Creating a Sense of Belonging: the Learner Club

One on one tutoring presents both opportunities and challenges to adult learners, who need flexibility of time and space for their learning. While one on one tutoring opens up access for adult learners, it can create a sense of isolation and fewer ties to other learners. The concept of a learner club at the Centre for Family Literacy was shaped out of the need to create a sense of community and belonging among these learners and connection to the Centre.

The main goal for the Learner Club is to create a forum that allows for interaction between learners, where they feel accepted, respected and supported.

At the learner club, learners:

  • meet and connect with other learners
  • learn while having fun
  • find out about resources in the community
  • and share a light supper.

So far, we have had four successful Learner Clubs, and we have discussed:

  • health Issues
  • municipal Issues
  • poetry writing
  • and tips for travel outside of Canada.

The Learner Clubs have been well received and participation has ranged from 8-14 learners. Learners have given positive feedback after each meeting and have indicated that they have enjoyed the Learner Club because they:

  • learn many interesting things
  • get to know one another
  • learn about other cultures
  • eat good food
  • have fun
  • get to spend time with their friends
  • feel safe and comfortable
  • do not feel judged
  • find the Staff at the Centre warm and welcoming
  • and can express themselves freely.

The last Learner Club, which took place on January 22, 2014, was unique in the sense that it was held on the eve of the Leading with Literacy Breakfast, where the Lois Hole Memorial Literacy Awards are presented. We took the opportunity to talk about the event and to recognize and congratulate the learner who was going to receive the 2014 award in the Adult Learner category the following morning. It was exciting to note that four out of the 14 participants at the Learner Club that evening were past recipients of the same award. With interest I observed as former recipients offered words of advice and encouragement to the 2014 recipient, who was stricken by the idea of making a speech in acceptance of the award.

The 2013 award winner advised her to write and rehearse the speech, the 2011 winner suggested that she avoid eye contact, and the 2008 recipient wished her luck and advised her to make it short and sweet. During the discussion, the former recipients reiterated that the award was a strong motivation for them to continue participation in the literacy activities at the Centre. “We see ourselves as champions”, said the 2011 recipient.

In the Learner Club, study is learner initiated. We encourage learners to share their views and experiences in a trusting and open environment. The learners themselves suggested all the topics of interest and discussion.

Some of the topics suggested for future discussion were:

  • citizenship and immigration issues
  • fraud
  • obtaining a drivers’ license
  • filling out forms
  • and job application and preparation for job interviews.

The Learner Club opens doors so that participants can actively learn new things. For example, in the last Learner Club, a learner who is a monk from Laos made a presentation he entitled “Lao, the Heart of East Asia,” in which he animatedly talked about the attractions in his home country.

This was followed by an interesting presentation on “tips for travel outside of Canada” by one of our tutors. I noted with interest the learners’ excitement when they asked questions and shared their views on the topic, while some shared funny and memorable travel experiences.

The evening ended on a high note with the group singing our popular piece:

The more we get together, together, together
The more we get together the happier we’ll be.
Then my friends are your friends
and your friends are my friends 
the more we get together the happier we’ll be…

We are excited about the Learner Clubs because we create a space where learners come together and mix naturally, get to know one another, grow in confidence, and truly know that they are not alone in their situations.

Our next Club will take place on February 26, 2014.

We welcome everyone.


Literacy and Health: What can we do?

On the 27th  of November, the Northeast Edmonton Literacy Network hosted a workshop entitled ‘Literacy and Health – What is the Connection?’

The workshop provided an opportunity for health care providers, literacy and community service organizations, and literacy learners to come together to discuss and engage in activities focused on health literacy challenges.

Isabelle Tapp, a CFL learner and literacy advocate, was the first speaker at the workshop. Following her, we heard from Mayor Mandel and Nancy Becker, Health Literacy Consultant from Alberta Health Services.

Isabelle spoke about her own experiences dealing with literacy challenges. She called upon health practitioners to be conscious and more respectful of the health needs of people with low literacy levels by using clear and plain language.

This is Isabelle’s story:

“I’m Isabelle Tapp, a mother of two, and I’m like most of you in the room. And I have a learning problem. One of the things that I became very good at through my life was hiding this problem.

Six years ago, I found a paper about tutoring. I picked up the phone and dialled three numbers and hung up. I did that many times and finally called. My reading is now up here, and my confidence is up here. And because of that confidence I am able to talk to you about how literacy and health are connected.

