The WE LEARN Story…How We Came to BE
1996 (A little background)
Portfolio Of Accomplishments
Conferences -- (Net)Working & Gathering
Unlike many national U. S. professional literacy conferences, though, WE LEARN has achieved a unique distinction for its appeal to adult learners. We find this statistic especially heartening.
In 2004, 9% of attendees were adult learners, but that attendance spiked to 28% in 2009 and to 40% in 2010.
For more informations about our conferences current and past, click here.
However, Women's Perspectives has become more than a publication featuring learner writings. It has become an indispensable opportunity to provide and develop adult learner leadership. Over the years, numbers of students have found their places as volunteers and leaders on several committees, especially for conference and Women's Perspectives. In time, we expect the publication to be developed by adult learners who are alums or current students in literacy services.
(2011). Our Stories, OurSelves: The EmBODYment of Women’s Learning. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.
(2009). Empowering Women Through Literacy: Views from Experience. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.
(2009). Teaching & Learning with Women's Perspectives: A Resource Kit
(2008). Women Leading Through Reading: A Guidebook for Discussion & Action.
(2004). Women & Literacy. Special Issue of The Change Agent: Adult Education for Social Justice: News, Issues, and Ideas, Issue 19. Boston, MA: New England Literacy Resource Center / World Education.
(2004). Women and Literacy: Moving from Power to Participation. Women’s Studies Quarterly. Vol. 32: 1&2. New York, NY: Feminist Press at CUNY.
Women Leading Through Reading
Through Women Leading Through Reading© Discussion Circles, women learners experience broader learning, fun, support, and affirmation through reading and discussion. The groups focused on issues and concerns relevant to learner's lives as women. This program adapted a “book club” format and encouraged student leadership. The Circles were co-facilitated by trained women volunteers from the local community.
Women Leading Through Reading© Discussion Circles were adaptable to all kinds of programs for learners at most levels. We developed a manual, Women Leading Through Reading: A Guidebook for Discussion and Action to get programs started. In 2009, we adapted the program to include more writing. This program, “Women Raising Voices: From Reading to Writing,” used past issues of Women’s Perspectives in order to encourage student’s to develop their voice and communicate their thinking through writing.
General Goals of Women Leading Through Reading Discussion Circles
Women Leading Through Reading Discussion Circles (WLTR) included and affected three key groups of participants:
- Women learners using or needing adult basic/literacy education (ABE) services;
- Teachers, literacy programs, and/or providers who offer services to ABE women learners; and
- Women from local communities who volunteer as facilitators for the WLTR Circles.
Women Leading Through Reading Discussion Circles had been developed using the principals of popular education and feminist/womanist participatory educational models. They were learner-centered and woman supportive, and potentially a source of transformation for all Circle members. In this way, all participants in WLTR were peers, women collaborating together as both teachers and learners. WE LEARN identified a list of goals relevant to each of the key groups of participants.
Learning objectives for women learners included:
- Increase their self-efficacy as learners, readers, and as capable women
- Broaden their awareness of women’s issues
- Develop responsibility for learning through goal-setting and self-defined reading priorities
- Identify reading as a place for access to information and problem-solving as well as an option for personal interest, self-reflection, and entertainment
- Improve reading comprehension
- Broaden and apply critical thinking to real-life situations
- Practice writing through journaling
- Expand their conversational abilities and comfort level with speaking in a group
- Develop leadership skills
- Understand ways to engage in community research, action, and civic participation on women’s issues of importance to them
Learning objectives for women/activist facilitators included:
- Understand more clearly the realities, needs, contributions and experiences of women who use or need adult basic and English literacy programs or services;
- Become aware of the particular barriers women face as they seek to enhance their literacy proficiencies and basic education;
- Increase awareness of social, economic, an cultural issues affecting low-skilled, low-income women with limited education or English language proficiencies; and
- Articulate concrete steps to include adult students and their issues in women-centered groups and feminist/womanist activism
Benefits for Teachers and Literacy Programs / Services:
- Enhancement of students’ outcomes and attainment of their educational goals, especially in reading comprehension, writing, speaking English;
- Increased opportunities for contextualized learning for life skills, workplace, citizenship, and other student goals; and
- Encouragement for students in areas such as peer mentoring, leadership development, critical thinking, and civic/community engagement.
