National Academies Press: OpenBook

Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research (2012)

Chapter: 2 Foundations of Reading and Writing

« Previous: 1 Introduction
Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×

2

Foundations of Reading and Writing

This chapter provides an overview of the components and processes of reading and writing and the practices that develop these skills. This knowledge is derived mainly from research with K-12 students because this population is the main focus of most rigorous research on reading components, difficulties in learning to read, and effective instructional practices. The findings are particularly robust for elementary school students and less developed for middle and high school students due to lack of attention in research to reading and writing development during these years. We also review a small body of research on cognitive aging that compares the reading and writing skills of younger and older adults. From all the collected findings, we distill principles to guide literacy instruction for adolescents and adults who are outside the K-12 education system but need to further develop their literacy.

Caution must be used in generalizing research conducted in K-12 settings to other populations, such as adult literacy students. Precisely what needs to be taught and how will vary depending on an individual’s existing literacy skills; learning goals that require proficiency with particular types of reading and writing; and characteristics of learners that include differences in motivation, neurobiological processes, and cultural, linguistic, and educational backgrounds. Translational research will be needed to apply and adapt the findings to diverse populations of adolescents and adults, as discussed in later chapters.

This chapter is organized into five major parts. Part 1 provides an orienting discussion of the social, cultural, and neurocognitive mechanisms involved in literacy development. Part 2 describes the components and

Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×

processes of reading and writing, and research on reading and writing instruction for all students (both typical and atypical learners). We summarize principles for instruction that have sufficient empirical support to warrant inclusion in a comprehensive approach to literacy instruction. Part 3 discusses the neurobiology of reading and writing development and difficulties. Part 4 conveys additional principles for intervening specifically with learners who have difficulties with learning to read and write. In Part 5, we describe what is known about reading and writing processes in older adults and highlight the lack of research on reading and writing across the life span.

Throughout the chapter, we point to promising areas for research and to questions that require further study. We conclude with a summary of the findings, directions for research, and implications for the learners who are the focus of our report: adolescents and adults who need to develop their literacy skills outside K-12 educational settings.1

SOCIAL, CULTURAL, AND NEUROCOGNITIVE
MECHANISMS OF LITERACY DEVELOPMENT

Literacy, or cognition of any kind, cannot be understood fully apart from the contexts in which it develops (e.g., Cobb and Bowers, 1999; Greeno, Smith, and Moore, 1993; Heath, 1983; Lave and Wenger, 1991; Markus and Kitiyama, 2010; Nisbett, 2003; Rogoff and Lave, 1984; Scribner and Cole, 1981; Street, 1984). The development of skilled reading and writing (indeed, learning in general) depends heavily on the contexts and activities in which learning occurs, including the purposes for reading and writing and the activities, texts, and tools that are routinely encountered (Beach, 1995; Heath, 1983; Luria, 1987; Scribner and Cole, 1981; Street, 1984; Vygotsky, 1978, 1986). In this way, reading and writing are similar to other complex cognitive skills and brain functions that are shaped by cultural patterns and stimuli (Markus and Kitayama, 2010; Nisbett, 2003; Nisbett et al., 2001; Park and Huang, 2010; Ross and Wang, 2010). The particular knowledge and skill that develop depend on the literacy practices engaged in, the supports provided for learning, and the demand and value attached to particular forms of literacy in communities and the broader society (Heath, 1983; Scribner and Cole,

__________________

1Other documents have summarized research on the components of reading and writing and instructional practices to develop literacy skills. We refer readers to additional resources for more extensive coverage of this literature (Ehri et al., 2001; Graham, 2006a; Graham and Hebert, 2010; Graham and Perin 2007a, 2007b; Kamil et al., 2008; McCardle, Chhabra, and Kapinus, 2008; National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 2000a).

Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×

1983; Vygotsky, 1986). Thus, how people use reading and writing differs considerably by context.

