Adult Educators in the United States: Who Are They and What Do They Know about Teaching Reading?

Article excerpt

Although reading is a foundational skill, more than 30 million adults in the United States fall below the basic level of skills needed to perform everyday literacy activities (Kutner, Greenberg, & Baer, 2005). Although these adult learners are very diverse, many are from low socioeconomic status (SES) groups, including minority and immigrant populations, and consequently are at risk for a variety of reasons. According to Alamprese (2001) about 17% of adults who enroll in adult basic education classes read below the sixth-grade level. Further, up to 40% of adults enrolled in basic education have been estimated to have a learning disability (Smith & Gillespie, 2007). Providing reading instruction to these diverse learners challenges novice and experienced educators alike.

Like adult learners, the educators who provide reading instruction to adults are diverse, as well. Even full-time educators who are certified teachers may have had little direct training in providing reading instruction (Snow & Strucker, 1999) and none in how to address the learning needs of adults (Smith & Gillespie, 2007). Little is known about the preparation of adult educators in the area of reading instruction, and because adult educators are very diverse in terms of their backgrounds and instructional settings, providing an accurate description is challenging. The primary purpose of this article is to describe the background and preparation of individuals who provide reading instruction to adults with low levels of literacy. This background information comes from a nationwide data collection effort designed to standardize the Assessment of Reading Instructional Knowledge-Adults (Ziegler, Bell, & McCallum, in press).

The Diffuse Nature of the Adult Literacy Field

Because of the diffuse nature of the field, adult education programs vary widely. The terms adult literacy and adult basic and secondary education are often interchanged because they both refer to providing instruction in reading, writing, and mathematics to individuals who are over the age of 18. Teaching of English for speakers of other languages is generally included in both of these terms. Programs may be funded via federal legislation, state or local initiatives, or through a combination of sources. Instruction, in the form of formal classes or informal tutoring, occurs in a wide variety of settings including libraries, community colleges, community-based organizations, social service agencies, family literacy programs, school districts (i.e., elementary, middle, or high schools), correctional facilities, faithbased organizations, or businesses. The term adult educator as used here refers to individuals who provide instruction for adults as full-time teachers, part-time teachers, or volunteer instructors/tutors. Their teaching credentials vary. Most teachers who have professional certification have specializations in either elementary, middle, secondary school, or special education. Very few have credentials specifically for teaching adults (Smith & Gillespie, 2007). Some adult educators volunteer their time to help an individual learn to read or help an instructor in a classroom environment. Like paid instructors, the backgrounds and teaching experiences of volunteers also vary widely. The ARIK-A is an assessment instrument developed in part to address the need for professional development in such a diverse group of instructors. It can be used to assess educators' knowledge of reading instructional practice for adults. In the process of developing the instrument, we developed an awareness of the considerable diversity of adult educators and a better understanding of their knowledge of teaching reading to adults.

Development of the ARIK-A

The ARIK-A was designed to evaluate adult educators' knowledge of providing reading instruction for use in professional development and research settings. In addition to the author team, an expert panel, recruited from the adult literacy and test construction field, participated in development and standardization of the ARIK-A. …