For over 20 years, ALTA has continued to thrive thanks to the work of our committed volunteers and the passion of our founder and CEO, Paula Lucie-Smith. This was clearly evident at ALTA’s annual tutors meeting, held on Saturday 25 June where over 100 active and newly trained volunteers came together to chart the way forward into another successful academic year. Present amidst the volunteers was ALTA’s patron Zalayhar Hassanali and Professor Ian Robertson who gave a presentation on Creole English and the Adult Literacy Student.
Professor Robertson is well known in academia for his research in the field of linguistics. Guyanese by birth, he is the former Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Education at the UWI St Augustine Campus and a former lecturer in the Department of Modern Languages and Linguistics. He gave a lengthy but incredibly interesting presentation, which looked at the value of teaching adult learners in Creole English versus Standard English. He also looked at the intricacies of Creole English and gave many entertaining examples of both phonetic and grammar rules which tutors should keep in mind when teaching Trinidadian adults to read and write. He left the audience thinking about the importance of understanding the nature of language – both the language which is being taught, as well as any languages students bring into the classroom – in order to teach effectively.
It was extremely inspiring and promising for ALTA’s future to see so many long standing and new tutors attend a meeting on a Saturday morning – many coming from as far as Point Fortin. The feedback we received during the meeting is testament to the unwavering commitment which our volunteer tutors have to the Association. Undoubtedly, without this dedication ALTA would not be where it is today and so we take this opportunity to say a big thank you to all our volunteers – both past and present.
The Citizen Security Programme (CSP) is an IDB funded initiative run under the auspices of the Ministry of National Security which aims to significantly impact the instance of violent crime in known “hot spots” across Trinidad and Tobago by contracting the expertise of NGOs to deliver impactful programmes targeted to at-risk communities. As ALTA’s engagement with CSP comes to an end, we look back at the process:
Both reading and spelling require you to connect letters to speech sounds and to develop a visual memory of the letters in words. However when you read, you see the letters and have to work out what the word is. You do the reverse when you spell – you know what word you want to write and have to work out the letters.
Thus reading and spelling are different skills. Reading uses the skill of recognition, while spelling requires recall. You can compare it to phone numbers. Spelling is similar to when you try to remember a phone number, where you have to recall each number in its right position. Reading is when you check your phone log and recognise the number you were trying to remember. Since reading and spelling require different skills, you can be a good reader but a poor speller. The ALTA spelling programme, which is geared toward our students who have completed Level 2 of the programme, incorporates and expands on the spelling strategies and rules taught in ALTA literacy programme.
Below we have a contribution from one of our students, Maureen who is a member of our Spelling Programme at St George’s College in Barataria.
The initial reason for my interest in ALTA was as a form of support for my brother but then I thought that I could benefit from the programme as well. The areas I needed help in were spelling and reading for understanding. I started at Level 2 and progressed to the Spelling Programme which was most helpful to me as it pointed to the issues pertaining to my spelling problems. With an emphasis on phonics and the understanding of the composition of the English language the programme taught me how to apply the rules required to enable me to spell any word. Thus my spelling improved greatly.
Throughout my academic life I struggled with feelings of inferiority because of my shortcomings. My participation in the ALTA programme has been a rich and rewarding experience. It has afforded me the opportunity to build self confidence. I can say that learning has become an enjoyable experience rather than one of necessity. I attribute my positive experience to the patience, willingness and respect shown by the tutors regardless of our level.
Attending these classes has also given me the privilege of meeting new people and making friends. Our class was united in their efforts to help and support each other in achieving our goals. Whatever obstacles you need to overcome in order to better yourself; do it. You are never too old and it is not too late to accomplish your life’s goals. The ALTA programme is the ideal foundation as a first step to understanding what is needed for self improvement. It will put you on the path to realizing your potential.
ALTA starts the Spelling Programme in October after new student registration in September. This gives potential spelling students who are new to ALTA the opportunity to spend four weeks in Level 2 to check that Spelling Programme is their best ALTA match.
ALTA’s Youth Lit programme is now in its eighth year! The programme which is done in partnership with NALIS aims to provide effective literacy instruction to students within primary or secondary schools who have literacy challenges which are not being addressed.
Youth Lit 2015-16 began last November with 112 students at ten libraries around the country. The number increased in 2016 with ten new students enrolling in the program. By June 2016, the large majority of students received certificates of excellence, while some will return to Youth Lit in order to continue the improvement of their literacy skills.
