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Volunteers in Adult Literacy Education

Volume 5: Chapter Five
Jennifer A. Sandlin and Ralf St. Clair

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In Chapter Five, Jennifer Sandlin and Ralf St. Clair provide an overview of volunteerism in adult literacy. After a brief history, the authors draw on research and interviews to describe the roles that volunteers play in adult literacy, trends in volunteer training, volunteer tutor practices, volunteer motivation and commitment, and the challenges faced by volunteers. As the authors note, volunteers continue to play a major role in providing educational services to adult learners, yet their work remains a source of controversy. The authors note concerns over the quality of instruction that volunteers provide, particularly with respect to the use of effective reading strategies, accommodation of learning disabilities, and instruction for adult learners at the lowest literacy levels. The authors also note the tension between the use of volunteers and efforts to professionalize the field of adult literacy teaching, as well as the challenges of accountability demands faced by programs that rely largely on volunteer staff and serve learners at the lowest skill levels. Despite such issues, as Sandlin and St. Clair note, many recognize the positive contribution of volunteers and suggest solutions for improving the instructional services they provide.

To close the chapter, the authors note the implications of their review. They call for expanded research on volunteers, particularly pertaining to issues such as volunteersí effect on learner persistence, the relationship between volunteer training and learner skill outcomes, the effectiveness of one-to-one volunteer tutoring for beginning learners, and factors related to volunteer persistence. In terms of policy, the authors point out the need for consensus among state and federal governments on the role of volunteers in adult literacy, particularly with respect to accountability demands. With regard to practice, the authors recommend that programs provide volunteers with flexibility (allowing volunteers to try out different responsibilities) and support (sufficient pre- and in-service training), and that programs clarify their philosophy about the role of volunteers and how they will best serve within programs. Since volunteers are likely to continue to play a number of roles in adult literacy education, as the authors conclude, the field would do well to better understand the many aspects of volunteerism.

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