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3 Literacy Instruction for Adults This chapter describes research on effective instructional practices to develop the literacy of adolescents and adults and identifies needed research. Individuals needing to improve their literacy have diverse characteristics, literacy development needs, learning goals, and challenges to learning. Set- tings of instruction are wide-ranging and include local education agencies, community organizations, community colleges, prisons, and workplaces. Across these programs and often within a single program, the instruction has diverse aims to help adults attain employment or work skills, career advancement, a general educational development (GED) credential, a col- lege degree, the ability to assist children with school, or other practical life goals. Thus, the first part of the chapter describes the population and the contexts of literacy instruction. Because formal literacy instruction in the United States occurs mainly in adult education programs and developmen- tal education courses in college, we organize the discussion around these two learning contexts. The second part of the chapter characterizes the state of research on in- structional practices for adults. As explained in Chapter 1, adult is defined in this volume as individuals ages 16 and older not enrolled in K-12 school, consistent with the eligibility for participation in federally funded adult literacy education. A recent systematic review of research on instructional approaches for adult literacy populations has been funded by the National Institute for Literacy in partnership with the U.S. Department of Educa- tion and the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development (Kruidenier, MacArthur, and Wrigley, 2010). In synthesizing the evidence on instruction, we draw on this review, which we then augmented with 70
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71 LITERACY INSTRUCTION FOR ADULTS additional searches of quantitative and qualitative research. We include English language learners and adults with disabilities in describing the pop- ulation of adults with literacy development needs but discuss the research on instruction with these populations in subsequent chapters. The chapter concludes with a summary of the extent of current knowledge of effective practices in adult literacy instruction and directions for future research. CONTEXTS FOR LITERACY LEARNING There are many reasons why individuals seek to develop their literacy skills as adults. Some study to obtain a high school equivalency diploma; others seek to help their children and families with education, health, and other practical life matters; and others seek to learn English or enhance skills for new job responsibilities. Others may have a higher level of literacy but have not yet developed the reading and writing skills needed in college. Adults who wish to develop their literacy receive instruction in two main types of settings: adult education programs and developmental courses in college, especially in community colleges. Two types of adult education are found in college settings: (1) adult literacy programs for individuals who wish to complete their secondary education and (2) developmental educa- tion1 for students formally enrolled in college programs. Adult Education Programs The U.S. Department of Education reports that nearly 2.6 million adults enrolled in federally supported adult education programs during the 2006-2007 fiscal year, the most recent year for which complete data are available. Adult education programs are largely supported by federal and state funding, which together provides about two-thirds of the funding for adult literacy programs, according to a national survey of adult education programs (Tamassia et al., 2007). Other sources of funding are local gov- ernments, private donations, and, to a small degree, fees and tuition paid by the participants. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Vocational and Adult Education administers the federal funds, which are appropriated to designated state agencies in a competitive granting process, consistent with the Workforce Investment Act, Title II, Adult Education and Family Literacy Act (AEFLA). Each state must provide matching funds to qualify for this allocation. The Adult Education Program Survey (AEPS; Tamassia et al., 2007) provides information on a nationally representative sample of adult edu- 1 Weuse the term developmental education (also called remedial instruction) to refer to the broad array of services and specific courses provided to college students with weak skills.
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72 IMPROVING ADULT LITERACY INSTRUCTION cation programs and enrolled learners during the 12-month period 2001- 2002.2 At the time of the survey, 3,108 adult education programs were offered in 29,424 learning sites. More than 1,200 adult education programs funded under the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act participated in the survey. During this period, the median budget for a program was $199,000; with a median enrollment of 318 learners per program, the me- dian expenditure per learner was $626. According to the survey, adult education programs offer three main types of literacy instruction: 1. Adult basic education (ABE) provides instruction to adults who lack “competence in reading, writing, speaking, problem solving or computation at a level necessary to function in society, on a job or in the family” (National Reporting System for Adult Education, 2001, p. 25). 2. Adult secondary education (ASE) is “designed to help adults who have some literacy skills and can function in everyday life,3 but are not proficient or do not have a certificate of graduation or its equivalent from a secondary school” (National Reporting System for Adult Education, 2001, p. 25). Adults usually attend ASE classes to obtain a GED or adult high school credential. 3. English as a second language (ESL) instruction is “designed to help adults who are limited English proficient achieve competence in the English language” (National Reporting System for Adult Educa- tion, 2001, p. 25). English as a second language serves the largest number of students, followed closely by adult basic education: 43 percent of adult learners re- ceive ESL instruction, 40 percent receive ABE instruction, and 19 percent participate in ASE instruction. Most English language learners (85 percent) who attend a program attend ESL programs. Of native language learners, two-thirds attend ABE and one-third attend ASE programs. Instruction is offered in many different places and programs that vary widely in size and number of learning sites. According to the AEPS, local education agencies are the major providers of adult education, offering 54 percent of the programs surveyed, followed by community-based organi- zations (25 percent), community colleges (17 percent), and correctional 2 The AEPS, funded by the U.S. Department of Education, was designed and conducted by the Educational Testing Service and Westat, Inc., with the involvement of staff of the Office of Vocational and Adult Education and the National Center for Education Statistics. 3 Since these definitions for adult basic education and adult secondary education were pro- duced, there has been a trend for jobs that pay above a poverty wage to require higher levels of literacy.
