Thursday, September 8, 2016

Founding Leaders: Birth Places

Revolutionary War map from
Revolutionary War map from

This week we talked about how everyone in the early years of the New World was either:

a. a native (that is, an Indian), 
b. an immigrant from another country, or 
c. a captive forced to live here.

As such, this conversation led to our speculation about the birth places of eight of our founding leaders: George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, Aaron Burr, and Alexander Hamilton.

We took a poll: Where were these eight men born?
a. all eight were born in the U.S.
b. four or more were born in U.S.
c. three or less were born in the U.S.
d. none of the eight were born in the U.S.

In two weeks, we'll reveal our results.
Meanwhile, where do you stand on this question?

Connecting with Our Founding Leaders

The debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is alive at our center. This ongoing discussion recently led to our Wednesday morning group posing questions like:

"Who started our government?" 
"How did they start our government?" 
"What are political parties all about?"

Documents that define the underpinnings of our US government
Three historical documents that frame today's US government

We are focusing the first part of our exploration on eight founding leadersGeorge Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, Aaron Burr, and Alexander Hamilton (taken from Richard Morris' book Seven Who Shaped Our Destiny: The Founding Fathers as Revolutionaries and Joseph Ellis' book Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation).

Step 1. Last week, we brainstormed what we wanted to know about these men. Our questions, typed into google docs, included: 

Birth-Death dates, Birth place, Occupations, Family relationships, Wealth, Hobbies, What famous for? Invent anything? Voted offices held, Slaves - Owner? For or against slavery? Role in Declaration of Independence, Role in Revolutionary War, Role in Articles of Confederation, Role in Constitution, Which ones were friends? Which ones were enemies?

Step 2. Yesterday, in small, self-assigned groups, they sought answers. Learners used books and websites. They examined the authority behind the texts (sites) to ensure that they were using only reliable sources. Then they read, discussed their answers to the questions, and typed them into our shared google document. 

Did everyone have the skills to read the texts? No. In fact, about 1/4 of the learners struggled reading words like "the." They were partnered however with learners who could read the words. Another member of each group had some computer skills. A (volunteer) tutor also teamed up with the groups to help with harder words and digging information out of the text. The groups had to work together to complete the task.

Where they engaged? Absolutely. The buzz in the room was extremely focused. Members in some groups even shared what they learned with other groups when they found that their leaders connected in some way. What was supposed to last about 30 minutes turned into a 2-hour segment.

Step 3. In two weeks, we'll check in to see what information was found and what is needed. Then, we'll decide together how to share this information with each other to have some interesting conversations. Will our findings bring us back to Hillary and Donald? Check back with us in a few weeks to see what happened next.



Why are we, an adult literacy organization, reading books and websites about founding leaders, especially when some learners struggle with "the"? 

Simple answer - the group asked to read and learn about these individuals. They wanted to know something. Individually, this group has never used printed texts to answer questions. They lack experience posing and researching questions. These group activities allow these adults to learn much more than just decoding and interpreting words. 

Our charge is to ensure that all learners are college-career ready when they leave us to move on to the next phase of their lives! This means our learners need to build their abilities to the point where they can read complex informational texts, analyze and synthesize evidence in texts, and build and express their knowledge by writing expository texts

This charge requires that we engage all of our learners - including those with the least amount of literacy skills. We've found that their engagement in these activities actually helps to increase their word knowledge at a faster rate than just sticking to low-literacy texts.

Monday, August 29, 2016

SLC Adult New Readers Book Group Dilemma

You're on the book selection committee. 
You have to make a choice. 
Which book would you choose? 

Sarah, Plain & Tall 
by Patricia MacLachlan

26 Fairmount Avenue 
by Tomie dePaolo

Bunnicula: A Rabbit-Tale of Mystery 
by Deborah & James Howe


Only one of these books won. Which one?
Which book would you choose?

That was our dilemma. Which book? 
How would we choose?

Since speed dating worked so well for us in the past, we decided to do it again. This time under Salt Lake City librarian Stephanie Goodliffe's direction.

Seven learners speed-dated the three books pictured above. The readers' goal was to select the first book to be read by the New Readers Book Group. (See details at the bottom of this blog.)

First, the readers came up with their criteria for a "good book." They developed a list of 5 must-haves: a plot that captured their interest, a hook that kept them turning the pages, a story-line that inspired them, a set of problems that they could relate to, and a group of characters who were life-like. Their rating scale was:
One reader rates a book.

A. plot - (1) don't like it; (3) ok; (5) love it
B. hook - (1) nothing grabbed me; (3) ok; (5) can't put the book down
C. inspires - (1) no; (3) ok; (5) feels good
D. problems - (1) can't relate; (3) ok; (5) can relate
E. characters - (1) don't like them; (3) ok; (5) like them

Either in pairs or individually, readers spent 7 minutes with each book. This time was focused on reading the dust jacket, the table of contents, and the first page of the book. At the end of 7 minutes, the readers recorded their scores.

