Written by Lisa Morris.
I was struggling, clearly, to explain what I wanted Sharon to do.
“ok, so I want you to break this word in half so that you say each…ummm..part of the word…ummm…where it makes sense to divide it up…” My dry erase marker feebly drifted between letters.
“Syllabification!” Sharon called out from across the room. My jaw dropped.
My name is Lisa Morris. I am a volunteer tutor with the Greater Homewood Adult Literacy & ESOL Program, and Sharon is my tutee (an adult learner because she graduated from high school more than a few years ago). Most of the time, of course, I have a better handle on what I’d like Sharon to work on, but this conversation was a perfect example of how reciprocal our relationship is. I hadn’t used the word syllabification. Sharon constantly reminds me, not in so many words, that her knowledge of spelling, vocabulary, and grammar is just rusty. She knows the basic sounds that the letters make, and despite her issues with spelling, can read some complex words. And every once in a while, something from her history with formal education seems to pop out of nowhere.
The Adult Literacy Program serves more than 400 Adult Literacy and ESOL learners each year.
I am one of 70 volunteers. During the day, I am an AmeriCorps*VISTA member at the Center for Social Concern at Johns Hopkins University, working to develop service-learning opportunities at JHU. In order to take the job, I moved to Baltimore in August 2008. Sharon’s was one of the first faces that I was able to associate as being of the city; many of those who live on my street in Hampden or go to school at Hopkins are transplants, from elsewhere but here for the time being.
As we’ve worked together, Sharon and I have developed a few favorite activities. Since her faith is important to her, I’ve given Sharon chapters of the Book of John to read for homework every session. We also enjoy competing to make the longest words out of a random mix of letters rolled from Boggle cubes. She occasionally gives me a ride home from our tutoring sessions, when the weather is cold or rainy, leaving me with a long bus ride home, or brings me candy when she has some extra to share.
Today we’re going to work on homonyms and long vowel sounds, but really, Sharon will probably give me as much as I can give her.