Betsy Stoutmorrill: L2A Meeting the Needs of Diverse Learners

Adult learners can improve their literacy skills, but the challenge for tutors is figuring out the most important skills to teach.  Before beginning that first lesson, I suggest that adult learners need to understand and experience self-determination. L2A offers the tools to do just that for diverse learners.

Understanding each factor is fairly easy, but the challenge is designing a lesson that presents the relationships among the factors.  Is there a sequence that truly presents the relationships among these factors?

Doing this activity in a small group helps us see the complexity of the relationships among these factors and the challenge — and potential — for helping adult learners gain self-determination. The activity ignites big discussions and tough questions: Can someone be proactive before knowing how to plan? Does someone reflect and readjust before valuing herself or after?

All that’s needed is a large sheet of paper, some markers, or sticky notes — and a little bit of self-determination!  Each time I provide this training I see amazing creative models for self-determination.

One group simply presented a blank page and the factors printed on 3X5 cards. They plan to create a representation with each adult learner — every learner designs a unique representation of self-determination!

Not only is that a fantastic idea, but it also is an excellent way to use the L2A concept of explicit instruction: I do; we do; you do.  This teaching strategy lets adult learners experience the concept of directing their own learning through modeling and practice.

Imagine picking “self-awareness” and modeling for the adult learner your thought process in through the “I DO.”  Thinking aloud about who you are… Drawing or using pictures to represent your talents… Listing weaknesses and ideas for improvement…

Think of working in equal partnership with the learner in the “WE DO” to explore her own self-awareness.

Picture encouraging the student in the “YOU DO” to choose the next factor and take you through her process.

Teaching literacy skills is the focus of what we do, but if we can build self-determination we have done more than teach literacy skills.  We have empowered the adult learner.

To view Betsy’s L2A webinar, follow this link.


Learning to Achieve: Help for those working with students with learning disabilities

Roberta Reiss

Learning to Achieve (L2A) is an interactive series of professional development modules focusing on meeting the needs of adults with learning disabilities (LD) seeking instruction in literacy programs.  The three on-line “prep” modules and the eight “face-to-face” modules are research-based instruction provided by the Literacy Information and Communication System (LINCS).  Whether on-line or in-person, each module is designed for approximately 90 minutes of interactive learning to inform and train adult tutors or service providers.

L2A Online Modules:

  • LD and Neuroscience: The science and research supporting neurologically based LDs
  • LD and English Language Learners: The unique needs of special populations learning English
  • LD and Accommodations:  Reasonable and appropriate accommodations to improve learning

L2A “Face-to-Face” Modules:

  1. Definition of LD: Providing six basic consensus statements that define and identify LD
  2. Self-Determination: Enhancing self-advocacy to empower adult learners
  3. Legal Issues, Self-Disclosure, and Confidentiality:  Protecting the rights of the adult learner
  4. Explicit Instruction for Strategy Learning:  Research-based strategies to augment adult learning
  5. Reading Disabilities: Providing a clear picture of reading preferences, difficulties, and disabilities
  6. Written Expression Disabilities:  Identifying and improving transcription and generation challenges
  7. Content Learning:  Learning with a purpose and sequence for a degree, credential, employment, citizenship, or life goal
  8. Workforce Preparation Strategies:  Preparing adult learners with basic and applied skills for employment success

Dr. Betsy Stoutmorrill

During October and November, L2A trainers Betsy Stoutmorrill and Roberta Reiss provided five full-days to train 174 literacy volunteers, adult education instructors, service providers, and program administrations.  Trainings were held in Lady Lake, Marianna, Lake City, Palm City, and Port Charlotte. The training session provided an amazing opportunity for professionals and volunteers from a variety of literacy programs to work together and gain knowledge of not only specific learning disabilities but also of research-based strategies and teaching tools.

