Is it going to take a long time to get something like this started?
It doesn't have to, but it is definitely a longer term project. The time it takes to get going can actually be advantageous to you, giving you more time to figure out how you want everything to be organized. The timeline will also depend a lot on the availability of the trainer you make contact with through a nearby local literacy program.

How much work is it to start a program like this?
It is a lot of work up front, however this website should help streamline some of the initial considerations I wasted too much time figuring out near the beginning of Westland's program. I also recommend having at least 2 people work on it together--it reduces the workload and creates built in redundancy and longevity should one of you move to another library.

What can I do if we are a small library and don't have enough staff to support a literacy program? Or if there are no literacy programs anywhere nearby who are available to help?
You can still work on developing a literacy collection by ordering some of the titles available on New Readers Press.

How do you identify exactly where a learner is at?
Well, you don't identify exactly where a learner is at, but you can get a general idea. I use the QARI Word Test, which allows you to get a rough estimation of a learner's grade level by how many words they get right on five lists. Then you convert the grade levels to Adult Literacy categories: Beginner (K-2), Intermediate (3-5) and Advanced (6-8).

How do you know if a learner has a learning disability?
Simply put, you don't. It is complicated and expensive to get a legal diagnosis of a learning disability. It also doesn't really affect the approach we take in tutoring learners. In a classroom someone with a learning disability may ask for an accommodation (like extra time) that will help them learn or test more fairly. When you are doing 1-on-1 tutoring you are already taking such an individualized approach (trying different techniques till you find what works) with your learner that whatever you are doing would already be considered an accommodation in a classroom.

What do I do if a learner comes to me who seems too advanced for our program?
Sometimes you may get learners who come to you who's own ideas about how poorly they read are much higher than they actually are. Your tutors are really only trained to help people up to an 8th grade reading level. I would recommend referring a learner who "tests" above 8th grade to the local community college or any GED classes in your area. They may be disappointed to learn you can't help them, but they usually feel good to learn they are reading at a higher level than they thought.

What are the main start-up expenses?
The main two start-up expenses are paying for the tutor training (one reason why you want to make sure you have enough tutors to justify the expense, it usually costs $500-$1000) and the cost of building an adult literacy collection, which can completely vary depending on how much you want to put into it.

Should we try to serve both BL and ESL?
I would recommend trying to start with just one in order to keep your initial scope under control. Which area you're interested in may depend a lot on the population you are serving. I think BL is a little easier to accommodate because the learners typically come in at a steadier and more manageable rate. ESL populations can quickly tell all their friends that there is free tutoring available, so you may have a lot of people coming in all at once. BL learners don't usually tell their friends they are getting tutored. I think the easiest way a library can support ESL is to look into starting an ESL conversation group, which is something else you can discuss with your local literacy program.

Don't you need a lot of training to teach someone to read?
Reading specialists typically have a Master's degree in education. Ideally every adult with low reading skills could get their very own reading specialist to sit down and work with them for free every week. Since it typically doesn't work that way, trained literacy tutors are still a great alternative. The reason many of our learners did not succeed in school was because their teachers moved a little too fast or used techniques that did not match their learning style. The learner is still going to receive major benefits from having the individualized attention they needed and were not able to receive in school.

Why 1-on-1 tutoring? Could we do groups instead?
1-on-1 tutoring is simply more effective. Adult learners who were not able to learn to read in school, were probably not able to succeed in a group environment. Group classes would still help them, but they will move along more slowly than working with someone 1-on-1. Group classes are great, though, for ESL Conversation groups, because it gives learners the opportunity to talk to more than just one person in English.

Should the tutors and learners always meet at the library? What if we don't have enough meeting rooms?
Many programs do not have large enough locations for their tutor-learner pairs to meet on site, so this is a common issue. Most learners prefer to meet in quiet locations where the people around them do not know they are being tutored. You can always look into connecting with other community buildings and local churches to ensure there are enough private places for your pairs to meet. One thing you want to do is make it clear that no one should be meeting in private homes or traveling in the same car together for liability reasons.

What if the learner never shows up?
Sometimes tutors report that they have a learner who is often a no call/no-show. I always leave the decision up to the tutor on how much is too much. If a tutor has told me that they don't want to meet with a learner anymore because they are not coming and not notifying their tutor ahead of time, I take them at their word and give the learner another chance with another tutor if they want. However, I wouldn't waste more than two tutors on a learner who can't keep their commitment or communicate, especially when there is someone else who will come every week and would love to have a tutor volunteering their free time to help.

Do you let people set up assessments for someone else?
Everyone is different, but in my program I decided to stop allowing others to call me and set up an appointment for someone else to meet me for an assessment. I would tell them that I would be happy to answer any questions they had so they could pass our program's information along to a potential learner, but that learner had to contact me on his or her own volition to join the program. I found that when others were advocating too much for someone else, the person they were trying to help wasn't necessarily the person interested in improving their reading, rather it was the family member or social worker who set up the appointment. Making this rule definitely helped me reduce some of our learner attrition.

Who can I share learner information with?
Learner information should be kept as private as possible. You should try to find a way to secure any digital or physical files you have about learners. The only people who should be able to access them are those administer your program and then of course the tutor you assign a learner to.

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