Adult Literacy and Paperwork

We'd tried Tin Star Promise, the first of Agnes Hagen's Jack Sloan westerns (r.l. high 3) back in June. I'd been tutoring one-on-one, and he was making progress, so I thought it was worth a try. But it was too hard, even for instructional reading, so we let it go after the first two pages. He concentrated on his workplace stuff, reading the funnies, and redoing the Blue and Green Page Turners.

Tonight, he tried Jack Sloan again. In the first chapter, he asked for "couple" and that was all. He paused then and wrote a brief summary.

When he read the second chapter, he asked for help with "sew" and "ribbons and flowers." He finished out the night writing about that chapter, and took the book home with him.

I interrupted him once. "You're doing better than June?"

"Yeah."

"That's good."

"There's a lot of stuff in...." He stopped and pointed over his shoulder, in the general direction of his workplace. "I'm doing a lot more of it [reading / writing] and my boss is even seeing it. I don't want to do too much more, or I'll get more paperwork." He laughs, though I think he's a little bit serious.

How's that for literacy providing a key to the dominant culture? This learner has become literate enough to complain about all the paperwork his boss makes him do.

I mention this, not just because it's a good news story, but also because I've been a bit grumpy about some of my own progress-measuring paperwork - and not least because of the false assumptions behind it.

Some months ago, I was told by a civil servant that without ongoing testing we have no way of knowing if learners were making progress. I was noncommittal and polite - you'd have been proud of me. But this guy was clearly incompetent.

Competent facilitators always know what kind of progress their learners are making. I didn't test this learner, but I know he's improved. I could even give you his increase in independent and instructional reading levels since, say, six months ago (if you're all about quanitatives). I know he's improved. He knows he's improved. Hell, even his boss knows he's improved.

But I suppose we'll always have to have those tests and whatnoughts. Every job seems to have its obligatory paperwork.

Just ask my adult literacy learner.

He's doing more all the time.


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