My first love was adult ed/literacy. I began working with LESLLA populations when I was in college. community centers, community colleges, advocacy groups in Boston, Chicago, and Philadelphia, worked on literacy and ESL. ESL T and reading specialist Degree in Reading/Writing/Literacy and TESOL at Penn. International Rescue Committee - Refugee organization set upone of its 5 centers in C-ville, bringing in families from Afghanistan, Iraq, Burma, Somalia, etc. Once families are brought in, they receive three months of service. During that time, they try to find jobs ,housing 3 months of English. Basic needs, then released. I noticed more and more workers in entry level services worker positions at UVa. So there’s a sudden increase in UVa workforce of immigrants and refugees who have only been here a short time. Student culture at UVa very service-oriented. “Thomas Jefferson’s University”, near Monticello. There is a push toward being “global citizens”, and being involved in diverse activities.
So now we had 4 positions serving mainly graduate students at UVA. We have these impressive titles for the volunteersWe had them APPLY! Never turned anybody away… just keep creating more positions. Convinced that this is what inundated us. Famous Lawn at UVa ringed by old, drafty uncomfortable rooms w/no bathrooms. Having trouble filling those rooms until they made it into an honor for 4th year’s only. Crazy application process. Now there’s a waiting list of impressive students who would have to walk across grounds in their PJs to use the bathroom. By 2008 we reached 200 volunteers and I kept inventing things for them to do. Please remember. I have experience and connection to teaching LESLLA students. And was missing the vitality and gratification of that. As a matter of fact, I’d met a family from the Congo 10 children and parents who worked at UVa who needed English tutors and I was trying to figure out how I could meet with them with the job and my own kids…Also remember that UVa had begun hiring many, many refugees into entry level service jobs at UVA from IRC. So it’s not like I had a great idea and then made it reality. Rather, it was staring me in the face and finally I stopped blocking it from becoming a reality!2007 I began sending ESL Assistants to the Hospital to work with service-workers there (janitorial staff, maintenance, transporters, dining service workers)And then one of my volunteers, quite active in the Living Wage campaign-- Lindsay Aaron approached me and told me about O’Hill.. Group of Somali, Iraqi, Burundian workers thirsty to learn English. She’s been having lunch with them during their break. They would LOVE to meet and speak with students and work on their English. SO…
By 2007 VISAS becomes: Volunteers with International, Students, Scholars and STAFF to respond to a growing need and interest among volunteers.
Benefits:Fit into scheduleOne on one could work on specific areas of need. We had some who wanted to work on “Hi, my name is” and others who wanted GED instruction. Build individual relationships.We had problems when a worker or a student didn’t show up. I was creating about 15 different curriculaVolunteers had no supervision and felt very much on their own. Big age differences, educational, class, and cultural differences were wonderful for some, but others were shy and awkward and needed more of a support/community.
The thought behind this was that they needed more interaction and we don’t offer teachers or tutors. Benefits – got to know each otherMore of a community If one absent, others there.Problems – Now we’re working with Somali students who have zero English. they didn’t have enough English to sustain hour long conversations. Student-employees ask for a real class.
Social, good attendance, nice feeling, but often curriculum is not appropriate to diverse needs and difficulty of distance teaching with inexperienced volunteer teachers.
Evolved into a workshop approach with each learner and volunteer pairing off after a group ice-breaker and mini-lesson. SHOW HABIBA’s NOTEBOOKTheme-based curriculumIce-breaker, mini-lesson, present materialsFan out and work one on one or two on twoNotebook checklist ongoing assessmentCommunication between volunteers (mon and wed different)Self-assessment increasing autonomy over learning. What I CAN do.
Theme-based Curriculum - material that is framed around topics related to learners' immediate needs and/or wants (e.g., parenting, employment, financial management, health and nutrition).
Fatumagetting a mini-lesson on literacy from Amy. Mahand and Ahmed (volunteer) in the background.
Hawa working with Yunfan and Amy with two volunteers in the back working with one. Notice the dry erase boards with each volunteer. ,
Hospital Transporter from Bosnia who was on the brink of being fired for not communicating better with the patients he was transporting. I set him up with one of our ESL instructors and still no progress. After adding an LC, who happened to also be a cartoonist for the school paper, the Cav Daily, she plugged into the fact that he was a visual learner and created this which helped him learn the chunks of language he needed. Major improvement!
Jeremiah and Mahand. J. comes on his day off and dresses in a suit. They are getting to know each other: Somali and Iraqi. Learning together.
Is it worth it? Are there too many problems? How could those problems be addressed? And if it is worth it, or if it would be if we implemented changes, could this be replicated elsewhere, creating more connections between LESLLA workers and students at university.
Wittner partners in learning leslla 2011
Partners in Learning: College Students and Workers at the University of Virginia<br />LESLLA Conference 2011<br />Presented by Elizabeth Wittner<br />Academic Director, <br />Center for American English Language and Culture, University of Virginia<br />October 1, 2011<br />11:30-12:15<br />
Agenda<br />Seeds of the idea<br /> Evolution: Toward a more inclusive definition of “University Community”<br />But we’re not teachers!: Students from conversation partners to literacy/English mentors<br />Challenges and unexpected benefits<br />Discussion<br />
Why a Workplace ESL Program?<br />Personal/professional connection to LESLLA populations <br />UVA –IRC<br />UVA student ethos<br />
I've had the pleasure to work with Hawa G., Fatuma and Karama. This has been a rewarding experience that inspired me to continue working with immigrants and refugees. During one of the lessons, the four of us were talking about clothing items and how to wear clothes properly. I remember Karama said that she had to tell a student to zip up his fly using hand gestures because she didn't know how to say it in English. We exploded into a communal almost endless laughter. I will never forget this experience. Or these people. :) -- Vera Melo, Workplace ESLA<br />