Academic journal article Journal of Adult Education

The Relationship between Reading Proficiency and Reading Strategy Use: A Study of Adult ESL Learners

Academic journal article Journal of Adult Education

The Relationship between Reading Proficiency and Reading Strategy Use: A Study of Adult ESL Learners

Article excerpt


This article explores the relationship between reading strategy use and reading proficiency among 121 adult ESL learners. Reading strategy use was measured by the SORS, and reading proficiency was determined by the CASAS Reading Test and BEST Literacy Test. Findings of the study reveal that (a) adult ESL learners are active strategies users; (b) they favor problem-solving strategies more than other strategies; (c) high intermediate learners use the most strategies and advanced learners use the least strategies; and (d) problem-solving and support strategies are more predictive of the reading proficiency. These findings provide implications for teachers of adult ESL students.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, 44% of students in federally funded adult education programs in the United States are English as a second language (ESL) learners (Institute for Educational Sciences, 2010). Many of these learners are at low proficiency levels, and they often face the dual challenge of developing basic literacy skills as well as proficiency in English (IES, 2010). Reading is an essential skill for adult ESL learners. For many of these learners, it is the most important skill to master in order to pursue their goals in life, some of which include acquiring and succeeding in work, participating in their children's education, becoming involved in community activities, and pursuing further education (Marshall, 2002).

Helping students become more autonomous in their learning has been one of the more prominent themes in the literature on the theory and practice of second language acquisition (Benson, 2011). Although learner autonomy in language learning includes several dimensions and factors, research in autonomous language learning has drawn heavily upon research on language learning strategies (Benson, 2011). Language learning strategies are seen as a means of learners' achieving autonomy in the process of language learning (Benson & Voller, 1997).

Over the past decade, increased attention has been given to measuring ESL students' language learning strategy use in specific skill areas, including reading. Studies have found that skilled readers use a wide range of reading strategies with high frequency, while unskilled readers use fewer strategies and use them less frequently (Mokhtary & Sheorey, 1994). This type of research is important because instructors need adequate tools for assessing reading stills and teaching students how to read efficiently and effectively (Mokhtari & Sheorey, 2002).

In spite of the importance of reading strategy use among adult ESL learners, little research to date has addressed this population. The purpose of this study is to identify the reading strategies used by adult ESL learners and explore the relationship between reading proficiency and strategy use.

Review of Literature

Learner Autonomy

Learner autonomy has been a major area of interest in language learning and teaching for over 30 years (Benson, 2007). As noted by Brown (2007), success in mastering a foreign language depends to a large degree on "learners' autonomous ability both to take initiative in the classroom and to continue their journey to success beyond the classroom and the teacher" (p. 70). One of the most important principles of language teaching and learning is the principle of autonomy. There are many claimed benefits of learner autonomy in language acquisition. Some of these benefits are: (a) improving the quality of language learning, (b) promoting democratic societies, (c) preparing individuals for life-long learning, and (d) allowing learners to make the best use of learning opportunities in and out of the classroom (Borg & AlBusaidi, 2012).

There have been many definitions for learner autonomy over the years; however, Holec's definition (1981) has proven to be robust and the most widely-cited definition in the field (Benson, 2007). According to Holec, learner autonomy is "the ability to take charge of one's learning . …

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