Finding the Spark

1458615_697777680241225_98719057_nHaving worked with many students of varying ages—7 to 72—it occurs to me that learning differences can be a lot like differences in our looks and our personalities.  Some prefer to work things out in great detail, some prefer being coached on all the short-cuts.  Some are quiet, some are entertaining with their bravado.  In short, as human beings, there are countless ways we can be put together, with our physical attributes and our mental attributes.

But the magic in each human being lies somewhere in the countless layers of our make-up.  After 17 years of tutoring, I continue to be amazed at the “spark” that triggers people to want to learn something.  One student comes to my mind that was, for all practical purposes, a non-reader.  But after many weeks, I discovered he was an expert at plants of all kinds and had his own garden he tended to.    This “spark” led to reading about plants and learning about organic gardening.

Another young man would always “spark to life” when learning about animals and nature.  He even kept a notebook about alligators, deer, and the marsh wildlife of coastal Georgia on a family vacation.   The spelling wasn’t perfect, but he had a great liveliness in relating from his notebook what he had observed.

It was heartwarming when a young boy learning the sounds in English was amazed at what he was learning and said, “I really need one of these sheets about the vowels at home so I can show my mom.”   His sense of family was his “spark.”

The common denominator among all the successful students I have known—no matter their learning difference—is the spark that makes them passionate about knowledge.  I have been fortunate enough to share and help discover students’ passions, no matter where they were on the learning continuum.  Respecting another human enough to allow them to show you who they are and what makes them passionate is an adventure.  It goes without saying that helping those find their spark and passion is a win-win experience.   I know it sparks something in me!

Tammy Deicken, volunteer

#LiteracyDay Celebration

jennwigginton (2)September is here!  International Literacy Day is September 8th. Adult Education and National Family Literacy Week is September 21-27.  Literacy organizations across the nation celebrate this month as Literacy Awareness month but the competition is fierce. It is also Library Card Sign up Month, as well as everything from Be Late for Something Day (5th) and Talk Like a Pirate Day (19th).  There are many other holidays and events for the month and we all share importance.

Illiteracy is not a contagious, incurable disease.  We believe everyone can learn to read.   We also believe that literacy is a fundamental key to solving many issues.  Being literate is so much more than just reading a book.  It is being able to comprehend and understand your finances, medical instructions, health and nutritional information, to be employable and to educate your child.  A functional reading level means that you can function in society and not just cope or get by.  We hear many stories of our students coping and depending on others or the system in order to live.  The strength of our communities and our nation depend on if we are educated.   I’m going to write it. Please read this out loud…”If we educate, we will solve many community issues.”   I would love someone to try and argue against me, anyone willing to ‘duke’ it out?   I’ll make it even simpler…if you can’t comprehend what you just read then go ahead and ignore me but if you comprehend and understand this message then show up at an event (check out our calendar at http://www.litcenter.org/calendar/) , call us to volunteer or donate.  It’s simple; Literacy is more than just reading a book it is learning to write and think critically and to live life.  We need your help, act today.

What’s Your Story?

I have enjoyed the recent TLC blogs about history because I have always loved history as well.  However, as I have gotten older, I find that I enjoy knowing more about the stories of the people behind the historical events.

I think that is where my love for genealogy comes from.  There are so many names on family trees, folks that we may have heard of but have never met.   I’ve heard some of the stories…like the one about my great-great grandfather, Rowell, who left the family farm, his wife, and two small children in northern Illinois to go to the gold rush in California in 1849 – not to return until the 1880’s!  And I know that one of my ancestors, Andrew, left Norway at the age of 13 to meet up with his uncle in southern Wisconsin in the 1870’s to start a new life.  But what about Abigail?  Henry?  Maria?  Eugene?  What are their stories?

