factors that are known to affect the amount and intensity of instruction and sustained engagement with learning need attention in future research. As discussed in more detail in Chapter 5, there are several ways in which an instructional approach or environment can affect motivation to persist, among them inappropriate focus or inadequate quality of the instruction, lack of clear learning objectives, failure to be explicit about or to set appropriate expectations about progress, lack of awareness of the progress that has been made, and unwanted identity as a remedial student or low-literate adult. As discussed in this chapter, studies of low-literate adults in other countries also show possible reasons for the lack of sustained engagement with literacy.
Time for learning is usually constrained for adults because of limited program funds and locations (a few hours of instruction are offered a few days per week), participants’ work schedules, transportation difficulties, child care responsibilities, and other life demands. Even when personal motivation is high and instruction is appropriately motivating, some subgroups are unlikely to persist, such as those with jobs who need several hours to get to and from a learning site. Some low-literate adults have social service needs associated with poverty (Alamprese, 2009; Tamassia et al., 2007)—teenage pregnancy, physical disability, illness, alcoholism, drug addiction, or domestic violence—(Sandlin and Clark, 2009) that need to be addressed. These various barriers and problems may lead teachers and programs to offer services and advocacy in conjunction with literacy instruction, which, as covariates in impact studies, can be hard to control or measure. Although some amount of attrition may be handled with more effective instruction, expanding the scope of instructional research to systematically account for these other factors and reduce barriers to learning appears necessary if reading and writing instruction is to be effective—and effectively studied—with this population.
Another clear impediment to instructional effectiveness and to conducting the needed research is the highly variable knowledge and expertise of adult literacy instructors (Smith and Gillespie, 2007). Instructors vary in their knowledge of reading and writing development, assessment, curriculum development, and pedagogy. The training instructors receive is generally limited and professional development is constrained by lack of funding, inflexible locations, work, and other life demands. Nonetheless, the instructors must reliably assess learners’ skills, plan and differentiate instruction, and select and adapt materials and learning activities to meet the skill development needs of learners who differ greatly in their neurobiological, psychosocial, cultural, and linguistic characteristics. To be effective, teachers will need to have the requisite tools for instruction, the technical knowledge and expertise, professional development, and ongoing supports.