How Women Leading Through Reading got started…
Women Leading Through Reading (WLTR) was developed 1996 in Minneapolis and St. Paul, MN. Mev Miller (founder and director of WE LEARN) initiated this project in collaboration with the Minnesota Literacy Council, area literacy programs, and the women’s community organized through a local feminist bookstore (Amazon Bookstore Cooperative). The project involved literacy learners, educators, and community supporters. That successful four-year project provided book discussion groups for 70 learners in 10 literacy centers. It uncovered the critical need for women-centered materials appropriate for adult literacy students and identified a need for support of and advocacy networks for literacy teachers and students focused on women's issues. This program provided the foundation for creating WE LEARN.Statistics:
Rhode Island, 2006 - 2007
- 7 Circles in 5 different literacy programs
- 13 trained facilitators of whom 7 could actively participate
- 50+ students (ESOL & ABE/GED) participated
- 19 Circles in 10 different literacy programs
- 26 trained facilitators of whom 17 could actively participate
- 150+ students (ESOL & ABE/GED) participated
In this cycle, we re-vamped the Reading/Discussion Circles to include the use of reading learner writing in Women's Perspectives in order to encourage learner writing and editing. As a result, we saw an increase in the number of learner writings submitted to Women's Perspectives. We also noticed an improvement in the overall quality of writings we received.
- 60 participants attended a writing workshop by Louise Dunlap (author of Undoing the Silence) for learners and teachers
- 3 Circles in 3 literacy programs
- 10 trained facilitators of whom 4 could actively participate
- 30+ students (ESOL & ABE/GED) participated
- 150 community people attended an end-of-year celebration at UMass Boston showcasing current and past learner writers for Women's Perspective
Training and Workshops
Over the years, members of WE LEARN have presented at several regional & national conferences. The topics have ranged from general discussions about women and literacy, to specific workshops about our programs (such as Women Leading through Reading or Women's Perspectives) and related topics such as spirituality or sexuality issues in adult basic education.
Some examples of past workshops include:
- Claiming Our Voices and Leadership: A Workshop for Students
- Embracing Mind, Heart & Spirit: Renewal and Reflection for ABE Practitioners
- Empowering Women through Literacy: From Experiences to Practical Matters -- Based on using reflections from the book Empowering Women through Literacy
- Empowering Women through Literacy: Perspectives from the Margins of Basic Education (Specifically designed for Women’s Studies Classrooms)
- Heart & Soul for Head & Hands: Rejuvenating Practitioners
- Our Stories, Ourselves: The EmBODYment of Women's Literacy
- Reading to Writing – Using Women’s Perspectives as Lessons for all Learners!
- Resources and Curriculum for Women in Adult Basic Education
- Sexuality/Gender Diversities in ABE: Exploring Key Issues
- Teachers Supporting Student Writing for Publication: YES You CAN!
- The Fun and Value of Student Writing Publications Using "The Change Agent" to Promote Women's Literacy
- Using Women’s Perspectives with Women and Men across Literacy Levels
- WE LEARN: Finding Women's Literacy Power through Women-Centered Literacy Materials
- Women & Literacy: Moving to Power and Participation [OR] Women, Literacy and Power - What Are the Connections?
- Women Leading Through Reading: Learning through Discussion/Action Circles Women Learning to Leadership: Opportunities for ABE Students
- COABE – Commission on Adult Basic Education (2006, 2007, & 2008)
- MCAE – Massachusetts Coalition for Adult Education (2003, 2004, 2006-2010)
- NWSA – National Women’s Studies Association (2009)
- NYACCE – New York Association for Continuing/Community Education (2006 & 2009)
- ProLiteracy Worldwide (2003, 2006, 2009, 2011)
- Pedagogy & Theater of the Oppressed (2009)
- Rhode Island State Adult Education Conference (2003-3012)
- Vermont LearningWorks (2008)
2010: “Economics of Literacy” Panel. National Coalition for Literacy (NCL) with International Women’s Policy Institute (IWPR). Women’s Education and Economic Opportunity: The Role of Literacy. Washington, DC
- "Empowering Women Through Literacy." Feminism & Dessert, Center for New Words, Cambridge, MA
- "Creating Spaces for Women." Metro Toronto Movement for Literacy, Adult Learner Leadership Event, Toronto, ON Canada
- "Women & Literacy Book Group." A six-week Discussion Circle for the feminist community, sponsored in collaboration with the Simmons Institute for Leadership & Change, Boston, MA
- "Women’s Activism: Education, Literacy and Human Rights." Classroom Presentation at MIT for a Women's Studies graduate program, Cambridge, MA
- "Discussing Diversity and Power Issues for Professional Development in Adult Literacy." NIFL Listserv February 18 - 29, 2008
2005: "Training for Women's Leadership in Literacy." A presentation to the Afghanistan Women’s Literacy Program, sponsored by Institute for Training and Development (ITD), Amherst, MA
2004: "Women and Literacy: Moving to Power and Participation." A Symposium based on the publication release of Women’s Studies Quarterly, Vol. 32: 1&2 (Feminist Press at CUNY), Harvard University Graduate School of Education, Cambridge MA