Which score look like the winner to you?
Stephanie tallies the data.
After everyone dated each book, Stephanie and David compiled the scores on the board. Rather than tally all five categories, the group narrowed their examination to only the plot and hook. Their results were:

                      Plot*     Hook*
Sarah             4.0          4.0
Bunnicula       3.8          3.2
(*scores were averages)

Based on these two criteria, Sarah, Plain & Tall was the winner. The numbers were as plain as day, but the group wasn't quite satisfied with the results.

An alternative was offered by one group member - count how many 5's were listed for each book in the plot category only.

When they looked specifically at this set of numbers (Sarah three 5's & Bunnicula four 5's), Bunnicula: A Rabbit-Tale of Mystery was declared the winner.

Read Bunnicula: A Rabbit-Tale of Mystery
Beginning Monday, September 19, 2016

This group, co-sponsored by The City Library, Friends of The City Library, and Literacy Action Center, will meet 1st and 3rd Mondays of each month (beginning Monday, September 19th, 2016) from 4:30-6:00 PM in Conference Room D at the Main branch (210 East 400 South, SLC). 

Call Stephanie at 801-322-8131 or Deb at 801-265-9081 to enroll in this group. 

New Readers Book Group is Free 

and Open to the Public!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Annual Benefit 8/25/16 - Are you coming?

A Benefit for Literacy Action Center

beautiful scene of trees and snow celebrate HOWL Susan Imhoff Bird's latest novel
Hear Susan's tale.

An Evening of 

Nature & Art with...

Susan Imhoff Bird

Thursday, August 25, 2016

   6:00 - 9:00 PM

Pilar Pobil's Garden

 in the lower Avenues (403 Eighth Avenue), SLC

Contribution of $50/person by 8/22/16

(Or $65/person contribution at the door)

Mail checks to Literacy Action Center
3595 S Main Street, Salt Lake City UT 84115
(Or Call for Reservations today at 801/265-9081)


We greatly appreciation your support!

For event updates, check with this blog daily
or send your email to 


Other donations for the event include:

Auction: Silent & Live auction from local contributors.

Eats: Red Food Truck, Cannella's Restaurant & Lounge, 

          Pizza Hut

Music: Kevin Christiansen, accordian

Vintage China & Linens: Blue Bird Vintage Rentals

Garden: Pilar Poblil Legacy Foundation

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Health materials: Blood pressure & "feet flat"

See how people responded to the words - put your feet flat on the floor.
How do you interpret the words "rest your feet flat on the floor?"

Wow! As writers, we put words on paper. If we want to understand the impact of our words on our intended audience, however, we’ve got to listen to their interpretations and watch their responses.

This month, as part of our health materials project, we read through a set of blood pressure instructions. (See New Health Project for details.) The instructions were meant to inform us on how to take our blood pressures at home. So, words like vital, accurate, wrinkles, and non-dominant were predictable discussion stoppers.

Expressions like “rest both feet flat on the floor” seemed simple and obvious, until we asked everyone to put their feet flat on the floor. When we checked under the table, more than half of the people’s feet were positioned with heels touching the floor and toes pointing in the air.

Another phrase that generated many interpretations was “don’t take your blood pressure within a half hour of eating.” And, the phrase “back supported” was popularly interpreted as either lying in bed or stretched out in a chair.

These discussions reiterate the importance of never assuming that just because we understand what we write that our audience will make the same interpretations.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Working with Numbers

Place Value. 

Simple concept? Not for us.

When 312.07 - 67.2 is easily written as

 3 1 2 . 0 7
-      6  1 . 2

then we know we've got work to do.

How would you explain how to line up in the numbers in the problem 6 - 1.2 or 54.63-9.7?

How do you explain "line up the numbers?"

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

How do you make the Best Quality Hard-Boiled Eggs?

What's your recipe for the best hard-boiled eggs?

Almost everyone has one. We did, too.

Our Friday group wanted to examine science and food. So, what better way to engage everyone in the scientific method? We started with something we all knew - boiling water and eggs. And, we all had something to say - either from personal experience or observation.

What did we do? We worked through the scientific method to set up our experiments - three tried-and-true recipes for making the best quality hard-boiled eggs.

Here's the Scientific Method that we followed:
1. Observe. Ask questions.
2. Do background research.
3. Construct hypothesis. (What do we think will happen?)
4. Test hypothesis. (Do the experiment. Collect and organize data.)
5. Analyze data. Draw conclusions.
6. Share results. 

Our experiments were three hard-boiled egg recipes: two from learners and one from

Like all good experiments, we made a hypothesis. We hypothesized which of the three recipes would produce the best quality hard-boiled egg. 

