Guidelines for Using Volunteer Literacy Tutors to Support Reading Instruction for English Language Learners
Otaiba, Stephanie Al, Pappamihiel, N. Eleni, Teaching Exceptional Children
Juan proudly colored in his graph showing the number of words he could read correctly in one minute. "Look, I am reading much better and faster!" he exclaimed to his beaming tutor.
Juan's first-grade teacher uses volunteer literacy tutors to supplement and support her classroom reading instruction. Using one-to-one tutoring within inclusive general education classrooms to provide individualized instruction can be very effective in preventing reading failure, especially during the primary grades (Wasik, 1998). It is critical to boost Juan's language and reading skills early. As a member of the fastest growing percentage of the school population, English language learners (ELLs), Juan is twice as likely as a native English-speaking student to have reading achievement levels significantly below average for their age (August & Hakuta, 1998). Helping Juan early in his school career is doubly important because he has been diagnosed with a reading disability. This means he performed significantly below peers who have similar linguistic, cultural, and experiential backgrounds (Ortiz, 1997).
As a result of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Amendments of 1997 (IDEA) and other legislative mandates, such as No Child Left Behind, students like Juan increasingly receive the majority of their English reading instruction in general education classrooms. Placement in a monolingual general education classroom, however, does not guarantee Juan's success, from either a social or academic perspective. Teachers can turn to volunteer literacy tutors as one means of providing much needed additional support for students like Juan because research has shown powerful effects of literacy tutoring (Elbaum, Vaughn, Hughes & Moody, 2000; Juel, 1996; Morrow & Woo, 2001; Wasik, 1998).
This article provides guidelines that will empower elementary teachers to design and to implement successful volunteer literacy tutoring programs. Specifically, we give suggestions and strategies for using literacy tutors to provide extra language support as ELLs learn to speak and read in English.
These suggestions include selecting materials, recruiting and screening tutors, training tutors, and ensuring the program is well-implemented. Our suggestions come from the existing research base on literacy tutoring which has found that tutoring is most effective under the following conditions: (a) the tutoring program is consistent with classroom reading instruction, (b) tutors are well trained, (c) tutoring is conducted a minimum of three times per week, (d) tutors and tutees develop rapport, and (e) programs are well-implemented (Elbaum et al., 2000; Juel, 1996; Morrow & Woo, 2001; Wasik, 1998). Our purpose in writing this article is not to advocate one type of program over another because clearly, no one size fits all. We also emphasize that tutoring should be only a supplement, but never a substitute for classroom reading instruction.
Selecting Tutoring Material
Teachers are advised to select reading tutoring materials that are consistent not only with their general classroom reading program, but also with reading goals on participating students' individualized education programs (IEPs). This congruence can be accomplished by soliciting input from ESL/Bilingual teachers, reading specialists, special education teachers, and parents from the community during the initial planning stages. Continued involvement of these important stakeholders can promote the inclusion of culturally relevant content.
Any balanced and integrated classroom reading program should incorporate the five components (phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension) of Scientifically Based Reading Research (SBRR) described at length by the National Reading Panel (NRP; 2000). Nevertheless, among the five SBRR components, a student like Juan may need additional focus on vocabulary to develop English language literacy skills. …