Learning to read is a complex process. Reading has been described as
the ability to construct meaning from written text. The text itself, the
interaction of the reader with the text, and the context in which reading
takes place all play a role in the reading process. Together, this adds
up to more than simply decoding letters and words on a page … it
means that the student is able to make sense of, or comprehend, what those
letters and words mean.
According to an article entitled “Yes, Teaching Reading IS Rocket
Science” (www.aft.org/pdfs/teachers/rocketscience0304.pdf) published in 1999
by the American Federation of Teachers, reading instruction should include:
- Vocabulary building
Reading instruction should also incorporate a variety
of texts such as authentic materials, novels, poetry,
text books, etc.
Although the above article was written for teachers of children, the
same concepts apply to the teaching of adults. However, there are also
important differences between teaching adults and teaching children:
- Adults bring life skills and knowledge to the learning
situation that children do not possess. Their skills
and knowledge can then be incorporated into direct
teaching by using words and concepts from students’ everyday
- Similarly, adults may bring a good deal of “baggage” to
the program with them, especially if their early school
experiences were negative.
- Also, in our day-to-day lives, adults solve problems
and make decisions based on the analysis of a given
situation. Adult learners can be shown how to transfer
these critical thinking skills to the learning environment
to develop learning strategies.
- Adults can relate to their teachers as peers/partners.
- Adults usually take courses with a specific purpose
in mind. In other words, they are goal-directed.
Most research into how reading happens has involved children. Research
on how adults read is harder to come by, but it is available and continues
to be developed and expanded. However, that research does show us that
using prior knowledge to identify words and construct meaning from those
words is an effective and essential learning strategy. For example, good
readers may be able to decode a word like durian but if they do not know
the meaning of that word, their decoding skills are not of much value.
(Durian is a foul-smelling tropical fruit.) The advantage to this approach
is that it is based on a positive (what learners already know) rather
than on a negative (what they don’t know).
When developing reading activities, instructors should keep in mind that
they don’t necessarily have to create documents at a certain level;
rather, they should identify tasks to be accomplished at a certain level.
For example, a workplace memo or a novel may be written at a Level Five,
but Level One reading tasks can be assigned such as identifying sight
words. This is particularly important when working with workplace literacy
because few authentic workplace documents are written at Level One. So,
rather than adapt them to meet the learner’s current skill level,
it is better to identify appropriate tasks that can be accomplished using
the authentic document.
The Ontario Literacy Coalition’s Level Descriptions Manual (www.nald.ca/fulltext/levels/cover.htm)
includes summary statements for each of the five reading levels. These
statements clearly show the progression from a beginning reader to a fluent
one. The manual also includes possible performance indicators for each
Level One: The reader locates, understands and responds to simple, concrete
ideas and sequential information in graphics, sentences and very short,
simple texts about familiar topics. To do this, the reader uses basic
reading strategies, personal experience and familiarity with some common
forms and conventions of simple texts.
Level Two: The reader locates, understands, and begins to interpret concrete
and some inferential meaning in short, uncomplicated texts about familiar
topics. To do this, the reader uses various common reading strategies,
personal experience, and knowledge, as well as familiarity with some forms
and conventions of more formal texts.