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The Loudoun Literacy Council has been selected to be a part of this year’s Loudoun Gifts for Good event. This holiday event will be a part of Leesburg’s First Friday Event on Friday, December 6th from 6PM-9PM at the Carter Braxton Preferred Properties in downtown Leesburg. Loudoun Gifts for Good mission is “To provide our community with a meaningful alternative for year round gift giving – one which celebrates personal charity in support of nonprofits that strengthen our community and promote the common good.”  We are so thrilled to be a part of this wonderful event!

Since 1980, Loudoun Literacy Council has been giving the gift of literacy to members of the community.  We have helped more than 4,000 adults and young people improve their literacy skills through programs supported by the dedication of over 800 trained volunteers.  Your support will help us continue to strengthen our community. You can support Loudoun Literacy by giving a gift of a ‘Baby Book Bundle’ for an at-risk new mother ($10), new books for 5 ‘Birthday Packs’ for children residing in homeless shelters ($25), an entire ESOL class for a Loudoun County adult ($50), supplies for four Head Start students with a school year’s worth of book packs including books for their very own personal library ($100).

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We hope that you share the spirit of the holiday season with Loudoun Literacy’s community. To learn more about “Loudoun’s Gift for Good” head to www.loudoungiftsforgood.org!

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Teaching adult ESOL and GED learners never gets old! There are always new challenges and major accomplishments made both as a teacher and as a student in the classroom. Read below to read more about AmeriCorps members, Carrie and Stephen, experiences in the classroom for LLC’s fall 2013 term:

Carrie’s Reflections: 

I have had the great opportunity to work with many adult ESOL learners in my experience as a teacher, but this year I now have the new opportunity to work with even more learners in an intermediate classroom! This term I taught over 20 learners at Guilford Elementary School and Cascades Library. The eight-week session went by hurriedly, as the learners learned about describing people using descriptive adjectives, identifying places in their community, and setting personal, work, and educational goals. Teaching intermediate level learners allows for instruction to delve a little deeper. Although the learning skill, speaking, was dominant in the classroom, the learning skills, reading and writing, played a large role.

Because intermediate learners know more of the English language, I was able to adapt my lessons to include more writing and reading comprehension activities. For homework each night, I had my students write a journal entry on the writing prompt of the day. The topics for the writing prompts always centered on whatever topic we were discussing that night in class. This activity allowed for learners to develop their writing skills and incorporate different grammar skills learned throughout the class. The journal entries also allowed me and my teacher assistant, Erin, the opportunity to learn a little more about our students. One writing prompt, for example, explored the personal, work, and/or educational goals they had for themselves. It was gratifying looking to see what my students wrote. They had everything from helping their children graduate high school and attend college to starting their own business. It was yet another example of the determination that my students possess.

One of the best moments of my experience teaching this fall was when we went over what some of the students detailed in their journal. The topic was “Why do I want to study English?” This seemingly simple topic transformed into a half hour discussion amongst my students about their goals to better their English skills and some of the struggles and triumphs throughout their English learning journey. It was great to see such dynamism in the classroom as the students were relating to one another while speaking the English language.

Of course the success in the classroom for the fall term was not without the hard work of my teacher assistant, Erin. Erin has the ability to work so well with the students and to form a trusting relationship with them. Her knowledge of the not-so-easy English language is quite impressive. I often had her go over the grammar points during the lesson! It has been my pleasure having her as my aide for the past two class terms and I’m excited for her to be entering the class as a lead instructor for the winter 2014 term!

Teaching intermediate level learners is quite the learning experience for me and it has allowed me to stretch my creativity as an instructor. I’m excited to continue my journey as an intermediate teacher for the winter 2014 term!

Stephen’s Reflections: 

I find it almost hard to believe how much time has passed since the start of the term!  From the beginning, I was primarily focused on my beginner ESL class.  With eight students in attendance most days, it was the largest group of students I had ever worked with at once, and I had never had direct experience working with English learners.  Naturally, I was nervous coming into the class on the first day.  When I considered the way the learners must have been feeling, though, it was easy to realize my concerns were relatively minor.

In class this term, we covered ways to greet people and make introductions, completion of personal information forms, how to tell the time, months and days of the week, money, and asking for directions.  The lesson on classroom instructions was perhaps the most valuable, as it allowed us to move more easily through every later lesson.  It was remarkable to see what a difference it made when instructions such as “open the book to page 10” or “write your name on the paper” started to become clear to the class, and I hope the rest of the material made an equally noticeable difference in their lives outside the classroom.  It has been amazing to see how much progress some of the learners have made over such a short time.

