ABLE Research 2012 - 2014

Improving Adult Literacy Instruction:

Options for Practice and Research

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Improving Adult Literacy Instruction:  Options for Practice and Research, National Academy of Sciences, 2012 at

The purpose of this link is to provide a compilation of the MTLINCS 2012-2014 research snippets from Improving Adult Literacy Instruction:  Options for Practice and Research.

Click on the link below to access the snippet.


Introduction and Statistics


Literacy and the Workplace, Reading Statistics, and Writing Statistics


Who Are We Serving


Foundations of Reading and Writing:  Decoding and Fluency


Foundations of Reading and Writing:  Vocabulary and Reading Comprehension






Literacy Instruction for Adults



Literacy Instruction for Adults



State of the Research


Principles of Learning for Instructional Design Part I


Principles of Learning for Instructional Design Part II


Principles of Learning for Instructional Design Part III



Motivation, Engagement, and Persistence


Intrinsic Motivation


Social, Contextual, and Systemic Mediators of Persistence


Technology to Promote Adult Literacy


Technology to Promote Adult Literacy:  Part II


Technology to Promote Adult Literacy:  Part III



Learning, Reading, Writing Disabilities:  Part I



Learning, Reading, Writing Disabilities:  Part II



Learning, Reading, Writing Disabilities:  Part III



Language and Literacy Development of English Language Learners:  Part I



Language and Literacy Development of English Language Learners:  Part II



Conclusions and Recommendations:  Part I


Conclusions and Recommendations:  Part II


Conclusions and Recommendations:  Part III


Conclusions and Recommendations:  Part II

Only the conclusions and recommendations remain for the wrap-up of this review of Improving Adult Literacy Instruction.  Within the next month, MTLINCS will cite (without editorializing) the nine conclusions and recommendations the research presents.  (To read Conclusions 1 – 4, go to .

Conclusion 5:

The component skills of reading and writing in English and the principles of effective literacy instruction derived from research with native English speakers are likely to apply to English language learners. Consistent with principles of learning, effective instruction meets the particular skill development needs of English learners, which differ in several respects from the needs of native speakers, and uses existing knowledge of content, language, and literacy whether in the native or the English language.

… Some are literate in a first language and hence may need little practice in recognizing or spelling words or even basic comprehension skills …

… Others are recent immigrants who lack basic literacy skills in any language …

… Some English learners may be challenged by the lack of opportunities to use and be exposed to English

… A particular challenge to address in adult literacy instruction for English learners is developing their language and literacy skills at the same time ...

Conclusion 6:

Improved adolescent and adult literacy programs require the development of measures and comprehensive systems of assessment that (1) include measures of language and literacy skills related to a range of literacy forms and tasks, domain knowledge, cognitive abilities, and valued functional as well as psychological outcomes; (2) include measures for differentiated placement and instruction, diagnosis, formative assessment, and accountability that are all aligned to work toward common learning goals; and (3) produce information at learner, classroom, and program levels that is useful to learners, instructors, program administrators, and policy makers.

Three types of assessment are needed: diagnostic, formative, and accountability assessment. The different forms of measurement serve different purposes. Diagnostic assessment gives detailed information to instructors about which skill components the learner possesses and which need to be developed. Formative assessment provides the information needed to improve instruction by focusing attention on skills that need to be improved as instruction progresses. Accountability assessment provides funders and the public with a sense of how well the program and systems that serve adult literacy learners are working …

… To elaborate: there are no satisfactory ways to comprehensively assess the range of literacy skills that adults bring to instruction and their growth over time …

… Use of only a single composite score on a standardized assessment, by contrast, or measurement of a narrow skill set should be avoided to maximize understanding and return on investment, especially in large- scale effectiveness research.

Conclusion 7:

Technologies for learning can help to resolve problems facing adult learners caused by time and space constraints. Technology can assist with multiple aspects of learning and assessment that include diagnosis, feedback, scaffolding, embedded practice with skills in meaningful tasks, tracking of learner progress, and accommodations to create more effective and efficient instruction. Given the costs of human labor, technology also may offer a more cost-effective means of achieving the extended levels of practice needed to gain reading and writing facility.

… Technology has the potential to scaffold literate activity to make learning more efficient …

… Technology can be used for placement, feedback, and tracking of learner progress for more effective and efficient instruction …

… Technology also can assist with accommodation, and in particular text-to-speech and speech-to-text technologies can help to support both reading and writing development …

…In addition, given the temporal barriers many adult learners face to increase literacy opportunity, technology can make added literacy engagement opportunities more accessible and more portable.

Conclusion 8:

Society increasingly requires broader, more intensive and more complex forms of literacy given new communication technologies. Adults need to be able to use contemporary tools of literacy and become facile with forms of reading and writing that are valued and expected for education, work, health maintenance, social and civic participation, and other life tasks.

Literate practice always involves tools and technologies. Society has moved from pen and paper to digital forms of expression through information media and multimodal communications. To be functionally literate today, an adult will need to also have made this move. Adults need opportunities to learn valued literacy skills, which include the tools and forms of communication and information seeking that have resulted from the information revolution and which society now expects adults to possess as part of being literate and skilled.

Research is just beginning to examine practices and proficiencies related to the use of new information and communication technologies that are now part of being literate in 21st-century society …

… Specific questions for research include the following:

What are the competencies involved in reading and writing online and comprehending and creating multimodal texts?

What instructional materials and programs are effective in developing digital literacy skills …

… Should literacy development always begin with print-based texts or should it start with texts in multimodal and digital media?

Conclusion 9:

There is a lack of research and data of the kind required to better define, prevent, and remediate problems that adolescents and adults enrolled in instruction outside compulsory schooling are experiencing with developing their literacy skills in the United States.

… To provide an adequate research base for better adult literacy improvement efforts, several things are needed:

·       First, exploratory studies are needed to identify approaches that show promise of effecting substantial improvement.

·       Then, support is needed both to develop scalable instructional programs reflecting that promise and to test these new approaches rigorously.

·       Finally, further research may be needed to ensure that general findings are applicable to the entire range of adult literacy learners or to specify for whom they work.

Conclusions and Recommendations:  Part I

Only the conclusions and recommendations remain for the wrap-up of this review of Improving Adult Literacy Instruction.  Within the next month, MTLINCS will cite (without editorializing) the nine conclusions and recommendations the research presents.  Enjoy!


Ideally, conclusions and recommendations for adult literacy instruction would be grounded in clear research findings demonstrating the efficacy of the recommended approaches …

… The present situation is more complex. There is a surprising lack of research on the effectiveness of the various instructional practices for adults seeking to improve their literacy skills. The lack of relevant research is especially striking given the long history of both federal funding for adult education programs, albeit stretched thin, and reliance on developmental education courses to remediate college students’ skills. Few studies of adult literacy focus on the development of reading and writing skills. There is also inadequate knowledge about assessment and ongoing monitoring of adult students’ proficiencies, weaknesses, instructional environments, and progress, which might guide instructional planning …

… Given the dearth of relevant research with the target adult population, this report draws on what is available: extensive research on reading and writing processes and difficulties of younger students, emerging research on literacy and learning in adolescents and adults with normal reading capability, and extremely limited research on adult literacy learners …


Adult Learners and Learning Environments

Conclusion 1:

The population of adult learners is heterogeneous. Optimal reading and writing instruction will therefore vary according to goals for literacy development and learning, knowledge and skill, interests, neurocognitive profiles, and cultural and linguistic backgrounds. The contexts in which adults receive literacy instruction also are highly variable with respect to (1) place and purpose of instruction, (2) literacy development aims and practices, and (3) instructor preparation.

Instructors vary in their knowledge of reading and writing development, assessment, curriculum development, and pedagogy. The training instructors receive is generally limited, and professional development is constrained by lack of funding, inflexible locations, work, and other life demands. To be effective, however, the instructors must reliably assess learners’ skills, plan and differentiate instruction, and select and adapt materials and learning activities to meet the skill development needs of learners who differ greatly in their neurobiological, psychosocial, cultural, and linguistic characteristics, as well as in their level of literacy attainment …

… This training and support must include knowledge and skills for teaching adults with disabilities …

Principles of Effective Literacy Instruction

Conclusion 2:

Effective literacy instruction

·       targets (as needed) word recognition, fluency, vocabulary, reading comprehension, background knowledge, strategies for deeper analysis and understanding of texts, and the component skills of writing;

·       combines explicit teaching and extensive practice with motivating and varied texts, tools, and tasks matched to the learner’s skills, educational and cultural backgrounds, and literacy needs and goals;

·       explicitly targets the automation and integration of component skills and the transfer of skills to tasks valued by society and the learner; and

·       includes formative assessments to monitor progress, provide feedback, and adjust instruction.

… Students who have not mastered the foundational component skills of reading and writing require instruction targeted to their skill level and practice with reading and writing in amounts substantial enough to produce high levels of competence in the component skills …

1. Interventions that directly target specific learning difficulties in the context of broader reading and writing instruction result in better literacy outcomes for struggling readers and writers.

2. Intervention must include explicit instruction to support generalization and transfer of learning, with abundant and varied opportunities for practice.

3. Struggling learners require more intense instruction, more explicit instruction, and even more opportunities to practice inside and outside the classroom.

4. Attributions, beliefs, and motivational profiles of struggling learners must be understood and targeted during instruction.

5. Intervention should be differentiated to meet the particular needs of adults, including those with disabilities. Research is needed to test whether and when subgroups of adult learners might benefit from different types of instruction.

Conclusion 3:

Although knowledge of effective literacy instruction for adults is lacking, research with younger populations can be used to guide the development of instructional approaches for adults if the instruction is modified to account for two major differences between adults and younger populations: (1) adults may experience age-related neurocognitive declines that affect reading and writing processes and speed of learning and (2) adults have varied and more substantial life experiences and knowledge and different motivations for learning that need attention in instructional design. Research with adult literacy learners is required to validate, identify the boundaries of, and extend current knowledge to identify how best to meet the particular literacy development needs of well-defined subgroups of adults.

… Yet the practices already validated to develop reading and writing skills in younger students should work for older students, provided that the instruction is modified in two ways. First, findings from cognitive science and aging show that the increased knowledge and decreased speed and information processing capacity of cognitive processes that occurs with age may, at the margin, require some tuning of instruction for older learners. Second, although general principles of motivation should apply to learners of all ages, the particular motivations to read or write are often different at different ages. Instruction for adolescents and adults may need to be designed differently to motivate these populations to persist …

Conclusion 4:

Literacy development is a complex skill that requires thousands of hours of practice to reach the levels needed for full opportunity in modern life, yet many adults do not persist long enough in adult education programs or developmental education courses. Many factors—instructional, cognitive, economic, and social—affect persistence. At present, research does not indicate which methods are most effective in supporting adults’ persistence and engagement with instruction. Enough is known, however, from research on motivation, literacy, and learning with other populations to suggest how to design motivating instructional environments, create more time for practice, and ensure that the time is efficiently used. The efficacy of these approaches will need to be tested rigorously.

… Findings show low completion rates for developmental education courses in college, lack of persistence in adult education programs, and high rates of attrition from research studies on instructional effectiveness for adults with low-to intermediate-level skills. Moreover, even if completed, the available programs cannot, by themselves, provide enough practice to build needed facility levels. Future interventions must be designed on the assumption that a main reason for the lack of substantial progress is that significant portions of the needed practice have not occurred for adults with inadequate literacy …

… First, the adult needs to be present for and persist with instruction …

… Time for learning competes with time for work. Transportation from home to a study site and child care responsibilities can be major barriers. Increased access to child care and transportation and other social services, such as counseling, may help with retention of learners in programs and with their persistence in literacy practice. Financial support and incentives may be necessary even for highly motivated learners. Although research on the factors that motivate adults to persist in literacy programs is limited, we encourage the development and testing of approaches that have been used with some success to motivate adherence to health promotion programs (e.g., weight loss, smoking cessation). Reminder systems used in health care may also prove of benefit in encouraging repeated presence for classes. Having some level of choice in the source, location, and form of instruction is likely to increase motivation. For this reason and because effective literacy is built up over thousands of hours, it is extremely worthwhile to include out-of-class practice opportunities in any program. Technology has the potential to expand time for practice beyond what institutions can afford to provide via human instructors.

Improving Adult Literacy Instruction – Options for Practice and Research, Page 253-261

 Coming next:  More Research Conclusions and Recommendations

Language and Literacy Development of English Language Learners:  Part II

Not directly teaching ESOL students?  That does not matter.  As you peruse the research below, you will find that much of the information is applicable to other areas of ABE.  Skim through the information to see for yourself.

Approaches to Second Language Literacy Instruction

The research breaks approaches to instruction into eight categories.  Let’s take a look to see if there is anything new.

Category 1:  Integration of Explicit Instruction and Implicit Learning of Language and Literacy

Across the years, methods for teaching a second language have fluctuated between emphasizing sequenced explicit instruction of grammatical structures and using language to communicate for a purpose (Long, 2009). One promising approach is task-based language teaching …

Task-Based Language Teaching

… the first step is to analyze the learner’s practical literacy needs (e.g., reading technical manuals, communicating with a child’s teacher, navigating bureaucratic mazes, taking lecture notes) and the learner’s developmental levels.

So doesn’t this sound like good practice in ABE also?  We really do not have to compartmentalize our thinking as much as we think we do.  Of course, there are other instructional components to task-base language teaching that are more ESL-based, but we still can use some of the foundation.

Task-based language teaching includes a systematic focus on the grammatical form of language and not only a focus on meaning.

Explicit Teaching

A principle of learning is that most students have trouble discovering important principles on their own, without careful guidance, scaffolding, or well-crafted materials …

… Explicit teaching that included rule explanation as part of the instruction produced stronger effects than implicit teaching that included neither rule presentation nor directions to attend to particular linguistic forms …

This certainly sounds like Best Practice, doesn’t it?  Students do *not* learn by osmosis.  We teachers are valuable!!!

Focus on Both Form and Meaning and Providing Feedback

There is much debate about how to draw the learner’s attention to an error in a linguistic structure without disrupting the communicative interactions that are also needed for learning …

A principle of learning is that students benefit from feedback on their performance in a learning task. Feedback is especially important in language development because, despite some linguistic errors, the meaning of a communication may still be clear …

… learning wrong information can be reduced when feedback is immediate.

We all need feedback regardless of our status:  student or teacher.  Better to learn that information is wrong early on than to keep reinforcing a negative.


A common tool used in classrooms is to provide language feedback:  “recasting” or responding to a learner’s error by restating what the learner has said while modeling the correct form (e.g., Learner: She go to school.  Teacher: She goes to school? with stress on “goes.”). Recasts are useful because they can occur as part of the conversation and do not disrupt the flow of communication. They temporarily focus the learner’s attention on language itself.