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73 LITERACY INSTRUCTION FOR ADULTS institutions (2 percent). And 3 percent of programs were offered by “other” entities, such as libraries, departments of human services, institutions for people with disabilities, and coalitions made up of the various provider types. Community colleges offer the largest programs in terms of the me- dian number of students enrolled.4 Table 3-1 shows the percentage of pro- gram types (ABE, ASE, ESL) offered by each type of provider. There is not a simple alignment of learning goals with program type or location. For example, English language learners may be taught reading and writing skills in ESL classes in a workplace education setting or in a com- munity college ABE program. Although the major goal of students in both settings may be to increase English language proficiency, the instructional aims will differ, with one focused on meeting specific job requirements and the other on developing more general literacy practices. Similarly, the goal of earning a GED certificate may be addressed in settings as diverse as prisons and volunteer library literacy programs. Most participants (80 percent) in adult education programs surveyed in 2001-2002 were adolescents and young adults ages 44 and younger pursu- ing goals related to education, family, and work: 34 percent were ages 16 to 24; 46 percent were ages 25 to 44; 16 percent were ages 45 to 59; and 2 percent were ages 60 and older. Although originally designed for adults, the programs are increasingly attended by youth ages 16 to 20 (Hayes, 2000; Perin, Flugman, and Spiegel, 2006). Nonnative adults participating in ESL programs (those not born in the United States) were somewhat older than native adult learners in ABE and ASE programs, with 60 percent between the ages of 25 and 44 (versus 46 percent for native adults). The diversity of languages spoken by English language learners points to a need to understand the factors that influence the development of lit- eracy in English for speakers of different languages and respond to the prac- tical challenge of delivering instruction effectively to linguistically diverse learners. According to the AEPS, 57 percent of adults in adult education programs were native to (born in) the United States. English was the home language for 94.7 percent of these adults; Spanish was the home language 4 Community colleges are defined in the AEPS as institutions of higher education (e.g., junior colleges without residential facilities) that offer degrees below a bachelor’s degree or techni- cal degrees or certificates, such as in mechanical or industrial arts and applied sciences (e.g., technical colleges). Community colleges also provide continuing education, apart from the college programs, which are the site of ABE programs; college degrees or certificates are not awarded as part of these programs. Community-based organizations are religious and social service groups, libraries, volunteer literacy organizations, literacy coalitions, community action groups, and other kinds of public or private nonprofit groups. Local education agencies are typically public schools or school districts, which in addition to providing K-12 education offer adult education classes open to all members of the community. Correctional institutions are prisons and jails funded by the state to provide adult basic education services to incarcerated adults.
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74 IMPROVING ADULT LITERACY INSTRUCTION TABLE 3-1 Instructional Program Types Offered by Each Type of Provider (in percentage) Local Education Community- Community Agency Based College Correctional (54% of (25% of (17% of (25% of programs programs programs programs Program Type surveyed) surveyed) surveyed) surveyed) Adult basic education 36 35 42 52 Adult secondary education 20 11 17 18 English as a second language 44 55 42 31 SOURCE: Data from the Adult Education Program Survey (Tamassia et al., 2007). Data are from a nationally representative sample of 3,108 programs during 2001-2002. for 4.5 percent.5 Almost 43 percent of adults were nonnative to the United States (versus 14 percent in the general population in 2002, the year of the survey). Of these adults, 3 percent spoke English as the home language, 62 percent spoke Spanish, 15.8 percent spoke an Asian language, 3.8 percent spoke a European language, and 14.7 percent spoke a language categorized in the survey as “other.” Education Most native-born adults in adult education have completed ninth to eleventh grade (68 percent); about 14 percent had less education than that, and 20 percent had more (16 percent completed high school or received a GED credential, and 4 percent reported having “some college”). Nonnative learners show a broader range of educational attainment compared with native-born adults; that is, they appear in larger numbers at both the high- est and lowest levels of education. More nonnative learners had completed some college (28 percent) and more had completed high school (22 per- cent), but more also reported having an education lower than ninth grade (28 percent); 17 percent completed ninth to eleventh grade. This variation within and across populations presents an additional challenge to programs that must design instruction for adults with such diverse educational back- grounds and degrees of proficiency in a first and second language. 5 Home language was defined as the first language learned at home in childhood and still understood as an adult.
