formerly Chatter Matters

Connecting through language, literacy and love.

Low-level adult literacy: it’s a problem here in Tasmania.

What would you say if adults with low literacy could turn their skills around in just four months?

Sound Systems demonstrated that with systematic, engaging support built from the phonemic and linguistic bases of literacy, skills and literacy practice can be significantly and swiftly increased in adults.

“I’ve read about five books since I saw you last, the house looks like a bomb has hit it, I get the kids off to bed and then I just read – I don’t even turn the telly on anymore. I get so excited about getting on the library website to put books on hold. Just the other night, I had like, an ‘out of body experience’ – I was seeing myself sitting at my computer just smiling and smiling and so excited because I was putting books on hold! Who would have thought that I’d be someone who would ever put books on hold!” Participant 2, Sound Systems, 2015.

The first Sound Systems was conducted in 2014, with a phonemically-based approach to adult literacy tutoring at the Glenorchy Library. A speech pathologist was brought into the adult literacy program at the library for the purposes of observing and learning from current practice and exploring the best ways strategies to enhance phonemic processing and language can be incorporated into the program for clients who exhibit significant gaps in these skills.

Speech pathologists are specialists in the clinical and educational application of the knowledge-fields of language and phonemic processing and the processes and sequences in both their normal development and impaired development.

The observation identified the need for Literacy Coordinators to have increased knowledge and understanding of learning disorders, the phonemic and linguistic bases of literacy and direct teaching techniques. Four clients, two Literacy Coordinators and three volunteer tutors participated in the first Sound Systems project, which  dynamically demonstrated these techniques in action. Through direct teaching of clients, as well as coaching and mentoring of Literacy Coordinators and tutors, the results were overwhelmingly empowering and positive – described as the ‘missing piece’ in the adult literacy puzzle.

What we saw when we used the speech sounds as the starting point to learn the written code, is that adult learners with low literacy skills turned their skills around in just four months. Here are some examples:

By the third intervention session with the speech pathologist, Participant 2 had read the first book of her life, was thrilled with her accomplishment, and had loved the content of the book.

Participant 1 stated, “I know I wouldn’t have my driver’s licence now if it wasn’t for this [program]”. And, “This is helping me know what to do to be able to help my kids with their reading and writing”. She also shared that one of her friends had said to her “I can read your text messages easily now”.

Participant 5’s Literacy Coordinator worded his success this way “he began to write hilarious anecdotes of his working life, amazing himself at his capacity to produce written material that others found entertaining to read”. Participant 5 had been a regular, weekly attendee within the adult literacy program for 14 months prior to the start of Sound Systems. In just four months of engagement with Sound Systems he made statistically significant changes in three areas of standardised measurement of reading skill – word identification, word attack and passage comprehension.

Sound Systems demonstrated the efficacy of bringing systematicity to adult literacy work. A fantastic result, a fantastic project, and a fabulously necessary foundation from which to benefit more people whose lives have been disadvantaged by low-literacy: Read the report here.

The important message of hope is that it is never too late. Past reading struggles, and  even failures, can be turned around. And often very quickly.

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