Category 2:  Development of Language and Knowledge for Learning and Reading Comprehension

The following information can be readily applied to ABE in general.  Once again the focus is on explicit contextualized vocabulary instruction.

Effective vocabulary instruction for adolescent newcomers is explicit, systematic, extensive, and intensive (Francis et al., 2006). Explicit instruction involves not only direct instruction of the meanings of specific key words but also direct instruction in effective word learning strategies, such as breaking words down into parts, using contextual clues, and using dictionaries as references. Systematic instruction requires teachers to thoughtfully choose the key words that they teach and create multiple opportunities for meaningful exposure to the words and their meanings. Extensive vocabulary instruction is incorporated into every lesson, integrated across the curriculum. Finally, intensive vocabulary instruction provides depth of knowledge, such as an understanding of multiple meanings of words, their different forms, and different contexts of use and situated in larger conceptual frameworks.

… knowledge is a continuum that ranges from not knowing a word, to recognizing it, to knowing it roughly, to describing it very accurately and knowing its uses in different contexts (Schoonen and Verhallen, 2008; Vermeer, 2001). 

If you still have not yet tried , check it out.  This is a great tool for students to use to build their vocabulary.  They can create their own personalized vocabulary lists and take ownership of their words.  You may also want to check out some vocabulary strategies at

This week the MT Tech in the Classroom COP is exploring Read Theory at , a free online reading activity site which incorporates vocabulary and critically thinking.  Check it out!

Category 3:  Access to Language and Literacy Practice Outside Classrooms

Learning continues outside the classroom where adult language learners can experience continued interactions in both spoken and written English (Reder, 2008) … Exposure to rich language patterns is also helpful, because learners are quite sensitive and readily notice the common patterns in a language (Vouloumanos,2008). Thus, it is important not to isolate language learners from native speakers and to maximize exposure to the second language using many different venues.

What are you doing in your program to integrate language learners with others? 

Category 4:  Leveraging Knowledge in the First Language, When Available

Given the possibilities of transfer discussed earlier, more needs to be known about how best to use the first language to support development of English literacy … Systematic use of the first language may not be feasible in many languages other than Spanish because of lack of qualified teachers and materials.

Category 5:  Integrated Multimodal Instruction

Research with monolinguals indicates that higher order comprehension skills necessary for reading can also be developed through discussions of material presented in different modalities, such as visual or auditory (Kendeou et al., 2008). Using technology to present information in a variety of modalities shows particular promise for language instruction, since language and content presented in a variety of modalities (visual, auditory, text-based) reinforce each other.

Teaching by using all modalities is again just best practice.  By doing this, we are subscribing to the concept of Universal Design.  If you can’t get in via the front door, try the back door, window, chimney … whatever works for the learner.

Category 6:  Writing

As for native speakers, writing is an essential part of instruction for adult language learners …

But those with weak second language skills tend to devote more attention to form (e.g., finding the right word or syntactic structure in the second language by translating  rom the first language) and thus devote less attention to the macro processes of generating ideas, planning, revising, and editing (Sasaki, 2000).

The same may be said about those native students with weak language skills and the reading/writing process.  The more time they have to devote to decoding and trying to “find the right word”, the less time they can spend on generating ideas, etc.

Category 7:  Affective Aspects of Learning and Instruction

Field observations show that beginning learners are reluctant to use English inside and outside the classroom because they may feel insecure about their linguistic skills. English learners can become demotivated, frustrated with the slow pace of literacy instruction; repetitive instruction (e.g., as teachers try to catch up students who have missed a class); a focus on topics that are not well matched to the learner’s education level, interests, or familiarity with U.S. culture (e.g., a focus on holidays when content related to science and technology and topical discussions is preferred). Those whose goal it is to transition to training or postsecondary education mention the lack of focus on academic vocabulary in high beginning or intermediate classes …

Currently, teachers report that it is a challenge to provide instruction that is sufficiently common to all in a classroom while differentiating instruction to meet the needs of all learners (Wrigley, 2009).

 Montana ESL teachers will tell you that teaching multi-level classes is a challenge.  In order for it to be done effectively, they are using a variety of tools.

 Category 8:  Assessment

Adequate assessments are lacking for English language learners. The need to develop more valid and comprehensive approaches to the assessment of adults’ reading and writing skills also applies to this population.

Montana ESL teachers may agree with the above statement.  In fact, they are now reviewing some other assessment options which include more than just speaking.  Something new may be on the horizon.

So did you find anything new from the research?  More than likely, you may find that the research just affirms what you believe and/or are doing in the classroom.

 Improving Adult Literacy Instruction – Options for Practice and Research, Page 237-252

 Coming next:  Research Conclusions and Recommendations

Language and Literacy Development of English Language Learners:  Part I


Improving Adult Literacy Instruction:  Options for Practice and Research is very comprehensive!  We have covered the Introduction; Foundations of Reading and Writing; Literacy Instruction for Adults; Principles of Learning for Instructional Design; Motivation, Engagement, and Persistence; Technology to Promote Adult Literacy; and Learning, Reading, and Writing Disabilities.  So what is left before we wrap this up?  Language and Literacy Development of English Language Learners!

Language and Literacy Development of English Language Learners 

Even though we have a small percentage of ESOL students within Montana ABLE programs, the research provides valuable information about second language acquisition that may help us improve our instruction – although many of the Montana ESL instructors are cognizant of most of the research. 

The adults who participate in ESL classes are diverse in terms of languages spoken, education levels, literacy skill in the first language, and knowledge of English (Burt, Peyton, and Adams, 2003) … The numbers of adults in ESL classes who have limited education in their home countries continues to grow (Center for Applied Linguistics, 2010; Condelli, Wrigley and Yoon, 2009; Purcell-Gates et al., 2002; Strucker and Davidson, 2003). 

Limited Success 

Despite the need for English language and literacy instruction, adult ESL programs have had limited success.  In fact, 44 percent advanced only one literacy level, as defined by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Reporting System for adult literacy programs.  Persistence was also an issue. Half of the learners who did not advance attended fewer than 50 hours of instruction. Most of those who advanced received 50 or more hours of instruction, taking on average 50 to 149 hours of attendance (usually referred to as “100 instruction hours”) to advance one level. 

Persistence!  This is the one underlying theme present throughout most Adult Basic Education programs.  Regardless whether our students are categorized as ABE or ESL, persistence is one of the keys to success.  Most Montana programs have based their improvement plans on persistence.  (Don’t forget there is research about persistence posted at   

Component Literacy Skills of English Language Learners                                          

Strucker et al. (2007) find that adult native speakers and English language learners tend to have different patterns of strengths and weaknesses as beginning readers. Language learners show weaknesses in vocabulary and comprehension but relative strength in decoding, whereas native speakers with low literacy tend to show the opposite pattern (Alamprese, 2009; MacArthur et al., 2010a) … 

… adult language learners can develop decoding skills that are equivalent to native speakers (Alamprese, 2009). For both native speakers and language learners, once decoding is efficient, English oral proficiency (usually assessed by vocabulary and listening comprehension) predicts English reading comprehension, in higher grades (Lesaux and Kieffer, 2010) … 

Vocabulary and background knowledge are usually underdeveloped for English learners, in part because they lack the English skills needed to learn through the texts and social and instructional interactions in schools, which are in English. 

Vocabulary also seems to be a recurrent theme in ABE.  We are finding that we do need to provide more explicit instruction in vocabulary so that our learners can become more proficient readers to succeed. 

You may want to consider looking at some of the vocabulary strategies that have been posted on MTLINCS at, the Montana Technology COP is now discussing the value of a vocabulary website: may want to check out what your colleagues are saying at

Influences on Language and Literacy in a Second Language 

The research states that there are several factors to consider in the design of effective instructional practices for ESOL:

·       first language knowledge, education level 

§  Adults bring an already well-developed system for processing a first language that affects processing specific features of the second language.

§  Transfer from a native language to English depends on the overlap in characteristics between the two languages.

§  For individuals literate in their home language, the first language writing system and how it represents the oral language affects the strategies used in English decoding. 

·       English language proficiency 

§  One crucial influence on reading comprehension is vocabulary. Grabe and Stoller (2002) and Laufer (1997) estimated that one needs at least 3,000 words in a second language to read independently in that language.

§  Zareva, Schwanenflugel, and Nikolova (2006) found that in order to comprehend a college-level academic text, a vocabulary of about 9,000 words is needed.

§  Explicitly teaching vocabulary can lead to significant improvement in word knowledge and comprehension for both monolinguals and language learners (August et al., 2009; Carlo et al., 2004; Lesaux et al., 2010; McKeown et al., 1985; Vaughn et al., 2009). 

·       Age

§  Regardless of the exact timing, it is well established that the ability to learn a second language declines with age. The declines observed do not suggest, however, that literacy in a second language cannot be achieved in adulthood at the levels required for career and academic success. What they do imply is that learning a second language will take more time and practice at later ages, and that even at high levels of second language facility differences in spoken language might be expected between a native and nonnative English speaker.

·       aptitude for language 

·       reading and learning disabilities 

§  When language learners experience reading and writing difficulties in a second language, it is hard to determine whether the cause is a true disability or not-yet-developed second language skills (Klingner, Artiles, and Méndez Barletta, 2006; Lovett et al., 2008a; McCardle et al., 2005). 

·        cultural and background knowledge 

§  Decades of literacy research have shown that comprehension involves interpreting the meaning of text using preexisting knowledge, beliefs, and opinions. The more one knows about a topic, the better one comprehends the material (Anderson and Pearson, 1984a, 1984b; McNamara, de Vega,and O’Reilly, 2007).

§  Cross-cultural studies show certain cognitive processes are not necessarily universal, even for highly educated college students. Some basic processes, such as categorization, perception of an object in relation to its background, and making causal attributes, have been shown to be affected by the cultural context in which an individual was raised and educated (Ceci, 1991; Choi, Koo, and Choi, 2007; Choi, Nisbett, and Norenzayan, 1999; Nisbett et al., 2001; Norenzayan and Nisbett, 2000). 

          Improving Adult Literacy Instruction – Options for Practice and Research, Page 226-236 

Based upon the research, vocabulary and persistence are fundamental to ESOL growth:  two factors that Montana ABLE has focused on most recently. 

Coming next:  Approaches to Second Language Literacy Instruction!

Learning, Reading, and Writing Disabilities:  Part III

The last review of the research that was posted was regarding Learning, Reading, and Writing Disabilities.  You may want to review the information by clicking here to access 2013-2014 research postings from Improving Adult Literacy Instruction.  Click here to email questions or comments.

               Brain Structure and Function

Because the information presented about the brain structure is very technical, MTLINCS is only citing a few interesting items and would encourage you to peruse the document for more specifics.

A number of anatomical neuroimaging studies (research that uses magnetic resonance imaging, MRI, to measure gray and white matter volumes across brain regions) have identified structural differences, such as reduced gray matter volume, in the brains of people with reading disabilities. These differences have been found in several of the left hemisphere (LH) regions that functional brain imaging show to be involved in reading, including the temporoparietal and occipitotemporal areas (Brambati et al., 2004; Brown et al., 2001; Eckert et al., 2003; Kronbichler et al., 2008; Silani et al., 2005).

Now you can see what is meant by technical.  However, we do know that reading difficulties may be caused by multiple issues.

Reading difficulties at any age or in any population are the result of a complex mix of congenital (gene-brain-behavior) and environmental factors. It is well known that genetic factors contribute to reading disabilities (Fletcher et al., 2007). The observation that reading difficulties run in families and are evident across generations was reported almost a century ago (Hinshelwood, 1917).


Throughout the research, the concept of explicit instruction is revisited multiple times as a potential teaching strategy.


… The instruction used with typically developing learners also needs to be adapted for those with disabilities to be more explicit and systematic; provide enhanced supports for the transfer and generalization of skills; provide more opportunities for practice; address maladaptive attributions, which can be particularly important to address for struggling learners; and provide scaffolded and differentiated instruction that targets specific difficulties while continuing to develop all the skills needed for reading and writing development …


… The fact that both structural and functional reorganization of LH brain circuitry for reading can occur after effective remediation for both children and adults with reading disabilities is potentially very important. Similar positive outcomes may occur for adult learners who have lacked the extended experiences needed to develop literacy skills, regardless of whether or not they have latent (undiagnosed) reading disabilities. Knowledge of brain-based developmental trajectories from childhood to adulthood, although still incomplete, suggests the patterns of brain activation that might be achieved with effective instruction and remediation of struggling readers.


Accommodations to Support Literacy Learning


Montana ABLE personnel have had much exposure to providing accommodations for students with reading difficulties via the Learning to Achieve model.  Click here to access strategies provided. 


Accommodations adjust the manner in which instructional or testing situations are presented so that individuals with documented disabilities can learn and demonstrate their learning in a fair and equitable manner (Gregg, 2009).


The one strategy that is continually being presented in the research is that of extended time.


As difficulties with phonological, orthographic, morphologic, and syntactic awareness slow down the process of decoding, extra time becomes a critical accommodation for adolescents or adults with learning disabilities (dyslexia). There is a significant amount of research to support the need for this accommodation for adolescents and adults with learning disabilities (Gregg, 2009; Gregg and Nelson, in press; Shaywitz, 2003) …


… As with handwriting disorders, extra time is an appropriate accommodation for college students with significant spelling deficits, since they require more time to recall the motor and orthographic patterns necessary to spell words…


… For writers struggling to produce written sentences, extra time and word processing are appropriate accommodations …


Did the research present anything new?  Not really!  We know that many of our clients are students with learning difficulties who will encounter many challenges in their lifetime due to their learning difficulties.  As the research states, Lack of access to accommodations for individuals with learning disabilities can have major negative effects on career development and adult income. Accommodations for learning need to be used in conjunction with effective instruction to support the development and assessment of literacy.


Coming Next:  Language and Literacy Development of English Language Learners!

Learning, Reading, and Writing Disabilities:  Part II

Writing Disabilities

As instructors, many thoughts are whirling through our minds regarding our students taking the new high school equivalency test (HSE).  If a student chooses to take the writing assessment online, will he/she have the necessary keyboarding skills so that focus can be on composing at the computer?  If a student has a writing disability, how will it surface on the writing test if the test is via the computer?  Spelling and syntax problems just don’t disappear once the computer becomes the pen.  Will it be better for the student to take that test via paper/pencil or computer?

According to the research on writing disabilities,

… There is a small body of evidence that difficulties with basic writing skills, such as handwriting and spelling, constrain writing development. Poor writers often have difficulties mastering these skills (Graham, 1999). As a result, these skills demand the writers’ attention, diverting resources away from other important aspects of writing, such as sentence construction and content generation. When struggling writers are explicitly taught handwriting and spelling, not only do these skills improve but so do other writing processes, such as output and sentence construction (Berninger et al., 1997, 1998; Graham, Harris, and Fink, 2000; Graham, Harris, and Fink-Chorzempa, 2002).