Certificates of Excellence which were donated by Mario’s Pizzeria entitle the recipient to a complimentary mini pizza. Students were awarded a certificate after a specific goal was achieved, for example; attendance or punctuality. For the third year, former ALTA tutor Karese Toby who teaches at St Augustine Girls’ High School, was able to get Sixth Form students to volunteer in Terms 1 and 2 at Arima and Chaguanas Youth Lit classes.
The dates for Youth Lit registration 2016 are Monday 26th and Tuesday 27th September, with classes beginning the week of October 3rd 2016.
On May 25th, 2016 non-profit organisations benefited from Microsoft’s Technology for Good Day, a joint initiative between the global technology giant, the Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce and the Adult Literacy Tutors Association (ALTA).
ALTA has benefitted from free software from Microsoft since 2000 and the upgrade to Office 365 was welcomed as the package came with integrated online Outlook, SharePoint and One Drive storage of a terabyte per user. Our upgrade was implemented with assistance from Chuck Stuart of Icons Company and has assisted us greatly with the coordinating and running of our free literacy classes, as well as the ALTA Online project. Office 365 is not only used by ALTA in-house staff but also provides access to our Regional Coordinators and special project team members.
Technology has become increasingly important for non-profits in Trinidad and Tobago and facilitates the social transformation these organisations desire to make a reality. The Technology for Good Day was designed to provide these organisations with the technological tools and the know-how needed to augment their social impact. At the event it was announced that non-profits with charitable status would receive access to Microsoft Office 365, to enable productivity anywhere and anytime. The donation was made possible through a global programme that provides qualifying non-profits and nongovernmental organisations with the software free of charge.
For Microsoft, Technology for Good Day was an opportunity to continue its support of non-profit organisations that contribute to the development of Trinidad and Tobago. For ALTA it was great exposure and an opportunity to network and assist NGO’s around the country.
Last year, as a part of the anti-stigma campaign a new partnership was developed between ALTA and the Digicel TT Pro League. The pairing was long in coming, as Pro League CEO Dexter Skeene has long acknowledged that low literacy affects a significant number of athletes within the sport of football.
This year the ALTA posse was present at TT Pro League matches in May with their ALTA placards to spread literacy on the football field. National Coordinator extraordinaire Lystra Hazarie worked with ALTA Arima’s Carolyn Walker-Hepburn to rally ALTA tutors from all regions to attend the various football matches around the country. At the matches the ‘ALTA cheerleaders’ left packages with information about our literacy programme with the management of the different teams and even delivered a personalized ALTA cheer at halftime!
ALTA tutors thoroughly enjoyed the experience as they also had the opportunity to interact with the crowd and spread the message about ALTA and literacy! They also gave those interested more information about our Open Day which ran from June 6-17, 2016 and our upcoming student registration which is on Tuesday 6 and Wednesday 7 September, 2016.
‘A new look at life and learning’ is how one trainee described ALTA’s Tutor Training Course this year. The six-day intensive course which took place in Belmont, Arima, San Fernando and Grenada saw over 100 volunteers being trained. This number was the largest we have had in the past three years. The training sessions saw both new and seasoned trainers and presenters taking on more challenging sessions usually done by ALTA founder and CEO, Paula Lucie Smith. “We are well on our way to having a training team for each location so that in the future trainers and facilitators do not need to be at all three locations during training” remarked Paula. Five new facilitators were added to the training team and twelve tutors trained as coordinators – a major increase when compared to four in 2014 and two in 2015.
For the second year running, we also trained volunteers in Grenada. Unlike last year, when we had a trainer based in Grenada working with the trainees, this year we had to rely solely on skype. Trainer and regional coordinator Judith Affoo worked with the group from Grenada for the entire training period. The five new tutors have already been assisting in the ALTA class at Mt Zion Community Library, St George’s and will take over full responsibility from September. .
All in all, TTC 2016 was educational, exciting and intense; if you won’t take it from us, see what the participants and trainers had to say about it below:
“The ALTA tutor training course certainly exceeded our expectations. We knew it was a successful programme, but having undergone the training, we were able to appreciate its foundation in sound linguistic principles. Its approach and methods are incisive, and we are particularly impressed that it considers adult learners in their Caribbean context. “
“It was a challenge completing the programme via Skype…however, our facilitator, Judith Affoo, competently guided us and ensured that the experience was warm, inviting, informative, and worthwhile. Her dedication to assisting us is reflective of ALTA’s relentless commitment to improving literacy rates in the region.”
