** Your pre-school granddaughters cuddled up to you in the recliner and asked you to read Curious George…and you couldn’t. You gazed at the printed words, while they snuggled even closer, waiting excitedly. You faked your way through the entire book—relying totally on the pictures—your literacy secret buried in the pages.
** Your first grade son asked you to read his report card to him…and you were unable. You stared at the piece of paper in your hand while he anxiously waited. You fumbled for words—the tears streamed down your face—and your child thought he had done something wrong.
** Your new employer asked you to attend a maintenance safety meeting. Up to now you have been relying upon co-workers to read training instructions or product labels for you—the great cover-up. The job application your devoted friend filled out for you will be of no benefit in this situation. You shamefully buried your head in your hands, knowing a possible job loss imminent….again.
** Your boyfriend asked you to select something from the restaurant menu, and your inability to read the menu options necessitated another chicken strip dinner. Your stomach churned as you laid aside the menu…one more time, grinning in deceit. Your literacy secret suppressed with each greasy bite.
** Your hands trembled as you once again reached for the multiple prescriptions from the nurse practioner, trying desperately to remember all the medical instructions she babbled. Everything she spoke sounded foreign to you, and your fears of failure to recall overwhelmed you. If the truth be known and honesty prevailed, the failure to disclose your low literacy difficulties to medical staff or even to the pharmacist may have contributed to this office visit. The inability to read the label on the prescription bottles coupled with the embarrassment of asking for help—again—had created a cycle of hide and then seek.
** Your physician has asked you to eat more fruits and vegetables like blueberries, spinach or squash and less red meat. He has also asked you to reduce your sodium intake and encouraged reading product labels, an intimidating and overwhelming assignment considering your personal untold literacy story. The dread of revealing your literacy cover-up to your physician kept back any intentions of hurdling past that fear or ever being able to tie sodium level statistics together.
** Your heart’s desire has been to read the Bible, the written Word of God. Each Sunday your spirit wept when the pastor asked each person to open their Bibles for the scripture reading. Only a listening participant immersed in a sea of written words, you longed so desperately to read the heavenly love letter also.
If only you could believe Psalm 37:4, “Delight yourself in the LORD, and He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD; trust also in Him, and He will do it.”
** Your husband of 20 years repeatedly reminded you of your low literacy skills and incapacity to function in society. A prisoner in your own home—seized of all self respect and dignity—suppressed into believing his gloated lies. Breaking free at last from the web of deceitfulness and untruths, Determination and Courage marched into the local adult literacy office one day and never looked back. Help was now only a word and respectful hug away.
L-I-T-E-R-A-C-Y Changes and Improves Lives Every Day
Just the facts…
Why does adult literacy matter? Basic literacy skills involve the following: the ability to read, write, and speak proficiently in English; to compute and use technology; and to solve problems in order to be a life-long learner; and to be effective in the family, the workplace, and the community. (National Institute for Literacy)
What is the economic impact of Adult Basic Education (ABE) to a community? Over 63 million American adults (29%) lack basic literacy skills. Adult low literacy impacts business, healthcare, social, community, education, and other cost-driven entities. (www.ProLiteracy.org)
Literacy means dollars earned for all concerned.
How can adult literacy educators and volunteer tutors unearth the tremendous coping skills of so many low literacy individuals and then gear those lifetime abilities toward improving their unique literacy challenges? Think about it: someone is gainfully employed, raising a family, yet cannot read the words on the pay stub.
Coping skills of most low-level learners—tremendous. There is an incredible resource of skills and lifelong experiences to be collaboratively mined between adult students and their tutoring partner. Ultimately, effectively equipping low-level literacy adults with the reading, writing, speaking, and math abilities needed for successfully functioning in society benefits all concerned. All people are students and teachers, learners and facilitators in various aspects of life.
The following five Principles of Adult Learning have been beneficial to me personally as an adult literacy tutor since 2006 and must be applied to all life-long learners:
** Adults learn best what is relevant to their lives. Adults like to see a connection between what they are learning and what they need or want to do in the “real world.” They want to make progress toward specific and often immediate goals. Relevant learning that advances goals and improves life is even more meaningful when adults discover something about self or a situation that they hadn’t recognized before. In other words, they learn something both relevant and new. Adults are more willing to incur demands on their time and to take risks when they consider the learning relevant.
** Adults need to apply what they have learned. They learn best by doing. Adults may prefer different ways of taking in, processing, and organizing new information. But in the end, they are not confident that they have learned something until they have applied the new information or the newly learned skill to a real task.
** Adults need and expect to be treated with respect. Adults learn best when they feel valued, when their opinions are appreciated, and when they feel listened to. They want and deserve to have some say in the classroom and in the direction of their learning. They also want to feel safe in the learning situation—another aspect of respect. They want to know that it is okay to make mistakes and that those mistakes will not generate ridicule, either from the instructor or from other students.
** Adults have a wealth of skills and experiences that can serve as learning resources. Each adult learner brings a lifetime of experience, problem-solving, negotiation, and accomplishment to the learning situation. Learning is much easier when you make use of these skills and connect the learner’s experiences to what is being learned. A student’s skills and experiences can become valuable learning resources for other students and for you. Taking on the teacher role is a great confidence and esteem-builder for adult students.
** Adults may have to overcome a number of barriers to learning. Some of these may be emotional (low self esteem, fear of failing, concern about what others think of them). May other barriers grow out of the pressures placed on students in their other adult roles (work and family responsibilities).
Finally, many adult learners may be dealing with learning differences or disabilities that made traditional instructional approaches ineffective and frustrating. Your job is to accept, guide, and support. An effective instructor creates a safe environment for students, provides ample opportunity for success, allows errors to become positive teaching points, and helps students to identify and cherish their assets and accomplishments. (www.newreaderspress.com)
“If you feed a man, he will hunger again. If you clothe a man, his clothes will wear out. If you heal him and he returns to his old life, he may be diseased again. But if you teach a man to read, he can help himself.” (Dr. Frank Laubach)
Currently, my responsibilities a tutor-trainer have presented opportunities of instructing prospective adult literacy tutors about Adult Basic Education tenets. In no way do I consider myself an expert or anything of the kind concerning low-literacy learners. Any ABE information I have acquired and disseminated since 2008 has been self taught and motivated. The retired elementary and high school tutors in our adult literacy council have pruned and helped me weed out unwanted data, always keeping relevancy for student and tutor in the forefront. For this I am thankful.
The next time someone asks you to read the bottle of Tylenol in the pharmacy for them because they forgot their glasses, think adult literacy…or lack of. The next time someone stares at the overhead menu at a fast food establishment for ten minutes, think adult literacy…or lack of.
The next time…think adult literacy…or lack of.
The real-life literacy journey may be long and difficult; the tutoring techniques tedious at times; emotions of both life learners may surge and plummet over the months; but in the end how can one measure the self-esteem acquired.