ALTA Tutor Talks: Collaborative Learning

ALTA Tutor Talks: Collaborative Learning

i Feb 25th No Comments by

In last week’s segment, ALTA tutor Nicole Pichery and fellow volunteer Joseann Jemmott spoke about the initial student experience and breaking the ice in the classroom. This week, they continue to explore the ALTA classroom and interpersonal relationships.

Nicole: What are some of the resources that our students have to help them learn?

Joseann: We have the ALTA Workbook, which is full of lovely lessons relevant to our students’ everyday lives, each one beginning with a reading passage. We have the phonics cards which practise the sounds of the letters. Students also use sight word cards to practise recognising words that we use every day. So, what you find is that a student will come and say, “You know I saw the word ‘open’ on a lot of shops.” We review our cards at the beginning of each class.

Nicole: When students join the ALTA programme, it’s amazing to see the transformation that occurs between when they come in on Day One and when the academic year ends. What changes do you see in your students?

Joseann: In first term, I would say that you get to know each other really quickly. The students encourage each other, and when it’s time to transition to the second term, you will often hear, “I hope to see you. I hope to see you coming back.” They’ll remark “Miss, I’m not seeing this person. Call this person.”

Students may even exchange numbers, and become accountable to one another. When they don’t see a student, they inquire. There’s genuine care for each other in the classroom. Students know that someone cares. It drives the tutor to come every single time. Seeing that students want to learn and that they support each other, how can I not be there to be that support for them?

Nicole: So, Joseann, you talked about the relationship that these students have with each other in the classroom. I have experienced students starting off very timid and shy, but at the end of the year, they are really encouraging each other. Returning students encourage and support new students telling their classmates, “You can learn it” and building camaraderie. Have you had that experience?

Joseann: Definitely Nicole. Seeing the students help each other is one of the things that really motivates me. They enjoy figuring things out together. The thing is, you will have some who are strong in some areas and others who are not as strong and they complement each other. They often gravitate towards that person. “OK, you don’t understand this? Let’s learn!”

A student comes to mind. This student is really effective at drawing students together and helping them. It’s always, “Learn phonics − phonics is the main thing you need to learn. Phonics is at the centre of this. It’s important to learn phonics and the sight words!” “Don’t forget your sight words!” So, you know, they are aware of the importance of what strengthens their learning. As they begin to understand the phonic code, the relationship between sounds and letters, as tutors we continue to make the links for our students, “Now that we know these phonics, we’ll can spell these words,” and so on. It helps them to understand.

Nicole: The encouragement and reminders classmates give to one another are so important to our adult learners. The ALTA classroom is a collaborative environment.

Joseann: ALTA creates a really beautiful dynamic. ALTA is a beautiful programme!

If you or someone you know is interested in becoming a tutor, joining a class, or becoming a sponsor, call 624-2582 or email Keep up to date with ALTA on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram: ALTA TT

ALTA Tutor Talks: Inside the classroom

i Feb 18th No Comments by

We invited ALTA tutors to share their adult literacy volunteer experience and continue our series of articles that capture these candid discussions. In this segment, ALTA tutor Nicole Pichery and fellow volunteer Joseann Jemmott speak about the ALTA student experience.

Nicole: What has been the student experience in the ALTA classroom?

Joseann: From the get go, or the jump as the young people would say, it’s about showing them open handedness and sharing stories. As the tutor, we lead the way in expressing why we chose ALTA and how dedicated we are to teaching and to learning. Students feed off of that energy. They also share their own stories of how or why their ALTA journey began. And when we start sharing, we open this mutual rapport – we understand that we are all in this together. Students then feel free to come and say, “Miss, this is an area that I really, really need more work on.”

Nicole: Sharing stories is important. Do you remember any stories that really touched you?

Joseann: There are many stories, but at the core is often a lack of support and the need to overcome fear. We always hear “I always wanted to come to ALTA, but I was ashamed” or “I was afraid” or “I didn’t want this one to know.”

When I hear them say, “I decided today and I just walk in.” I’m like, “Oh my gosh, I’m so happy for you” and we give them a round of applause because they are jumping over a huge hurdle to step into that ALTA classroom. So, we hype them up as much as possible to let them know that we are here for them.

Nicole: I love that when they come in, you are there to support them and give them that encouragement. That in itself can improve their self-esteem and their self-worth, because we hear so many stories, especially about shame. We see students very hesitant to step in the door, so much so that tutors have to encourage them to come in.

