Learning Resource Center (LRC)
Dorcas Place Adult and Family Learning Center
220 Elmwood Avenue
Providence, RI 02907
Tel. 401.273.8866 Fax. 401.273.8893 www.dorcasplace.org
Established in 1981, the mission of Dorcas Place is to assist low-income adults in realizing their full potential through literacy, employment, advocacy and community involvement. In carrying out this mission the agency embraces these values: advocacy, collaboration, community, family, empowerment, compassion, diversity, hospitality, life-long learning, respect and responsibility.
Dorcas Place provides a comprehensive range of education programs and related services designed to fully support students in meeting their goals in relation to the adult roles of family member, worker, and citizen:
- Instruction in reading, writing, math and computer literacy in a classroom setting up to 30 hours a week. Programs are available in different formats.
- One-on-one and small group instruction by staff and trained tutors in the Learning Resource Center.
- Workplace Literacy Program with four training tracks and on-the-job internships.
- Support services to help students identify their strengths and address obstacles that may interfere with attaining their educational goals and make referrals to outside agencies when necessary.
- Family literacy program that brings parents and children together in a creative, learning environment.
- Parenting classes for parents of young children with topics ranging from general family health, nutrition to basic life skills.
- College Bridge program to help students make a successful transition to college after earning their GED.
Rationale and Background
As anyone in the field of adult education knows, it isn’t easy for adults to go back to school. Not only do they have jobs and children to worry about, but many also have transportation and health issues. Many adults don’t have the time to enroll in a class, let alone attend school full-time. In response, in September 2002, Dorcas Place created a more flexible alternative to its daytime or evening classes, the Learning Resource Center. The goal of the Learning Resource Center is to keep adult students involved in a learning environment and to support their ability to continue learning at their own pace until they can make a larger commitment to a full-fledged educational program, or meet their goals through the LRC.
The rationale for the LRC is based, in part, on research that shows students perform better when they feel involved in the planning, scheduling and implementation of learning programs (Tinto, 2003). Performance is also enhanced when students feel connected to staff and other students. Tinto describes this as being part of a “learning community.” The intimate nature of the LRC, the fact that students can go there when it is most convenient for them, plus the fact that is available to all Dorcas Place students, helps to achieve these goals.
The LRC has become an important program within Dorcas Place. Since it opened, it has grown significantly in terms of the number of students it serves and the types of educational experiences it offers. In September 2003, an evening LRC program was added, which functions in the same manner as the daytime program with its own staff.
Description of the Practice
The Learning Resource Center (LRC) is a cozy room located within Dorcas Place where students can go to study by themselves or with the help of Dorcas Place staff and trained volunteers. The learning is self-paced and more flexible than in a traditional class. The LRC serves approximately 30 students daily, Monday through Thursday 9:00 am to 8:00 pm and Fridays 9 am to 5 pm. Most students attend two hours a day, two days a week; some come more often.
Intake: All students go through the Dorcas Place intake process, which includes CASAS standardized testing, oral and written skills evaluation and the setting of educational goals. On the basis of this information, case managers draw up an educational plan with each student. If it is determined that a student’s life situation is best suited for the LRC, they are then referred to the LRC to set up their schedule of study.
Students attend the LRC on either a drop-in basis, when their time permits, or they schedule regular, weekly tutoring sessions. The LRC also serves as a tutoring and enrichment center for students already enrolled in full-time classes at Dorcas Place. Many students, especially ESL, use the LRC to increase the speed of their language acquisition. Some students are referred to the LRC by their classroom teachers when they can no longer attend class full-time. The LRC is also a resource to students in the Bridge Program, which is a Dorcas Place program offering support for GED graduates transitioning to college. When space permits, the LRC also accommodates students on the waiting list for full-time classes to begin their studies and then transfer to a class when space becomes available.
Learning Resources: The LRC has an extensive library of resource books, texts, workbooks and study aides. The LRC has six computer stations, which offer students several computer-based learning programs and access to Internet resources and Microsoft Office Suite for research, writing, creative projects, job searching and other tasks. Some of the most popular programs are IBM’s Reading Recognition, Rosetta Stone and SkillsTutor. Rosetta Stone is a comprehensive ESL curriculum with over 1000 hours of mastery learning in key language skills, at beginner through high intermediate levels. The Reading Recognition program uses voice recognition technology that understands a range of accents and gives new readers the support and practice they need to read and speak English better. The content for the Reading Recognition software was developed around work-related activities, so that students are not only learning to read and speak English better, they are also gaining useful job skills.
