Reflections from the Literacy Source

In "Pre-Literate Refugee Training Reflections", Emily K., Melinda, Jocelyn, and Natalie describe a holistic, learner-centered approach to scaffolding non-readers. The post arose from their participation in a workshop provided by Literacy NOW, and they note that the manual, Making it Real: Teaching Pre-literate Adult Refugee Students by Alysan Croydon (2005) can be found online in PDF on the Literacy NOW website.

In the post they write:

The whole-parts-whole method of teaching was emphasized. This is where the lesson starts with the big picture, is broken down into components, and then put back into the big picture. We learned that it is important to use material generated by the student through LEA approach [Language Experience Approach]. This approach uses examples from the student’s life to create many different types of curriculum. In the LEA approach, the student (or group of students) talk about an experience they had (ex: a fieldtrip, what they did over the weekend, etc). The teacher copies down what the student(s) says, reading back over the entire composition after each line is added. The object is to get a paragraph of student-generated material; it will be written text that is already known by the learner(s). Also, establishing a sense of connection with the student’s personal experience is extremely important when working with pre-literate students, and the LEA approach does that.

Literacy Source offers a variety of perspectives and resources. This particular post caught my eye because it did something rare. It explicitly re-affirmed three important adult learning principles. One, learners do better when learning material is presented in a variety of modalities (visual, audio, tactile). Two, learners do better when the materials relate immediately to their interests and experiences. Three, learners do better when the parts are explored but never divorced from the whole.

(The authors don't use the dread phrase "whole language" but this is a pretty reasonable description of a whole language approach.)

It also caught my eye because it provides a good example of something simple yet profitable. At the risk of sounding presumptuous, I think the post authors, in reflecting on and writing about something they've learned, are deepening their understanding of and commitment to it. This is something I constantly encourage my learners to do - graph the solar system, write about a bit of Canadian history, share your math problems with your school-aged child. If you want to understand and retain the information, then do something with it.

If only more literacy and ESL facilitators had the time, resources and interest to learn, share and, in sharing, make what they've learned their own.

I should hasten to add that this last thought was nurtured by a post from Angela Maiers called Reflecting on Reflection.

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