What Does the SBS Program to Improve Literacy “Lost For Words” Cover?

Have you been watching the SBS 3-part documentary series “Lost for Words” that has been following the brave literacy-challenged participants as they take part in a program to improve literacy?

At times painful to watch, it is also instilling hope and inspiration to many others who suffer in silence, often hiding the shameful feelings around their reading inabilities and dyslexia as an adult.

That’s what SBS says about it:

Lost for Words follows eight brave Australians on a life-changing opportunity to transform their lives by taking part in an intensive nine-week long adult literacy program. Hosted and narrated by literacy advocate Jay Laga’aia, it is an empowering and uplifting observational documentary that confronts Australia’s staggeringly low adult literacy rate.

Program to Improve Literacy SBS Lost For Words
I am sure I’m not alone in the disbelief how staggeringly low Australia’s literacy levels are.

At one stage they mention that almost 50% of Australian adults don’t have a literacy competence above Level 3, out of six levels.

The most heart-warming moment in the documentary is the graduation ceremony, when you see the participants at their own graduation, with the family members wiping tears – and without doubt the rest of us watching it on TV would have done the same.

It was great to see them doing speeches and having their confidence boosted – even though TV cut out most of what would have been experiences of struggle and hardship.

What did not sit so well with me was the fact that the majority of them had not received an improvement I would be expecting of my students in nine weeks.

The way literacy has been instilled was around an individual goal that each of them pinned up on the classroom wall at the beginning of the experiment. That was a great start and something that kept them inspired and going forward, even when frustrations were sky-high and there would have been a strong pull to join the one young lady who decided to exit the experiment fairly soon.

These goals were lovely small steps and were achieved with heaps of help.

Yet the method of teaching is quite similar to school, where they all have struggled, despite being intelligent and creative learners. Being adult dyslexic learners, the majority of them would have greatly benefitted from a dyslexia-specific approach, instead of the auditory system that had already been difficult in their younger years.

They have used games with word fragments that had to be assembled from a Jenga-stack and all that is very nice – but it just fell short of giving them a real understanding and sufficient literacy levels to improve on without further struggle.

It is to their credit that they all decided to now keep on learning and exposing themselves to more literacy challenges. I really commend them to that level of commitment and hopefully it lasts.

Program to Improve Literacy

How are the Sydney Dyslexia Programs to Improve Literacy Different?

What I have found with my dyslexic students is that they have bigger goals and each step is learning through self-mastery. Foundations are set for making focusing much easier, tools are taught to decrease anxiety – an area that almost all my students are suffering with, now more so than in the past.

Take Ted (name changed), my 14-year old student who simply couldn’t learn anything, as he wouldn’t remember it from one session to another. There is no way that teaching the alphabet, counting, spelling or writing would have been successful with the methods I have watched on the SBS TV  documentary.

So we went down a completely different route. After setting some foundations, Ted creating his own alphabet in plasticine, getting tools to focus and spell, playing with balls and adding counting in groups or giving breathing exercises steadily led to an increase in focus.

It has been rewarding seeing the progress over just a few visits, but it became increasingly better since we have started his passion project: his own YouTube channel.

Now every time I see Ted (currently twice a week, for two hours each time), we start on a new creative project. Ted has created a cartoon to explain his ball exercises. He takes everything home and improves on it by himself. He’s adding voice-over and sound effects.

Program to improve literacy
Then he created a gorgeous claymation, an animated clay story. Like everything we do, it centres around his passion project as well as the words he needs to understand to eliminate the dyslexia challenges. He plans everything, tells me the story, then he creates the players in plasticine, adds the words in plasticine and at home, he puts it all together in a professional way that is quite astonishing.

Some days he prefers to tell me a story and I type it. After that he reads it back to me and checks for spelling words. I then find out if he still remembers some key words – otherwise we spell those with his own alphabet letters.

The day after it is his turn to write that story, or a similar one, using the same spelling words we had crafted and most of them he remembers…something he would not have been able to do previously. The key difference is that he is heavily motivated through my program to improve literacy through his emotional connection to a project he is passionate about.

Of course success like that creates confidence naturally and it is not surprising that he is now asking if he can join my school instead of the school he’s currently going to.

Unfortunately I don’t have a school yet – but it has been a dream of mine and hopefully it can become a reality next year. Helping older children like Ted has become my passion, as they have often tried so many ways already, without success. They have often lost hope and tend to be oppositional to start with. That defence mechanism is very natural and understandable.

Only when they have proven to themselves that they are smart and capable, once the right key has been turned, confidence becomes a by-product of their new abilities and literacy comes so much easier to them, without painful struggles and without the anxiety that has become so common nowadays.

Now I am looking forward to seeing Ted tomorrow for a new adventure. He always surprises me and himself with his creative ideas and projects and I’m excited for him in seeing the rate and breadth of improvement in his literacy and confidence through my program.

Be sure to stay connected with me to keep abreast of developments I’ll be making in extending my program to improve literacy for people with dyslexia and other learning challenges next year.