Highlights from the 2013 Florida Literacy Conference

Another great year for the Florida Literacy Conference! We had a fabulous turnout and several motivating speeches and sessions. The Conference started with keynote, Nelson Lauver. Nelson is the host of the American Storyteller Radio Journal and former Adult Learner. He told his story of how he learned that he had a learning disability and his ability to overcome it and work with it. We’re hoping to get a copy of the speech to post on our website in the future.

We had two and a half days filled with great sessions, but the most popular ones were the Adult Learner Experience and the Department of Education updates. In the Adult Learner Experience, members of the Adult Learner Committee spoke about their background and why they stayed in their literacy programs. Nelson was on the panel and a few students who were published in the Adult Learner Essay Book were able to read and share their story. Needless to say, everyone was moved.

On Thursday, FLC hosted it’s annual meeting. Executive Director, Greg Smith, provided an overview of the past year at our organization. He then opened the floor to adult learners who were there to read their essays. If you missed the meeting, you might be brought to tears from watching the video.

Jim Duffy was the closing keynote during the luncheon on Friday. Jim worked in broadcasting for 48 years and initiated a public service campaign on literacy. He incorporated the issue in programs and had television specials focused specifically on adults who could not read. Thousands of people joined literacy programs in their area as part of this campaign. The luncheon closed with the two drawings for a roundtrip ticket on Southwest Airlines. This year’s winners were Claire Valier and Paul Schaub!

What was your favorite part of Conference? Share it with us! Send your story to socialmedia@floridaliteracy.org .

Using Apps to Engage Reluctant Readers and Teach Literacy

Written by: Luciano Cossi, Florida account representative McGraw-Hill/Contemporary

McGraw-Hill Education is committed to supporting Adult Education as we have for almost 40 years. Starting in 2011, Florida Adult Education programs began a transformation towards Adult Career Pathways. In the next 18 months, Florida will be transformed once again as the new GED Assessment is released and all GED student candidates will be faced with a more challenging test that will be delivered digitally via computer. As your McGraw-Hill representative I have met with students, instructors, and administrators throughout Florida. I have listened to your concerns, needs, and suggestions for how McGraw-Hill can meet the needs of Adult Education programs in Florida as this transformation occurs.

One of the areas of growing interest and transformation in Adult Education is the use of digital apps by both students and instructors. Digital apps are software programs known as apps that run on smart phone devices and tablets. The two major digital app platforms are iOS by Apple and Android by Google. McGraw-Hill Education has been publishing apps for students and instructors for all education levels from grades K through to College and beyond. The one area that we are now just publishing apps for is Adult Education. The first app that was published is called Words to Learn By.

Words to Learn By is a three-book series offering an evidence-based approach to vocabulary instruction for adult and young adult learners. Lessons focus on words from the Academic Word List and General Services List to build a foundation of high-frequency vocabulary encountered in academic content areas, the workplace, and everyday life. By offering a digital app for a print series students can engage with learning through a more personal level. Students use smart phones just like how a personal computer is used.

McGraw-Hill Education is offering the Words to Learn By App for no-charge on September 15-October 15,  2012 . The Words to Learn By app works with Apple® iPhones®, iPads™, iPod Touches®, and Droid Devices. This promotion is available only for Apple® devices. The following app will be free and available via the iTunes® App store. Learn more about this great app and others available from McGraw-Hill Education here https://www.mheonline.com/apps/MHEonline.

For more information regarding solutions for adult learners, please contact Luciano Cossi, McGraw-Hill/Contemporary account representative at 813-421-1073 or via email at luciano_cossi@mcgraw-hill.com .

You don’t know me

You watched me come to your class just like any other student. You greeted me with a warm smile and caring eyes. You asked me to have a seat in your inviting classroom. I watched you speak words I didn’t understand. I watched as the other students raised their hands to question your words. I sat in the cold seat as the minutes went by like hours. I heard you call my name, and I waited for you to ask me, who I was.

You don’t know the painstaking ordeal it took for me to get here this morning. You don’t know how it feels to wake up in the dark or the fear in my heart when I have to wait for the bus. You don’t know that I have no umbrella, or why my clothes are wet and unkempt when I enter your class. You think I can’t feel your disappointment in me.

You don’t know I am grateful that I have an opportunity to learn. You don’t know that despite my appearance, my color, my imperfections, I choose to look beyond your quizzical gaze.

