Welcome! Read the latest issue of PROGRESS, featuring civics programs in Virginia. Read PROGRESS

Assessing the Perceptions of Adult Volunteers who Provide One-on-One Basic Literacy Instruction: A Research Study

by Robert Craig,

Ph.D. Candidate,

Virginia Commonwealth University,

School of Education

“Assuming all goes well, for the first time CBLOs will have a survey questionnaire specifically designed for the adults who volunteer as one-on-one adult literacy tutors. This means program managers will have a reliable and valid means to obtain actionable feedback from their tutors about the quality of their tutor management programs.”

In the United States, community-based literacy organizations (CBLOs) have depended on volunteer tutors for decades. Volunteer adult literacy tutors are at the forefront of the nation’s efforts to close the gap between the 43 million adults  who could use adult literacy services and the system’s current capacity to provide services to only 1.8 million adults annually. However, CBLOs struggle to gain insights about how well their tutor programs are recruiting, training, and retaining their volunteer tutors. Most of the existing instruments used to assess the attitudes and perceptions of volunteers are broadly applicable to any organization that uses volunteers, e.g., Volunteer Satisfaction  Index, Volunteer Functions Inventory. None of the instruments are specifically designed for the adults who volunteer as one-on-one adult literacy tutors.

The lack of a survey questionnaire specifically designed for volunteer adult literacy tutors indicates a gap in the volunteer tutor body of knowledge. Its absence also presents an opportunity to produce something that could be used immediately by CBLOs. These were the two primary reasons why I decided to focus my dissertation research project on the validation of a survey questionnaire for volunteer adult literacy tutors—a questionnaire that would provide program managers with a reliable and valid means to obtain actionable feedback from tutors about the quality of their tutor management programs.

Purpose of the Study

The validation of a Volunteer Adult Literacy Tutor Perception Feedback Scale (VALTPFS) is a dissertation research project, the final step for me to fulfill the requirements for a Ph.D. in education. The VALTPFS is designed to assess the perceptions of adults who volunteer to provide one-on-one basic literacy instruction to tutees who are U.S. born native English language speaking adults (age 18+). The reason for this focus is that the English Learner (EL) population is very diverse, ranging from students with very little literacy skills in their native language to individuals with a Ph.D., so in order to narrow the scope, this particular study is directed towards U.S. born native English language speakers. The goal of the study is to produce initial evidence for the instrument’s reliability, validity, and reasonableness of using the community of practice concept as a theoretical framework. In this regard, a community of practice (CoP) is defined as a group of people who are engaged in a practice, are passionate about it, learn from their interactions, and apply that learning to improve the practice on an ongoing basis. The purpose of the CoP is to develop the capabilities of its members by creating, expanding, and exchanging knowledge. For those CBLOs who would like to participate in this research study and assist in validating the VALTPFS, please send an email to craigr@vcu.edu.

Scope and Nature of the Research Project

The self-report questionnaire will be web-based using the VCU QuestionPro online survey tool platform. No personally identifiable information or organizational identifiable information will be collected. The questionnaire is expected to take about 20 minutes to complete. The survey will include demographic questions and questions pertaining to the tutor’s perceptions and activities. The tutors will provide their answers using a 4- or 5-point Likert scale. The questions are allocated to four sub-scales (i.e., values, knowledge sharing, belonging, and organizational commitment/citizenship). These subscales are what operationalize the CoP theoretical framework.

The results of this research project will provide evidence for the reliability and validity of the tutor survey questionnaire. Assuming all goes well, for the first time CBLOs will have a survey questionnaire specifically designed for the adults who volunteer as one-on-one adult literacy tutors. This means program managers will have a reliable and valid means to obtain actionable feedback from their tutors about the quality of their tutor management programs. Equally important, the instrument will enable CBLOs to systematically track their efforts to establish a CoP for their tutor program, i.e., cultivate an environment where tutors work collectively to self-manage their practice. This semi-autonomy will enable program managers to: improve student outcomes, improve the tutor’s volunteer experience, improve the quality of tutoring services, and increase the number of tutors while simultaneously reducing program oversight requirements.

This is a great opportunity for Virginia CBLOs to be part of a research initiative with a nationwide reach. Join in with other states such as New York and Michigan and make your voices heard. If you would like more information or would like to stay informed of this study’s progress, contact Robert (Bob) Craig at craigr@vcu.edu.


Bob CraigBob Craig, M.P.A., M.Ed. (Adult Learning) is a Ph.D. candidate at Virginia Commonwealth University, School of Education, in the Research, Assessment & Evaluation track. Bob brings to his Ph.D. studies more than 35 years of experience working for the federal government as an engineer, logistician, program manager, strategic planner, and workforce development trainer for regional, national, and international organizations. In the areas of adult secondary education and adult literacy, Bob has served as a GED® math instructor and volunteer one- one-one adult literacy tutor.