Falling into Adult Literacy

Posted: 5 October 2017

Author: Rebecca Still, Community Learning Network

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Comments: 1

Recommendations: 1

No one plans to be an adult literacy coordinator, but rather through a series of events and opportunities, we find ourselves working in either adult literacy, adult learning or family literacy.

My journey began just after I completed college. I had the opportunity to spend the summer tutoring new college students to bring up their reading skills before they started college. 

I then earned a Bachelor’s degree in Education with a focus on working with children who had reading problems, and started working  at various schools in Alberta.

Later, after I was married and no longer teaching, I started tutoring at an adult tutoring program offered at the Lethbridge Public Library. This was in 1982. 

I tutored what some would say is the optimal learner- an older gentleman who had missed most of school and was taking care of his mother. I would like to say I was a great tutor who made a difference in his life but I had no training in working with adults. I had to rely on my knowledge and experience in working with children. Plus, we only met for a couple of months due to various circumstances.

Sometime later, after the birth of my 4th child, I came across an ad in the local Cardston paper for a volunteer to help set up an adult literacy program. I applied for the position and was accepted as the volunteer. Thus began my journey into adult literacy. This was in 1988.

As part of my role, I was invited to attend the provincial adult literacy training that was occurring around the province. The training material was ‘Journeryworkers’ written by Mary Norton. This training opened up my eyes to adult learners and taught me how to train other tutors and organize an adult literacy program.

Based on my learnings I interviewed learners, trained tutors and matched them up. Along the way, I discovered I loved working with adults.

In 1990, our family moved to Hinton. Despite having a young baby, our 5th child, I looked for the local adult literacy program only to discover there wasn’t one. But guess what? The Further Education Coordinator was looking to start one! I immediately volunteered my services, and with my recent experiences, my offer was accepted.

Operating out of a small storage closet, I met with learners, trained tutors in the local library close by and matched up pairs. At this time, I also started tutoring my first ESL learner. She was a young girl who had no English. I had no training in working with English language learners; however, I did figure out that we needed to start at the beginning in learning introductions and family relationships such as husband, daughter, son. I had plenty of children to use as examples and to guide the conversation.

Somewhere along the way I came across the ‘Side-by-Side’ series and started to learn grammatical terms I never even knew existed, such as count and non-count words. Somehow, despite my bungling along, my learner developed her English speaking skills.

A few years later my family moved to Olds. Here I discovered the Adult Literacy program was not only a few years old but they were their own society, a rarity in those days.

Over the next few years, I tutored a number of ESL learners, including Czech hockey players. Somehow I learned I needed to focus on what they wanted to learn and developed my lessons based on their needs and interests. We had a lot of fun, but I became too ill from a chronic health condition and had to stop tutoring.

Then one day a few years later I happened to stop into the local CALC office and discovered she shared the office with Elaine, the Adult Literacy Coordinator. Elaine, knowing of my previous experiences told me she was retiring and that I should apply for her job. I wasn’t looking for work but rather was looking forward to my youngest, and 6th child to start Kindergarten and having lots of time to work on projects at home.

Later that spring I was back into see the CALC coordinator and Elaine said I needed to apply for her job. She was pretty certain I would get it as the other candidates didn’t have as much experience as I did.

So I applied for the job and started working as an Adult Literacy Coordinator and began an exciting career in adult literacy. This was in 1998.I was an eager learner, reading all the manuals on my shelf, attending New Coordinator Training and looking for other training opportunities. I was fortunate to tap into many resources and programs being offered at that time throughout the province.

I was accepted into the Research in Practice in Adult Literacy project with Mary Norton, and started reading other research articles as well as conducting my own research project. This opened my mind to gaining a better understanding of adult learners and adult learning principles.

I had the opportunity to work on the Bow Valley project “Connecting Literacy to Community” and gained skills in promoting literacy to my community as well as delivering Plain Language workshops.

I was privileged to be accepted into the intensive 5-day “Foundational Training for Family Literacy Practitioners” pilot and learned about emergent literacy and gained a deeper understanding of early childhood development from a literacy perspective.I trained Builders as part of the Building Blocks program and was a Builder myself. I tutored literacy learners, led a small ESL group and refined my tutor training.

Another move for the family brought me to Stony Plain and other opportunities. I was the lead for Alberta on a national research project. I was hoping to be part of a team, not lead it and at first I felt way out of my comfort zone. But the team that came together in our province really helped me to grow beyond that comfort zone and I learned to trust the process and be okay to ‘sail by tacking’ to my end goal.

I also took on the project of creating a comprehensive tutor training program which became the “Creating Learning Partners” manual. As well, I wrote and delivered three modules for “Pathways-  Professional Development for Adult Literacy Practitioners”.

Looking back over my career I see how fortunate I was to participate in many groundbreaking learning opportunities that informed the best practices of Adult Literacy Practitioners, which in turn aided them to better serve learners and their community. Along the way I discovered that I too am an Adult Learner.How did your journey into Family or Adult Learning begin? Where has your journey taken you? Share your story and help your newer colleagues see that we all fall into adult learning and then learn along the way.

Rebecca Still
CLN West-Central Regional Support Staff


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