Reading what Matters

Corrie Rhyasen Erdman, Community Learning Network

1 5 4 April 2016

The first time I met Dan he had come to our literacy program to find out what we could do to help him with his reading. Blotchy red-rimmed eyes revealed that he had been crying not long before he arrived. Clearly this was incredibly difficult for him to do and yet important enough that he pushed through his fear. It took his wife's gentle yet firm urging to get him to actually walk across the threshold of my office. I was struck by how much courage it took for this proud man sitting in front of me to walk through my door just then. You see, it wasn't Dan's first time in a literacy program.

Years before he had been matched with a tutor. Despite her best efforts Dan stopped coming after a year. While he saw some improvement in his reading skills he couldn't see how reading stories from workbooks helped him in his job. What Dan was telling me was that he couldn't see a connection between his learning and his everyday life. If the learning wasn't improving his life in some tangible way he didn't see the point of learning.

In fact, Dan isn't the only learner to feel this way. Research by Stephen Reder (1) indicates that adult literacy learners whose learning is based around "authentic literacy practices" show the greatest benefit. When learning materials and activities resemble the types of reading a learner comes across in their day to day activities learners actually apply these skills. It is easy to make the connection between the reading activities in the classroom and the reading tasks in everyday life. In adult literacy programs equipping learners to actually use the skills they are learning is our goal.

For Dan, his most immediate need was reading and filling out daily reports at work. In selecting reading materials for Dan it makes sense to include the actual forms he uses each day at work. Workbooks may also provide useful reading material as long as there is something that relates to Dan's life. As it turns out, Dan loved fixing cars so that opened up lots of other types of materials to choose from - magazines and blogs about cars, car manuals, and parts lists.

Finding reading materials that matter to learners is important in adult literacy. To learn more, check out Kate Nonesuch's blog post, 'Reading from Life'. Kate is a wise and experienced literacy practitioner in BC. She gives great advice for selecting relevant reading materials for learners along with some simple teaching strategies

Corrie Rhyasen Erdman
CLN Regional Support Staff
West-Central Alberta

(1) Reder, S. (2012). The longitudinal study of adult learning: Challenging assumptions. Montreal: Centre for Literacy


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