Learners are often unaware that they are subconsciously reading. For example, we are surrounded by environmental signage and this can be used as a means of activating prior knowledge and asking learners to identify other signage that they see on a regular basis.
Learners often associate reading with books. However, reading can be introduced via leaflets, newspaper articles or even junk mail. Over time, reading can progress to short-read books, which are of interest to the learner. Paired reading may also be a viable option, with learners taking it in turns to read a page and helping each other out with words that they have difficulty reading or understanding. Learners should also be encouraged to keep a record of these words, for future reference and development.
For learners who are reluctant to write, tagging a writing exercise to the end of a kinaesthetic activity, often works well. For example, before asking learners to write a shopping list, they could be asked to cut out and match pictures of the shopping items to the written word. After sticking the items to a sheet of paper, they can then be asked to write a shopping list of their own. Writing can also be encouraged by using puzzles, cloze exercises or comprehension.
Speaking and listening skills can be developed by pairing up learners and asking them to participate in joint activities. For example, sitting back-to-back one learner describes a picture and the second has to listen and draw it. The roles are then reversed. Similarly, for learners lacking in confidence, question and answer sessions can initially be undertaken with a partner, prior to progressing to speaking to the group. Learners could be asked to interview their partner, with a list of pre-prepared questions, if necessary, and then feedback the information to the group. This often helps alleviate some of the pressure that they may be experiencing, as they are not speaking directly about themselves, but about another member of the group.
Effective Principles and Methods for Delivering Adult Literacy
For some adult literacy learners, even writing one sentence is a challenge. Therefore, it is good practice to provide the learner with scaffolding or a framework for writing. This can be undertaken with a cloze exercise and, if necessary, the learner can be provided with a selection of words to insert. Alternatively, the learner can be provided with a framework of boxes, with simple instructions as to what to write in each. This is a good method to use, particularly when introducing learners to letter writing.
The use of spelling strategies, such as mnemonics, is popular with learners and is often a fun way for them to remember how to spell challenging words. Learners should also be encouraged to devise their own mnemonics. It is useful to supplement this method with the provision of personal spelling dictionaries in which learners can record words, together with their preferred choice of memory recall.
Directed activities related to text, commonly referred to as DARTS, are activities that are designed to ensure that learners are engaging with the text. DARTS comprises reconstruction activities and analysis activities. Both approaches involve active learning and engage students as they appear much like puzzles and card games. Some examples include rearranging segments of text so that they make sense, answering questions about the text and underlining or highlighting specific elements of the text.
DARTS activities can be contextualised to suit hobbies, cultures and current events and can therefore be made relevant to the learner. However, preparing DARTS activities can be extremely time consuming, for the essential skills practitioner.
Specific Issues Relevant to Literacy Learning
Learners in the essential skills environment often have difficulties which can affect their learning preferences and impair their ability to learn. A common problem is dyslexia, which is a difficulty processing written language. Whilst dyslexia is not indicative of an individual’s intelligence, dyslexic learners often struggle with simple tasks such as reading, writing and spelling. It is vital that the individual’s specific difficulties are identified and a tailored approach adopted. This often includes contextualising learning and including kinaesthetic activities which include colour and images, and cutting and pasting written materials. For example, cutting out pictures of household items, such as table, chair, door and rug, and then matching them to the corresponding written words, on a coloured worksheet.
Dyslexic learners should also be encouraged to explore effective learning methods, for themselves. Furthermore, simple aids such as reading rulers, coloured overlays and tinted writing paper are available, which may assist learners with visual stress issues.
Other learners may have a hearing impairment which will need to be accommodated, in the literacy learning environment. The first thing, is to speak to the learner to ascertain how the impairment affects them and what adaptations may be required. The learner may wear a hearing aid, lip read or need an interpreter. Minimising background noise and encouraging other learners to speak, one at a time, will be helpful. A well-lit room and speaking to the learner face-to-face, and not from the side or behind, is also essential. In group discussions, the topic may be written down and learners encouraged to provide written feedback on a whiteboard.
It is also not uncommon to encounter learners with a wide variety of mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, panic attacks and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). These learners typically lack confidence and have low self-esteem. It is therefore imperative to forge good relationships as well as creating a positive and welcoming learning environment.
The ability to recognise when the learner is feeling uncomfortable or agitated, is a great advantage. Many learners will be taking medication and it is important to understand how this may affect their ability to learn. For example, the medication may cause drowsiness or an inability to concentrate for long periods of time. Incorporating regular refreshment breaks is essential and learners should be afforded a significant degree of flexibility to ‘come and go’ as they please, in the literacy learning environment. Regular reassurance and repeated constructive feedback is essential. The lesson plan should also be flexible and incorporate a wide variety of activities that will stimulate and maintain interest.