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  • Writer's pictureLiteracy Coalition

Tutoring Adults to Read. Where Do I Start?

Step One

Teaching someone to read is one of the greatest gifts you can ever give. It’s a gift they will always have with them and will improve every area of their life. It all begins at your first face-to-face meeting. Both parties will be nervous and a little anxious. Here is a blueprint for your first meeting.

Here are the five things you want to accomplish at your first meeting:

  1. What are the student’s goals? Yes, they want to learn to read or improve their reading skills, but why? What will they be able to do when they reach their goal that they can’t do today? Ask for specific examples and ask how that will make their life better.

Helping Students Determine Roles and Goals for Learning
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2. Assess their current skill level. If you are volunteering for an adult literacy agency they will probably have done this and provided you with it, If not, there are several free and easy assessments online. Make sure it is quick and easy, gives you an estimated grade level, and does not stress out your new student.

3. You want to set a schedule to plan when, where, and how often you are going to meet. Beginning students will often overestimate how often or for how long they are willing to meet. Our experience is that one 90 minute or two 60 minute sessions are

a great place to begin. Remember, you are working with an adult who often will have work and family responsibilities.

4. Homework! Your initial meeting is a great time to discuss your students' wants and ability to do homework. Some students are eager to get homework assignments and will be able to complete them at home. Others will have a job and/or family responsibilities that will make a traditional homework assignment stressful and nearly impossible to complete on their own. Obviously, the ability to successfully study at home will speed up the learning process but be sure they have the time and are comfortable with homework. Your goal is to help them learn and adding the stress of homework assignments can often frustrate new students and cause them to drop out. Students naturally want to please you so make sure you do not set them up to fail with homework.

5. Talk about how the two of you will handle canceling and rescheduling sessions. You are both adults and situations will come up that will make it impossible to meet so now is a good time to talk about how you can let each other know ahead of time. If you are volunteering with an agency ask them their policy about this. It is best not to exchange email or phone numbers at first if there are other ways to make contact. Also, discuss what to do if one of you does not show up on time. A fifteen-minute rule is useful. That is if either one of you is over fifteen minutes late you will assume that an emergency has occurred and you will cancel the meeting. That way neither of you is left waiting any longer than necessary. Emphasize that this should not happen often and that if either of you has to miss you commit to letting the other know as soon as possible.

6. Wrap up your first session with some casual conversation about you and your student. I think this first meeting is a good time to talk about things like hobbies, favorite movies or music, something light and not too personal. Be careful you do not ask personal questions at this time. Save family or other personal questions for later meetings. You do not want to come across as prying or trying to” get into their business.”

Here is a link to a YouTube video about other ideas for your first meeting.

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