A Conceptual Framework for Teaching Critical Reading to Adult College Students

Article excerpt

Abstract: The proliferation of postsecondary programs for working adults is not surprising, given the importance of a bachelor's degree to employment and higher earnings. However, the demographics of adult learners have changed significantly over the past 30 years, when degrees for adults targeted a middle-class population. Adults now return to college after years away from school, and maw are first-generation college students whose families may be unable to advise or support them in their educational endeavors. Nevertheless, adults bring deep experiential and workplace-related learning to the classroom, which should be validated in educational settings. Increasingly, advanced reading skills are essential to college success, particularly in online courses, which, although convenient for working adults, are heavily text based. This article offers a conceptual framework for incorporating experiential learning into the teaching of critical reading skills to adult college students.

Keywords: experiential learning, critical reading, andragogy, adult learning theory

Introduction

The proliferation of postsecondary programs for working adults is not surprising, given "a Bachelor's degree is one of the best weapons a job seeker can wield in the fight for employment and earning" (Carnevale, Cheah, & Strohl, 2012, p. 3). However, the demographics of adult learners have changed significantly over the past 30 years, when degrees for adults targeted a middle-class population. According to Brookfield (1986), up until the 1980s, the typical adult learner was "a relatively affluent, well-educated, white, middle-class individual" (p. 5). In contrast to that homogeneous population, today's adult students come from culturally and socially diverse urban and rural communities (Hawkins, 2003). Adults return to college after years away from school, and many are first-generation college students whose families may be unable to advise or support them in their educational endeavors. In general, as Terenzini, Springer, Yaeger, Pascarella, and Nora (1996) note, "first-generation college students complete fewer credit hours, take fewer humanities and fine arts courses, are less likely to participate in honors programs, and make smaller gains on standardized reading tests" (as cited in Pascarella, Pierson, Wolniak, & Terenzini, 2004, p. 251). Increasingly, advanced reading skills are essential to college success, particularly in online courses, which, although convenient for working adults, are heavily text based. Despite these challenges, adults bring deep experiential and workplace-related learning to the classroom; they "possess life histories rich with diverse experiences, sophisticated problem-solving techniques, and coping skills" (Hawkins, 2003, p. 25). This article offers a conceptual framework for incorporating experiential learning into the teaching of critical reading skills to adult college students.

Critical Reading and College Success

Critical reading is a process through which students elicit meaning from a text. The student who possesses good critical reading skills is able to go "beyond the information given ... by asking questions, making hypotheses, seeking evidence, and validating assumptions" (Langer, 1990, p. 815). Critical reading is a dynamic process, since a student's final understanding of a text is "subject to change with time, as a result of conversations with others, the reading of other works, pondering and reflection" (p. 812). Poor critical reading skills contribute to the many cognitive, personal, and social challenges that prevent degree completion. Kennedy-Manzo (2006) claims that a major problem for all college students is that they are often unable to read the required textbooks, while Culver (2011) observes "for many college instructors, getting students to read their textbooks is a continuous struggle. Not only are students unmotivated to read, but even when students do read they . …