Regardless the mode of the HSE testing, research is then indicating that explicit instruction in handwriting and spelling may help improve sentence construction.  Once again, explicit instruction is a key in working with those students with disabilities. First, however, we need to evaluate our students’ writing via more ways that just the TABE.

The term syntax refers to rules in a language for assembling words to form sentences. Syntactic awareness and the ability to produce sentence structures require a writer’s semantic (word usage in context), grammar (e.g., agreement), and mechanical (e.g., application of punctuation and capitalization rules) abilities working in unison. Problems with any one of these features can influence fluency with written syntax. Therefore, during an evaluation, examination of word usage, word agreement, and the mechanics of writing should be conducted and taken into consideration in determining how written syntax is influenced by these features.

We keep hearing about text complexity.  Have you looked at the new HSE test?  Are you seeing that vocabulary is more complex?  Will this be something that may be more difficult for your students with writing challenges? 

The association of word meaning to grammatical structure and structure to words provides information pertinent to the understanding of language and to the ability to design instruction in reading and writing (see Biber, Conrad, and Reppen, 1998, for an in-depth discussion). 

Students with writing challenges may have underlying word knowledge and retrieval problems which do affect reading comprehension.  Although they may not yet be challenged with the level at which they have to achieve success (only 2 on the HiSET essay – according to HiSET at , total passing scores are set such that approximately 60 percent of a random sample of high school students would pass on the first attempt.), they will be challenged by word meaning and specificity.   

The writing of the college students with learning disabilities (dyslexia) contained significantly fewer of these features, therefore decreasing the linguistic complexity of their writing samples … Another very distinct feature of the discourse of the writers with learning disabilities (dyslexia) was their overuse of hedges (e.g., at about, something like, more or less, almost, maybe, sort of, kind of, etc.). Such grammatical structures provide less specificity and more ambiguity to the meaning of the text. Underlying word knowledge and word access problems might be contributing to this overuse of hedges.  

Research notes that adolescents with learning disabilities may have difficulty with organization, a key ingredient in writing, and difficulty assessing a sense of audience.  These students also may have difficulty with writing fluency which is measured by the length and number of words in a composition. 

Researchers examining the written text of adolescents with learning disabilities note that these writers often demonstrate difficulty with metacognitive strategies, such as planning, monitoring, evaluating, and revising (Englert, 1990; Graham and Harris, 1999) … 

… Studies show that basic writers have little sense of writing as a rhetorical transaction (Rubin and Looney, 1990). That is, such writers seldom view writing as a means of communication or persuasion; rather, they tend to think infrequently of potential readers and fail to use information about their readers even when it is available to them …  

… Writer, audience, and context are all involved in the dynamic creation of text, and this leads to choices regarding concepts, vocabulary, style, and text organization … 

… In other words, the number of words produced by writers increased their chances for higher quality scores. A critical finding from this study was that vocabulary and fluency proxies—number of words, number of different words, and number of words with more than two syllables—were the best discriminators between college writers with and without learning disabilities (dyslexia) … 

Of course, a new test does not mean that students with learning difficulties are going to fail.  However, this is a good time for all of us to assess the skills needed for the new high school equivalency test and match them with our students’ academic needs.  Remember – there are resources available that have been organized by your Montana colleagues.  Check out Module 6, Written Expressions Disabilities, on the Learning to Achieve snippets at .  

Improving Adult Literacy Instruction – Options for Practice and Research, Page 204-209 .   

Coming the first of the year:  Developing Brain Systems in Struggling Readers!

Learning, Reading, and Writing Disabilities:  Part I

In 2012, a group of MT ABLE educators who had participated in the Learning to Achieve project provided snippets of practical, intervention strategies to be used with students with learning disabilities.  Universal Design, though, indicates that these strategies may be used with any learner who may be encountering learning challenges.  After reviewing some of the information below from Improving Adult Literacy Instruction, you may want to review some of the strategies presented by the L2A team.  Click here to review the L2A snippets.

The chapter on “Learning, Reading, and Writing Disabilities” begins by reminding us that research on adult learners is limited. 

… We focus mainly on research with college students because the empirical research base is more comprehensive for them than for other adult learners with learning disabilities …

The findings presented here are relevant to instructors of colleges or adult basic and secondary education programs. Yet it is important to recognize that learning disabilities also are a condition defined by legal criteria in the United States, criteria to which secondary and postsecondary institutions must adhere in providing services for students with learning disabilities.  The college students identified with learning disabilities who have participated in research have met this legal criterion … 

Many of MT ABLE students have learning challenges in one form or another.  Some of our older adult students have never been officially diagnosed with a learning disability; the younger ABLE population may enter MT ABLE services with a specific diagnosis.  Regardless of a diagnosis, these students need strategies as a part of their literacy instruction. 

Learning disabilities in adulthood by definition describe individuals as developmentally disordered in learning in comparison to age-expected performance and appropriate instructional opportunities. A diagnosis requires evidence that an individual is substantially limited in major life activities (e.g., reading or writing). If learning disabilities are not diagnosed before adulthood, however, it may be difficult to establish that the individual had access to sufficient high-quality instruction. 

So how many students may have a learning disability? 

Although better information is needed about the number of adults in literacy programs with learning disabilities, over one-quarter of adults who attend adult education programs report having a learning disability (Tamassia et al., 2007). The prevalence of learning disabilities for the college-bound population is reported to be approximately 3 to 5 percent of student enrollment (National Center for Education Statistics, 2009; Wagner et al., 2005). 

OK, ABE has its challenges.  If one-quarter of the student population may have reported a learning disability and ABE is to prepare students for college, direct instruction in using learning strategies is important.  So what are the statistics for college students with learning disabilities? 

A total of 14 million undergraduates are enrolled in 2- and 4-year colleges in the United States, and the number is expected to reach 16 million by 2015. Among the U.S. population with learning disabilities, approximately 17 percent will take college entrance exams, but only 4 percent of students who had received special education services in high school were found to be enrolled in a 4-year college or university 3 to 5 years after high school (Wagner et al., 2005, 2007) … 

The greatest growth in postsecondary attendance by students with learning disabilities is experienced at 2-year colleges (Wagner et al., 2005). 

Of the ABE students who go on to college, more of them are attending 2-year colleges.  That seems to correlate to the information above. 

Reading Disabilities 

MT ABLE has provided training in the area of reading:  Route to Reading and Reading is the Bridge.  Most recently, Susan Pimentel provided training in the College and Career Readiness for ELA Literacy.  Where does all this fit in with learning disabilities? 

Some 80-90 percent of students with learning disabilities are reported to exhibit significant difficulty with reading (Kavale and Reese, 1992; Lerner, 1989; Lyon et al., 2001) … 

… Adults with reading disabilities experience lower reading achievement than what is expected given their age, intelligence, and education … 

… Longitudinal research has shown the persistence of a diagnosed reading disability into adulthood and behavioral and biological validation of the lack of reading fluency in adults with dyslexia across the life span (Bruck, 1990, 1992, 1993; Shaywitz, 2003; Swanson and Hsieh, 2009) … 

… there is no consensus on the estimated numbers of adult learners who may have such a reading disability. The estimates range from one-tenth to more than half (Patterson, 2008) … 

… Bruck’s research also documented that among this adult population, phonological awareness continued to be an area of deficit in comparison to their peers. The decoding errors demonstrated by individuals with phonological awareness deficits often represent “phonetically implausible” letter and word choices. 

Besides difficulty in reading fluency, ABE students may also experience difficulty in reading comprehension.   

Research with college students with learning disabilities points to several sources of difficulty with reading comprehension. These sources of difficulty include verbal working memory, language disorders, executive function, long-term memory, and metacognition (particularly self-regulation and comprehension monitoring) … 

… Some students experience difficulty with comprehension because of poor decoding, but for other adolescents and adults with learning disabilities, the core of their reading problem is a receptive language disorder (Cain and Oakhill, 2007; Catts, Adlof, and Ellis, 2006) … 

… Prior knowledge helps with inference making and comprehension monitoring across the life span (Kintsch, 1998; Perfetti, Marron, and Foltz, 1996) … 

… Long-term memory is important to interpreting text. Readers construct a situational model during the process of listening or reading comprehension (Kintsch, 1998) … 

… Many individuals with learning disabilities have difficulty with self-regulation and strategy use, which prevents them from using contextual information fully for comprehending text (Cain, Oakhill, and Elbro, 2002; Cain, Oakhill, and Lemmon, 2004) … 

… Some readers with learning disabilities have significant difficulty detecting inconsistencies in what they read … 

… Therefore, simply providing such an individual extra time on a reading task might not be very effective unless the reader is also taught specific cognitive strategies to enhance comprehension monitoring … 

… Thus, effective instruction in reading comprehension must target not only the acquisition of effective reading strategies but also their flexible application and monitoring. … 

Improving Adult Literacy Instruction – Options for Practice and Research, Page 196-203 

ABE students have many challenges, especially if they have learning differences.  Most of them see education as the tool that will help them advance in life.  They want it, and when they come to ABE-Landia, they want it now, in three months or less while they are working and raising a family.  However, if these students have reading challenges, achieving success in a short time and getting ready for college will be a challenge.  Before ABE students enter into postsecondary training, they must be able to do the following:  engage with complex text (and its academic knowledge), extract and employ evidence, and build knowledge.  Susan Pimentel, College and Career Ready Standards in Action,  Not only are high school equivalency exams becoming more challenging but also are career and college readiness skills.  MT ABLE educators have their work cut out for them    

Writing Disabilities coming next!

Technology to Promote Adult Literacy:  Part III 11/11/13 

As was stated in the 10/28 research snippet, according to Improving Adult Literacy Instruction, there are many ways that “technologies might enhance adult and adolescent literacy practice and acquisition”.  The snippet covered six areas:  group collaborative communication software, word processing software, bulletin board discussion tools, commenting tools embedded in programs, virtual meeting tools, and Speech-to-text and text-to-speech tools.  The following tools may also enhance literacy practice.

 Embedding low-level coaching in electronic texts 

With the push toward text-complexity thinking, this type of coaching could help students by providing the following strategy: 

… the possibility of embedding popup questions in texts that are presented on screen.  … It is possible to have pop-up questions tailored to match a system’s best understanding of how the reader is processing the text in question. For example, if the student is not spending enough time on difficult content that is important, then there can be pop-up generic questions (Are you sure you understand this section?) or specific questions that target particular ideas.  

Automatic Essay Scoring 

Do you tend not to give your students as many writing assignments that they need to have because you just do not have time to read and comment on them?  The research suggests two solutions:  

One is supported by the tools for collaborative text processing discussed above. Specifically, students can comment on each other’s work. The other solution may be the e-rater system developed at Educational Testing Service (Attali and Burstein, 2006; Burstein, 2003), the Intelligent Essay Assessor developed at Pearson Knowledge Technologies (Landauer, Laham, and Foltz, 2000, 2003; Streeter et al., 2002), and the IntelliMetric Essay Scoring System developed by Vantage Learning (Elliott, 2003; Rudner, Garcia, and Welch, 2006). … Automated essay graders have been used in electronic portfolio systems to help students improve writing by giving them feedback on many features of their essays, as in the case of Criterion (Attali and Burstein, 2006) and MY Access (Elliott, 2003). 

Intelligent tutoring systems 

Montana ABLE has provided the SkillsTutor system which is an example of a simple intelligent tutoring system.  By taking a pretest, the student is then provided a customized program of instruction. 

From 1985 to the present, there have been a number of intelligent tutoring systems developed (see citations above) that track student performance on various tasks, provide feedback, and intelligently guide students in ways that promote learning. 

Instant feedback tailored to the situation 

Intelligent tutoring systems employ instant feedback. 

Intelligent tutoring systems operate by trying to discover what pattern of present and missing knowledge best accounts for a student’s performance. 

Detection and tailoring to emotion and engagement level 

Do your programs have any tools that detect student emotion and engagement level?  These are tools that are just beginning to be developed.  However, most of the time teachers can notice a student’s lack of engagement when the student’s snoring becomes obvious! =) 

Such systems can be more flexible in engaging students if they understand when a text is not engaging the student or when a task is producing an emotional response that leads to avoidance rather than deep engagement.  

Serious Games 

Just what are serious games?  Is there a place for serious games in the classroom?  Opinions differ. 

Engagement in the game should facilitate learning by increasing time on task, motivation, and self-regulated activities, as long as the focus is on the instructional curriculum rather than nongermane game components that distract from the knowledge and skills to be learned … Researchers have identified a long list of features that are good candidates for explaining why games enhance motivation (Loftus and Loftus, 1983; Malone and Lepper, 1987; Ritterfeld, Cody, and Vorderer, 2008): interest, fantasy, challenge, play, feedback, narrative, hypothetical worlds, entertainment, and so on. These hooks optimize time on task and so could be useful to learning of reading components. The integration of game components and literacy instruction seems destined to have a large future (Gee, 2007; McNamara, Jackson, and Graesser, 2010). 

Immersion Environments 

This kind of environment creates realistic systems which may help languages learners; however, it may be cost prohibitive.  Direct role-playing may be more cost effective. 

An interesting example of the sophisticated level of intelligent training environments is the system called Tactical Iraqi (Johnson and Beal, 2005; Johnson and Valente, 2008; Losh, 2005), which has been expanded to a more general Tactical Language and Culture System for multiple languages. This system has intelligent tutoring system components embedded in virtual reality with multiple fully embodied animated agents. This system was developed to help junior officers prepare for duty in Iraq, where they would need to interact with local tribal leaders in a new language and culture. 

Electronic entertainment technologies and related tools 

Are you using iPads or tablets in the classroom?  If so, then you have a variety of apps available that provide entertainment while students learn.  The biggest challenge is finding age appropriate apps for students. 

A variety of simple tools have been used (mainly in elementary education, some for secondary education, and very little for adult literacy) to help people practice and become more facile in basic components of literacy. The tools promote, for example, practice of basic word reading and increases in vocabulary …

Improving Adult Literacy Instruction – Options for Practice and Research, Page 186-188

Technology can be a valid tool for adult learners.  However, costs may keep programs from implementing some of the tools.  That should not keep literacy providers from considering technology implementation.  We live in a digital era.  As a rural state, Montana is a prime target for just such type of learning.  How can we not be supportive of this learning environment so that we do not limit ourselves?

Technologies are vital to making the entire population literate because of their value for improving, leveraging, and making more affordable activities that require intense human effort, such as literacy instruction. Internet technologies also have the potential to alleviate barriers associated with limited times and places of instruction. Digital technologies are important to incorporate into literacy instruction as the tools required for literacy in a digital age.

 Learning, Reading, and Writing Disabilities coming next!

