Dear Deanne

Dear Deanne was our tutoring advice column while Deanne Foerster was Program Director at LVCA. While she’s moved on to other opportunities, you can still enjoy her wisdom here!

Dear Deanne (October 2013-June 2015)


Dear Deanne,

I am going on a vacation in a few weeks and want to make sure my student understands our schedule change. Should I tell her now or later?

—Vacation on the Brain

Dear “Vacation on the Brain,”

Short answer: wait.

Long answer: Wait some more! Scheduling is one of those things that can get lost in translation. I suggest you wait till your last session before the schedule change to let your student know. Using a calendar to let her know what days you’ll be missing might help as well. In this case, short notice is the best. And make sure she writes down and repeats orally the change that is happening. A few days before you are supposed to meet again, give her a reminder phone call.



Dear Deanne,

The holidays are coming up and I know my schedule is going to be crazy with grandkids visiting and my husband and I traveling to see family. It’ll be a circus! I want to make sure my student is in the loop and that we can work together to make up lost time. What’s the best approach?

—Holiday Concerns

Dear “Holiday Concerns,”

Wait! Keep things status quo as long as possible and then let your student know about changes as they come up.

As for making up lost time, thanks for checking on this! The best way to do this is to make up missed hours in short bursts rather than trying to set up a five-hour marathon tutoring session. Keep track of any missed weeks and work with your student to add 30 minutes to an hour here or there. Students can also make up lost time by talking to Maureen about the following:

1. Attending a conversation group. We offer three of them throughout the week. You and your student can see what option would work best.
2. Scheduling a time for practice on one of our computer learning programs is always good too if they aren’t still doing that.
3. Stay informed about upcoming workshops that could be open for students to attend as well. We actually have one later this month on October 29—see your newsletter for details!



November 2013

Dear Deanne,

Is it really that important for me to work on writing with my student? “Mohamed” is still very low and working on basic conversation is still quite challenging. I feel like adding even a little bit of writing into it might be overwhelming. What do you think?

—What’s the write way

*Dear “What’s the Write Way,” *

I’d say it’s important to review what “Mohamed’s” goals are and how writing will help him reach his goals. For example, if he wants to improve his English for work, you might want him to record a few words from work that he doesn’t recognize throughout the week so you can discuss them during your session. Or use our Picture Dictionaries in the library to find words associated with his work to practice speaking and writing. Writing relevant words in his daily life will be a help rather than a burden.

Dear Deanne,

My student has been late the last few times by ten or fifteen minutes. He never calls ahead and it’s getting a little annoying. I feel like he is wasting not only my time but his own—should we add on the time at the end when he’s late? What should I do?

—Waste Not, Want Not

Dear “Waste Not, Want Not,”

If I had a quarter for every time a student stood me up for an intake meeting, I would be a moderately wealthy woman at this point, so I entirely understand your frustration. What’s important here is that you put the onus of responsibility on the student. If he’s late, don’t offer to stay late with him—that doesn’t teach him to value your time.

However tempting it may be to let him have a piece of your mind, I think this is a “more flies with honey” kind of situation. Start with asking him some questions in a friendly manner. Ask your student what is going on in his life, why he’s late, and if there might be a better time for you both to meet. By starting with these questions you can perhaps get to the root of the problem. It might be that you agree to a different time. It might be that this conversation resolves the issue—or at least gets your student to call or text you in advance.

Sometimes the problem is simply poor time management, so you might also incorporate some time management techniques into your conversation. Does your student use a planner? Does he have a phone that can give him reminders? A large part of tutoring is working on habits—building good ones and overcoming problematic ones. If you can help your student manage his time better, this will not only help him in studying and doing homework for your sessions, but also in other aspects of his life.



December 2013

Dear Deanne,

I keep thinking about the checklist you handed out awhile back and the issue of the student summarizing the session at the end. I think it’s a good idea in theory, but I’m not sure how to fit it into our sessions. There’s so much to do and our session sometimes goes by so fast. I come in with a plan each week, but sometimes we diverge based on my student’s questions or concerns. Plus, there are days where I think it would be a struggle for “Maria” to verbalize what we’ve gone over. Help!

—Trying to Put Theory into Practice

Dear “Trying to Put Theory into Practice,”

It is amazing how fast time can fly by sometimes? First, let me say I think this is a common problem—it can be difficult to predict how long an activity will last and it’s important that you remain flexible so you can keep your student’s interests and goals at the center of your sessions. Fundamentally, you need to see summarization not as extra but as essential to learning. My high school chemistry teacher would always say “repetition is the mother of all learning,” and she repeated it often enough that, while I don’t remember much from the class except watching her eat a candle (it was a potato but no one in class knew that when she popped it in her mouth), I do remember the saying. And, while my teacher may have been a little nutty, I think her advice is spot on. Summarizing is a way of repeating information and solidifying understanding—and while it may be tempting to fit in new material at the end of a session, your student will benefit from slowing down and summarizing the work in the long term.

