Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Dating Game: Matching Literacy Students with Tutors

As I have been working to match students from the Adult Learning Center with our new tutors, I've felt like a cross between an old style matchmaker and someone writing a personal ad.   The enticing subject line to one tutor was "Englewood ESOL Student Looking for Tutor."   (The tutor lives in Englewood, and the convenience factor actually does make it enticing!)  Later on in the e-mail, I said "X likes literature, classical music and movies" and again the feeling that I was writing a personal ad came to mind.

Needless to say, helping students build their literacy skills and achieve their educational goals is serious business.  The process of putting students and tutors together, though, is a bit like setting up a pair on a date.  You need to find commonalities, with the most important being schedules that fit together in a location that works for both people.  Ideally, the tutor and student share an interest, be it a hobby or a career path.  Common interests are not, however, a prerequisite for a good match.   Often tutors develop interests in new things in order to work more effectively with their students.  I remember my Executive Director in New Jersey telling us that she started watching "Walker, Texas Ranger" because her ESOL student enjoyed the show and talking about it was an easy way to work on her student's conversation skills.   Just think of the vocabulary you could incorporate into your lesson--"saloon", "five gallon hat" and "line dancing" all come to mind! 

My own personal match came with the handwritten words "Punta Gorda."  I had been toying with taking on a student in addition to my volunteer coordinator role at the Center but  didn't know if I wanted to make the commitment to meet with someone weekly at a library in Port Charlotte.  When putting together the forms for students to complete with info about their schedules, interests and goals, I didn't even put the Punta Gorda Library as an option for a meeting place because the library is very small and doesn't have a logical space for tutoring.   When I saw that a student had purposefully written Punta Gorda in as a meeting place, though, I decided to explore the library as an option.  I spoke with the director of the library and she could not be more accommodating in helping me get set up.  So a match was made!   (To make it even more blind date-like, my student called the morning we were getting together to confirm where we were meeting since we don't know what the other looks like!)

I am looking forward to finding out if my matches will "take" or if I've made some miscalculations in pairing people up.  I think the match I've made for myself is going to work out fine.  After all, one of her interests is shopping!

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