ERIC Identifier: ED268301
Publication Date: 1986-00-00
Author: Imel, Susan
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult
Career and Vocational Education Columbus OH.
Adult Literacy Volunteers. Overview. ERIC Digest No. 48.
This ERIC digest examines such aspects of adult literacy volunteerism
as recent developments, program characteristics, and advantages and
disadvantages of using volunteers and suggests resources to use in developing
RECENT DEVELOPMENTS IN ADULT LITERACY VOLUNTEERISM
Although volunteer tutors have formed the basis of the programs of Laubach
Literacy Action (LLA) and Literacy Volunteers of America (LVA) for many years,
in the past 15 years the use of volunteers in adult literacy programs has spread
to a number of other settings. Volunteers currently contribute to programs in
such settings as federally funded adult basic education, community-based
organizations, libraries, correctional institutions, and churches. As a result
of increased use of volunteers in expanded settings, a new era of volunteerism
is evolving. It is characterized by the following four trends:
professionalization of volunteerism; changes in the makeup of the volunteer pool
and more varied use of volunteers; emergence of corporate-sponsored volunteers;
and greater cooperation in the field (Kangisser 1985).
A number of recent developments have served to increase the visibility of the
literacy volunteer movement. Chief among these has been the development of a
national advertising campaign designed to attract volunteers into literacy
settings through public service television and print announcements. The
campaign, which was developed through the efforts of the Coalition for Literacy
and the American Association of Advertising Agencies, prompted more than 50,000
individuals to offer their services in its first 5 months of operation (Ilsley
As a result of increased visibility and use, volunteers are perceived as a
valuable resource for adult literacy programs. However, their role must be
considered and planned for within the comprehensive framework or structure of a
CHARACTERISTICS OF LITERACY VOLUNTEER PROGRAMS
Through an analysis of the literature, Ilsley (1985) identifies five elements
common to all literacy volunteer programs: purpose, scope, organizational
control, professionalism, and finance. Although each literacy program possesses
all five of these elements, variation within each of the elements leads to the
great diversity that exists among programs. A brief description of each element
demonstrates how this diversity occurs.
--Purpose refers to the goals of the program, its mission and objectives.
Literacy programs usually have one of the following as their major purpose;
teaching reading and numeracy skills; problem solving through the acquisition of
coping skills; or political action.
--Scope means population and area served. Programs may restrict their
services either to a geographic area or to a specific subgroup of the
--Organizational setting refers to the organizational arrangement of the
program. Programs may be independent or they may be affiliated with larger
organizations such as LVA or LLA. Independent programs may be attached to a
larger organization or may receive funds from multiple sponsors. A few literacy
programs are both private and independent; that is, they stand alone with no
direct financial or organizational association with another organization.
--Professionalism refers to the practice of training and using the skills of
volunteers. Among literacy programs there is great variation in the selection
and preparation of volunteers as well as in the roles assigned and expected
standards of performance. In some programs, volunteers receive extensive amounts
of training and are expected to assume an extraordinary amount of
responsibility. Training and role assignments do not always correspond, however,
as sometimes volunteers receive little or no training while being expected to
carry out a variety of duties.
--Finance means amount and source of revenue used to finance a program.
Again, there is great variation in how programs are financed. Some receive
funding from a single source, while others rely on multisource funding. A few
programs use only grass roots fund-raising techniques.
The variations within each of the five variables mean that many options exist
for literacy programming. No single model of literacy volunteerism is
appropriate for every situation; instead, a program should be developed based
upon the needs of the group or community to be served.
Before managerial strategies are established, the educational philosophy upon
which they will be based needs to be articulated and agreed upon by those
responsible for program development. A program's philosophy forms the basis for
policy decisions about the five variables of purpose, scope, organizational
setting, professionalism, and finance. At the policy level, Ilsley (1985) lists
some key questions that need to be addressed regarding volunteers that are
related to the five variables. Included are the following:
--Should volunteers be selected according to program purpose?
--Should anyone be allowed to volunteer? If not, by what criteria ought
volunteers to be selected?
--Are assumptions about volunteers similar at all levels of the organization?