As an example, forms and uses of spoken and written language in academic settings differ from those in nonacademic settings, and they also differ among academic disciplines or subjects (Blommaert, Street, and Turner, 2007; Lemke, 1998; Moje, 2007, 2008b; Street, 2003, 2009). Recent work on school subject learning also makes it clear that content and uses of language differ significantly from one subject matter to another (Coffin and Hewings, 2004; Lee and Spratley, 2006; McConachie and Petrosky, 2010). People may develop and use forms of literacy that differ from those needed for new purposes (Alvermann and Xu, 2003; Cowan, 2004; Hicks, 2004; Hull and Schultz, 2001; Leander and Lovvorn, 2006; Mahiri and Sablo, 1996; Moje, 2000a, 2008b; Moll, 1994; Noll, 1998; Reder, 2008). Thus, as depicted in Figure 1-2, a complete understanding of reading and writing development includes in-depth knowledge of the learner (the learners’ knowledge, skills, literacy practices, motivations, and neurocognitive processes) and features of the instructional context that scaffold or impede learning. The context of instruction includes texts, tools, activities, interactions with teachers and peers, and instructor knowledge, beliefs, and skills.

Types of Text

Types of text vary from books to medication instructions to Twitter tweets. Texts have numerous features that in the context of instruction can either facilitate or constrain the learning of literacy skills (Goldman, 1997; Graesser, McNamara, and Louwerse, 2004). Texts that effectively support progress with reading are appropriately challenging and well written. They focus attention on new knowledge and skills related to the particular components of reading that the learner needs to develop. They also support the learner in gaining automaticity and confidence and in applying and generalizing their new skills. To the greatest degree possible, the materials for reading should help to build useful vocabulary and content (e.g., topic, world) knowledge. Effective texts also motivate engagement with instruction and practice partly by developing valued knowledge or relating to the interests of the learner.

Adult learners will have encountered many texts during the course of formal schooling that are poorly written or highly complex (Beck, McKeown, and Gromoll, 1989; Chambliss and Calfee, 1998; Chambliss and Murphy, 2002; Lee and Spratley, 2010). Similarly, the texts of everyday life are not written to scaffold reading or writing skill (Solomon, Van der Kerkhof, and Moje, 2010). Developing readers need to confront challenging texts that engage them with meaningful content, but they also need texts that afford the practicing of the skills they need to develop and systematic

Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×

support to stretch beyond existing skills. This support needs to come from a mix of instructional interactions and texts that scaffold the learner in developing and practicing new skills and becoming an independent reader (Lee and Spratley, 2010; Moje, 2009; Solomon, Van der Kerkhof, 2010).

Literacy Tools

Being literate also requires proficiency with the tools and practices used in society to accomplish valued tasks that require reading and writing (see Box 2-1). For example, digital and online media are used to communicate with diverse others and to produce, find, evaluate, and synthesize knowledge in innovative and creative ways to meet the varied demands of education and work. It is important, therefore, to offer reading and writing

BOX 2-1
Literacy in a Digital Age

Strong reading and writing skills underpin valued aspects of digital literacy in several areas:

•  Presentations of ideas

images  Organizing a complex and compelling argument

images  Adjusting the presentation to the audience

images  Using multiple media and integrating them with text

images  Translating among multiple documents

images  Extended text

images  Summary

images  Graphics versus text

images  Responding to queries and critiques through revision and written follow-up

•  Using online resources to search for information and evaluating quality of that information

images  Using affordances, such as hyperlinks and search engines

images  Making effective predictions of likely search results

images  Coordinating overlapping ideas expressed in differing language

images  Organizing bodies of information from multiple sources

images  Evaluating the quality and warrants of accessed information

•  Using basic office software to generate texts and multimedia documents

images  Writing documents: writing for others

images  Taking notes: writing for oneself

images  Preparing displays to support oral presentations

images

SOURCES: Adapted from National Center on Education and the Economy (1997); Appendix B: Literacy in a Digital Age.

Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×

instruction that incorporates the use of print and digital tools as needed for transforming information and knowledge across the varied forms of representation used to communicate in today’s world. These forms include symbols, numeric symbols, icons, static images, moving images, oral representations (available digitally and in other venues), graphs, charts, and tables (Goldman et al., 2003; Kress, 2003). Extensive research has been conducted on youths’ multimodal and digital literacy learning, demonstrating that young people are experimenting with a range of tools and practices that extend beyond those taught in school (see Coiro et al., 2009a, 2009b). Continued research is needed to identify effective instructional methods that incorporate digital technologies (e.g., Coiro, 2003; see Appendix B for detailed discussion of the state of research on digital literacy).

