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Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice
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ISBN 978-0-309-21959-4 | DOI 10.17226/13242
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Alan M. Lesgold and Melissa Welch-Ross, Editors; Committee on Learning Sciences:
Foundations and Applications to Adolescent and Adult Literacy; Division of
Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education; National Research Council
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Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research
Improving
Adult Literacy
Instruction
Options for Practice and Research
Committee on Learning Sciences: Foundations and
Applications to Adolescent and Adult Literacy
Alan M. Lesgold and Melissa Welch-Ross, Editors
Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education
Copyright National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS
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NOTICE: The project that is the subject of this report was approved by the Governing Board of the National Research Council, whose members are drawn from the
councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The members of the committee responsible for
the report were chosen for their special competences and with regard for appropriate balance.
This study was supported by Contract No. ED-08-CO-0142 between the National
Academy of Sciences and the U.S. Department of Education. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the
author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the organizations or agencies
that provided support for the project.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
National Research Council (U.S.). Committee on Learning Sciences: Foundations
and Applications to Adolescent and Adult Literacy.
Improving adult literacy instruction : options for practice and research /
Committee on Learning Sciences: Foundations and Applications to Adolescent
and Adult Literacy, Alan M. Lesgold and Melissa Welch-Ross, Editors, Division
of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education, National Research Council of
the National Academies.
pages cm
Includes bibliographical references.
ISBN 978-0-309-21959-4 (pbk.) — ISBN (invalid) 978-0-309-21960-0 (pdf) 1.
Functional literacy—United States. I. Lesgold, Alan M. II. Welch-Ross, Melissa
K. III. Title.
LC151.N385 2012
302.2’2440973—dc23
2012007109
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Copyright 2012 by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Printed in the United States of America
Suggested citation: National Research Council. (2012). Improving Adult Literacy
Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Committee on Learning Sciences:
Foundations and Applications to Adolescent and Adult Literacy, A.M. Lesgold and
M. Welch-Ross, Eds. Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education.
Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
Copyright National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research
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Copyright National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research
Copyright National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research
COMMITTEE ON LEARNING SCIENCES: FOUNDATIONS AND
APPLICATIONS TO ADOLESCENT AND ADULT LITERACY
ALAN M. LESGOLD (Chair), School of Education, University of
Pittsburgh
KAREN S. COOK, Department of Sociology, Stanford University
AYDIN Y. DURGUNOĞLU, Department of Psychology, University of
Minnesota, Duluth
ARTHUR C. GRAESSER, Psychology Department, University of
Memphis
STEVE GRAHAM, Special Education and Literacy, Peabody College of
Vanderbilt University
NOEL GREGG, Regents’ Center for Learning Disorders and Psychology
Department, University of Georgia, Athens
JOYCE L. HARRIS, College of Communication, University of Texas at
Austin
GLYNDA A. HULL, Graduate School of Education, University of
California, Berkeley
MAUREEN W. LOVETT, Hospital for Sick Children and University of
Toronto
DARYL F. MELLARD, School of Education, University of Kansas
ELIZABETH B. MOJE, School of Educational Studies, University of
Michigan
KENNETH PUGH, Haskins Laboratories, New Haven
CHRIS SCHATSCHNEIDER, Department of Psychology, Florida State
University
MARK S. SEIDENBERG, Department of Psychology, University of
Wisconsin–Madison
ELIZABETH A.L. STINE-MORROW, Department of Education and
Psychology, University of Illinois
MELISSA WELCH-ROSS, Study Director
PATRICIA MORISON, Associate Executive Director, Division of
Behavioral and Social Sciences
MARY ANN KASPER, Senior Program Assistant
v
Copyright National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research
Copyright National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research
Acknowledgments
The Committee on Learning Sciences: Foundations and Applications
to Adolescent and Adult Literacy was established to review evidence on
learning and literacy to develop a roadmap for research and practice to
strengthen adult literacy education in the United States. This report is the
culmination of a 36-month study by the 15 experts from diverse disciplines
appointed to carry out this charge. First, we would like to thank the National Institute for Literacy (NIFL) and the U.S. Department of Education
for their sponsorship of the study and for turning to the National Research
Council (NRC) for help in synthesizing the available research to improve
literacy instruction for adults and youth in the United States.
Over the course of the study, committee members and staff benefited
from discussions and presentations by individuals who brought a range of
perspectives and expertise to three fact-finding meetings. The first meeting
allowed us to gain a better understanding of the study charge and the work
before us. We heard from experts in adult literacy education to understand
adult literacy levels, the literacy needs and challenges of diverse populations, and recent large-scale adult literacy interventions. The invited experts
were Judy Alamprese, Abt Associates, Inc.; Alisa Belzer, Rutgers University; Daphne Greenberg, Georgia State University; Mark Kutner, American
Institutes of Research; T. Scott Murray, DataAngel Policy Research, Inc.;
Dolores Perin, Teachers College, Columbia University; and John Strucker,
World Education, Inc.
At the second meeting, the committee heard evidence about cognitive
and neural models of reading comprehension, genetic and environmental
vii
Copyright National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research
viii
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
influences on reading, the neurobiology of literacy in a second language,
maturational effects on cognition and learning, the state of adult literacy
assessment, and relations between oral language and literacy. Invited participants included Elena Grigorenko, Yale University; Arturo Hernandez,
University of Houston; Denise Park, University of Texas, Dallas; John
Sabatini, ETS; Paul van den Broek, University of Leiden and University of
Minnesota; and Gloria Waters, Boston University.
The third meeting included a diverse set of presenters who provided researcher and practitioner perspectives about factors that affect persistence,
motivation, and engagement for learners from late adolescence through
adulthood and that are amenable to being influenced by instruction. Members also sought information about the cognitive and social factors that
influence progress with literacy among English language learners. Invited
experts included John Comings, World Education, Inc.; Edward L. Deci,
University of Rochester; Ruth Kanfer, Georgia Tech; Judith Kroll, Pennsylvania State University; Nonie Lesaux, Harvard University; Steve Reder,
Portland State University; Dan Wagner, University of Pennsylvania; and
Heide Spruck Wrigley, Literacywork International.
Our work was also advanced by the contributions of able consultants
who wrote papers that were invaluable to our discussions and development
of report text: Eric Anderman, Ohio State University; Alisa Belzer, Rutgers
University; Mary Ellen Cushman, Michigan State University; Edward L.
Deci; Elena Grigorenko; W. Norton Grubb, University of California, Berkeley; Ruth Kanfer; Judith Kroll; Dolores Perin; Amy Stornaiuolo, University
of California, Berkeley; Paul van den Broek; Lalitha Vasudevan, Teachers College, Columbia University; Kari L. Woods, University of Kansas;
and Heide Spruck Wrigley. Francisco Rivera-Batiz of the Department of
Economics and Education, Teachers College, Columbia University, was a
member of the committee until other commitments required him to step
down in November of 2009; we thank him for the insights and expertise he
brought to the committee on issues of economics and education involving
immigrant and minority populations.
We thank Peggy McCardle and Brett Miller. who facilitated access to
the results of studies funded by the National Institute of Child Health and
Human Development and the U.S. Department of Education while the studies were in press. We also thank those who assisted committee members
with literature searches or background research, including NRC staff Julie
Shuck and Matthew von Hendy, as well as Mary Ann Kasper, who ably
arranged logistics for members and meetings and assisted with manuscript
preparation. The committee is grateful for the guidance and support of
Patricia Morison, associate executive director of the Division of Behavioral
and Social Sciences and Education (DBASSE). We thank Chris McShane,
Copyright National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
ix
Yvonne Wise, and Eugenia Grohman of the DBASSE Office of Reports and
Communication for editing the report.
This report has been reviewed in draft form by individuals chosen
for their diverse perspectives and technical expertise, in accordance with
procedures approved by the Report Review Committee of the NRC. The
purpose of this independent review is to provide candid and critical comments that will assist the institution in making its published report as sound
as possible and to ensure that the report meets institutional standards for
objectivity, evidence, and responsiveness to the study charge. The review
comments and draft manuscript remain confidential to protect the integrity
of the deliberative process.
We thank the following individuals for their review of this report:
Patricia Alexander, College of Education, University of Maryland; Roger
Azevedo, Department of Educational and Counseling Psychology, McGill
University; Virginia Berninger, College of Education, University of Washington; Larry Condelli, American Institutes for Research; Laurie E. Cutting,
Departments of Special Education and Psychology, Radiology, and Pediatrics, Vanderbilt University Kennedy Center; Morton Ann Gernsbacher,
University of Wisconsin–Madison; Susan R. Goldman, Department of
Psychology and Education, University of Illinois at Chicago; Maryalice
Jordan-Marsh, School of Social Work, University of Southern California;
Susan Kemper, Department of Psychology, University of Kansas; Richard E.
