Tips for Teaching in our Literacy Programs

Building Literacy Tips

Age matters. Age takes its toll on our hearing, our vision, our energy, our memory, and our overall health and stamina. It is ironic this fact becomes obvious to us as we ourselves age, but it sometimes gets minimized or overlooked in our teaching.

Here are a few of these issues, and some ways to address them:

“Sorry, I can’t hear you.”

Researcher Huey Long has noted: “Most adults in the decade of their 30s begin to experience some hearing loss…mainly in higher tones” (cited in Quigley, 2006, p. 110). Helen Bee has found: “By age 65…roughly a fourth of adults have some significant hearing impairment” (cited in Quigley, 2006, p. 110). Whether in a classroom, in one-on-one tutoring, or using technology such as Zoom or WhatsApp, it is important to ask politely (perhaps more than once over time) if your learners can hear you. We cannot always assume every learner with a hearing impairment will say, “Sorry, I can’t hear you.”

Accepting that our learners are vulnerable—especially in the early days—means simply asking if they can hear you okay. Then try moving closer, try speaking a bit louder, try turning up the technology volume; but continue to ask over time if they can hear you okay. It might make the difference between drop out or success.

 “Excuse me. I’m having trouble seeing that.”

According to research from the U.S. Bureau of the Census, “over 95% of adults over 65 require glasses at least some time” (Bee, cited in Quigley, 2006, p. 111). The problem often is we, as teachers and tutors, are not always aware of this. Again, simply asking if learners are having vision problems is an adult teaching necessity. Moving closer to the blackboard, changing seating, improving classroom lighting, using larger digital print with technology, suggesting learners increase the font size on their devices…the list of accommodations goes on, but learners themselves may not realize they have vision problems.

On a personal note, when I taught basic education at Keyano College in Fort McMurray, Alberta, in the early 1970s, the college counsellor had our basic education learners come to her office and read the eye chart. We instructors were to assist. I thought this was a waste of precious time. Imagine my surprise when over a third of our adult learners had real trouble reading the eye chart. Most of them got glasses after that and those who could not afford glasses, or upgrade their glasses, received some financial assistance from the college. Not one had ever said, “Excuse me. I’m having trouble seeing that.” We need to be willing to ask.

“Excuse me. Can we maybe take a break?”

If we feel tired while teaching or tutoring, it is a good bet our learners feel tired too. As Long has noted: “Teacher insensitivity to the reality of diminished energy levels can have very serious consequences” (cited in Quigley, 2006, p. 113). One good teaching technique is to have one or two learners volunteer to be the “energy committee” in a classroom. These learners can be asked to watch the “fatigue level” in the classroom and can be the “spokespeople” for you.

In a group learning situation, a simple “stand up and move around” activity works well to provide a break. Activities like, “All those who had a cup of coffee today, please stand. Now please sit back down.” Or, “If you are hoping tomorrow will be sunny, please stand up.” Then: “Okay, who has another suggestion for standing and stretching?” Brainstorming breaks around puzzles or case study discussions can really help as well.

In one-to-one tutoring, we alone have to be aware of our learner’s energy level. One-to-one, and even small group, settings typically allows us to see body language, including eye-contact (or lack of it) and facial expressions of learners far better than in a classroom situation.

In all events, whether using tutoring, classroom or group teaching, face-to-face or online, awareness of how our learners are doing physically is important. I once had a Masters student who would always remind me: “The mind can only absorb as much as the bum can endure.”

Assumptions we bring into the classroom.


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