The Literacy Center has a story too.  When a group of people responded to an article in 1966 to help adults learn to read, a new volunteer community-based organization was born and it came to be known as Regional Reading Aid (RRA).  For over 22 years it was housed at the YWCA in Evansville.  Then in 1988 it moved to Ivy Tech and received offices, staffing, and administrative support. Finally in 1999, The Literacy Center incorporated and attained 501 c (3) status and officially changed its name from Regional Reading Aid/The Literacy Center to The Literacy Center.  Ivy Tech Community College Southwest continues their support to today by providing office space, technical support, and student workers.

Just as in any family tree, The Literacy Center has a family tree with the names of lots of people whose stories we just don’t know.  Yes, I know the stories of my contemporaries – Lola, Frank, Susanna, Helen, Darrell – as I have traveled beside them and know their story as to why they volunteered, decided to donate, or learned to read.  But what about all the other names on the tree?  What are their stories?

While I may not know the personal stories of my ancestors, I do know that I am here today because of the choices they made during the story of their life.  And I know that The Literacy Center is still here today because of the choices our volunteers and adult students have made over the years.  We are all connected through history and I believe that a life filled with determination and passion are the ingredients that bind us together over time.

What’s your story?  What choices will you make in your life?  Determine to live your life with passion and an eye towards the future because the “future” may just be looking back on the choices you made and the impact those choices are having on them.

 lori

Lori Eggers Saxby
Life-long learner and Literacy Center volunteer

Importance of History

For those of you, who know me; know that I get very excited about history. I find it fascinating. It makes my heart beat faster. History is an important subject to study; not just world history, but our personal history too. It helps us understand how we got to where we are, and will help us make better decisions about where we want/need to go.

The Literacy Center’s history is pretty interesting, as well. There are many aspects of our history that have shaped who we are as an organization. Personally, I find our past with volunteers to be not only a key component in our past, but key to our present and future.

If you took part in Jennifer’s quiz a couple of weeks ago, you learned that The Literacy Center began as Regional Reading Aid by a group of volunteers. I say that volunteers are the life blood of our organization, but in truth, volunteers are our foundation. The Literacy Center would not be able to impact as many lives as we do without the dedication and hard work of our awesome volunteers. In truth, The Literacy Center probably would not exist without the altruistic group that is our founding volunteers. These women saw a problem in our community, and they donated their time and knowledge to help adults in Vanderburgh Country to become better readers.

Fast forward to today; we have grown. The Literacy Center has reached thousands of people since our first days in the mid-‘60s. We reach an average of 75 adults annually. Yes, The Literacy Center now has two paid part-time staff members, but we still operate largely by volunteers. Without our volunteers, both in the past and the present, The Literacy Center would not be able to make such a great impact in people’s lives.

Courtney Keating, Education Coordinator

Literacy Center #History101 Answers

Let’s take a look at the answers to the Literacy Center History 101 Quiz
1. What was the original name that started The Literacy Center?
a. Regional Reading Aid  We can’t locate an original logo from 1966 but here is one brom 1989.RRATHCAITlogo (2)
2. What year did the original program begin?
a. 1966

3. The original program that started in the 1960’s purpose was to serve who?
a. Adults

4. The original program was…
a. Literacy

5. The original program was began by and run by who/m?
a. YWCA Volunteers

6. In 1989, the original program began to collaborate with whom?
a. Ivy Tech Community College
1989 letter

 

 

 

 

7. What year did The Literacy Center become incorporated as a 501c (3) organization and began to be known only as The LiteracyCenter?
a. 1999page-2

 

 

 

8. Which of the following individuals have been involved in the history of The Literacy Center?
a. Michael J. Scully
b. Paula Holder
c. Corrine Vandeveer
d. Peggy Ehlen
e. Marian Wyber
f. Phyllis Schmidt
g. Peg Braun
h. Marian Wyber
i. Lola Teubert
j. Sara Whitfield
k. Judith Lippert
l. All of the above is correct.  From Board of Directors to volunteer office workers, these individuals donated a lot of time and energy to the program.
9. The Literacy Center’s newsletter was first known as…
a. The Reading Corner

page-1

 