To get in the practice, consider setting a timer that leaves you with 5-10 minutes of time at the end of the session to repeat key concepts. This will help you get in the habit of leaving time to summarize.



January 2014

Dear Deanne,

I just got back from some holiday travels and was looking forward to my first session back with Rita. However, she never showed up! We had written our appointment in her calendar and everything. I was disappointed about wasting my time, especially after having two weeks off. I know Rita needed to get back into the swing of things as well. How should I approach this with her so she doesn’t forget again?

—Stood Up

Dear Stood Up,

Wouldn’t it be nice if, after high school, being stood-up, bad skin, and gossip all vanished from our lives with a flip of a tassel at graduation? Unfortunately, that’s not how things work. As for being stood up, like with most annoying events in our lives, it’s important to ask what you could have done to prevent this from happening. It’s also important to take a moment to remember how different your student’s life may be from yours. Planning ahead may be a new concept to her if she’s just trying to get by day to day. It may take time for her to get accustomed to using a calendar.

So, yes, it would have been terrific if Rita had consulted her calendar studiously and shown up as planned, but she didn’t. Next time, could you text her a reminder a day or two in advance? Or give her a call? We all forget sometimes and I think we all have benefited from a benevolent reminder on occasion. Next time there’s a gap in your meetings, take it upon yourself to send Rita a quick reminder so you can avoid being stood up again.

And to all my devoted readers: this happens all the time. Please save yourself the hassle of being stood up by making a quick phone call or text to your student. You know what they say about an ounce of prevention!

Dear Deanne,

For the last couple of months I have been working with my student, “Jorge,” a level 2 ESL student. He’s been making steady progress and he’s talking about applying to CATEC soon. Frankly, his language skills are just not there and I’m afraid he wouldn’t be successful. How do I talk him out of it without hurting his feelings?

—Reluctant Wet Blanket

Dear Reluctant,

One of the reasons I love giving advice to tutors is because I have so often wished to have my own personal advice columnist by my side whenever I’ve had a tough decision in life. I’m sure you too have found yourself at a particularly difficult crossroads and wanted someone to tell you if you should quit an unpleasant job, take a chance on a flirtatious acquaintance, or invest in the expensive but amazing trip to Spain.

In this situation, you get to be the advice columnist! In other words, you simply must tell your student NOT to apply to CATEC. First of all, CATEC doesn’t offer placement testing or ESL support, so a level 2 student will not succeed in that environment. Not only would it be a waste of time and a disappointing experience, it would also be money down the drain.

Save your student some grief by talking with him kindly but directly. Let him know you are delighted with his progress and interest in taking some courses. Then tell him what I’ve told you about CATEC so that he understands why you’re being a “wet blanket” (I’d love to hear you explain that idiom as well). And of course add that if he continues to focus on his English studies, someday he’ll be ready for CATEC and that you will happily cheer him on when he’s reached that milestone.

Dear Deanne,

I’m uncomfortable even asking you this, but after suffering in silence for several weeks, I don’t know where else to turn. The basic problem is my student, while kind and hard-working, is not very good about keeping up with her basic personal hygiene. The smell can sometimes be a little overwhelming when we’re sitting close to each other in one of the small study rooms at the LVCA office. The only solution I’ve come up with is sending her an anonymous gift bag of deodorant and body wash. I hope you have a better one!

—Say no to B.O.

Dear Say no to B.O.,

Your problem stinks (sorry, had to fit in one smelly pun!). No one likes to talk to other people about personal hygiene—particularly the lack thereof. However, just as we all appreciate a friend letting us know about the spinach stuck in our teeth or a zipper not quite zipped, such interventions are often welcome if not always comfortable.

Also, it’s important to realize your student may not be aware this is a problem. Depending on her home culture, she may not be accustomed to what’s generally expected in the United States. Perhaps start out by having her talk about some cultural norms from her home. What are typical meals people eat? What sort of dress is expected at special events? Etc. This will open up the conversation so you can talk about some basic cultural norms for the United States. Let her know that it’s important to bathe regularly and use deodorant. Answer any questions she might have in response. Let her know that good personal hygiene is also important with employers. Hopefully this will give her the nudge she needs to change her hygiene routine.



March 2014

Dear Deanne,

My student, Juan, and I have been working together for several months. He’s a delightful student to work with and we get along great. However, he started a new job a few weeks ago and since then scheduling has been a nightmare. He works in a kitchen and sometimes he works days, sometimes nights. While we can usually figure out a time once a week to meet, it is hard to juggle my schedule around his ever-changing one. Plus, I don’t think the irregular schedule is helping him study English when he’s at home. What should we do?

—Stuck in My Student’s Scheduling Nightmare

Dear Scheduling Nightmare,

If this column is any proof, I think it’s safe to say that scheduling is the enemy of learning. I’m so sorry to hear things have been hard for you and Juan and not surprised he’s having a hard time making English a priority when his sleep and home life are also, no doubt, being impacted by this wacky schedule. I think you need to help Juan find a way to approach his boss about this.