Mayer, Department of Psychology, University of California, Santa Barbara;
Larry J. Mikulecky, Department of Education, Indiana University; Timothy
Shanahan, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, University of Illinois at Chicago; Catherine Snow, Harvard Graduate School of Education,
Harvard University; Sharon Vaughn, Department of Human Development, College of Education, University of Texas at Austin; Dan Wagner,
Graduate School of Education, University of Pennsylvania; and Christina
Zarcadoolas, Department of Preventive Medicine and Public Health Literacy, Mt. Sinai School of Medicine.
Although the reviewers listed above have provided many constructive
comments and suggestions, they were not asked to endorse the conclusions
or recommendations, nor did they see the final draft of the report before its
release. The review of this report was overseen by Paul R. Sackett, Department of Psychology, University of Minnesota, and Johanna T. Dwyer, Tufts
University School of Medicine and Friedman School of Nutrition Science
and Policy and Frances Stern Nutrition Center, Tufts Medical Center, and
Jean Mayer Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University. Appointed by the NRC, they were responsible for making certain that
an independent examination of this report was carried out in accordance
with institutional procedures and that all review comments were carefully
Copyright National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research
x
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
considered. Responsibility for the final content of this report rests entirely
with the authoring committee and the institution.
Alan M. Lesgold, Chair
Melissa Welch-Ross, Study Director
Committee on Learning Sciences:
Foundations and Applications to
Adolescent and Adult Literacy
Copyright National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research
Contents
Summary
Recommendations, 5
1
1
Introduction
Literacy in the United States, 8
Study Charge, Scope, and Approach, 15
Conceptual Framework and Approach to the Review of
Evidence, 15
Study Scope, 19
Organization of the Report, 21
8
2
24
Foundations of Reading and Writing
Social, Cultural, and Neurocognitive Mechanisms of Literacy
Development, 25
Types of Text, 26
Literacy Tools, 27
Literacy Activities, 28
Teacher Knowledge, Skills, and Beliefs, 29
Neurocognitive Mechanisms, 30
Reading, 31
Decoding, 34
Vocabulary, 35
Fluency, 37
Reading Comprehension, 39
xi
Copyright National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research
xii
CONTENTS
Writing, 45
Components and Processes of Writing, 46
Writing Instruction, 50
Neurobiology of Reading and Writing Development and
Difficulties, 54
Neurobiology of Reading, 54
Neurobiology of Writing, 55
Implications for Instruction, 56
Instruction for Struggling Readers and Writers, 57
Decontextualized Interventions, 57
Principles of Instruction for Struggling Learners, 58
Reading and Writing Across the Life Span, 64
Summary and Discussion, 67
3
Literacy Instruction for Adults
Contexts for Literacy Learning, 71
Adult Education Programs, 71
Literacy Instruction in Adult Education Programs, 77
Developmental Education Courses in Colleges, 81
Instructional Practices and Outcomes: State of the Research, 84
Assumptions and Sources of Evidence, 84
Orientation to the Findings, 86
Adults in Basic and Secondary Education Programs, 86
Topics for Future Study from Adult Literacy Research, 92
Collaborative Learning, 92
Contextualized Instruction, 93
Instructional Materials, 94
Writing Instruction, 95
Funds of Knowledge and Authentic Learning Experiences, 96
Social, Psychological, and Functional Outcomes, 96
Underprepared Postsecondary Students, 97
Summary and Directions for Research, 99
70
4
106
Principles of Learning for Instructional Design
The Development of Expertise, 107
Supporting Attention, Retention, and Transfer, 109
Present Material in a Clear and Organized Format, 109
Use Multiple and Varied Examples, 110
Present Material in Multiple Modalities and Formats, 110
Teach in the Zone of Proximal Development, 111
Space Presentations of New Material, 113
Test on Multiple Occasions, Preferably with Spacing, 113
Ground Concepts in Perceptual-Motor Experiences, 113
Copyright National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research
xiii
CONTENTS
Supporting Generation of Content and Reasoning, 115
Encourage the Learner to Generate Content, 115
Encourage the Generation of Explanations, Substantive
Questions, and the Resolution of Contradictions, 116
Encourage the Learner to Construct Ideas from Multiple Points of
View and Different Perspectives, 117
Complex Strategies, Critical Thinking, Inquiry, and Self-Regulated
Learning, 118
Structure Instruction to Develop Effective Use of Complex
Strategies, 118
Combine Complex Strategy Instruction with Learning of
Content, 120
Feedback, 121
Accurate and Timely Feedback Helps Learning, 121
Qualitative Feedback Is Better for Learning Than Test Scores
and Error Flagging, 122
Adaptive and Interactive Learning Environments, 123
Adaptive Learning Environments Foster Understanding in
Complex Domains, 123
Interactive Learning Environments Facilitate Learning, 124
Learning Is Facilitated in Genuine and Coherent Learning
Environments, 125
Learning Is Influenced by Motivation and Emotion, 125
Summary and Directions for Research, 126
5
Motivation, Engagement, and Persistence
130
The Psychology of Motivation and Learning, 131
Self-Efficacy, 134
Intrinsic Motivation, 143
Social, Contextual, and Systemic Mediators of Persistence, 151
Formal School Structures and Persistence, 151
Cultural and Linguistic Differences, 152
Social Relationships and Interactions, 153
Potentially Negative Effects of Stereotype, 155
Social and Systemic Supports for and Barriers to Persistence, 156
Directions for Research, 158
6
Technology to Promote Adult Literacy
Classes of Technologies for Learning, 165
How Technologies Affect Learning, 166
Digital Tools for Practicing Skills, 169
Summary and Directions for Research, 177
Copyright National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
162
Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research
xiv
CONTENTS
7
Learning, Reading, and Writing Disabilities
Learning Disabilities, 180
Reading Disabilities, 182
Writing Disabilities, 187
Developing Brain Systems in Struggling Readers, 192
Brain Structure and Function, 193
Brain Plasticity, 196
Accommodations to Support Literacy Learning, 198
Reading Accommodations, 199
Writing Accommodations, 201
Summary and Directions for Research, 203
179
8 Language and Literacy Development of English Language
Learners
206
Component Literacy Skills of English Language Learners, 209
Influences on Language and Literacy in a Second Language, 210
First Language Knowledge and Education Level, 210
English Language Proficiency, 214
Age, 216
Aptitude for a Second Language, 217
Reading and Learning Disabilities, 218
Cultural Knowledge and Background, 218
Approaches to Second Language Literacy Instruction, 220
Integration of Explicit Instruction and Implicit Learning of
Language and Literacy, 221
Development of Language and Knowledge for Learning and
Reading Comprehension, 225
Access to Language and Literacy Practice Outside
Classrooms, 227
Leveraging Knowledge in the First Language, When
Available, 227
Integrated Multimodal Instruction, 228
Writing, 228
Affective Aspects of Learning and Instruction, 230
Assessment, 230
Summary and Directions for Research, 233
9
Conclusions and Recommendations
Conclusions, 238
Adult Learners and Learning Environments, 238
Principles of Effective Literacy Instruction, 240
English Language Learners, 244
Assessment, 246
Copyright National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
236
Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research
CONTENTS
xv
Technology, 248
Adult Literacy Instruction: State of the Evidence, 250
Recommendations, 251
Research Design, 254
Priorities for Basic and Applied Research, 255
Priorities for Translational Science, 256
Large-Scale Data Collection and Information Gathering, 259
Concluding Thoughts: Leadership and Partnership, 259
References and Bibliography
263
Appendixes
A
B
Biographical Sketches of Committee Members and Staff
385
Literacy in a Digital Age
392
Adult Literacy Practices and Proficiencies, 394
Adults’ Engagement with Information and Communication
Technologies, 397
Instructional Practices and Learning Environments, 399
Future Research, 401
References, 401
C Interventions to Develop the Component Literacy Skills of
Low-Literate Adults
407
A. Study Populations and Sample Characteristics, 408
B. Intervention Practices, Intensity, Duration, and Attrition
Rates, 410
C. Study Instruments by Measurement Construct by Study, 412
References, 416
D Search Procedures and Reviewed Studies of Adult Literacy
Instruction*
417
*Appendix D is not printed in this volume but is available online. Go to http://www.nap.
edu/catalog.php?record_id=13242.
Copyright National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research
Copyright National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research
Summary
A high level of literacy in both print and digital media is required for
negotiating most aspects of 21st-century life—supporting a family, education, health, civic participation, and competitiveness in the global economy.
