Second Language Tutoring Programs: An Inquiry Into Best Practices

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By: Claude Lauzon, Diane Coombs
Org: Leisure Learn Ltd (funded by CIC)
Date: 2008

This paper, funded by CIC, sought to uncover the best practices of running a language tutoring program for immigrants settling in Canada.

This research project sought to answer some key questions:

  • What type of learner do tutoring program for immigrants settling in Canada best target?
  • What type of instruction do they offer and how do they deliver it to getthe best results?
  • What is the best way of recruiting tutors?
  • How much training should they get?
  • What types of support do they need?

These and many other questions were asked of three Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC) programs, three English as a Second Language (ESL) programs and one French as a Second Language (FSL) program that deliver tutoring programming to immigrants:

  1. Settlement Focused Adult ESL Instruction in Small Communities, British Columbia
  2. Rural Delivery Program (LINC), NorQuest College in Northern Alberta
  3. Frontier College Literacy Tutoring, Ontario (ESL)
  4. Hamilton Public Library (LINC), Ontario
  5. English Language Tutoring for the Ottawa Community (LINC), Ontario
  6. Halifax Public Libraries ESL tutoring program, Nova Scotia
  7. Cégep de la Gaspésie et des Îles (FSL) Québec

According to the authors, the program review revealed many aspects to consider with respect to operating a successful adult ESL tutoring program in Canada - from broad strokes of geography and region to specific niches such as the language and cultural group being served. They provide a strengths and weaknesses section leading to seven recommendations for directions and six recommendations for further research.

Key recommendations for the authors are a clear need for exit outcomes tracking, need for professionalization of tutor-based programming, and more secure liability practices. Among research recommendations the authors highlight the need for relating time spent in programming with actual progress, the need to articulate the skills program staff develop in communicating with limited speakers, and a need to understand better how to address specific first language groups.


Recommendations for directions:

  1. Design and implement exit and post exit tracking of adult second language learners in order to develop a picture of effectiveness. The exit tracking should be supported through program intake that emphasizes to the learner the importance of demonstrating program success and accountability.
  2. Consider increased coordination/management time to allow for greater ongoing tutor support and recognition.
  3. Develop professional standards for tutors, including a supervised practicum requirement.
  4. Develop expectations for programs around use of plain language for clear communication with learners about policies, waiting lists and program protocols.
  5. Consider working with other funding bodies to smooth eligibility requirements and close service gaps.
  6. Develop a learner tracking at-a-glance card.
  7. Provide supports and clear direction regarding liability insurance and Criminal Record Checks.

Recommendations for research:

  1. Investigate what is an appropriate amount of time per session, number of times per week for progress to occur – for literacy learners, limited speakers, more advanced speakers.
  2. Investigate how to rate and test non-linguistic specific outcomes such as learner confidence and lowered settlement and integration stress levels.
  3. ESL curriculum materials and approaches appear very similar. Investigate whether there are materials and methods which are more appropriate and effective to deliver to specific source language groups.
  4. Investigate how program staff’s unique significant interpersonal skills with limited speakers can be rated and recognized.
  5. Tutoring is a powerful learning activity. Investigate tutor-centred models which build capacity in learners to become effective tutors.
  6. Audiocassettes remain a much used technology in language learning. Investigate the role of computer-assisted technology in adult second language learning.
This report is available for download in PDF format (1.2 MB, 102 pages).