It has also been a challenging and rewarding experience to work on the GED program.  Several of our students have made very impressive gains in math and science ability over the course of the term.  It has really been a joy to get to know the students and hear all their different reasons for wanting to earn their GED’s.  With upcoming changes to the test format designed to emphasize depth of knowledge and critical thinking skills, it has been a challenge to balance preparation for the new material in 2014 with coverage of strategies for the current test format.  Good luck to all of our classroom and tutored students taking the old version of the test for the last time in December!

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Carrie’s Reflections: 

I am glad that I am able to continue my AmeriCorps service for the 2013-2014 year at Loudoun Literacy Council. These past 11 months have been an incredible learning experience for me that I refuse to let go of quite yet! My experience teaching beginner level English learners is finished. But, fortunately I will be back for another year to continue teaching intermediate and/or advanced learners and tutor students individually.

Working for a local non-profit in an area that is deemed “affluent” and learning of the socio-economic hardships and the difficultly of the language barrier of so many of my students has helped me better my perspective of the community of Loudoun County. Seeing my students in the classroom and learning of their struggles has kept me motivated in LLC’s mission to change lives through learning. The class sessions that I have taught, including the most recent summer term, has left me inspired. The students who have passed through our classroom doors are so determined to learn the language to not only better their daily life experiences but that of their friends and families, and often times, their children.

I have developed an attachment to my beginner level learners and have seen their growth since the early months of October and January to now. Their desire to keep coming back and continue their learning experience in the classroom is incredible.  Students arrive to class coming from an 8 hour work day or from caring for their children all day to sit for 2 hour sessions and learn a foreign language, makes me realize what the phrase, “hard work”, really means.

I have learned so much about developing a lesson that combines different learning styles, grammar, life skills, vocabulary, and pronunciation. I’ve learned since October, when I first entered into the classroom, that I can do this and that my students encourage with their willingness to learn. Students dedicate approximately 8 to 32 hours per session to learn the language that we so often take for granted. I have covered topics from time and money to asking and giving directions. My students have learned the complexities of basic English grammar such as the verb “to be” and “wh” questions. They have learned so much vocabulary and have practiced pronunciating words in English that are even tricky for native English speakers!

I am also truly grateful for my teacher assistants, Kathleen, Tina, Beth, Erin, and Robbie, for volunteering their time to help me in the classroom, and more importantly, help our students achieve a better grasp of the English language. Their motivation to help and see our student’s thrive is also a motivating factor for me to continue my experience in the classroom and working with our incredible Adult Literacy volunteers.

I am also grateful for my AmeriCorps team member, Susan. She has taught me what the word passion really means. Her incredible patience and her adaptability and flexibility, has definitely rubbed off on me. She is such a great team member and we were able to work so well together. My experience would not have been what it was without her. I’m sad to see her go, but I am excited for her to come back to the D.C. area in a year or so, so we can reunite!

Working with the Loudoun Literacy Council community and staff members and working as a team member in both the classroom and administratively has taught me so many lessons. This 2012-2013 AmeriCorps year was such a great post-collegiate experience for me and I encourage any recent college grad or young professional to dedicate a year or two of their lives doing national and community service. It has been the most rewarding experience that I have had so far in my life.

I cannot reiterate how excited I am to continue my service with Loudoun Literacy. To be a part of the continued positive transformation that has been developing over the past year for LLC is amazing. I cannot wait to see what’s next for the organization and for our future English Language Leaners!

You’ll hear from me again soon!

Susan’s Reflections:

With the arrival of August, my time as a beginner level ESOL teacher for Loudoun Literacy Council has come to an end.   On August 9th, I will say goodbye to Loudoun Literacy Council as an AmeriCorps Member.  Fortunately, I will be in the area until late September, so I will be able to volunteer and help with September’s registrations and volunteer training.  In October, I will start a new journey with my husband as we return to Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri for a bit.

It is hard to summarize my year of experience in a few short words.  When I started my year with AmeriCorps, I was unaware of how special and touching this year would be to me.  I remember being unsure how to talk to people on the phone who spoke little English, and then being nervous on my first night of teaching.  In reflecting back, my lesson plans have improved greatly from my first term of teaching to my last term of teaching.  I have learned new techniques in the classroom, and I have worked hard to make the classroom more interactive and more focused on my specific students’ goals.  I have also noticed how much I have grown in confidence in speaking in front of others.   Most importantly, I have truly learned about the adult immigrant communities in Loudoun County and other nearby counties.  In the past, I have worked with international students at different colleges and in Vietnam, but this AmeriCorps experience led me to work directly with the local immigrant community who have everyday struggles, who are hardworking, and who are motivated to learn English in order to have a successful life for themselves and oftentimes their children in the United States.  With the new GED class program we started, I had the fortunate opportunity to hear why each student wanted to take the class.   Hearing their stories truly makes me appreciate the small things in life even more, and it makes me motivated to serve in every community that I may live in the future.