First, you and Juan should talk about how his progress in English is not only good for him—but good for his professional life so that he can better communicate with his supervisors, colleagues, and customers. This might help Juan see that bringing up a scheduling request is not a threat to his job. Second, you should role-play this discussion with Juan. Pretend to be his boss and help him find the words to make his request. Together, pick out a day/time that will work for both of you so that his request isn’t for naught. And, finally, give him an LVCA card to give to his boss—we are happy to advocate for our students. If his boss wants to call the office and verify Juan’s participation, we can help explain how vital a regular schedule is to our students’ success in the program.

Dear Deanne,

I don’t mean to ruffle any feathers, but I really really really hate standardized testing. Why does my student have to do it? My student Elisa’s been making fine progress, and she just finished her first test and didn’t pass. She’s disappointed and I’m angry. She’s working so hard! What’s the deal?

—Tests Stink

Dear Tests Stink,

I still have nightmares about showing up to the SATs in my pajamas, dozens of No. 2 pencils gripped in my fists, as I wander the halls of a vaguely familiar high school that quickly devolves into an endless maze. So I feel you—tests are not fun and are incomplete measures of success. However, we live in a world where only that which can be measured can be funded. In other words, we’d have to close up shop without regular standardized testing to demonstrate to our funders that our students are successful.

All that said, it’s important that you and your student don’t put too much emphasis on the tests. First of all, for a low student, it often takes two years of tutoring before s/he shows progress on an exam. If you and your student are meeting regularly and your student is making progress toward the goals she selected for herself, then I think that is a tremendous success.

Furthermore, if after two years and two rounds of testing, your student is not making demonstrable progress, then, yes, we will reevaluate whether she’s a good fit for the program. This doesn’t happen often and when it does we refer students to other programs that better fit their needs. This doesn’t mean either you or your student is a “failure” (please, don’t ever think that!); it simply means it’s time to reevaluate the situation. So take a deep breath, share some relaxation exercises with your student, and see the test as part of the journey rather than the destination.

Dear Deanne,

Every week my student, Sam, brings me a cup of coffee. Don’t get me wrong—I love a good cup of joe. However, it’s starting to make me feel uncomfortable. How can I get him to quit this sweet but unnecessary ritual?


Dear Over-caffeinated,

Just the other day I was reading The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt in which Haidt discusses, among many other things, how humans (and many other of our fellow creatures) are wired for reciprocity. Tit for tat works, evolutionarily speaking. So I’m sure your student is, as you already know, just trying to express his gratitude for your time and energy and give you something in return.

As I see it, you have two options. One, you can continue to accept this gift for what it is—a small token of gratitude—and enjoy your weekly cup of joe without a second thought. Two, you can also see if there is a way to redirect your student’s need to reciprocate you for your efforts. Maybe you can encourage him to set aside a dollar a week for a new book, some other need, or even donate it to a cause that you select together. Finally, if all else fails, you can also tell your student you’re giving up caffeine and hope he takes the hint.



May 2014

Dear Deanne,

My student is a Latina. Is there an instructional method to help instruct when a word ends in “ed,” whether to pronounce it as one syllable or two? For example, “wanted” and “stored;” “shunned” or “walloped.” Thanks!

—Pronunciation Pondering

Dear Pronunciation,

Thanks for your question! That’s a good one and a common one. Here are some basic guidelines to use with your student:

*ED endings t/d/id
Words that end with a “t” or “d” sound have an extra syllable sound of “id” added to the ending.* invite need paint

Words that end with a voiced sound (you feel a vibration in the throat) have a “d” ending sound.

Prepare disorganize determine carry

Words that end with a voiceless sound (sound is in the mouth) have a “t” ending sound.

Stop ask brush laugh

We also have a pronunciation binder in the library you can use as a resource, along with other materials. If you’re still struggling, don’t hesitate to stop by my desk sometime to chat.

Dear Deanne,

I’m really enjoying my time with my student each week. We have a lot of fun and I like learning about his life. I don’t know that he’s progressing very fast and I wonder what he should do besides meeting with me twice a week. I wish there were more ways he could practice his English!

—Twice is Nice, but Not Enough

Dear Twice is Nice,

If I was only practicing a foreign language twice a week my progress would be slow, too, especially if I was speaking my home language at, well, home. This is a common struggle for our students—they want more practice, but time and circumstances keep them from progressing as quickly as they—or their tutors—would like.

Fortunately, we have several other options for students here at LVCA. First, your student can continue to work on the computer once a week in addition to his time with you. This can help reinforce your lessons. Additionally, we have conversation groups that meet throughout the week:

  • Mondays, 2:00pm-3:00pm for High Beginning Level or Higher
  • Thursdays, 10:00am-11:00am for Level 0, 1, or 2 students
  • Thursdays, 6:00pm-7:30pm for High Beginning or Higher

We have business cards with conversation group information by the front door. Help your student pick a time that works for him. These groups are also a great way for him to meet new people and build friendships with others who can relate to his experiences learning English here in Charlottesville.