--What is the relationship between organizational setting and the
establishment of a climate for volunteer participation?
--Do volunteers, particularly those with high levels of expertise, pose a
threat to paid staff?
--Should volunteer training be planned jointly by volunteers and paid
THE MYTHS, ADVANTAGES, AND DISADVANTAGES OF LITERACY VOLUNTEERISM
Kangisser (1985) points out two prevailing myths about literacy volunteers:
volunteerism is a panacea, and the use of volunteers is low-cost or cost-free.
The illiteracy problem in this country is simply too large to be solved solely
through the use of volunteers. Also, although the use of volunteers can be
cost-effective, it still demands an investment of program resources and staff
Administrators should also consider the advantages and disadvantages of
literacy volunteerism. Kangisser (1985) mentions the following advantages: it
allows for private or small group instruction, thus allowing adult illiterates
to "save face"; it is flexible, for example, individuals can be served in many
locations at mutually convenient times; because literacy volunteerism is
characterized by a one-to-one relationship, volunteers can develop trust and
inspire confidence in those they tutor; it focuses community attention on the
illiteracy problem; and since many volunteers develop materials, it can result
in increased instructional resources.
Disadvantages cited by Kangisser (1985) include the following: instruction is
rarely intensive, resulting in slow student progress and thus, many become
discouraged and drop out; since volunteer programs must serve two
groups--students and volunteers--paid staff may be distracted and program
purposes diluted; and unless effective managerial procedures are established, it
is difficult to maintain quality control and adequate record keeping and to
administer evaluation procedures.
RESOURCES FOR PROGRAM DEVELOPMENT
The following publications will serve as helpful resources for those seeking
more information on this aspect of adult literacy volunteerism.
--ORGANIZING A SUCCESSFUL ADULT LITERACY PROGRAM (Darling, Puckett, and Paull
1983) describes procedures used by the Jefferson County Adult Reading Program, a
program that was approved for the National Diffusion Network. Organized in five
sections, the publication covers organization, staff development and training,
student retention and recruitment, instructional design, and accountability and
--GUIDEBOOK FOR EFFECTIVE LITERACY PRACTICE (Crandall, Lerche, and
Marchilonis 1985), a publication developed by the National Adult Literacy
Project staff, is designed to provide current, detailed information on effective
literacy practices. It reports on the results of a mail survey in which 225
programs responded to questions about the following program aspects:
recruitment, orientation, counseling, diagnostic testing, instructional methods
and materials, assessment of learners, follow-up, and program evaluation.
Although this publication covers all types of literacy programs, and not just
those that incorporate volunteers, it provides information that is helpful to
--GUIDELINES FOR EFFECTIVE ADULT LITERACY PROGRAMS (Mayer 1984) is intended
to assist individuals involved in the development, administration, and delivery
of volunteer-based community adult literacy programs. It includes information on
community, adult learners, staff resources, instruction and support, governance,
management, evaluation, program records, and resources. Although the guide does
not provide step-by-step instructions for program development, it does describe
the components of a successful program through a collection of statements on
what a program should do to be effective.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Crandall, D., R. Lerche, and B. Marchilonis. GUIDEBOOK FOR EFFECTIVE LITERACY
PRACTICE 1983-1984. Andover, MA: The NETWORK, 1985. ED 253 776.
Darling, S., D. Puckett, and S. Paull. ORGANIZING A SUCCESSFUL ADULT LITERACY
PROGRAM. Louisville, KY: Jefferson County Adult Reading Program, 1983. ED 235
Ilsley, P. ADULT LITERACY VOLUNTEERS: ISSUES AND IDEAS. Information Series
No. 301. Columbus: ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult, Career, and Vocational
Education, The National Center for Research in Vocational Education, The Ohio
State University, 1985. ED 260 303.
Kangisser, D. PIONEERS AND NEW FRONTIERS: THE ROLE OF VOLUNTEERS IN
COMBATTING ADULT ILLITERACY. New York: Business Council for Effective Literacy,
Mayer, S.E. GUIDELINES FOR EFFECTIVE ADULT LITERACY PROGRAMS. Minneapolis,
MN: B. Dalton Booksellers, 1984. ED 268 332.