Susan Imel and Sandra Kerka have compiled an excellent bibliography, Women and Literacy: A Guide to the Literature and Resources. It includes sections on these topics, among others: program development; the interplay of power, race and class; women as learners; instructional approaches and curriculum development. The annotations are clear and useful.
It is as impossible to make claims about all women as it is about all men. There are differences among women as there are differences among men, and between men and women. Both women and men stand at all points on the spectrum of learning and knowing positions, but there seem to be some particular concentrations of gender at certain points and some predispositions for ways of knowing and learning that follow.
Becoming aware of these patterns has influenced me as a learner and has changed my work as a teacher. This awareness has become the catalyst for many of the classroom activities and ideas in this chapter. I have drawn heavily on several assumptions:
There are ambiguities that run through all these claims, and the researchers who have provided evidence for them have acknowledged that no claim can be taken as a statement of description for every individual. So, there are women who prefer solitary autonomous learning and men who favor connected knowing.
However, in general, I believe that the claims on which I have built this chapter can support alternative ways of organizing learning that are woman-positive without being negative towards men. In fact, because I have rarely had the opportunity to teach in a women-only setting, I have used many of these ideas in mixed gender classrooms and have generated some honest, sometimes charged, occasionally tense, but usually exciting, learning for all.
The ideas focus on talking, seeing, drawing, moving, singing, dancing, watching and listening, as well as on reading and writing. They validate everyday habits and include media and popular culture, computers and video games. They are designed to promote reflection, to create opportunities to take voice and to have fun. They reflect multiple ways of learning.
Although some researchers disagree, there is a consensus building among practitioners that in the population of adults with weak literacy skills, there are many with some type of learning difficulty or disability (LD) which was often unrecognized in their school years. Unfortunately, few literacy and ABE programs have either the resources or the expertise to diagnose and respond to these problems. However, recently various agencies in Canada, the U.S. and Britain have begun to write about the needs of adults and to produce rapid assessments and classroom strategies for practitioners working with these adults. Later in the chapter you will find a list of some organizations and publications which offer invaluable resources on learning disabilities and adult literacy. (See Resources, page 209)
In the main text of my chapter, I have avoided specific sections on learning disabilities or problems. One of my assumptions is that many of those who have other ways of learning will be accommodated by the diversity of approaches suggested.