Statewide  Release

Tutor Newsletter ~ February 2017 
Welcome to TLC’s Tutor Newsletter

Tutors of Literacy in the Commonwealth (TLC) provides tutor training and tutor coordinator support to adult literacy programs in Pennsylvania. Services provided by TLC are free of charge and available to all Pennsylvania adult literacy programs using volunteer tutors. Please feel free to contact us with your requests and suggestions. 

Tutor Stories

Connie ~ Tutor from Altoona Area School District

Connie has been a valued volunteer tutor at the Altoona Area School District (AASD) Adult Education Tutor Program since October of 2010. She learned of the opportunity from an article in the "Altoona Mirror," the local newspaper, advertising a tutor training. Just retired from teaching elementary school children, Connie thought working with adults would be challenging, while keeping her involved with education. Connie usually tutors one-on-one, but has also worked with a small group of students.

At the present time, Connie is working with a student who is preparing for the TOEFL (the Test of English as a Foreign Language) exam. The student finds the speaking component of the test the most difficult. The challenge is two-fold. First, proper pronunciation and grammar are required. Second, the student also needs knowledge of the American style of life, which can be difficult since the student does not have the same experiences as someone native to the United States. To prepare for the test, Connie and the student have relied on TOEFL test books and TOEFL websites. Connie has also prepared questions that simulate the test question format. In their sessions together, Connie and the student work on vocabulary development and idioms. They frequently discuss current and local events as well as environmental issues.

Connie is also working with an ESL student who has a degree in math education in her home country and is seeking a high school equivalency certification - in this case, a GED® - to improve her job prospects here in the United States. She chose to start with the writing section of the GED® because she feels this is the most difficult section for her. The student and Connie are working with Steck-Vaughn's Complete Pre-GED Preparation book to develop the steps to good writing and uses of grammar. The learner shows a lot of enthusiasm for her written expression by writing to the topic provided, however, she wants to expand her vocabulary. They have used several websites to enrich vocabulary, especially with homonyms, synonyms, and antonyms. Through TLC’s website,, Connie found excellent lists of academic  and signaling words to help with writing and reading. She has also found a variety of ways to help teach new vocabulary.

Recently, Connie worked with a student who achieved her goal. When the student entered the tutoring program she wanted help with correct pronunciation so she would be understood by other people. She had attended university classes in both her home country of Turkey and in the United States, but a period of time had elapsed since she took classes and she decided to enter the workforce. They worked on difficult consonant pronunciation, while spending most of their time on vowel sounds. The student practiced and read out loud to her children between tutoring sessions. She also wanted experience with her interviewing skills so Connie prepared questions and helped her practice and gain confidence. After several jobs involving education, this former student is now the director of a STEM program.

Connie enjoys working with people and finds it rewarding to help them meet their goals. The challenges of meeting the needs of the learners help her to grow. Meeting new students has brought engaging and enriching experiences through the friendships and exchanges of lifestyles. She emphasizes to the students that they are doing the hard work to reach their goals. Connie is there to help and be a resource as they meet their needs. She is their cheerleader all of the way.

Paul ~ ESL Tutor from Keystone Opportunity Center

Paul has been an ESL tutor with Keystone Opportunity Center (KOC) for approximately three years. He found Keystone after searching local volunteer opportunities. His twenty year volunteer history includes a variety of positions, not limited to: weekly therapy dog visits at a nursing home with his Labrador Retriever, Drifter, for several years, tele-mentoring, Hurricane Sandy cleanup in NJ, park cleanups, tutoring a Sudanese boy in high school algebra, and science fair judging. After this variety, Paul wanted to add to his experience by working through a local organization.

When possible, he has gravitated toward instructional roles such as teaching, training, and mentoring, and has found it especially rewarding to work with people with international backgrounds. During his MS program, he tutored adult basic education students. During his doctoral program he helped found and lead an international agriculture student group, and went on some international trips. His Peace Corps experience showed him what it is like to feel different and culturally disoriented, while also feeling restless and determined to find one’s way and “make it.” Paul has always found it rewarding to work with people who are driven to learn and succeed, as well as people who just need a break - maybe a hand up the first step or two or the ladder to success. Working with Keystone gives him these kinds of opportunities.

Each of Paul’s assignments at Keystone has been long term, one-on-one tutoring with an adult learner. He finds himself becoming each learner’s biggest fan, his or her cheering section, and not just someone helping the student learn something new. He especially likes to think that in some way he has helped the learner through a certain challenge - maybe a beginning step on his or her career path in the U.S. 

Through Keystone, Paul has had the privilege of working with learners from very distinct backgrounds: a native English speaker who wanted to read and write better so he could improve his lot in life, a young aspiring professional who needed help getting through a professional board exam, and a mid-career professional from Latin America who needed to make a new start in the U.S. These individuals have stories that can make the listener cry - and laugh - and they never cease to inspire Paul. Each learner is the very picture of resilience.    

