What is my Approach to Reading?

Rebecca Still, Community Learning Network

0 3 19 April 2022

As I have met with CALP adult literacy practitioners from around the province, I have noticed a few different approaches they use to teach reading.

Some practitioners focus first on the relationship with their learner. They build trust with the learner, find out what the learner is interested in and what is relevant in their life. They will then find material and resources that reflect what is important to the learner. In one case, a CALP adult literacy practitioner used a book on mental health because that is what the learner had requested. They started out reading it together and stopping to talk about unfamiliar words, discussed what a passage meant and how that related to the learner’s life. As they continued to read it together, the learner started feeling confident in her reading abilities and would read ahead of her tutoring session. Then, when they met, she would explain what she had read. Her reading skills have improved and now she wants to read about self-esteem.

Other practitioners focus on reading strategies. They learn about various strategies and then try out different strategies to find the one that works the best for the learner. One CALP adult literacy practitioner learned what she could about various reading strategies and then started trying them with a learner to see which one worked for the learner. She discovered that one method wasn’t very effective and so found another method that worked better in helping the learner to read.

Neither of these approaches is right or wrong, they are just different. In fact, in Allan Quigley’s book Building Literacy: A Learner-Centred Guide, he explores 5 different approaches. In the Strengthening Literacy Practices training we look at 4 different approaches. What is important is to recognize there are many different approaches we can use.

What I have observed is that CALP adult literacy practitioners often choose an approach that reflects what they value. The first example above values relationships, while the second example values skills and strategies. I think some of this choice is based on our personality or learning styles. Some people may say it’s a right brain/left brain approach. Someone else might relate it to colors and others may have a different tool they have used for understanding personalities.

Understanding what we value can guide us in working with adult literacy learners. Once we recognize that in ourselves, we can start seeing it in other people. Rather than wishing we could use the same approach as someone else, we can look at what strengths we bring and then build onto the  aspects we admire.

For instance, I might look at how the CALP practitioner was able to use a mental health book to develop reading skills and wish I could do the same. I tend to focus more on the strategies. My strength is I know the strategies. What I need to work on though, is building trust with learners. I need to spend some time in each learning session getting to know them. I need to be curious and ask questions. But I also need to really listen, and as I find out more about the learner, to bring that into each learning session. If I discover a learner has experienced trauma in their life, I need to be respectful and discover ways that I can support them. 

Jenny Horsman has done extensive work in this area, and you can find more about her work here. You might take the Holding Safer Spaces training or maybe you attended Rochelle Galeski’s Trauma-Informed Care sessions or read her Blog. All of these are opportunities to learn how to work with learners with trauma. If, as you learn more about the learner, you discover they have a learning disability, you can check out Karen Plourde’s book Serving Adults with Learning Disabilities in a CALP Setting.

What if I’m one who can easily build a relationship with a learner, and we have a great time together. We read various books, texts, whatever the learner wants to read, but I’m left wondering if I have really helped them to read. I can recognize my strength is building relationships. But I need to learn some strategies so that when we are reading together, I can help build the learner’s vocabulary, or help them to decode words they are struggling with. Rising to the Reading Challenges of Adult Learners describes the 5 components of reading (Chapter 3) or you can look at Answers May Vary which includes a number of reading strategies. If you are wondering if there might be a learning disability, you can check out Karen Plourde’s Serving Adults with Learning Disabilities in a CALP Setting. There are also some great e-Learnings on reading and writing strategies and a series of blogs, Practitioners Shortcuts by Emily Robinson Leclair, South RSS, that you can access on the CALP Portal. 

Whatever approach you use, if you focus on what the learner needs and wants, and adjust your approach to fit their needs, the learner is more likely to stay motivated and interested in coming back for more learning.

Reach out to your RSS or me for more ideas and resources.

Rebecca Still
CLN Literacy Specialist


Sign in to view 3 comments