Yet a recent survey estimates that more than 90 million U.S. adults lack
adequate literacy.1 Furthermore, only 38 percent of U.S. twelfth graders are
at or above proficient in reading.2
Adults who need literacy instruction receive it in two main types of settings: (1) adult education programs, for which the largest source of federal
funding is the Workforce Investment Act, Title II, Adult Education and
Family Literacy Act (AEFLA), and (2) developmental education courses in
colleges for academically underprepared students. Adults in adult education
programs (an estimated 2.6 million in federally funded programs in 2005)
show variable progress in their literacy skills, and for many, their gains are
insufficient to achieve functional literacy.3
This report responds to a request from the U.S. Department of Education to the National Research Council (NRC) to (1) synthesize research on
literacy and learning, (2) draw implications for the instructional practices
used to teach reading in adult literacy programs, and (3) recommend a
more systemic approach to research, practice, and policy. To inform its
conclusions and recommendations, the Committee on Learning Sciences:
Foundations and Applications to Adolescent and Adult Literacy reviewed
1 Estimate from Kutner et al. (2007).
2 According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (2010).
3 Information from Tamassia et al. (2007).
1
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Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research
2
IMPROVING ADULT LITERACY INSTRUCTION
research from the fields of literacy, learning, cognitive science, neuroscience, behavioral and social science, and education. The committee identifies factors that affect literacy development in adolescence and adulthood
in general and examines their implications for the populations in adult
education programs.
In keeping with its charge, the committee defined literacy as the ability to read, write, and communicate using a symbol system (in this case,
English) and using appropriate tools and technologies to meet the goals and
demands of individuals, their families, and U.S. society. Thus, literacy skill
includes but encompasses a broader range of proficiency than basic skills.
The focus of the committee is on improving the literacy of individuals ages
16 years and older who are not in K-12 education; this focus is consistent
with eligibility for federally funded adult education programs. The report
includes research with adolescents of all ages but discusses the implications
of this research (as well as research with children and adults) for instruction
to be used in adult literacy education.4
There is a surprising lack of rigorous research on effective approaches
to adult literacy instruction. This lack of evidence is especially striking given
the long history of both federal funding for adult education programs and
reliance on the nation’s community colleges to develop and improve adults’
literacy skills. Sustained and systematic research is needed to (1) identify
instructional approaches that show promise of maximizing adults’ literacy
skill gains; (2) develop scalable instructional programs and rigorously test
their effectiveness; and (3) conduct further testing to determine for whom
and under what conditions those approaches work.
In the absence of research with adults whose literacy is not at high
levels, the committee concluded that it is reasonable to apply findings from
the large body of research on learning and literacy with other populations
(mainly younger students and relatively well-educated adults) with some
adaptations to account for the developmental level and unique challenges of
adult learners. The available research provides guidance about principles of
effective reading and writing instruction, principles of learning and motivation, and promising uses of technologies and other supports for learning.
Effective literacy instruction addresses the foundational components of
reading—word recognition, fluency, vocabulary, reading comprehension,
background knowledge, strategies for deeper analysis, and understanding
of texts—and the component skills of writing. It combines explicit teaching
4 Given the sponsor’s primary interest in improving adult literacy education, we did not
address the question of how to prevent low literacy in the United States. Although the report
does not have an explicit focus on issues of prevention and how to improve literacy instruction
in the K-12 system, many of the relevant findings were derived from research with younger
populations and so they are likely to be relevant to the prevention of inadequate literacy.
Copyright National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research
SUMMARY
3
and extensive practice with motivating and varied texts, tools, and tasks
matched to the learner’s skills, educational and cultural backgrounds, and
literacy needs and goals. It explicitly addresses the automation and integration of component skills and the transfer of skills to tasks valued by
society and the learner. Effective instruction includes formative (ongoing)
assessments to monitor progress, provide feedback, and adjust instruction.
Students who have not mastered the foundations of reading and writing require instruction targeted to their skill levels and practice in amounts
substantial enough to produce high levels of competence in the component
skills. A large body of research with K-12 students provides the principles
and practices of literacy instruction that are equally important to developing and struggling adult learners. Additional principles have been identified
to help those with learning disabilities overcome specific areas of difficulty.
The available research on accommodations for adults with learning disabilities, conducted mainly with college students, also warrant application
and further study in adult education settings to remove barriers to learning.
Although findings from research specifically on effective literacy instruction for adults is lacking, research with younger populations can guide
the development of instructional approaches for adults if it is modified to
account for two major differences between adults and younger populations.
One is that adults may experience age-related neurocognitive declines that
affect reading and writing processes and speed of learning. The second is
that adults bring varied life experiences, knowledge, and motivations for
learning that need attention in the design of literacy instruction for them.
Compared with children, adolescents and adults may have more knowledge
and possess some literacy skills while still needing to fill gaps in other skills,
acquire content knowledge, and develop the level of literacy needed for
education, work, and practical life.
Research on learning and motivation can inform the design of supportive instructional interactions and environments. This research has not
included low-literate adults: translational research is needed to design and
evaluate instructional approaches consistent with these principles for this
population. Although basic principles of learning and motivation apply to
learners of all ages, the particular motivations to read or write are often
different at different ages. Instruction for adolescents and adults may need
to be designed differently to motivate these populations.
Literacy is a complex skill that requires thousands of hours of practice,
but many adults do not persist in adult literacy instruction long enough
or have enough time to practice outside the instructional setting to reach
their goals. The problem of high attrition needs to be resolved for adults to
receive sufficient practice and instruction and for rigorous research to accumulate on effective instructional methods. The available research suggests
ways to design motivating instructional approaches and environments, cre-
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Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research
4
IMPROVING ADULT LITERACY INSTRUCTION
ate more time for practice, and ensure the time is efficiently used: they will
need to be tested rigorously. Technologies for learning have the potential
to help resolve problems of insufficient practice caused by time and space
constraints. Technologies also can assist with multiple aspects of teaching,
assessment, and accommodations for learning. Translational research is
needed to develop and evaluate promising technologies for improving adult
literacy and to demonstrate how these can be part of coherent systems of
instruction.
The population of adult literacy learners is heterogeneous. Consequently, optimal literacy instruction needs to vary according to adults’
goals, motivations, knowledge, assessed skills, interests, neurocognitive
profiles, and language background. The population of adults who need to
develop their literacy ranges from recent immigrants with only a sixth grade
education in their native country, to middle-aged and older U.S.-born high
school graduates who find they can no longer keep up with the reading,
writing, and technology demands of their jobs, to adults who dropped out
of school or whose learning disabilities were not fully accommodated in
school, to highly educated immigrants who need to learn to read and write
in English.
The largest subgroup of adults enrolled in adult education is adults
learning English as a second language. This population is very diverse.
Some are immigrants who are well educated and highly literate in their first
languages. Others are recent immigrants with low levels of education and
first language literacy. Another large subgroup is people who were born in
the United States or came to the United States as young children but have
grown up with a home language other than English. Although educated in
U.S. schools, these adults often need to develop higher literacy skills for
postsecondary education or work.
There has been virtually no research on effective literacy instruction for
adults learning English as a second language. The available research with
other populations—young second language learners and relatively welleducated students in high school or college—suggests practices that warrant
further study with the larger population of adult learners. Although general
principles of learning and literacy development can be applied to second
language learners, literacy instruction needs to be adapted to the learner’s
education level, degree of literacy in the first and second language, and
familiarity with U.S. culture.
Good systems of assessment to improve student learning consist of
(a) diagnostic assessment to inform instructors about skills the learner
possesses and needs to develop; (b) formative assessment of skills being
developed that need further improvement as instruction progresses; and (c)
accountability assessment to inform administrators, policy makers, funders,
and the public of how well the program and systems that serve adult liter-
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Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research
5
SUMMARY
acy learners are working. The assessments need to be aligned with common
goals for learning. Assessments of literacy need to be suitable for adults,
assess all the important dimensions of reading, writing, and language, and
assess a range of print and digital functional literacy skills that society
demands and values.
Adult literacy education is offered in a mix of programs that lack coordination and coherence with respect to literacy development objectives
and instructional approaches. In addition, learning objectives for literacy
lack alignment across the many places of adult education and with colleges
and K-12 instruction. Literacy instructors need sufficient training and supports to assess adults’ skills, plan and differentiate instruction for adults
who differ in their neurobiological, psychosocial, and cultural and linguistic
characteristics, as well as their levels of literacy attainment. Yet, the preparation of instructors is highly variable and training and professional development limited. These factors, as well as high attrition from adult literacy
programs, present challenges to the systematic implementation and study
of effective adult literacy instruction.
RECOMMENDATIONS
The committee’s conclusions led to four overarching recommendations.
First, federal and state policy makers should move quickly to build on
and expand the infrastructure of adult literacy education to support the
use of instructional approaches, curricula, materials, tools, and assessments
of learners consistent with (a) the available research on reading, writing,
learning, language, and adult development; (b) the research on the effectiveness of instructional approaches; and (c) knowledge of sound assessment
practices.
Second, federal and state policy makers need to ensure that professional
development and technical assistance for instructors are widely accessible
and consistent with the best research on reading, writing, learning, language, and adult development.
Third, policy makers, providers of literacy programs, and researchers
should collaborate to systematically implement and evaluate options to
achieve the persistence needed for literacy learning. These options include,
among others, instructional approaches, technologies, social service support, and incentives.
Fourth, to inform local, state, and federal decisions aimed at optimizing
the progress of adult learners, the committee strongly recommends strategic
and sustained investments in a coordinated and systemic approach to program improvement, evaluation, and research about adult literacy learners.