Literacy Activities

The development of skilled literacy involves extensive participation and practice using component skills of reading and writing for particular purposes (Ford and Forman, 2006; Lave and Wenger, 1991; McConachie et al., 2006; Rogoff, 1990; Scribner and Cole, 1981; Street, 1984; Vygotsky, 1986). Because literacy demands shift over time and across contexts, some individuals may need specific interventions developed to meet these shifting literacy demands. For example, a typical late adolescent or adult must traverse, on a regular basis, workplaces; vocational and postsecondary education; societal, civic, or political contexts; home and family; and new media. Literacy demands also change over time due to global, economic, social, and cultural forces. These realities make it especially important to understand the social and cultural contexts of literacy and to offer instruction that develops literacy skills for meeting social, educational, and workplace demands as well as the learner’s personal needs. The likelihood of transferring a newly learned skill to a new task depends on the similarity between the new task and tasks used for learning (National Research Council, 2005), making it important to design literacy instruction using the literacy activities, tools, and tasks that are valued by society and learners outside the context of instruction. Such instruction also would be expected to enhance learners’ motivation to engage with a literacy task or persist with literacy instruction.

Instruction that connects to knowledge that students already possess and value appears to be motivating (e.g., Au and Mason, 1983; Guthrie et al., 1996; Gutiérrez et al., 1999; Lee, 1993; Moje and Speyer, 2008; Moll and Gonzalez, 1994; Wigfield, Eccles, and Rodriguez, 1998) and thus may be important for supporting the persistence of those who have successfully navigated other life arenas despite not having developed a broader range of literacy skills and practices. Successful literacy instruction for adults and

Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×

adolescents should recognize the knowledge and experience brought by mature learners, even when their literacy skills are weak.

Because the motivation to engage in extensive reading and writing practice is so important for the development and integration of component skills, we discuss the topic of motivation more extensively in Chapter 5.

Teacher Knowledge, Skills, and Beliefs

Literacy development, like the learning of any complex task, requires a range of explicit teaching and implicit learning guided by an expert (Ford and Forman, 2006; Forman, Minick, and Stone, 1993; Lave and Wenger, 1991, 1998; Rogoff, 1990, 1993, 1995; Scribner and Cole, 1981; Street, 1984; Vygotsky, 1986; Wertsch, 1991). To be effective, teachers of struggling readers and writers must have significant expertise in both the components of reading and writing, which include spoken language, and how to teach them. The social and emotional tone of the instructional environment also is very important for successful reading and writing development (Hamre and Pianta, 2003). Teachers are more effective when they nurture relationships and develop a positive, dynamic, and emotionally supportive environment for learning that is sensitive to differences in values and experiences that students bring to instruction.

Effective instructors tend to have an informed mental map of where they want their students to end up that they use to guide instructional practices every day. That is, they plan activities using clear objectives with deep understanding of reading and writing processes. Descriptions of effective teachers in the K-12 system stress that they are highly reflective in their teaching, mindful of their instructional choices and how they fit into the larger picture for their students, and able to fluently use and orchestrate a repertoire of effective and adaptive instructional strategies (Block and Pressley, 2002; Butler et al., 2004; Duffy, 2005; Lovett et al., 2008b). Effective teachers use feedback from their own performance to adjust and change instruction, and they are able to transfer and apply knowledge from one domain to another (Duffy, 2005; Israel et al., 2005; Zimmerman, 2000a, 2000b). Effective teachers of reading and writing also have deep knowledge of the English language system and its oral and written structures, as well as the processes involved in acquiring various language abilities (Duke and Carlisle, 2011; Moats, 2004, 2005). Beyond the requisite knowledge and expertise, literacy teachers often need coaching, mentoring, and encouragement to question and evaluate the efficacy of their instruction.

