Monthly Archives: October 2015

Literacy KC Student Story: Kim Kline

by Will Orlowski, Americorps VISTA, Ticket to Read Program Coordinator

“I want to complete everything you have to offer!” – Kim Kline

When I asked Kim Kline to sit down with me after her class on Monday, the first thing she wanted to know was what she had done wrong. I smiled and told her, “Nothing!” and that, in fact, she had done a lot right and I wanted to interview her for this blog post. She seemed surprised and a little bashful, telling me that she did not think anyone would want to read about her. Nevertheless, she was happy to answer my questions.

This is a perfect example of why Kim is an exemplary student. Kim is modest and polite, incredibly friendly and always willing to stick around and speak with me or the instructors if needed. She works hard and comes to class every week prepared and eager to learn more.

Kim with Limo

Kim (center) and other students pose on the red carpet before boarding the limo that would take them to the Literacy for All Luncheon. “The luncheon and the limo ride,” Kim says, “was one of the best days of my life.”

“I was tired of not being able to read,” Kim said to me when I asked what brought her to Literacy Kansas City. Retired now, Kim was born and raised in Topeka before moving to Kansas City to support her daughters and help raise her grandchildren. In fact, prior to retiring Kim worked in the daycare her grandchildren went to, caring for them and other Kansas City children. It was her family, Kim says, that helped her take the first step with her literacy.

“It was something I’d been wanting to do for years,” Kim told me. She had not had the courage to try until her daughters encouraged her, and when they referred her to Literacy KC she knew it was time to start.

“Before I started the program I was beginning to have a positive attitude, but since I started I’ve felt wonderful… For the first time in my life I believe that I can accomplish this.” Kim made sure to praise her teacher, Sarah Bell, particularly.

“Miss Sarah is a special person,” Kim said with a grin. “Miss Dorothy (Elliot) and Miss Brenda (Moore) are wonderful too, but all of them are great,” she also mentions, referring to the tutors that work with her class, which meets every Monday and Wednesday for an hour and a half. Currently, her class is reading about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and on Monday they read his famed “I Have a Dream” speech. The students all were asked to write about their own dreams, and Kim was quick to tell me hers.

“I want to complete everything you have to offer,” she says with determination, referring to the other programs offered at Literacy Kansas City. She is particularly interested in math tutoring and the digital life skills workshops designed to help students increase their comfort and efficiency with technology. Judging by her work ethic, this is definitely an achievable dream for Kim.

“Kim is such a positive presence in class,” her teacher Sarah told me. “She’s always there and she always works hard. She’s so friendly and so eager to learn.”

As I wrapped up my interview with Kim, I asked her if there was anything she wanted people to know. What she said left me feeling humbled and thankful to have the opportunity to work with people like Kim every day.

“I was nervous at first, but you (Literacy KC staff and volunteers) make everybody feel so special. I feel like you guys really want to help us and accomplish our goals. This place is helping me change my life!”


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Filed under For Students, For Tutors, For Volunteers, Power of Reading, Programs & Services, Student Spotlight, Uncategorized, Understanding the Need

Minding Our Peas and Queues: Learning English is Tricky!

By Alleen VanBebber, Literacy Kansas City Board Member

Remember when your baby (or friend’s baby or baby brother) began speaking in phrases and how much the little guy seemed to enjoy it? He didn’t know he was entering a verbal jungle, by being born a native English speaker. He didn’t know he was doing something hard as he began making sense of words and sentences. He learned how to converse by just listening. He didn’t have to know or care why cyclists ride bicycles and bikers ride motorcycles. It didn’t worry him that “He” put his shoes on, but “She” didn’t put shis shoes on. Or why there were houses, but house rodents weren’t mouses. He might have thought it odd that two cows were cows, while two sheeps were sheep, but he learned early which to say and not be laughed at or be corrected.cactus punI’m in awe of LKC students who tackle learning English as a second language. They arrive as adults who have mastered their own language systems, with rules and customs that are second nature to them. They don’t expect to be hit with a convoluted, arbitrary system that defies any rational explanation, more often than not. Don’t we tell them to add up numbers by reading them down the row? Imagine if the actual rules of mathematics were as subject to inexplicable whim as are our instructions for using those rules.
And it’s not just those who grew up speaking Spanish, or French, or Tagalog who can stumble. It’s even tricky for those who speak non-American English. For example, we Americans use “bloody” as a harmless euphemism for epithets we can’t say in polite company: as in “he doesn’t have a bloody clue.” Watch the room chill if you use that word in a formal setting in England or Ireland. But, since our Founders decided against having a monarchy, we at least don’t have to explain why there are kingdoms but no queendoms!

Many students hate punctuation even worse than let's eat grandmathe other frustrations of learning English. Some want to bypass the agony by ignoring punctuation altogether—who cares about commas, as long as the words make sense? But there is a major culinary distinction between “Let’s eat, Grandma,” and “Let’s eat Grandma,” now isn’t there?

