Teaching Writing in Adult Literacy: Practices to Foster Motivation and Persistence and Improve Learning Outcomes

By Nielsen, Kristen | Adult Learning, November 2015 | Go to article overview

Teaching Writing in Adult Literacy: Practices to Foster Motivation and Persistence and Improve Learning Outcomes


Nielsen, Kristen, Adult Learning


Abstract: Writing is critical to success in education, the workplace, and everyday communication yet receives limited attention in the research, particularly the topic of writing instruction in adult education. Adult literacy practitioners frequently lack training in writing instruction and must rely on a confusing array of information, primarily derived from K-12 pedagogy. This literature synthesis investigates findings from studies of writing focusing on adult literacy and explicates specific instructional practices and strategies for teaching writing to adult learners. Findings highlight the importance of fostering motivation, persistence, and self-efficacy and indicate motivation and achievement increase when instructors introduce specific writing microgoals, share explicit feedback, and provide evidence of progress. Classrooms should incorporate opportunities for creative expression, authentic materials and communication, writing task contextualization, explicit strategy instruction, regular journaling and personal writing, and technology and multimedia integration. Research gaps in supporting adult learner writing are identified, and implications and ideas for future research are offered.

Keywords: adult literacy, writing instruction, motivation, persistence, technology

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Writing skills are essential to success in a wide range of education and career settings, and writing achievement correlates with income, health, and well-being (Graham & Perin, 2007; Schecter & Lynch, 2011). Learners in adult literacy programs often struggle with writing and frequently lag in digital literacy skills as well (Ginsburg, Sabatini, & Wagner, 2010), creating a writing achievement gap in traditional and new media formats, and affecting prospects for career and life improvement. To inform the teaching of writing in adult literacy, most practitioners look to research in writing instruction for other populations because of the lack of synthesis of what is known about writing instruction for adult learners. While many practices of effective writing instruction can be applied across populations, it is essential to communicate, as much as possible, strategies specific to teaching and learning in adult education, which represents a distinct learner group with distinct needs. For example, adult learners have often experienced previous struggles with education and are more likely to confront motivation and persistence issues (Comings, Parrella, & Soricone, 1999). They may also have financial struggles, personal trauma, and health concerns, all of which affect learning (Hamilton & Hillier, 2006).

This literature synthesis investigates findings from studies of writing focusing on adult literacy and explicates specific instructional strategies and underlying rationales to support adult learner writing. Three research questions guided the study:

Research Question 1: What factors affect achievement in writing and learning for adult learners?

Research Question 2: Which classroom practices are most effective in supporting writing achievement in adult literacy?

Research Question 3: How can these practices be enacted in the classroom?

The following sections summarize the methodology and discuss motivation, persistence, self-efficacy, and effective instructional practices, followed by implications and future research.

Method

The methodology comprised searching, analyzing, and synthesizing the literature from ERIC/EBSCOhost and Education Source, from 1985 onward, focusing on publications from 2000. Such literature included peer-reviewed and practitioner journals, handbooks, commissioned studies, publications, talks sponsored by foundations/agencies, books, edited essay collections, and conference proceedings. Primary search terms included writing, adult learners, adult literacy, adult education, basic writing, writing instruction, strategies, motivation, and persistence. …

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