When I began tutoring, I received an excellent orientation to the program, the philosophy, and the teaching strategies we would use. But as I continued, I found that I was missing a lot of background knowledge about adult literacy as an issue, and as a field of practice.
For example, I began to learn that the term 'literacy' itself meant different things to different people, and that the number of adults with literacy difficulties was much larger than I had anticipated. I began to wonder why five million adults in Canada are functionally illiterate, and why, with all the literacy programs around, more adults aren't enrolling in them.
I also began to wonder about the implications of not being able to read, write and use numbers. What is the impact of low literacy on the daily life of an adult who is a parent, an employee, a consumer of goods and services, a medical patient, a renter or homeowner, a potential voter, a UIC or social assistance recipient, a legal client, etc? How does it feel to be an adult non-reader? How does ones life change when they do begin to read as an adult?
I also heard a lot of terms being thrown around as if they were understood by everyone involved with adult literacy. But as a new volunteer tutor, I wondered: just what are those 'principles of adult education', and how do adults learn differently than children? What is 'ABE', and how is it different from 'literacy', or 'upgrading'? What exactly is this 'whole language' approach, and if it's so bad to teach 'phonics' or 'spelling', why are workshops on 'strategies for teaching spelling' being offered?
Asking all these questions, I became a bit overwhelmed, and wondered: exactly what is my role as a volunteer tutor? Do I have what it takes to be a good tutor? What will learners need from me? What kind of resources are available to help me?
Demystifying Adult Literacy For Volunteer Tutors: A Reference Handbook and Resource Guide is a compilation of some of this background information gathered from a variety of different sources. Each section ends with a list of references from which the information is obtained.
This Reference Handbook and Resource Guide is intended as a 'tool' for new and more experienced tutors, to provide background information about:
Also provided are: a glossary entitled "Are you literacy literate?" which outlines various types of literacy programs, and clarifies many common terms within the literacy field; and an extensive Annotated Bibliography of resources available through Literacy Partners of Manitoba.
Your comments and suggestions for improvement to future updates of the handbook are welcome.