Teaching Adults to Read with Reading Apprenticeship

By Lesmeister, Michele Benjamin | Techniques, February 2010 | Go to article overview

Teaching Adults to Read with Reading Apprenticeship


Lesmeister, Michele Benjamin, Techniques


Have you ever thought how one goes about teaching reading to an adult? The complexity of this task can, at times, be overwhelming. Adults attending community and technical colleges normally carry the responsibility of making a living, and they also have many non-academic life concerns. They often possess a sense of personal insecurity, or worse, failure from either previous educational or work experiences, have a need to learn new skills to make a living wage in an ever-changing environment, and hold the social stigma associated with having to learn reading again. Reading is not one of those "want to learn" subjects. Students view it as a skill they either have or don't. In fact, most of these students do have basic reading skills, but they are inexperienced readers who need to learn skills beyond the basics to equip them for success in college and career.

How do educators face such adults with optimism and an eagerness to help improve specific reading skills so that these students can read and understand a variety of materials? Community and technical colleges arc seeing a widening gap of readers--from students trying to get a General Education Diploma (GED) to under-employed college graduates who are trying to retrain for a sustainable wage-earning career. These individuals, often highly selective or technical readers, meet the broad-based coursework of a community college, but a reading learning curve exists. Students express their need to ramp up their reading skills to cover the extensive academic and technical reading assignments and to keep pace with their peers.

In addition, educators see a growing number of second language learners transitioning from English as a second language and adult basic education classrooms into community college courses. Many second language learners have had careers in their homelands, but arrive in the United States to discover that their trade is no longer valid here, or that retraining is required. Students who are already literate in their first language don't need to learn to read again, but they do need to learn how to make meaning with academic and technical texts in English. Reading in English takes time and energy to master--it is not merely a translation task.

As an educator of adults with more than 25 years in the field, I have been searching for some way to teach reading that fosters the adult student's psychological and social aspects of learning (the cognitive and skill-building skills are covered within the curriculum). With this vision and goal, I discovered Reading Apprenticeship (RA), a research-based framework for discipline-based literacy instruction developed by the Strategic Literacy Initiative at WestEd, a nonprofit research and service agency. RA is a powerful framework that allows faculty to mentor readers in discipline-based instruction. Faculty are trained in routines that support readers across four dimensions: personal, social, cognitive, and knowledge building. Faculty members orchestrate and integrate these interacting dimensions of classroom life to support reading instruction. Integrating these dimensions into subject area teaching through meta-cognitive conversations, discussions about the thinking processes that students and faculty engage in when reading, offers a support system for reading development.

RA positions the faculty as expert, readers in their fields. Their task is to mentor their students, the apprentices, in how expert readers read. Through extensive modeling and scaffolding of reading routines and skill building, instructors show students how to become active, strategic and reflective readers. Furthermore. RA works to achieve equity in the classrooms: all students, and especially those struggling to make meaning from text, have the support, and opportunity to access an academically rigorous curriculum. This method also supports "just in time" learners who suddenly recognize that they need discipline-based training but may not have the skills.

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