Translational research should be conducted in four areas: (1) instructional
approaches and materials grounded in principles of learning and instruc-
Copyright National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research
6
IMPROVING ADULT LITERACY INSTRUCTION
tion, (2) supports for persistence, (3) technologies for learning, and (4)
assessments of learners and their instructional environments. The research
will need a strong instructor training component with instructor supports.
To ensure investments of the appropriate scale, a sequence of research
should be undertaken that includes exploration, innovation, efficacy testing,
scaling up, and assessment development.
Basic and applied research is recommended in several priority areas.
First, the characteristics of adult literacy learners should be studied to define
instructionally meaningful subgroups to provide a strong basis for differentiating instructional approaches. Second, an empirical basis is needed to
help define the literacy skills required in today’s society to meet educational
or career milestones and for full social and civic participation. Third, more
research is need on the cognitive, linguistic, and neural influences on learning for both typical adult learners and those with learning disabilities.
Fourth, the various forces that interact to affect typical and atypical literacy
development across the life span—cognitive, linguistic, social, cultural, instructional, and systemic—need to be better specified.
Information about the literacy of adults in the United States rapidly
becomes outdated, and adequate information is not available about the
literacy instruction provided to adults or its effectiveness. The committee recommends that information about the literacy skills of the nation’s
adults and in the diverse systems that offer adult literacy instruction be
gathered and analyzed on a continual and long-term basis to know (1)
whether the population is becoming more literate and (2) whether efforts
to improve literacy are effective at a macro level as well as in specific
individual efficacy studies. These efforts should track progress on the
components of reading and writing that have been identified in research
and on proficiency in performing important functional literacy tasks. The
information collected on instructional programs should include learning
goals and objectives and the practices, materials, tools, and assessments
in use. This information is needed to better understand current practices,
plan the appropriate professional development of instructors, create effective out-of-classroom learning opportunities, and better match literacy
instruction to emerging literacy demands for work, education, health, and
functioning in society.
Implementation of these recommendations will require strong leadership from specific entities in the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S.
Department of Labor. Given the scope of the problem, partnerships need to
be developed between researchers, curriculum developers, and administrators across the systems that serve adult learners. It will also be important to
enlist business leaders and faith-based and other community groups in the
effort. The committee urges particular attention to three issues noted above:
(1) variability of instructor preparation, (2) the existence of many different
Copyright National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research
SUMMARY
7
types of programs that have varied literacy development practices and that
lack alignment with K-12 education and college systems that offer literacy
instruction, and (3) the instructional and other supports that enable adults
to persist in programs and practice skills outside the classroom. These factors affect the quality of instruction to be implemented, the feasibility of
conducting the needed research, and the potential for broad dissemination
and implementation of the practices that are identified as effective.
Copyright National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research
1
Introduction
The Adult Education and Family Literacy Act (Title II of the Workforce
Investment Act (1998) defines literacy as “an individual’s ability to read,
write, and speak in English, compute, and solve problems, at levels of proficiency necessary to function on the job, in the family of the individual,
and in society.” The United Nations Education, Social, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) (2004) defines literacy more broadly as “the ability
to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate, compute and use
printed and written materials associated with varying contexts. Literacy
involves a continuum of learning to enable an individual to achieve his or
her goals, to develop his or her knowledge and potential, and to participate
fully in the wider society.”
LITERACY IN THE UNITED STATES
More than 90 million adults in the United States are estimated to lack
the literacy skills for a fully productive and secure life, according to the
National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) (Kutner et al., 2007). This
report synthesizes the research on literacy and learning to improve literacy
instruction for those served in adult education in the United States and to
recommend a more systemic approach to research, practice, and policy.
Conducted in 2003, the NAAL is the most recent national survey of
U.S. adult literacy. Adults were defined by the NAAL as people ages 16
years or older. The survey assessed the prose, document, and quantitative
literacy of a nationally representative sample of more than 18,000 U.S.
8
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Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research
INTRODUCTION
9
adults living in households and 1,200 prison inmates.1 Adults were categorized as having proficient, intermediate, basic, or below basic levels of
literacy.
According to the survey, 43 percent of U.S. adults (an estimated 56
million people) possess only basic or below basic prose literacy skills. Only
13 percent had proficient prose literacy. Results were similar for document
literacy: 34 percent of adults had basic or below basic document literacy
and only 13 percent were proficient. A comparison of the results with findings from the 1992 National Adult Literacy Survey (NALS) shows that little
progress was made between 1992 and 2003 (see Table 1-1).
Table 1-2 shows the percentage and number of adults in each race/
ethnicity category in the 2003 NAAL survey with below basic and basic
literacy. Certain groups in the 2003 NAAL survey were more likely to
perform at the below basic level: those who did not speak English before
entering school, Hispanic adults, those who reported having multiple disabilities, and black adults. The 7 million adults with the lowest levels of
skill showed difficulties with reading letters and words and comprehending
a simple text (Baer, Kutner, and Sabatini, 2009) (see Table 1-3).
Although literacy increases with educational attainment (see Table 1-4),
only 4 percent of high school graduates who do not go further in their
schooling are proficient in prose literacy, according to the NAAL; 53 percent are at the basic or below basic level. Among those with a 2-year degree,
only 19 percent have proficient prose literacy, 56 percent show intermediate
skill, and 24 percent are at basic or below basic levels. This level of literacy
might have been sufficient earlier in the nation’s history, but it is likely to
be inadequate today (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2005). For U.S. society to continue to function and sustain its
standard of living, higher literacy levels are required of the U.S. population
in the 21st century for economic security and all other aspects of daily life:
education, health, parenting, social interaction, personal growth, and civic
participation.
Civic participation requires citizens to understand the complex matters
about which they need to make decisions and on which societal well-being
depends. Although people might legitimately differ in their beliefs about
what health care policy the country should have, national surveys show
that too many people lack the literacy needed to engage in that discussion.
Parents cannot further their children’s education or ensure their children’s
1 Prose literacy was defined as the ability to search, comprehend, and use information from
continuous texts. Prose examples include editorials, news stories, brochures, and instructional
materials. Document literacy was defined as the ability to search, comprehend, and use information from noncontinuous texts. Document examples include job applications, payroll
forms, transportation schedules, maps, tables, and drug and food labels. The survey also assessed quantitative literacy.
Copyright National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research
10
IMPROVING ADULT LITERACY INSTRUCTION
TABLE 1-1 Percentage of U.S. Adults in Each Literacy Proficiency
Category by Literacy Task, 1992 and 2003 (in percentage)
Prose Literacy
Proficiency Category 1992
Below basic
Basic
Intermediate
Proficient
14
28
43
15
2003
14
29
44
13a
Document Literacy
Quantitative Literacy
1992
2003
1992
2003
14
22
49
15
12a
26
32
30
13
22a
33
33a
13
22
53a
13a
NOTE: Data exclude people who could not be tested due to language differences: 3 percent
in 1992 and 2 percent in 2003.
aSignificantly different from 1992.
SOURCE: Data from the National Assessment of Adult Literacy (Kutner et al., 2007).
health when their literacy is low: adults with low literacy are much less
likely to read to their children or have reading materials in the home
(Kutner et al., 2007), and they have much more limited access to healthrelated information (Berkman et al., 2004) and have lower health literacy
(U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2008). Many U.S. adults
lack health literacy or the ability to read and follow the kinds of instructions routinely given for self-care or to family caregivers after medical
procedures or hospital stays (Kutner et al., 2006; Nielsen-Bohlman, Panzer,
and Kindig, 2004).
TABLE 1-2 U.S. Adults in Each Race/Ethnicity Category with Below
Basic and Basic Literacy, 2003
Asian/Pacific Islander
Black
Hispanic
White
Total Number of Adults
Percentage
Below Basic
Percentage
Basic
14
24
44
7
32
43
30
25
Estimated Total
Number Across
Both Categories
(in millions)
4.1
17.8
19.7
49.8
91.4
NOTES: The NAAL included a national sample representative of the total population in 2003
(222 million people; 221 million in households and a little more than 1 million in prisons).
This estimate of the number of people with low literacy (basic or below basic literacy) in each
race/ethnicity category is derived from the percentage of people in each category in the NAAL
survey. The table does not include the 3 percent of adults who could not participate in the
survey due to language spoken or disabilities. It does not include 2 percent of respondents who
identified multiple races. These findings are for prose literacy; the pattern of findings is similar
for document literacy. For definitions of the literacy categories, see text.
SOURCE: Data from the National Assessment of Adult Literacy (Kutner et al., 2007).
Copyright National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research
11
INTRODUCTION
TABLE 1-3 Correct Responses on Reading Tasks for U.S. Adults with
Below Basic Literacy (by language of administration) (in percentage),
2003
English
Spanish
Letter
Readinga
Word
Identificationb
Word
Readingc
Comprehensiond
80
38
65
74
56
37
54
54
NOTES: The data cover 7 million adults, 3 percent of the population. Adults are defined in
the survey as people ages 16 and older living in households or prisons. The data exclude adults
who could not be interviewed because of language spoken or cognitive or mental disabilities,
approximately 3 percent.
aLetter reading required reading a list of 35 letters in 15 seconds.
bWord identification required recognizing words on three word lists of increasing difficulty—
from one- to four-syllable words.
c Word reading required decoding of nonwords using knowledge of letter-sound
correspondences.
dComprehension required correctly answering a question about the content of a passage
written either at grades 2-6 or grades 7-8 level.