June 2014

Dear Deanne,

My student Veronica wants to apply for citizenship. I’m not sure how to help her out. What are your thoughts?

—Citizenship Question

Dear Citizenship,

Well, she should probably memorize the presidents in chronological order and start dressing up as her favorite First Lady…oh wait, I just described my co-worker Amie’s Presidents Day parties, which I hear put the “party” in patriotic.

All silliness aside, we have plenty of materials and sometimes even short term workshops that students can sign up for. The key skills Veronica has to demonstrate is being able to speak, read, and write in English as well as knowing 100 questions about government and history for the interview (so maybe memorizing the Presidents isn’t that bad of an idea…).

I also recommend that she go to the International Rescue Committee (IRC) downtown when she’s ready to fill out the application. They are the most reliable source for getting this process going, so you don’t need to tackle the application with her. She also needs to be a legal resident for at least five years in order to apply.

Going through this whole process is more for students who already have a good understanding of English already. So if Veronica doesn’t know much English, it’s important to encourage her to study more first. You can also ask staff if it might be a good time for her to apply. We don’t want her to spend $680 for this and not be able to demonstrate an understanding of English. Then she won’t pass.

One way you can help her in your sessions is by reviewing many of the vocabulary words included on the exam, which deal with her past and demonstrating good moral character for becoming a citizen. Also, if you think she can learn questions relatively soon, like,

What is one thing Benjamin Franklin is famous for?
Name one war fought by the US in the 1800s.
Name one state that borders Canada.
She’s off to a real good start.

Dear Deanne,

I know we aren’t supposed to be talking most of the time in our sessions, but how can I help my student with listening?

—Talking & Listening

Dear Talking,

The eternal conundrum of tutors! You are right – it is important for your student to practice his listening skills. However, there are lots of ways you can do this without it becoming an extended narration of your trip to the grocery store or Bermuda or all the places between. I often recommend tutors read to the student without showing the student the book. Then the student must rely only on his listening skills. Then after a paragraph or so, ask her to summarize. Sometimes you can read the paragraph to her 2 times and then have her summarize.

You can also do comprehension questions in the book orally first before going through them in writing. True Stories #2 or #3 contain some short and funny stories. I would also encourage your student to watch TV for 10-15 minutes about 3 times a week and then report back to you on what he saw and heard.

Ask staff if you need help finding these books. But in general alternating reading between you both and her summarizing is a great way to get practice in for speaking, listening, and reading.



September 2014

Dear Deanne,

I’m really worried about my student, Linda. She seems very depressed and anxious and has said a few things that make me think her situation at home isn’t good. I’m not sure if her husband is physically or verbally abusive or both, but I can tell things aren’t right. I want her to open up to me, but I don’t know what I would say if she does. What should I do?

—Concerned but Uncertain

Dear Concerned,

While I’m very upset to hear about your student’s situation, I’m very happy you brought this question to my attention. It can be very tempting to switch out your tutoring cap for a therapist hat and I urge you to avoid this temptation. The first and most important question you can ask your student is, “are you safe?” If she says no (or if she says she’s safe, but you have doubts), then there are a variety of places you can refer her for help.
You might begin by referring her to the Women’s Initiative, which has an office just down the hall from LVCA. The Women’s Initiative holds walk-in hours on Tuesdays from 9am-noon at its Jefferson School location (see the website for details about other locations). During these hours, women can come in for an assessment, find out about eligibility for free or sliding scale services, and get connected to the appropriate resources. This could be a great starting place for your student, no matter what kind of difficulties she is facing. They also offer some services in Spanish.

The United Way also offers resources to people facing a variety of difficult circumstances, from finding affordable or safe housing to access to free or affordable food options.
If neither of these organizations fit your student’s situation, please talk with me or Maureen and we can connect you with other community resources. Whatever you do, don’t feel it’s your job to be a counselor. It isn’t and, though it may seem like you’re helping your student, it is much better—for your own peace of mind as well as her well-being—if you refer her to professionals .

Dear Deanne,

If I have to hear my student complain about his boss again, I think I’ll go bonkers. It’s so frustrating to hear him voice very serious concerns about work conditions and scheduling issues and feel so helpless—not to mention how helpless he feels. How can I empower my student to have some difficult conversations with his supervisor? I should mention my student’s English skills are pretty low.

—Hate His Boss

Dear Boss Hater,

No one, no matter what language they speak, likes having a boss from…you know where. And it sounds like that may be exactly where your student’s boss hails from. Unfortunately, neither you, nor me, can be the Bad Boss Police. The best you can do in this situation is give your student the tools he needs to stand up for his rights as an employee.

