consistent with eligibility for participation in federally funded adult literacy education programs. We considered research on learning and literacy that would be most relevant to those eligible or likely to attend formal literacy instruction in programs of four general types: adult basic education, adult secondary education, English as a second language programs offered in a wide range of settings (e.g., community-based programs, local education agencies, community colleges, workplace, prisons, etc.), and developmental education courses for academically underprepared students in college.
Ideally, conclusions and recommendations for adult literacy instruction would be grounded in clear research findings demonstrating the efficacy of the recommended approaches. When rigorous demonstrations of efficacy do not exist, the next best approach would be to recommend both instructional practices consistent with available evidence on adult literacy and rigorous efficacy studies to confirm these recommendations. Findings from research on cognition and learning with the target population would also be most useful.
The present situation is more complex. There is a surprising lack of research on the effectiveness of the various instructional practices for adults seeking to improve their literacy skills. The lack of relevant research is especially striking given the long history of both federal funding for adult education programs, albeit stretched thin, and reliance on developmental education courses to remediate college students’ skills. Few studies of adult literacy focus on the development of reading and writing skills. There is also inadequate knowledge about assessment and ongoing monitoring of adult students’ proficiencies, weaknesses, instructional environments, and progress, which might guide instructional planning.
Similarly, basic research on adult cognition and learning is constrained for our purposes. It relies on study samples of convenience (college students in introductory psychology courses) or elderly populations, and it does not usually include adults with relatively low education or literacy skills. In addition, it is well known that literacy research has focused mainly on young children first learning to read and decode text. Major research efforts launched by the U.S. Department of Education, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and others on the development of literacy in adolescence and adulthood are too new to have produced numerous peer-reviewed publications. As discussed in Chapter 2, research is emerging with adolescents on topics that we think are important to pursue with the target population given their literacy development needs (e.g., academic or disciplinary literacy and discussion-based approaches). More research is needed with adolescent and adult populations to evaluate the effectiveness of instructional practices and specify learning trajectories and the interaction of factors—cognitive, social, linguistic, economic, neurobiological—that may affect literacy development in subpopulations