Friday, November 30, 2012

Teaching offers lessons in literacy

The Reading and Writing for Literacy project we are taking part in at The Mercury and with our TownSquare network of bloggers has meaning beyond raising funds for the Pottstown Adult Literacy Center.
The project, in which bloggers are writing about what literacy means to them, also raises awareness to the difficulties our newer citizens have in becoming skilled at the quirky language they must master to succeed in schools and in jobs in this country.
The majority of us for whom English is our first language tend to forget that it isn't for everyone. We are in many ways English-language snobs.
Read Sound-Off on a regular basis and sooner or later you'll detect the resentment at having to "press one" for English in a phone menu.
Some believe English should always be the default language, no others allowed, everyone else get in line to learn it.
But we're not that nation anymore. According to Census statistics, 8.3 percent of American households speak a language other than English at home. Many citizens in our region were born in places or in households where English was acquired, not native, as a language.
When we speak of literacy in our town and our nation, we're talking about the ability to read and write in English. That's what's needed in schools and workplaces in the U.S.
Many immigrants or children of immigrants can speak articulately but have not been afforded the learning necessary for mastery of reading and writing in English.
The difficulty, particularly in writing, can plague an adult taking college courses or applying for jobs.
I witness this firsthand, as I teach writing at Reading Area Community College to adult learners who do not test high enough for freshman English. Many of them are ESL students.
Three years ago I started teaching at RACC as an adjunct two nights a week, initially to help pay the bills for my own children in college and to explore teaching as a possible second career if I ever retire from the media business.
My classes are made up of high school dropouts coming back after getting a GED to give college a try, adult learners changing careers, parents who work in service industries or manual labor and want to improve their future job opportunities. Some are recovering addicts or ex-prisoners on parole living in halfway houses.
Ages range from 18 to adults in their 40s; some are parents of infants, and some are grandparents of teenagers.
What they have in common is a desire to improve their ability to read and write so they can succeed in college. I help with the writing part.
Their patterns of errors map the path of difficulty in writing in English. I can follow the trail from pronoun antecedents to singular verbs that end in "s", to family becoming families and child becoming children to see the struggle.
I tell them to read aloud and listen for their mistakes, and they stare back at me. They don't read with the inconsistencies that our language of exceptions provides.
Working with my students is among the most rewarding tasks I accomplish. I tell them there are two things I want them to achieve in my class: the first is to find their voice in writing and express themselves in a way that gives them confidence; the second is to learn the rules and basics of grammar and spelling so they can write effectively.
The second frequently interferes with the first.
My students are an inspiration to me as they work to learn to read and write at a level that allows them to be successful in their lives. Some of them want so badly to master the academics, while roadblocks like unfamiliarity with computers and poor training in the literacy basics get in their way.
They keep trying, and I smile at the unmasked honesty in their journals and their essays.
Without learning, they couldn't read or write their stories. That's why I teach.
The Mercury and TownSquare Reading and Writing for Literacy project is raising funds for the Pottstown Adult Literacy Center.
We are asking our readers to simply add your name to those who support the Adult Literacy Program.
A donor will give $1 for every signature as submitted on the following form.
The project, which lasts until Dec. 11, has thus far collected 721 signatures which translates to $721 to help fund literacy efforts in Pottstown.
Help us reach $1,000 by signing the form.
These dollars will go a long way to buy materials and help people learning to read.
Sign on to support our program: Pottstown reads.

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