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Queens Borough Public Library’s Adult Learner Program

ILIAC Paper by Bruce Carmel, Program Manager, Adult Learner Program


Queens Borough Public Library's Adult Learner Program offers Basic Education and English Language Instruction for adults. We offer small groups led by volunteer tutors, classes, computer-assisted instruction, and guided self-study using a variety of resources including books, video- and audio-tapes. We mainly serve those at the lowest levels of literacy and English-proficiency, although we offer a few more advanced classes as a transition out of our program. Full-time professionals staff each center and offer a rich resource of materials to adult learners and adult educators.

Over 7,000 adults each year make use of our programs. ESOL classes serve about 3,000 each year. The six Adult Learning Centers serve about 4,000 students each year: about 2,000 enroll in instructional programs, and 2,000 making use of our rich resources, engaging in short-term self-study or obtaining referrals to other education and training programs. Students range in age from age sixteen up through senior citizens. Queens is a very diverse county. Our students reflect that, representing over 100 different countries and speaking a total of over 50 languages. Latinos, Asians, and African Americans are the largest ethnic groups. All six centers are in residential communities. Five are housed in branch libraries: Flushing, Elmhurst, Rochdale Village, Steinway, and Peninsula. The Central Adult Learning Center is located across the street from the Central Library in the Central Library Annex. ESOL classes are offered in 26 library sites in residential communities throughout the borough.

Educational Philosophy And Instructional Methodology:

The Adult Learner Program follows a student-centered philosophy. We believe that our students come to us with a wealth of knowledge and experience that must be acknowledged and respected. We believe that we have the greatest impact when learning is active and relevant. That means students practice the skills they need for their lives. We follow a constant and continuing process of establishing clear goals with attainable objectives, a course of study to help that, consistent monitoring, reexamination and revision of plans, and evaluation that informs all stakeholders.

The core of our instructional program is the small group. Trained volunteers lead most of the groups. The staff works with small groups as well, often serving the most beginning students. All tutors go through training and receive in-service and support throughout their tenure at the Library. Principles of adult learning, information about the demographics of the population we serve, overview of the ALCs, and theory and practice of ABE and ESOL instruction are the main components of tutor training.

The ALCs' student-centered framework considers age, culture, and learning preference to be factors influencing individual differences related to language acquisition. All instruction is driven by a whole-language philosophy which places the importance of providing authentic uses of language in contexts meaningful to students' lives at the center of teaching practice. Teaching approaches incorporate the principle that reading is a cognitive process in which information from the text and knowledge possessed by the reader act together to produce meaning. Learning to write is viewed as complementary to learning to read. The tutor's role is to help students at all stages of the writing process, including during prewriting, revision, and editing. All skills instruction in phonics, grammar, spelling, and punctuation should take place in the context of meaningful literacy lessons.

In the ESOL conversation groups, a communicative approach to language acquisition is emphasized. These tutor-facilitated groups are places where students practice using English. Many of our students live and work in settings where they English is not spoken. The groups are where they can practice what they are learning on the computer and in self-study with audiotapes.

Technology used in the program includes computers, video tapes, audio tapes, and other hands-on or interactive materials. Computer-assisted instruction at the ALCs takes many forms. Some students use the computers to support the other ALC services they use such as classes and tutoring. Other students make self-study on the computer their entire program. Educational software, such as Rosetta Stone, English Discoveries and the READ program, as well as “real” software such as word processing, spread sheet and design programs are popular with students.

The Internet is a growing resource to us. Students use the Web for research and there are several sites offering instructional activities for students. Navigation of the Web is a challenge for our students and they tend to be more comfortable with the educational software. We make a strong effort to support them and other writing exercises, reading programs, and thematic research using the Internet. Students also select a variety of interactive programs for self-study, and part-time and professional staff are always on hand to recommend materials, give feedback, monitor progress, and answer questions while students work on the computer.

Besides computers, the ALCs have extensive audiotape and videotape collections of educational programs for ESOL and literacy learners. The Franklin speaking dictionaries, Optelec machines for the visually impaired, and the Geosafari Talking Globes are available to students to use as needed.

Outreach and Recruitment:

The Public Relations Department of the Library works with the ALCs to coordinate outreach. Flyers, brochures, and bookmarks have been designed and produced for the target population of students and another set aims for the recruitment of volunteer tutors. These materials are distributes to the customers of the 62 library branches and the Central Library (about 11 million people each year).

Another feature of the is the "Friends of ALCs." Former and present students and their families, tutors and their families, and all interested parties of the local community currently work in the framework of "Friends" groups to support student participation at the Steinway Center. Activities of this group include, advocacy, organizing events to help students participate more fully in community life, providing library tours for students and families, and speaking before organizations, officials, and politicians on ALCs' services. The program will expand to at least two other centers in 2001.

Another recruitment source are the customers attracted to the over 25,000 free programs offered by the Library. Also many referrals are made by outside agencies such as the Literacy Assistance Center, the Board of Education, City University of New York colleges, the Brooklyn and New York Public Libraries and many community-based organizations.

Orientation and Intake Procedures:

All Centers have orientation periods for incoming students. During this time, staff works with literacy students in "start up" groups in which students are introduced to the program and to basic reading strategies, learning styles, computer assisted instruction, and center-wide activities. ESOL students spend at least six hours in orientations which often includes computer assisted instruction and/or guided self-study. Records are kept of the work students do during the orientation period. Students are matched with tutors according to schedule and approximate level.

Counseling, Referral And Other Support Services:

Many services are offered by the library to support all customers including ALC students. We assist students in gaining access to information and resources through Special Services, The Job Information Center, The New Americans Program, Computer and Internet Training, Life Skills Programs, and a Video Teleconferencing Program which connects various library branches to museums and hospitals. We are also a partner of the Queens One Stop Career Center.

Students in need of services not provided by the library are referred to local agencies for education, job training/job readiness, social services, and immigrant services.

Our Materials:

Comprehensive collections are available to any library user, including our students as well as other education and social service programs. Literacy and ESOL collections, software programs, as well as the career and entrepreneurial collections are used by ALC students, tutors, walk-in customers, and students served by local providers introduced to the materials during class visits. The professional collections are utilized by staff, area-wide practitioners, and university students.

Collections includes Literacy and ESOL collections as well as collections of career, educational, and entrepreneurial materials. The ALCs also house a professional collection consisting of books, journals, and related materials on methods, theory, and practice in literacy, ESOL, and ABE instruction, including learning disabilities.

We purchase materials at a high level of interest for adult students, but written at a lower literacy level. These are called “high-low” materials, ranging in topic from history and fiction to poetry and science. We also include newspapers, magazines, coping skills and mechanics workbooks, reference materials (dictionaries, thesaurus, grammar references), bilingual and monolingual book-and-cassette sets, high-level general interest books, and pamphlets and workbooks related to American life and culture. Additional theme-based materials will also be procured and traditional basic education and ESOL print and non-print materials will be updated.

The comprehensive software selection encompasses the study areas of language and culture learning, history, poetry, math, vocabulary, and grammar. Annotated software bibliographies have been compiled and distributed to the Centers and other literacy programs and providers. Deposit collections contain high-interest, simply written books in quantities of fifteen per title and are housed at all ALC sites. They contain fiction, history, coping skills, abridged classics, books on grammar and writing, and book-and-cassette sets for listening practice.

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