Paul is constantly searching for appropriate materials for each learner. For English grammar, he likes He feels The Purdue Online Writing Lab is a good academic resource. For reading at different levels of proficiency, he finds Newsela to be a great resource. The best tools he has found for TOEFL (the Test of English as a Foreign Language) preparation are probably the books with CDs that can give the learner computer-based experience. He thanks tutor coordinator Szilvi for several of these suggestions. 

At times, Paul has searched for more specific resources, such as for cosmetology board exam preparation. While there are numerous online resources for this exam preparation, most seem uncurated, some a little suspect, and many do not have desired features such as scoring. Paul ended up generating his own computer-based exams - addressing all the relevant topics - from curated texts, question sets and exam resources so that the learner could essentially take an authentic topic exam and get the score immediately upon completion. He did not want to waste time in sessions “grading papers.” The student successfully passed her exam! 

Helping these adults achieve their goals, especially those learners with skills and proficiency and a sense of urgency, is challenging because while neither tutor nor student wants to waste time, they need to determine where instruction needs to begin. For instance, whether taking board or TOEFL exams, or developing confidence in speaking situations, part of the game is knowing how to take the “test” (strategy), and being comfortable with the format (especially for computer-based testing). It may be that the way the students were taught to study can be a limitation, so learning systematic study skills can be helpful. And of course, language can be a barrier, not just for new speakers of English, but also for some native English speakers. The challenge can be to survey and spot check to see what the student is good at doing, and to keep moving quickly until they identify the things the student finds more difficult; that is where Paul and the learner begin to dig in. All the while, Paul keeps reminding the learner why they are working a certain way and how that fits with the stated goals. Paul continually asks for learner buy-in and suggestions on instructional strategies. Sometimes the goal changes; the way they study has to be flexible to accommodate these changes. Paul finds one last point worth mentioning: “Life can get in the way of progress sometimes and those of us helping these learners have to develop a sense for when to push and when to let up a little.” 

Suggested Resources
TLC’s newsletter will suggest materials to assist in the planning of your tutoring sessions. Please let us know what you find useful and what you would suggest to others by emailing Colleen.

The following resources were suggested at the Pennsylvania Adult Career Pathways training “Skilled Immigrants: The Role of English Language as a Second Language and Adult Basic Education Programs” held November 4, 2016.  Blaire Willson Toso and KayLynn Hamilton were the lead presenters, with a presentation by Nicole Pumphrey of The Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians.
Steps to Success: Integrating Immigrant Professionals in the United States 

This downloadable, 84 page booklet is a report detailing the experiences of college-educated immigrants in six U.S. cities. The study documents multiple factors that correlate with the successful integration of immigrant professionals into the U.S. workforce.  

The findings in the report show that:

  • Social capital is powerful.
  • English really matters.
  • Immigrants take enterprising approaches.

Supporting Skilled Immigrants: A Toolkit for ESL Practitioners 
This downloadable, 76 page toolkit has been developed for ESL practitioners who teach foreign-educated and skilled immigrants. It is also a useful guide for anyone who advises or works with skilled immigrants.

The toolkit provides:

  • Innovative classroom strategies and lesson plans.
  • Best practices and effective program models.
  • Essential information and case studies to guide students toward success.
  • Comprehensive program and resources guide.

Upwardly Global Professional Licensing Guides
The Professional Licensing Guides were created to help immigrants understand all the steps required to earn a state professional license or credential in order to return to the full practice of regulated professions. Guides are not currently available for Pennsylvania; they are available for other states, in fields such as medicine, engineering, teaching, and other regulated professions. 

The Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians
Connecting immigrants, employers, & communities.

  • Accelerate immigrant integration and economic advancement through education, training, employment and entrepreneurship.
  • Career Pathway Concept ~ It’s a science and an art.
    Things to consider when building a career pathway:
             Discuss broad context for career development.
             Concentrate on the top challenges.
             Individualize career pathways.
             Build a relationship with participants that allows for mutual accountability.
             Help develop leadership skills.
             Provide networking practice beyond job searching.
             Offer and connect to resources.

Career Guides for Immigrant Professionals

The Welcoming Center identified four high-growth industries in Pennsylvania and developed detailed career guides for each industry: accountant, mechanical engineer, systems analyst, and teacher. These guides outline the process for becoming a certified professional and provide information about various types of jobs within each field, regional employers who hire these professionals, salary ranges, and employment resources.

How to Succeed in the Workplace
A Career Guide for the Immigrant Professional

Even if the immigrant professional has worked for many years in his/her home country, it is valuable to understand American business culture. For general information, viewHow to Succeed in the Workplace: A Career Guide for the Immigrant Professional ”. This publication includes useful tips to help guide the reader through a professional job search in the United States.

Gateway Jobs in Our Economy 
Helping Newcomers Succeed in the American World of Work

This Welcoming Center report shows that even low-level jobs with modest pay and limited hours can improve the life-long earning potential of immigrant workers who are learning the ropes of the American world of work.
Other Resources Suggested at the Training
Tutors of Literacy Staff