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Sample Activity

The Literacy Practices of Adult Learners (LPAL) Study

Findings from Research

The Literacy Practices of Adult Learners (LPAL) Study

A team of researchers led by Victoria Purcell-Gates hypothesized that adult education classes would be more likely to affect adults’ literacy practices outside of the classroom if the classes used literacy materials and activities that adults actually encounter in their daily lives, and if the classes involved the adult students in the planning of the class. The researchers defined changes in literacy practices as increases in the frequency of reading and writing in daily life and/or increases in the types of texts read and written. Researchers collected data from 83 adult literacy classes in 22 states on two instructional dimensions:

  • authenticity (how much the materials, activities, and texts used in the literacy classes actually came from adult students themselves, representing literacy activities and purposes used by people in their lives), and
  • collaboration (how much teachers and students collaborated in planning the types of activities, texts, assessments, and governance used in the classroom).

They also collected data on change in 173 adult literacy students’ literacy practices, using a detailed questionnaire administered to students individually in their homes every three months for up to a year, as long as they attended their literacy class. They asked students if they engaged in specific individual literacy practices, and if so, whether these practices were new or engaged in more frequently since beginning the class.

Researchers then analyzed student responses, and looked at the relationship between change in literacy practices and the degree of authenticity and collaboration in the classes the students attended.

Adult students in classes using real-life (authentic) literacy activities and texts read and wrote more often, and used a greater variety of texts, in their lives outside class than students from classes that relied on textbooks and workbooks. Students from the classes that used real-life texts for real-life purposes were more likely to report
that they spent more time reading and writing outside of school.

The degree of teacher-student collaboration showed no influence on change in literacy practices. This study did
not find a relationship between changes in at-home literacy and the degree of collaboration in the classes.

Specific Implications of LPAL Study

Implication: Make improvements in students’ literacy practices a goal of your program and ensure that instruction helps students reach that goal.

What the research says: Participating in classes that used real-life activities and texts was related to increases in literacy practices in students’ daily lives.

Therefore, you should …

… ensure that increasing adult students’ literacy practices is a part of your program’s mission and that instruction is organized to maximize use of texts from students’ lives.

  • State in your program’s mission that you aim to improve literacy practices and communicate that to teachers, students, and the community.
  • Help your staff to develop a literacy practices assessment tool. Gauge baseline and progress in literacy practices, for example, by asking students to list everything they read the previous day. Provide funds or incentives for groups of teachers to design and pilot an assessment framework that is linked to capturing changes in students’ literacy practices.
  • Assess literacy practices at intake, but also along the way. Identify students for whom improving literacy practices is important and assess their literacy at the beginning and periodically throughout their enrollment in the program.
  • Open a dialogue with students. Ask students about their daily literacy demands and interests. Acquire reading materials of the students’ choice.
  • Encourage teachers to develop and share lessons using authentic materials from students’ own experiences. Authentic instruction requires finding out from adult students in each classroom what daily literacy activities they want and need to do. Support teachers to develop lessons using authentic materials and to share those lessons at staff meetings, on bulletin boards, or electronically using a program listserv. Contact your regional or state professional development and technical assistance center for resources and support.
  • Suggest teachers develop theme-based instruction that integrates authentic materials with skills instruction. See Creating Authentic Materials and Activities for the Adult Literacy Classroom. [PDF]
  • Use literacy practices assessment results to evaluate and improve program services. Study the ongoing results of such assessments and make changes in program structures and services that better support students in strengthening literacy practices. Collaborate with students in assessing how the program can better support them in improving literacy practices at home, work, or in the community.

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Updated 7/27/07 :: Copyright © 2005 NCSALL