Functional Literacy Part 2 - Meeting Adult Needs

When we started working together, this gentleman wanted to be able to read highway signs. A motorcycle enthusiast, he simply wanted to be able to tell where he was. So, I showed him a provincial highway map, and talked about how exit signs worked. He learned the names of the large communities, as well as how to read "north", "south", "east" and "west". I wrote these words on 3 x 5 cards and he used them in short sentences:

I am going north to Fredericton.

He is going south on Number 7.

I am going east to Moncton.

It wasn't all travel literacy. We read some level one books together. We worked on phrases like "I am", "he is" or "we are". But it was clear his interest was mostly in the highway stuff. In our third session he said he found himself recognizing place names on some of the highway signs as he drove past.

Later, a change in job description led to new responsibilities, and new learning objectives. Now he needed to be able to read and write the days of the week and months of the year. He needed to know how to read and write times, and use the AM and PM abbreviations. He needed to be able to use note words like "phone number" and "meeting room".

We'd spent a little bit of effort on using a phone book and a day-planner. Now, we focused more tightly. After our first session on dates and time, he started keeping a kind of daily journal. As you can see from the photo above, the product was a bit rough. But it worked. He learned to read a calendar and, by the end of September, he had no trouble spelling the name of our nineth month.

This, then, is functional literacy work: an adult with immediate needs or wants sets out to learn - with help - something to meet those needs or wants. There is no question of tests: in this case, the learner knew perfectly well if and when he was able to read highway signs well enough to navigate. There is no question of grade-level correspondence or teacher-determined curriculum (not even a skills list!): adults choose to learn skills that matter, that are functional, given their particular life circumstances right now.

It is totally unlike what happens in schools.

1 comment:

John Miedema said...

Hi Wendell, I thought my blog post at would ping back here, but it didn't. Good post, I blogged it. Just an FYI. John