 

 

10. In the history of The Literacy Center we have served how many?
a. Many 1000’s

Bonus (just for fun): the first attempt of our fundraiser, Letters for Literacy SCRABBLE Tournament was when?

a. April 2004Scrabble Flyer

Literacy Center #History101

jennwigginton (2)Who likes History? Our history as a human race is very important. We learn from our history. I’m going to mix it up this month and start with a quiz on The Literacy Center history. Comment with your answers and we will give a prize to the one with the most correct.

 

 

Literacy Center History 101 Quiz

1. What was the original name that started The Literacy Center?
a. Regional Reading Aid
b. Vanderburgh County Literacy Coalition
c. Learning Center
d. Evansville Coalition on Adult Literacy

2. What year did the original program begin?
a. 1966
b. 1969
c. 1961
d. 1968

3. The original program that started in the 1960’s purpose was to serve who?
a. Adults
b. Children
c. Families
d. All of the above

4. The original program was…
a. Literacy
b. GED
c. Math help
d. None of the above

5. The original program was began by who?
a. YWCA Volunteers
b. YMCA Volunteers
c. Evansville Women’s League
d. Literacy Foundation

6. In 1989, the original program began to collaborate with whom?
a. Ivy Tech Community College
b. USI
c. UE
d. Evansville Vanderburgh Library

7. What year did The Literacy Center become incorporated as a 501c (3) organization and began to be known only as The LiteracyCenter?
a. 1999
b. 1998
c. 1997
d. 1996

8. Which of the following individuals have been involved in the history of The Literacy Center?
a. Michael J. Scully
b. Paula Holder
c. Corrine Vandeveer
d. Peggy Ehlen
e. Marian Wyber
f. Phyllis Schmidt
g. Peg Braun
h. Marian Wyber
i. Lola Teubert
j. Sara Whitfield
k. Judith Lippert
l. All of the above

9. The Literacy Center’s newsletter was first known as…
a. The Reading Corner
b. The Trumpet
c. Literacy Awareness
d. Volunteers in Action

10. In the history of The Literacy Center we have served how many?
a. Many 1000’s
b. 500-600
c. 400-500
d. Less than 500

Bonus (just for fun): The first attempt of our fundraiser, Letters for Literacy SCRABBLE Tournament was when?
a. April 2004
b. February 2005
c. February 2006
d. February 2007

Tutors perspective on #LearningDifferences

 

IMG_6694My student and I recently met to discuss what made us a successful team.  We came up with three reasons why we click so well:  mutual trust and respect, passion, and laughter.

Teaching an adult with a learning disability is very rewarding.  I have gotten lucky tutoring two gentlemen whose worlds opened up when they began to learn to read.  Both show signs of dyslexia.  My first student had to move out of town which freed me up to begin teaching my current student, Darrell.

 

Darrell does not only exhibit signs of dyslexia, he also contracted rheumatic fever as a young child which affected many parts of his body, including his brain.  To add insult to injury, he has also had a TIA (mini-stroke) and has had open heart surgery which was probably a result from the damage to his heart from the rheumatic fever.  But instead of giving up on learning to read, Darrell came into The Literacy Center (TLC) seeking help.  It takes a lot of courage to admit, as an adult, that you cannot read.  Maybe that is why we tutors are so lucky.  Our students show great character by just walking through our door.  Trust me, we learn and grow by having them in our lives.

One need for tutoring an adult with learning disabilities is patience.  One need for learning with a disability is patience.  If both parties accept this truth the faster they will become a team and progress will be made.

 

As a tutor, it is very amusing (you have to laugh about it) to be told by your student that you have never taught them something you are working on, when you know you have told them weeks, months, and maybe even years before…multiple times.   But that’s ok!  It’s to be expected.  You proceed in explaining the point you want them to understand, as if it is the first time.  Sometimes they will have an Eureka moment.  Seize that moment!  You can almost see new pathways being forged in their brains; deeper ruts running along their memory highways, updating and re-wiring.