SOURCE: Data from Baer, Kutner, and Sabatini (2009).
TABLE 1-4 Percentage of U.S. Adults in Prose and Document Literacy
Proficiency Categories by Educational Attainment, 2003
Prose
Less than/some high school
GED/high school
equivalency
High school graduate
Vocational/trade/business
school
Some college
Associate/2-year degree
College graduate
Document
Less than/some high school
GED/ high school
equivalency
High school graduate
Vocational/trade/business
school
Some college
Associate/2-year degree
College graduate
Below Basic
Basic
Intermediate
Proficient
50
10
33
45
16
43
1
3
13
10
39
36
44
49
4
5
5
4
3
25
20
14
59
56
53
11
19
31
45
13
29
30
25
53
2
4
13
9
29
26
52
59
5
7
5
3
2
19
15
11
65
66
62
10
16
25
SOURCE: Data from the National Assessment of Adult Literacy (Kutner et al., 2007).
Copyright National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research
12
IMPROVING ADULT LITERACY INSTRUCTION
Adults with low literacy also have lower participation in the labor force
and lower earnings (Kutner et al., 2007). Figure 1-1 shows how lifetime
net tax contributions increase as education level increases. It is reasonable
to assume that gains in literacy that allow increases in educational attainment would lead to a higher standard of living and the ability of more
people to contribute to such costs of society as public safety and educating
future generations. Adults with a high school diploma or general educational development (GED) certificate earn significantly more per year than
those without such credentials (e.g., Liming and Wolf, 2008; U.S. Census
Bureau, 2007). The most recent national survey of adults’ literacy skills in
the United States shows that the percentage of adults employed full time
increases with increased facility in reading prose (Kutner et al., 2007).
If anything, data from the NAAL and other surveys and assessments are
likely to underestimate the problem of literacy in the United States. Literacy
demands are increasing because of the rapid growth of information and
communication technologies, while the literacy assessments to date have
focused on the simplest forms of literacy skill. Most traditional employment
has required reading directions, keeping records, and answering business
communications, but today’s workers have very different roles. Employers
stress that employees need higher levels of basic literacy in the workplace
than they currently possess (American Manufacturing Association, 2010)
and that the global economy calls for increasingly complex forms of literacy
skill in this information age (Casner-Lotto and Benner, 2006). In a world
in which computers do the routine, human value in the workplace rests
increasingly on the ability to gather and integrate information from disparate sources to address novel situations and emergent problems, mediate
among different viewpoints of the world (e.g., between an actuary’s and a
$1,300,000
$1,400,000
$870,000
$900,000
$270,000
$400,000
 $100,000
$467,000
$33,000
No High
School
Diploma
High School Some Post Bachelor’s
Graduate High School Degree
Master’s
Degree or
Higher
FIGURE 1-1 Lifetime net tax contributions by education level.
SOURCE: Data from Khatiwada et al. (2007).
Figure 1-1
Copyright National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research
13
INTRODUCTION
customer’s view of what should be covered under an insurance policy), and
collaborate on tasks that are too complex to be within the scope of one
person. To earn a living, people are likely to need forms of literacy skill and
to have proficiencies in the use of literacy tools that have not been routinely
defined and assessed.
A significant portion of the U.S. population is likely to continue, at least
in the near term, to experience inadequate literacy and require instruction as
adults: the most recent main National Assessment of Educational Progress
(NAEP) (2009) shows that only 38 percent of twelfth graders performed
at or above the proficient level in reading; this achievement was higher
than the percentage in 2005 but not significantly different from earlier assessment years. Although 74 percent of twelfth graders were at or above
basic, 26 percent were below basic near the end of high school. Table 1-5
shows the percentage of twelfth grade students at each achievement level
for reading by race and ethnicity. These numbers include students identified
as learning English as a second language: only 22 percent of them were at
or above basic reading levels near the end of high school; 78 percent were
below basic. Results were similar for twelfth graders with disabilities: 38
percent were at or above basic reading levels; 62 percent were below basic.
Similarly, according to the 2007 assessment of writing by the NAEP,
only 24 percent of twelfth graders had proficient writing skills, with many
fewer of the students who were learning English or with learning disabilities
showing proficiency (40 and 44 percent, respectively) compared with those
not identified as English learners or as having a learning disability (83 and
85 percent, respectively).
The NAEP is likely to underestimate the proportion of twelfth graders
who need to develop their literacy outside the K-12 system because it does
not include students who dropped out of school before the assessment,
many of whom are likely to have inadequate literacy. In the 2007-2008
school year, the most recent one for which data are available, 613,379
students in the ninth to twelfth grades dropped out of school. The overall
TABLE 1-5 Percentage of Twelfth Grade Students at or Above NAEP
Achievement Levels by Race/Ethnicity
Below basic
At or above basic
At or above
proficient
Advanced
Asian/Pacific
Black
Hispanic
White
19
81
49
43
57
17
39
61
22
19
81
46
10
1
2
7
SOURCE: Data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) 2009 Reading
Assessment (U.S. Department of Education, 2011).
Copyright National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research
14
IMPROVING ADULT LITERACY INSTRUCTION
annual dropout rate (known as the event dropout rate—the percentage of
high school students who drop out of high school over the course of a given
school year) was 4.1 percent across all 49 reporting states and the District
of Columbia (National Center for Education Statistics, 2010). Although
students drop out of school for many reasons, it can be assumed that these
students’ literacy skills are below those of the rest of the U.S. population
and fail to meet society’s expectations for literacy. In fact, 55 percent of
adults in the 2003 NAAL survey who scored below basic did not graduate
from high school (compared with 15 percent of the entire adult population); adults who did not complete high school were almost four times
more likely than the total adult population to demonstrate below basic
skills (Baer et al., 2009).
Given these statistics, it is not surprising that, although originally
designed for older adults, adult literacy education programs are increasingly attended by youths ages 16 to 20 (Hayes, 2000; Perin, Flugman, and
Spiegel, 2006). In 2003, more than half of participants in federally funded
adult literacy programs were 25 or younger (Tamassia et al., 2007).
The problem of inadequate literacy is also found by colleges, especially
community colleges. More than half of community college students enroll
in at least one developmental education course during their college tenure to
remediate weak skills (Bailey, Jeong, and Cho, 2010). Data from an initiative called Achieving the Dream: Community Colleges Count provide the
best information on students’ difficulties in remedial instruction. The study
included more than 250,000 students from 57 colleges in seven states who
were enrolled for the first time from fall 2003 to fall 2004. Of the total, 59
percent were referred for remedial instruction, and 33 percent of the referrals were specifically for reading. After 3 years, fewer than 4 of 10 students
had completed the entire sequence of remedial courses to which they had
been referred (Bailey, Jeong, and Cho, 2010). About 30 percent of students
referred to developmental education did not enroll in any remedial course,
and about 60 percent of those who did enroll did not enroll in the specific
course to which they had been referred (Bailey, Jeong, and Cho, 2010).
Notably, according to the NAAL survey, proficiency in prose literacy was
evident in only 31 percent of U.S. adults with a 4-year college degree.
For a variety of reasons, firm conclusions cannot currently be drawn
about whether developmental education improves the literacy skills and
rates of college completion. What is clear, however, is that remediation
is costly: in 2004-2005, the costs of remediation were estimated at $1.9
to $2.3 billion at community colleges and another $500 million at 4-year
colleges (Strong American Schools, 2008). States have reported tens of
millions of dollars in expenditures (Bailey, 2009). The costs to students of
inadequate remediation include accumulated debt, lost earnings, and frustration that can lead to dropping out.
Copyright National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research
INTRODUCTION
15
STUDY CHARGE, SCOPE, AND APPROACH
To address the problem of how best to instruct the large and diverse
population of U.S. adults who need to improve their literacy skills, the
U.S. Department of Education asked the National Research Council to
appoint a multidisciplinary committee to (1) synthesize research findings
on literacy and learning from cognitive science, neuroscience, behavioral
science, and education; (2) identify from the research the main factors that
affect literacy development in adolescence and adulthood, both in general
and with respect to the specific populations served in education programs
for adults; (3) analyze the implications of the research for informing curricula and instruction used to develop adults’ literacy; and (4) recommend
a more systemic approach to subsequent research, practice, and policy. The
complete charge is presented in Box 1-1.
