Passion for Literacy


I thought it might be kind of interesting? fun? different? this month to share a few things I’m passionate about, since it is the “Month of Love” and all.

hello february

Today, you get a dose of something I have recently become passionate about- literacy.

I never realized how important literacy was within my community or how passionate I am about literacy until last year. (As if my degree in Linguistics & Spanish didn’t give it away…)

I moved back home from school in December 2011 and started seeking ways to get involved in the ESOL community. My project for Senior Seminar was a whole proposal as to how I would start up an ESOL program in Durham.  I figured volunteering would be the perfect way to practice my Spanish while building relationships and helping people…and getting my foot in the door of the ESOL community. When I found the perfect volunteer opportunity the following month, I made a super last-minute decision (remember how I crave quick changes?) to switch from teaching ESOL to teaching Adult Literacy- basic literacy skills to adults who had never learned to read or write. I was trained, matched with a student, and started teaching him phonics all within a two-week period.

Those two weeks were eye-opening as I met a man in his 50’s who had never learned to read or write. Only his ex-wife knew about his illiteracy, and he was determined to keep it a secret from everyone else he knew. This man had gone through the public education system in Barbados, moved to the States, had multiple handyman jobs, all while not know how to read something as simple as a street sign. It was mind-blowing that someone could go that long without being able to write a birthday card, fill out an application, or order from a menu that didn’t have pictures.

The beginning was a struggle for him- learning the sounds of letters and putting them together to create a word was almost like learning a foreign language. We worked with letter tiles, flash cards, sound cards, reading lists, and despite all the repetition of words like “sad” “rat” “mat” “mad” “sat” he would still struggle.

One day, after a few weeks, everything clicked for him. He began tapping out words and hearing them right away, reading words off a list correctly, and writing sentences just as I dictated them.I

Sure, each new sound had its issues. After he was comfortable with “i” I brought “e” into the mix, and we were stuck reviewing and reinstating the differences between the two sounds although they sometimes come in the same environments. (like “rid” & “red”) A few weeks ago when I introduced the “th” digraph, I’m pretty sure he hated me. Because of his thick accent, he just couldn’t hear the “th” in words like “with” “thin” “thick” “math” “Beth.” We’re still reviewing the sound, and he’s getting better with more practice, and of course I know he’ll master it soon!

I teach my student using the Wilson Reading System. It’s a very structured system and lesson plan, that allows around an hour for instruction time, and thirty minutes at the end for controlled reading, worksheets, etc. I’ve always had a hard time coming up with something to work on for the last bit of the lesson- my student mainly just wants to sit and talk. While planning a lesson back in September, I picked up a phonetically controlled book, Dad and Sam, on a whim. I thought I could let my student give it a try. Long story short, (but you can read the story here) he read the book. By himself. We both cried.

There’s something so powerful about literacy, and sharing that gift is priceless. 

I’m so thankful for literacy, and that I have a passion for it. I’m also lucky that the position I currently have is one that allows me to spread the word about the importance of literacy and help people who need it. It opens so many doors for people- academically, emotionally, professionally- and it’s priceless! Not a day goes by that I don’t use my literacy skills in some way or another, and I can’t imagine someone not being able to do the things I can do because of a lack of literacy. A week ago it was National Literacy Action Week, and it was exciting spreading the word about literacy!!

What are some things you are passionate about? Are you passionate about literacy?

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