 

But there will, also, be sessions where you see dullness in their eyes.   However you have explained your lesson, regardless how brilliant you think you have conveyed it, there is a block to their grasping and understanding the point.  Go ahead and try a different angle, but also know when to switch to something they know or like to work on.  The more you get to know your student the easier these transitions will become.  Have patience!

 

As a tutor of a student with learning disabilities you must be prepared for valleys and peaks in their learning.  With these come high highs and very low lows.  Your students will recognize when they are slipping.  This knowledge can be very daunting for them and frightening, especially for those students who work and study hard on a daily basis.  Like Darrell.

 

It has happened several times that Darrel has wanted to quit taking lessons because he feels he is too stupid or weak to continue or that he is letting me down.  He runs full speed into a wall.  If you find your students are letting self-doubts hinder their progress…. Have patience!  Together, I repeat, TOGETHER, you dismantle the wall brick by brick.  This is where the mutual trust and respect, the passion, and the laughter come in.  One of the most important ingredients to every tutoring session is having your students leaving feeling good and happy about themselves.  Make them excited about their potential!  WARNING!:  Your false praise and half-hearted encouragements are immediately sensed.  Your students are much better at reading your body language and your intonations in your voices than you are in theirs.  Their lifetimes of negative experiences and distrust in others have fine-tuned these skills.

 

On the other end are the times your students feel elated and even manic about what they have learned and how this learning has opened their minds to new thoughts and new interests.  They incorrectly believe they are much more advanced than they actually are at the present.  Feed their excitement but not in a way that they will crash and burn.  Your jobs as tutors are to always be pushing to that next level but not so far ahead that failure or back slipping is inevitable.

 

In closing, and this comes from Darrell, he says some of the best sessions are when we mostly talk, especially if he is feeling overwhelmed.  He says those sessions have allowed him to rid himself of the demons that have haunted him since being illiterate in school as a child.  He wants every tutor to realize that students come to TLC with a lot of baggage and scars.

 

Please, just have patience.  The rewards are amazing.

 

A Tutor’s View on #LearningDifferences

I know nothing ajessicabout learning disabilities. Reading has always been easy for me and reading is my favorite pastime.

However, when I signed up to volunteer at the Literacy Center I didn’t know if I’d have the wherewithal to help a student learn to read. Luckily I was paired with a female student, roughly my age, who read at about a 4th grade level. She said her goal was to learn to read for enjoyment. Perfect!

I wasn’t sure where to begin, so we started where she left off with her previous tutor, using a Challenger workbook. She had no trouble with the lessons.  We jumped ahead a number of lessons in little time at all. But when we began reading together out loud, the problem was apparent. She couldn’t pronounce words with more than two syllables. Her comprehension was good, but she became tongue-tied reading aloud.

I still know little about learning disabilities, but after a few months of confidence-building and patience, her speed and pronunciation improved drastically.  She had an AHA moment when I brought up the notion that she may have had a speech impediment as a child. She admitted that her grandmother and sister made fun of her speech when she was young.  As an adult, a voice coach noticed her difficulty pronouncing words when she sang, which lead her to seek help from the Literacy Center. The pity, of course, was that she didn’t receive help at a young age, but rather was ridiculed, which undermined her confidence, both speaking and reading.

We continue to read out loud at every meeting and have her watch my mouth as I pronounce more difficult words.  A rewarding moment early on was when she mentioned that she was beginning to have “real conversations” with people. For example, a woman at her gym commented on the book she was reading and they discussed the author and the story at length. Rather than private study rooms at the library, we now meet and read aloud in public places, such as Barnes and Noble – a sure sign of her improved confidence.