The work of the Committee on Learning Sciences: Foundations and
Applications to Adolescent and Adult Literacy is a necessary step toward
improving adult literacy in the United States. Through our work, which
included public meetings and reviews of documents, the committee gathered
evidence about adult literacy levels both in the United States and internationally and the literacy demands placed on adults in modern life related to
education, work, social and civic participation, and maintenance of health
and family. We considered a wide array of research literatures that might
have accumulated findings that could help answer the question of how best
to design literacy instruction for adults.
Conceptual Framework and Approach to the Review of Evidence
Figure 1-2 presents the committee’s conceptual model of the development of literate practice, which we used to identify research most germane
to this report. We also used it to convey the range of factors that require
attention in our attempt to identify the instructional practices that work for
learners and the conditions that support or impede instructional effectiveness and learning. The model focuses mainly on the factors that research
shows are amenable to change through particular approaches to instruction
and the creation of supportive learning environments. It is derived mainly
from understandings of literacy development from K-12 populations and
extended to accommodate adults’ motivations and circumstances, which
differ from those of younger populations learning to read and write.
In view of the charge that motivates this report, we define literacy to be
the ability to read, write, and communicate using a symbol system (in this
case, English), with available and valued tools and technologies, in order
to meet the goals and demands of families, individuals, and U.S. society.
Literacy requires developing proficiencies in the major known components
Copyright National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research
16
IMPROVING ADULT LITERACY INSTRUCTION
BOX 1-1
Committee Charge
In response to a request from the National Institute for Literacy (NIFL), the National Research Council will convene a committee to conduct a study of the scientific
foundations of adolescent and adult literacy with implications for policy and practice.
In particular, the study will synthesize research-based knowledge on literacy from the
multidisciplinary perspectives of education, cognitive and behavioral science, neuroscience, and other relevant disciplines; and will provide a strong empirical foundation for
understanding the main factors that affect literacy learning in adolescence and adulthood generally and with respect to the specific populations served by adult education.
The committee will develop a conceptual and methodological framework to guide the
study and conduct a review of the existing research literature and sources of evidence.
The committee’s final report will provide a basis for research and practice, laying out
the most promising areas for future research while informing curriculum and instruction
for current adolescent literacy and adult education practitioners and service providers.
This study will (1) synthesize the behavioral and cognitive sciences, education, and
neuroscience research on literacy to understand its applicability to adolescent and adult
populations; (2) analyze the implications of this research for the instructional practices
used to teach reading in adolescent and adult literacy programs; and (3) establish a
set of recommendations or roadmap for a more systemic approach to subsequent
research, practice, and policy. The committee will synthesize and integrate new knowledge from the multidisciplinary perspectives of behavioral and cognitive sciences,
education, neuroscience, and other related disciplines, with emphasis on potential uses
in the research and policy communities. It will provide a broad understanding of the
factors that affect typical and atypical literacy learning in adolescence and adulthood
of reading and writing (presented in Chapter 2) and being able to integrate
them to perform the activities required of adults in the United States in the
21st century. Thus, our use of the term literacy skill includes but encompasses a broader range of proficiency than basic skills.
Our synthesis covers research literature on






cognitive, linguistic, neurobiological, social, and cultural factors
that are part of reading and writing development across the life
span;
effective approaches for teaching reading and writing with students
in K-12 education, out-of-school youth, and adults;
principles of learning that apply to the design of instruction;
motivation, engagement, and persistence;
uses of technology to support learning and literacy for adolescents
and adults;
valid assessment of reading, writing, and learning; and
Copyright National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research
INTRODUCTION
17
generally and with respect to the specific populations served by adult education and
such related issues as motivation, retention and prevention.
The following questions will be among those the committee will consider in developing its roadmap for a more systematic approach to subsequent research, practice, and
policy:

 oes the available research on learning and instruction apply to the full range of
D
types of learners served by adult education? If not, for what specific populations
is research particularly needed? What do we know, for example, about how to
deliver reading instruction to students in the lowest achievement levels normally
found in adult basic education?
What are some of the specific challenges faced by adults who need to learn literacy skills in English when it is their second language? What does the cognitive
and learning research suggest about the most effective instructional strategies
for these learners?
What outcome measures and methods are suggested from research addressing
literacy remediation and prevention in both adolescent and adult programs?
Where are there gaps in our understanding about what research is needed
related to retention and motivation of adult literacy learners?
What implications does the research on learning and effective instruction have
for remediation and prevention of problems with literacy during middle and/or
high school?
What is known about teacher characteristics, training, and capacity of programs
to implement more effective literacy instructional methods?
Are there policy strategies that could be implemented to help ensure that the evidence base on best practices for learning gets used by programs and teachers?







instructional approaches for English language learners and the various influences (cognitive, neurobiological, social) on the development of literacy in a second language in adulthood.
Several reviews of research relevant to the charge informed the work of
this committee, among them a report of the National Reading Panel (NRP)
(National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 2000) and
a recent systematic review of the literature on adult literacy instruction
(Kruidenier, MacArthur, and Wrigley, 2010). In such cases, we did not
duplicate existing works but incorporated from previous work the core
findings that we interpreted to be most relevant to our charge, augmented
with targeted searches of literature as needed to draw conclusions about
the state of the research base and needs for development.
We included both quantitative and qualitative research with the recognition that different types of research questions call for different methodological approaches. We concentrated mainly on the most developed
Copyright National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research
18
IMPROVING ADULT LITERACY INSTRUCTION
Goals for learning and
literacy
Text features
Tools embedded in
text
Instructional practices
Motivating features
Cultural and language
norms
Motivating features
The
Learning
Context
The
Learner
Skill demands
Text and
Tools
Development
of Literate
Practice
Knowledge/skills for comprehension,
production, and use of text
Literacy
Activity and
Purpose
What goal does this
literacy activity achieve
for the student?
Motivation
Neurocognitive differences
Education
Linguistic background
Literacy learning goals
FIGURE 1-2 Conceptual model of the development of literate practice.
Figure 1-2
research findings and included promising, cutting-edge areas of inquiry that
warrant further research. In reviewing the research, we asked: Are the data
reliable and potentially valid for the target population? What are the limits
of current knowledge? What are the most useful directions for expanding
knowledge of literacy development and learning to better meet the needs
of adult learners?
An assumption of our framework is that to be functionally literate one
must be able to engage in literacy practices with texts and tools that are
demanded by and valued in society. Thus, we include a focus on writing,
which has a smaller base of research than reading. We also refer throughout
the report to new literacy skills and practices enabled by a digital age and
include a more complete discussion of these issues in Appendix B. Although
we assume that literacy skills enabled by the use of new technologies are
now fundamental to what it means to be literate, researchers are only beginning to define these skills and practices and to study the instruction and
assessments that develop them in students of all ages (e.g., Goldman et al.,
2011). In the final chapter, we stress the importance of including writing
and emerging new literacy demands in any future efforts to define literacy
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Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research
19
INTRODUCTION
development goals for adults and to identify the instructional approaches
that comprehensively meet their skill development needs.
Study Scope
An examination of the relevant literatures revealed a diverse range of
information and disparate literatures that seemed unknown and unconnected to each other, despite the fact that many share a focus on reading
and literacy. The literatures differ in the ages of the populations studied;
definitions, theories, and working understandings or models of literacy development; research topics; and research methods. Several literatures were
severely underdeveloped with respect to the charge because of the nature of
the topics studied or because the data are mainly descriptive or anecdotal
and have not yet led to the accumulation of reliable or relevant knowledge.
This information gathering led the committee to focus the charge in these
ways.
We focused on a target population (to whom we refer generally as
“adults”) of individuals ages 16 and older not in secondary education,
consistent with eligibility requirements for participation in federally funded
adult literacy education programs. We considered what is known about the
literacy skills and other characteristics of these adults and their learning environments in programs of four general types: (1) adult basic education, (2)
adult secondary education (e.g., GED instruction), (3) programs of English
as a second language, and (4) developmental (remedial) education courses
in colleges for academically underprepared students. We focused mainly on
research that could be applied to the development of instructional methods
for these populations, and we did not focus more broadly on segments of
the U.S. population, such as the elderly, who might benefit from enhanced
literacy or strategies that compensate for age-related declines in literacy
skills.
The lack of research on learning and the effects of literacy instruction
in the target population is striking, given the long history of both federal
funding, albeit stretched thin, for adult education programs and reliance on
developmental education courses to remediate college students’ skills. As we
explain in Chapter 3, although there is a large literature on adult literacy
instruction, it is mostly descriptive, and the small body of experimental
research suffers from methodological limitations, such as high rates of
participant attrition and inadequate controls. As a result, the research has
not yielded a body of reliable and interpretable findings that could provide
a reliable basis for understanding the process of literacy acquisition in lowskilled adults or the design and delivery of instruction for this population.
In contrast to the scant literature on adult literacy, a large body of research is available with younger populations, especially children. Although
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Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research
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IMPROVING ADULT LITERACY INSTRUCTION
the majority of this work investigates the acquisition and instruction of
word-reading skills, more is becoming known about how to develop vocabulary and reading comprehension. A growing body of research with
adolescents in school settings focuses on such topics as academic literacy,
disciplinary literacy, and discussion-based approaches that warrant further
study with both adolescents and adults outside school. Although major
research studies have been launched by the U.S. Department of Education,
the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and others to increase knowledge of literacy development and effective instruction
beyond the early elementary years, the efforts are too new to have produced
numerous peer-reviewed publications on effective instructional practices.