“It has been a valuable learning experience which I enjoyed a lot. I have learned quite a lot of things which I either did not know before or took for granted. I have gained new and valuable skills”
“The course was very detailed. Although it was intense at times the facilitators were very accommodating and knowledgeable on the subject matter which greatly aided my understanding.”
“It was very instructive, a bit challenging at times but overall rewarding and enjoyable”
“I enjoyed the positive reinforcement from facilitators, the small group activities and the level of interaction”
“This course was interesting, enjoyable and educational for me. I have learned a lot of new things with regard to teaching adults”
“It was extremely intense understandably so but enjoyable and edifying”
Dominic Ambrose (First time facilitator)
“I have always found the tutor training environment to be illuminating, inspiring and in this case, refreshing. The material to be delivered and the guidance required of a facilitator appeared to be par for the course. The major challenge was the day to day and even minute by minute “in-stream” adjustments to the schedule. That required a major tweaking of my modus operandi. Fortunately I partnered with an experienced facilitator, who was very accommodating.”
Lennox Austin (Trainee Coordinator)
“ALTA TTC 2016 acted as a refresher for me only that it lasted six days rather than the customary one day of training. This created a heightened sense of awareness of all things ALTA from its philosophy and methodology to the finer details in content delivery. I even had to learn to be prepared to step up to the plate as on Day 3, one of the facilitators in my grouping was absent. I had to contribute in the assessment of some of the tutors on that day and my opinion was sought on the other days as well. All in all my experience was priceless as no amount of money can buy you the feeling I had of contributing to moulding the future tutors to carry on the work according to the gospel of ALTA.
In February, Noble Philip tendered his resignation from the ALTA board. Noble has given generously of his time and expertise to ALTA since October 2013, serving as chairman from February 2014. During this time he has gone above and beyond the duties of board member and chairman and made an invaluable and lasting contribution to ALTA. CEO of ALTA, Paula Lucie Smith spoke warmly of Noble saying, “Despite the many demands on his time, Noble made ALTA a priority and provided wise counsel when critical decisions had to be made. His wealth of management experience served both ALTA and me as CEO well.”
Legal Officer on the board, Marise Warner commended Noble as an inspiring and motivational steward who was always “mindful of the challenges in the current landscape and seeking to implement viable longer term solutions, while succeeding in solving immediate crises.”
We would like to thank Noble for his outstanding service to ALTA and look forward to collaborating with him in the future.
A very special thank you to board member Nigel Baptiste for taking on the role of chairman from February.
A quick Google search of ‘literacy stats in Trinidad and Tobago’ will leave you pleasantly surprised, but also possibly confused about the need for an organization like ALTA. According to UNESCO statistics, since 1990 Trinidad and Tobago has enjoyed a steady growth in our already superb literacy rate which stood at 96.9% in 1990 and is recorded as 99% as of 2015.
On the other hand, the 1994 ALTA and 1995 University of the West Indies National Literacy Surveys show that 22-23% of our people aged 15 and over, are unable to cope with everyday reading and writing. That’s almost 1 in 4 Trinbagonians who were not literate. Although these surveys were done over a decade ago, it is highly unlikely that a survey today would reveal any positive change.
ALTA’s survey found that 8% of people over 15 years of age (which would have equated to 62,000 adults) could not read even 3 of these words: to, at, love, sun, bet. A further 15% of could only read a little, adding another 118,000 adults. According to these two surveys, at best, our literacy rate stood at 78% in 1995 with some 180,000 adults unable to cope with everyday basic reading and writing.
Why is there such a large disparity in the statistics? The answer lies in the way literacy is measured. According to UNESCO’s Institute for Statistics, most countries gain information about literacy rates from years of schooling, a national household survey or census. The typical question asked is, ‘Can you read and write?’Given the stigma associated with not being literate, many people do not answer honestly producing unreliable statistics.
Further to this, the question “can you read and write?’ does not specify to what level. So someone who can only write their name and address and identify some words, may answer ‘yes’ but it would not be correct to say they are literate enough to function in our society, where they are faced with print at every turn – whether you are buying food or getting your driving licence.
As for the years of schooling, being enrolled in primary and even secondary school does not equate to being able to read and write. A look at SEA results is all you need to negate this. If not, consider that almost all students at ALTA’s literacy classes have attended primary school, and some have gone all the way through secondary school. There are a plethora of reasons ranging from dysfunctional homes to learning difficulties which have an impact on whether a child develops literacy.