There will be certain lessons and certain stories that I will remember from my classrooms this year.  Every class had different dynamics, but each class was just as great as the one before.  Throughout this year, I had students apply and receive library cards, a student check out her first book at the library, a student open up a bank account, students get jobs, students form friendships with classmates outside of class, a student receive her Green card, and a student pass her Driver’s License test.  I am so proud of my students’ accomplishments throughout this year of teaching.   At the end of the day, despite how tedious lesson planning can sometimes be, watching my students improve their English skills and increase their confidence with each class and term has been one of the most rewarding parts of teaching ESOL.

I am thankful for my assistants, Jackie, Laura, and Radhika, who all helped me grow as a teacher and helped our students improve their English skills.  With my first exposure to volunteer management, I have truly enjoyed training new volunteers and then seeing them shine in the classrooms and in tutoring.  We could not function without our dedicated volunteers.   I will miss our volunteers though I know they will be in good hands with Claudia, Carrie, and the next AmeriCorps Member.

Last, but not least, I could not have enjoyed this year of service without the staff of Loudoun Literacy Council.  As a small staff, we have all come to know each other, and I’m thankful for the friendships that have now been formed.   I’ve been fortunate to have Claudia as a great supervisor who pushed us to acquire experience in our career field and wanting the best for us.  I also am grateful for Carrie, who brings energy and dedication, to the job every single day.   Carrie and I have spent countless hours together and brought out the best of each other.  I know the next AmeriCorps member will learn a lot from her and the rest of the staff here.

For my future plans, I hope to stay involved in the ESOL field either as a career or volunteer experience.  Teaching has been a rewarding experience, and I truly enjoy working with adults and helping them reach their fullest potential.

If you would like to continue to keep in touch, you can connect with me on LinkedIn here or email me at my personal email here.  I hope that I am not away for too long, but I will always carry this experience and all those who I came to know over this year with me wherever I go.   Thank you to all that made my year of service one of the most rewarding experiences of my life so far.

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GED Spring 2013With a snap, Loudoun Literacy Council’s Spring GED class has come to a close. It seemed like only yesterday when I was waiting for the students on the first day, learning surveys in hand, determined to build the social studies and language arts portion of the class around the students’ personal strengths and needs. It immediately became clear upon the students’ arrival, however, that their strengths and interests would enhance the class far beyond any targeted teaching strategy ever could. One student, newly arrived in the United States from Pakistan, for example, expressed his interest in poetry by reciting a monologue from Hamlet. Additionally, something I was surprised by but shouldn’t have been, all of the students spoke enthusiastically of their own personal reading habits. One lady explained how she regularly read to her young daughter before bed, for example, and another young man pulled a copy of one of  Paulo Coelho’s books from his backpack and told us how his brother turned him on to the author, who he has been following ever since.

Over the semester, we were able to cover a lot of ground. In addition to reading and discussion centered around the content subjects of World History, United States History, and Economics, we spent a considerable amount of time looking at and developing the critical thinking skills that are needed not simply to do well on the GED, but also to be engaged citizens. A theme we focused on was “C.A.S.A.”, the acronym I use to refer to the comprehension, analysis, synthesis, and application skills that one should use when reading a text or looking an information-laden visual. I’ll never forget a lesson we did on Christopher Columbus during which we compared a textbook version of Columbus’s heroic discovery of America to a first-hand account written by Columbus himself, which explained how he wished to enslave the indigenous people he found in the new land. The students were able to look deeply into this history and reveal the bias that is always present in writing, even in more official sources like textbooks.They were also able to apply this history to the present by discussing their thoughts about why we celebrate Columbus today, and whether or not this is a good thing. GED Class Spring 2013

I most enjoyed working with the students on developing their writing skills. Even though we only spent a few weeks talking about and practicing paragraph writing, reading the last writing assignment the students turned in, I can state with full confidence that considerable progress was made. I was always excited to sit down and read the students’ weekly writing assignments, and was delighted to see more structured and developed paragraph writing as time went on.

Now that the course has come to a close, I am sad to see the students go, and hope that they will return for the summer term. I think of their passion, hard work, and motivation, and am left inspired. What does it take to study for the GED test while raising a family and working long hours to support them? I think of how some of the students do this with great resilience, energy, and happiness, and however cliche it is to say, my faith in the human spirit is bolstered. For this, I have the students to send my gratitude.

