Relating Reading Research to Practice: Two Resources for Adult Education Teachers

By McShane, Susan | Perspectives on Language and Literacy, October 1, 2007 | Go to article overview

Relating Reading Research to Practice: Two Resources for Adult Education Teachers


McShane, Susan, Perspectives on Language and Literacy


Making a connection between what reading researchers have established as effective instruction and what instructors are doing with adult learners is not an easy task. The adult education and literacy field faces a number of difficulties, including (in many cases) limited funding and an extremely diverse student population. Providing appropriate and effective instruction for each individual adult learner is extremely challenging.

The next section discusses these problems in detail, explaining how the needs, concerns, and limitations of learners, teachers, and programs all contribute to make appropriate reading instruction difficult to deliver. The following sections describe two resources that teachers and programs may use to address these challenges. The first is an interactive website that offers a mini-course on reading and free assessment resources for teachers. Also introduced is a free book for teachers that offers detailed descriptions and sample activities to facilitate the application of reading research in instruction for adult learners. These two practical resources are intended to help teachers and programs make the connection between research and practice.

The Challenge

Many adults enrolled in adult basic education (ABE) classes and literacy programs need to improve their reading skillsperhaps basic decoding and fluency, but almost certainly comprehension strategies. However, many instructors do not teach reading explicitly, perhaps because the assessments used in programs do not reveal the true nature of this need or because teachers are not sure how to provide the kind of instruction required.

Learners themselves may be unaware of the extent of their limitations; they may not know how much they are missing when they attempt to process print. Others may be aware but reluctant to acknowledge a reading problem. For these reasons, many do not request reading instruction, and because these learners are adults, teachers involve them in identifying needs and setting priorities. Instead of reading, they may choose to focus on math-another great need for many adults. They may prefer to spend their study time on fractions or pre-algebra in preparation for the GED (high school equivalency) test. In addition, most adult education programs have a strong emphasis on preparation for the GED tests and smaller programs often lack the resources to offer specific classes. These factors combine to result in both limited demand and limited availability of reading-focused instruction.

Those teachers who do understand the need for reading instruction must find a way to incorporate it into their regular classroom schedules and routines. This task is especially challenging because most classes include adults with extremely varied skills. In addition, in some programs, English language learners (ELLs) are in the same classes with native English speakers who are working to improve basic skills or preparing for the GED tests.

Even programs that offer one-to-one tutoring may not be optimally effective in improving adults' literacy skills because volunteer instructors typically do not have access to the most current information about research-based practices. Teachers, too, often have only fragmentary knowledge of research-based instruction.

The first step in forging the link between research and practice is getting research-based information and tools into the hands of teachers. The website and book described in this article aim to do exactly that. Both are based on research on reading instruction in adult education and K-12 classrooms, and both present information about the components of reading: the interrelated knowledge, skills, and abilities used in reading (e.g., word recognition, word attack/decoding, vocabulary, and comprehension). (see the box "A Note About Reading Components.")

An Interactive Website Resource for Adult Education Practitioners

The website resource, Assessment Strategies & Reading Profiles, found at http://www. …

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