Literacy is Not a Given for Everyone

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Liz Polasek reviews the tutoring books she uses when helping adults learn to read.

By Sue Moore

It’s amazing in this day of Twitter, Facebook and widespread web usage that there are many adults who can’t read. It is estimated 13 percent of the population in Kalamazoo County have a hidden reading problem, leading to trouble passing a driver’s license test or even finding their way using a road map. So many other issues for non-readers include filling out medical and job application forms and reading instructions, ballots – and even when shopping.

What it takes to help people who have been hiding this disability for many years are some dedicated tutors who can help turn someone’s life around, says Michael Evans, head of the Kalamazoo Literacy Council.

A Vicksburg area resident who has been tutoring for 10 years, Liz Polasek, has words of encouragement for those who might like to give tutoring a try. “It gives me personal satisfaction to help students taking the opportunity to gain skills that will improve their lives in untold ways. I do it because I have the time, and with the support of the Literacy Council resources I can play a part in helping someone else gain skills to that make such a difference,” she says.

“Whenever a student discovers a word in print that has special meaning to them, completes a lesson or passes a test, I share in that success. Each student has a personal goal that the tutor helps them to work toward, with lots of intermediate goals and celebrations,” Polasek says.

“I know of a former student in another community who was a 70-year-old man. His bucket list included wanting to read his Bible. With the help of his tutor and her family, he was able to accomplish this before he passed away,” Polasek says. “Another adult student was embarrassed about her struggle with reading, and went to great lengths to hide it in the community. She was very intelligent, but probably struggled with a learning disability such as dyslexia.

“She was seen as a leader, and wasn’t comfortable sharing her struggles publicly. People often don’t want others to know they can’t read well. That’s why tutoring in a private room with the door shut is helpful, allowing audio privacy. But personal safety of all participants is also a priority.”

Polasek and the Literacy Council use instruction books with scripted visuals, interesting stories and skill-building activities, based on research and experience with basic vocabulary through college preparation skills.

The original course work was designed by Frank Laubach, the founder of Laubach Literacy which has now become part of ProLiteracy Worldwide.  Lessons focus on specific letter sounds and combinations in words, such as the ending ‘tion, ‘ssion, ‘sion, and the specific pronunciations (exceptions addressed) in more advanced/intermediate lessons.

Comprehension is monitored, with instruction available for cursive writing and composition. Writing skills are included at each level.

Finding the time for consistent study and keeping appointments is sometimes a challenge for people with poor reading skills.  They are often under- or unemployed, and struggle with calendars and other daily challenges.  Schedule changes, transportation and other more immediate concerns must be balanced with the long-term goal of improving their lives through improved literacy.  It can be done, and success radiates from the student to family and community.

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