I also attribute the success of our tutor/student relationship to mutual respect and the ability to find interesting things to read and discuss. We’ve tackled civil rights, survival in Alaska, Chinese mother-daughter relationships, geography, and personal finance. I’m pleased to say her reading speed and vocabulary are vastly improved. She’s meeting her goal of reading for enjoyment, and is having numerous “real conversations” with people she meets.

Jessica Mallinder

A Literacy Center Volunteer Tutor

#LearningDisabilities = Learning Difference

Courtney Keating, Education Coordinator

Courtney Keating, Education Coordinator

I have a confession to make. When I first started working at The Literacy Center (TLC), what I expected is different from what I got. I assumed that I would be helping people who weren’t able to read due to poor life choices, (i.e. quitting school), or those who had a rough childhood, (i.e. parental neglect).

It didn’t take me long to realize that the reason for not being able to read well may be due to lots of factors. Sure, one or both of my original thoughts may be a factor, but it usually goes much deeper than that.

It wasn’t long into my training before I realized that I didn’t have the whole story, and my assumptions were only the tip of the iceberg.  A vast majority of our students suffer from learning disabilities (LD). The trouble with LD is that it isn’t a disability you can see. If someone has a physical challenge, it is obvious. Therefore, the best way to help him is pretty obvious, too. For instance, if someone is in a wheelchair, a ramp is an obvious option in lieu of stairs. If someone is blind, Braille is the obvious solution for written communication. Learning disabilities are solely cognitive, so how to help overcome their challenges is more difficult.

According to the Learning Disabilities Association of America website, 60% of adults with literacy problems have an undetected or untreated LD (http://ldaamerica.org/support/new-to-ld/). That number is astounding. That’s 6 out of every 10 of our students with an undetected LD! Considering a majority of TLC’s students have an undetected or untreated LD (that doesn’t take into consideration for the students who have a LD diagnosis), I knew I needed to learn more.

Perhaps the most well-known LD is dyslexia. However, that seems to be grossly misunderstood. Many people incorrectly believe that dyslexia is solely reading words backwards. To oversimplify, a person who is dyslexic has trouble de-coding a word. Dyslexic students see things the same way as someone without dyslexia, but the translation from what they see on a page gets jumbled in their brain. Here is a great video that discusses the neuroscience behind dyslexia: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zafiGBrFkRM. There are many activities that can help a student better deal with dyslexia, and one of the best proven methods is a multi-sensory method, such as Orton-Gillingham.

Dyscalculia is another common LD. Dyscalculia involves a wide range of difficulties, but commonly it involves the inability to process various math skills. Visual spacing is another component of dyscalculia, which results in a person having trouble processing what they see. Some dyscalculia warning signs in adults include trouble figuring out alternative solutions to problems, difficulty estimating, such as time, bills, and distance. To assist a student who has dyscalculia, it may help to outline math problems with proven logic. This method is beneficial because it teaches how to learn math, instead of instruction based upon memorization.

There are an abundance of learning disabilities. There is no cure for them. Students who suffer from learning disabilities can only learn how to live with them. Our job, as educators, is to be flexible. One single method never works for all of our students. We must be able to change our lesson plan to fit what a student needs and what works best for a student. Learning and practicing various methods not only helps us grow as teachers, but it ensures the success of our students. It is also beneficial to help the student see the LD as a learning difference, not a disability.

For more information on various learning disabilities and tips on how to teach those who suffer from learning disabilities, visit the National Center for Learning Disabilities website at http://ncld.org/ or the Learning Disabilities Association of America website at http://ldaamerica.org/.