Teacher beliefs can have a profound impact on the opportunities provided during instruction to develop literacy skills. For example, both Green (1983) and Golden (1988) demonstrated how teachers’ instruction changed depending on what the teachers assumed about the literacy abilities of the

Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×

students in each group. Students who were identified as reading at lower levels were not asked to think about the texts and interpret them in the same way as those at higher reading levels (see also Cazden, 1985). Being thought of as “successful” or “achieving” or, at the other extreme, “unsuccessful” and “failing” can produce low-literacy learning and even, in some cases, what is identified as disability (McDermott and Varenne, 1995).

As discussed further in Chapter 3, it is well known that the knowledge and expertise of adult literacy instructors are highly variable (Smith and Gillespie, 2007; Tamassia et al., 2007). A large body of research on the efficacy of teacher education and professional development practices for literacy instruction does not exist that could be used as a resource for instructors of adults (McCardle, Chhabra, and Kapinus, 2008; National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 2000a; Snow, Griffin, and Burns, 2005). Neither preparation nor selection of instructors in adult literacy education or developmental college courses has been studied much at all and certainly not in terms of ability to apply the practices presented in this chapter. Thus, the issue of instructor preparation for the delivery of effective instructional practices is vital to address in future research.

Neurocognitive Mechanisms

The field of cognitive neuroscience is opening windows on the brain mechanisms that underlie skilled reading and writing and related difficulties. Much of the research has focused on identifying the neurocircuits (brain pathways) associated with component processes in reading and writing at different stages of typical reading development, and differences in the progression of brain organization for these processes in atypically developing readers. It also has focused mainly on word- and sentence-level reading. More needs to be understood from neurocognitive research about the development of complex comprehension processes. In addition, because different disciplines study different aspects of literacy, much remains to be discovered about how various social, cultural, and instructional factors interact with neurocognitive processes to facilitate or constrain the development of literacy skills.

Brain imaging studies (both structural and functional imaging) have revealed, however, robust differences in brain organization between typically and atypically developing readers (see Chapter 7). It is yet to be determined whether these observed brain differences are the cause or consequence of reading-related problems. It is possible, however, to confirm certain levels of literacy development by observing the brain activity associated with literacy function. More needs to be understood about (1) the genetic, neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and epigenetic factors that control the development of these neurocircuits and (2) the ways in which experiential factors, such as

Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×

enriched learning environments, might modulate brain pathways in struggling readers at different ages and in different environments. Research on gene-brain-environment relations has the potential to inform instruction in at least three ways: (1) the development and testing of theories and models of typical and atypical development of reading and writing needed to guide effective teaching and remedial interventions; (2) development of measures that provide more sensitive assessments in specific areas of difficulty to use for instruction and research; and, though less germane to this report, (3) knowledge of neurobiological processes needed for early identification of risk with an eye toward prevention of reading and writing difficulties. The same possibilities apply for writing instruction, although neurobiological research on writing is in the early stages. In subsequent sections, we further describe what is known about the neurobiological mechanisms specific to reading and writing. A key point to keep in mind, however, is that neither the available behavioral data nor neurocognitive data suggest that learners who struggle with reading and writing require a categorically different type of instruction from more typically developing learners. Rather, the instruction may need to be adapted in particular ways to help learners overcome specific reading, writing, and learning difficulties, as discussed later in the chapter.

READING

Reading is the comprehension of language from a written code that represents concepts and communicates information and ideas. It is a complex skill that involves many human capacities that evolved for other purposes and it depends on their development and coordinated use: spoken language, perception (vision, hearing), motor systems, memory, learning, reasoning, problem solving, motivation, interest, and others (Rayner et al., 2001). Reading is closely related to spoken language (National Research Council, 1998) and requires applying what is known about spoken language to deciphering an unfamiliar written code. In fact, the correlation between comprehension of spoken and written language in adults is high, approximately .90 (Braze et al., 2007; Gernsbacher, Varner, and Faust, 1990). Conversely, being less skilled in a spoken language—having limited vocabulary, less familiarity with standard grammar, speaking a different dialect—makes it more difficult to become skilled at reading that language (Craig et al., 2009; Scarborough, 2002). Reading also depends on knowledge of the context and purpose for which the act of reading occurs (Scribner and Cole, 1981; Street, 1984; Vygotsky, 1978).

