Susan Taylor, Literacy Specialist at Detroit Reads!

Content brought to you by Ford Motor Company Fund

o you know how many words you read in a day? Most words are so familiar and commonly used that you don't realize you are reading them, says Susan Taylor, literacy and reading specialist at the Detroit Public Library's main branch.

"When I sit down with my tutors, one of the training (questions) is: When did you learn to read? It's like asking, 'When did you learn to walk?' And you take those things for granted. Now, when you ask someone who is learning to read at 45 years old, it's not the same thing."

For the people in Detroit Public Library's Detroit Reads! adult literacy program, low reading levels can be crippling. In some cases, unfamiliar words or terms may prevent adult learners from doing everyday tasks such as going to the market or bank, which can intellectually isolate them from society. But Taylor-joining the Detroit Public Library in 2006 from a career as a corporate librarian-has made it Detroit Reads!'s mission to restore confidence in adult learners through literacy, so that they may be curious about the world again.

"When you are now teaching someone how to read, you are not only bringing the part of literacy that is reading, writing and comprehension, you bring in political literacy. You're bringing scientific literacy. You're bringing computer literacy-so many other skills are now brought to literacy," explains Taylor. "You want to be able to wake up that curious mind."


Founded by the Detroit Library Commission in September 2008, Detroit Reads! pairs certified tutors with adult learners to address individual literacy needs, ranging from basic phonics skills and reading comprehension to GED (General Educational Development) exam preparation.

"Over the years, we have serviced over 1,400 learners in one-on-one partnerships with more than 1,000 registered tutors," says Taylor. Currently, the organization has more than 200 active tutors who are available across the Detroit Public Library's 20-plus branches. The focus of the tutoring sessions depends on the learner's goals.

"It varies from learner to learner. There are some learners who just need functioning skills. There are some learners who just want to go to the supermarket and know that 'doz.' means a dozen," says Taylor. "People are coming in for so many different reasons."

The initial challenge, Taylor explains, is to reconcile negative learning experiences.

"They come with life experiences. But once they realize they are respected as an adult, that alleviates some of those bad memories from high school," says Taylor. "A lot of our learners are very creative people, but they are not able to do anything without being able to read. So you try to find that spot to make them see where reading connects to their current situation that they're living right now. And once they see that, then they're living literacy."

Adult literacy services at the Detroit Public Library

Detroit Reads! offers free weekly tutoring sessions for adults 18 and up focusing on literacy and computer skills. Learners are provided with free books, practice kits and other resources to help improve reading, writing and comprehension skills. Also offered as part of Detroit Reads! is GED (General Educational Development) and TABE (Tests of Adult Basic Education) preparation, but Detroit Public Library literacy and reading specialist Susan Taylor recommends you receive a literacy assessment before preparing for GED or TABE tests.

"The first thing someone will say is: 'I need to get my GED.' Then when you do an assessment of them, they are at a third grade reading level. Now what are the possibilities of you getting your GED any time soon?" asks Taylor. She explains that the goal of Detroit Reads! is to make literacy a continuous part of a learner's life, beyond education exams. "So you have to help the learner look at established short-term goals and look at how literacy will help you right now."

Facebook Comments



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here