First, you might spend some time with your student sorting out what his most pressing concerns are. Is it scheduling? Is it overtime? Poor work conditions? Pick a topic and role-play with him ways to talk to his boss about his concerns. Prepare him for the exchange to go poorly and for ways he can deflate the tension. Maybe he needs to be prepared for nothing to change. If so, help him find the language to end the matter peacefully. It sounds like helping him look through help wanted ads for other jobs wouldn’t be a terrible idea as well.

If the situation seems serious enough, your student could also reach out to the Human Rights Commission, a department of the City of Charlottesville, dedicated to preventing discrimination in housing, employment, and other areas of community life. However, be aware that the commission has certain guidelines it must follow when deciding whether to further investigate a complaint.

Dear Deanne,

No matter what I do, my student refuses to practice English at home. I don’t see how she’s going to get better if she doesn’t try to speak English with her husband or kids. I’m about ready to try bribing her. Any thoughts?

—There’s No Place Like Home to Learn English

Dear There’s No Place Like Home,

I used to love playing the piano…but only during my piano lessons. I loved my teacher – she wore her hair in pigtails, which I thought was a very strange thing for a grown-up to do—so for a couple hours every week I was a stellar student. However, my mother had to drag me kicking and screaming to the piano bench whenever I had to practice on my own. As you might have guessed, my dream of becoming a concert pianist didn’t pan out.

My point here is that none of us are always the perfect student—even if we’re studying something we love. And I’ve got to tell you, if you wanted me to try to communicate with my husband in my mediocre Spanish, I’m not sure our marriage could take it. So, cut your student some slack. It’s unlikely she’ll ever talk English regularly at home. However, one way you can help her sneak it in is by encouraging her to read to her children in English. This not only encourages literacy in her kids, but it’ll give her a safe place to practice. We’ve got a variety of children’s books in our library you can point her to, or help her get a library card and pick a few books out to take home.



October 2014

Dear Deanne,

So I’ve been tutoring for about two months and I think things are going well, but I’m feeling a little overwhelmed. My student and I meet on the weekends, so I never see you or any of the other staff, or really any other tutors for that matter. Sometimes I’m worried that I’m doing it all wrong, even though I can’t say that I have a specific concern. I’m not sure what to do, but thought I’d reach out and hear what you had to say.

—All By Myself

Dear All By Myself,

I have to admit tutoring can feel like it’s you and the student versus the English Language—and sometimes English does not play nice! First, you’re not alone in feeling alone—tutoring, while very rewarding, can also feel isolating at times. Second, we’ve got some ways you can reconnect with staff and fellow tutors to prevent you from singing “All By Myself” all by yourself (unless you really want to. In which case, we’d love to cheer you on—maybe we need a Tutor Karaoke Night?!).

One way to connect is through our Tutor Book Group. The group meets on the second Saturday of every month at 2pm at a variety of locations (including the occasional winery). For more information or to get involved, email Amie.

This month, we’re starting to offer a First Mondays Tutor Roundtable session at noon. Every first Monday you can meet and talk with fellow tutors about that month’s theme or any other tutoring issues you want to address. These brown bag roundtables will take place in our meeting room at Common Ground Healing Arts, just down the hall. The first session is “Untapped Resources” and will focus on making better use of our library’s resources. It will take place October 6 at noon. Bring your lunch and join the discussion.

If neither of these options work for you, maybe you can attend one of our workshops that we hold every other month, or even lead a workshop if you have a topic you are experienced in. You can always make an appointment with me to check in about what you are doing or let us know if you’d like to connect with a mentor tutor. Any one of these should help you feel less alone.

Dear Deanne,

My student and I are pulling out our hair out over “to be” verbs. I just can’t figure out a clear and simple way to describe when to use them. Help!

—To Be or Not to Be

Dear To Be or Not to Be,

“To be” verbs are certainly a problem of Shakespearian proportions—or at least it can feel like it. Here are two basic rules that should be pretty easy for you to go over with your student:
Use “to be” verbs before:

1) *Adjectives*‒ a descriptive word for a person, place or thing.
a. Examples: She is a beautiful woman. They are busy at work. He is very tall.

2) “ing” Verbs ‒ reflect a long action.
a. Examples: They are running very quickly. I am writing to my mother. He was planning his trip to Paris.

And for those higher level students….

3) Passive Voice ‒ where the object becomes the subject focus of a sentence.
a. Examples: The Grapes of Wrath was written by John Steinbeck.(Passive: object is the focus with “to be” + past participle of verb) John Steinbeck wrote The Grapes of Wrath. (Active: subject did the action) Exception (and there are always exceptions in English): I was born in Peru. “Born” is a verb, but it doesnʼt use “ing” and must have “to be” with it.
Hope this helps! You can have your student practice making up his or her own sentences using these as models.



November 2014

Dear Deanne,

Is there ever an opportunity for a part-time volunteer? I am only available six months each year, but love the idea of helping out.

-Part-time Tutor Wannabe

Dear Wannabe,

Thanks for reaching out! While committing to a year of tutoring is preferred, we sometimes need substitute tutors, especially for the summer. So if you’re a snowbird and only fly the coop in winter, summer would be a great time for you to get involved. We also sometimes need office volunteers, which is another good way to support LVCA without the one-year time commitment.

