The training also explains how to plan tutoring sessions, and how to help the learner set achievable goals. It is quite common for our learners to have limited goals, given the low self-esteem with which many arrive in our literacy program. Tutors are advised to encourage learners to recognize their potential and advance beyond their initial goals once they have been achieved. On the other hand, if a learner's goals are so ambitious as to be unrealizable within the time frame, tutors are advised to help organize the goals into achievable components. I think the goal-setting skills are especially important for the women in our program, since they often have not been exposed to the developmental potential of these skills. They are accustomed to filling their time with the needs of others, rather than organizing it for their own objectives.
Successful literacy tutoring is learner-centered. The tutoring process works with learners' own stories, or with their choice of material, and works toward their goals.
We discourage our program participants from expressing the negative descriptive labels used in statistical literacy measures. Statistical measures do not describe individuals, and our learners are individuals with their own histories and aspirations. We emphasize that our learners need improvements in their literacy skills largely because they have lacked the opportunity to learn, not because they lack intelligence.
The form for our learner-centered tutoring is a one-to-one process. One of the reasons for our choice of one-to-one is to concentrate on the individuals' needs in the learning process. Some of our learners also come to us from adult upgrading classes because they do not get sufficient attention to their needs in the classroom.
Another significant reason for one-to-one is that the large majority of our learners want us to honour their confidentiality. Some don't want to acknowledge to others that they need help; others are in employment situations which might be jeopardized if their literacy needs were known.
The one-to-one process allows for flexibility and as much adaptability as suits the pair. The pair can meet in any location the participants choose. Many of our teams meet in library locations, but many also can choose a more private place.
We also offer several weekly group learning sessions. These are attended by learners in addition to regular tutoring sessions, and by learners who are waiting for a tutor.
June Waffle, who supervised our literacy program for nine years, confirms that most of the women learners preferred one-to-one tutoring when starting in the program. Herself a graduate of an adult learning process, June feels that the initial desire to protect confidentiality relates to the low esteem many women literacy students have. Before she became an active and assertive adult learner, June remembers feeling that she would have liked to be invisible. Many women literacy learners need to overcome silence and self-effacement as one of their learning barriers. Those women who overcome their need for confidentiality find support among the other learners in group sessions.
Finding tutors and learners for a literacy program involves the same strategies used in any successful library outreach program. We take advantage of mass market media for city-wide public awareness of our program, and we use targeting strategies to reach neighbourhoods and special groups.
In targeting, we rely heavily on personal contact. For example, we have attended many meetings of service agencies and community organizations to explain our program, and to ask for help in finding tutors and learners.
Most of our tutors come to see us because of our newspaper ads and the many recent articles and media features highlighting the literacy issue. Many are drawn by personal appeals from staff or friends.
Learners usually come to us by referral and word-of-mouth. The media exposure gives them a necessary awareness of us, but the personal encouragement of friends and trusted people provides them with the courage to come forward.
Regina's Bridging Program for women was initiated by the local network of the Canadian Congress for Learning Opportunities for Women and is currently administered by the Saskatchewan Institute of Applied Science and Technology. This program attempts to meet the needs of women who require transitional support to identify and attain jobs and educational goals. The Library has tried to assist some of Bridging's learners as needed. We have also received the benefit of Bridging's job placement program, as several of their clients have worked in our literacy program.
In the last year, the Library has re-allocated resources to dramatically expand its literacy service. In the process, learners and tutors have responded to our appeals for additional help. Women have been especially active in forming committees to begin to participate more fully in the program's direction. Our committees have an exciting and unpredictable challenge ahead of them because literacy needs are growing and developing in a time of economic restraint The women who have responded to the challenge to join our literacy drive, whether as learners or tutors, are continuing in the fine cooperative tradition of our prairie pioneer women.
Legacy: A History of Saskatchewan Homemakers' Clubs and Women's Institutes 1911-1988. Saskatchewan Women's Institute University of Saskatchewan, 1988.
Saskatchewan Women's Institute The Rural Women's University, 1911-1986. A thesis submitted to the College of Gradual Studies and Research in partial fulfillment the requirements for the degree of Master of Continuing Education in the Department of Communications, Continuing and Vocational Education, University of Saskatchewan by Kerrie A. Strathy, Regina, Sask., 1987.
Jean Dirksen is Head of Adult Services at Regina Public Library. She is an active member in the Action for Literacy interest Group of the Canadian Library Association. Jean has been active in the literacy movement since 1980, and is responsible for the Regina Library system's extension of the Literacy Program.