Given the inaccuracy of the statistics, UNESCO’s Institute for Statistics has developed the Literacy Assessment and Monitoring Programme (LAMP) which measures literacy on a continuum. LAMP is meant to develop a global methodological standard for measuring literacy in a way that can be compared across countries at different stages of development and literacy contexts. This is much more effective as it ensures that statistics are much more accurate.
ALTA has tackled our low literacy rate by providing free reading and writing classes to adults (16+) since 1992. Registration takes place in September.
Hidden treasure lies beneath the surface of Reading Circle, certainly a lot more than I anticipated. My experience at St. Anthony’s College on a Wednesday evening has led me to believe that Reading Circle is integral to the ALTA programme.
At first, I saw Reading Circle as an opportunity to get students to discover the joy of reading. We read books mostly from ALTA’s library, newspaper articles and we took turns to read inspirational stories which kept the students motivated. It was a time to learn about the life experiences of different people and broaden their horizons. The classes were stimulating and enjoyable as we would always take a few minutes to talk about triumph over difficulties and the soaring of the human spirit.
When students did not recognize a word, we would cover and reveal it syllable by syllable as we had been trained to do to show syllable division in action. Often we would come across phonics they had cards for, so we used the opportunity to reinforce the sound in the word. I observed that the students were more willing to plod through words when the story was interesting.
We would pause and discuss the reading material. They enjoyed the discussion particularly when they could relate to it. I noticed too that while reading they were automatically applying the phonics and internalizing other rules. On one occasion without any prompting, a student who had been struggling with suffixing pointed out the drop e rule as the words ‘drive’ and ‘driving’ had appeared in the same paragraph. This alerted me to the value of simply seeing the words in print and within the context of an interesting story. In the ALTA class, much time was spent on suffixing rules but here the student was able to spot the rule on her own when she discovered it in the passage. Application is a key stage of learning.
What then are the benefits of the Reading Circle? Reading for enjoyment in a relaxed setting allows students the opportunity to apply the skills acquired in the tutoring classes. They can apply rules and phonics much the same way we speak a language without consciously applying rules. During the reading process they get a chance to internalize the phonics as they listen to themselves. They absorb the sounds of the letters and this helps tremendously in sounding out words.
Like learning a new language, immersion integrates the skills learnt and makes the words come alive. For example, when the two sounds for ‘ow‘ appear in one sentence, the student combines the two skills of using context and phonics to make the right pronunciation reinforcing both skills. I strongly believe Reading Circle is the missing link for many students who may rattle off the phonic cards but are unable to apply this to read words.
Reading Circle caters to differing needs. One student repeated Level 2 several times but did not appear to be making progress. She has since stopped doing ALTA classes but attends Reading Circle twice a week going to two venues. She enjoys putting the syllables together and hearing herself string the words into sentences. She knew her phonics before, but seemed unable to apply them. She has definitely benefitted from Reading Circle. Though as she herself recognizes she is better on some days than on others, her reading has improved.
Another student, who moved up from Level 1 and is now in Level 2 for the first time, has been attending Reading Circle consistently. He is putting syllables and sounds together and his reading is progressing slowly, but steadily. I think he is definitely benefitting from Reading Circle. He now reads simple books from ALTA’s library quite fluently and this has been a boost to his confidence and self-esteem. He is aware of his improvement and this motivates him to press on. He is no longer daunted by long words, but will attempt to break them into syllables and sound them out.
Then there is a student who is repeating Level 2 and is now determined to move to Level 3. He is the best example of the benefits of Reading Circle. In his first year at Level 2 he missed a lot of the tutoring classes and there was not much improvement. Once he started Reading Circle however, his reading improved tremendously and he was himself amazed by his progress. This was a huge motivator for him and he comes consistently to classes both tutoring and Reading Circle.
It is interesting to note that once he began to string syllables into words, then words into sentences, he began reading with expression. On his own volition he would reread a sentence making the effort to change his intonation appropriately and pause at the end of a sentence. It is evident that his improvement in reading has impacted his writing skills. His spelling and his ability to express himself and get his thoughts to flow on paper has definitely improved. While reading, at times he would whip out a book and write words like ‘through’ and ‘thought’ and work out the difference. His progress has been quite impressive and the best part is that the more he improves, the more he pushes himself.
Rosemarie, an ALTA Reading Circle Guide has also been an ALTA Tutor since 2013.
Tell someone you know about Reading Circle! Encourage them to become a Reading Circle Guide. Our guides assist ALTA students with their reading in an informal setting once a week for two hours. We have venues in Port of Spain, East, Central and South Trinidad. Contact us for more information.