One of the things that I’ve recognized with my students, Joseann, is that when they come in, they are afraid to talk to each other and afraid to speak and they speak very softly. Once they recognize that some of the other students in class have the same challenges that they do, they tend to open up. Has that been your experience in your level one classroom?

Joseann: Yes. My classroom is a welcoming space where returning students encourage new students when they come in. It’s like, “Hey, sit here”, “Don’t go so far”, “You don’t need to go to the back”, “Come to the front”. They encourage each other and it’s really just one day of shyness. By the next class, everybody’s just talking and getting to know each other.

Nicole: You break the ice very early. And as we mention breaking the ice, one of the things that we have in the classroom is games. Tell us something about the student experiences when it comes to the ALTA games.

Joseann: The games complement the teaching in previous lessons. I tend to make it really competitive because I’m a competitive tutor. So, we will have an “A” side and we will have a “B” side where we have the other tutor choosing the “B” side and we will see who will get it first. There are some exciting card games that complement the lessons well, like Snatch and Bingo.

Nicole: I like that you mentioned Bingo because we also play Word Bingo in our beginner classroom and that is something that they love. You call out the sight word, they look for it and cover it if their card has the word, and then they shout out “BINGO” when they cover all the words on their card.

Joseann: Oh yes, they need to shout bingo! They need to be loud in my class. Games help build their confidence. It’s always “Next time you can beat me” or “I’ll win next time.” It’s nice to have a little picong in the classroom and also strive to win the game. In order to win, you also need to learn.

Nicole: It’s amazing to see how excited our students get and we know that ALTA really stresses the importance of playing games to reinforce learning in the ALTA classroom. So, it’s a really exciting time when the formal lessons have come to an end and it’s game time.

Nicole and Joseann’s chat continues next week.

If you or someone you know is interested in becoming a tutor, joining a class, or becoming a sponsor, call 624-2582 or email Keep up to date with ALTA on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram: ALTA TT

Tutor Talks: Supporting Students’ Virtual Journey

i Feb 11th No Comments by

We invited ALTA tutors to share their adult literacy volunteer experience and continue our series of articles that capture these candid discussions. In Part 2, ALTA tutor Nicole Pichery and fellow volunteer Chela Bhimull speak about student support in the current climate.

Nicole: How would you help students overcome that fear when they sign up for ALTA classes?

Chela: The first step in helping students is allaying possible and potential fears. It’s creating a safe space in the form of a virtual classroom where interaction can flow. First of all, I like having structure. So it’s about having a system in place that allows the student to log on to the class and participate in class communication. The difference with face-to-face teaching and a virtual classroom is that you need to have a little more insight into your virtual classroom student. I mean, what can work in a physical setting where you can observe behaviour and speak individually to one student as you move around the classroom is not possible in a virtual setting.

Being a successful tutor means that you need to know your students. You have to be able to reach out to them, to recognize an issue and try to address it because there is no one size fits all – it’s about the individual. It requires dedication and selflessness at times as students face many challenging situations.

If you recognize a problem, you can start by identifying what’s going on with the individual. Is it software? Is it the internet connection? Is it the physical space they are in? Having a quiet space where you can actually receive your teaching without any sort of background disruptions was one of Alta’s recommendations to its virtual students.

Is it an issue of financial hardship? This has been an issue for some of my students. As you know, during the pandemic things were pretty rough with regard to jobs and the availability of financial assistance. So as a tutor, you need to be able to recognize what’s wrong with your students and then reach out to them to help as best you can.

At the end of the day, your best bet towards overcoming a student’s fear is kindness towards the student and sometimes an encouraging word. A listening ear is also helpful as in some instances, this is their first time in a computer literate world, that is, using a device, Zoom or WhatsApp.

Nicole: That is really good advice, especially when it comes to the matter of applying emotional intelligence, and trying to help students so that they can stay focused on their learning. Chela, you have helped us to understand the ALTA-V environment. And we thank you for taking up that challenge and working with our students in the ALTA-Virtual classroom.

Chela: Thank you and thanks to my fellow tutors for helping me on my journey.

ALTA is passionate about teaching adults to read. In their commitment to serve, they have partnered with schools, community centres, churches and libraries across Trinidad to bring literacy classes to communities, making it easy for individuals to sign up.

Covid-19 brought many challenges as well as opportunities that forced us to find new ways of helping students continue learning. This has given birth to the ALTA-V classroom. Covid-19 has thrust us unceremoniously into a new virtual teaching and learning environment.