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75 LITERACY INSTRUCTION FOR ADULTS Learning Disabilities A portion of adults participating in adult basic literacy studies can be expected to have some form of learning disability that would require dif- ferentiated instruction and the provision of appropriate accommodations. There is no consensus, however, on the estimated numbers of adult learn- ers who may have such a disability. The estimates range from one-tenth to more than half (Patterson, 2008). There are no program reporting require- ments regarding the prevalence of learning disabilities among participants in federally supported literacy programs. According to the AEPS, only 34 percent of programs reported screening for learning disabilities, and of these, only 4 percent reported using cognitive or clinical instruments. Most—62 percent—relied on self-reports. Thus, it is likely that many adults may have gone unrecognized as having a learning disability, especially older students. Others may have been mislabeled, may not remember or have known that they were identified as having a learning disability, or may be uncomfortable disclosing their learning disability. With this caveat, 89 percent of programs reported providing services to at least one adult with learning disabilities. There is a need for more reliable information about students with learning disabilities in programs and for research on instruc- tional effectiveness to clearly define these samples and identify the practices that promote their progress. Component Skills As described in Chapter 2, reading is generally understood to be com- prised of the fluent reading of words and sentences and the comprehension of text. One source of information about the component skills of low- literate adults (third to eighth grade reading-level equivalent) comes from a research initiative funded by the U.S. Department of Education, the Na- tional Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and the National Institute for Literacy to develop instructional interventions for low-literate adults in adult education programs and to evaluate their effectiveness (see Appendix D for details about these studies). Findings from these studies and other research (see Kruidenier, MacArthur, and Wrigley, 2010) show that adults can have difficulties with any or all of the crucial aspects of reading: alphabetics (phonemic awareness and word analysis), fluency, vocabulary, or comprehension. Thus, it is important to comprehensively assess adults’ profile of starting skills to plan the appropriate instruction. According to these studies, lack of fluent decoding is a source of read- ing difficulty for a significant number of low-literate adults, especially below the eighth grade reading-level equivalent (Alamprese et al., 2011; Greenberg et al., 2011; Hock and Mellard, 2011; Sabatini et al., 2011). Decoding dif-
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76 IMPROVING ADULT LITERACY INSTRUCTION ficulties are observed among adults performing at each of the six levels of the National Reporting System, the system used to assess the literacy per- formance of adults in federally funded adult education programs (Mellard, Fall, and Mark, 2008; Mellard, Woods, and Fall, 2011). Thus, even at higher levels in the National Reporting System (NRS), adults can differ greatly in their word-level reading skills. Three studies have tested whether the reading component patterns of adults match similar models of reading developed with children (MacArthur et al., 2010a; Mellard, Fall, and Woods, 2010; Nanda, Greenberg, and Morris, 2010). These studies suggest that for adults with low literacy, the reading models were not similar. Specifically, low-literate adults appear to lack the fluent integration of word reading, language, and comprehension skills shown by young children who learned to read on a normative time- table. The comprehension skills of the low-literate adults were more similar to those of children with low reading skills than to typically developing child readers, in that they did not generate an integrated representation of the meaning of a passage by connecting words, phrases, sentences, and para- graphs and making inferences using information provided in the text and background knowledge (see the discussion of comprehension in Chapter 2). The measurement of reading comprehension for either research or practice remains a challenge. As mentioned in Chapter 2, a more inte- grated approach needs to be taken to the study and assessment of reading comprehension. Depending on the assessment chosen, different subskills of reading comprehension are tapped or assessed to a greater or lesser degree (Cutting and Scarborough, 2006; Hock and Mellard, 2005). Some reading comprehension tests relate more strongly to word recognition skills, others relate more strongly to oral language ability, and the tests have only low- to-moderate correlations with one another (Keenan, Betjemann, and Olson, 2008). Furthermore, the format of the reading comprehension assessment appears to affect test performance (Eason and Cutting, 2009; Francis et al., 2005; Spear-Swerling, 2004). Reading comprehension measures for re- search and practice are needed with adult norms and that comprehensively assess components of reading comprehension in the context of valued ev- eryday literacy activities. Despite the capacity of writing to facilitate reading development and the need for adults to be able to write for work, education, and other pur- poses, writing has not been included in major surveys of adult learners, nor have writing skills been a focus of adult literacy research (Gillespie, 2001). It is known, however, that low-literate adults spell less accurately, their spellings are inconsistent (Dietrich and Brady, 2001), and their errors show more nonphonetic and morphological errors in comparison to the spell- ing of reading-matched adults (Greenberg, Ehri, and Perin, 1997, 2002; Worthy and Viise, 1996). Adult literacy students also have been reported
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77 LITERACY INSTRUCTION FOR ADULTS to have great difficulty with descriptive and argumentative writing (Berry and Mason, in press; MacArthur and Lembo, 2009). Few standard tests of writing achievement are available to assess progress over time with norms for adults, much less adults with basic literacy development needs. The time required to score written compositions can present a challenge to the valid assessment of writing in research and for instruction. Literacy Instruction in Adult Education Programs Instructional Time Information about the instructional practices used in adult education programs is not available from the Adult Education Program Survey, al- though general characteristics are provided, such as whether the instruc- tion was classroom-based or one-on-one instruction. On average, learners participated in adult education programs for less than 100 hours over the course of a program year, according to the Adult Education Program Survey. Only about one-third of adults made reading gains equivalent to a grade level during the program year. These findings are consistent with the levels of participation and progress reported in the few published studies of interventions designed to develop the literacy of adults with low-to- intermediate skills (see Appendix C) and other information gathered from individual researchers and practitioners working in the field. Reading is a complex skill, and research on the development of complex skills and expertise suggests that about 3,000 hours are required for mastery (Chi, Glaser, and Farr, 1988); 100 hours represent 3 percent of that amount, and so it is likely to be insufficient for learning for many adults, even if the goal is not expert mastery. Thus, one primary reason for limited progress may be that adults lack sufficient amounts of instruction and practice for improving skills. It is not clear why some adults persist with literacy instruction and oth- ers do not. Sabatini et al. (2011) reported that those who persisted with a literacy intervention tended to be older, on average, with poorer basic read- ing skills. This finding is consistent with the higher dropout rates reported for younger adult education students (Flugman, Perin, and Spiegal, 2003). Younger students who have lower reading scores when entering ABE and GED programs are more likely to drop out of the programs than older, higher skilled students (Dirkx and Jha, 1994). Adults report a wide range of factors that positively or negatively affect persistence in adult educa- tion, which include transportation, competing life demands, supportive relationships, and self-determination (Comings, 2009). Reasons reported for dropping out of adult education include family problems, the pace of instruction (either too fast or two slow), health issues, dislike of classwork,
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78 IMPROVING ADULT LITERACY INSTRUCTION and inconvenient class location or schedule (Perin and Greenberg, 1994). About one-third of adult education programs report that they provide noninstructional support services (transportation, child care, psychological counseling) in an attempt to ease some of the barriers that adults experi- ence, paid for with in-kind services contributed by the community (Tamas- sia et al., 2007). Literacy Instructors For all providers, instruction was delivered mainly by part-time staff members and volunteers, with larger percentages of individuals in these categories (versus full-time staff) filling an instructional role (see Table 3-2). The expertise of instructors in adult education programs is highly variable (see Table 3-3 and Box 3-1). According to the Adult Education Program Survey, across provider types, instructional staff is the largest program expenditure; professional development is the smallest. Volunteers deliver a significant portion of the instruction in adult basic literacy programs, and the most commonly reported educational requirement for volunteers was a high school diploma or equivalent. The most commonly reported education requirement for full-time and part-time instructors was a bachelor’s degree, followed by K-12 certification. Table 3-3 shows instructor credentials as reported by ABE, ASE, and ESL programs in 2001-2002. It appears that the bulk of instructors have inadequate or no specific training in best methods for teaching in adult literacy programs (see also Box 3-1). When special needs are considered, the situation is even more extreme (Tamassia et al., 2007). It is vital to use reliable methods to diagnose learn- ing and reading disabilities and to adjust instruction accordingly. Across ABE, ASE, and ESL instruction, about 2 percent or fewer of programs required their full-time, part-time, or volunteer instructors to have special education certification. This problem is compounded by the fact that spe- cial education degree programs rarely focus on the needs of adult literacy students. ESL instructors and the learners they serve face the dual challenge of TABLE 3-2 Percentage of Staff in an Instructional Role by Role and Staff Type Instructional Role Fulltime Parttime Volunteer Instructor 52.1 75.4 60.2 Instructional aid 6.5 8.6 27.2 Instructional support 6.4 5.2 7.8 SOURCE: Data from the Adult Education Program Survey (Tamassia et al., 2007).