“Providing the L2A modules to four different groups was an amazing and enlightening opportunity for me,” says Betsy Stoutmorrill.  “I was inspired by all the dedicated volunteers and professionals who asked tough questions and invested their time to attend this training to improve their teaching and understanding of learning disabilities.”

The hope is that additional training days can be offered throughout Florida to introduce more people to L2A or for those who attended a training to complete the online modules.  Thanks to the partnerships between LINCS, the Florida Literacy Coalition, and the individual sponsoring regions, this training will make a difference in the educational and personal success of many adult learners and support the growth and development of the professionals and volunteers who dedicate themselves to adult literacy.    Funding for these trainings were provided through grants, but more funding is needed to continue these important trainings.

“I talk to so many literacy program directors and coordinators who fear that volunteer tutors feel inadequate to the task of working with adult learners with learning disabilities.  This training has allowed us to demystify the topic and to share the best practices based on the most current research.  Judging from the feedback so far, I think we have gone a long way in addressing the challenges,” states Roberta Reiss.

Betsy Stoutmorril: Count Down to Improve Writing

Writing Challenges

When given a writing assignment, one of the first questions struggling writers often ask is “How long does it have to be?”   Focusing on length instead of content can be an indicator that adult learner are struggling to put words on a page or are not confident that they have anything to say.

Confidence and Proficiency

Recognizing and acknowledging that writing is difficult for many adult learners is the first step toward improving their writing.  Giving adult learners a specific and manageable structure for writing and gradually increasing the writing demand improves their chances of become confident and proficient writers.  Also perhaps, it helps them to fall in love with words and accept the challenge of crafting good writing.

Ask for 200 Words

Think about asking for word count on assignments.  Asking for a page or even a paragraph can be anxiety producing, because a blank page is hard to fill and how long is a paragraph anyway?  Asking for 200 words is much less threatening.  For example, this paragraph has been crafted to have exactly100 words. This may not look like much of a challenge, however to novice writers 200 words can be huge, but it’s concrete! Word count is an amazing tool that also allows us to gradually increase the demand by 25-50 words until the novice writes a full page!

Structure and Simplicity

Explain what word count means and how to use the “word count” function on MS Word under the “Review” tab.  This might encourage them to learn to type or word process, too!  Also let them know that the average person writes about 10 words and types about 15 words on a line—so you’re asking for 200 words or about 10 to15 lines.  Very concrete!

Here are simple structural things to do to help a struggling writer find success on your next writing assignment:

  • Create a sample passage
  • Offer specific “step-by-step” written, visual and oral directions
  • Provide a short list of topics, but also be willing to be flexible
  • Set the stage for pre-writing skills with lines for three ideas and five important words
  • Describe how proof reading and rewriting improves the final product

A Final Word about Word Count

Also, if you really want to see word count really work to your advantage as a teacher, try limiting the word count!  When I was trying to improve the content of writers who use a lot of words but don’t actually say very much, I would put strict parameters on word count.

When I taught intensive reading for at-risk high school students, I would limit summary sentences to 10 words or introductory paragraphs to 25 words.   This would result in the students working intensely (Just like I did crafting that 100-word paragraph!) to get the exact word count.  Some of my students would even complain that they needed more words!  Sure loved hearing that!

Highlights From Reading Error Pattern Analysis Training

Dr. Betsy Stoutmorrill

Dr. Betsy Stoutmorrill, of Beacon College in Leesburg, recently facilitated a training on ways adult learner tutors and teachers can identify and solve reading error patterns.

Below is an excerpt, authored by Dr. Stoutmorrill, from the training.

“Is reading an art or a science?”  To answer this, reading teachers and students, as well as adult non- or limited readers, may benefit from review of what I like to call “The Super Seven.”   These are the seven skills, processes or talents needed to be proficient and competent at both the art and science of reading:

  1. decoding—sound-symbol association
  2. vocabulary—definition and pronunciation of words
  3. fluency/prosody—appropriate speed with accuracy and inflection
  4. syntax—sentence structure, word and phrase associations
  5. semantics—changes of word meanings in context
  6. schematics—prior knowledge, culture and memories
  7. pragmatics—intended meaning of the writer

Adults and children who struggle with the science of reading often do not get to the art of reading, so they do not experience the joy and wonder of all the knowledge and entertainment available through the printed page.

