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.”

#Literacy -Wrapping Up the Series

jennwigginton (2)For the last month we collaborated with the Indiana Adult Association Continuing Education (IAACE) in the month of June to blog about Adult Literacy.   IAACE released their blogs on Wednesdays. The writers were Tom Miller, IAACE President; Susanna Hoeness-Krupsaw, our volunteer tutor; Bob Stephenson, The Literacy Coalition-Kokomo; and Darrell Murray, our student.  We blogged a reply on Thursdays with: me; Courtney Keating, Ron Whitler, Board of Director’s Chair; and Ashley Sauer, our student as our writers.  Each blog was a story and their perspective.

But, it wasn’t just about telling stories.  We wanted the readers to make a connection with the stories.  Tom mentioned the quote, “A child who reads becomes an adult who thinks.” He connected that to the first step of independence. I agree, but I’ll add literacy is essential to developing “the seven essential life skills: Focus & Self Control, Perspective Taking, Communication, Making Connections, Critical Thinking, Taking on Challenges and Self-Directed, Engaged Learning.”  These skills are in every part of our education, even when we don’t intend it.  Don’t let your child be an adult statistic of non-readers in the future. Be a part of the awareness, connect with a story and share it. One of my long-standing goals is to get people talking and sharing about literacy; if you have a spark, a true passion, then you should share it because someone’s spark may be dim or went out completely and you might inspire that passion to come alive again.  Also, if one’s spark comes alive then it becomes contagious and we move closer to our goals and catching our dream.  When you connect you are involved, you’re sharing and utilizing the community resources you have.

Tom ended with asking all to advocate for funding for literacy programs-yes, please do. We have come a long way from the days when my dad was looking for help to learn to read. He didn’t share his inability with many and we (his kids) weren’t supposed to know.  He was a very smart man who taught me many things but when he passed away in December 1999, we found a phonics kit hidden in the closet where he was trying to learn to read on his own.  I think it was because the awareness wasn’t enough then and the programs were few.  I ask you to advocate, share, and connect because with all my heart I don’t want any adult to have to try to learn to read alone.

If you want to be a part of our passion and make a connection with literacy then get involved.  I’ll listen and I’ll help you find a way. Please comment, call me (812-429-1222) or e-mail me.

Jennifer Wigginton, jennifer@litcenter.org

Note: The seven essential skills are from the Ellen Galinsky’s Mind in the Making book.

Another Student’s Perspective

ashley (2)When I was little, before I knew I had a learning disability, I would avoid doing my tasks if I didn’t understand them. Spelling and reading made little sense to me. Nobody knew I was left handed until I entered school; holding the pen in my right hand, I reversed my letters. “Try the left hand,” said a special education teacher that happened to be in the room with me.

Then I was put in special education. Being put in a separate room without my friends didn’t help at all. I felt different from everybody else. I just felt embarrassed, but others students were bullied or made to feel stupid. I was quiet and shy. I never wanted to write on the board or speak in front of the class. When a teacher made me, I wanted to crawl in a hole and die. I could not learn this way. But what did help me was being in a classroom with everyone else. I learn much better when I’m not rushed in a peaceful classroom setting. By having an assistant teacher I could get my question answer and learn at my own pace. The assistant was also available after class to explain the material in more detail.

I credit my mother for being my advocate. She made sure I wasn’t labeled. She always told me to do my best and to prove those wrong who said I couldn’t learn. My advice to tutors is be as supportive as my mother and never let your students give up. And students should follow my motto: “don’t let a label make you, who you are!”

Ashley Sauer, The Literacy Center Student of the Year 2013

We Do Matter


Ron Whitler The Literacy Center Board of Director’s Chair

I think all of us maybe at some point in our life have had a “Chris” that comes into our lives.  The feeling you have after enabling someone to become successful is very powerful.   My “Chris” was a soldier of mine I had for at least 4 years.  Kelley was always down on himself and had absolutely no motivation.  My job as a Non-Commissioned Officer was to train and motivate soldiers as well as maintain their safety.

