Research and Practice in Adult Literacy – a friendly group

Stewart Bell

Stewart Bell, Perth and Kinross Council

Stewart Bell

Personal Benefits of Reading and Writing

I looked ‘dyslexic’ up in my Chambers Adult Learners’ Dictionary (not an easy word for me to find – it’s hard when “y” replaces the vowel “i”!) and this is what it says, “A dyslexic person has difficulty in learning to recognise and form written words correctly.” Well that sounds like me and indeed it is me.

I am very lucky and proud to be a member of the Letham Thursday night adult literacy group which is a free class run by Perth and Kinross Council. Thursday night is one of the highlights of my week now. There are no tests or exams – it’s all about the learners’ needs and wishes. And so it’s not like school or college in any way. One paid member of staff directs the group with the help of trained volunteers.

For the first twelve months of my learning experience I had one-to-one classes. I started by learning the sounds of each letter and then two-letter sounds. I was as slow as a snail and it was so hard and frustrating at times. I was then moved into a group. There we’d do a group warm-up and then split up to do one-to-one sessions. At this stage of my learning, I felt I was making real progress. I became as hungry as a bear and was coming on in leaps and bounds.

When you’re an adult who can’t read or write, it’s hard! Because I look normal (maybe not what my mates say!) everybody just assumes you can. In a sad way I didn’t miss what I never had. I had my ways of getting by. I just accepted it, got on with it and made the best of it. But I always wished I could read and write. Now I have learned to read, it is a joy and thrill in my life.

Here are just a few examples how reading has helped me since I learnt, and, of course, what I missed out on all those wasted years. Buying a newspaper is something I’ve done every day since I started work at the age of sixteen over thirty years ago. I did so because that’s what everyone else did, so I wanted to be the same. I looked at the pictures and tried to work out the stories that were illustrated by the pictures. After a bit, I started to recognise the easy words and kind of make sense of the articles in my own way.

My tutors have encouraged me to read books. They introduced me to Quick Reads and the Open Door series which are written for adults but which are not over-long or particularly wordy. I have read quite a few now and have really enjoyed most of them. Time is my biggest enemy however when I’m reading! So I always keep a book in my jacket pocket in case I get a chance to dip in. A few years ago at my literacy class I, along with my fellow learners, was challenged to write a story on the subject of “A Day Like This” for the Scottish Book Trust. I wrote about my experiences as an adult literacy learner. When I am writing about myself it helps me believe in myself. And it showed on paper how much progress I was making.

One of the biggest benefits for me was being able to leave notes for my wife and kids and also writing down messages from phone calls. Before, I couldn’t think about doing either. It was always a big problem for me. I couldn’t write a note to Mary to tell her I’d gone out, where I was or what time to expect me home. Taking names and addresses over the phone was a nightmare. That nightmare has become a better dream. Another plus is being able to read instructions for myself, and not relying on someone else to do it for me. Medication was always a difficult one because that’s something you can’t really safely guess at, but I did sometimes! Other more obvious examples are form filling, raffle tickets, competition forms and so on where you have at a minimum to be able to write your name and address. When I’m out and about I can now read, and, more importantly, understand signs and directions. How important is that?

I used to have to kid on I was, for example, reading a newspaper when everyone else around me was reading theirs. You can get quite good at bluffing. More importantly for my sanity I don’t have to be dishonest or lie about it any more. I feel in this regard that it has made me a better person and I am more comfortable in and with myself. One of my biggest thrills is being able to read what I want. A particular interest of mine is whisky. Tasting it (in moderation of course!) is what it’s all about, but being able to read about the different types of whisky and its manufacture is a real thrill for me now. Now I subscribe to two whisky magazines. I really enjoy reading whisky reference books. This has got me reading avidly at home. I now own about forty-five different whisky books and aim to add more. Only last week I pre-ordered a whisky book which will not be published for another four months. I can’t walk past a book shop now without going in. And to think that not all that long ago I didn’t even notice books or bookshops! To be honest I was scared of them.

And so my adult learning has helped me loads. From what I’ve recorded I hope you can see I feel different, something which has improved my life. I can’t commend highly enough the people I’ve worked with (tutors and fellow learners), the methods used or the valuable material I’ve worked with. I really wish everyone with my experience could benefit the same!


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