You don’t know that last night’s cold dinner was from the dumpster outside that fancy restaurant, the one near the bridge where we sleep.

You probably wonder why I stare at you as you eat in front of the class. You don’t know the noise in my stomach is because I didn’t have enough change in my pocket for breakfast this morning.

You don’t know why I come to your class half-asleep. You don’t know how uncomfortable it is for three people to sleep in a car, to sleep with one eye open, just in case.

You don’t know how lucky I feel that, at least, we have a car.

You don’t know I am listening, I do care, and I do want to learn.

You don’t know the tremendous courage it takes to raise my hand to answer your questions. You don’t know the last time I was in a classroom and how they ridiculed me for not pronouncing the words correctly.

You don’t know that in your classroom, I am the luckiest person in the world.

You don’t know that I am your student.

-Submission by  Armando J. Gutierrez, Ed.D., The English Center

Della Palacios: Ah-Ha Moments

I registered for the Florida Literacy Conference on a whim.  My rationale went something like this, “Adult and Family Literacy certainly applies to SensAbleLearning, LLC, I’ll go.”   It was a very good whim  I followed.

Souns® is a hands-on phonemic awareness program inspired by the Montessori Method.   Letter sounds are taught before letter names.  It’s a simple switch with brilliant results.  Brenda Erickson, founder of Counterpane Montessori and creator of  Souns® , designed it for ages  0-3, but I have used it as intervention with children in high school and Brenda has used Souns® with adult refugees.  (I learned  Souns®  for my two children, then ages 3 and 4, now 4 and 5. They learned to read so naturally using  Souns®, I had the thought, “So many kids need this.”  And SensAble Learning, LLC was born.

At the conference, I had my first experience using Souns® with an adult learner.  He inquisitively looked at the Souns® symbols (letters) and I explained quickly how the program worked the first time he happened by.  I realized quickly that his curiosity was more than piqued as he touched the letters and said the sounds with me.  I wondered if he could read, but I did not ask.

He left to attend a workshop but he soon returned and apologized for having to leave.  I asked if he would like to sit and work with me for a bit using Souns®.  He said yes.  We went through each letter sound, just as the program suggests.  Most of the sounds he learned very quickly.  I have the tracking sheet we used. He did not recognize many of the letter sounds initially, but we practiced and he learned.  Next, I began building words with him using Souns® symbols and the objects I have ready in my box of three letter words.  With each new word he built, a smile stretched from ear to ear displaying his delight in what I can only assume is a new understanding of this mysterious language code.  I wish I had more time with this young man.

I loved every ah-ha moment that came across the faces of trained professionals, tutors and scholars  as they “got” how teaching sounds first before letter names removes much of the confusion not needed for a beginning reader.  But, the ah-ha that will remain in my heart is the one I saw in the smile of the curious young man.

Della Palacios

Founder and Owner of SensAble Learning, LLC

I am a traditionally trained teacher who chose to put my career and doctoral work on hold to stay at home and raise children.  Last year, I met Brenda Erickson, founder of Counterpane Montessori and the creator of Souns® .  The trajectory of my life has changed as we have joined hands to make sure kids will read, and read well.   I tell her she will be the bridge from Montessori to mainstream.  She tells me,  Souns® will be the bridge from Montessori to mainstream.

Betsy Stoutmorrill: L2A Meeting the Needs of Diverse Learners

Adult learners can improve their literacy skills, but the challenge for tutors is figuring out the most important skills to teach.  Before beginning that first lesson, I suggest that adult learners need to understand and experience self-determination. L2A offers the tools to do just that for diverse learners.

Understanding each factor is fairly easy, but the challenge is designing a lesson that presents the relationships among the factors.  Is there a sequence that truly presents the relationships among these factors?

Doing this activity in a small group helps us see the complexity of the relationships among these factors and the challenge — and potential — for helping adult learners gain self-determination. The activity ignites big discussions and tough questions: Can someone be proactive before knowing how to plan? Does someone reflect and readjust before valuing herself or after?

All that’s needed is a large sheet of paper, some markers, or sticky notes — and a little bit of self-determination!  Each time I provide this training I see amazing creative models for self-determination.

One group simply presented a blank page and the factors printed on 3X5 cards. They plan to create a representation with each adult learner — every learner designs a unique representation of self-determination!

Not only is that a fantastic idea, but it also is an excellent way to use the L2A concept of explicit instruction: I do; we do; you do.  This teaching strategy lets adult learners experience the concept of directing their own learning through modeling and practice.