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79 LITERACY INSTRUCTION FOR ADULTS TABLE 3-3 Credentials of Instructors in Adult Education Programs by Staff Type and Type of Instruction (percentage of each staff type with the credential) Type of Instruction Staff Type ABE ASE ESL Fulltime K-12 teaching certificate 28 23 13 Adult education certificate 13 10 6 TESOL — — 5 Parttime K-12 teaching certificate 49 42 36 Adult education certificate 18 15 12 TESOL — — 12 NOTE: The table includes the three most common instructor creden- tials reported by programs in a nationally representative survey of adult education programs. ABE = adult basic education; ASE = adult secondary education; ESL = English as a second language; TESOL = teachers of English to speakers of other languages. SOURCE: Data from the Adult Education Program Survey (Tamassia et al., 2007). BOX 3-1 Characteristics of Adult Literacy Instructors Adult basic education teachers • w ork mostly part time. • m ay leave the field more often than K-12 teachers. • a re often required to teach in multiple subject areas. • h ave scant formal education related to teaching adults, although many are qualified and have taught in K-12. • h ave in-service preparation as their primary form of professional development. • a re not consistently funded to participate in in-service professional development. • h ave access mostly to short-term training and conferences. • a re hindered by systemic constraints from participating in professional development. SOURCE: Adapted from Smith and Gillespie (2007).
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80 IMPROVING ADULT LITERACY INSTRUCTION improving both spoken language and literacy skills in English, and, as men- tioned earlier, their students speak a variety of languages. This challenge to instructors is expected to grow: U.S. Census Bureau projections show net international migration is likely to account for more than half of the nation’s population growth between 2000 and 2015 (Kirsch et al., 2007). Although some part-time and full-time adult literacy instructors have K-12 teaching certifications and have taught in K-12 schools, evidence suggests that many teachers of grades 1 through 12 do not feel confident in teaching reading and writing and are likely to lack the requisite knowl- edge and skills. To illustrate, results from a survey published in 1994 on the phonics knowledge of experienced reading teachers showed that only 10-20 percent of the teachers could accurately identify consonant blends in written words, only 21 percent knew what an inflected verb was, and only 27 percent could identify morphemes in a word (Moats, 1994, 2004). Teachers with limited knowledge of language structure will be less able to teach effectively to learners at any age. Furthermore, in one survey, only 32 percent of K-12 teachers whose classes included students with disabilities felt well prepared to address their academic needs (National Center for Education Statistics, 2010a). With respect to writing, one-third of primary grade teachers have reported that they were poorly prepared to teach writing by their college teacher preparation program (Cutler and Graham, 2008). The number increased to 66 percent in grades 4 to 6 (Gilbert and Graham, 2010), dropped to 47 percent in middle school (Graham et al., 2010) but appears most problematic among high school teachers (Cutler and Graham, 2008; Graham and Gilbert, 2010), with 71 percent reporting that they were in- adequately prepared (Kiuhara, Graham, and Hawken, 2009). Although no data were identified on the preparation of instructors of adults specific to reading and writing, it is reasonable to assume from the information available that the knowledge and skills of the instructors are highly uneven. Many instructors also are likely to have a view of the trajec- tory for adult literacy instruction that fits better with the world of formal K-12 schooling developed prior to the information age than to adult learn- ers and the levels and forms of literacy needed today. Technology Most programs in the AEPS reported having access to educational technologies, although it is not clear how appropriate the technologies were for literacy practice and instruction. Most programs reported having computers, audiovisual equipment, and Internet connectivity; however, it is not evident what access learners have to computers during each classroom session, the supports that would be needed to secure access outside class,
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95 LITERACY INSTRUCTION FOR ADULTS 2009). A priority for research is the development of instructional materials and texts and effective practices for their use in developing both adults’ componential literacy skills and functional literacy outcomes. Writing Instruction A very small body of research focuses on writing in basic education students. Descriptions of instructional practices across studies are consistent with many classrooms adopting versions of the writing process approach first made popular by researchers of children’s learning to write, such as Graves (1983) and Calkins (1994) and, at the middle school level, Atwell (1987) (see Chapter 2). The process taught is meant to model what good writers do—brainstorm, draft, get feedback, revise, and edit (not necessar- ily in a rigid order)—(Beaverstock and McIntyre, 2008; Fiore and Elsasser, 1987; Padak and Baradine, 2004; Weibel, 1994). In most cases, students have the choice of what to write about in process approaches but are en- couraged to draw on life experiences for topics and to write in the narrative form (Carter, 2006; Gaber-Katz and Watson, 1991; Moni, Jobling, and van Kraayenoord, 2007; Pharness, 2001; Shor, 1987; Siegel, 2007; Street, 2005; Woodin, 2008). This approach is believed to create feelings of ownership and help students be less reluctant to write (Street, 2005). The approaches sometimes include mini-lessons to teach specific technical aspects of writing (Fuller, 2009) and various forms of feedback (student to student or teacher to student). The research we identified does not tend to focus, however, on practices to develop adults’ writing skill. The emphasis is more on documenting how teachers might help adults feel comfortable with writing, find their voice, develop an identity as a writer, understand how writers write, and use writing to bring about social change than on documenting how teachers engaged students in improving the technical aspects of writing for practical purposes. The instruction stresses writing for self-expression and commu- nication; the process is assumed to be as important as the product. Thus, whether these various forms of writing instruction develop the component skills needed to perform literacy tasks for practical purposes, such as GED attainment, career success, financial management, health maintenance, and fulfillment of parental responsibilities, is not systematically studied and re- quires further research. Such research needs to consider findings from K-12 (see Chapter 2), which indicate that the process approach to teaching writ- ing works best with professional development, that it may be more effective when combined with explicit instruction to develop specific skills, and that it may not be as effective in developing writing skill for those adults who struggle with writing.