The ALTA-V programme has adapted teaching methods to a virtual environment reaching a new student audience: those with smart devices who can now attend virtual classes using Zoom with a trained ALTA-V tutor. ALTA-V allows our students to sign up and continue learning right from the comfort of their home.

If you or someone you know is interested in becoming a tutor, joining a class, or becoming a sponsor, call 624-2582 or email Keep up to date with ALTA on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram: ALTA TT

Tutor Talks: Bridging the Virtual Gap

i Feb 4th No Comments by

We invited ALTA tutors to share their adult literacy volunteer experience. Today, begins a series of articles that capture these candid discussions. In addition to tutors’ perspectives, the conversations also included insights from a student’s point of view. In part 1, ALTA tutor Nicole Pichery shapes the discussion with fellow volunteer Chela Bhimull on adaptations made to accommodate virtual learning in the face of the pandemic.

Nicole: Chela, you have had the opportunity to teach ALTA’s face-to-face classes and ALTA-V. Like many of our tutors, you had to quickly adjust to teaching virtually when our classes were closed suddenly in 2020 because of Covid. So tell us about that first experience of converting from face to face to teaching ALTA virtual classes.

Chela: I try to look for the best in every situation and my ALTA-V experience was a positive one. On 13th March 2020, the ALTA San Fernando office sent an email to us tutors saying that classes would be placed on hold because of the pandemic. What happened in the background was that the regional coordinators worked assiduously to coordinate an effort of virtual teaching, organizing and coordinating us tutors with our classes to continue the ALTA programme by way of whatever device possible.

ALTA also adapted and customized our usual workbook lessons into a format that we could disseminate with our students. We were advised to create WhatsApp group chats with our students and then to use Zoom, which in itself was a challenge.

I consider myself very fortunate to be able to lead the way in terms of creating a virtual classroom for my students, who were very grateful for the experience. They showed a mix of emotions because, as you know, with all new things, there’s always a learning curve. We were also very lucky in that most of my students had devices. I know this was a bigger challenge for some other tutors.

So some of my students had a smartphone, which was very, very helpful. One had a laptop and one had a tablet. And from that we were able to start by using WhatsApp on the smartphone, and then switch to Zoom on whatever device they had.

In order to begin, I had to share with my class how to access the Zoom application, and then how you use some of the Zoom features, like “mute,” “raise hand” or “hello”. Also how to use the chat features and to some extent the whiteboard.

What really helped my ALTA students was family and peer support. They were often guided by their children. One student was guided by his eight-year-old nephew (who I have my eye on as a future Alta tutor by the way). I remember the eight year old: “Uncle. No, no, no, no. Wait for Miss to send you the link and you have to log on.” and “Quiet – don’t talk in class!” He was guiding his uncle in the protocols of the Zoom classroom.

Nicole: I love that! That is quite a lot that you had to do to get your students to start learning virtually. Our tutors and students who rose to the challenge have to be commended.

Chela: I agree with you. During the pandemic it was not easy for them in terms of financial difficulties, technical difficulties. So having a classroom setting by way of ALTA helped alleviate fears, and allowed them to focus on their lessons which is what I can say made our class a success.

Nicole: Right. Some students may be fearful of using a computer for the first time or using Zoom for the first time. We are often afraid to show our faces on camera. So, Chela, tell us, were there challenges with ALTA-V and how did your students adapt to the virtual world?

Chela: I think the biggest challenge with my students was actually getting across the hurdle of using Zoom. We had students who were tech savvy, but we had a few mature students who were not used even to being in a chat room, far less using Zoom. So we had to do some handholding in terms of allaying fears, providing that reassurance that we’re all in this together and this is about learning.

It’s about providing that support, that level of mentorship. Eventually they got it. It wasn’t an easy journey, especially for one of my students who had to share a smartphone with members of her family. So she was not always in class at the designated hours.

Then there was another individual who had a sporadic internet connection. We made up for what couldn’t work by way of WhatsApp, and when that couldn’t work, we made up for it by going back to the traditional phone.

It’s about getting the message across – and we will find a way literally and virtually to get it done.

Nicole and Chela’s discussion on ALTA-V continues next week.

If you or someone you know is interested in becoming a tutor, joining a class, or becoming a sponsor, call 624-2582 or email

Keep up to date with ALTA on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram: ALTA TT