Checking In, Asking Questions, Making Plans

It occurred to me that I don't really know this lady's reading level, and so I'm operating in the dark, a little forced to trust her self assessment. Is she making progress? I don't know. Does that matter? Or, better, Is it any of my business?

I can ask if she'd like to be tested - that's the word, "tested" and not "assessed" - just so she knows that is an option. Maybe in a couple of weeks. But I can't impose it on her. I can't take the initiative and responsibility away from her. That would be.... Well, it would be a lousy thing to do, is all. And it wouldn't be building relationship.
June 8, 2009.

I connected with our self-directed learner during Bookwagon the other day, and expressed my doubts about how to help her best. I told her "I don't know what to do next." She said she didn't know what to do either. I took that as an invitation to suggest something. I suggested we meet at Tim Horton's later that afternoon.

I took along some books, writing materials, and some assessment tools from the Read Naturally crew. (The Read Naturally ME [Masters Edition] Placement Packet—2nd Ed. These were designed for children, but most of the reading comprehension portions can be used with adults. I'd have taken my CARA stuff but I couldn't find it - doh!)

I arrived a little early to find her already there, visibly nervous. I got a coffee and a couple of old fashioned sugar donuts, sat down, and listened. She talked a great long stream, mostly about her eyesight (she recognized her glasses weren't doing the job anymore) and a past unhappy experience with an adult literacy class. Then she said, "Is there a way to find out exactly where I am right now... what grade I'm at?"

That was my cue.

"Can I give you something to read?"


I handed over "Ice Cream Sodas", leveled at 3.5. She read it slowly to herself. Then I gave her the five comprehension questions that go with it. It was right away apparent that she was struggling.

Next, I handed over "Gorilla", leveled at 3. She read this more easily. I handed her the questions, and she answered them correctly with confidence.

That made sense. She had enjoyed the Jack Sloan westerns, which are a solid level 3, but found the level 4-5 biography series uncomfortable. Of course, she also affirmed that she was enjoying The Black Castle (she had the 1st three chapters). I estimate that story to be a reading level 4, but it's a straight-ahead narrative which makes it more accessible thant some other styles of text. And, in any case, no one was making her answer questions - she was reading for enjoyment.

Now I asked some questions about her quality world pictures. Did she still want one-on-one help? Was there anyone helping her now? Did she know anyone who would help her? Would she go out to get that one-on-one help? How far was she willing to travel? How often would she want that help? What time of day would she want it? If that wasn't possible, would other times of day be okay?

What was it she wanted to learn or learn about? Why did she want to read better? Was there something else she'd like to learn as well?

I found out she preferred one-on-one help in her neighbourhood, during the mornings. At present, there was no one helping her. She wanted to improve her reading to increase her independence. She didn't care about math, but was interested in recalling cursive writing. She was starting to learn to use a computer, with her son's help, and was interested in the idea of word games on Facebook and using email. She wanted help with her vision, and wondered about the value of a magnifying glass or magnifying page.

Okay, that was enough for me to create a to do list:

  • Bring her the four books in the Tony Jefferson series (r.l. 4)
  • Bring her complete copies of the Black Castle and Return books
  • (And finish the next two in the series)
  • Provide cursive writing worksheets
  • Find some reading materials with comprehension questions at level 3
  • Look into magnifying glasses
  • Look for someone reliable to provide one-on-one help

I explained that I couldn't offer one-on-one help in the daytime, nor on most evenings. But if there was nothing else available, I'd fit her in as best as I could. I also said, despite her reservations, I'd ask about the nearest adult literacy class and what kind of support she was likely to receive there. And, I promised to send her an email.

And that was that.

Since then, I've looked at and passed on magnifying sheets - I can't see how they'd be useful, given the need to hold them steady exactly 4" from the text (to keep the correct focal length): better to offer large-print materials. I've dropped off two of the Tony J. books (I've lent the other two to someone else) and both of the Black Castle books. And I've sent an email.

This week, I'll gather some more materials for her.

I'm... uncertain about the adult class. I run one myself, but don't think it would fit her wants right now. And I'm having no luck finding someone I trust to refer her to for one-on-one help.

Still, she hasn't given up, so neither will I.

How can I?

This is what I do.

Note: Read Naturally assigns levels to its materials based on these readability formulas:
Fry and Spache readability formulas for levels .8 through 2.7
Harris-Jacobson readability formula for levels 3.0 through 5.0
Dale Chall readability formula for levels 5.6 and above

I mostly defer to Fry, though, after nine years of it, I can ballpark pretty well just by reading. For more on readability see Wikipedia and here (and here, my constant guide by Zakaluk and Samuels).

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