Although reading and speech are similar, they differ in important ways that have implications for instruction (Biber, 1988; Clark, 1996; Kucer, 2001). Speech fades from memory whereas most types of text are more

Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×

permanent, allowing for reanalysis and use of strategies to comprehend complex written structures (Biber and Conrad, 2006). Skilled readers are attuned to the differences between texts and spoken language (e.g., differences in types and frequencies of words, expressions, and grammatical structures) (Biber, 1988; Chafe and Tannen, 1987), and they know the strategies that help them comprehend various kinds of text. Perhaps the most important difference is that people learn to speak (or sign) even when direct instruction is limited or perhaps absent, whereas learning to read almost always requires explicit instruction as well as immersion in written language.

The major components of reading are well documented and include decoding, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. Box 2-2 summarizes

BOX 2-2
Principles of Reading Instruction

Becoming an able reader takes a substantial amount of time. Reading is a complex skill, and, like other complex skills, it takes well over 1,000 hours, perhaps several times that, to acquire fully. Instruction consistent with the principles that follow must therefore be implemented and learner engagement supported at the scale required for meaningful gains.

•  Use explicit and systematic reading instruction to develop the major components of reading (decoding, fluency vocabulary, comprehension) according to the assessed needs of individual learners. Although each dimension is necessary to proficient reading, adolescents and adults vary in the specific reading instruction they need. For example, some will require comprehensive decoding instruction; others may need less or no decoding instruction. Further research is needed to clarify the forms of explicit instruction that effectively develop component skills for adolescents and adults.

•  Combine explicit and systematic instruction with extended reading practice to promote acquisition and transfer of component reading skills. Learning to read involves both explicit teaching and implicit learning. Explicit teaching does not negate the vital importance of incidental and informal learning opportunities or the need for extensive practice using new skills.

•  Motivate engagement with the literacy tasks used for instruction and extensive reading practice. Learners, especially adolescents, are more engaged when literacy instruction and practice opportunities are embedded in meaningful learning activities. Opportunities to collaborate during reading also can increase motivation to read, although more needs to be known about how to structure collaborations effectively.

•  Develop reading fluency as needed to facilitate efficiency in the reading of words and longer text. Some methods of fluency improvement have been vali-

Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×

principles of instruction related to developing each of these components. Although the components are presented separately here for exposition, reading involves an interrelated and interdependent system with reciprocity among the various components, both within reading and between reading and writing.

A substantial body of evidence on children shows that effective reading instruction explicitly and systematically targets each component of reading skill that remains to be developed (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 2000a; Rayner et al., 2001). More extensive evidence for this statement is available for younger than older learners and for word identification and decoding processes than for reading comprehension and

          dated in children (e.g., guided repeated reading); these require further research with adolescents and adults.

•  Explicitly teach the structure of written language to facilitate decoding and comprehension. Develop awareness of the features of written language at multiple levels (word, sentence, passage). Teach regularity and irregularity of spelling-to-sound mappings, the patterns of English morphology, rules of grammar and syntax, and the structures of various text genres. Again, the specifics of how best to provide this instruction to adolescents and adults requires further research, but the dependence of literacy on knowledge of the structure of written language is clear.

•  To develop vocabulary, use a mixture of instructional approaches combined with extensive reading of texts to create “an enriched verbal environment.” High-quality mental representations of words develop through varied and multiple exposures to words in discourse and reading of varied text. Instruction that integrates the teaching of vocabulary with reading comprehension instruction, development of topic and background knowledge, and learning of disciplinary or other valued content are promising approaches to study with adolescents and adults.

•  To develop comprehension, teach varied goals and purposes for reading; encourage learners to state their own reading goals, predictions, questions, and reactions to material; encourage extensive reading practice with varied forms of text; teach and model the use of multiple comprehension strategies; teach self-regulation in the monitoring of strategy use. Reading comprehension involves a high level of metacognitive engagement with text. Developing readers often need help to develop the metacognitive components of reading comprehension, such as learning how to identify reading goals, select, implement, and coordinate multiple strategies; monitor and evaluate success of the strategies; and adjust strategies to achieve reading goals. Extensive practice also is needed to develop knowledge of words, text structures, and written syntax that are not identical to spoken language and that are gleaned from extensive experience with various texts.

Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×

reading fluency, given that research has focused mainly in these areas. Despite this caveat, this principle of reading instruction is considered to have strong research support (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 2000a). The emphasis of instruction within and across reading components will vary depending on each person’s need for skill development, but skill needs to be attained in all the components. It is possible to design many ways to provide explicit and systematic reading instruction focused on the learner’s needs using methods and formats that will appeal to learners (McCardle, Chhabra, and Kapinus, 2008).

Learning to read involves both explicit teaching and implicit learning. Explicit teaching does not negate the importance of incidental and informal learning opportunities, or the need for extensive practice using new skills. Explicit and systematic reading instruction must be combined with extended experience with reading for varied purposes in order to promote learning and the transfer of reading skills. Thus, it is important to provide forms of reading practice that develop the particular skills that need to be acquired. Learners, especially adolescents, are more engaged when literacy instruction and practice are embedded in meaningful learning activities (e.g., Guthrie and Wigfield, 2000; Guthrie et al., 1999; Schiefele, 1996a, 1996b; Schraw and Lehman, 2001).

Decoding

Decoding involves the ability to apply knowledge of letter-sound relationships to correctly pronounce printed words. It requires developing phonological awareness, which consists of phonemic awareness (an oral language skill that involves awareness of and ability to manipulate the units of sound, phonemes, in a spoken word) and alphabetic knowledge (knowing that the letters in written words represent the phonemes in spoken words) (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 2000b; Rayner et al., 2001).

Even highly skilled adult readers must rely on alphabetic knowledge and decoding skills to read unfamiliar words (e.g., “otolaryngology”) (Frost, 1998; Rayner et al., 2001). Word reading also requires being able to recognize sight words that do not follow regular patterns of letter-sound correspondence (e.g., “yacht”). Explicit and systematic phonics instruction to teach correspondences between letters and phonemes has been found to facilitate reading development for children of different ages, abilities, and socioeconomic circumstances (Foorman et al., 1998; McCardle, Chhabra, and Kapinus, 2008; Morris et al., 2010; National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 2000a; Torgesen et al., 1999). The evidence is clear that explicit instruction is necessary for most individuals to develop

Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×

understanding of written code and its relation to speech (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 2000a; Snow, 2002).

The National Reading Panel, convened at the request of Congress, identified several types of effective systematic phonics programs, among them synthetic phonics (teaching children to convert letters into sounds or phonemes and then blend the sounds to form recognizable words) (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 2000a). The research shows that, although phonological awareness is the oral language building block of reading, teaching phonological awareness for those who need such instruction is most effective when coupled with the use of letters and the learning of letter-sound correspondences as part of phonics instruction.

Many adults with low literacy may experience difficulty with decoding (Baer, Kutner, and Sabatini, 2009; Greenberg, Ehri, and Perin, 1997, 2002; Mellard, Fall, and Woods, 2010; Nanda, Greenberg, and Morris, 2010; Read and Ruyter, 1985; Sabatini et al., 2010). Research on younger populations suggests that instructors may need to be prepared to explicitly and systematically teach all aspects of the word-reading system: letter-sound patterns, high-frequency spelling patterns (oat, at, end, ar), consonant blends (st-, bl-, cr-), vowel combinations (ai, oa, ea), affixes (pre-, sub-, -ing, -ly), and irregular high-frequency word instruction (sight words that do not follow regular spelling patterns). For those adults who need to develop their word-reading skills, it may be important to teach “word attack” strategies with particular attention to challenges posed by multisyllabic words and variable vowel pronunciations. Effective word attack strategies for all readers include phonological decoding and blending, word identification by analogy, peeling off prefixes and suffixes, and facility with variable vowel pronunciations (for information about these word-reading strategies and how to use them, see Lovett et al., 1994, 2000; Lovett, Lacerenza, and Borden, 2000). Even after adult learners have mastered decoding, they may need substantial practice to become able to decode words easily, freeing up limited attentional capacity for other reading processes, like comprehension (see discussion of fluency below).

