Have you heard of the Reading Practice Group? It’s a multi-level, drop-in class for students in our basic reading classes who want extra practice, and much more! Based on Adult Learner Persistence principles, the group is a community of Adult Basic Education learners and specially trained tutors, and encourages adults who are in individual classes or who are waiting for a tutor to keep learning together.
Long-time volunteers Pat Seago and Katie Zammito helped start the Reading Practice Group in late 2016, and it's now a permanent part of our programs. But after the first year, students told us they wanted to do more in each lesson. Enter Mario Martinez!
Mario has a background in education and linguistics, so when he contacted us about volunteering, we asked him to observe the group, and he decided to join the tutor pool. His research-based suggestions and fresh ideas mean students do more small-group work, use a larger variety of materials, and have more consistency from lesson to lesson. Best of all, the members of the group say they are learning a lot, attendance is up, and the same students keep coming back for more!
Why do you volunteer at Literacy Advance?
I volunteer because I am interested in how reflective practice and research literature come together to inform teaching. Literacy Advance allows me to think about how adults learn in a reading-acquisitive setting while I offer students the best practices that I know about learning. I feel it is important to use my skills to help other people.
What inspires you?
I’m inspired when education theory gets demonstrated in daily teaching practice. This happens almost every time I volunteer at Literacy Advance.
In one of my recent teaching sessions I asked students to solve a problem based on what they read in a short passage. The learners’ eager responses reminded me of a principle of Malcolm Knowles’ andragogy at work: Adults are engaged with learning when they apply ideas to problems. Seeing theory unfold in front of me inspires my volunteering.
What do you most enjoy about volunteering?
I usually acquire some of my best ideas when I do this kind of volunteering. Right now, I do a lot of data analysis that goes into writing papers, as I pursue a career as a researcher-practitioner teacher. Working with motivated students gets me back into a teaching headspace where I can ask pointed questions about what is important to learners.
What strategies do you keep in mind when you tutor?
I try to reach students with different reading abilities. This involves leveling work based on students’ skills.
I also try to use social learning principles so that learners are continually building understandings based on what their peers are doing and saying. This means grouping learners with helpers, or creating forums for individual inputs on a topic or task.
Finally, I keep a running reflection of the objectives I’ve set out, the activities completed, and how the overall tutoring session went. This way I can go back and rethink ideas, teaching formats, and revise my assumptions about the learners.
What would you say to other people thinking about volunteering?
Everyone has something (a talent, a skill, a set of ideas) to contribute by volunteering within the Houston community. Volunteering allows people opportunities to try on different ideas, get insights into professions, help causes and people, and make connections with others in the world. These opportunities are very powerful because they can usher in new pathways to future work, hobbies, causes, and life paths.
If you are considering a new profession, a new set of ideas, or are trying to effect social change, volunteering can help make that happen.
What is your favorite book?
My favorite book right now is R for Data Science by Hadley Wickham and Garrett Grolemund (2016). I realize that this is not a novel or typical book to read for pleasure. However, the book helps a computer user to understand a computer language-based grammar, with symbols to be understood, and interpretations of computer code to be made. When I read the R language I sometimes feel like I’m at the beginning stages of becoming literate in a new language. It reminds me that literacy is a complex set of processes coming together to explore and communicate in the world.
Don't forget our archives of previous spotlights!