ESOL for Adults
The mission of the Marion County Literacy Council, Inc (MCLC) is to see that all adult citizens of Marion County have a resource available to help them improve their literacy skills. The Marion County Literacy Council is committed to utilizing best practices to provide quality English instruction to students of other languages so that they may realize personal goals and become productive citizens.
The MCLC was founded in 1999 and serves adults in Marion County. The Marion County Literacy Council is a network of volunteers dedicated to the cause of improving literacy in Marion County. These volunteers are working and/or retired individuals who participate in tutoring, recruiting, fundraising, special events and more! The ESOL program consists of groups of eight or less. The Council has a paid staff of two, two work-study students, one AmeriCorps VISTA (with a 2nd to begin in August 2009), and a volunteer ESOL Coordinator.
Description of Project:
The current program requires a considerable commitment from both teachers and students. Teachers commit to one semester and students to a minimum of one semester, with strict attendance and participation standards. Class size is limited to 8 and peer learning is emphasized. (The current primary text is the Side by Side Plus series.) Classes meet twice weekly for 1.5 hours each session. The curriculum extends from bi-illiterate to advanced classes in conversation, pronunciation, and composition.
At the time of the adoption of managed enrollment (Fall 2007), this service model was not widely utilized in the Florida ESOL community. The Council uses standards-based assessments for the ESOL program, such as CASAS, BEST+, and TABE.
Project Rationale and Background:
The MCLC ESOL Program began in the fall of 2006, with one-on-one tutoring of a student who wanted to improve her English composition in order to qualify for a position in the public schools. In early 2007 additional students were accepted, forming a small class. In a few months, the additional students were dismissed as a result of their unwillingness to attend class regularly and to come to class prepared. The original student completed the class and secured her desired employment. During this time, many more students requested English language assistance.
In order to avoid absorbing precious volunteer resources in attempting to meet this demand with one-on-one tutoring, the small class format was adopted. The program began in earnest in the fall of 2007 with 13 teachers and 78 students in 14 classes. This rapid expansion was due largely to joining forces with another community program. Since that time the program has experienced several ups and downs. The initial service model of small class, semi-managed enrollment, LifePrints-based pre and post assessments as evolved to the current small class, managed enrollment, standards-based assessment format. The Spring 2009 enrollment was 9 teachers and 63 students in 12 classes.
The growing pains felt by the Council serve to caution others on a similar path of implementing a new program. The Council tried to grow too fast, losing administrative control over teachers and class attendance. It was discovered that by allying with another existing program creates tension and a reluctance of the other program to adhere to the standards the Council follows. Initially, volunteer teachers were not adequately vetted; inadequate allotment of administrative time needed to manage the start-up resulted in setbacks. Limiting the initial class offerings to a manageable number would have greatly improved outcomes. However, that would have resulted in turning away a great number of applicants. The Council’s resolution of this tension is that students are better served by a small well-run program than by a large program badly controlled. Programs with shoestring staffs would be well advised to start slowly. The “shakedown” phase of the program is labor-intensive.
Evidence of Impact and Effectiveness:
From the fall of 2007 to the summer of 2009 the Council’s ESOL program has served approximately 190 students, providing over 2000 hours of instruction. The last assessment results show that all class levels performed at or above state standards. No individual class fell below state standards. Students have attained employment and citizenships. Some have become newly-registered voters. Several have passed college courses thanks to the Council’s training. Students report greatly increased ability to seek employment, to communicate with their children’s teachers, and in general to become viable members of the greater community.
Although pre and post assessments and class formation consume considerable staff time, these periods are short-lived; intra-semester staff commitment is limited, although the volunteer ESOL coordinator does devote some time to assisting staff as necessary. An advantage of the program is that, once set in motion, it is easy to manage. As a consequence, a small number of volunteers deliver considerable service to the student population. Volunteer resources are conserved; students enjoy the “family atmosphere” of the small class, and peer learning is thereby enhanced.
Cost and Funding:
Costs of the program are limited; staff time and approximately $5000 for books represent almost all expenses; training and meetings require petty cash expenditures only. Book costs have been covered by a Dollar General grant. Going forward, a $25 student registration fee will help defray book costs. Volunteers teach, offer teacher training, and provide program coordination, keeping program costs to a minimum.
Words of Advice:
Probably the most important observation is a business axiom: you are no better than the quality of your people. Consequently, quality over quantity in selecting teachers and enrolling students is crucial. The Council’s outstanding assessment results could not have been achieved without excellent, dedicated teaching and highly motivated students. Managed enrollment is key. Students must know that they will be dismissed from the program for violating their student agreements.
It is more productive (the Council had to learn this the hard way) to start small with high quality than to “shoot for the moon” with an impressively large program in which quality is hard to control. The biggest limitation is the number of quality teachers. Because the Council is a small community-based organization, it can closely screen students for motivation; larger/state programs may not have this option. Recent program advancements include a computer lab with internet-based ESOL instruction and an initiative to facilitate best practices among volunteer teachers (involving peer support amongst teachers).
Additional Resources: Contact Information:
Marion County Literacy Council Inc.
240 SW 8th Street, Suite C
Ocala, FL 34471
.Florida Literacy Coalition
Florida Literacy Hotline