Our Study

General Overview

Our center had two major goals:

1. To research the underlying processes that help or hinder the reading development of adults who struggle with reading.

2. To develop and evaluate a reading curriculum to address adult learners’ needs.

Reading comprehension as the goal of reading was the ultimate focus of this Center grant. To comprehend a text successfully, a reader simultaneously uses many skills and strategies. We targeted those which past research has shown to be most important: phonological awareness, morphological knowledge, decoding, orthographic/irregular word reading, vocabulary, fluency, background/general knowledge, text structure knowledge, reasoning skills, and memory retrieval ability.

The participants in our work were adults who read between the 3rd and 8th grade equivalency levels. The work included three phases across five years, each with specific research questions. The first phase focused on measuring individual differences in cognitive and motivational functioning, the second phase focused on iteratively designing a curriculum for adult learners and assessing its usability, and the third phase focused on conducting pilot intervention studies.

Some unique aspects of our Center were:

(i) a comprehensive approach to assessment that combines cognitive assessment with evaluation of motivational needs and attitudes about literacy learning;

(ii) attention to the adequacy of assessments for this population;

(iii) an assessment and curriculum motivated by a detailed theory of reading;

(iv) an instructional approach adapted from a curriculum developed and evaluated with 800+ adolescents reading at the same levels as our adult learners;

(v) development of a curriculum with different modules to allow tailoring to differing instructional needs in decoding and word identification, reading fluency, vocabulary, text analysis and reading comprehension;

(vi) adoption of a web-based portion of the curriculum which will allow for instructional opportunities outside of the classroom;

(vii) design of web-based tutoring to individualize instruction and promote deeper levels of comprehension by learners; and

(viii) feasibility and pilot intervention studies using different authentic adult literacy sites in the US and Canada.

With the added demands for digital literacy skills, the needs of adults who struggle with their reading will only escalate. It is critical that we better understand the underlying processes that help or hinder their literacy learning in order to develop and test effective instructional approaches capable of addressing their complex learning needs.