Vocabulary

Vocabulary knowledge is a primary predictor of reading success (Baumann, Kame’enui, and Ash, 2003). It is associated with word identification skills at the end of first grade (Sénéchal and Cornell, 1993) and reading comprehension in eleventh grade (Cunningham and Stanovich, 1998; Nagy, 2007). In fact, for those who have acquired basic decoding skills, the aspect of lexical (word) processing that has the greatest impact on reading is vocabulary knowledge and, more specifically, the depth, breadth, and

Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×

flexibility of knowledge about words (Beck and McKeown, 1986; Perfetti, 2007). Vocabulary also tends to grow with reading experience. As readers progress, lexical analysis (i.e., morphological awareness allowing the recognition of derived words, e.g., decide→decision, decisive, deciding) becomes increasingly important for comprehending complex and unfamiliar words and concepts (Adams, 1990; Nagy and Anderson, 1984; Nagy and Scott, 2000). Specialized vocabulary is important to develop for comprehending texts in different subject-matter areas (Koedinger and Nathan, 2004).

The National Reading Panel (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 2000a) concluded that explicit vocabulary instruction is associated with gains in reading comprehension. Other research reviews have been less definitive, and thus some researchers consider the evidence to be mixed (Kamil et al., 2008; Pressley, Disney, and Anderson, 2007). Differences in findings across studies may be due partly to variations in the approaches and how they were implemented, the lack of direct measures of vocabulary growth in some studies, and the use of measures that fail to assess all dimensions of word knowledge or reading comprehension. These issues should be addressed in future research with adult and adolescent populations.

Research on literacy instruction for children suggests that selecting words from the curriculum and teaching their meanings prior to reading a text help to ensure that vocabulary items are in the spoken language of the reader prior to encountering the words in print (Beck, McKeown, and Kucan, 2002; McKeown and Beck, 1988; National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 2000a). For less skilled readers, explicit instruction, combined with discussion and elaboration activities that encourage using the words to be learned, can improve vocabulary and facilitate better reading comprehension (Curtis and Longo, 2001; Foorman et al., 2003; Klinger and Vaughn, 1999; Stahl and Fairbanks, 1986). Beck and colleagues (Beck and McKeown 2007; McKeown and Beck, 1988) articulated principles for developing a teacher’s ability to deliver effective vocabulary instruction: (a) introduce vocabulary through connected language (discussion, elaboration activities) instead of only dictionary definitions, (b) provide multiple opportunities to interact with new words and word meanings in a variety of engaging contexts, and (c) use activities that engage learners in deep and reflective processing of word meanings. In addition, repeated exposure to words in multiple contexts and domains enhances vocabulary learning (Kamil et al., 2008; Nagy and Scott, 2000) and provides “an enriched verbal environment” (Beck, McKeown, and Kucan, 2002) for vocabulary growth. Findings that show no effect for vocabulary instruction have tended to look at more impoverished forms of instruction.

Having rich knowledge of words (i.e., high-quality lexical representa-

Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×

tions) allows for rapid and reliable retrieval of word meanings with profound consequences for both word- and text-reading proficiency (Perfetti, 1992, 2007). Reading is supported by knowing not only the definition of the words being read but also how the words are used, their different forms (e.g., anxiousanxiety), and what they connote in different situations. Findings from research on children indicate that effective approaches to vocabulary instruction will consist of strategies that build high-quality lexical representations and develop metalinguistic awareness (Nagy, 2007). These strategies include teaching not only word meanings but also multiple meanings of words and varied word forms and origins, as well as providing ample opportunities to encounter and use the words in varied contexts. As more text becomes available in electronic form, it also may be possible to develop more tools that provide text-embedded “just-in-time” vocabulary support that developing readers can call on when their reading is impeded by lack of word or lexical knowledge.