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96 IMPROVING ADULT LITERACY INSTRUCTION Funds of Knowledge and Authentic Learning Experiences Research on youth literacy practices suggests several approaches used with youth out of school that might inform the development of instruc- tional practices for adolescents and adults in basic and secondary education programs. The approaches include a “funds of knowledge” framework, disciplinary literacy, cultural modeling, inquiry-based instruction, and an- chored instruction. All of these approaches assume that people bring knowl- edge and experiences as well as literacy practices to learning that educators should understand and use to build new knowledge, support engagement, and establish shared expectations for learning. Curricular interventions that draw from community, family, and peer group funds of knowledge have been developed for elementary school children (e.g., Au and Mason, 1983; Heath, 1983; Moll, 1992; Moll and Greenberg, 1990; Moll and Whitmore, 1993), as well as adolescents (Gutiérrez, Rymes, and Larson, 1995). For example, teachers have used language and concepts drawn from students’ lives as a bridge to support their development of deep understandings of academic language (see Gutiérrez et al., 1999) and to build disciplinary knowledge and language (e.g., Lee, 1993, 1995, 2001; Moje et al., 2001a, 2001b, 2004a, 2004b; Morrell, 2002, 2004). There has been a long tradition of community-based and after-school programs of media-intensive and arts-based instruction, especially for mar- ginalized youth (e.g., Buckingham, 2003; Eccles and Gootman, 2002; Kafai, Peppler and Chiu, 2007; Peppler and Kafai, 2007; Soep and Chavez, 2005). Often drawing on popular cultural forms, including music and film and digital media, such programs include literacy-related skills and practices by immersing participants in language-rich and multimodal activities to reengage youth with learning. Although such programs do not typically measure success via academic literacy gains, research that has compared students who participate in these programs with nonaffiliated youth has suggested superior academic and social performance (Heath, Soep, and Roach, 1998; see Hull et al., 2006). Social, Psychological, and Functional Outcomes The qualitative research on adult literacy (see Appendix D) suggests an array of psychological, social, and functional factors that may result from or influence effective instruction to develop literacy skills. Similarly, the ultimate purposes of adult literacy programs in other countries are broad and studies of their effectiveness have included psychological out- comes (e.g., self-confidence, achievement of personal goals), functional outcomes (e.g., better performance at work), economic outcomes (e.g., employment), and social outcomes (e.g., positive engagement with family
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97 LITERACY INSTRUCTION FOR ADULTS or society) (Andersen and Kooij, 2007; Aoki, 2005; Balatti, Black and Falk, 2007; Casey et al., 2008; Durgunoğlu, Oney, and Kuscul, 2003; Dymock, 2007; Guenther, 2002; Hannon et al., 2006; Hua and Burchfield, 2003; Hurry et al., 2010; Kagitcibasi, Goksen, and Gulgoz, 2005; Prins, 2010; Prins, Toso, and Schafft, 2009; Puchner, 2003; Thompson, 2002). Far from being tangential, assessments of such broader social, economic, and functional outcomes can help to reveal both the conditions that sup- port effective learning and instruction and the full impact of a literacy program that is measured not only in terms of literacy skill outcomes but greater and more effective involvement in family, work, and society. There is a need, however, to develop more reliable assessments of the full range of social, psychological, instrumental, and functional outcomes associated with effective adult literacy instruction (Dymock and Billett, 2008; Prins, 2010). UNDERPREPARED POSTSECONDARY STUDENTS As in adult education, research has not focused on evaluating in- structional approaches to improve the literacy skills of underprepared college students; for example, the committee identified only seven small studies from 1990 to 2009 (see Appendix D; Caverly, Nicholson, and Radcliffe, 2004; Friend, 2001; Hart and Speece, 1998; Martino, Norris, and Hoffman, 2001; Rochford, 2003; Scrivener et al., 2008; Snyder, 2002). Most reported small gains in various aspects of literacy, but problems with the study designs prevent drawing conclusions about effectiveness. Only one study included a randomized design; it tested the effects of a learning community approach that produced small gains (e.g., higher pass rates for college placement reading and writing test) (Scrivener et al., 2008). None of the studies compared teaching methods. The number of teaching meth- ods researched was approximately equal to the number of studies; thus, a sustained program of research is not available for understanding which approaches are likely to work well for which students if implemented on a large scale, how to implement the approaches, and the conditions that support effectiveness. Progress in the reading and writing skills that were taught in these studies was not commonly or directly measured. Similarly, descriptive studies with the population lack sustained and programmatic research on instructional approaches (see Appendix D). As for adult education, descriptive studies of practices used to develop read- ing and writing skills did not usually describe outcomes or analyze links between the practices and change in the outcomes of students. A body of work on writing with low-skilled postsecondary students, especially studies focused on text-based analyses and cognitive process approaches, converge with findings from the K-12 literature and warrant
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98 IMPROVING ADULT LITERACY INSTRUCTION further mention. This research has consisted of quantitative experiments, quasi-experiments, and longitudinal correlational studies, as well as content analysis, discourse analysis, and case studies. Text-based analyses of the writing of college students and English lan- guage learners in college have focused on error correction, sentence length and variation, audience awareness, and proficiency with specific genres. These studies report the nature, timing, and modality of feedback on ele- ments of writing (Duijnhouwer, Prins, and Stokking, 2010; Hassel and Giordano, 2009; Morra and Assis, 2009; Sheen, Wright, and Moldawa, 2009; Yeh, Gregory, and Ritter, 2010). For example, the modality of in- structors’ comments (i.e., written or audio-recorded) (Morra and Assis, 2009) and the type of feedback instructors provide (Duijnhouwer, Prins, and Stokking, 2010) can affect students’ abilities to cope with increas- ing difficulty in assignments (Hassel and Giordano, 2009) and increase their self-efficacy and motivation to continue tasks with difficult writing prompts, although the feedback on progress did not affect students’ actual writing performance (Duijnhouwer, Prins, and