their cultural expectations, the better the communication will be.
Collaboration, I should add, is key to working with not only English speaking, native English speaking, tutees, but particularly with our English language learners.
Delia Pompa: Carole, what’s the BELL experience with English language learners?
Carole Prest: Well, just as Marcia was saying, we made a point of trying to find a site leader and tutors who are fluent in whatever that other predominant language is for exactly the reasons that you mentioned.
The other thing, back to parent engagement, very often the parents are intimidated by going to the school. Because they think all the parent/teacher conferences have to be in English. And so we make a point of having the parent/teacher conferences in their native language as much as we can.
We print all of the outreach materials, whether it’s the parent handbook in whatever the language is, whether it’s Spanish or Haitian Creole or Bengali. And so we really make a point of trying to reach out to the parents and make them comfortable in whatever the native language is.
Delia Pompa: Thanks, everyone. We’ve reached the end of my questions. But in part four of our webcast, a studio audience will have questions from the front lines. I hope you’ll join us.
For more information about how you can help the struggling reader in your life and to watch the rest of this webcast, please visit us at www.readingrockets.org. And while you’re there, please let us know your thoughts. Click on webcast to find our online survey. Thank you for joining us and take care.
Narrator: Funding for the Reading Rockets Webcast series is provided by the United States Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs.
The experts talk about the qualifications of an effective tutor and the kind of tutor training that programs should provide. The panelists also discuss options for English language learners and kids with dyslexia.