National Academies Press: OpenBook

Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Developing Reading and Writing (2012)

Chapter: Instruction for Struggling Readers and Writers

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Suggested Citation:"Instruction for Struggling Readers and Writers." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Developing Reading and Writing. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13468.
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Instruction for Struggling
Readers and Writers

The principles of reading and writing instruction presented so far apply equally to typically developing learners and to struggling learners, such as those who have a learning disability or a disability specific to reading or writing. In other words, research does not suggest that the learner who struggles with reading and writing needs an entirely different type of instruction from learners whose skills develop typically. Rather, the instruction may need to be adapted in particular ways to help the learner overcome specific reading, writing, and learning difficulties. Literature on interventions for struggling K-12 learners points to additional principles of instruction that might also help adults overcome specific areas of difficulty.

Principles for effectively supporting struggling readers and writers include:

• directly targeting specific literacy difficulties while giving explicit instruction in reading and writing;

• providing more intense instruction, more explicit instruction, and even more opportunities to practice than for other learners;

• offering enhanced support to help learners generalize and transfer their new literacy skills;

• addressing struggling learners’ attributions, beliefs, and motivational profiles—in other words, whether they explain their successes and failures to themselves in ways that foster motivation and continued engagement or decrease motivation and engagement; and

• providing instruction that is individualized, with materials that are at the right level of challenge and with appropriate feedback provided while learning.

Suggested Citation:"Instruction for Struggling Readers and Writers." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Developing Reading and Writing. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13468.
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More than an estimated 90 million adults in the United States lack the literacy skills needed for fully productive and secure lives. The effects of this shortfall are many: Adults with low literacy have lower rates of participation in the labor force and lower earnings when they do have jobs, for example. They are less able to understand and use health information. And they are less likely to read to their children, which may slow their children's own literacy development.

At the request of the U.S. Department of Education, the National Research Council convened a committee of experts from many disciplines to synthesize research on literacy and learning in order to improve instruction for those served in adult education in the U.S. The committee's report, Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research, recommends a program of research and innovation to gain a better understanding of adult literacy learners, improve instruction, and create the supports adults need for learning and achievement.

Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Developing Reading and Writing, which is based on the report, presents an overview of what is known about how literacy develops the component skills of reading and writing, and the practices that are effective for developing them. It also describes principles of reading and writing instruction that can guide those who design and administer programs or courses to improve adult literacy skills. Although this is not intended as a "how to" manual for instructors, teachers may also find the information presented here to be helpful as they plan and deliver instruction.

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