College of Education
Northern Illinois University
"Within each of us is a story to be told, a story to be shared, if only with ourselves. It is a story as old as time and as new as you. By looking inward we
are better able to look outward and understand the world we have created for ourselves and the life we live within that world."
"The journal was something I hadn't done before. I don't get excited about too much but . . . for me it's interesting. Being adults, you have to want to learn, not like a kid. As you get older you have to want it or it won't get done."
- Bob, literacy program participant -
The History and the Challenge: A Reluctant Writer and a Tutor
As a volunteer with a local community college's adult literacy program, I work one evening a week with a person we'll refer to as Bob. Bob is a local resident in his fifties. He quit school in eighth grade decades ago and decided to sign up for the adult literacy program last year. He tested at the third grade reading level when he began this program in May 1999. Last summer we worked mainly with the textbook provided, with Bob reading a series of lessons, doing homework exercises from his book followed by review and more reading each week. We also started some writing activities based on the book.
Our beginning sessions demonstrated the challenges that writing presents for Bob. Clearly, he resisted writing. He was more comfortable completing written exercises at home. Our sessions fell into a pattern where we read, reviewed words and discussed material in class. He completed exercises at home. In an interview Bob mentioned that he had always been told he was no good as a student. A "math teacher sent me out of class, calling me dumb." (Link to: Part 1). Bob never forgot these words. After he quit school in eighth grade, he barely read anything other than comics. He says he hardly ever wrote anything, figuring that "there was no sense writing if you couldn't spell." (Link to: Part 1). He invented some strategies to get by on jobs he held. He usually concealed the fact that he was "illiterate" from co-workers.
About seven months ago, I decided to innovate and introduce journal writing. I based this on my own positive experience with journals and knowledge of adult learning. Maintaining a critical logbook for a philosophy class was a remarkable experience for me. We responded to the class and texts and explored a variety of issues relevant to our life-worlds. I believe that adults often learn best within a real-life context. The richness of their own lives provides that context. Sophisticated readers/writers possess skills to comprehend most of what they encounter; underprepared readers/writers need extra tools (e.g., journals) to make better sense of learning.
My challenge was to enhance Bob's reading/writing skills by introducing journal writing as a learning tool. My purpose was to use the journal as a creative outlet to expand his reading and writing skills. He picked themes and topics significant in his life. The idea was to write one journal entry a week. No other structure existed beyond these broad and loose guidelines.