Tag Archives: adult literacy

Welcome to RA in a Day 2015 & Literacy Levels Workshop

This year’s successful RA in a Day event (yes, a full day this year!) was held today at Vancouver Public Library’s Central branch. The BCLA Readers’ Advisory Group extends thanks to those of you who joined us in person today, or who chimed in the conversation on Twitter (#RAinaDay). We also offer thanks to Library Bound for once again sponsoring the event.

We’d also like to acknowledge that this year’s event took place on the ancestral, traditional and unceded Aboriginal territories of the Coast Salish Peoples.

RA in a Day 2015 opened with a literacy workshop hosted by Joan Acosta, formerly of The Westcoast Reader and Diana Twiss of Decoda Literary Solutions. Diana began by reframing how we measure literacy, explaining it is not an on-off switch; instead, we should consider literacy as a spectrum of how well readers can read.

Literacy and reading are learned skills that need to be practiced. Diana points out that reading consists of three cognitive processes: analyzing, interpreting, and monitoring. These are the skills and strategies that fluent readers often have. For instance, fluent readers are strategic and selective in their reading, and can make inferences, set goals, and monitor their comprehension. They often have background knowledge to assist them, and can summarize and reflect on their reading. Importantly, they expect to understand.

Meanwhile, struggling readers often read the entire text start to finish, rather than skimming or scanning. They may have more limited vocabulary or struggle with decoding sentences. They may have trouble connecting ideas, or reflecting on what they’re reading. They often lack background knowledge, and may not read widely or often.

It is important to remember that there are multiple and varied reasons for reading difficulty, including affects of aging, poor vision, physical or emotional stress, and learning disabilities, to name only a few.

In the interactive workshop, Diana and Joan asked us to work in small groups to analyze some books to attempt to find a fit between reader and text. Elements of the text that we can consider in terms of literacy levels include: the number and complexity of sentences, the number of words per sentence, multi-syllable words, presence of abstract words or idioms, presence of visual cues and sight words, and layout and organization of the page. Additionally, a personal story or narrative can connect a reader to a text.

It also helps us to know the reader’s familiarity with a topic, their background knowledge, their interest in the topic, reading skill levels, and comprehension strategies. Finding out some of these elements can help us match them with an appropriate text.

Finally, don’t hesitate to ask readers direct questions about their reading levels and comprehension skills. While there can be stigmas associated to literacy levels, we should work towards trying to shed these attitudes as most readers are approaching librarians because they want our support and guidance.

Coming up soon: reports on the inaugural BCLA RA in a Day BookSlam; our perennial favourite Speed Dating Through the Genres; and a keynote from Dr. Brenna Clarke Gray of Douglas College and Book Riot.

RA to Adult Learners

When doing RA, one of the hardest groups to serve are adults who are either learning English as a second language, or native speakers with low literacy skills. People who are new to reading are often intimidated by libraries, so If you are lucky enough to actually get asked about what to read from one of these adults,  you want to be prepared with some good go-to choices! Complicating matters is the lack of authors who write adult-themed books in a high-interest/low-vocabulary style. Luckily, in recent years several publishers have started filling the gaps in this area, notably Good Reads (Grass Roots Press), Quick Reads (Orion), Rapid Reads (Orca) and Oxford Bookworms. Often the books are not just scaled-back versions of popular works, but original fiction and non-fiction written by well known authors specifically for this target audience.PMPL book club

While these books can be expensive relative to other paperbacks, they are still an affordable way to reach a population that is traditionally underserved by public libraries. In the Tri-Cities, the Port Moody Public Library, Coquitlam Public Library, and Terry Fox Library (FVRL) are each running a monthly book group for adult learners, with book sets shared between the three library systems. These are some of the titles we’ve found particularly stimulating for discussion with our participants:

Easy MoneyEasy Money by Gail Vaz-Oxlade. You wouldn’t usually think of finance and budgeting as a fun topic of conversation, but this one surprised us. Our ESL participants were especially interested in talking about how Canadian banks work, credit cards, etc., and Vaz-Oxlade’s perspective as an immigrant to Canada herself is highly relatable.  Money is universal!

Anne of Green GablesAnne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery. Available in abridged form in a couple of different reading levels and formats, this title is great for groups with varying reading abilities. It also serves as an introduction to Canadian culture and history, with an easy tie-in to movie and tv versions.

ListenListen by Frances Atani. This story about the children of deaf parents resonated with a lot of our ESL participants whose own children often have to translate for them in Canadian society.

Coyotes songCoyote’s Song by Gayle Anderson-Dargatz. An engaging story with elements of native spiritualism.

GenerationGeneration Us: The Challenge of Global Warming by Andrew Weaver. Topical and a good conversation starter. Easy to tie in with newspaper articles, magazines, websites.

Incidentally, sometimes just mixing these titles into a display, especially in summer when people are looking for a “quick read”, they often get picked up by readers of all levels.