As a high school teacher, I used to read essays from native speakers containing malapropisms, misspellings, and other—sometimes, Freudian—mishaps that made me laugh so hard I snorted Coke out my nose. No, strike that comment: talking today about snorting coke could get your phone tapped. Pity the person who tries to master American idioms and cultural references by reading books written before 1980. Our ever-changing idioms aren’t even common to a region, let alone a continent. In short, hats off to our adult English as a second language learners. They have it tough, and that’s for sure, dude.

For more on this topic, take a look at Crazy English, by Richard Lederer, and Eats, Shoots and Leaves: the Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, by Lynne Truss. They are both fun and educational.


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Filed under English as a Second Language, For Students, For Tutors, For Volunteers

Just why do so many adults have trouble reading?

Most studies of intelligence are carried out with young people. Recently, there has been growing interest in how intelligence develops, or fails to develop, over the course of a lifetime. The better the fit between an individual’s spectrum of intelligences and the domain (or vocation) of knowledge, the more likely that intellectual growth will continue through the adult years.

Howard Gardner, psychologist and founder of the Theory of Multiple Intelligences, states, “Since each human being has her own unique configuration of intelligences, we should take that into account when teaching, mentoring or nurturing. As much as possible, we should teach individuals in ways that they can learn.”

The MI theory encompasses eight distinct ways that individuals best learn, from spatial to naturalistic. With increasing class sizes and standardized testing, it’s easy to visualize how difficult individualized instruction of students has been for elementary and secondary schools for many years.

Taking a look at why students are non-readers in their early school also helps to answer the question.

Educator Louanne Johnson works with reluctant elementary and secondary school readers and states, “I worked hard to convince those students that reading was a skill, not a natural-born talent, and that they were capable of learning. I offered the analogies of basketball, since many of the boys were NBA hopefuls — ‘You can’t sink a free throw if you never get on the court’.”

Johnson outlines ten key reasons student nonreaders don’t read – thus inhibiting their reading development into their adult years.

(Excerpted from:—-and-how-change-their-minds)

1. Reading Gives Them a Headache or Makes Their Eyes Hurt

Recent research suggests that nearly half of people who are labeled as learning disabled actually suffer from scotopic (light) sensitivity. Often schools mislabel scotopic readers as dyslexic (they may or may not suffer from dyslexia, as well) and give strategies that don’t work, because the glare and discomfort remain. (To learn more about vision therapy for problem readers, visit

2. They Can’t Read as Fast as Their Peers (and Get Left Behind)

One first grader I worked with, Kayla, was in such a hurry to read everything quickly that she wasn’t processing anything. When I asked her to slow down and read one sentence, then tell me what it said, she was fine. But when I let her read without interruption, she began racing along, stumbling over words, and was unable to answer basic questions about what she had read. “Why are you reading so fast?” I asked her. She sighed. “Because I have to go fast. That’s how we do it at school.”

3. They Fear They’ll Have to Read Out Loud and Others Will Laugh

Some teachers call on students to read aloud as a way of keeping them awake or alert in class. Shy or timid students never volunteer and fail to develop this skill.

4. They Expect to Be Tested on What They Read — and to Fail the Test

Students learn to see reading as a chore, a competition, or a test.

5. They Believe They Have to Finish Every Reading Selection, No Matter How Long or Difficult

Forcing kids who don’t read well to finish material that is far above their ability level or that has no relevance to them can ruin reading for them.

6. They Fear Their Opinions Will Be Wrong

Teachers often ask students to write their opinion about a book or story. A student who has worked hard on his or her essays expects high marks for effort and content. When their teacher assigns either a D or an F, the student is sent a clear message: Your opinion is worthless.

7. They Always Get Put Into the “Slow” Group, Which Makes Them Feel Stupid

When I ask adults how old they were when they formed their opinions of their own intelligence, nearly all agree that they decided how smart they were during the first few years of school, when they were learning to read.

8. They Believe They Are Too Far Behind to Ever Catch Up

When students read below grade level, they don’t understand that increasing their skills to the next level isn’t as hard as they think. A grade level in reading doesn’t correspond to a calendar year. It is just a measure of how well a student reads a specific level of complexity in vocabulary and sentence structure.

9. They Have No Interest in the Material They Are Required to Read

Textbooks by definition are not interesting!

10. They Get Lost and Can’t Remember What They Have Just Read

Many struggling students who can technically read quite well don’t understand what they are reading. They somehow missed the important point that when we read we must create a mental reference. Without that reference, words are just words.


As Howard Gardner notes, most studies of intelligence are carried out with young people. But recently, there has been growing interest in how intelligence develops, or fails to develop, over the course of a lifetime.

Tutor and Students

LKC Tutor Brenda Moore works with students Albert and Breyonna

The better the fit between an individual’s spectrum of intelligences, he says, and their domain (or vocation) of knowledge, the more likely that intellectual growth will continue through the adult years.

Literacy KC works in small, individualized groups with adult students to help make this intellectual growth and potential possible by improving (at last) their reading and writing skills.

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Filed under For Tutors, For Volunteers, Tutor Resources, Understanding the Need