Written by Jerry Stewart, Adult Literacy Program Volunteer, June 2013

GED Class Spring 2013

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Susan’s Reflections:

This past Monday, I gave out certificates to my last class of the spring term at Cascades Library.  It felt that the class had just started, but the eight weeks flew by once again!

The spring term covered the topics of health, housing, and occupations.  At Guilford Elementary, my class learned about health.  Students learned the parts of the body, different types of aches and pains, and going to the doctor.  They completed different activities such as interviewing each other about how often they get headaches to role playing in the class about if they should or should not take aspirin for a fever.

Both classes at Guilford Elementary and Cascades Library learned about housing.  We talked about the different rooms in a house, what is outside a house, accidents that occur at home, housing ads, and making phone calls about places for rent.  Students worked with real housing ads in picking houses they liked and houses they did not like.  They also talked about their current house and their dream house.

Also, my class at Cascades Library learned about different types of occupations, forms of identification, reading job ads, practicing what you would say at job interviews, and how to fill out job applications.  Students worked with real job ads picking out jobs they liked and did not like.  They also interviewed classmates about their skills and what type of job they would like to have.  At the end, students had the opportunity to complete job applications.

As I continue to teach, I find myself growing as a teacher.  My lesson plans have developed from the fall term into much more detailed and thorough plans for this spring term.  This term, the materials were tougher for some students.  One of the biggest lessons I learned was it is okay to slow down and one lesson may take two classes to teach.   Again, I am thankful for my class aides, Jackie and Laura, who were there to provide more individualized help for our students!

Though another term has ended, I am glad to have had the opportunity to see students grow from their first day of class.  Some students have truly come out of their shells and progressed in their English speaking, listening, reading, and writing skills.  A few students did not know any English at the beginning of the term, and by the last class, they could make some simple conversations.   One student who also took the class in the winter now has a part-time job and has opened a banking account.

My favorite part of the class has been watching the friendships form in the classroom. This term, some students met for coffee and some students would call each other on the phone each week.   The forming of cross-cultural friendships has been one of the most rewarding parts of this spring teaching term and this AmeriCorps experience.

Carrie’s Reflections:

I cannot believe another term has gone by! This spring term, like all the rest, has been such a learning experience for me as a teacher. Teaching units on the health, the house and home, work, and family really opened my eyes to the complexities of the English language. My adult ESL learners were such an inspiration for me because of their determination to learn, correct and perfect the English language both in speaking conversationally and writing. As I was planning my lessons for this session, I was overwhelmed with the amount of grammar used and the longer dialogues present, but I quickly learned that my students were eager to grasp on to the challenges. And they thrived!

Throughout the 8 week session, I kept thinking to myself, “What if I was in their shoes? Would I be able to learn so much in such little time?” Honestly, I’m not sure if I could do it. And, I am so proud that my students, who have busy home and work lives, take the time to spend 2-4 hours in a classroom for two months and focus their energies on learning this complicated language. I was so impressed when my students were able to create their own dialogues using complex language skills such as contractions, the future with will, adverbs, etc. Also, incorporating dialogues into every class session really improved my students speaking abilities by way of better pronunciation and greater confidence levels. Having my students practice the conversation with their partner and saying their conversations aloud to the whole class, allowed them to eventually become comfortable speaking in the English language.

But I definitely could not have taught my two classes and seen so much progress in my student without my teacher assistants! I am so grateful for my teaching assistants Beth W. and Tina O. They are incredible in the classroom and their enthusiasm to help the students is so motivating to the students. I’m proud to say that they will both be taking on lead positions for the summer adult ESL session. They are going to do a fantastic job!

As the summer session approaches (the last session of the year!), I will bring new knowledge into the classroom.

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Julie Winter Class It has been a busy few weeks for the Adult Literacy Program as we have concluded our registration events and begun our spring session of adult ESL classes! We are proud to say that we have over 140 students currently enrolled in our beginner, intermediate, and advanced level classes. For the 2012-2013 FY, we have increased our student population 31% and 40% of our spring session learners are returning students! Additionally, for the spring session, the ALP program are educating students from over 25 countries who speak over 18 languages. Our growing student population could not have happened without the great efforts of our ALP volunteers, who have spent countless hours helping us at registration events and prepping for classes and tutoring sessions. We are also grateful for our community partnerships who graciously allow us to use their spaces for registrations and classes!