I didn’t know that cough medicine could last for a long time. I would throw it out after 3 months. I didn’t know that you had to take the whole prescription. I would quit taking the pills when I started to feel better. Nobody told me you had to finish all the pills in the bottle.

Sometimes I hate seeing doctors. When most people go to the doctor for the first time, they just have to worry about being sick and meeting a new person. I had to worry about knowing what it said on my medication bottles. I had to worry about whether to tell them about my problem. And then there are the forms. They hand you a clipboard, and it’s like staring down a long hallway with no end. It’s so embarrassing to have to ask for help.

When this happens, I have to swallow my pride and ask other people for help. I don’t want to ask my family. That’s like asking for money.  Plus, I don’t always want them to know my health issues. I want to have my privacy. I wish so much that it was different.

When my daughter actually told my doctor that I had learning problems, I wish he would have said “I’m glad you told me. I want to help make this easy for you”.  But instead he gave me that look, you know the one, the pat on the shoulder and he rushed out the door. That’s when you sink in the chair, feel small and wish things were different. Sometimes it feels like they think I’m not smart enough to know. I hate that. If they ask if I understand, I just nod and say “yes”. Sometimes they don’t even ask.

I wish they would see me the same as everyone else. I wish they would make sure I understand my health issues. Then I would sit a little higher in the chair (instead of hiding under it). Everyone should understand what’s happening inside their body when they leave the office. No matter how well they read.”

Isabelle is not the only one. Listening to her sharing her frustrations with the health system brought to mind the 60% of adult Canadians (reported by the Canadian Council on Learning in 2003) that lack the necessary skills to manage their health adequately. The questions remains, what can you and I do to make a difference?

Missed Opportunity

The past few months have been full of excitement and anticipation for me. I was due to meet the mayor of the City of Edmonton on September 7th, 2012. This was International Literacy Day.  In celebration of this big event, over 8 Literacy Organizations in the Edmonton area (under the umbrella of Literacy Works), and including the Center for Family Literacy, joined hands and organized a book give-away at the Clareview and Churchhill LRT stations, where hundreds of transit riders were to receive a free book. I was honored to represent the Centre for Family Literacy for this big event.

 Mr. Stephen Mandel, the mayor of the city of Edmonton was taking part in the book give-away. This was an opportunity of a lifetime for me. I was going to share the platform with the mayor. I woke up at 5:00 am and started preparing myself.  I put on my lucky colourful top and headed for the Churchhill station. This was one occasion, when I was determined not to be late.

The book give away was a success.  We gave away many books and bookmarks to the transit riders. While I was excited to connect with the people and share the books with them, I was still on the lookout for the mayor’s arrival. I was disappointed when by eight o’clock the mayor had presumably not turned up. “He must have forgotten all about us”, I confided in one of colleagues.

Unbeknownst to us, the mayor had come and all the time I was waiting for him he was standing right in front of me, handing out books to unsuspecting LRT riders. It was evident from their response to his attempts to give them a free book and a bookmark that they did not recognize him. Many of them ignored him or they just smiled politely and passed him without a hint of recognition. We missed the opportunity to formally introduce ourselves to the mayor because we did not recognize him.

This experience brings to mind the 40% of Albertans who struggle with reading and writing. I thought about the many opportunities they possibly miss because of their struggle with reading. The information may be available, yet it is inaccessible to them.   As a result, they end up with limited knowledge and awareness, thus missing out on opportunities right at their doorstep.

The Centre for Family Literacy and other Literacy organizations in Edmonton play an important role in helping learners with low literacy levels to improve their reading and writing by offering one-on-one and group tutoring. This tutoring equips the learners with the literacy skills and enables them to function effectively in society.

Would you like to make a difference in someone’s life? It is easier than you think. Call the Centre for Family Literacy at 780-421-7323 for more information.

Learner Story

My name is Jason and I am from China.

Thank you for giving me a chance to meet my tutor Bob. Since we began, we have worked to improve our English with him. He has taught us, my wife Anna and I, every week. He always spends lots of time with us, and has been teaching us listening, speaking, reading, writing, and pronunciation in English. He always teaches us to learn very carefully.

I really appreciate, that with Bob’s help, our English skills are improving. I want to tell you, my wife and I will be returning to China on September 5th. We do not want to leave such a good tutor, maybe one day if we can return to Edmonton again, we would be pleased if Bob would  teach us English again.

When we go back to China, we plan to keep in touch and study English on the computer using SKYPE.

Thanks so much to the Centre for Family Literacy!

Thank you very much Bob, we will remember you in our hearts. We would like to learn from you continuously in the future.


Jason and Anna.