Technology to Promote Adult Literacy:  Part II 10/28/13

According to Improving Adult Literacy Instruction, there are many ways that “technologies might enhance adult and adolescent literacy practice and acquisition”; however, once again there is little research in the adult literacy arena to substantiate this claim.  If you read through the possible technologies, you will soon see, though, that many Montana ABLE programs are implementing some of these technologies.  Are you one of them?

Group collaborative communication software

This kind of software is something that is seen in most businesses today.  It is one form that most educators are embracing. 

Other frequent forms of collaborative communication include electronic calendars, email, text messaging, Facebook, wikis, and collaboration portals.

 Word processing software

Word processing appears to be a must-have tool for education today.  How many of your students have the skill to be able to take the HiSET via the computer?  Will most of your students take the writing portion of the test via paper/pencil?  Is that an option at the test center near you?

According to the research, … for most adults and adolescents who have limited literacy, the ability to get ideas on paper, read those of others, edit initial writing, and exchange ideas that sharpen comprehension and composition is dramatically enhanced by word processing tools and should therefore be encouraged (Bereiter and Scardamalia, 2003; Graham and Perin, 2007a).

Bulletin boards and discussion tools

Which programs are using discussion tools with their students?  We tend to think of these as a means for educators to interact; however, we may not be extending this tool to our students because it does require risk-taking and monitoring.  The tools are really just extensions of peer editing, right?

Students engage in multiple literacy activities that involve reading additional documents and peer comments and then preparing their own comments and posting them.

Commenting tools embedded in programs

Montana ABLE staff who attended the Susan Pimentel session in Belgrade learned about text complexity.  Could using the comment tools in Word, etc. be a method to get students to extend their thinking and use technology at the same time? 

The use of commenting tools also mimics productive work, providing both motivation and practice in some of the 21st-century skills.

Virtual meeting tools

As educators in a rural state, we need to connect more frequently.  We can not drive across the state once a month to bond, to share ideas, but we can use virtual meeting tools to enhance our learning.  Recently, members of the SIA reading committee were able to employ the use of such an online tool, the Vyew.  Was it easier than having a conference call, exchanging documents via email?  Maybe not, but it was a start.  The process, however, did allow participants “to meet and share content in real-time or anytime.” 

In the education world, especially for adult learners, such tools can help in overcoming transportation issues,  increasing total engaged time beyond short class periods, and, for adolescents, better connecting home and after-school environments to school settings. 

Speech-to-text and text-to-speech tools

Even though the use of Universal Design originated for free access to disabled people, UD levels the playing field for all of us at different times during our lives.  Do you have a phone that allows you to give voice commands?  A car that talks to you?  The possibilities for speech-to-text and text-to-speech are endless.

It is entirely possible to develop texts that read themselves to a student and also systems that listen to students reading texts aloud and give corrective assistance if they make errors in their reading (Cole et al., 2003; Johnson and Valente, 2008; Mostow, 2008). A number of intelligent tutoring systems allow spoken student input as an alternative to typed input (D’Mello et al.,2010; Litman et al., 2006).

Improving Adult Literacy Instruction – Options for Practice and Research, Page 186-188 

Even though we may believe that we can more quickly “teach” our adult learners by using direct instruction with paper/pencil, are we doing a disservice to them by not employing technology as a tool?  According to Improving Adult Literacy Instruction, “digital technologies are important to incorporate into literacy instruction as the tools required for literacy in a digital age.”

Stay tuned for the next research snippet, for there are still seven categories to present from the “Technology to Promote Adult Literacy” section.  

Technology to Promote Adult Literacy 10/15/13

Last year MTLINCS reviewed Chapters 1-4 of Improving Adult Literacy Instruction:  Options for Practice and Research at  This year MTLINCS will finish its semimonthly review of the last half of the research.  In the first review last year, the expansion of the definition of today’s literacy and the workplace was noted:

Literacy and the Workplace:  Definition Expanded 

If anything, data from the NAAL and other surveys and assessments are likely to underestimate the problem of literacy in the United States. Literacy demands are increasing because of the rapid growth of information and communication technologies, while the literacy assessments to date have focused on the simplest forms of literacy skill …

Improving Adult Literacy Instruction – Options for Practice and Research, Page 29

If information and communication technologies are increasing for students, then it is incumbent upon Montana ABLE to use technology to support growth in students’ literacy skills.  Does that mean that technology is the solution?  According to the research,

… Technology does not of itself produce learning. It simply amplifies and extends instructional strategies …

So it may not be the solution, but  

… adults need opportunities to access tools and develop proficiencies that are part of what it means to be literate in the 21st century. 

… To this list must be added the everyday tools of word processing. The ability to easily and quickly compose and edit prose is a major determiner of writing achievement, and word processing tools replace laborious writing and complete rewriting with faster (after practice) typing and editing that does not require recopying the entire written product (see Berninger et al., 1998; Christensen, 2005; Graham, Harris, and Fink, 2000; Graham, Harris, and Fink-Chorzempa, 2002).

Many Montana ABLE educators use technology as a tool in their classrooms even though the range of delivery varies.  Effectively using technology for the sake of learning and not for the sake of technology implementation is the challenge  

Computer technologies may improve learning for many reasons. They can be adaptive to the profiles of individual learners, give the learner control over the learning experience, better engage the learner, and be more efficient on many dimensions. 

Using technology as a delivery tool may be advantageous, but it is useless without interaction.  There is a need for some type of checks and balances. Are you following up to see if learning is occurring, if retention is there, even when the program indicates student success?  Depth of knowledge must be pursued regardless of the tool used. 

Not every type of advanced computer technology has been demonstrated to facilitate learning in every subject area … This may be because most learners have inadequate strategies for inquiry learning; that is, they do not know how to use new information tools for the purposes that have been tested.

Improving Adult Literacy Instruction – Options for Practice and Research, Page 179-186

What types of technology are you using that promote effective learning, not just technology engagement?  Have you tried any of the websites that Tim Ponder provided at EQ 2013?

Stay tuned for Digital Tools for Practicing Skills!

Social, Contextual, and Systemic Mediators of Persistence 5/20/13 

We know that there is a lack of research about the adult learner; therefore, much of the information that is presented in Improving Adult Literacy Instruction:  Options for Practice and Research has been an extension from the research on K-12 populations.  We also know that we all learn better when we have input into the learning process and choice.  Just because we “build it”, does not mean our students will come and stay.  There are still lingering factors that affect persistence. 

Motivation, especially in adolescence, comes in part from personal perceptions of having a choice in one’s activities. Researchers have argued that the structures of rules, assignment of classes, and grading in secondary schools match poorly with adolescent needs for more space in which to make and take responsibility for decisions about actions and self-regulation (Eccles and Midgley, 1989; Eccles, Lord, and Midgley, 1991; Eccles et al., 1993a, 1993b; MacIver and Epstein, 1993). Supporting this view, Connell and Wellborn (1991) found that young people’s beliefs—particularly those who are at risk (see Connell, Spencer, and Aber, 1994)—about their ability to control, and thus self-regulate, academic and social outcomes depended on the availability of contexts and experiences that allowed them some autonomy while also guiding and facilitating their decision making. 

So we “build it” and offer choices, but still guide and facilitate learning.  Ours is not an easy task.  Do we individualize instruction or provide group instruction?

Research also suggests that ability grouping and other related practices may have negative side effects on resilience and self-regulation (Blumenfeld, Mergendoller, and Swarthout, 1987; Guthrie et al., 1996; Urdan, Midgley, and Anderman, 1998; Wilkinson and Fung, 2002). 

Ah, yes, there must be a happy medium.  Mix it up!  However, make sure that instruction has purpose and meaning.  Make sure that it is answering the students’ whys.

Social Relationships and Interactions

According to sociocultural theories of literacy, reading and writing are activities that participants perceive to have  meaning in specific social and cultural contexts, which impart their own motivations (see Heath, 1983;

Scribner and Cole, 1981). Classroom collaboration is one such activity because it fosters discourse practices in the community, from which the participants derive motivation. Research from varied disciplines points to several ways in which interpersonal or group activity—variously termed “cooperation,” “collaboration,” and “collective.

OK, while filling in the learning gaps some individuals have, we engage our learners in meaningful instruction and have them collaborate in order to achieve some community support.  Yet we still must be aware that our students will many times have to prioritize their actions.

Effective functioning in adulthood requires selectively allocating effort toward the most important and pressing goals in accord with the opportunities available (Heckhausen, Wrosch, and Schulz, 2010), and well-being appears to be enhanced in adulthood among those who engage in such “selective optimization” (Baltes and Baltes, 1990; Freund and Baltes, 1998, 2002; Riediger, Li, and Lindenberger, 2006; Wrosch, Heckhausen, and Lachman, 2000). In this light, lack of persistence in adult literacy instruction, while appearing to be a poor choice, actually may be a self-regulated, adaptive response …

… it is unlikely that adolescents and adults with pressing social, familial, and economic demands on their lives will make the time and effort necessary to persist unless strategies are in place to help them cope in significant and sustained ways with these demands. Adult literacy programs can offer significant and sustained means of supporting persistence …

Improving Adult Literacy Instruction – Options for Practice and Research, Page 168-178

To quote a recent High School Equivalency graduate, Christina Tsosie:  You can do it; anybody can do it.  It just takes hard work and determination to succeed in furthering your education. .

So what do we do to help our adult learners.  We do exactly what Christina suggests:  work hard and stay determined to succeed – even in times of adversity.  We even do what the research suggests and implement strategies to help students persist.

We are not yet finished exploring what the research says, for Improving Adult Literacy Instruction:  Options for Practice and Research is an in-depth study.  We still have the following items left to cover:  technology; learning, reading, and writing disabilities; and language and literacy development of English language learners.  Those items will be covered during the next program year. 

In the meantime, you may want to review everything that has been posted so far.  Just because MTLINCS built this “monologue” does not mean you have read it. Go to  In fact, review it and decide if you agree or disagree!   Learning takes place when the learning community exists; dialogue is much better than a monologue.  Be willing to share your thoughts.  What a better way to enjoy your summer! 

Intrinsic Motivation 

Have you ever had the feeling that some of students really do not want to be taking classes?  Hmmm … better yet – have you ever been a student who did not want to be in a class?  We all know that if we have interest and input, we more thoroughly enjoy a class, a job, an activity … 

Students who are more intrinsically motivated or perceive their behaviors as autonomous show better outcomes for text recall (Ryan, Connell, and Plant, 1990) … Intrinsic motivation is affected by rewards for performance, the degree to which the learner values the learning activity and task, the learner’s interest in the activity or task, and opportunities for choice or other ways of participating in learning to develop autonomy. 

Do we need to be rewarded? 

Some argue that extrinsic incentives are not harmful to intrinsic motivation (e.g., Cameron, Banko, and Pierce, 2001; Eisenberger, Pierce, and Cameron, 1999), and others argue that they ultimately lower intrinsic motivation. The case against extrinsic rewards has been confirmed in a meta-analysis of 128 experiments (Deci, Koestner, and Ryan, 1999; see also Deci, Koestner, and Ryan, 2001). For instance, extrinsic rewards can lead to more rigid, less flexible, and slower problem solving (e.g., Glucksberg, 1962; McGraw and McCullers, 1979). 

Programs have been implementing various strategies this year to aid student persistence.  Have you discovered that some of those strategies are not working?  Any surprises?   

Research suggests, however, that if students enroll in adult literacy courses simply to be able to obtain an extrinsic reward, such as job referrals, their motivation to subsequently use and engage with subsequent literacy activities may diminish or be undermined once the reward (i.e., a job or a job placement referral) is received. 

So do we teach to the test or do we teach skills?  ABLE instructors want their students to walk away from their classrooms with solid skills, not just participation in a task.  Hopefully, by gaining those skills, students can perform better on a test or on a job. 

The reward should be contingent on the student’s having learned specific literacy skills or reached specific goals, rather than for simply engaging with or completing a literacy task or course, which is more likely to be experienced as controlling (Deci, 1975; Deci and Ryan, 1987). For instance, if the reward provided by an adult education course is a job referral, then the job referral should be offered for having learned specific skills (e.g., being able to write a coherent essay), not for merely having completed a set of tasks (e.g., completing all exercises in a course). 

How many times have you heard the following statement:  I can understand what I am reading if I am interested in the subject. 

When students are personally interested in topics covered in reading passages, recall of the main ideas of the passages is enhanced (Schiefele, 1996a) and subsequent motivation in related texts is maintained (Ainley, Hidi, and Berndorff, 2002). 

We are no different; however, we need to find a happy medium. 

The real challenge, however, is moving learners from situational to personal, or sustained, interest in a way that inspires persistence even when faced with challenging reading tasks or lack of background knowledge. 

What kind of techniques can ABLE teachers employ to tap into a student’s interest which may then help support persistence?  Research suggests six strategies for literacy instructors: 

These include (1) offering meaningful choices to students (e.g., allowing them to occasionally choose from among several texts), (2) using well-organized texts, (3) using texts that include vivid imagery, (4) using texts about which students have some prior knowledge, (5) encouraging students to actively and creatively think about the material they are reading, and (6) providing relevant cues for students (e.g., prompting them while reading or providing advance organizers to help make sense of the material). 

Research has told us that teacher feedback is essential in student growth; however, it is also important that we listen to student feedback and involve students in decision-making about their programs.  Student choice must be valued if we want students to persist. 

… research suggests that if adults are enrolled in adult education courses and develop and maintain positive values about the literacy activities they engage in (i.e., they come to believe that the courses are useful, important, interesting, and worth their time), then they will be more likely to persist with learning. 

So if we want our students to be motivated, to be interested, to be active learners, we need to engage them in program design. 

Thus, to develop motivation, learners should be allowed to make some decisions about their instruction and control their outcomes (see Eccles and Midgley, 1989; Eccles et al., 1993a, 1993b; Urdan, Midgley, and Anderman, 1998). 

ABLE instructors have known for a long time that student success comes when instructors engage students in a partnership of learning.  Sometimes we forget to stand beside and with the student – instead of in front.  Listening to students can be one of the strongest tools we can employ to help increase student persistence. 

Improving Adult Literacy Instruction – Options for Practice and Research, Page 160-168

Stay tuned for Mediator of Persistence!

Motivation, Engagement, and Persistence:  5/6/13

Montana ABLE programs have been implementing various strategies to retain students so that they may achieve success.  However, reality does set in, and students are not able to stay with a program for as long as it takes to fully develop literacy skills.    

Adults lead complex lives with many responsibilities and constraints on their availability to engage in formal learning. This reality, combined with the amount of effort and practice needed to develop one’s literacy skills, makes supporting persistence one of the most challenging aspects of designing effective adult literacy programs. 

Maybe a student does not gain an EFL.  Does that mean that programs are not successful?  No, for programs do many things that make positive impacts on adult students.  Improving a student’s self-efficacy in math, reading, and/or writing is just one example. 