Now into our second week of classes, Susan and I have begun our lessons on the house and home and health. Already, we have witnessed the avid determination of our students who are intent in learning the English language. Both units are uniquely challenging to teach and challenging for the students to learn because they rely heavily on English grammar. Complex sentence structures and grammar nuances are hurtles that our beginning level students are eager to overcome.  Lessons on the simple past form of “to be” and how to use adjectives properly to describe nouns are just some of the grammar lessons that we have begun to focus on in the classroom. As beginning level teachers, it is important for both of us to make sure our students feel comfortable with the basics of English grammar, but also to be comfortable speaking and using conversational English. Conversational dialogues and pronunciation are prominent aspects of our teaching. We are now strongly urging our students to speak English, using the proper form of grammar, inside and outside of the classroom in their daily routines.

We know that the next six weeks will fly by, so we are absorbing our past and current teaching experiences, and are eager to continue teaching and growing along with our learners!

Carrie Robinson

AmeriCorps Member 2012-2013

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Carrie:

Through the months of January, February, and March, I excitedly continued my efforts in the classroom teaching adult English language learners! As mentioned in an earlier post, the Adult Literacy Program staff and volunteers were positively overwhelmed with the amount of language learners signing up for ELL instruction. Over 40 students entered my classes for the winter term and the experience of teaching large classes was a very positive learning experience for me. Restructuring lesson plans to adhere to multi-level learners, having activities that kept my students engaged in the classroom, and modifying learning and language skills, were all components of teaching that I was able to adapt to enhance learning within the classroom. Because of the large number of students in the class, I was so grateful for my teacher assistants, Kathleen, Megan W., and Susan S. They were so great in the classroom, not only with the students but in offering me assistance and guidance throughout the classes!

For the winter term, we focused on units covering clothing, food, and health. It was interesting for me to see how much my students knew about the topic before we began to delve into the subject. I believe one misconception that I had as a new teacher was that the notion that “beginner” meant that my ELL learners knew little knowledge of certain subject areas. But as I began to teach these specific units, I came to realize and learn that my students understood many of the fundamentals such as the ins-and-outs of grocery store shopping, how to read store advertisements, and the basic parts of the body. The challenge of these particular units was the specificity of these topics such as the vocabulary associated with clothing, food, and health (i.e. cart vs. basket, headache, stomachache, etc.) as well as the grammar associated with the lesson. It was rewarding to see how students were able to strengthen their vocabulary skills and be able to use those words and incorporate them in to a sentence structure that was grammatically correct. By far, my favorite unit that I taught this term was health. I felt that it is one of the most important units to cover in a life skills based ELL course. As a class, we went over dialogs common to doctor visits and pharmacy visits and by the conclusion of the class, the students were able to construct their own dialogs about medication!

I cannot say enough that the winter term was such a learning experience for me. I feel more confident now entering the classroom for the spring session, teaching learners of multiple ELL backgrounds and adapting my lessons appropriately to all learners!

Susan:

Before this winter term began, I admit that I was nervous how the classes would be with new students and previous students mixed together in my classes.  After my first classes this winter, I learned that these students would come together and form friendships beyond the classroom.  Teaching this winter just was rewarding as the fall, and gaining the skills to assess students’ progression made it even better.  My confidence as an ESOL teacher has increased from this winter term, as I learn new techniques to use in the classroom and saw students responding to them positively.

This winter, my students learned about clothing, food, and health.  Students practiced dialogues, expanded their vocabulary and grammar, and completed surveys asking questions to classmates in the class and then at home to family members and friends.  This winter term, I also introduced my classes to a Weekly Log where students completed each week that asked them where they spoke, read, listened, or wrote in English outside of the classroom.

My favorite part of this term was taking my students from Cascades Library on a field trip to the grocery store.  Prior to the field trip, we spent a few classes learning the vocabulary about food and the grocery store. On the night of the field trip, we walked as a class to the store.  Then, the class split into two groups with me leading one group and my assistant, Jackie, leading the second group.  We gave the students a tour of the grocery store showing them the bakery, deli, produce section, frozen foods, and aisles.  After that, they completed a short scavenger hunt where they found food items in the store and listed the price of them. Finally, we went back to the classroom and wrote about their experience.  To be able to take what they learned inside the classroom and apply it to their lives was one of my most rewarding experiences so far this year during AmeriCorps.

This winter term went by so fast! I am thankful for my assistants, Jackie and Laura, for being able to add ideas and aide in the classroom.  The students were able to receive more one-on-one attention thanks to them.  Overall, I enjoyed watching my students grow and getting to know them.  One student received her library card and came in every night with new books, and one student received her green card along with her daughter.  I always hate the end of the term and having to say goodbye, but I look forward to hopefully seeing many of these students return this spring term to continue practicing their English skills and advance further.

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