Learn about current research projects or read the published work of some of our WITESOL members.  Please note that WITESOL is only sharing this information and is not responsible for the content and quality. 

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Volunteer Tutors Make the Difference: Changing Lives, One Student at a Time

Volunteer Tutors Make the Difference

Literacy Services of Wisconsin serves more than 250 English language learners from the metro Milwaukee area, including Waukesha, Ozaukee, and Washington counties. The program is based on a one-on-one tutoring model in which volunteer tutors and adult English language learners meet for approximately two hours per week. When the program initially started, tutors and students met in person, however, at the onset of the pandemic in 2020, the program pivoted to an online model. Today, many tutors and students are returning to in-person sessions, while others have chosen to maintain the online format, finding that it offers much more flexibility for both tutors and students. 

Wisconsin Literacy volunteers have the option to use a variety of instructional resources, including BurlingtonEnglish. Heidi Friedrichs, Waukesha Site Coordinator for Literacy Services of Wisconsin, coordinates the initial pairing of tutors with students and provides the initial orientation and training. In this article, we will introduce two successful volunteer partnerships – tutors Carol and Gary, and their students, Nat and Mari – to highlight some of the life-changing work that happens at Literacy Services of Wisconsin’s ELL program.

Meet Our Tutors and Their Students

Carol and Nat

Carol joined Literacy Services of Wisconsin with compassion for others and a strong desire to offer adult English language learners the experience of interacting with a native English speaker. Her goal as a tutor is to help her students feel more comfortable speaking English in order to improve their quality of life in the U.S.

Carol is currently working with Nat, a recent immigrant to the U.S. After an initial warm-up with informal conversation, Carol begins her formal lesson. She uses the BurlingtonEnglish course, Burlington Core as her primary curriculum. She loves that Burlington is a comprehensive, web-based program with ready-made lessons; she feels confident that the content provides everything her student needs to improve her language and communication skills. The ease of use is especially beneficial for volunteer tutors who may not have additional preparation time outside of their dedicated volunteer hours or a background in teaching.

Carol describes Nat as hardworking and highly motivated. Since beginning their sessions together, Nat’s language skills have greatly improved, most notably her speaking skills.
In Nat’s own words, she describes how her life has changed as her English communication skills have improved.  

“People understand what I am saying …
I can make an appointment at the doctor’s office.  
I can go to the library and explain to the librarian what I am looking for.
I can tell the maintenance man what needs fixing when he comes to my apartment.
I can order my medication over the phone.
I can help my neighbor by ordering things for her over the phone.
I can go to a restaurant and order food.
I can make small talk with my English-speaking neighbors.
I can talk to the salespeople at the store.
And I passed my citizenship test! I understood everything the officer asked me. I was able to answer all the questions and write all the sentences she wanted.”

Gary and Mari

Gary has been volunteering with Literacy Services of Wisconsin for several years. He has a background working as a college professor and as an editor. His goal for his current student, Mari, is to prepare her for subsequent study for her naturalization application and examination.

Gary also uses Burlington Core as his primary curriculum. Their tutoring sessions begin with an informal conversation, typically about Mari’s week, her family, and her daily activities. They then work together on a Burlington Core In-Class Lesson. They engage in discussion about the content as Mari answers the questions in each activity.

Gary enjoys teaching with the leveled readings and exercises. The wide variety of activities address reading comprehension, vocabulary in context, writing, and conversation. During the sessions, he and Mari particularly favor the informal, interactive review games at the end of each lesson.  

Gary and Mari meet online for each session using Zoom. Mari thrives with the personal one-on-one attention directed to her individual language needs. Gary describes Mari as highly motivated, social, and introspective. He attributes her progress to the “many exercises in Burlington Core that are directed to daily life. The content has helped her improve her vocabulary, build sentences, talk on the phone, communicate with friends and prospective employers, solve problems, and generally introduce her to important topics necessary to be a productive citizen of the U.S.”

Measuring Success

Nat and Mari are only two of the many students who are benefiting from the invaluable contributions of volunteer tutors at Literacy Services of Wisconsin. With this one-on-one model, students can work at their own pace in a comfortable setting (on-site or online) that fits their schedule and meets their individual language learning needs. Heidi Friedrichs explains that periodic testing, once at initial intake and every six months thereafter, has shown that the process works! Even more importantly, the relationships that develop between the tutors and their students are inspiring and truly heartwarming.

To learn more about how you can make BurlingtonEnglish part of your Wisconsin Literacy program, contact JennaRose Dahl at

Written by Debbie Gilman, Marketing and Editorial Support Specialist and Vicky Denkus, Marketing Specialist, Burlington English Inc.

©Burlington English Inc.

Multilingualism and Education in Wisconsin 

Multilingualism and Education in Wisconsin is officially on the web! Check it out at Claire Darmstadter, a student at UW-Madison who is pursuing a career in bilingual education, created the website that is filled with interviews of educators from around Wisconsin who work with multilingual learners. She is also responsible for creating all of the content, including 100+ podcast interviews. The website is full of helpful tips and information and features some WITESOL board members and members. It’s best to view the site on a desktop rather than a mobile device.

The (Im)Possibilities of Equitable Education of Multilingual Emergent Bilinguals in Re-mote Teaching: A Survey of English Language Teachers in the Great Lakes Region 

In April 2020, WITESOL Member, Jenna Cushing-Leubner, and members of her research team conducted a survey study of EL/ESL teachers (English language teachers of multilingual emergent bilinguals/English learners) and then an interview study of EL teachers in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Indiana.  Over 350 EL teachers responded to the survey and they interviewed about 100 teachers (nearly 200 hours of interviews).  They asked them about their experiences during the sudden shift to Emergency Remote Teaching and Learning due to COVID-19 in Spring 2020.  They shared the many ways they stepped in to provide (or were expected to provide) “non-instructional” services for their multilingual students and their families. They also shared the extent to which they were able to provide language, literacy, and content-access instruction.

Cushing-Leubner shared that this is the first research that captures a snapshot of how the shift to remote schools (first emergency and continuing on to the foreseeable future) impacted Wisconsin teachers, specifically EL teachers and their students.  This article is a descriptive analysis of the survey responses only. They break down survey response and show the time and energy EL teachers spent providing a range of supports and services beyond language instruction, and what (if any) language instruction they were able to provide.  Teachers represent city, suburban, small town, and rural contexts. The team also broke it down by differences across states and we name major issues of inequity that schools and districts need to address to support emergent bilinguals and their teachers, who are the first (and too often only) point of contact and response in the school system.

One major implication of their analysis is that schools and districts typically relied heavily on EL teachers (especially multilingual teachers and teachers of color) to provide broader institutional emergency support services for students, families, and colleagues, made possible in part by the pre-existing underrepresentation of multilingual teachers and support systems and personnel. The continuation of this pattern places schools and districts in direct violation with federal and state laws meant to ensure equal access to education through adequate programming for multilingual learners labeled “English language learners”.

You can view the open access research-based article by clicking here. 

Cushing-Leubner, J., Morita-Mullaney, T., Greene, M.C.S., Stolpestad, A., & Benegas, M. (2021) The (im)possibilities of equitable education of multilingual emergent bilinguals in remote teaching: A survey of English language teachers in the Great Lakes region. Planning and Changing50(3/4), pp. 139-164.