See the photos resulting from our experiment. Which recipe do you think we picked before we conducted the experiment? Which recipe do you think was the winner? 

To read our full report - our recipes, design process, methods, and discussion, click on this link to our June 20-24, 2016 lesson screen on our learner website. On the learner website, scroll to the files below the Friday entry, then click on Food Science.Boiled Egg

How did our recipes stack up to your best boiled-egg recipe?
Do you agree with our interpretations and conclusions?
Please comment below.

Monday, June 20, 2016

New Project: Health Materials

Ever wanted to know why health materials are written as they are? You know, those intense instructional tomes given to you at your doctor's office that you struggle over to figure out what you need to do next to better care for yourself.

A few of our learners are about to find out. They are going to provide feedback on health documents for a major local healthcare system.

One of our first tasks will be a two-page document. The content is currently unknown, but the excitement is mounting.

What health materials from your medical professionals would you revise? Why? How?

Health tools

Friday, June 17, 2016

Speed Dating

Yes, you read the title right...speed dating.

Now you're thinking, "What's an adult literacy organization got to do with speed dating?"

We were speed dating books!

Here's what happened...

Recently, our Wednesday afternoon group finished reading Getting Unstuck: Breaking Through Your Barriers to Change by Dr. Sydney Simon. Our next step was to select another book.

By the next week, we'd gathered fourteen possible books from which to choose our next group book. Well, how would you get twenty people to decide on one book? Would you dare to judge each book by its cover? Maybe. We decided a fairer way however was to speed date the books.

Round One

So, twenty of us spent an hour of our next session speed dating fourteen books.

We began by setting up our criteria. We all agreed that our next "read" had to be:
1) readable - we could pronounce most of the words and understand their meanings
2) helpful - the information would contribute to each of our personal lives in some way
3) interesting - the writing was not boring

In pairs (or in some cases as individuals), we examined each book one at a time for three minutes each for these three criteria. All daters agreed to at least minimally use the three minutes to examine the title, front and back covers, page 1 of the text, and the table of contents. Each dater had to decide if the dater made a connection with the content of the text and read a paragraph to feel if the text grabbed the dater's attention.

At the end of the three minutes, each dater rated each book. We developed the following rating scale:
1 = BAD - No way will I read this book.
2 = MAYBE - I might read it if I'm forced to read it.
3 = OK - I can deal with this book if it is chosen.
4 = I LIKE IT - I'll read it.
Image result for four agreements book
The Final Winner
5 = EXCELLENT - This is it. I love it! Let's read this book.

We followed this process six times, meaning that each dater examined only six of the fourteen books.

Because not everyone dated all fourteen books, we reported the ratings for each book based on the number of daters (reviewers). From the computed fractions, we figured the percentages. From the percentages, we decided that only books with 50% or higher could move into Round Two. The list for Round Two narrowed to seven books.

Round Two

One week later, we followed the same rules and ensured that all daters gave input. Based on the final count, The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz won hands down.


Choosing our next book by speed dating and rating our "dates" engaged all of us in the book selection process. Everyone at least appears happy with the final choice and interested in participating in the group reading.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

What do you expect from a good writing mentor?

The question

That was the question posed to our writers last spring. What’s your response?

According to the SLCC Community Writing Center, mentors direct conversations, collect member feedback, identify strategies that work, listen for members’ wants and needs, and share information with SLCC Community Writing Center

A visiting mentor posed this question: "What is the group looking for in terms of a mentor?"

We used this question as our writing “warm up.” Here were our group members' responses to this open-ended statement, “A good mentor…” 

How do our responses compare to your response?

Draft of a Story

Our response

A good mentor…

§  needs to know the meaning of education.
§  must open our minds to help us learn.
§  knows what I have to know.
§  doesn’t do the work, but guides the work, based on what we want or need.
§  comes prepared, not just with plans and lessons to move our group forward, but also comes prepared to abandon or modify those plans based on auditory and visual feedback from group members. 
§  figures out how to include all of our wants, needs, and concerns, without excluding any of us.
§  is passionate about writing.
§  makes us feel motivated to learn and improve.
§  gives us hard words to read, spell, and write.
§  asks lots of questions, listens to responses, and connects us to resources to help us meet our goals.
§  directs our conversation to stay positive and writing based.
§  learns as much as, if not more than, the group members.
§  is also a viable group member.
§  helps us write stories and fix our spellings.

Call to Action

We are looking for excellent mentors and tutors.

Our writing mentors come to us through SLCC Community Writing Center. The writing center trains mentors for their many different writing groups across Salt Lake City. Interested? Contact them.

You will be awesome!

(Are you looking for a good writing group? Check out the writing groups sponsored by SLCC Community Writing Center. Or, search the web for writing groups sponsored by other writing organizations.)