When learners expect to succeed, they are more likely to put forth the effort and persistence needed to perform well. More confident students are likely to be more cognitively engaged in learning and thinking than students who doubt their capabilities (e.g., Pintrich, 1999; Pintrich and Schrauben, 1992; Schunk, 1991). 

Be careful.  Do not confuse self-efficacy with global self-esteem

Whereas self-efficacy refers to learners’ beliefs about their abilities in a certain area, such as literacy, or their ability to complete a specific type of literacy task … global self-esteem refers to how one feels about oneself generally (Crocker, Lee, and Park, 2004; Wigfield and Karpathian, 1991; Wylie, 1979). It is possible to have high self-esteem generally while having low self-efficacy in one domain … 

… the relation between general self-esteem and any given outcome is weak. Indeed, there is little evidence that enhancing students’ general self-esteem leads to increases in achievement (Baumeister et al., 2003; Wylie, 1979). Thus, although raising general self-esteem often is promoted as a panacea, the actual relations between self-esteem and beneficial outcomes are minimal (Baumeister, Smart, and Boden, 1996; Kohn, 1994). 

What can programs do to increase students’ self-efficacy?  Research states that there are three areas that need attention:  (1) setting appropriate goals, (2) provision of feedback to achieve appropriate attributions for success and failure, and (3) progress monitoring.   

Appropriate Goals 

Setting proximal goals, not just distal ones, is much more likely to result in experiencing success, which enhances self-efficacy (Schunk, 1991). Opportunities to achieve short-term goals are especially motivating in complex domains such as reading and writing, in which substantial time and effort are required and reaching distal goals can take months or even years (Schunk, 2003) … 

One strategy to encourage persistence is to help learners set short-term, or proximal, literacy goals that are optimally challenging and reachable within a short period of time (Manderlink and Haraciewicz, 1984; Schunk, 1991, 1996). 

If students achieve some skill success in a short period of time, their time spent in a program has been positive.  Completing one short term goal is a step in the mastery process.   

Mastery is also easier to link to successful behavior in life: people do well if they can comprehend instructions on the job and write reports that colleagues value, not because they got an A in a course. 

What happens if teachers only focus on performance goals instead of mastery goals? 

If instructors emphasize mastery, effort, and improvement, then students will be more likely to adopt personal mastery goals; the adoption of mastery goals subsequently predicts valued learning outcomes, including persistence at reading, choosing to engage in additional literacy activities in the future, and the use of more effective reading strategies. If, however, instructors emphasize grades, relative ability, and differences in progress and achievement, students will be more likely to adopt performance goals (either approach or avoid) and experience maladaptive outcomes (e.g., use of less effective reading and writing strategies) (Ames and Archer, 1988; Anderman and Wolters, 2006; Nolen, 1988; Nolen and Haladyna, 1990). 

Feedback and Framing 

To persist, learners need feedback and models that help frame their experiences with learning and develop adaptive explanations for successes and failures. 

Now take a look at this interesting tidbit.  Does this surprise you why some students persist?  Maybe this is why some students still stay even when they are not achieving what educators may define as success in the classroom – perception! 

Consistent with attribution theory (Weiner, 1985, 1986, 1992), a learner who is experiencing failure or difficulty comprehending a text, for example, will be more likely to persist if he or she attributes the difficulty to something external (e.g., a boring text), something uncontrollable (e.g., being ill), or something unstable (e.g., feeling depressed that day). A learner who experiences success at a task will be more likely to persist if progress is attributed to something internal (e.g., personal enjoyment of reading), controllable (e.g., practice, spending a lot of time working on the text), and stable (e.g., a belief in one’s ability as a reader) (Schunk and Zimmerman, 2006). 

Research also states that teachers can contribute to the development of negative attributions in a variety of ways.  Teachers must not fail to realize the influence they have on the learning process.  Make ‘em; don’t break ‘em! 

One obvious way is to communicate, intentionally or unintentionally, to learners that a reading problem is internal to them. Teaching practices that could build negative internal attributions include labeling readers and writers as strong or struggling; making obvious assignments of readers and writers to working groups by skill level; and encouraging some learners to excel, while exhibiting clearly low expectations for others. In addition, providing inadequate or no feedback can also signal the idea that skills are inherent and immutable … 

Progress Monitoring and Self-Regulation 

Students who are self-regulating—who set goals, make plans for reaching their goals, and then monitor and regulate their cognitions and behavior—are more likely to do well on academic tasks. 

Although many of our students are not self-regulating, even independent learners still need help in recognizing and appreciating their progress so that they feel efficacious and persist. 

Assessments of progress are important and are hallmarks of American education. However, the ways in which assessments are administered and the ways in which feedback is presented can have important effects on motivation … 

… A number of research-based instructional strategies for administering assessments can help to avoid demotivating students. First, results of assessments should be presented privately. The presentation of assessment results in a public manner is highly conducive to the adoption of performance rather than mastery goals (Anderman and Anderman, 2010; Maehr and Anderman, 1993). Second, whenever possible, adult educators should encourage students to focus on effort and improvement … 

Improving Adult Literacy Instruction – Options for Practice and Research, Page 147-160 

Not all students make a documented gain.  However, if programs set appropriate learning goals, provide feedback, and monitor student progress, then programs are providing an atmosphere that supports student persistence, an atmosphere in which students hopefully move forward to achieve their goals.  Sometimes, though, we just define moving forward a little bit differently.  

Stay tuned for Intrinsic Motivation!

Principles of Learning for Instructional Design Part III:  4/29/13

Principles of Learning for Instructional Design 

If you have been reading through the last few snippets of research, you will find that many of the same concepts have been presented via Learning to Achieve.  Sometimes information doesn’t have to be new; it just needs to be presented in variety of ways.  Teachable moments can also occur TO those of us in the field.  Teaching an “old dog new tricks” can involve being reminded that strategies we already know and use are viable for success in the classroom.   

With that in mind, let’s finish up this section on Instructional Design.  Have you had a chance to look at the College and Career Readiness Standards for Adult Education at ?The final two shifts in the English Language Arts and Literacy standards sharpen the focus on the close connection between comprehension of text and acquisition of knowledge.    

College and Career Readiness Standards for Adult Education, Page 9 

If we are to engage our students in more complex material, we must find successful ways to achieve this.   

There is moderate evidence that learning of complex material requires adaptive learning environments that are sensitive to the learner’s general profile and to the level of his or her mastery at any given point in time … Individualized adaptive training has been used successfully to build cognitive skills among older learners (Erickson et al., 2007; Jaeggi et al., 2008; Kramer et al., 1999; Kramer, Larish, and Strayer, 1995). 

Many programs find that an adaptive learning environment can be achieved via the use of technology. 

Computer environments, rather than human instructors, may have the most promise in manipulating and controlling these complex interventions because of the complexity of diagnoses and remediation mechanisms. 

However, the human factor will never be discounted. 

There is moderate evidence that learners benefit from instructional interactions in which they receive fine-grained feedback (i.e., feedback specific to the immediate momentary task at hand) with hints that prompt them to generate knowledge (Ainsworth, 2008; Chi, Roy, and Hausmann, 2008; Graesser, D’Mello, and Person, 2009; Graesser, Person, and Magliano, 1995; VanLehn et al., 2007). Various teaching methods include such interactions: reciprocal teaching method, modeling-scaffolding-fading, the Socratic method, refutation, and others. 

ABLE instructors have many techniques which provide hints to the learners.  Those strategies have been shared most recently by participants during SIA training in the math area.  For the most part, blended learning via technology and human interaction proves to be successful tool.  However, learning is enhanced if it has a purpose. 

There is some evidence that anchored learning practices help learning (Bottge et al., 2007; Collins, Brown, and Newman, 1989; Dede and Grotzer, 2009; National Research Council, 2000). Anchored learning refers to developing knowledge and skill while working on problems encountered in the real world … Anchored learning has features that are likely to motivate struggling adult learners who are sensitive to the value of their learning experience. 

So is the research providing any surprises?  We know that a positive learning experience does NOT occur in a vacuum.  Therefore, providing a purposeful learning experience is best.  This, in turn, enhances students’ motivation. 

It is well known that adults are more motivated when the learning experience and materials are consonant with existing interests and dispositions (Ackerman and Rolfhus, 1999; Beier and Ackerman, 2001, 2003, 2005), and when engaged in reading or writing for a real purpose. 

Although research reminds us to infuse rigor into our instruction, use technology, clarify problem areas for individuals, and ask WHY along the way, we need to remember the value of the adult learner and his/her needs. 

… motivation among adults is also more likely to be enhanced when instruction helps to build self-confidence and self-efficacy and develops the student’s identity as a person who reads. Adults with literacy problems often have experienced being stigmatized or marginalized, which makes enhancing self-confidence especially important. Because past experiences may have been very painful, interventions need to accommodate the occurrence of negative emotions, such as frustration, anger, boredom, and disengagement.

Improving Adult Literacy Instruction – Options for Practice and Research, Page 140-146 

If what we are doing is valuable to the student, then is it not right?  Now that is a question that might be answered in the last portion of this year’s review of the research.

Stay tuned for Motivation, Engagement, and Persistence!

Principles of Learning for Instructional Design Part II:  4/22/13

Principles of Learning for Instructional Design 

The last review of the research provided some strategies for ensuring retention of new concepts.  What?  You did not retain that information?  That is not surprising during this busy time of year for Montana ABLE programs.  So any time you need to review any of the adult literacy instruction research provided this year, just check it out at

Now let’s see what the rest of the research has to tell us about Instructional Design.  

We know that many of our students lack knowledge, skills, and meta-awareness needed to comprehend text.  Have you had a chance to look at the new College and Career Readiness Standards for Adult Education?  The first Key Shift in instruction is the following:  Complexity:  Regular practice with complex text and its academic language.  In fact, the standards document states  

This important shift finds explicit expression in CCSS Reading Standard 10, which includes a staircase of increasing text complexity for students to read independently and proficiently. Rather than focusing solely on how students read, the focus also is on the complexity of texts read by students. Closely related to text complexity and inextricably related to reading comprehension is a focus on frequently encountered academic vocabulary—language common to complex texts across the disciplines of literature, science, history, and the arts. 

College and Career Readiness Standards for Adult Education, Page 9 

What strategies does the research suggest we employ? 

As we look at the first strategy, we know this one.  Remember Learning To Achieve?  I DO; WE DO; YOU DO!  Yes, we have heard this multiple times via different modalities.  So are we doing it? 

Complex Strategies, Critical Thinking, Inquiry, and Self-Regulated Learning 

Strategy #1:  Structure Instruction to Develop Effective Use of Complex Strategies 

There is moderate evidence that complex strategies can be acquired by well-engineered instruction that is structured, explicit, scaffolded, and intensive. Scaffolded instruction is the systematic selection and sequencing … instruction typically goes from simple to complex, with substantial practice at each step … Procedural skills can be modeled effectively through modeling-scaffolding-fading  

Personal Note:  At times some might think I am adverse to new strategies.  I am not.  I am always looking for a more effective tool.  However, I may not always be willing to let go of a tool that works.  If I have a small hammer that is working, why do I need a bigger hammer?  Remember – asking why is just as important for teachers as it is for students.  With that in mind, I do question some research.  For example, in regard to the research below, I like to believe that we older folks are not slow – sometimes we are just cautious.  (Anyway that is what I told the instructor when I took my ATV safety class.  The young girl in the class maybe got to the finish line first, but I did make it and enjoyed the ride!) =) And sometimes we are more reflective.  We have learned that jumping the gun does not always bring good results.    

Although even older adults benefit (from Mneumonic training), it is possible that age-related decreases in fluid abilities may slow the acquisition of new strategies in later life (Brehmer et al., 2007, 2008; Hertzog et al., 2008). 

OK, enough of the editorializing, for this next comment is huge when it comes to reading.  Several of our students readily admit that they have trouble with math and spelling, but many believe that they do not have any problems with comprehension.  Could that be because of what the research states?   

One would expect children to have limited metacognitive knowledge, but it is somewhat remarkable that adults also have limited metacognitive proficiency after their years of experience. More specifically, the vast majority of adults are not good at judging their own comprehension of text (Dunlosky and Lipko, 2007; Maki, 1998).  

Adult students are encouraged to take an active part in the development of their programs; however, they do need our guidance.   

… they also are not good at planning, selecting, monitoring, or evaluating their strategies for self-regulated learning (Azevedo and Cromley, 2004; Azevedo and Witherspoon, 2009; Winne, 2001), inquiry learning (Graesser, McNamara, and VanLehn, 2005; White and Frederiksen, 2005), or discovery learning (Kirschner, Sweller, and Clark, 2006; Klahr, 2002).  Therefore, explicit training, modeling, and guided practice are needed before students acquire adequate strategies of comprehension, critical thinking, metacomprehension, self-regulated learning, and discovery learning (Dunlosky and Hertzog, 1998). 

Improving Adult Literacy Instruction – Options for Practice and Research, Page 135-137 

Strategy #2:  Combine Complex Strategy Instruction with Learning of Content

The number 2 strategy is logical.  The more you know – the easier it is, right?  Nope!  We need substantial subject-matter knowledge, but sometimes knowing too much can be confusing.  So asking why is a good strategy. 

It is a good strategy for readers to be asking the question “why” when reading texts because it encourages the student to build explanations of the content … Substantial subject-matter knowledge is needed to effectively apply many reading strategies because comprehension involves the integration of prior knowledge and text. 

Are we teaching strategies or are we just having students practice reading?  They need strategies on how to comprehend specific texts. 

Comprehension can improve after instruction on the structure of expository text, such as compare-contrast, problem-solution, cause-effect, description, sequence, and other rhetorical frames (Chambliss, 1995; Meyer and Poon, 2001; Williams, Hall, and Lauer, 2004; Williams et al., 2005, 2009). 

Improving Adult Literacy Instruction – Options for Practice and Research, Page 137 


Strategy #3:  Accurate and Timely Feedback Helps Learning 

We just can’t give students material and have them practice over and over without giving them feedback along the way.  We need to chunk our instruction/materials and provide optimal feedback.   

Feedback helps learners finetune their knowledge, skills, and strategies … Immediate feedback has the advantage of maximizing contiguity of correct information and of preventing elaboration of incorrect information. Just as people learn correct information from accurate feedback, they also can learn incorrect information. 

Yes, feedback is very important; however, we do need to be cautious. 

A learner’s motivation can be threatened when there is a barrage of corrections and negative feedback. Frequent interruptions of organized action sequences (such as reading a text aloud) can be not only irritating but also counterproductive in the acquisition of complex motor skills. 

Strategy #4:  Qualitative Feedback Is Better for Learning Than Test Scores and Error Flagging 

This seems only logical, right?  If we are asking our students to tune into quality, not quantity, than we need to expect the same from ourselves.

