Input for Program Pilot

Our Adult Literacy Tutoring Program at the Waukegan Public Library is looking to try out a new learning model next year and we’re trying to learn from other programs’ experiences.  Our basic model will be that adults join a learning community at a site and pursue completing goal-focused units semi-independently with the support of volunteer “coaches”.  We’re thinking that we’ll have learners and tutors in a roughly 2 to 1 ratio respectively and run 3 semesters so learning is continuous throughout the year. 

I’d greatly appreciate if anyone would be able to share successes or challenges you’ve had in these specific areas to help us as we plan our pilot: 

  1. Organizing resources into goal-focused units for tutor and/or learner use.  For example, “This is everything you need to learn and apply the Making Predictions reading comprehension strategy.”  “This is everything you need to learn how to fill out forms requiring basic personal information.”  I’m extra interested in any units that are based on the Explicit Instruction framework.

  2. Having volunteers coordinate tutoring sites.  We’re especially interested in whether anyone has had success with splitting coordination duties amongst multiple individuals at a site rather than having a single person whose title is Site Coordinator.

  3. Program models where learners show up to do independent or semi-independent learning.  In our experience, learners show up for their tutor or teacher.  Our objective for this model is to create a community where learners are empowered enough in their learning that they can and do become self-directed learners within the structural framework that our program’s resources provide.  We’ll be piloting this for Literacy and ABE learners, but we hope to create similar sorts of communities for ESL in the future.

I covet your experiences and knowledge.  Please feel free to respond via E-mail at, or I would love to talk with you too: 847-775-2549.


Hello Josh,

I am not sure if this is a model you want to consider, because it isn't really tutoring; it's learning support for a group of learners who are all taking the same online course. It's called a learning circle, and it's being used in several U.S. libraries, including in about 20 branches of the Chicago Public library; in Kansas City, Kansas; Charlotte, North Carolina; Providence, Rhode Island; and perhaps elsewhere. It was developed and is sponsored by an organization called Peer to Peer University and recently, with World Education, they have begun an eighteen-month pilot focusing on ESL learning for adults on waiting lists for English classes. (I am the internal evaluator for that project.) For more information, take a look at the p2pu website, and select the "learning circles" button. The software for helping librarian facilitator or other learning circle facilitators is open source, although you might want to contact p2pu about providing some initial training.

David J. Rosen, Moderator

Program Management CoP


David, thanks for your response.  I'm finding that I'm still struggling to communicate this idea clearly and one of your comments was helpful for me: "It isn't really tutoring."  That's actually precisely the reason we want to pursue this model.  Tutoring has many advantages, especially the ability to individualize curriculum and instruction.  Like any model, it also has disadvantages.  I'm coming to believe that one of the major drawbacks is that the tutee in a tutor-tutee relationship often becomes dependent on their tutor rather learning the self-determination skills that will enable them to learn independently in the future.  Being a tutee often ends up being a very passive role.  I think it turns out to be very difficult to start trusting that you can help yourself, when someone very specific is there to help you.

I have a passing familiarity with p2pu and I think it's a neat model.  I think learning circle is the right term for what they do.  All the learners are gathered around the same center, the same content, the same goal.  The difference we're hoping for in this model is that learners are not gathering around specific content or goals.  Actually, the hope is that they come with widely-varying goals and skills, and they'll choose from a menu of goal-focused units to pursue.  What will unite them is not what they are studying but the values they are embodying.  That's why I call it a learning community.  It's creating a social/educational space that values independent learning (focused on the skills and content, literacy and life/work skills, that we've always taught) and facilitates it.  Coaches are there to help learners know the values of the community.  Most of what coaches will do is facilitate learners in the soft-skills required to successfully navigate the units and move towards their goals.  The hope is that the resource units will embody the values of the community.  Each will include a goal, a realistic plan, reasonable support, measurements of progress, and recognition of achievement.  The hope is that learners will be tackling 2 or 3 units simultaneously.  

I really do think this would be a different model from any others that I've heard about.  Hopeful this clarifies what would make it distinctive.  If you have any thoughts about other similar models or input on the original questions that I had asked, it's most welcome.

