Adult Literacy Education: Emerging Directions in Program Development

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Adult Literacy Education: Emerging Directions in Program Development The one-size-fits-all programming for [adult literacy students] that has predominated in the past should not and indeed cannot continue in the future if practitioners are to be responsive to learners' needs. Rather, practitioners must meaningfully assist adults in learning to read not only the word but their world. (Sissel 1996, p. 97). "Why don't more adults take advantage of available opportunities to improve their basic skills?" is one of the more perplexing questions confronting the field of adult basic and literacy education. Only 8 percent of eligible adults participate in funded literacy programs and, of those who do, most (74 percent) leave during the first year (Quigley 1997). "What other area of education could live with such figures?" asks Quigley (ibid., p. 8). A large number of adults with low literacy simply choose not to participate in available programs, and they are sometimes referred to as nonparticipants or resisters. The reasons these adults do not see literacy education as a viable alternative are complex but recent research has focused on the connection to previous school experiences (Velazquez 1996). Many adults equate literacy education with school, and, even though they have positive attitudes about learning and education, they choose not to participate in adult basic and literacy education programs (Quigley 1997; Velazquez 1996; Ziegahn 1992). Since most adult literacy education programs still resemble school (Quigley 1997; Velazquez 1996), adult literacy educators must begin to change how programs are structured and delivered if they are going to attract nonparticipants. Fortunately, a growing number of practitioners, researchers, and policy makers in the field of adult literacy education are dissatisfied with the status quo and are proposing changes based on research and practice. This Digest presents emerging perspectives about adult literacy program development. First, it reviews current ideas about the relationship between learners and program development and then presents recommendations for program development based on the literature. Program Development: Listening to Learners' Voices How can literacy programs become less like school and more appealing to adults, especially to nonparticipants? Two areas that hold potential for answering this question are discussed here. The first is connected to program content and the second revolves around greater consideration of the differences among students. Beyond Reading and Writing Literacy education must be conceptualized as more than reading and writing (Auerbach et al. 1996). According to Fingeret (1992), "our understanding of literacy has changed from [a] focus on individual skills, separated from meaningful content .

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