Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Welcome to Library Literacy Connections!

The focus of this blog is discussion and promotion of books, reading, libraries and their integral connection to adult literacy programs. Specifically, I hope to:

  • suggest kinds of books and specific titles that can be used in adult literacy classrooms and tutoring sessions

  • offer ideas for lessons using the books suggested

  • share stories and suggestions from other librarians and teachers using library books in their classrooms

  • discuss issues of importance to libraries, librarians, and the adult literacy community

  • provide links to other blogs and sites of interest

Hundreds of libraries across the country offer support to adult literacy programs. Many offer tutoring space and provide collections of materials published specifically for the adult basic literacy (ABE) and ESOL audience. Some libraries have gone further, including an adult literacy program as one of their basic services.

But libraries offer so much more than space for classes, tutoring, and special collections. Indeed, libraries are essential to the ultimate aim of all literacy programs: the creation of a literate, thoughtful, and well informed public.

Libraries remain “the people’s university,” especially for adult literacy students. Where else can basic literacy students find the books and materials that will enable them to catch up on all they couldn’t learn in school because of their lack of reading ability? Where else will newcomers to our country find materials to help them practice their new language in ways that engage the level of intelligence they have in their native one? Where else will all literacy students find a community institution free and open to all, asking no questions about income, education, experience, or country of origin. Where else will students find access to computers, to the Internet, and to the world of commerce and ideas that might otherwise seem beyond their reach? And where better to progress from learning to read to reading to learn.

What does the library offer ABLE or ESOL students beyond collections of materials written specifically for those populations? Consider a few examples:

  • Art and photography books that can inspire language experience stories, vocabulary lessons, recollections of times past or expressions of present emotions.

  • Poetry that tells stories, describes events, or evokes feelings in language that is simple and direct, but never simplistic, language that gives words to ideas and feelings we recognize but cannot articulate.

  • Non-fiction books from the children’s section that explain their subjects in clear, direct, and informative language, accompanied by photos and other graphic elements, but never identifying an audience of children.

  • Picture books appealing to readers of all ages, telling stories of an author’s childhood or introducing readers to important historical figures and events.

These are some of the books we will be talking about on Library Literacy Connections. I have lots of books I would like to talk about. I hope to learn about others from you.

A word about terminology. Within the adult literacy community, there are two distinct groups of learners. Programs that teach native speakers of English who are working to improve their reading skills are called by various names, including ABE (Adult Basic Education), ABLE (Adult Basic Literacy Education) and simply BL (Basic Literacy). Programs that teach English to speakers of other languages are generally called ESOL (English for speakers of Other Languages). These two student groups are distinct, and yet, they have much in common. They are both, after all, learning language skills, and whether those skills are learned in a native language or an acquired one, the goal is the same: to be able to read, write, think, and communicate at ever-higher levels of language. Come to think of it, it is a goal that everyone reading this blog shares. So while some of the books and ideas I will present may be more useful with either ABLE or ESOL students, many will be applicable to both, and when I use the term “adult literacy student,” I’m really talking about all students working to improve their language skills.

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