Seminar to focus on building adult literacy in southwest Michigan

contact: Mark Schwerin
| WMU News

Photo of an older woman reading.KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Literacy experts will share the latest strategies for improving the state of adult literacy in southwest Michigan during a one-day seminar at Western Michigan University Friday, Dec. 2.

The Adult Literacy Research and Training Symposium, a free public event, will be held from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. in the Fetzer Center, gathering people from across the area to examine best practices in adult literacy and strengthen services for adult learners. The symposium is hosted by the Kalamazoo Literacy Council and cosponsored by the Southwest Michigan Regional Prosperity Initiative, the Learning Network of Greater Kalamazoo and Western Michigan University.

About the event

The event is divided into three 45-minute sessions, each of which is presented twice:

  • "Community Literacy Centers: Founding, Assessing and Maintaining Community Literacy Centers" and "Keys to Writing with Determined Inexperienced Readers" with Dr. Esther Gray, WMU associate professor of English.
  • "Literacy Engagement for Adults and Children" with Dr. Deanna Roland, director of the WMU McGinnis Reading Center and Clinic, and "Learners with Special Needs" with Dr. Luchara Wallace, WMU professor of special education and literacy studies.
  • "Promoting Reading Development for ESL Learners" with Dr. Virginia David, associate professor of special education and literacy studies, and "Exploring Career Pathways in Adult Literacy" with Michael D. Evans, executive director of the Kalamazoo Literacy Council, and Kym Hollars, resource navigator for Goodwill Industries of South West Michigan.

Sharing what works

Attendees are expected to include representatives from various WMU departments, social and nonprofit agencies, businesses interested in workforce development, researchers, students, family members and others who are working or have an interest in the adult literacy field.

"This symposium helps us to be able to share some of the better practices that we've been working on during the course of the previous year," Evans says. "So if we want to be able to provide writing, we want to be able to provide strategies to have tutors and instructors who can teach better writing instruction."

The same goes for integrating computers into the instruction environment and students who have special needs, such as nonnative English speakers, Evans says. Tutors and instructors receive additional training to become more proficient in those areas.

To better serve students who have learning differences or disabilities, attendees will get strategies in how to better approach that, and for students who are parents, strategies will be given on how to make them more proficient first teachers for their child.

"We're also hoping to be able to set priorities for adult literacy throughout the region," Evans says, "not just in Kalamazoo County, but in all of southwest Michigan."

Filling a big need

The Kalamazoo Literacy Council was founded in 1974. Evans says great strides have been made in reaching residents who need help with reading and writing.

"We are making progress, because we are serving more learners than we have in the history of this organization," Evans says. "We are definitely seeing an increase in the number of people we are serving, and we have more volunteers. But the need is still great. There are 25,000 struggling adult readers in Kalamazoo County—13 percent of our adult population."

Those numbers speak for themselves, says WMU's Dr. Esther Gray, who leads the "Keys to Writing" session.

"Before I began to serve on the program committee of the literacy council, I did not realize the enormity of the needs of adults in our area who lack the solid reading proficiency they need for daily life and work," Gray says. "I have great respect and appreciation for the dedicated volunteers in this group."

A lunch will be provided to those participating. There is still room for people wishing to attend the event, Evans says, but space is limited.

For more information or to attend, call (269) 387-6004 or email

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