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The Growth Of Awareness Of Adult Illiteracy In Britain

"If you can read the sub-titles come and help a handicapped youngster learn to read at the Blackfriars Settlement”.

This proved so fruitful as a source of volunteers that it has been used since in other forms for advertising.

In relation to the students who could be described as under privileged in some respects, the volunteers tend to be above average, if not relatively over-privileged.  There is therefore a high ratio of normality to sub-normality in the clubs.  Although the volunteers have their own needs, difficulties and eccentricities, unsuitable enquirers tend to select themselves out by their reaction to the unstructured individual tuition required.  Very occasionally a rigid censorious personality may not understand or accept their own unsuitability of approach and will seek to remain.  They will be tactfully passed on to a more suitable organisation.

Many of the volunteers come because they have a need to give service of some kind to others.  This is not to say that they are not happy, outgoing, well-adjusted people, but it may be that the Club atmosphere and mutual help and support of the Rathbone Reading Clubs contribute in no small way to that balance.

The supervisor always needs to bear in mind that the volunteers have their own individual needs and should not be too stressed; for example, a very demanding student should not be allowed to telephone or visit the volunteer too frequently, if this is disturbing to the volunteer.  On the other hand, if the volunteer elects to show befriending and counselling this should be encouraged.  Many volunteers accompany students to museum visits or to the theatre or on excursions.  Mutual visiting may also take places giving the volunteer an opportunity to see the student in the home environment. If the supervisor is also present on such a visit this too can be beneficial.  It provides a double check on received information and offers the opportunity for discussion and interpretation of what has taken place, By this means a volunteer may develop management skills and this is especially useful where suitable volunteers are being groomed to become supervisors.

Supervising tutors do not need to be trained in the techniques of teaching literacy.  Primary school teachers with experience of teaching 5 - 7 year-olds have a background of the norm against which they can integrate their experience of the relatively pathological cases in the clubs.  It could be claimed that almost the last thing the Rathbone Clubs deal with is literacy although that is what is being done all evening.  In a sense what is happening is giving support to the personality of the student.  This is done by showing what fun it is to play nicely with other people in groups.  If this can be done it may greatly minimise the problems of teaching reading.  The individual student’s life will become very much fuller and richer, even if the serious barriers against learning to read remain.  Either the student will learn to read more easily, or the tensions arising from an irremediable lack of literacy will be infinitely mitigated.

This process could be called “socialisation” and the coffee break and visit to the local pub contribute greatly to this aim.  If there is anyone - student or volunteer - who does not care to contribute to the general conversation, there is no pressure on them to do so.  A very shy unconfident student may take weeks just sitting quietly and watching but no demands are made.  If they choose to make only one social remark an evening that is as acceptable as anyone else’s contribution.

© Amity Reading Clubs and Betty Cooper 1978 to 2002 Page 21 of 51

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