We are working with some referrals from places like Piedmont Virginia Community College, so it’s possible we could arrange a short-term match, but that is pretty rare. I encourage you to attend one of our tutor trainings as a way to find out more about our organization and what tutoring’s all about so you can see if it’s a good fit for you.

Dear Deanne,

I really appreciated the “Tutor Checklist” you had us fill out in the office a few weeks ago. It really got me thinking about how important it is to recap things at the end of our sessions, but I’m still finding it hard to remember to do this. Any tips?

—Last But Not Least

Dear Last But Not Least,

I’m so glad you found the “Tutor Checklist” helpful. We live in a society that is pretty focused on first impressions, but in so many things, last impressions are the lasting ones.

First, you need to make sure you have time to summarize your session. One way to ensure this might be to set a timer to go off 5-10 minutes before you’re scheduled to end.

Next, you need a way to make the review of the session useful and doable for your student.
• Depending on your student’s level, you might have him tell you 1-3 things you studied that day. You might also have him write 1-3 short sentences reviewing the session.
• After reviewing what happened, you should preview what happens next. If your student has homework to do, make sure he knows exactly what it is and help him think about when and where he’ll complete it.
• If your student is new, you might also restate when and where you’ll be meeting next week. I hope these tips help you make the most of the last few minutes of your sessions.



December 2014

Dear Deanne,

Two times I have filled out my October report and when I go to submit it I get that I am not qualified to use/ send the report. What is the problem? I have had no trouble previously.


—Reporting a Report Error

Dear Error Reporter,

Computers really do make our lives easier, right? That’s the idea? They aren’t just the same old problems with fancy new hi-tech clothes?

You’re not the first, nor will you be the last, to experience this kind of problem. The most common error message when submitting the progress report is, “*You are not authorized to submit this report*.”

Our webpage designer says this error can be caused by any of the following:
• A privacy or security setting on your computer which needs to be adjusted.
• Using an old ‘bookmark’ or ‘favorites’ to save the tutor report link. If you are doing this, hitting ‘*refresh*’ or typing the link in again may help.
• Trying to go ‘back’ in your browser at any time while completing the report.

If after considering these possibilities, the website report still does not work on your home computer, you are welcome to use a computer in our office to send the report through the website or complete a paper copy. We are sorry for any inconvenience and really appreciate you taking the time to fill out the report and submit it on time every month. Progress reports are critical to helping us monitor student progress and hours, as well as being able to intervene if you need our help with attendance or other issues.

Dear Deanne,

I’ve been working on the past tense with my low-level student for months and it’s like trying to teach a fish to ride a bicycle. He just doesn’t seem to get it. Any suggestions for a way to make the “past” more understandable?

—Tense About the Past

Dear Tense About the Past,

I’ve got a quick and easy solution for you: stop teaching the past. I realize it may seem strange for me to argue for giving up, but when working with low-level students, simplicity is your friend and that can mean abandoning something if it proves too complicated—it’s just a sign your student is just not ready for that level of complexity yet. A few tutors say that even when they may translate into the student’s language about the different tenses, they still can’t remember to do it in English. In fact, switching between tenses in a single session can be very confusing for your student, especially if he doesn’t have a strong education in his home language.

Instead, focus on the present tense and repetition of simple sentences that he can use in everyday life. Make him practice statements describing pictures and objects, where he lives and works, what he likes, or describing things about his family. This ensures he has a strong foundation and builds his confidence. Once he’s comfortable in the present tense and building fluency, then touch on the present progressive (actions happening right now). You can later consider re-introducing the past tense, but don’t rush it. The past will catch up with you, eventually.



February 2015

Dear Deanne,

I’ve heard through the grapevine that Literacy Volunteers is collecting green card numbers. What’s up with that? What if my student doesn’t have a green card? Is this a problem?

—Feeling Green about Green Cards

Dear Feeling Green,

I’m so glad you asked!” LVCA recently won a grant from United States Citizenship and Immigration Services to support Legal Permanent Residents (LPRs) in our community obtain citizenship. What this means is we’ll be working with the Adult Learning Center and Albemarle County Adult Education to offer citizenship classes, along with supporting our tutors in incorporating citizenship into their sessions. The International Rescue Committee will also be offering its naturalization assistance services at a discounted rate.

If your student is interested in applying for citizenship in the next year or so, please talk to us about getting your student involved in this program. For record-keeping, we do need copies of green cards for anyone participating in this program.

Finally, if you want to learn more about the naturalization process, please join us for a workshop on Wednesday, February 25 at noon at the Jefferson School City Center.

Dear Deanne,

Well, it’s that time of year again, when the weather’s about as predictable as, well, the weather. I know I should probably know, but what’s your weather policy? And if you’re closed, do I still need to meet with my student?