Hello Josh,

You wrote: " I'm coming to believe that one of the major drawbacks is that the tutee in a tutor-tutee relationship often becomes dependent on their tutor rather learning the self-determination skills that will enable them to learn independently in the future.  Being a tutee often ends up being a very passive role.  I think it turns out to be very difficult to start trusting that you can help yourself, when someone very specific is there to help you."

Many years ago, an adult literacy tutoring program in Philadelphia, possibly the Center for Literacy, developed an intriguing solution to this problem. They provided literacy tutoring, and training, but from the beginning all the training was for the tutor and learner together. Step one was matching the learner and tutor, and step two was providing them both with the reading tutoring training they needed to solve reading problems together. This meant that learning strategies were provided to tutor and learner at the same time, that they both had expertise, and that they entered their relationship as a partnership, not as an expert reading tutor and a novice tutee. This kind of training changed the power dynamic, clearly communicating that the idea was not for an expert to teach a novice, but for partners to discuss what strategies the learner could try in solving the problems of learning how to read well.

I wonder what you -- and perhaps others -- think about that model to address your concern about learners becoming active, not passive, from the get-go.

David J. Rosen

David, as always, thanks for sharing.  I know I'm one of many who appreciates your constant efforts to keep the conversation flowing towards fruitful solutions for practice (and not just here on LINCS.)  I was off the grid for a long vacation, but wanted to follow up here.  The idea of having tutors and tutees go through training together is a very intriguing one.  That's definitely one way to disrupt the power dynamic.  One of the big ideas of this pilot will be that coaches #1 priority will be mentoring learners in how to engage with the learning process.  In our program we talk a lot about explicitly teaching literacy skills and not focusing on content.  This program will add a focus on explicitly teaching the meta-skills of being an active learner.  I was planning an orientation for coaches and a separate orientation for learners, but now I think I'll try to make as much of that as possible a group endeavor for everyone in the learning community.  It will definitely involve case studies of coaches and learners working through units together which include the learner working independently, with other learners and with coaches to master the skills involved. 

When students take our assessment & don't do well, or know they need to prepare to take our assessment for hte college, we have two programs that they can work with independently:   Modumath and Reading Plus.   Modumath is videos about math and then questions and they*have* to use it here at least for a little while longer (we finally got funding for at least one year ... ) 

    At any rate, the ratio of people who follow through to people who sign up is pretty low.   Still, both programs make a person feel like progress is happening -- Modumath simply because you proceed through videos and take the test and keep moving forward (our version is from 2000), and Reading Plus because it's up-to-date and has all kinds of positive feedback (and is web-based so students can do it anywhere).   I suspect this is important and could possibly help with that transition from "coming for the tutor" to "coming so they can learn."   

Just a few thoughts...



Thanks for sharing!  We've done some similarly underwhelming experiments with independent learning programs.  They do provide something, but you're absolutely right that the follow through rate is pretty low.  Most of our learners just CAN'T do independent learning.  The more I've mused about this project I've realized the real goal is to have adults participate in a highly-successful semi-independent learning experience that will teach them principles and habits that they can apply elsewhere. 

Just yesterday I started thinking about how to present this program to learners and I came up with 3 pillars for the program: Resources, Accountability, and Support.  I'm working on the resources part, but the coaches and learners will need to provide the accountability and support for each other.  For accountability, learners will set weekly and monthly or quarterly goals and report back to the community about their progress each week so as to be accountable for their time and progress.  I'm not sure what form this will take.  I'll want input from the learners on what will be helpful for them.  For support, we'll celebrate each others successes, show off the new skills we learn but also sympathize with struggles and help each other troubleshoot difficulties.  Learners who don't show up on a given day will get an encouragement call.

The short version, I'm hoping this program will be more like Weight Watchers which has a support group element whereas most independent learning is more like just following a diet program.

We'll soon have the web version of the awesome Modumath program and we've already got Reading Plus web version, so I'm hoping to incorporate the "resources, accountability and support" into a course to prep for our assessment.