• minman



It is widely reported that  the United States faces a major literacy problem in that close to 20 million adults cannot read and write well enough to function in their daily lives. Other reports say that approximately 36 million adults are at or below a 2nd grade reading level. 

To me this is an alarming statistic. As a person who has enjoyed reading all my life, I cannot even imagine not being able to sit down and enjoy a John Grisham, Tony Hillerman or Dan Brown novel, or a biography of a famous person or even an instructional essay of one subject or another. I have been so grateful that at an early point in my life I had the opportunity to learn the alphabet, how letters fit together to form words and how letters sound. I feel blessed beyond expression that my journey down “THE WORD ROAD” led to am enjoyable career selling a collection of words put together by talented authors into volumes of literature.

But what about people who have not had the opportunity to learn the techniques or strategies to read those important words on the printed page?

In prior posts of “THE WORD ROAD”, I have covered the importance and even the challenge of helping an adult to learn to read and the importance of adult education.


In a Wikipedia article entitled “THE ART AND SCIENCE OF HELPING ADULTS LEARN”, author Malcolm Knowles defines Adult Learning as the principles of andragogy. Writing an article for “The Canadian Literacy and Learning Network” outlines the 7 principles of Adult Learning as follows:

1- Adults cannot be made to learn. They will only learn when they are internally motivated to do so.

2- Adults will only learn what they feel they need to learn. In other words, they are practical.

3- Adults learn by doing. Active participation is especially important to adult learners in comparison to children.

4- Adult learning is problem based and these problems must be realistic. Adult learners like finding solutions to problems.

5- Adult learning is affected by the experience each adult brings. 

6- Adults learn best informally. Adults learn what they feel they need to know whereas children learn from a curriculum.

7- Children want guidance. Adults want information that will help them improve their own situation or that of their children.

Another Wikipedia article defines Adult Education as a practice in which adults engage in systematic and sustained self-educating activities in order to gain new forms of knowledge, skills, attitudes or values. 

With these definitions in mind, I would like to introduce you to some adult non readers that felt the need for improvement and did something about it.


Our first example is a 41 year old woman born in Gambia, West Africa. As a mother of five children ages 4 to 13 she wanted to learn to read. She was encouraged by the Catholic Charities in her community who had helped her with housing, food and school for her children, to explore the opportunities at the Adult Learning Center located in the public library.

At the learning center she learned to use a computer software program that taught the alphabet sounds, simple words and other techniques. But, learning was slow and she was in a hurry!  She wasn’t happy trying to do what she couldn’t do.  she was ready to give up.

The site manager at the learning center was concerned with her frustration and matched her with her own personal tutor.

As the story continues, these two women developed and enjoyed a seven year relationship where they met often, sometimes two or three times a week. The student worked through lesson by lesson, finally learning to read, encouraging her children and even practicing reading with her children.

The once non reader says of her tutor, “She changed my life — totally. I cannot thank her enough.” For the tutor this was a labor of love and dedication with far reaching reaching benefits of helping a mother to read and eventually affecting the lives of the five children.

There is a similar story about a young man who did not want to be identified because he said he would be scared of someone finding out that he couldn’t read. He said that in high school he went from class to class not being able to read and feeling so frustrated that teachers didn’t seem to care, if they even realized his shortcomings.

He says that after high school he searched for two years to find someone who could teach him how to read him how to read. He didn’t ask in school because he was afraid that people would call him dumb or even worthless. He found a tutor. He praises her and says that his tutor is a wonderful teacher who works with him week after week. He has been so thankful for her and will never forget her. He says: “What is it like to read and spell something something without getting frustrated? Maybe one day I will know.”

These are touching stories and just think with so many people not being able to read, these stories are repeated many times. For one reason or another due to our different circumstances in life the privilege of learning to read is never made available to some people. One common thing I’ve noticed is the appreciation and admiration they have had for their tutors.


An interesting article from Wikihow: HOW TO TEACH READING by Catherine Valdez Lopez, gives us methods of teaching adults:

1- Understand that teaching an adult how to read is a difficult undertaking. However, teaching an adult to read is also an extremely rewarding experience. You will just need time and patience.

2- Assess their ability. To find out where t begin, you will need to assess their current ability, either through professional assessment or asking the reader to read to get acquainted with their level of ability.

3- Make them feel secure. A non readers greatest challenge is overcoming insecurity and gaining confidence. It is very helpful for the tutor to express confidence and reassure them that it is not too late to learn to read.

4- Use appropriate material. (Not too childish, and not too challenging).

5- Make it relevant. Use material that is relevant and interesting. Consider using road signs, newspapers, restaurant menus. Use technology to enhance the learning experience. Try new approaches such as text messages, etc.


If you are helping someone to learn to read or know someone who is, here are some tips to remember. From an article by Meredith Cicerclia from TEACHING LITERACY SKILLS TO ADULTS:


Give them plenty of time to understand what they are learning. Enhance the learning opportunity with electronic, up to date resources.


Don’t let your students get discouraged by the challenges they are facing. A positive attitude will rub off.


Teachers of adults facilitate learning and provide support vs direction.


Look for ways to create variety that appeals to them. Have something new and interesting.

We could go on and on as we consider our journey down “THE WORD ROAD”, as we seek to address the challenge of teaching reading techniques either to children or adults and as we seek to “Improve Literacy and Learning”.

In future articles we will be presenting and previewing several programs that can help you as a parent or as a concerned friend or tutor to help someone to read.

Again, we offer our best wishes and encouragement as you face this challenge.

We hope this information has been helpful. Thank you for reading!

Michael Inman


“Encouraging Literacy and Learning”

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