I also have experienced new things—places that I would never have done or gone to before. We were given tickets to see a musical at the Imperial Theatre, I had never been inside there before or been to any plays. I sat outside the theatre in my truck thinking I don’t fit in there—I can’t go in there—I don’t belong.
Then I saw a learner from my class and he joined me in the truck and we talked about how I felt. Then I saw my teacher go in and I saw her looking for us in the lobby so I felt I had to go in because I didn’t want to disappoint her. It was another door in my life that I’m glad I opened! Our classroom is a safe spot you don’t have to hide that you may not know the answer but with a team effort you can all find the answer together.An Adult Literacy Learner
Ginny Hooper has been creating safe places for learners for more than a decade. Within the space she creates, learners have improved their reading and writing skills, mastered basic arithmetic and applied mathematics, found better jobs, dealt with health challenges, helped their children with homework, learned to use a computer, explored widely on the web, participated in online courses, written award-winning stories, and successfully written Driver's and GED Tests.
Through much of that time, I've had the pleasure of working next door to Ginny. That's mattered to me, because we often share resources and ideas and, yes, listen to each other's bitter complaints about the state of things.
Ginny's a smart and successful facilitator, and a rock n roller to boot.
Here's the thing: her classes aren't anything like my classes.
First off, we don't go to the theater. Or hockey games, or discos. (I don't know if she's been to discos, actually - but it wouldn't surprise me.) My class goes to the library. And sometimes, for a thrill, we go to the other library. Oh, wait. We've been to the museum, too. Yeah. Part-E.
Ginny's class is also crazy for computers. More than one of her learners accessed the internet for the first time with her help. My classes are kind of, meh. (Except for them Farmvillers who got so addicted I ended up blocking Facebook.)
Ginny says her computer sessions gave learners "the independence to be able to look up for themselves answers to questions they had, such as holidays; why they are celebrated and where?"
The advantage of having computer software that allows stories to be read to learners or have their own stories read to them, is tremendous. Learners are improving their reading comprehension and are now better able to self-edit as they can hear what they have written and decide for themselves if that is what they meant or if it sounds right.
Ginny has showed me this software, and set it up on my classroom PCs. Still. We prefer learning much as our forefathers did: sharing reading in a circle; looking things up in a dictionary; writing word lists on a blackboard; cut & pasting magazine pictures as writing prompts.
If you asked Ginny about the challenges her learners face - and I have - she would list things like: reluctance to attend class; reluctance to ask questions; reluctance to write; reluctance to participate in group discussions; feeling alone and overwhelmed. For her, group work and group adventures are about fostering group acceptance and co-support. She also understands her outings - actual or virtual - as a way to overcome barriers like cultural differences or a lack of the background knowledge (points of reference) assumed by many pieces of writing. She views these as learning opportunities where little successes can accumulate, and where her learners gain self- confidence and trust.
Ginny's all about access and empowerment. She recognizes the lack of quality resources for learners reading at a lower level. One way she gets around this is by helping her learners write about their experiences. This creates authentic texts with interesting, appropriate, low vocabulary material relevant to each learner's personal and work experiences. Occasionally, Ginny turns things upside down in her class by writing something herself, and then asking a learner to edit and approve it.
Off and on through the year, Ginny - or she and one or two confident readers - reads a popular novel aloud, and then hands out individualized assignments carefully matched to each learner's instructional level. This has the practical effect of making mass market literature available to learners working at a lower reading level. Meantime, her classroom is stiff with topical subjects, math manipulatives, board games, plays and screenplays, and scripts for uptown, library and museum scavenger hunts.
Which is great - it's just not me.
And that's what I wanted to say.
Ginny and I share a general philosophy about the value of individualized, learner-centered functional literacy support in a Choice Theory environment. We share the practical experience of supporting adult learners with a full spectrum of reading skills and challenges. We've both developed lending libraries, and worked with whole families at special events or in programs like Storytent, Bookwagon and Parent-Child Mother Goose.
But Ginny and I don't do things the same way.
What we do depends on who our learners are, yes, but also on who we are.
We are equally successful, and equally unsuccessful, and equally frustrated at our own limits, and equally determined to get better at this work. But we are not the same.
Anyone seeking to set out a best practices for adult education classes, with a focus on lower level literacy support, could spend a profitable afternoon or evening with us. But only with one of us.
Look at the two of us, and you're left with this: effective adult literacy support depends on positive relationships, a safe, nurturing environment, an individualized curriculum, and the opportunity for learners to experience and build upon small successes and shared, positive adventures.
Everything else is detail.