Basic Reading

Where are the low-level learners?

 
 
Picture of Rob Podlasek
Where are the low-level learners?
by Rob Podlasek - Thursday, 22 February 2007, 10:28 AM
 

Programs have reported having fewer and fewer low-level American-born literacy students. What has your experience been? Why do you think we aren't seeing those types of students as much as we used to?

Picture of Marn Frank
Re: Where are the low-level learners?
by Marn Frank - Thursday, 1 March 2007, 3:26 PM
 

Hey Rob! I am trying to get more familiar with high technology. As we have discussed, the low-level American-born learners are out there...but they may not be attending ABE for a variety of reasons.

Here are a few: (1) Most are working and they tend to work in labor-intensive jobs. They are tired and may not have the energy it takes to study and learn. (2) They also tend to be easily discouraged and if they don't sense that they will "get what they need" from very busy ABE programs, they may not enroll or persist.

When I have the privilege of working with these learners, I spend a lot of time getting past all of their failures, resistance, emotions, and questions. I have to constantly encourage them and provide incremental progress reports (# words spelled correctly, # words read in one minute). It seems to require the luxury of one-to-one or very small group and confidentiality.

Marn

Picture of Paula Freiermuth
Re: Where are the low-level learners?
by Paula Freiermuth - Sunday, 18 March 2007, 9:06 PM
 

We have a number of low level learners in our program because of the Liberian immigrants. So on the one hand, the American low-level learners have the option of attending classes that fit their level. I think that is one thing that low level learners might be missing other places. We can take an American who might just know their alphabet and put him/her in a class where 8 other people are at the same level. The socialization of the class helps them succeed.

On the other hand, the fact that most of the learners we have are Liberian is -- what's the best word? -- off-putting to Americans. Younger Americans in particular have strong discriminatory responses to nonAmerican blacks. We have had success when the American low level learner is over 60.

Marn's comment about using one-on-one works in our program. While the learners have classes, they also have time with volunteers or in-class volunteers who work with just one or two. It seems to work no matter what the ethnicity.

I think another reason low-level American learners don't come is that they can have a level of success because they know how to get around the American culture. NonAmerican learners often get stuck and see school as a mechanism to learn the culture. Also most of the nonAmericans I work with see education as a privilege and value; something that wasn't available to them in their own countries. I think the nonAmerican low level learners who don't value education are just as unlikely to attend ABE as the American low lever learners.

Paula Freiermuth

Picture of Marn Frank
Re: Where are the low-level learners?
by Marn Frank - Thursday, 22 March 2007, 6:04 PM
 

I know what Paula means by "off-put". Some American-born adults who cannot read are uncomfortable being placed with ESL adults learning language and literacy skills. I don't think it is a racial issue, but rather an emotional issue - it makes them feel bad all over again about their lack of literacy skills. Here they have been in the USA their whole life, attended school, and they still can't read????

In fact, I have heard this exact story from several adults who are receiving one-to-one tutoring through a scholarship program at LDA. There are very strong emotions tied to life-long reading difficulties. I think we need to be aware of that when we make educational decisions for this population. However, I realize the pressure to generate contact hours and make level change also drives educational decisions...

What do tutors need to be successful with this population?

Marn Frank

Picture of Astrid Liden
Re: Where are the low-level learners?
by Astrid Liden - Wednesday, 4 April 2007, 3:14 PM
 
In addition to training on effective instructional strategies, tutors working with this population will need to be very patient and encouraging. In their training, we also need to raise their awareness about where learners are coming from in terms of challenging educational and life experiences.
Susan WB
Re: Where are the low-level learners?
by Susan Wetenkamp-Brandt - Thursday, 5 April 2007, 9:42 AM
 
Very interesting discussion. Many urban learning centers are now set up to focus on ESL learners rather than native learners. I think that the native learners may feel this and think to themselves that this place is not set up for them. They may feel marginalized. In diversity trainings they often talk about how learning centers can visually make their programs more welcoming for ESL learners by putting up world maps or posters that help include people from other countries. Maybe native learners need to feel, through visual input or through the actions of staff and instructors that their place in the learning center is an important one.
Picture of Marn Frank
Re: Where are the low-level learners?
by Marn Frank - Thursday, 5 April 2007, 11:53 AM
 

Excellent point! The visual and/or auditory message might be: "We are glad you are here. We want to work with you. We realize it will take a lot of our time and your time. It may also require special teaching or tutoring, but your need and desire to learn to read is important too."

This message may be in conflict with "mandated large-scale testing, level change, student progress, accountability..."

BIG QUESTION: How can we provide a balance to programs, teachers, and tutors considering all of the demands from above?