#Learning Difference Experience

This blog was originally published by IAACE.  Darrell Murray is our student and as we make July’s blogs about learning disabilities (we prefer to call them learning differences) we wanted to make sure you had an opportunity to read this again.  This time read to understand what he has had to go through to get where he is today.IMG_0052 (2)

 

 

 

 

Working on this blog has been a wonderful experience for my tutor Annette, and me.  We have met several times to discuss what makes our tutor/adult student team a success.  My name is Darrell and three years ago I could not read. Sure, I knew most of the letters of the alphabet but wasn’t as clear on what sounds the letters make.  I regarded people who could read as the “normals.” I bet you don’t even give your own literacy much thought; reading and writing is just second nature.  Those who cannot read nor write hide amongst us.  They have developed skills and tricks to get by as functioning adults in society.  That was me. But when my company was bought out I had no choice.  I had to learn to work with computers or lose my job.

That’s where Annette came into the picture.  She is a volunteer tutor at The Literacy Center.  We were introduced after I completed the required twelve hours in the computer lab.  We hit it off immediately.  We became a team!

But what made us a team?  That is why writing this article has been so beneficial.  We have closely examined our three years together and what has made us click.

After hours of discussion, our success boils down to  mutual respect and trust, passion, and laughter.

The number one key to a successful tutor/adult learner team is mutual respect and trust.  Of course, I have respect for Annette, but more importantly I know she has the upmost respect and trust in me.

Early on, the self-doubt of being too dumb to read was firmly planted in my psyche. Years of accumulated negative experiences (especially in school) made “fear” my best friend.  Through encouragement, patience, and understanding Annette slowly cleaned away the negative thoughts that were polluting my mind and spirit.

I began to believe in myself. A door was opened and beyond was the boundless vista of knowledge. In that positive atmosphere we became a team of equals.  We are peers. Period.

In an adult student it takes passion to want to change and it takes passion to be an effective tutor.  My passion to want to learn and Annette’s passion to teach me is obvious.  But this experience has had its up and downs.

My biggest obstacles were the times I wanted to quit.  Stresses in my life (work, health, family) were exhausting and that’s when my self-doubts were rekindled.  As my passions grew dimmer, Annette’s passions gently grew brighter. That’s when she listened.  She allowed me to express my fears without judging me. I gained self-respect after picking myself off the ground, dusting myself off, and getting back to work.

My biggest “up” moment was accepting the 2013 Dollar General Student of the Year award in Washington, D.C. at the United States Conference Adult Literacy hosted by ProLiteracy of America.  It was so uplifting to be bathed in the passion of hundreds of people and organizations that fight the battle for literacy.

So ups and downs are to be expected.  A successful team knows when to push and when to ease up.  Annette and I have that balance.  It is easy to have an ego in times of good but passion acts as a life preserver in times of bad.  And Annette is my cruise ship captain to literacy.

No team can be successful without laughter.  We laugh at each other and we laugh at ourselves.  For instance, I hid my tiny handwriting with my arm out of shame.  Annette made me write larger and it turns out my handwriting is neater than hers and Annette is starting to believe my Dyslexia is an airborne disease!  Humor is a large component in accepting who we are including our imperfections.

Laughter conquers fear. Annette and I first met in the private study rooms in our local libraries.  I perspired up a storm in those rooms because the fear of being judged, of failing, and of appearing stupid was thick in the air.

Laughter cut through that fear and left a happy atmosphere.  With fear out of the way, I became very open about my reading problems and began sharing my story with others.  Now we meet at Starbucks and the regulars know my story, a little boy who was scared to read out loud in class.  My goal is to read in front of them as a group.

My first novel I finished was Robert Louis Stevenson The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hydewhich is ironic.  I was Mr. Hyde hiding in the shadows of fear of shame of illiteracy. Today I identify with Dr. Jekyll basking in the shining light of knowledge.

Our team’s success has brought pens, paper and books into my home.  It has oiled my brain; my thinking has become more complex.  I believe in myself today.  Self-loathing has been replaced with self-love and acceptance.  But best of all… Annette and I have forged a lifetime friendship, and it all started because I had the courage to walk through the door of The Literacy Center and introduce myself, “Hi, my name is Darrell and I cannot read.”