Adult literacy learners difficulties in reading: an exploratory study

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Feedback from both the consultation meetings and the Introduction to the Adult Literacy Core Curriculum programme suggested that two major ‘sticking points’ for adults in reading are word identification and understanding indirect meanings. Given that many aspects of pedagogy could be investigated, it is sensible to concentrate on areas that practitioners have already identified as problematic. Clear findings on such areas would be of immediate relevance and use to practitioners and learners.

The main aim of the project was to carry out an exploration of particular areas of reading that are crucial to fluency and which appear to present special difficulty for adult learners.

The project was carried out between September 2002 and May 2003 at the University of Sheffield under the direction of Prof. Greg Brooks and Senior Research Officer, Dr Sharon Besser. It was an exploratory project designed to find out what is going on in reading instruction for adult literacy learners. The project explored areas of reading difficulty in adult literacy learning through focused observation of practice and close study of learners. This was done through observing a sample of 27 teaching sessions, studying and assessing 53 learners who participated in those sessions, and interviewing 54 basic skills practitioners – the 27 who taught the observed sessions and 27 others who attended four focus groups.

The project was conducted as part of the research agenda developed by the National Research and Development Centre for Adult Literacy and Numeracy (NRDC), which was established in 2002 as part of the Skills for Life strategy of the Department for Education and Skills (DfES). During 2002, NRDC mounted a number of consultation conferences about its planned programme of research and development and the Basic Skills Agency ran many sessions of An Introduction to the Adult Literacy Core Curriculum – this was a three-day (18-hour) training programme for practitioners on the new National Standards and Adult Literacy Core Curriculum.

Besser. S, Brooks. G, Burton. M, Parisella. M, Spare. Y, Stratford. S & Wainwright. J (2004) Adult literacy learners’ difficulties in reading: an exploratory study. NRDC: London