How reading and running a reading group changed my life
Nominated by Judith Robinson and Maz Iqbal from Kirklees Libraries, Shaun Allison, won an Outstanding Learner of the Year for the Yorkshire and Humber region at this year's Adult Learners' Week Awards for the huge progress that he's made since taking part in the Six Book Challenge and joining a reading group at Huddersfield Library in 2008. Shaun tells us about how he runs the group and how reading has changed his life:
My tutor Shirle said to me that she thought I would make a good teacher. I had never thought about that, but she said that the way I'd helped others in our group, that style of teaching was the future, and she asked me if I would do a teaching support course. I didn't think I would be able to do it, but she said: "Just do what you do in class".
Running the reading group
Then that led to staff suggesting I attend the Huddersfield Library Reading Group. When I went there I enjoyed it so much, and I got on so well with the readers in the group, I was only supposed to do two to three sessions but I wanted to keep going, and I did. Then when Hazel, who led the group, had to move away, she asked me if I would like to take over. I thought "Wow". I have been so lucky because throughout all of my reading and learning journey I have had a lot of support, I always think of the people who gave me that and I will never forget them, and I thought of them when I took the group on.
I've run it on my own now for about three years; we meet every Friday at the library.
It's for readers who, like me, are on a journey to improve their literacy and numeracy. They know I know what it's like, because I have been through it. We range in age from people in their 30s to people in their 60s, but we all get on.
If any of the learners have got exams coming up, then sometimes we will meet more, or I will meet up with them outside of the library to go through things with them.
I get a lot of joy out of supporting others, and I do actually learn a lot myself because up until a few years ago I had never read a whole book myself. I try to get them all to the level that I am at.
Keeping my Six Book Challenge diary, I definitely enjoyed that - and as a reading group leader I would ask the rest of the group: "What do you think?" When we were reading a book they would often ask me what I thought of it, but I would ask them what they thought. We mark a book out of ten, and I always ask them why they have given it a particular mark, and we will discuss the book: discussion is an important part of the way I try to run our reading group. In the group, if one of us is struggling with a word we will stop and discuss it.
Getting inside the mind of readers
In our group, I am always trying to get inside the mind of the readers, to understand where they are going and trying to find something that they will make a connection with and get into.
For example, one of the group members is Ron. He is the oldest member of our group at 68. He has now passed his Entry Level 3 Literacy, but I have also learned such a lot from him! For example, I am quite a weak speller - it is not my strong point - but Ron, who is also a weak speller, introduced me to a little electronic dictionary he had, which also has a thesaurus in it. At first I thought it looked really complicated, but now I don't go anywhere without one! Ron is a very valuable member of the group, no one looks down on anyone; they all support each other and we all pitch in and help each other.
Seeing other people succeed, it's amazing, it gives me such a buzz! For example when I see Ron coming along and making a lot of progress, my heart flutters and I get full of emotion. Now at the reading group all he wants to do is tell us about the books he is reading at home; it's brilliant!
"When I first started I couldn't read out loud, but working with Shaun and the rest of them, it has come out of me!"
"It's nice to see the group progress as a group. I think that's the thing that makes me smile."
Reading changed my life
For me, education has helped me to get out of the hole I was in, and completely turn my life around. I do now feel like I will be able to get a decent job and lead a normal life. Going to the library and getting back into learning has made me more confident as a person, and it has made me a lot happier as a person. Being able to read and getting an education has opened so many doors for me. I am living in a completely different world from the one I was living in four to five years ago. I'm even thinking that one day I might go to university: that doesn't seem impossible now.
Reading is therapeutic, it's nice; it helps me to sleep better and to relax. It makes me feel great!
I have to admit that sometimes when I think about my reading and learning journey, it does make me emotional. I can't really put into words what reading and learning has done for me - it has totally changed my life through and through.
Find out more about the Six Book Challenge, The Reading Agency's programme to support adults with low level literacy.
Read about the benefits of running a reading group for adult learners.
Read our tips for running a reading group for adult learners.
Read about the Quick Reads Book Group in Watford.