 Excessive feedback also runs the risk of preventing the development of self-regulated learning, and so a fading process is needed to gradually shift control to the student.

Improving Adult Literacy Instruction – Options for Practice and Research, Page 137-140

Stay tuned: Environment, Motivation, and Emotion – Final Considerations in Instructional Design


Principles of Learning for Instructional Design  Part I:  4/8/13

Principles of Learning for Instructional Design

Do you want your learners to exit your program with some level of expertise in reading and math?  If so, what does successful learning look like? 

The ideal culmination of successful learning is the development of expertise. Learners who achieve expertise tend to be self-regulated (Azevedo and Cromley, 2004; Pintrich, 2000b; Schunk and Zimmerman, 2008; Winne, 2001). They formulate learning goals, track progress on these goals, identify their own knowledge deficits, detect contradictions, ask good questions, search relevant information sources for answers, make inferences when answers are not directly available, and initiate steps to build knowledge at deep levels of mastery. The “meta” knowledge of language, cognition, emotions, motivation, communication, and social interactions that is part of self-regulated learning is well developed. The expert learner forms conceptually rich and organized representations of knowledge that resist forgetting, can be retrieved automatically, and can be applied flexibly across tasks and situations.    

Improving Adult Literacy Instruction – Options for Practice and Research, Page 124 

Whew!  So that is what expertise looks like!  Becoming a successful learner does not happen overnight as many of our students would like, for a student’s learning must compete with other demands in an adult student’s life.   

Expertise is usually difficult to achieve—and for a complex skill such as literacy requires many hours of practice over many years—experts tend to have 1,000-10,000 hours of experience in their field of expertise (Chi, Glaser, and Farr, 1988). With respect to literacy expertise taught in schools, an hour per day from kindergarten through twelfth grade amounts to about 2,000 hours in total, after taking out the inevitable days when no real instruction occurs, which is at the low end of the range needed to gain expertise.  

Improving Adult Literacy Instruction – Options for Practice and Research, Page 125 

OK, we know our students are not going to stay with us for 2000+ hours.  And if there are any students who do stay that long, they usually are learners who are struggling and may not be making the gains needed for expertise.  With this in mind, what does the research say we can do for our students that will help them become more proficient learners? 

Guidelines for Ensuring the Retention of New Concepts 

Supporting Attention, Retention, and Transfer 

1.     Present Material in a Clear and Organized Format 

… It is important to remove any irrelevant information, even if interesting, that could detract from learning to minimize cognitive load and competing demands on attention (Kalyuga, Chandler, and Sweller, 1999; Moreno, 2007; Van Merrienboer et al., 2006) … 

… Providing structure and organization is important to help them understand concepts and how they relate to one another … 

Outlines can be used to show structural hierarchies (Ausubel, 1968). Graphic organizers show the structure of interrelated ideas pictorially, with ideas represented as concepts in circles and relationships as lines that connect the circles (Vitale and Romance, 2007). Tables can be used to organize ideas … 

2.     Use Multiple and Varied Examples

… There is substantial evidence that knowledge, skills, and strategies acquired across multiple and varied contexts are better generalized and

applied flexibly across a range of tasks and situations … 

3.     Present Material in Multiple Modalities and Formats 

… Information is encoded and remembered better when it is delivered in multiple modes (verbal and pictorial), sensory modalities (auditory and visual), or media (computers and lectures) than when delivered in only a single mode, modality, or medium … 

4.     Teach in the Zone of Proximal Development 

… There is moderate evidence that the answer depends partly on the selection of learning goals, materials, and tasks, which should be sensitive to what the student has mastered and be appropriately challenging—not too easy or too difficult, but just right (Metcalfe and Kornell, 2005; VanLehn et al., 2007; Wolfe et al., 1998). 

5.     Space Presentations of New Material 

It is better to distribute the presentation of materials and tests over time than to concentrate the learning experiences within a short time span (Bahrick et al., 1993; Bloom and Shuell, 1981; Cepeda et al., 2006; Cull,2000; Rohrer and Taylor, 2006) … However, there is evidence that rereading can enhance metacomprehension skills and long-term retention of text material, especially if it is spaced and especially for low-ability students … 

6.     Test on Multiple Occasions, Preferably with Spacing 

… There is substantial evidence that periodic testing helps learning and slows down forgetting … 

7.     Ground Concepts in Perceptual-Motor Experiences  

There is substantial evidence that it is important to link concepts to be read or learned to concrete perceptions and actions … 

Improving Adult Literacy Instruction – Options for Practice and Research, Page 125-130 

Do you ever get the feeling that some of your students are not engaged in learning? Quantity versus quality?  Are you working harder than the student? 

Supporting Generation of Content and Reasoning 

Learning is enhanced when learners have to organize the information themselves and exert cognitive effort during acquisition or retrieval. Simply put, it is the student who should be doing the acting, thinking, talking, reading, and writing for learning.  

1.     Encourage the Learner to Generate Content 

… This fact explains why free recall or essay tests that require the test-taker to generate answers with minimal cues often produce better retention than recognition tests and multiple-choice tests in which the learner only needs to be able to recognize correct answers. It also explains why tutors learn more than tutees in peer tutoring when students start out on an even playing field (Fuchs et al., 1994; Mathes and Fuchs, 1994; Topping, 1996) … 

2.     Encourage the Generation of Explanations, Substantive Questions, and the Resolution of Contradictions 

… Students may be prompted to give self-explanations of material by thinking aloud or answering questions that elicit explanations connecting the material to what they know …

3.     Encourage the Learner to Construct Ideas from Multiple Points of View and Different Perspectives 

… another example, readers who comprehend stories can be instructed to adopt the perspectives of different characters and their resulting recall protocols and story representations end up being quite different (Anderson and Pichert, 1978). Readers eventually can be trained to adopt multiple character viewpoints while reading stories and thereby achieve greater cognitive flexibility. Laboratory experiments and classroom studies have shown the benefits … 

Improving Adult Literacy Instruction – Options for Practice and Research, Page 130-135 

If your students are learning, you must be engaging in many of the above suggestions.  In fact, you yourself may have mastered many of the strategies via automaticity.  Congrats!  If not, reread the guidelines.  Check off what you are doing well and consider retooling by using those you have not implemented. 

Stay tuned: More Strategies for Instructional Design

State of the Research:  3/25/13

State of the Research

Based upon the last snippet of information from the research, we know that in the area of reading and writing, the knowledge and skills of the instructors are highly uneven. A few years ago, Montana ABLE provided reading training for programs based upon the most current research by Dr. Rosalind Davison and Dr. John Kruidenier.  However, as the research points out and has been documented throughout this review, there is very little research.   

There is a severe shortage of research on effective reading and writing instruction for adults, despite the large population of U.S. adults needing to develop their literacy skills (Baer, Kutner, and Sabatini, 2009; Kutner et al., 2007) and the fact that adult literacy instruction has been offered for many years (Sticht, 1988).   

Improving Adult Literacy Instruction – Options for Practice and Research, Page 116 

Why does this shortage exist?  This will certainly not come as any surprise to those of you in the field.  Students do not stay long enough in a program for research to be completed.  Persistence, persistence, persistence!  Are you tired of hearing that?  It is our reality, isn’t it?  Is it becoming a reality for younger students who find themselves dropping out of school?  Why? 

1. Progress in adult literacy research has been hampered by the high attrition of research participants.

2. The research has lacked systematic focus on the development of reading and writing skills.

3. The research, whether quantitative or qualitative, does not include methods for systematically identifying associations or cause-effect relations between an instructional practice and outcomes.

4. Research funders and thus researchers of literacy have chosen to focus mainly on preschool and K-12 populations, a situation that has constrained the amount of research on how to further develop the literacy of adults outside school. 

Improving Adult Literacy Instruction – Options for Practice and Research, Page 103 

Does the research indicate what intervention strategies are working?  Again limited information exists. 

To elaborate on these priorities, only a handful of interventions have been tested to develop the skills of low-literate adults in adult basic education, adult secondary education, or colleges. Although gains have been reported, they are not substantial for this population either in terms of the size of intervention effects or gains observed against the amount of gain needed to be functionally literate. More needs to be known about the features of instruction and the intensity and duration required to maximize gains for adults who vary widely in their literacy skills. 


Improving Adult Literacy Instruction – Options for Practice and Research, Page 102 

Although research is showing that interventions … did not differ from “business as usual” in adult education programs, despite being more systematic and structured in their approach…, one exception did occur in a study done by Judy Alamprese. 

One exception was a structured decoding curriculum that included an emphasis on spelling and showed gains on some decoding and word recognition measures (Alamprese et al., 2011). 

Improving Adult Literacy Instruction – Options for Practice and Research, Page 87 

The research also states: 

For some adults in these studies, shorter term deliberate instruction on fluency and phonological processing helped reading comprehension (Abadzi, 2003; Burton et al., 2010; Durgunoğlu, Oney, and Kuscul, 2003). Other adults showed little or no  improvement, however, consistent with findings from the large-scale interventions for low-literate adults discussed earlier. These results point to the need to study in detail why progress in developing these skills is slow for many adults and why certain interventions are effective for some adults but not others. 

Improving Adult Literacy Instruction – Options for Practice and Research, Page 91 

Consistent with K-12 research, it is likely that multiple approaches, if designed following principles of learning and instruction reviewed in this volume, may prove to be effective. Regardless of the approach, it can be assumed that the instruction should create a positive climate for adults that draws on their knowledge and life experiences, uses materials and learning activities that develop valued knowledge and skills, and supports adults as much as possible in regulating their own learning. It is also important to ensure that instructional activities to develop such skills as word recognition and decoding are provided. 

Improving Adult Literacy Instruction – Options for Practice and Research, Page 101 

What might be a priority for research? 

A priority for research is to experiment with a variety of ways to more fully engage learners for longer periods of time to determine how to maximize literacy gains depending on the particular skills to be developed, the characteristics of the learner, and the features and intensity of the instruction. An additional priority is to develop more valid ways of measuring adults’ literacy gains than grade level equivalents with assessments normed for the population and designed to show progress in the specific component skills targeted and related improvements in valued literacy capabilities. 

Improving Adult Literacy Instruction – Options for Practice and Research, Page 89 

Take a look at the posting below about the new Center for Adult Literacy and its focus.  Research is on the horizon!  You may also want to look at the discussion regarding learning gains being held in the Evidence-based Professional Development community. 

Does this mean that we stop trying various intervention strategies?  Of course not!  Remember the quote last time by S. J. Perelman:  “Learning is what most adults will do for a living in the 21st century.”  As Montana ABLE professionals, we continue on our own path of learning.  And the music continues:

… Ain’t no mountain high enough,

Ain’t no valley low enough,

Ain’t no river wide enough,

To get “Montana ABLE” from getting to you …


 Stay tuned: Principles of Learning for Instructional Design


Literacy Instructors:  3/11/13


The information from the last summary of the report included some data and perceptions regarding persistence.  Have you had a chance to look at the info yet?  Did you know that the research states the following?  

On average, learners participated in adult education programs for less than 100 hours over the course of a program year, according to the Adult Education Program Survey. Only about one-third of adults made reading gains equivalent to a grade level during the program year.    

Improving Adult Literacy Instruction – Options for Practice and Research, Page 94 

So, yes, making an EFL gain is difficult.  How is your program doing?  Do you see something similar happening?  Are there any magic wands out there?  If you know of a strategy that is working, now is the time to share it with other programs. 

Literacy Instructors 

Montana ABLE will begin taking a look at Teacher Effectiveness in the near future.  In the meantime, here is what the research is saying about Literacy Instructors. 

Adult basic education teachers 

• work mostly part time.

• may leave the field more often than K-12 teachers.

• are often required to teach in multiple subject areas.

• have scant formal education related to teaching adults, although many are qualified and have taught in K-12.

• have in-service preparation as their primary form of professional development.

• are not consistently funded to participate in in-service professional development.

• have access mostly to short-term training and conferences.

• are hindered by systemic constraints from participating in professional development. 

SOURCE: Adapted from Smith and Gillespie (2007). 

Improving Adult Literacy Instruction – Options for Practice and Research, Page 96 

For those of you who have attended national or regional conferences, you have found the information above to be true.  Most providers wear many hats.  The research continues to state the following about the teaching of reading and writing. 

Although some part-time and full-time adult literacy instructors have K-12 teaching certifications and have taught in K-12 schools, evidence suggests that many teachers of grades 1 through 12 do not feel confident in teaching reading and writing and are likely to lack the requisite knowledge and skills … Teachers with limited knowledge of language structure will be less able to teach effectively to learners at any age … 

With respect to writing, one-third of primary grade teachers have reported that they were poorly prepared to teach writing by their college teacher preparation program (Cutler and Graham, 2008). The number increased to 66 percent in grades 4 to 6 (Gilbert and Graham, 2010), dropped to 47 percent in middle school (Graham et al., 2010) but appears most problematic among high school teachers (Cutler and Graham, 2008; Graham and Gilbert, 2010), with 71 percent reporting that they were inadequately prepared (Kiuhara, Graham, and Hawken, 2009). Although no data were identified on the preparation of instructors of adults specific to reading and writing, it is reasonable to assume from the information available that the knowledge and skills of the instructors are highly uneven. Many instructors also are likely to have a view of the trajectory for adult literacy instruction that fits better with the world of formal K-12 schooling developed prior to the information age than to adult learners and the levels and forms of literacy needed today. 

Improving Adult Literacy Instruction – Options for Practice and Research, Page 97 

Teaching in ABLE programs provides many opportunities and challenges.  Montana ABLE instructors need to continue to find ways to communicate.  Reading the information provided by these research snippets is a start.  Participating in the ESL wiki at and locating and sharing resources on the ABLE Toolbox at other ways.   

Many challenges do exist in a large, rural state; however, recognizing the strength and direction the Montana ABLE system can provide and the commitment Montana program professionals have continues to help Montana ABLE advance.  As S. J. Perelman states, “Learning is what most adults will do for a living in the 21st century.”   

Every day is a new day – filled with opportunities for learning and growth!  Enjoy the ride! 

Stay tuned: State of the Research


Literacy Instruction for Adults:  2/25/13

Literacy Instruction for Adults 

Have you had a chance to look at the research that has been posted each week?  The last information posted from the Improving Adult Literacy Instruction document was about writing.  One of the themes expressed throughout the research was that of explicit instruction.  Providing direct instruction enhances a learner’s performance.   

However, the research does remind us that our learners come to us with diverse characteristics.  No wonder we encounter challenges as educators.  So what are some effective instructional practices to develop literacy?  Let’s see what the research suggests.  Much of the information has been taken from the Adult Education Program Survey. 

The Adult Education Program Survey (AEPS; Tamassia et al., 2007) provides information on a nationally representative sample of adult education programs and enrolled learners during the 12-month period 2001-2002.