Similarly, research on adult cognition, learning, and motivation from other
disciplines is constrained for our purposes. For the most part, such research
relies on study samples of convenience (e.g., college students in introductory
psychology courses) or the elderly.
Given the dearth of research on what is the target population for this
report, the committee has drawn on what is available: extensive research
on reading and writing processes and difficulties in younger students, a
mature body of research on learning and motivation in relatively welleducated adults with normal reading capability, and comparatively limited
research on struggling adolescent readers and writers and adult literacy
learners. These constraints on the available literature mean the committee’s analysis and synthesis focus on examining instructional practices
that work for younger populations that have not been invalidated by any
of the available data with adults; extrapolating with caution from other
research available on learning, cognition, and motivation to make additional suggestions for improving adult reading instruction; and articulating a research agenda focused specifically on learning and reading and
writing instruction for adult literacy learners. The committee decided that
examining the wealth of information from the research that exists with
these populations could be valuable to the development of instructional
practices for adults, with research and evaluation to validate, identify the
boundaries of, and expand this knowledge in order to specify the practices
that develop literacy skills in adolescents and adults outside school.
Although the charge specified a focus on reading, we chose to add a
focus on writing for four reasons. First, integrated reading and writing instruction contributes to the development of both reading and writing skills,
as described in Chapter 2, most likely because these skills require some of
the same knowledge and cognitive and linguistic processes. Second, from a
practical perspective, many reading activities for academic learning or work
also involve writing (and vice versa). Third, writing is a method of developing content knowledge, which adults need to develop to improve their
reading, both in general and in specific content domains. Fourth, writing is
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Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research
21
INTRODUCTION
a literacy skill that is important to adult literacy education, given that it is
needed for GED completion and for success in college and in the workplace
(Berman, 2001, 2009; Carnevale and Derochers, 2004; Kirsch et al., 2007;
Milulecky, 1998; National Commission on Writing, 2004, 2005).
Because of the large variety of literatures, the report does not focus in
depth on domain-specific literacies, such as quantitative literacy, financial
literacy, health literacy, or science literacy. These topics are large and significant enough to deserve separate treatment (e.g., Condelli, 2006; NielsenBohlman et al., 2004).
The report includes research about literacy development with adolescents of all ages as well as children. However, given the breadth of the
charge and in consultation with the project sponsor about the primary
interest, the committee narrowed its focus to synthesizing the implications
of that research for instruction in adult literacy education (defined as instruction for individuals 16 years and older and outside K-12 education).
This focus was chosen to fit with the requirement that federally funded
adult literacy programs are for youth and adults older than 16 and not in
the regular K-12 system. Although there is a broad universe of information
on adolescent and adult literacy and the factors that affect literacy, the
committee and this report covers the research findings about the factors
that affect literacy and learning that are sufficiently developed and relevant
for making decisions about how to improve adult literacy instruction and
planning a research agenda. Consistent with the sponsor’s guidance, we
did not address the question of how to prevent low literacy in U.S. society,
but the pressing and important problem of how to instruct adolescents and
adults outside the K-12 system who have inadequate English literacy skills.
Although the report does not have an explicit focus on issues of prevention
and how to improve literacy instruction in the K-12 system, many of the
relevant findings were derived from research with younger populations, and
so they are likely to be relevant to the prevention of inadequate literacy.
ORGANIZATION OF THE REPORT
The discussion of research relevant to the population of adult learners
is complicated by substantial differences in the characteristics of learners,
learning goals, and the many and varied types and places of instruction.
In theory, it is possible to organize this report according to any number of
individual difference variables, learning goals (e.g., GED, college entrance,
parental responsibilities, workplace skills), general type of instruction (adult
basic education, adult secondary education, English as a second language),
places of instruction, or various combinations. As Chapter 3 of the report
makes clear, however, it is premature, given the limits of the research available, to disentangle the research along these dimensions. On one hand,
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Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research
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IMPROVING ADULT LITERACY INSTRUCTION
learners across the many places of instruction share literacy development
needs, learning goals, and other characteristics; on the other hand, learners
at a single site vary in these characteristics. In many instances, it would not
be possible to know how to categorize the research because research reports
do not specify the place of instruction, describe the goals of instruction, or
clearly and completely describe the study participants. Indeed, one of the
critical needs for future research is to systematically define segments of the
population to identify constraints on generalizing research findings and
specific features of instruction that might be needed to effectively meet the
needs of particular subgroups.
Thus, this report is organized according to the major topics that deserve
attention in future research to develop effective instructional approaches.
The topics reflect those about which most is known from research—albeit
mostly with populations other than one that is the focus of our study—and
that have the greatest potential to alleviate the personal, instructional, and
systemic barriers that adults outside school experience with learning.
Chapter 2 provides an overview of what is known about the major
components and processes of reading and writing and the qualities of instruction that develop reading and writing for both typical and struggling
learners in K-12 settings. The chapter presents principles for intervening
specifically with struggling learners. Although supported by strong evidence, we stress that caution must be used in generalizing the research to
other populations. Translational research is needed on the development of
practices that are appropriate for diverse populations of adolescents and
adults.
Chapter 3 describes the adults who receive literacy instruction, including major subgroups, and the demographics of the population, what is
known about their difficulties with component literacy skills, and characteristics of their instructional contexts. The chapter conveys the state of
research on practices that develop adults’ literacy skills and identifies priorities for research and innovation to advance knowledge of adult literacy
development and effective literacy instruction.
Chapters 4 through 6 synthesize research from a variety of disciplines
on topics that are vital to furthering adult literacy. Chapter 4 summarizes
findings from research on the conditions that affect cognitive processing and
learning. The chapter draws on and updates several recent efforts to distill
principles of learning for educators and discusses considerations in applying
these principles to the design of literacy instruction for adults. Chapter 5
synthesizes research on the features of environments—instructional interactions, structures, tasks, texts, systems—that encourage engagement with
learning and persistence in adolescents and adults. The chapter draws on
research from multiple disciplines that examine the psychological, social,
and environmental factors that affect motivation, engagement in learn-
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Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research
INTRODUCTION
23
ing, and goal attainment. Chapter 6 applies what is known about literacy,
learning, and motivation to examine in greater depth one aspect of the
instructional environment—instructional technologies—that may motivate
essential practice with literacy activities, scaffold learning, and help to assess learners’ progress. Technology also may help to resolve some of the
practical barriers to more extensive literacy practice related to life demands,
child care, and transportation, which adult learners cannot always afford,
in either dollars or time.
The next two chapters discuss the research for two subgroups of the
adult learner population. Chapter 7 synthesizes what is known about the
cognitive, linguistic, and other learning challenges experienced by adults
with learning disabilities and the uses of accommodations that facilitate
learning. Chapter 8 considers the literacy development needs and processes
for the population of adults learning English as a second language, which
includes both immigrants and U.S. citizens and is diverse in terms of education, language background, and familiarity with U.S. culture. This chapter
points to the major challenges experienced by English language learners in
developing their literacy skills and outlines the research needed to facilitate
literacy development. Given that the basic principles of reading, writing,
learning, and motivation have been discussed in previous chapters, this
chapter focuses on issues specific to the literacy development of adults who
are learning a second language.
Chapter 9 presents the committee’s conclusions and recommendations
in light of the research reviewed in previous chapters. Our conclusions
stress that it should be possible to develop approaches that improve adults’
literacy given the wealth of knowledge that exists. The challenge is to
determine how to integrate the various principles we have derived from
the research findings into coordinated and comprehensive programs of
instruction that meet the needs of diverse populations of adults. In this
final chapter, we urge attention to several issues in research and policy that
impinge directly on the quality of instruction, the feasibility of completing
the much-needed research, and the potential for much broader dissemination and implementation of the practices that emerge as effective.
Copyright National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research
2
Foundations of Reading and Writing
This chapter provides an overview of the components and processes
of reading and writing and the practices that develop these skills. This
knowledge is derived mainly from research with K-12 students because this
population is the main focus of most rigorous research on reading components, difficulties in learning to read, and effective instructional practices.
The findings are particularly robust for elementary school students and less
developed for middle and high school students due to lack of attention in
research to reading and writing development during these years. We also
review a small body of research on cognitive aging that compares the reading and writing skills of younger and older adults. From all the collected
findings, we distill principles to guide literacy instruction for adolescents
and adults who are outside the K-12 education system but need to further
develop their literacy.
Caution must be used in generalizing research conducted in K-12 settings to other populations, such as adult literacy students. Precisely what
needs to be taught and how will vary depending on an individual’s existing
literacy skills; learning goals that require proficiency with particular types
of reading and writing; and characteristics of learners that include differences in motivation, neurobiological processes, and cultural, linguistic, and
educational backgrounds. Translational research will be needed to apply
and adapt the findings to diverse populations of adolescents and adults, as
discussed in later chapters.
