My last day in Glasgow dawned damp and iron grey, but my fellow Trading Tales writer Diana McCaulay and I were undaunted by the promise of rain. We set off for the riverside...
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Strategies that work for adults
The Alta Programme has effective tools and strategies organised within a structure to overcome low aptitude for literacy. In the early years of Alta, the field of literacy instruction was fraught with conflicting theories.
The challenge today is not a lack of materials and approaches, but the multiplicity of these—albeit with much overlap and often just different packaging and terminology. A collection of strategies and tools without coherence does not lead to reading, especially for people with dyslexia.
My particular talent, I’ve discovered, is seeing through the fluff to the core strategies that work, applying and adapting these to match the needs of the adults we teach and weaving them into a comprehensive programme of literacy instruction—reading order, structure and sequence. For example, The Little Red Hen. It’s a story with order, structure and sequence too, with much repetition and picture clues. A reader can predict the repeated words on every page and use the pictures to guess the words that don’t follow the pattern.
At an International Reading Association (IRA) conference I attended, one workshop discussed predictable books for children like these and the effect reading an entire book gives the student—a feeling of accomplishment. I thought, “Why not make predictable books for adults?” From this idea, I created 18 predictable books which form most of the reading for the beginner level and the context for teaching high frequency sight words. Alta added games by adapting Rummy and Suck the Well to practise sight words as well as letter identification and sequence. We created six board games using folklore, local maps and Carnival.
The dyslexia programme was designed for individual remedial teaching, but I had a class of ten to 20 students so I divided the programme into levels and began to build lessons around the skills, the lessons that would eventually develop into the Alta Programme.
Not all my students were dyslexic and they were coming to reading as adults with thinking skills and often with some reading skills. I included words that could not be avoided. Level one, for example, face words like dengue fever and mosquito in an early lesson on this topic, with the pre-discussion, pictures and context enabling students to work out the words they cannot decode. Structure was certainly not abandoned and once a skill has been taught, it is incorporated within the following lessons, being repeatedly reviewed, then extended and built upon. Like the dyslexia programme, Alta lessons must be taught in sequence to progressively build each skill.
When students face their Mount Everest climb to literacy, Alta looks for the tools to make this easier, more fun and just different from what they’ve tried before, so they’ll keep climbing.
Against the Odds by Paula Lucie-Smith was first published in 20 Years of Alta magazine, 2012.
Alta is looking for volunteers for the 2013/2014 academic year. Become an Alta volunteer tutor, a Reading Circle guide or assist students with the Reading Companion software on the computer. Volunteers are unpaid. Call 624-ALTA (2582) or e-mail [email protected] to set up an interview.