Error Pattern Analysis is one tool a reading tutor or volunteer can use to help a student with both the science and the art of reading.

How does the tutor know if an adult student did not learn a skill, learned a skill incorrectly, or has a reading disability?  By listening, marking and discussing error patterns from a brief 100-150 word passage, the tutor can make a difference in the confidence and reading skills of an adult learner from the first day!

A simple system to consistently record the most common errors while listening to a passage allows a volunteer to analyze reading error patterns to plan or choose lessons for correction or practice.  Adult students can also see progress by comparing the error patterns from the first reading to subsequent readings after tutoring and practice.

Tutors can also assess whether a passage is within a student’s reading level:  independent (can read alone with few errors); instructional (requires a tutor’s assistance, some errors); or frustration (cannot read, multiple errors).  Working within a student’s instructional level is the best scenario for improvement in every reading session.

The 10 Most Common Errors:

  1. saying the wrong word
  2. skipping a word/word part
  3. skipping a line of text
  4. adding a word/word part
  5. repeating a word/phrase
  6. sounding out a word
  7. self-correcting
  8. tell/ask for word
  9. try-again
  10. start over

The last four are considered errors for the purpose of helping the tutor to improve a reader’s proficiency and comprehension.

Resources about Reading Pattern Error Analysis:

Curriculum-Based Measurement:  Director for Administering and Scoring CBM Probes in Oral Reading Fluency

SunSprouts Record of Oral Reading as a tool for Assessment and Observation

Did you participate in this training?  If so, tell us what parts of the training were most impactful/helpful for you in the comments section below.

Did you miss this training?  You can watch the entire training online by clicking here!!

Virtual Tutor/Teacher Training: Reading Error Patterns

If you attended the Florida Literacy Conference this past May, you’ll probably recognize the name Betsy Stoutmorrill.

During Conference, Dr. Stoutmorrill presented a very popular session entitled “Reading: Science of the Brain Meets Art of the Mind.”  The session highlighted how learning to read requires the (science) brain’s capacity to decode and link symbols to sounds and the (art) mind’s facility to comprehend the meaning of print.

In just over 3 weeks, on Sept. 22, Dr. Stoutmorrill will virtually present a training on identifying and solving reading error patterns.  She will provide tutors and teachers with a system for identifying and analyzing oral reading/decoding errors students make.

Tutors and teachers can effectively address common error patterns through a process of listening, marking and discussing errors made by students who read a brief 100-150 word passage.

Participants will receive:

1) a list of the 10 most common reading errors

2) sample passages that can be utilized as a guide for selecting appropriate material from a wide range of reading resources

Interested?  Click here for registration and participation information.

Dr. Betsy Stoutmorrill is Vice President of Enrollment and Outreach for Beacon College in Leesburg, Fla.  Since 1989, Stoutmorrill has been in the field of adult education focusing on reading and learning disabilities.

More trainings are on the horizon & you can read summaries from two prior tutor/teacher trainings on this blog!

  1. Effective Vocabulary Instruction for Struggling Readers
  2. Strategic Reading Instruction to Improve Comprehension of Struggling Readers

A Great Conference in Captiva

Well, we are all back from Captiva. It was such a beautiful venue for the conference. My hat is off the all the staff at the Florida Literacy Coalition for making it possible. Great work everyone!

This was my first Florida Literacy Conference and I really enjoyed it.  The sessions I attended were very informative, especially Dr. Betsy Stoutmorrill’s session, Reading: Science of the Brain Meets Art of the Mind.

It was great to meet other people in the wider literacy world, too.  It is really inspiring to know so many good people are out there fighting the good fight!