Literacy Program Puts Research and Theory into Practice

May 26, 2014

Joshua Levai-Baird said he’s proud of his involvement helping immigrant families with their English literacy.

“It falls in line with my philosophy of education—to always be learning, always have fun, and always do good,” he said. 

Levai-Baird, a senior Elementary Education major, is one of several College of Education students who have participated in the Adult and Family Literacy Program in West Liberty. 

Associate Professor Carolyn Colvin started the program almost 20 years ago. Since then, she and her student tutors have visited West Liberty for 90 minutes each week.

The tutors assist the adult students in a variety of literacy activities, including assistance in preparing for the U.S. Citizenship Test or the GED test, as well as in everyday literacy activities like learning vocabulary to use at a doctor’s office. 

Colvin said one of the best parts about the ongoing project is working with the UI students. Over the years more than 200 College of Education students have participated. “They make excellent tutors, regardless of their skills in a second language,” she said.

“At the heart of it, you have to be a strong, flexible teacher and be willing to take some risks,” she said. “I knew the College of Education students would bring their excellent knowledge of teaching because of their area of study.” 

Melanie Reichwald, an MAT student in the College of Education, said she enjoys working with the West Liberty residents where the work often corresponds with concepts she’s learning in the classroom. 

“I’m learning so much about working with people of varying proficiency levels and keeping everyone engaged,” she said. “But we’re also researching something called ‘co-constructed learning,’ a theory that explores how communities of practice work. Within those communities, more advanced speakers will take on leadership roles and help novices feel more comfortable. We see this theory at play all the time in our classes, and it’s exciting to watch theory as reality.” 

Colvin said she is continually inspired by the College of Education students’ work because of their dedication and commitment to students in the program. For some participants, the work doesn’t end when they leave the UI. Some have started or are working to start adult tutoring programs of their own.

“The legacy of pre-service teachers’ participation in the program is lasting,” she said. “At a minimum, students report that they leave their involvement as a tutor with increased awareness of the issues faced by immigrant families in their future schools. They become more sensitive to how to work effectively with ‘newcomer’ parents, whether the family has moved from Indiana or Laos.”