Literacy Chicago’s Reading Against the Odds (RAO) reading discussion group was started in 2007 by Jaye Jones with the support of Literacy Chicago staff member June Porter, and funded by an American Association of University Women (AAUW) Community Action grant in its inaugural year. From the beginning, RAO was committed to enhancing the reading and critical thinking skills of adult literacy learners by introducing them to books that were intellectually challenging and encouraged discussion around a range of personal and sociopolitical concerns. Classroom activities were further supplemented by cultural events that both reinforced key literary themes and allowed learners to interface with the larger creative community.
By using a variety of instructional supports, a diverse group of learners has read and discussed close to fifteen works of literature―from The Bluest Eye to “Hamlet”―and attended numerous plays, speaking engagements, and museums in neighborhoods across Chicago. The benefits of RAO include documented gains in learners’ reading and comprehension skills, and increased confidence in their abilities to tackle new reading materials. Furthermore, since learners keep the books they read, many have created personal libraries with books they read again and share with family and friends. With a committed group of adult learners and dedicated staff and volunteers, RAO has continued to thrive against the odds in the hope that all students can echo the words of one learner who proudly stated, “Every book I read…inspires me to read.”