What You Should Know About ABE Tutoring

Today’s guest post is from Mariana Ashley.

I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to volunteer as an Adult Basic Education (ABE) Tutor in my local community for a year, and it was truly one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. I tutored a class of four students that met twice a week for two-hour sessions. Although some Adult Basic Education programs involve teaching both literacy skills and basic math skills, the program I volunteered for focused solely on literacy instruction.

Each of the adult students I tutored read on a second to third grade level. Surprisingly, one of my students had actually made it all the way through high school reading on an early elementary school level. All of my students struggled in the workforce because of their lack of essential literacy skills. Many weren’t able to read mail that was sent to them or read menus at restaurants.

They weren’t able to do many of the things most people take for granted, but they were some of the smartest, most interesting people I have ever met. One of them had incredible knowledge of how cars work and how to fix them, and another could build a computer from scratch. Playing music by ear was a breeze for one of my students, and being one of the world’s most nurturing mothers came naturally to the student who always arrived early to my tutoring sessions and sat in the front row.

If you’ve decided to become an ABE Tutor, you can expect that your experience will be as rewarding as mine. I have to admit that some of my time as an ABE Tutor was challenging. I think I learned as much about adult education as my students learned about reading during my year as their tutor. Here are a few things I think it would benefit you to keep in mind if you choose to sign yourself up for the wonderful adventure of being an ABE Tutor:

Being an ABE Tutor Requires Dedication: Before you start tutoring students, you’ll likely be expected to attend a few trainings that will help you prepare to be a successful educator. Remember that being an ABE Tutor is a big commitment. As an ABE Tutor, you’ll probably be meeting with students at least once a week.

ABE Tutors Build the Self-Esteem of Their Students: Some of your students might struggle with self-esteem issues. Lacking basic literacy or math skills as an adult can make some people feel embarrassed. Most ABE students do best when they’re frequently offered genuine praise and encouragement. Additionally, some students will feel uncomfortable reading aloud. It’s best not to try to coerce them into doing anything that makes them feel nervous or uneasy.

Differentiation of Instruction Is Essential: Certain activities will work better for some students than others. A few of your students may learn best by playing games. If you’re tutoring any visual learners, they may benefit from you using visual aids and diagrams during your instruction. Phonics activities may work well for some students who tend to be auditory learners. You might even tutor a student who actually likes completing worksheets (like one of my students). As an ABE Tutor, it’s best to provide your students with a variety of learning activities.

Covering a Few Topics Per Lesson Works Best: It’s not the greatest idea to overload ABE students with too much information at once. It’s common that novice teachers and tutors will try to cover too much material in each lesson. Keep in mind that people learn the most when they’re exposed to the same, few concepts multiple times. At the end of your ABE lessons, it’s also a good idea to ask your students a few questions to check how well they understood the material you covered.

ABE Students Have to Balance Multiple Responsibilities: Your students’ attendance may be spotty. Your students will get sick, they’ll need to stay home to take care of their kids, and sometimes they’ll have to stay late at work. They’re busy adults with a hundred different obligations to fulfill each day. Don’t take it personally if the people you tutor miss a few lessons. And if attendance becomes a major issue for one of your students, make sure you meet privately with that student to discuss how important you think it is for him or her to regularly attend your tutoring sessions.

Adult Students Learn at Their Own Pace: Some of your students will grasp concepts quickly. Others will need more exposure to concepts before they fully understand them. Don’t necessarily expect overnight results for any of your students. Learning to read or learning basic math concepts is difficult, especially if you’ve struggled with doing so your whole life. So, as a tutor, you just need to keep on trying, do your best, and act as a positive force in your students’ lives.

According to some estimates, around 14% of people in the U.S. lack basic reading skills. This means that a good portion of your community could be lacking the literacy skills necessary to thrive. If you have the time to fight illiteracy in your community, I hope that you’ll consider becoming an ABE Tutor and consider the information above if you do become one.

Mariana Ashley is a freelance blogger who primarily writes about how online education and technology are transforming academia as we know it. Having spent a good portion of her professional career trying to reform high schools in East St. Louis, Mariana is particularly interested in how online colleges in Missouri make higher education a possibility for students of all backgrounds. Please contact her at mariana.ashley031@gmail.com if you’d like to discuss this article or education in general.


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