Stokking, 2010). Several approaches are associated with students’ ability to self-correct errors in sentences. Explicitly correcting their errors for them appears to be less ef- fective than explicitly teaching types of error patterns (Shaughnessy, 1979) or teaching students to identify errors in their own writing, using such strategies as reading aloud (Bartholomae, 1980), proofing their own papers with explicit instruction in error labeling (Morra and Assis, 2009), or using online error correction and analysis feedback systems (Yeh, Gregory, and Ritter, 2010). In the early 1980s, research proliferated on the cognitive processes of students’ writing and the problems experienced by students referred to as at-risk, underprepared, basic, or remedial college writers (Hull and Bartholomae, 1984). Often single-subject designs and case studies docu- ment writers’ cognitive processes using think-aloud protocol analysis and qualitative observations of students’ writing. Cognitive process approaches for basic writers have focused on helping students to be attentive to the needs of audiences (Flower, 1979) and become aware of times when they might be prone to writer’s block (Rose, 1984) or to overedit their writing (McCutchen, Hull, and Smith, 1987). Students also become aware of “rigid rules and inflexible plans” (Rose, 1984) that limit their abilities to pro- duce the drafts needed to successfully complete assignments. With explicit instruction that targets these barriers to writing, students have produced longer and more detailed first drafts (Eves-Bowden, 2001). With explicit instruction to develop self-regulated learning, students demonstrate a wider range of metacognitive abilities to guide their writing processes (Nuckles, Hubner, and Renkl, 2009). Specific types of mini-lessons also have emerged from this research and warrant further study of their effectiveness with
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99 LITERACY INSTRUCTION FOR ADULTS adults. These lessons include drafting to move students from writer-based prose to audience awareness, error identification, and the use of software and approaches to help them develop text and manage their writing pro- cess. Consistent with K-12 studies showing the benefit of peer assistance with writing and the positive effect of writing on comprehension and the learning of content, college students who have opportunities to receive feedback from peers about their writing show increased learning of subject matter (Cho and Schunn, 2007, 2010; Cho, Schunn, and Kwon, 2007). These were not students in developmental education courses, however, and thus the approaches need to be evaluated with college students who need to develop their literacy skills. SUMMARY AND DIRECTIONS FOR RESEARCH There is a severe shortage of research on effective reading and writing instruction for adults, despite the large population of U.S. adults needing to develop their literacy skills (Baer, Kutner, and Sabatini, 2009; Kutner et al., 2007) and the fact that adult literacy instruction has been offered for many years (Sticht, 1988). The shortage exists for several reasons, in- cluding the high attrition rate of research participants, a lack of attention to reading and writing skills as an outcome of literacy instruction, and the use of methods that do not allow for identification of cause-effect relations between an instructional practice and outcomes. More broadly, the field has lacked a comprehensive, sustained, and systematic agenda to produce curricula, practices, texts, and other tools that meet the skill development needs of adult learners. Research funders and thus researchers of literacy have chosen to focus mainly on preschool and K-12 populations, a situation that has constrained the amount of research with adults outside school. The research that does exist has several limitations, consistent with Beder’s (1999) observations more than a decade ago. The high rates of attrition and lack of well-controlled experiments have led to a body of re- search with small sample sizes and results that are difficult to interpret. The research also suffers from assessments that lack validity for the population; inadequate descriptions of the subgroups of adults being studied; over- reliance on self-report; vague or incomplete descriptions of instructional practices, outcomes, and study procedures; and a lack of standards against which to judge the utility and significance of findings (e.g., few agreed-on curricula or standard practices that can be tested, varying learning objec- tives not linked to standard measures, or expected effect sizes). Box 3-2 summarizes priorities for research given the limited knowledge of the effectiveness of instructional approaches and adults’ learning con- texts. The chapter has highlighted additional specific topics that warrant
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100 IMPROVING ADULT LITERACY INSTRUCTION BOX 3-2 Needs for Research on Adult Literacy Development and Instruction • evelopment and testing of motivating instructional practices and materials D and noninstructional supports for effective instruction and sustained engage- ment and persistence with learning. • ontrolled experiments to evaluate curricula and instructional practices with C a focus on explicit and systematic instruction, opportunities for extensive practice, and well-designed texts to build language and literacy skills related to functional learning goals. • alid methods of measuring component skill and functional literacy gains V based on adult norms. • ualitative research using rigorous methods to obtain rich description and Q analysis to point to possible links between instructional practices and learning outcomes, help to interpret findings from effectiveness research and establish the boundary conditions of an instructional effect, and assess implementation fidelity (how practices were actually implemented). • stablishment of standard research protocols for defining subgroups of learn- E ers and generating more complete and comparable information across studies related to the characteristics of learners, instructional practices, the quality of implementation, and instructional outcomes. • lignment of standards for literacy instruction, with empirical linkages among A literacy activities, goals, and standards, across the programs and systems that provide literacy instruction (K-12, adult education programs, postsecondary education). • ngoing collection of educationally meaningful data across the systems that O provide literacy instruction on learners’ skills, learners’ characteristics, the quality of instruction, and learning environments to enable effective instruc- tional planning and delivery. • tudies to identify (1) learning progressions for diverse subgroups of adults in S the context of instruction and (2) how instructional approaches might need to differ at various points in the lifespan and according to the needs of particular subgroups of adults. • evelopment and testing of professional development systems to ensure that D teachers have the knowledge and skills required to implement instruction ef- fectively and differentiate instruction to meet learners’ needs. future study, such as collaborative learning and contextualized approaches to teaching reading and writing. To elaborate on these priorities, only a handful of interventions have been tested to develop the skills of low-literate adults in adult basic edu- cation, adult secondary education, or colleges. Although gains have been reported, they are not substantial for this population either in terms of the size of intervention effects or gains observed against the amount of gain