—Snow Day Blues

Dear Snow Day Blues,

The other day I was at the grocery store and the clerk was so excited that it had snowed earlier in the afternoon. I had to laugh because this young woman said it snowed when really she meant a few flurries had drifted by—she should see winter in Michigan (where I grew up). Then she’d know when it’s actually snowing.

As for LVCA’s policy, we are closed whenever Charlottesville City Schools close for inclement weather, so go to their website for information. You can also call the office (434-977-3838) and check our voicemail to find out if we’re closed. If the schools have a late start, we’ll open by 9:30am.

When the office is closed, it’s your call whether or not to make alternative arrangements with your student. You can either cancel your meeting or arrange to meet elsewhere if you and your student feel comfortable traveling.

Dear Deanne,

My student, “Carla,” is having some financial problems and it’s breaking my heart. She’s worried about her kids getting enough food and keeping them in warm clothes this winter. I’d really like to help her out with a gift or small loan, but I have a hunch that is a tutor “no-no.” Is it? And if so, what should I do instead?

—Money Woes

Dear Money Woes,

You’re absolutely right—giving your student a gift or small loan is not recommended. It’s very painful to watch someone suffering financially or otherwise, so I completely understand why you’d feel the urge to help your student with this matter. However, as mentioned in the tutor training, one of our key goals is fostering student independence. So instead of giving your student a fish, you’ll need to help “Carla” use a fishing pole.

There are a variety of resources in town that can help your student make it through a period of financial difficulty. Consider helping Carla connect with the Department of Social Services, MACAA, Love, Inc, or the Salvation Army. We can also help you contact these organizations or provide Food Bank referrals for your student. If Carla is associated with a church, she should look into asking them since they sometimes offer assistance. By connecting Carla to these resources, and perhaps role-playing with her potential conversations she might have with representatives from these organizations, you’re helping her get the assistance she needs and be a better advocate for herself.



March 2015

Dear Deanne,

So, I keep hearing about this Wordplay thing. I even saw an ad on TV I think. But I don’t quite get what it’s all about. Can you tell me the deal with Wordplay?

—Wondering About Wordplay

Dear Wondering,

Thanks for bringing this up. We as a staff sometimes get Wordplay the brain and forget that for many of our tutors, Wordplay is an unfamiliar event. Wordplay is LVCA’s annual fundraiser and features teams of three competing in several rounds of trivia. We have a professional game-maker, Debra Weiss, create the game each year. I’d love to give you a hint about this year’s game, but we’re all sworn to secrecy around these parts. Trust me, the games are fun and fast-paced, and pretty cool to look at on the Paramount’s big screen.

This year’s Wordplay takes place Wednesday, April 22, at 7pm at The Paramount. You can either form a team or buy a ticket to join the fun. It’s truly a fun night of trivia in support of literacy. I hope you can go!

Dear Deanne,

My student and I were talking about plans for summer and she wants to make sure her kids aren’t just sitting around the house all summer. Any low cost suggestions? Is there anything her kids can do at the Jefferson School?

—Summer on the Brain

Dear Summer on the Brain,

These early spring days get me giddy for warm weather, too. Charlottesville has lots of opportunities for kids to have fun, educational summers. One of the most convenient options is the Teen Center at Carver Recreation Center, here at the Jefferson School. Children ages 11-17 can drop in the Teen Center from 3pm-9pm Monday-Thursday, 3pm-8pm Friday, and 1-6pm on Saturday and Sunday. The Center has video and table games for kids to use.

There are also a variety of summer camp options in town. You can go over some of the options on the website to help your student pick out one that fits her children’s interests and her budget.



April 2015

Dear Deanne,

My student was recently retested and while he did better on listening comprehension, I was informed his speaking skills were not progressing as well as his listening. Any thoughts on how I can get him talking more? He seems rather shy so it’s hard.

—More Speaking, Less Listening

Dear More Speaking,

Let me begin by telling you a little story about my relationship to roller-skating. From the first time I laced my skates and began clinging to the shag carpeting lining the walls of the roller rink, I hated it. At the age of ten I swore never to skate again—but, two years later I found myself in a roller-skating unit in my seventh grade gym class. I was forced to roller-skate every day for a week. It was awful. Why? Because it was hard. I did everything I could to avoid practicing it—it made me uncomfortable and I constantly feared I’d fall flat on my face.

For your student, speaking in English might be a little bit like roller-skating: difficult, embarrassing, and something he might tend to avoid, even if he does want to improve. So what does that mean for you? That means you’ve got to create space for him to practice that feels safer than a bunch of seventh graders skating around a gym floor.
Here are some key strategies to use:

  • Stop Talking: This may sound obvious, but if you’ve got a gift for gab or a fear of silence, you might be talking more than 25% of the tutoring session. Ask more questions. Count to 15 before speaking again. Don’t keep rephrasing questions—let your student compose his thoughts in silence.
  • Give your student permission to take his time: Tell him, “I’ll wait,” and then do so, patiently.
  • Ask your student to repeat information. Say, “that’s interesting. Tell it to me again.” Is this potentially boring for you? Sure. But it helps build your student’s confidence and fluency.
  • Get to know your student: Ask about his family, his job, his life. Have him tell you about pictures of his family. Encourage him to talk about what matters to him and I bet he’ll begin to open up.