Picture of Paula Freiermuth
Re: Where are the low-level learners?
by Paula Freiermuth - Monday, 16 April 2007, 5:41 PM
 

Two thoughts about Marn's last comments.

First is the difference in backgrounds of the two types of learners. The non-American born come to our programs from a culture of "lack." The learners lacked the financial, cultural, infrastructural, etc. means to attend school. They didn't have the opportunity. This strikes home fro me every day when a young learner in my lowest writing class thanks me for teaching him every day. He recognizes that education is a privelige that can help him.

The American born has the opportunity to go to school, yet I feel they come to our programs from a culture of "failure." School was not a success for them. If they lacked the skills to succeed in school, they were placed in special classes. If there behavior was disruptive, they were placed in in-school suspension or outright suspended from school. School was the place where they didn't do well. When these learners come to our programs, it's a lot harder to make them feel that they can learn with us because they haven't learned anywhere else.

So in addition to making our programs inviting and welcoming, we need to make sure the learners know that we care about them and that their success if possible. With all the testing we have to do, I think we let some of the learners fall back into that "culture of failure." We have to make sure the students know that the testing does not indicate their failure.

When students ask me if they failed the test, I say the test is not one they can fail or pass. The test tells us where there are right now and that is where they are supposed to be. Success doesn't come from the test results; it comes from what they are able to do now that they couldn't before.

Paula

Susan WB
Re: Where are the low-level learners?
by Susan Wetenkamp-Brandt - Monday, 16 April 2007, 9:17 PM
 

That's really beautiful Paula. I do agree. Whenever I work with ABE learners I can feel their fear of not being able to learn or fear of being minimized or humiliated because of where they are in their learning progress as opposed to where they feel they should be. I like your concrete example of how to respond to test results. Maybe we could make a list of positive comments for sensitive questions.

Picture of Marn Frank
Re: Where are the low-level learners?
by Marn Frank - Tuesday, 17 April 2007, 2:38 PM
 

In response to thoughtful comments from Paula and Nima:

I think ABE teachers need to think past required CASAS and TABE testing. Ongoing assessment - such as the percent correct on reading/spelling lists and oral reading rates and rubrics (Paula?) - provide alternative measures of progress. They keep easily discouraged students informed of their progress on a daily or weekly basis with the potential to increase persistence and motivation. Low-level readers need to know of their incremental progress; not just progress measured by silent reading comprehension tests.

I am now getting down from my soapbox.

What a great discussion!

Marn

Picture of Paula Freiermuth
Re: Where are the low-level learners?
by Paula Freiermuth - Tuesday, 17 April 2007, 4:27 PM
 

This year I've started recording student progress on in class assessments in all of my classes (writing TABE 1.6 thru 5.9 and GED/College Prep). The students really like it. We usually have a spelling quiz at the lower levels each week. Then there are review activities for the skills we're learning. Every time we do a writing assignment (envelopes, letters, paragraphs, essays), I give it a wholistic score based on my rubrics (I have many of them now). Often, the students help create the new rubrics. Each quarter, I review with the students the skills list for their level and let them know what they have mastered and what they have not. It's sort of like giving them a report card. They keep it in their portoflio along with samples and review it periodically. It works great. As teachers we use our in class assessment records along with TABE scores to move students up to their next class. When we explain that it's a compliation of test score and math, reading, and writing class performance, there's more understanding and acceptance of decisions. Students know what their strengths and weaknesses are. It works for all levels and all ethnicities because we can individualize it with the student in our conferences. It does take some extra time, but not that much.

Paula

Picture of Paula Freiermuth
Re: Where are the low-level learners?
by Paula Freiermuth - Tuesday, 17 April 2007, 4:27 PM
 

This year I've started recording student progress on in class assessments in all of my classes (writing TABE 1.6 thru 5.9 and GED/College Prep). The students really like it. We usually have a spelling quiz at the lower levels each week. Then there are review activities for the skills we're learning. Every time we do a writing assignment (envelopes, letters, paragraphs, essays), I give it a wholistic score based on my rubrics (I have many of them now). Often, the students help create the new rubrics. Each quarter, I review with the students the skills list for their level and let them know what they have mastered and what they have not. It's sort of like giving them a report card. They keep it in their portoflio along with samples and review it periodically. It works great. As teachers we use our in class assessment records along with TABE scores to move students up to their next class. When we explain that it's a compliation of test score and math, reading, and writing class performance, there's more understanding and acceptance of decisions. Students know what their strengths and weaknesses are. It works for all levels and all ethnicities because we can individualize it with the student in our conferences. It does take some extra time, but not that much.

Paula