Improving Adult Literacy Instruction – Options for Practice and Research, Page 89 

Here is an interesting snippet of information taken from the survey: 

During this period, the median budget for a program was $199,000; with a median enrollment of 318 learners per program, the median expenditure per learner was $626.

Improving Adult Literacy Instruction – Options for Practice and Research, Page 89 

How does your program compare to the national survey information?  Have you read at the statistics that were cited by Tom Sticht about the rise and decline of Adult Education and Literacy System?   

Just last week Dr. Steve Reder from Portland State University provided an interesting presentation at the regional LINCS meeting about the Longitudinal Study of Adult Learning at .  In order to better understand the contribution of adult literacy programs to the learning and literacy development of adults, LSAL compares the experiences of two groups within the target population: adults who participate and do not participate in the formal programs.  Dr. Reder characterized programs as being similar to “busy intersections” which may focus on short term effects.  Programs need to understand the longer trajectory of their impact in order to make their case to legislators.  By using MABLE and comparing some of their data, Montana programs may be able to make some projections.  

What is happening with goals and curriculum alignment?  The research shows the following: 

There is not a simple alignment of learning goals with program type or location. For example, English language learners may be taught reading and writing skills in ESL classes in a workplace education setting or in a community college ABE program. Although the major goal of students in both settings may be to increase English language proficiency, the instructional aims will differ, with one focused on meeting specific job requirements and the other on developing more general literacy practices. Similarly, the goal of earning a GED certificate may be addressed in settings as diverse as prisons and volunteer library literacy programs.

Improving Adult Literacy Instruction – Options for Practice and Research, Page 90 

Via the SIA process, Montana has been working hard at aligning resources first in math and now in reading.  Nothing happens overnight, does it?  So now the research harks back to reading. 

According to these studies, lack of fluent decoding is a source of reading difficulty for a significant number of low-literate adults, especially below the eighth grade reading-level equivalent (Alamprese et al., 2011; Greenberg et al., 2011; Hock and Mellard, 2011; Sabatini et al., 2011).

Improving Adult Literacy Instruction – Options for Practice and Research, Page 92 

Three studies have tested whether the reading component patterns of adults match similar models of reading developed with children (MacArthur et al., 2010a; Mellard, Fall, and Woods, 2010; Nanda, Greenberg, and Morris, 2010). These studies suggest that for adults with low literacy, the reading models were not similar. Specifically, low-literate adults appear to lack the fluent integration of word reading, language, and comprehension skills shown by young children who learned to read on a normative timetable. The comprehension skills of the low-literate adults were more similar to those of children with low reading skills than to typically developing child readers, in that they did not generate an integrated representation of the meaning of a passage by connecting words, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs and making inferences using  information provided in the text and background knowledge …

Improving Adult Literacy Instruction – Options for Practice and Research, Page 93 

Is your program serving these individuals?  If so, what are you doing to help them integrate reading, language, and comprehensions skills? 

And then there is the following research about reading: 

On average, learners participated in adult education programs for less than 100 hours over the course of a program year, according to the Adult Education Program Survey. Only about one-third of adults made reading gains equivalent to a grade level during the program year.

Reading is a complex skill, and research on the development of complex skills and expertise suggests that about 3,000 hours are required for mastery (Chi, Glaser, and Farr, 1988);

100 hours represent 3 percent of that amount, and so it is likely to be insufficient for learning for many adults, even if the goal is not expert mastery. Thus, one primary reason for limited progress may be that adults lack sufficient amounts of instruction and practice for improving skills.

Improving Adult Literacy Instruction – Options for Practice and Research, Page 94 

Geesh, it does get back to persistence, doesn’t it? 

It is not clear why some adults persist with literacy instruction and others do not. Sabatini et al. (2011) reported that those who persisted with a literacy intervention tended to be older, on average, with poorer basic reading skills … Adults report a wide range of factors that positively or negatively affect persistence in adult education, which include transportation, competing life demands, supportive relationships, and self-determination (Comings, 2009). 

Improving Adult Literacy Instruction – Options for Practice and Research, Page 94 

This year Montana programs are focusing on student persistence by trying different strategies for retention.  Is it working?  Do those strategies need to be different for each program?  Time will tell.  What we do know from Dr. Reder’s continued research is that programs may be having an impact over time.

Stay tuned:  Literacy Instructors and Technology


Writing:  1/21/13

As promised last time, we will now move on to looking at the research on writing.  First, though, you may want to take a look at some vocabulary and reading comprehension activities that were posted on MTLINCS after the Reading is the Bridge workshop in 2007.  Click here and scroll through the resources and click on Vocabulary and Comprehension to access some resources. 

And now on with the show! 

What does writing include? 

Basic writing skills include planning, evaluating, and revising of discourses; sentence construction (including selecting the right words and syntactic structure to convey the intended meaning); and text transcription skills (spelling, handwriting, keyboarding, capitalization, and punctuation; Graham, 2006b). p. 63 

Writing also depends on specialized knowledge beyond the level of specific sentences: knowledge of the audience (Wong, Wong, and Blenkinsop, 1989), attributes of good writing, characteristics of specific genres and how to use these elements to construct text (Englert and Thomas, 1987; Graham and Harris, 2003), linguistic knowledge (e.g., of words and of text structures that differ from those of speech) (Donovan and Smolkin, 2006; Groff, 1978), topic knowledge (Mosenthal, 1996; Mosenthal et al., 1985; Voss, Vesonder, and Spilich, 1980), and the purposes of writing (Saddler and Graham, 2007). p. 64 

Whew!  Writing does include a lot of skills!  What teaching strategies should ABLE teachers know? 

Explicit teaching of strategies for planning and revising has a strong and positive effect on the writing of both developing and struggling writers (Graham and Perin, 2007b; Rogers and Graham, 2008). p. 65 

A key principle from this research is that explicit and systematic instruction is effective in teaching the strategies, skills, and knowledge needed to be a proficient writer. p. 67 

Remember to look for the connection between reading and writing.  Automaticity is important for both. 

When the connections between reading and writing are made explicit during instruction, a more integrated system of literacy skills develops and learning is facilitated. p. 70 

Teachers need to understand the components of skilled reading and writing and how they reinforce each other so that a coherent system of skills can be taught, but the differences between reading and writing should not be overlooked. p. 70 

Improving Adult Literacy Instruction – Options for Practice and Research, Page 63-70 

You may want to review the information about the neurobiology of reading and writing development and difficulties on pages 70 to 74 of the Improving Adult Literacy Instruction document.  

Principles of Instruction for Struggling Learners:  Reading and Writing 

The principles that follow specify further that, rather than needing instruction that is qualitatively different from the instruction that is effective with typically developing learners, learners who struggle benefit from certain adaptations—even more explicit and systemic reading and writing instruction; enhanced supports for the transfer and generalization of skills and opportunities for practice; attention to maladaptive attributions, which can be particularly important to address for struggling learners; and scaffolded and differentiated instruction that targets specific difficulties while continuing to develop all the skills needed for reading and writing development. 

#1 Interventions that directly target specific literacy difficulties in the context of explicit reading and writing instruction result in better literacy outcomes for struggling readers and writers. 

Most who struggle with reading and writing, particularly those with severe literacy learning disorders, have specific difficulties in aspects of speech or language that impact their ability to learn to read and write, such as poor phonological awareness and phonological processing skills, lags in oral language development (e.g., vocabulary, syntax), and slow naming speed (that may or may not be independent of phonological deficits) …

Teaching the language skill of phonological awareness, for example, results in better spelling performance for those who are weak spellers (Bradley and Bryant, 1985;  ’Connor, Notari-Syverson, and Vadasky, 1996). A few studies have shown that teaching vocabulary to developing writers enhances their writing performance (Duin and Graves, 1987; Popadopoulou, 2007; Thibodeau, 1964). Sentence combining, an oral language practice that often relies heavily on combining smaller sentences into larger ones when speaking, has improved the quality of writing in adolescents (Graham and Perin, 2007b). 

Remember:  This is research based on youth and must be verified with adult learners.  However, common to almost all effective interventions is that they targeted specific areas of processing as part of teaching and practicing the act of writing, instead of trying to remediate processing problems in isolation. P.76 

#2 Struggling learners benefit from more intense instruction, more explicit instruction, and even more opportunities to practice. 

#3 Struggling learners need enhanced support for the generalization and transfer of new literacy skills. 

A majority of struggling learners do not apply and transfer newly learned literacy skills spontaneously. To be effective, instruction for all learners must attend to the generalization of new skills and knowledge and include opportunities to practice these in varied tasks outside the intervention context … A recent synthesis of intervention research with adolescent struggling readers (Edmonds et al., 2009) confirmed that older struggling readers do benefit from explicit reading comprehension strategy instruction, but these skills did not generalize well. It is possible that more explicit training and scaffolding would support generalization, as might more practice opportunities. 

#4 Maladaptive attributions, beliefs, and motivational profiles of struggling learners need to be understood and targeted during instruction. 

Struggling learners are usually lower in intrinsic motivation and a sense of self-efficacy for reading and writing, more likely to be extrinsically motivated or unmotivated, and more likely to attribute failure to internal factors (e.g., ability) and success to external factors (e.g., luck)—all of which lead to disengagement from reading and writing activities, less reading and writing experience, and markedly lower literacy achievement … p. 79 

Speaking of self-efficacy, you may want to check out the information in #5 of this email regarding noncognitive factors that relate to academic performance. 

#5 Intervention should be differentiated to scaffold learning and meet the individual needs of those who struggle with literacy. 

Improving Adult Literacy Instruction – Options for Practice and Research, Page 75-80 

When the research is expanded to the adult learner, Montana ABLE instructors will be more than likely be pleased, for the strength of most ABLE instructors is that they do meet the individual needs of their students.  They know that a student’s success depends on differentiated learning.  

Reading and Writing Across the Life Span 

In general, the processes involved in the component skills of reading and writing studied thus far appear mostly preserved into later adulthood, although older adults do experience declines in areas affected by perception and speed of processing …

·       Vocabulary knowledge is maintained and has the potential to grow throughout adulthood … YAY!

·       Reading comprehension can become compromised in several respects with age. Sensory impairment, which becomes more prevalent in later adulthood, may require adult readers (and listeners) to allocate more attention to decoding the surface form, which reduces cognitive resources available for understanding the meaning of text … HMMMM

·       The production of utterances in both speech and writing shows reliable trends toward syntactic simplification and reduced informational density with age … HMMMM

·       Decreased ability to rapidly construct meaning from language may result from age-related declines in mental processing capacity … HMMMM

·       Older readers tend to remember information from elaborated texts that provide redundant support for key information better rather than isolated facts … YAY!

Cognitive aging research suggests that adults may experience some age-related neurocognitive declines affecting reading and writing processes and speed of learning that might need consideration during instruction.  

Improving Adult Literacy Instruction – Options for Practice and Research, Page 80-84

OK, OK, so we adults may not be as fast, but we do have tons of lifetime experiences in which to tap.  Sometimes it is *good* to have elephants in the room ‘cuz they *never* forget!!!

What types of activities are you doing with your students to improve their writing skills?  How do you combine both reading and writing skills to increase your students’ chance for success?

Stay tuned:  Literacy Instruction for Adults


Foundations of Reading and Writing:  Vocabulary and Reading Comprehension  1/21/13


The last piece of information cited from Improving Adult Literacy Instruction cited two of the major components of reading:  decoding and fluency.  In June 2007, Montana OPI provided a reading workshop by John Kruidenier, author of Research-based Principles for Adult Basic Education Reading Instruction, for Montana ABLE staff.  Several reading resources are still available on MTLINCS.  You may click on the items below to access resources for Decoding and Fluency or click here and scroll through the resources.


·        Fry Instant Word List

·        Phonograph Approach (phonemics and decoding strategy)

·        Three Drills


·        Chunking

·        Echo Reading

·        Neurological Impress

MTLINCS promised you more research this time about vocabulary and reading comprehension.  Hang on, Folks, there is a lot of interesting information below.  Read the research and think about the strategies you are using.  You just may be on the right track!


… for those who have acquired basic decoding skills, the aspect of lexical (word) processing that has the greatest impact on reading is vocabulary knowledge and, more specifically, the depth, breadth, and flexibility of knowledge about words (Beck and McKeown, 1986; Perfetti, 2007). Vocabulary also tends to grow with reading experience…

… For less skilled readers, explicit instruction, combined with discussion and elaboration activities that encourage using the words to be learned, can improve vocabulary and facilitate better reading comprehension (Curtis and Longo, 2001; Foorman et al., 2003; Klinger and Vaughn, 1999; Stahl and Fairbanks, 1986) …

The following are some suggested strategies for vocabulary instruction.

Beck and colleagues (Beck and McKeown 2007; McKeown and Beck, 1988) articulated principles for developing a teacher’s ability to deliver effective vocabulary instruction:

(a) introduce vocabulary through connected language (discussion, elaboration activities) instead of only dictionary definitions,

(b) provide multiple opportunities to interact with new words and word meanings in a variety of engaging contexts, and

(c) use activities that engage learners in deep and reflective processing of word meanings.

For those of you who are teaching the content areas of science and social studies, remember that vocabulary is a key.

For example, because academic texts (e.g., those in science or history) include specialized vocabulary that is not part of everyday spoken language (Beck, McKeown, and Kucan, 2002; Kamil et al., 2008), the teaching of content needs to be integrated with explicit teaching of words and phrases used in a discipline (Moje and Speyer, 2008).

Improving Adult Literacy Instruction – Options for Practice and Research, Page 53 - 54

Reading comprehension requires a blending of multiple tasks.  For the accomplished reader, these are automatic.

Reading Comprehension

Components and Processes

First, comprehension requires adequate and sustained attention.

Second, comprehension requires the reader to interpret and integrate information from various sources (the sentence being read, the prior sentence, prior text, background knowledge, and extraneous information) …

Third … readers must decide how hard to try and how long to persist in reading a text … A rich and complete understanding involves making inferences, retrieving prior knowledge, and connecting components of text that may not be contiguous on the page. It also requires attending to semantic connections given in the text. Two types of coherence relations—referential and causal—are central to many types of texts …

Improving Adult Literacy Instruction – Options for Practice and Research, Page 56 - 62

Key Findings from Research

·       First, different texts and challenges to comprehension require the use of different strategies.

·       less skilled readers often have limited knowledge of narrative or expository text structures and do not rely on structural differences in text to assist their reading (Meyer, Brandt, and Bluth, 1980; Rapp et al., 2007; Williams, 2006).

·       Strategy instruction depends heavily on opportunities to draw from existing knowledge and build new knowledge (Alexander and Judy, 1989; McKeown, Beck, and Blake, 2009; Moje and Speyer, 2008; Moje et al.,2010).

·       Strategy instruction seems most effective when it incorporates ample opportunities for practice.

