Diane Gardner, a former ESOL teacher who has also worked as an adult literacy teacher, has created phonics classes for adults in her more recent post as a curriculum head for widening access and community at the City of Glasgow College. Usually a literacy aid targeted at primary school children or young people learning English as a second language, phonics is not considered to be appropriate for adults. Some people believe it might actually hinder adult learning, as learners could feel infantilised and be put off learning to read and write further. However, Gardner strongly disagrees, as she has implemented phonics in a class of adults and has seen it succeed.
In order to make phonics appeal to older learners, Gardner has tailored the materials she uses, incorporating words and concepts that relate to an adult audience. As phonics has only recently become a part of the teaching programme in primary schools in Scotland, many adults don’t associate it with children and have not encountered it in their own learning experiences at school.
Gardner first had the idea to create phonics courses for adults after trying to teach a woman who couldn’t read and write. She felt helpless, as she couldn’t figure out how to teach the student. When she came across Jolly Phonics, a phonics course for children, she knew how to approach the situation and was encouraged to develop a course for adults. The course helps students to focus on the sounds of letters and blend them to make words – they can then begin to build full sentences. They also work on words that don’t follow a typical phonics pattern, of which there are a considerable number in the English language.
Gardner’s course could have a huge impact on adult literacy. Adults that study the programme can gain access to further education and employment, as well as find everyday life easier. Having gained a lot of attention in the Further Education market, it’s likely that we will see more adult phonics courses emerging in the market.