This week we interviewed Teresa Finocchiaro from Read Write Now (RWN), a Literacy Support program for Adults. Teresa is a Coordinator at RWN and also has tutored 4 students herself over the space of 5 years. We asked Teresa some questions and chatted over a coffee to get to know her, learn more about the program and find out how we can share this great initiative with our community.


Key Facts about Read Write Now and Adult Literacy:

– 46% of adults lack adequate literacy skills for everyday life (this does not mean they are totally illiterate as some people conclude!) It means they struggle to varying degree to read a newspaper, medicine labels, understand timetables, and deal with common everyday technology.

– Read Write Now has existed in WA since 1977.

– Many tutors have been involved for over 15 years now.

– The program is funded by the Department of Training and Workforce Development. Its central office is hosted by North Metropolitan TAFE.


How did you become involved as a volunteer with RWN?

After retiring from being a schoolteacher, I chose to volunteer my spare time at the RWN program at a local library. I was extremely interested in how people acquire literacy skills, especially with two out of my three children experiencing learning difficulties. With extra time on my hands, the skills to teach, and a passion for helping others learn, I chose the opportunity to embark on four days training to become a tutor at RWN. I love to learn how people learn, what motivates them and how you can build on their strengths.


What do you find the difference is between teaching adults and teaching children?

Adults seem to come with more sense of shame and embarrassment for not having certain literacy skills, so it is important to get to know each individual and their abilities. The most important question is learning the context behind the student’s journey. For example, why are they asking for help, what do they need help with, and what is their story?


When interviewing potential tutors, what makes a good tutor?

I look for a person with a certain warmth in their personality, good communication skills, and an understanding that we are working as equals. The ability to work alongside the student and not put themselves above the student is key when tutoring adults. There is a level of respect we owe to the student as it is their journey, not ours. We want the student to feel comfortable to create the best situation to learn.


What inspired you to focus on adult literacy specifically?

I believe literacy empowers people. Meeting individuals that had deficits in their literacy skills enforced my will to help people. I was retired, so I had the skills and the time to work with this program.


Can you share an example of a particularly impactful success story from the program?

I began working with a beautiful person called ‘Sunny’. She was interested in enrolling in an aged care course, however, didn’t have the confidence to enrol due to her current reading and writing skills. After working together for a few months, she felt confident enough to enrol, successfully completed the course and is now working in her field!


What do you class as a success within the literacy program?

Success is different for each student as it depends on what their goals and objectives are. Many students ask for help with improving their functional literacy, i.e., being able to read bills, forms or menus or improve their computer skills. We like to work through SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and relevant, time-bound) to create personalised tutoring. All lessons intuitively include attention to organisational skills, self-management skills, interpersonal communication, negotiation skills, commitment, discipline, and attention to detail. As these skills are transferable to personal and family life, employment and social situations, past students have improved their life opportunities beyond their literacy/numeracy goals. We will set out a goal at the beginning of the program and within 3-6 months we will ask the student how they feel their progress is going with their goals.


Can you describe something that is important for students to know?

It is important to remember that there is no curriculum, and the student is in the driver’s seat. Therefore, if they want to do extra hours outside of one-on-one time, they’ll progress quicker!


Can you share an example of a creative teaching method or approach you’ve used to engage adult learners?

Yes! I love to use relational activities – getting to know someone and tapping into their needs, interests and circumstances. For example, with Sunny, she loves cooking, so we chatted about what type of cooking she likes to do. We proceeded to write down the recipe for her favourite Korean dish. This honoured her skills as she has a lot of knowledge around cooking, so we utilised this interest to achieve both an oral and written literacy exercise.


What challenges have you faced while running the literacy program, and how have you addressed them?

The big challenge is finding ways to make it work for individual cases. In this line of work every case is different. Having to meet in public places can also create difficulties for students as they may not have a means of transport with bus routes not within close distance.

I have also found students not responding after initial contact or not showing up for the interview. I find that it is important to be timely with our responses to their enquiries because it takes a lot of courage to make initial contact with us, so letting them know we have heard them, and we are here to help as quickly as possible helps the process and lessen any fears.


 How do you handle funding and resources for the literacy program?

The Government assists with the funding of the program for the few employees that work in the main office. Their jobs involve upskilling the tutors, checking police clearances and ensuring the correct training is offered. The tutors and coordinators, however, offer their services completely free.


 How can community members or potential volunteers support and get involved with the literacy program at the local library?

If you are interested in becoming a tutor at Read Write Now, please fill out your expression of interest at https://www.read-write-now.org.au/get-help/tutor-application. Prospective tutors are interviewed by local Coordinator/s to exchange relevant details about the volunteer tutor roles, a commitment of 1 year is required.

If you’re interested in becoming a student at Read Write Now please call their office on 1800 018 802. If you would prefer to make an online application, please visit https://www.read-write-now.org.au/get-help/student-application