·       Understanding of text improves if readers are asked to state reading goals, predictions, questions, and reactions to the material that is read (Kamil et al., 2008; National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 2000a; Palincsar and Brown, 1984). 

Key Strategies from Research

·       First, rich discussion about text may increase both literacy outcomes and understanding of content (Applebee et al., 2003).

·       Second, readers of a range of ages taught to read using texts and language practices valued in the disciplines show enhanced understanding of the content and ability to engage critically with the content (Bain, 2005, 2006; Palincsar and Magnusson, 2001).

·       Third, close study of the linguistic structures of textbooks and related texts appears to enhance students’ understanding of the content (e.g., Schleppegrell and Achugar, 2003; Schleppegrell, Achugar, and Oteíza, 2004).

·       Findings also suggest that the critical analysis of text, such as asking readers to consider the author’s purposes in writing the text; the historical, social, or other context in which the text was produced; and multiple ways of reading or making sense of the text may encourage deeper understanding of text (Bain, 2005; Greenleaf et al., 2001; Guthrie et al., 1999; Hand, Wallace, and Yang, 2004; McKeown and Beck, 1994; Palinscar and Magnusson, 2001; Paxton, 1997, Romance and Vitale, 1992).

Improving Adult Literacy Instruction – Options for Practice and Research, Page 56 - 62

Yes, reading comprehension requires many strategies and takes time and practice to improve.  However, research demonstrates that ABLE staff have a continual challenge:  retention.  This is not the retention of material but the retention of students!

The range of skill components to be practiced and the amount of practice required are substantial for the developing reader. At the same time, available evidence suggests that adult learners do not persist in formal programs for anywhere near the amount of time needed to accomplish all of the needed preskill training and reading practice (Miller, Esposito, and McCardle, 2011; Tamassia et al., 2007). Consequently, it is important to better understand how to motivate longer and deeper engagement with reading practice by adult learners.

Improving Adult Literacy Instruction – Options for Practice and Research, Page 62

What might be some way to address student retention and improve reading comprehension?

It is likely that selecting texts that are compatible with learning goals will result in more persistence at deep understanding.

Improving Adult Literacy Instruction – Options for Practice and Research, Page 62

What types of activities are you doing with your students to increase their vocabulary and reading comprehension?

Stay tuned:  Writing Research Coming!


Foundations of Reading and Writing:  1/7/13

A new year means time to begin delving into the research on reading and writing!  In the MTLINCS email on 12/10/12, MTLINCS shared the research information about who we are serving, our adult literacy clientele.  Although we seem to know who we are serving, do we really know what our students need? 

Background Information 

Caution!  Because there has been little research completed regarding adult literacy, the information in the Improving Adult Literacy Instruction report has been … 

derived mainly from research with K-12 students because this population is the main focus of most rigorous research on reading components, difficulties in learning to read, and effective instructional practices … Caution must be used in generalizing research conducted in K-12 settings to other populations, such as adult literacy students. Precisely what needs to be taught and how will vary depending on an individual’s existing literacy skills; learning goals that require proficiency with particular types of reading and writing; and characteristics of learners that include differences in motivation, neurobiological processes, and cultural, linguistic, and educational backgrounds.

Improving Adult Literacy Instruction – Options for Practice and Research, Page 41 

Types of Texts 

Developing readers need to confront challenging texts that engage them with meaningful content, but they also need texts that afford the practicing of the skills they need to develop and systematic support to stretch beyond existing skills. This support needs to come from a mix of instructional interactions and texts that scaffold the learner in developing and practicing new skills and becoming an independent reader (Lee and Spratley, 2010; Moje, 2009; Solomon, Van der Kerkhof, 2010).

Improving Adult Literacy Instruction – Options for Practice and Research, Page 44 

Many of things cited in research affirm what we know and value.  Recognizing student experience is huge.  How do you do that with your students? 

Student Knowledge and Teacher Knowledge and Expectation

·       Successful literacy instruction for adults and adolescents should recognize the knowledge and experience brought by mature learners, even when their literacy skills are weak …

·       To be effective, teachers of struggling readers and writers must have significant expertise in both the components of reading and writing, which include spoken language, and how to teach them ...

·       Students who were identified as reading at lower levels were not asked to think about the texts and interpret them in the same way as those at higher reading levels (see also Cazden, 1985). Being thought of as “successful” or “achieving” or, at the other extreme, “unsuccessful” and “failing” can produce low-literacy learning and even, in some cases, what is identified as disability (McDermott and Varenne, 1995). 

Improving Adult Literacy Instruction – Options for Practice and Research, Page 46-47 

Attempting to summarize major research is difficult.  MTLINCS will begin by citing information about the first two reading components. 

Major Components of Reading 

The major components of reading are well documented and include decoding, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.

Improving Adult Literacy Instruction – Options for Practice and Research, Page 49 


·       Many adults with low literacy may experience difficulty with decoding (Baer, Kutner, and Sabatini, 2009; Greenberg, Ehri, and Perin, 1997, 2002; Mellard, Fall, and Woods, 2010; Nanda, Greenberg, and Morris, 2010; Read and Ruyter, 1985; Sabatini et al., 2010) …

·       For those adults who need to develop their word-reading skills, it may be important to teach “word attack” strategies with particular attention to challenges posed by multisyllabic words and variable vowel pronunciations.

Improving Adult Literacy Instruction – Options for Practice and Research, Page 52 


·       Reading fluency is the ability to read with speed and accuracy (Klauda and Guthrie, 2008; Kuhn and Stahl, 2003; Miller and Schwanenflugel, 2006). Developing fluency is important because the human mind is limited in its capacity to carry out many cognitive processes at once (Logan, 2004). When word and sentence reading becomes automatic, readers can concentrate more fully on creating meaning from the text (Graesser, 2007; Perfetti, 2007; Rapp et al., 2007; van den Broek et al., 2009) …

·       Guided repeated reading has generally led to moderate increases in fluency, accuracy, and sometimes comprehension for both good and poor readers (Kuhn and Stahl, 2003; Kuhn et al., 2006; Vadasy and Sanders, 2008). In guided repeated reading, the learner receives feedback and is supported in identifying and correcting mistakes.

Improving Adult Literacy Instruction – Options for Practice and Research, Page 54-55) 

What types of activities are you doing with your students to increase their abilities to decode and read fluently? 

Stay tuned:  Vocabulary and Comprehension Research Coming!


Who Are We Serving:  12/10/12

In the MTLINCS email on 11/26/12, MTLINCS shared the research’s expanded definition of literacy and the workplace.  Reading and writing statistics were cited.  Now let’s take a look at what the research is saying about our clientele.  Who are we serving? 

Heterogeneous Population 

The population of adult literacy learners is heterogeneous. Consequently, optimal literacy instruction needs to vary according to adults’ goals, motivations, knowledge, assessed skills, interests, neurocognitive profiles, and language background. The population of adults who need to develop their literacy ranges from recent immigrants with only a sixth grade education in their native country, to middle-aged and older U.S.-born high school graduates who find they can no longer keep up with the reading, writing, and technology demands of their jobs, to adults who dropped out of school or whose learning disabilities were not fully accommodated in school, to highly educated immigrants who need to learn to read and write in English.

Improving Adult Literacy Instruction – Options for Practice and Research, Page 21 

With such a diverse population, adult educators tend to individualize student programs; however, recommendations are still being made that whole group instruction may be beneficial.   

Within the past few years another group of students has been added to the mixture:  youth. 


The overall annual dropout rate (known as the event dropout rate—the percentage of high school students who drop out of high school over the course of a given school year) was 4.1 percent across all 49 reporting states and the District of Columbia (National Center for Education Statistics, 2010). Although students drop out of school for many reasons, it can be assumed that these students’ literacy skills are below those of the rest of the U.S. population and fail to meet society’s expectations for literacy. In fact, 55 percent of adults in the 2003 NAAL survey who scored below basic did not graduate from high school (compared with 15 percent of the entire adult population); adults who did not complete high school were almost four times more likely than the total adult population to demonstrate below basic skills (Baer et al., 2009).

Improving Adult Literacy Instruction – Options for Practice and Research, Page 31 

Given these statistics, it is not surprising that, although originally designed for older adults, adult literacy education programs are increasingly attended by youths ages 16 to 20 (Hayes, 2000; Perin, Flugman, and Spiegel, 2006). In 2003, more than half of participants in federally funded adult literacy programs were 25 or younger (Tamassia et al., 2007).

Improving Adult Literacy Instruction – Options for Practice and Research, Page 31

Now this mixture is transitioning to community colleges.  What is happening there?

Community College and Developmental Education 

The problem of inadequate literacy is also found by colleges, especially community colleges. More than half of community college students enroll in at least one developmental education course during their college tenure to remediate weak skills (Bailey, Jeong, and Cho, 2010).

Improving Adult Literacy Instruction – Options for Practice and Research, Page 31 

And the dropout rate is perpetuated because the community college participants who take developmental classes tend not to complete their degrees.  Once again they become a negative statistic. 

What is clear, however, is that remediation is costly: in 2004-2005, the costs of remediation were estimated at $1.9 to $2.3 billion at community colleges and another $500 million at 4-year colleges (Strong American Schools, 2008). States have reported tens of millions of dollars in expenditures (Bailey, 2009). The costs to students of inadequate remediation include accumulated debt, lost earnings, and frustration that can lead to dropping out.

Improving Adult Literacy Instruction – Options for Practice and Research, Page 31 

For those in the field, this research is not surprising because these are the faces of the Adult Basic Education student.  Now we know how the research defines literacy and who the research confirms is a student.  So what has the research assumed? 

An assumption of our framework is that to be functionally literate one must be able to engage in literacy practices with texts and tools that are demanded by and valued in society …

Improving Adult Literacy Instruction – Options for Practice and Research, Page 35 

Stay tuned!  Coming in 2014:  Foundations of Reading and Writing 


Literacy and the Workplace, Reading Statistics, and Writing Statistics:  11/26/12

In the November 12 email, MTLINCS cited statistics about literacy and its definition.  However, is that what literacy really is today?  Take a look at the info below.  Based on career information, literacy needs have evolved. 

Literacy and the Workplace:  Definition Expanded 

If anything, data from the NAAL and other surveys and assessments are likely to underestimate the problem of literacy in the United States. Literacy demands are increasing because of the rapid growth of information and communication technologies, while the literacy assessments to date have focused on the simplest forms of literacy skill. Most traditional employment has required reading directions, keeping records, and answering business communications, but today’s workers have very different roles. Employers stress that employees need higher levels of basic literacy in the workplace than they currently possess (American Manufacturing Association, 2010) and that the global economy calls for increasingly complex forms of literacy skill in this information age (Casner-Lotto and Benner, 2006). In a world in which computers do the routine, human value in the workplace rests increasingly on the ability to gather and integrate information from disparate sources to address novel situations and emergent problems, mediate among different viewpoints of the world (e.g., between an actuary’s and a customer’s view of what should be covered under an insurance policy), and collaborate on tasks that are too complex to be within the scope of one person. To earn a living, people are likely to need forms of literacy skill and to have proficiencies in the use of literacy tools that have not been routinely defined and assessed. 

Improving Adult Literacy Instruction – Options for Practice and Research, Page 29

Reading Statistics

A significant portion of the U.S. population is likely to continue, at least in the near term, to experience inadequate literacy and require instruction as adults: the most recent main National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) (2009) shows that only 38 percent of twelfth graders performed at or above the proficient level in reading; this achievement was higher than the percentage in 2005 but not significantly different from earlier assessment years. Although 74 percent of twelfth graders were at or above basic, 26 percent were below basic near the end of high school … These numbers include students identified as learning English as a second language: only 22 percent of them were at or above basic reading levels near the end of high school; 78 percent were below basic. Results were similar for twelfth graders with disabilities: 38 percent were at or above basic reading levels; 62 percent were below basic.

SOURCE: Data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) 2009 Reading Assessment (U.S. Department of Education, 2011).

Improving Adult Literacy Instruction – Options for Practice and Research, Page 29

Writing Statistics

Similarly, according to the 2007 assessment of writing by the NAEP, only 24 percent of twelfth graders had proficient writing skills, with many fewer of the students who were learning English or with learning disabilities showing proficiency (40 and 44 percent, respectively) compared with those not identified as English learners or as having a learning disability (83 and 85 percent, respectively).

SOURCE: Data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) 2009 Reading Assessment (U.S. Department of Education, 2011).

Improving Adult Literacy Instruction – Options for Practice and Research, Page 30 

Hmmmmm … what about those students who dropped out?  (Please note that no math statistics were cited yet because the information was taken from the 2009 Reading Assessment.)

The NAEP is likely to underestimate the proportion of twelfth graders who need to develop their literacy outside the K-12 system because it does not include students who dropped out of school before the assessment, many of whom are likely to have inadequate literacy

Improving Adult Literacy Instruction – Options for Practice and Research, Page 30

Any surprises in the research?  Is this a snapshot of whom we serve?

Coming next:  Who are being served?


Introduction:  11/12/12

Throughout this year, MTLINCS will be reviewing the research provided in the Adult College Completion Toolkit and Improving Adult Literacy Instruction:  Options for Practice and Research  

Last week you saw a snippet from the Adult College Completion Toolkit about the number of adults who do not persist in postsecondary education.  This week MTLINCS will introduce Improving Adult Literacy Instruction – Options for Practice and Research, a report whose purpose is the following: 

Purpose of the Report 

The Committee on Learning Sciences: Foundations and Applications to Adolescent and Adult Literacy was established to review evidence on learning and literacy to develop a roadmap for research and practice to strengthen adult literacy education in the United States.

          Page 8  

This report responds to a request from the U.S. Department of Education to the National Research Council (NRC) to (1) synthesize research on literacy and learning, (2) draw implications for the instructional practices used to teach reading in adult literacy programs, and (3) recommend a more systemic approach to research, practice, and policy.

Page 18  

Hang on, Folks, for some interesting snippets that may confirm what many of you in the field are seeing.  Let’s just start this time with some basic information about the literacy report.  

Background Statistics

 … a recent survey estimates that more than 90 million U.S. adults lack adequate literacy.1 Furthermore, only 38 percent of U.S. twelfth graders are at or above proficient in reading.2

1 Estimate from Kutner et al. (2007).

2 According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (2010).

Page 18

Adults in adult education programs (an estimated 2.6 million in federally funded programs in 2005) show variable progress in their literacy skills, and for many, their gains are insufficient to achieve functional literacy.3

3 Information from Tamassia et al. (2007).

Page 18

 Definition of Literacy 

… the committee defined literacy as the ability to read, write, and communicate using a symbol system (in this case, English) and using appropriate tools and technologies to meet the goals and

demands of individuals, their families, and U.S. society. Thus, literacy skill includes but encompasses a broader range of proficiency than basic skills.

Page 19