This chapter is organized into five major parts. Part 1 provides an
orienting discussion of the social, cultural, and neurocognitive mechanisms
involved in literacy development. Part 2 describes the components and
24
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Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research
FOUNDATIONS OF READING AND WRITING
25
processes of reading and writing, and research on reading and writing
instruction for all students (both typical and atypical learners). We summarize principles for instruction that have sufficient empirical support to
warrant inclusion in a comprehensive approach to literacy instruction.
Part 3 discusses the neurobiology of reading and writing development and
difficulties. Part 4 conveys additional principles for intervening specifically
with learners who have difficulties with learning to read and write. In Part
5, we describe what is known about reading and writing processes in older
adults and highlight the lack of research on reading and writing across the
life span.
Throughout the chapter, we point to promising areas for research and
to questions that require further study. We conclude with a summary of the
findings, directions for research, and implications for the learners who are
the focus of our report: adolescents and adults who need to develop their
literacy skills outside K-12 educational settings.1
SOCIAL, CULTURAL, AND NEUROCOGNITIVE
MECHANISMS OF LITERACY DEVELOPMENT
Literacy, or cognition of any kind, cannot be understood fully apart
from the contexts in which it develops (e.g., Cobb and Bowers, 1999;
Greeno, Smith, and Moore, 1993; Heath, 1983; Lave and Wenger, 1991;
Markus and Kitiyama, 2010; Nisbett, 2003; Rogoff and Lave, 1984;
Scribner and Cole, 1981; Street, 1984). The development of skilled reading and writing (indeed, learning in general) depends heavily on the contexts and activities in which learning occurs, including the purposes for
reading and writing and the activities, texts, and tools that are routinely
encountered (Beach, 1995; Heath, 1983; Luria, 1987; Scribner and Cole,
1981; Street, 1984; Vygotsky, 1978, 1986). In this way, reading and
writing are similar to other complex cognitive skills and brain functions
that are shaped by cultural patterns and stimuli (Markus and Kitayama,
2010; Nisbett, 2003; Nisbett et al., 2001; Park and Huang, 2010; Ross
and Wang, 2010). The particular knowledge and skill that develop depend
on the literacy practices engaged in, the supports provided for learning,
and the demand and value attached to particular forms of literacy in
communities and the broader society (Heath, 1983; Scribner and Cole,
1 Other documents have summarized research on the components of reading and writing
and instructional practices to develop literacy skills. We refer readers to additional resources
for more extensive coverage of this literature (Ehri et al., 2001; Graham, 2006a; Graham and
Hebert, 2010; Graham and Perin 2007a, 2007b; Kamil et al., 2008; McCardle, Chhabra, and
Kapinus, 2008; National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 2000a).
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Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research
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IMPROVING ADULT LITERACY INSTRUCTION
1983; Vygotsky, 1986). Thus, how people use reading and writing differs
considerably by context.
As an example, forms and uses of spoken and written language in academic settings differ from those in nonacademic settings, and they also differ among academic disciplines or subjects (Blommaert, Street, and Turner,
2007; Lemke, 1998; Moje, 2007, 2008b; Street, 2003, 2009). Recent work
on school subject learning also makes it clear that content and uses of
language differ significantly from one subject matter to another (Coffin
and Hewings, 2004; Lee and Spratley, 2006; McConachie and Petrosky,
2010). People may develop and use forms of literacy that differ from those
needed for new purposes (Alvermann and Xu, 2003; Cowan, 2004; Hicks,
2004; Hull and Schultz, 2001; Leander and Lovvorn, 2006; Mahiri and
Sablo, 1996; Moje, 2000a, 2008b; Moll, 1994; Noll, 1998; Reder, 2008).
Thus, as depicted in Figure 1-2, a complete understanding of reading and
writing development includes in-depth knowledge of the learner (the learners’ knowledge, skills, literacy practices, motivations, and neurocognitive
processes) and features of the instructional context that scaffold or impede
learning. The context of instruction includes texts, tools, activities, interactions with teachers and peers, and instructor knowledge, beliefs, and skills.
Types of Text
Types of text vary from books to medication instructions to Twitter
tweets. Texts have numerous features that in the context of instruction can
either facilitate or constrain the learning of literacy skills (Goldman, 1997;
Graesser, McNamara, and Louwerse, 2004). Texts that effectively support
progress with reading are appropriately challenging and well written. They
focus attention on new knowledge and skills related to the particular components of reading that the learner needs to develop. They also support
the learner in gaining automaticity and confidence and in applying and
generalizing their new skills. To the greatest degree possible, the materials
for reading should help to build useful vocabulary and content (e.g., topic,
world) knowledge. Effective texts also motivate engagement with instruction and practice partly by developing valued knowledge or relating to the
interests of the learner.
Adult learners will have encountered many texts during the course
of formal schooling that are poorly written or highly complex (Beck,
McKeown, and Gromoll, 1989; Chambliss and Calfee, 1998; Chambliss
and Murphy, 2002; Lee and Spratley, 2010). Similarly, the texts of everyday
life are not written to scaffold reading or writing skill (Solomon, Van der
Kerkhof, and Moje, 2010). Developing readers need to confront challenging
texts that engage them with meaningful content, but they also need texts
that afford the practicing of the skills they need to develop and systematic
Copyright National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research
FOUNDATIONS OF READING AND WRITING
27
support to stretch beyond existing skills. This support needs to come from
a mix of instructional interactions and texts that scaffold the learner in
developing and practicing new skills and becoming an independent reader
(Lee and Spratley, 2010; Moje, 2009; Solomon, Van der Kerkhof, 2010).
Literacy Tools
Being literate also requires proficiency with the tools and practices
used in society to accomplish valued tasks that require reading and writing
(see Box 2-1). For example, digital and online media are used to communicate with diverse others and to produce, find, evaluate, and synthesize
knowledge in innovative and creative ways to meet the varied demands of
education and work. It is important, therefore, to offer reading and writing
BOX 2-1
Literacy in a Digital Age
Strong reading and writing skills underpin valued aspects of digital literacy in
several areas:
• Presentations of ideas
Organizing a complex and compelling argument
Adjusting the presentation to the audience
Using multiple media and integrating them with text
Translating among multiple documents
n
Extended text
n
Summary
n
Graphics versus text
Responding to queries and critiques through revision and written
follow-up
• Using online resources to search for information and evaluating quality of
that information
Using affordances, such as hyperlinks and search engines
Making effective predictions of likely search results
Coordinating overlapping ideas expressed in differing language
Organizing bodies of information from multiple sources
Evaluating the quality and warrants of accessed information
• Using basic office software to generate texts and multimedia documents
Writing documents: writing for others
Taking notes: writing for oneself
Preparing displays to support oral presentations
SOURCES: Adapted from National Center on Education and the Economy (1997); Appendix
B: Literacy in a Digital Age.
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Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research
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IMPROVING ADULT LITERACY INSTRUCTION
instruction that incorporates the use of print and digital tools as needed
for transforming information and knowledge across the varied forms of
representation used to communicate in today’s world. These forms include
symbols, numeric symbols, icons, static images, moving images, oral representations (available digitally and in other venues), graphs, charts, and
tables (Goldman et al., 2003; Kress, 2003). Extensive research has been
conducted on youths’ multimodal and digital literacy learning, demonstrating that young people are experimenting with a range of tools and practices
that extend beyond those taught in school (see Coiro et al., 2009a, 2009b).
Continued research is needed to identify effective instructional methods
that incorporate digital technologies (e.g., Coiro, 2003; see Appendix B for
detailed discussion of the state of research on digital literacy).
Literacy Activities
The development of skilled literacy involves extensive participation
and practice using component skills of reading and writing for particular
purposes (Ford and Forman, 2006; Lave and Wenger, 1991; McConachie
et al., 2006; Rogoff, 1990; Scribner and Cole, 1981; Street, 1984; Vygotsky,
1986). Because literacy demands shift over time and across contexts, some
individuals may need specific interventions developed to meet these shifting literacy demands. For example, a typical late adolescent or adult must
traverse, on a regular basis, workplaces; vocational and postsecondary
education; societal, civic, or political contexts; home and family; and new
media. Literacy demands also change over time due to global, economic,
social, and cultural forces. These realities make it especially important
to understand the social and cultural contexts of literacy and to offer instruction that develops literacy skills for meeting social, educational, and
workplace demands as well as the learner’s personal needs. The likelihood
of transferring a newly learned skill to a new task depends on the similarity between the new task and tasks used for learning (National Research
Council, 2005), making it important to design literacy instruction using the
literacy activities, tools, and tasks that are valued by society and learners
outside the context of instruction. Such instruction also would be expected
to enhance learners’ motivation to engage with a literacy task or persist
with literacy instruction.
Instruction that connects to knowledge that students already possess
and va…

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