I was fortunate to have good parents and excellent teachers that supported me in my learning years and even into college.  That being said I felt it was my job to promote education to everyone.  All my soldiers had to attend some type of college course under my watch.  I did not care of its delivery (internet/brick & mortar) method.   The important thing to me they were learning.

Kelley was not motivated to attend any classes which did not go over well with me.  Come to find out he had a reading impairment.    We found Kelley a tutor and she worked with him extensively.  Once he was able to move thru that time period in his life things became much better for Kelley.  But the resistance was still there to better himself with a college education.  I did not give up on him.

Once Kelley’s time in service was up he decided to leave the Army.  As he was leaving I told him to get an education or he would regret it.  Fast forward many years later I was sitting in my office and I heard a voice saying is Ron in?  My administrator said yes he is and to go on in.  To my surprise it was Kelley.  The last soldier I expected to see after so many brow beatings from me.

As the pleasantries were exchanged, Kelley said to me “I graduated from college, I have a good job and married with kids and own a home”.  He goes on to say I owe a big thank you to you for staying on me and pushing me to learn.  I told Kelley “he did all the work himself not me, I just helped you find a reason to do it”.

I learned one thing from this experience is that we all should have at least one or two Kelley’s in our life.   I challenge all who read about Chris and Kelley to find someone they can assist with in learning to read or write or just promote life long learning. This would enrich your life beyond belief and together we could put adult literacy out of business.

A Literacy Educator’s Perspective

Courtney Keating, Education Coordinator

Courtney Keating, Education Coordinator

Continuing the trend of last week, I’m responding to IAACE’s blog post written by one of The Literacy Center’s volunteer tutors, Susanna Hoeness-Krupsaw. I have only been lucky enough to know Susanna for the last year and one half, but her history with TLC goes back before I even realized that I wanted to go into education! She has been an incredibly dedicated volunteer for twenty years.

Earlier this week, Susanna wrote about the rewards of tutoring. I can tell you, the rewards are great. Not monetary rewards, because let’s face it, I’ll never have a winter home in Hawaii or fly first class to Dubai, but Susanna and I (and you too!) have so much more than that. For starters, I smile when I walk into work because I know I am going to hang out with some of the most amazing people I have ever met. I get to be creative. I get to make new friends. I get to discuss literature. I get to see the excitement from a student when he/she “gets” it! I suppose I shouldn’t say “I get”, because if you are helping someone improve their literacy, then you get to too! However, it still runs deeper than us. We are changing the world.

Yes, I said changing the world. See, literacy is bigger than us. Susanna mentioned the financial costs of illiteracy on the nation. It’s an undeniable fact that illiteracy costs our economy money; because of healthcare, government assistance, and so many other reasons. We are directly involved in the cause. Sometimes, we focus on those small successes so much that we forget the big picture. Of course we see our immediate achievements, but I want you all to give yourselves a well-deserved round of applause. Why? Because you deserve it! You, one-by-one, are opening the eyes of an individual who is discovering a new world. Because of us, the world she is discovering is a world of better readers.

From one educator to another, Thank you for making the world a better place!


jennwigginton (2)We are changing it up this month!  I had a conversation with Tom Miller, current president of Indiana Literacy Association (ILA) and incoming President of Indiana Association Adult Continuing Education (IAACE), about the IAACE blog topic for the month of June.  The topic is Literacy. He asked if The Literacy Center has a student and a tutor that would be willing to write about their experience, of course, we said yes.  A volunteer tutor of 20 years and the 2013 Dollar General Student of the year will be featured this month on IAACE’s blog and we will make sure you get it because that is another reason  why we are changing it up this month.  We are moving the release of our blog to Thursday this month so that we have an opportunity to respond to the IAACE blogs (http://www.iaace.com/blog–newsletters) this month and expand on the Literacy topic.