Assessment of Progress: Since the majority of students attending the LRC are actively pursuing their GED’s, progress is most often measured using their scores from the GED practice tests. The intimate nature of the LRC also allows for student progress to be measured anecdotally. Since students work with individual tutors or in small groups, continuing work is assigned only as progress is made.
Student progress is also measured through the Internet-based SkillsTutor, a research-based instructional program focusing on the core skills commonly found on standardized tests that monitors student progress and generates reports on it. Its individualized, self-paced instruction allows students to work independently while also improving their computer skills and confidence. Pre- and post-tests reinforce learning and track progress, while helping students feel comfortable taking standardized tests in a similar format.
The LRC model is based on being responsive to the educational and scheduling needs of the students. LRC students regularly cancel and reschedule appointments. The coordinator’s challenge is to balance the administrative and scheduling needs of the LRC and students’ needs.
Another challenge is that the Learning Resource Center cannot meet the needs of all of the students who are seeking its services. The LRC has a waiting list of students.
Impact and Effectiveness
During the 2003-2004 school year, the LRC served approximately 280 students, most of whom would have been denied access to an educational program if the LRC didn’t exist. About 70 students use the LRC monthly, averaging 500 hours of study. LRC reports an attendance rate of 85 percent and a retention rate of roughly 75 percent. Using assessment tools, such as periodic CASAS testing and various academic testing, at least 75 percent of the students who regularly attend the LRC show measurable gains.
Judging by the number of students who are using the LRC, and what they say about it, the LRC is a valuable addition to the adult educational programs offered by Dorcas Place:
"I like coming to the LRC because the tutors have helped me a lot. Tutors have helped me with my grammar and my writing skills have improved. I have improved my level of understanding when I read. The LRC is a great program for everybody.”
"What I like about the LRC is the individual attention I receive and the flexible schedule that allows me to work and learn."
Cost and Staffing
The LRC is staffed by a full-time coordinator and three part-time instructors. In addition, a part-time volunteer coordinator recruits, trains and maintains a database of volunteer tutors. Dozens of trained volunteers help by tutoring students one-on-one or in small groups. Tutors come from all walks of life, from retired teachers to college students performing community service.
The LRC coordinator oversees the daytime and evening LRC programs. Working in conjunction with the three part-time instructors, the coordinator is responsible for the scheduling of students and tutors – in conjunction with the volunteer coordinator - as well as on-going monitoring of student attendance and academic progress. This position requires a strong background in education with experience in assessment, familiarity with individualized learning plans, and knowledge of adult learning theory. The coordinator also needs to be highly organized and have the ability to be flexible, since students’ schedules frequently change. The LRC coordinator and instructors use Microsoft Outlook to manage schedules and Microsoft Excel to monitor student attendance and progress.
The Learning Resource Center budget is approximately $90,000. Most of the budget goes towards staff salaries, materials and supplies. Approximately 75% of funding comes from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation.
Implications for Practice, Policy and Research
To establish a successful Learning Resource Center, a strong, pre-existing Adult Basic Education program is necessary. At Dorcas Place, LRC staff and classroom teachers work closely together on matters such as curriculum development and student assessment. Trained volunteers are necessary to run an effective LRC. The program also needs an ample supply and variety of educational, instructional and resource materials, as well as computers with GED and ESL software programs. Finally, an LRC requires quiet space large enough to accommodate several students and volunteers.
The LRC model might also serve as a valuable source of research on the self-study practices and preferences of adults. In a 2001 study, S. Reder of the National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy found that “informal, self-directed learning may be an important part of adult literacy development …’’ Specifically, the study revealed that 35 percent of adult high school drop-outs, who never participated in an adult education program, studied by themselves. Similarly, 46 percent of adult students who had taken classes also self-studied, when they were not enrolled. Reder’s research indicates that formal classroom models of instruction are not reaching many adults who need and want to improve their basic skills. A Learning Resource Center may be one way to meet this need.
Belzer, A. (1998). Stopping Out, Not Dropping Out. Focus on Basics Vol. 2 Issue A. Boston, MA: National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy. http://www.ncsall.net/index.php?id=417
Reder, S. (April, 2001). Program participation and self-directed
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Tinto, Vincent. (2003). Student Success and the construction of inclusive educational communities. Syracuse, NY: School of Education, Syracuse University http://www.ntlf.com/html/lib/suppmat/74tinto.htm
Wonacott, M. (2001). Adult Students: Recruitment and Retention. In Eric Practice Application Brief No. 18. ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult, Career and Vocational Education.