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101 LITERACY INSTRUCTION FOR ADULTS needed to be functionally literate. More needs to be known about the fea- tures of instruction and the intensity and duration required to maximize gains for adults who vary widely in their literacy skills. Except for a few studies, research on component literacy skills has not been a priority and has not drawn on findings about effective literacy in- struction with K-12 students. Although research with young children yields information about the targets of instruction and effective practices, the instruction may not always work as well for adults. Research is required to validate, identify the boundaries of, and extend this knowledge for the adult population. For example, it is clear that the adults who read at the eighth grade equivalent level and lower lack sufficient reading fluency to support optimal comprehension. That is, their word recognition processes are slow and divert cognitive capacity from making sense of the text. A substantial number of adult learners lack some word recognition (decoding) skills. Although research shows that direct decoding instruction is effective in developing word reading for most young students, the conflicting findings obtained thus far for adult learners suggest that the approaches used with children may not be as effective. They may not be sufficiently motivating or may not be implemented with the intensity or duration needed to be ef- fective for some learners. Differences in cognitive function at different ages (e.g., size of any short-term phonological store, attentional capacity that might allow the use of strategies that are not possible with children) also may call for different phonemic awareness and word analysis strategies to accelerate progress. Longitudinal studies will be valuable for discovering how the processes of reading and writing might change with age and how instruction to develop reading and writing skills might need to differ at various points in the life span. Consistent with K-12 research, it is likely that multiple approaches, if designed following principles of learning and instruction reviewed in this volume, may prove to be effective. Regardless of the approach, it can be assumed that the instruction should create a positive climate for adults that draws on their knowledge and life experiences, uses materials and learning activities that develop valued knowledge and skills, and supports adults as much as possible in regulating their own learning. It is also important to ensure that instructional activities to develop such skills as word recogni- tion and decoding are provided when specific diagnostic evidence suggests that they are needed. Research needs to identify the approaches that are effective for identi- fied subgroups of adults, unless there is evidence that a particular approach works for all. At some level, it is obvious that instruction needs to be differentiated, just as in K-12 research, depending on the particular skills and other characteristics of learners and larger learning goals. Research is required to understand the constraints on generalizing findings across
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102 IMPROVING ADULT LITERACY INSTRUCTION subgroups and how to effectively differentiate instruction. A significant portion of adult learners will have multiple disabilities, including learn- ing disabilities. This fact is inevitable, since K-12 students with diagnosed disabilities have lower literacy levels than students without disabilities (National Assessment of Educational Progress, 2010). This fact suggests both the need for careful assessment to drive choices in reading and writ- ing instruction for adults and the likely need for instruction to overcoming specific reading and writing disabilities. As described in Chapter 2, research with K-12 students does not suggest that reading and writing instruction for students with and without learning disabilities is qualitatively different; rather younger populations with disabilities have benefitted from more intensive, explicit, and systematic instruction that targets specific reading and writing difficulties and the transfer of learned skills, and they require more opportunities to practice. An important area for research is the development and evaluation of texts and other tools for learning experiences that are linked to well-defined instructional objectives and to adults’ skill development needs. Instructors now select and adapt texts and materials with little guidance from research and in an ad hoc fashion. An interdisciplinary effort involving researchers, practitioners, and curriculum developers would help to address the lack of supportive reading materials for instruction and practice. These materials need to (a) be appropriately matched to assessed proficiencies and scaffold the practice needed to become facile in applying component reading skills, (b) present topics of interest to the reader and valued content related to broader learning goals, and (c) draw from research on what is known about practice with varied forms of texts to facilitate reading comprehension. Any effort to apply what is known from K-12 research should be informed by research on learning with adults (see Chapter 4). For the ex- trapolations to work, however, and to engender confidence in the proposed approaches, they must be grounded in a theory of learning that is supported and understood well enough to provide a basis for the extrapolation. To date, popular frameworks in the adult education field about how adults learn lack sufficient empirical support, and the theories of adult cognition and learning from psychology and cognitive science have been developed with homogeneous populations and, most often, samples of convenience. Substantial conceptual and empirical work is needed to validate and further develop theories of learning in research studies that include broader popula- tions of adults, such as those needing to develop their literacy skills. Some of this work could be accomplished in the context of research designed to identify effective approaches to reading and writing instruction. It is difficult to interpret the available literature because the research does not include standard descriptions of subgroups of the population or account for possible group differences in the findings. The adult literacy