So, Miller wrote about how our students are often forgotten and “our voices aren’t heard.”  I agree with Miller; we must continue to bring Literacy to the attention of our communities.  I still meet people that are shocked that an adult would have difficulty reading.  ATTENTION: It is not a character flaw, or a disease!  It is not contagious, it can’t kill you and there’s no war to join!  Despite lack of some basic reading skills our adult learners lead rich, complex lives. Many of them are successful, they are not impoverished or the underclass- they are smart with many coping skills.  What we must do is educate all that the problem of illiteracy is just that- an issue. We need to report the positive side along with the negatives. Let’s report, the whole picture.  We should reinforce the idea that our adult learners should be proud of acquiring a new skill and asking for help.  All of new readers’ stories are distinct. I hope that identifying our adult learners accomplishments will help show how their successes benefit our communities. Don’t let another potential adult learner “disappear into the shadows” as Millers said.  What can you do to accept the challenge of helping others acquire a new skill or to take the step towards literacy. I’m asking you to share this blog, IAACE’s blogs this month and give us a bigger voice. Spread the word #LITERACY.

Keep Learning

EinsteinjpgAlbert Einstein is quoted as saying, “Once you stop learning, you start dying.”

We live in a rapidly changing society.  Do you feel it too?  Now the decision to stop learning is detrimental, physically and professionally.  I remember the day when “non-degree” jobs were easy to find, paid well, and provided financial stability for hard working individuals willing to spend their professional lives in a factory, in a shop, at a store, or in the fields.  College degrees were a luxury, not a basic requirement for employment.

In today’s world, factory jobs often require workers to hold a bachelors degree.  Most help wanted ads say “degree preferred,” and those that don’t often pay less than livable wages.  These factors combined make employment difficult for individuals who, for whatever reason, chose not to continue their education past high school.

For some adults, that early life decision is one they regret.  But, rather than feeling despair and hopelessness, they are choosing to move forward and continue their education with plans for a brighter, more secure future.   Are you one of those adult individuals?  Or perhaps you are just starting to consider pursuing a higher education, but aren’t sure where to start!   That’s okay!  We can help.

Do you need to earn your High School Diploma (formerly GED)?  Contact The Literacy Center and ask how to get started working toward your High School Equivalency Exam?    www.litcenter.org/contact

Ready to jump into higher education?  Check out the many offerings at Ivy Tech Community College, whether in Evansville or around Indiana.  Ivy Tech specializes in specific professional, job trade and job skills education.  Would you like more information?  Check out their site:  www.ivytech.edu

Want to pursue a 4 year degree but can’t travel?  Consider earning a degree online!

Indiana offers an outstanding opportunity for state residents to earn a degree online, at your own pace and on your own time.  Western Governors University offers multiple degree programs!  Visit their site to learn more about them.  http://indiana.wgu.edu/

Want a traditional on campus experience?  Many universities offer specialized adult education programs, some even give credit for previous work experience!  The University of Southern Indiana and the University of Evansville both offer adult education programs.

Check out their offerings at:

University of Southern Indiana: http://bulletin.usi.edu/preview_program.php?catoid=2&poid=390&returnto=59

University of Evansville: http://www.evansville.edu/adulteducation/

These are just a few options for adult education, and you can find additional ones with a little research.

However you choose to do it, I encourage you to continue your adult education.  Keep learning.  Keep growing.  Keep developing your skills, knowledge and future!


Katy Dunigan, Board of Directors

Marketing Director at www.onlinechurchdirectory.com

Great Debate

SpellingI recently read an article in the New York Times that discussed remarks made by Simon Horobin, the author of Does Spelling Matter? Horobin says that people like to constrain language too much and English spelling should be a bit more standardized. He argued that spelling and intelligence are not related. This got me thinking: can smart people be poor spellers? What about good readers? Or even writers?

Adult educators stress the importance of spelling, along with grammar, to their students. But is it necessary? If we argue Horobin’s point, both of the following sentences don’t change meaning with different spellings:

Are you going too put that their?

Are you going to put that there?

Reading the first sentence silently made me cringe, as I’m sure it did you too. Now, read it again, but out loud. The meaning of the sentence is the same. Yet, what are the impressions we would get if we read the first sentence on a formal document?

Spellings have changed over time. Could educators make their jobs easier if we rallied behind Mr. Horobin? Or, would we only discredit ourselves, as a nation, in the global market?

Courtney Keating, Education Coordinator