Above all, remember that tutoring is not a “normal conversation.” It’s training ground. So help your student develop a pleasure in practicing by giving him the time and quiet he needs to express himself in English.

Dear Deanne,

My tutee is making good gains. In checking in the grammar books available in the center, I am taken aback by the number of irregular past tense verbs. Can you direct me to resources that will list the most commonly used irregular past tense verbs, and then the next most commonly used, etc?

—Irregular Verbs

Dear Irregular Verbs,

English has quite the menagerie of irregular or regular verbs, so it’s no wonder you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed. The black grammar book in the library, Fundamental of English Grammar, has about 50 irregular verbs listed on p. 33. They may not be considered the most commonly used, but you can use your conversations with your student to determine which verbs to focus on in general.

Depending on what level your student is at, be careful not to overwhelm her long lists of verbs, especially if she isn’t using the verbs frequently in her conversation. Focus on verbs that will be most useful to her and give her lots of practice with those. It’s better to build a good foundation with a few verbs than giving her a broad overview of lots of these oddball verbs.

Here are some websites you can also use for reference:



May 2015

Dear Deanne,

Tell me it isn’t true—are you LEAVING US? I keep hearing these rumors and I refuse to believe them.

—Say it ain’t so

Dear Say it ain’t so,

It is with a mix of joy and sadness that I have to tell you the rumors are indeed true. I’ll be moving back to northern Virginia at the end of June. My husband’s been transferred up there and my kids will be starting college there in the fall, so it seems as though the fates decided it was time for us all to head back north.

We will also be returning to the area to participate more in a volunteer yoga and meditation center we helped to establish almost 20 years ago. I look forward to being able to teach classes for improving people’s physical, mental and emotional health in such a busy area. I’ll need it more myself I bet!

I’ll certainly miss all the wonderful tutors and staff at LVCA. We’ve been interviewing some great replacements, so I’m sure you’ll be in good hands. Please join me in celebrating my time with LVCA at a small reception at West Main (333 West Main Street) on Tuesday, June 16 at 5:30pm. We’ll be in one of the upstairs rooms. RSVPs are appreciated, but not required.

Dear Deanne,

I feel like every time I walk into the office, I see you, Maureen, or Amie testing another student. Should I be concerned? Is my student up for testing? How do I know if he is?

—Test Anxiety

Dear Test Anxiety,

Our fiscal year ends on June 30, so it is indeed Testing Season around the LVCA office. It’s very important that we retest students before our fiscal year ends for some of our major grants. However, you don’t have to worry—one of us will reach out to you or your student to let you know if it’s time to test.

However, along with testing, comes grant reporting, so I want to use this opportunity to remind you and my faithful readers about the importance of goal reporting on your monthly reports. Please remember that goals can be varied and not only measured by gains in vocabulary and pronunciation. Any work or life goal your student makes is definitely worth reporting! For instance, if your student has opened a bank account, obtained a library card, gotten involved with his children’s education or his broader community, do let us know. We love to report the concrete ways better English is helping our students lead better lives, so share with us your students’ big and small accomplishments.



June 2015

Deanne’s Top Six Tutoring Tips

1) Remember Rapport: Your student is just as—if not more—nervous than you. Remember to start your sessions checking in about the week to establish a connection and build interest and respect for each other’s life situations.

2) The tutor should only talk 25% of the time. This rule is great for two reasons. One, it’s easy to assess; you can quickly estimate the time you talked after each tutoring session. Two, if you’re only talking 25% of the time, that means your student is doing 75% of the talking, which is super practice!

3) Practice Builds Confidence. Make sure students who don’t know much English get plenty of opportunities to speak words and simple sentences in connection to pictures and props that are relevant to their everyday life. Sentences about their address, their jobs, their families, and other topics that come up frequently will help them feel more comfortable in social and work situations.

4) Recap. Spend about five minutes at the end of every session having the student tell you what they learned during the session and what they liked doing. If the student doesn’t speak much English, then do a review of main things practiced. This helps reinforce learning and makes both you and the student aware of all the hard work you just accomplished!

5) Read, reread, then reread some more. Read articles or passages from chapter books more than once. This builds not only reading skills, but comprehension and pronunciation skills. Reading to students without them looking at the text helps them build listening skills. Follow-up any readings by having students orally summarize to measure their comprehension.

6) Repeat, repeat, repeat. I can’t repeat this often enough (see what I did there?), but repetition is critical to building a strong foundation in speaking, listening, reading, and writing. Don’t be afraid of repetition; embrace it, over and over again.

I’ll miss everyone at LVCA very much and wish you all the best. I know I’m leaving you in good hands with my replacement, Steven Reid.

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