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103 LITERACY INSTRUCTION FOR ADULTS learner population is diverse in terms of age, culture, languages spoken, learning disabilities, literacy attained to date, educational background, and other life experiences that require systematic attention. In addition, reading ability is confounded with many psychological and social variables that may influence the effectiveness of instruction. For example, reading ability, major depression, and conduct disorders, all significantly predict dropping out of high school, and reading ability in high school is related to minority status and lower socioeconomic status (Daniel et al., 2006). Poor adolescent readers self-report higher levels of depression, trait anxiety, and somatic complaints than typical readers (Arnold et al., 2005). Enhanced descriptions of learners would help to identify constraints on learning that need attention and help to interpret the results of effectiveness research. Similarly, research reports lack critical information about the components of the interventions or how they were implemented. As a result, it is dif- ficult to ascertain the precise nature of the instructional practices that have led to (or failed to produce) gains. A more coordinated approach with established research protocols is needed to accumulate useful information about well-defined subgroups of learners and to produce a more coherent and interpretable body of information about effective instruction. Qualitative research in adult literacy has suffered from thin descrip- tions and inadequate analysis of linkages among instructional goals, practices and outcomes. It also lacks attention to component literacy skills. There is an unfortunate alignment of research methods with the instructional goals and practices studied. Qualitative methods are used in studies grounded in sociocultural theories of learning and literacy. These studies focus mainly on social and psychological goals for literacy instruc - tion and not on the teaching of reading and writing skills. Quantitative methods are used in research on reading and writing skills grounded in cognitive theories of learning. These studies focus on explicit and system- atic instruction to facilitate acquisition of component skills (e.g., decod- ing, vocabulary, and comprehension). If established standards for analytic methods are followed, qualitative research, which ranges from ethnography to basic observation checklists, has the potential to contribute in at least three ways to the identification of effective literacy instruction for adult learners: (1) it points to possible links between instructional practices and learning outcomes; (2) it yields rich descriptions of individuals and environments that help to establish the boundary conditions of an instructional effect; and (3) it helps to as- sess implementation fidelity (how practices were actually implemented). The research, whether quantitative or qualitative, needs to be designed to establish a clear relationship between an instructional practice and literacy outcomes that incorporate both component literacy skills and functional literacy tasks related to learning goals.
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104 IMPROVING ADULT LITERACY INSTRUCTION For many adults, the enhancement of component reading and writing skills itself is not the ultimate objective, but the attainment of larger life goals related to career and educational advancement and improvement in the lives of their families. The instructional practices studied in research must have clearly stated learning goals and objectives. These should take into account both the need to develop component skills of reading and writing and the literacy facility needed for education, work, parenting, and other purposes. It is also important to empirically document the particular constellations of component literacy skills needed to perform important literacy tasks associated with larger learning goals (e.g., GED preparation, college entry and completion, fulfillment of parental responsibilities, perfor- mance of workplace skills, participation in civic responsibilities). Although learners across programs share literacy development needs and learning goals, the current system of instruction is a loose mix of pro- grams in many places that lack coordination and coherence with respect to what is taught and how. There also is a lack of alignment to be addressed in the learning objectives for literacy development across adult education, col- leges, and K-12 instruction. Adult literacy research is hampered by the lack of a coherent system and established curricula with materials and standard practices that can be tested. An empirical mapping of component skills to literacy tasks and learning goals would offer a basis for aligning literacy instruction across places and systems of instruction and for developing standard instructional curricula and practices to meet the needs of diverse learners across learning contexts. At present, information is limited from adult education programs and colleges about the specific reading and writing development needs of the adults they serve; the instruction that is used and whether it is implemented effectively; and whether the instruction facilitates development of reading and writing skills needed to achieve broader learning goals. There is a need for ongoing collection across the systems that provide literacy instruction of data on learners’ skills, the quality of instruction they experience, and other characteristics of learners and learning environments to enable plan- ning and implementing instruction effectively and the tracking of progress. A sound assessment system is needed to support and monitor learning at the individual, program, and systems levels to plan instruction and track progress in the component reading and writing skills and functional literacy skills related to broader learning goals. A primary problem to resolve is how to engage adults in the amount and intensity of instruction and practice that is required to develop literacy skills and conduct the needed research. High attrition rates, which are typi- cal of both adult literacy and college developmental education programs (Alamprese, 2009; Comings, 2009; Goldrick-Rab, 2007), compromise the integrity of research findings and can be a disincentive to research. Several
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105 LITERACY INSTRUCTION FOR ADULTS 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 appro- priate 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 mo- tivation 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 read- ing and writing instruction is to be effective—and effectively studied—with this population. Another clear impediment to instructional effectiveness and to con- ducting 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, cur- riculum 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 neurobio- logical, 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.