Imagine picking “self-awareness” and modeling for the adult learner your thought process in through the “I DO.”  Thinking aloud about who you are… Drawing or using pictures to represent your talents… Listing weaknesses and ideas for improvement…

Think of working in equal partnership with the learner in the “WE DO” to explore her own self-awareness.

Picture encouraging the student in the “YOU DO” to choose the next factor and take you through her process.

Teaching literacy skills is the focus of what we do, but if we can build self-determination we have done more than teach literacy skills.  We have empowered the adult learner.

To view Betsy’s L2A webinar, follow this link.

RESOURCES: L2A http://lincs.ed.gov/programs/learningtoachieve/learningtoachieve.html

Andy Nash: Learner Persistence, Key to Success

Andy Nash

In the New England Learner Persistence Project, 18 diverse ABE programs throughout New England investigated promising persistence strategies and reported on their impact on attendance, cycle completion, and program practices. In reviewing the dozens of program findings, we tried to understand why the strategies were so successful. What explained their effectiveness?

Our analysis led us to conclude that the strategies work because they support adults’ need for six things, which we call the “drivers of persistence.” Programs can use these drivers to stimulate their thinking about ways to improve learner persistence.

Community and belonging

When we feel welcomed, respected, and offered a sense of belonging, we are more apt to return to that setting or task. For that reason, cultivating a sense of belonging and community from the moment a prospective adult learner comes through the doors or calls is an important persistence strategy.

Clarity of purpose

Clarity of purpose refers to helping students gain clarity about their own purposes for learning – their goals and dreams – and how the instructional approaches of their teachers address those purposes. Knowing this builds trust that the program will meet their needs.

A sense of competence

Adults’ beliefs about their competence and self-efficacy can have a profound effect on their persistence and achievement. Students with more self-efficacy are more willing to persist to reach their goals in the face of adversity.


Learning is difficult in an environment that is chaotic or unstable. This is challenging, especially, for the many adult learners whose lives are marked by instability caused by poverty and trauma. According to Perry (2006), “The major challenge to the educator working with highly stressed or traumatized adults is to furnish the structure, predictability, and sense of safety that can help them begin to feel safe enough to learn.”


The degree of perceived relevance of instruction to the adult learners’ goals, interests and life experience is a key factor in adults’ motivation to persist in their studies. Most adult learners juggle many competing priorities that may take precedence if the instructional program does not feel meaningful to their needs and interests.


Human agency is the capacity for human beings to make things happen through their actions. As people mature, they move from dependence toward self-direction, and want to be treated as responsible individuals with the capacity to determine things for themselves.

For a description of the specific strategies investigated by NELP programs, see our project report or visit our website.

Effective Vocabulary Instruction for the Struggling Reader

Cecilia A. Hicks

Cecilia A. Hicks

Yesterday afternoon tutors statewide participated in a virtual training facilitated by Cecilia A. Hicks, of Florida State College at Jacksonville, on effective vocabulary instruction for struggling adult readers.  Below, Cecilia Hicks provides a synopsis of the training, and other helpful hints for tutors and teachers.

Vocabulary refers to knowledge of word meanings. We’ve discovered that there are two types of vocabularies used:

  1. oral – words we can use and understand in speaking and listening
  2. reading – the store of words we recognize and understand in print

The reader cannot understand the writer’s message unless they understand the meanings of most of the words. Who needs vocabulary instruction? Everyone at varying reading levels benefit from this vital component of the reading process. There are several research- and evidence-based strategies and activities tutors can use.  Here is a list of some of these strategies.

  1. Using direct vocabulary instruction can include pre-teaching the words in instructional text. Teach the meaning of the word before the reading of the text.
  2. Be sure the learner uses the word through projects, employment, etc…
  3. Make the learning relevant to the learner.
  4. Teach how prefixes and suffixes can change the meaning and function of base words.
  5. Use context clues
  6. Teach the learner how to use a dictionary and thesaurus.

Several websites that I use often and modify as necessary include:

A  final note: remember the learning style of your adult learner and try to incorporate something for everyone during your teaching or tutoring session.

This training was a collaborative learning event brought to you by the Florida Adult Literacy Resource Center, a program of the Florida Literacy Coalition. This training was made possible through the support of the Florida Department of Education, Division of Career and Adult Education.

Did you participate in yesterday’s training?  Let us know your thoughts; leave your comments in the box below!