Embedding vocabulary instruction in reading comprehension activities is another method of developing high-quality lexical representations (Perfetti, 1992, 2007). This approach involves reading new texts that develop vocabulary, topic, and domain knowledge. Readers acquire new words, phrases, and concepts that appear more often in text than in speech and that would therefore lie outside most learners’ experience with spoken language (Kamil et al., 2008). For example, because academic texts (e.g., those in science or history) include specialized vocabulary that is not part of everyday spoken language (Beck, McKeown, and Kucan, 2002; Kamil et al., 2008), the teaching of content needs to be integrated with explicit teaching of words and phrases used in a discipline (Moje and Speyer, 2008). Such approaches warrant study with those outside K-12 because adolescents and adults may need to develop academic or other specialized vocabulary and content knowledge for education, work, or other purposes.

Overall, findings suggest a range of vocabulary activities that may be useful in adult literacy instruction, but, at present, research on adults is extremely limited.

Fluency

Reading fluency is the ability to read with speed and accuracy (Klauda and Guthrie, 2008; Kuhn and Stahl, 2003; Miller and Schwanenflugel, 2006). Developing fluency is important because the human mind is limited in its capacity to carry out many cognitive processes at once (Logan, 2004). When word and sentence reading becomes automatic, readers can concentrate more fully on creating meaning from the text (Graesser, 2007; Perfetti, 2007; Rapp et al., 2007; van den Broek et al., 2009). Experiments

Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×

with young children show that fluency instruction can lead to significant gains in both fluency and comprehension (Chard, Vaughn, and Tyler, 2002; Klauda and Guthrie, 2008; Kuhn and Stahl, 2003; Therrien, 2004; Therrien and Hughes, 2008).

The relation between fluency and comprehension is not fully understood, however, and it is more complex and bidirectional than previously thought (Meyer and Felton, 1999; Wolf and Katzir-Cohen, 2001). Comprehension appears to affect fluency as well as the reverse (Collins and Levy, 2008; Johnston, Barnes, and Desrochers, 2008; Klauda and Guthrie, 2008). Moreover, although some studies show that fluency instruction improves comprehension, other studies do not (Fleisher, Jenkins, and Pany, 1979; Grant and Standing, 1989; Oakhill, Cain, and Bryant, 2003). There are at least two possible reasons for the mixed findings to address in future research. Studies have demonstrated that there are different dimensions of reading fluency (at the level of words, phrases, sentences, and passages), and all should be considered in measuring or facilitating reading fluency. In addition, the best ways to conceptualize and measure text comprehension have yet to be identified and used consistently across research studies.

Guided repeated reading has generally led to moderate increases in fluency, accuracy, and sometimes comprehension for both good and poor readers (Kuhn and Stahl, 2003; Kuhn et al., 2006; Vadasy and Sanders, 2008). In guided repeated reading, the learner receives feedback and is supported in identifying and correcting mistakes. A critical unanswered question is whether certain types of text are more effective than others for guided repeated reading interventions (Kuhn and Stahl, 2003; Vadasy and Sanders, 2008).

Repeated reading of a text without guidance, though a popular instructional method believed to improve fluency, has not been reliably demonstrated to be effective, even with young children in K-3 classrooms (Carlisle and Rice, 2002; National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 2000a; Stahl, 2004). At least one recent review suggests that there is not enough rigorous evidence to warrant unguided repeated reading for students with or at risk for learning disabilities (Chard et al., 2009). A well-designed controlled evaluation with high school students with reading disabilities also failed to find support for repeated reading effects on reading comprehension (Wexler et al., 2010).

Fluency has been difficult to change for adolescent and adult readers (Fletcher et al., 2007; Wexler et al., 2010). One possible reason is that older struggling readers lack sufficient reading practice and experience. Another possible reason is that instruction must focus on developing not only the reader’s ability to decode or recognize individual words but to quickly process larger units of texts (e.g., sentences and paragraphs). In the future, fluent reading needs to be studied at the word level, syntactic level, and

Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×

passage level. Fluency at each of these levels has been found to contribute to growth in reading comprehension for fifth graders (Klauda and Guthrie, 2008; see also Kuhn and Stahl, 2003; Young and Bowers, 1995). To encourage the practice needed for fluency, it is important to develop procedures and text types that will engage older developing readers.

Reading Comprehension

Components and Processes

Although they differ in detail, theories of reading comprehension share many assumptions about the cognitive processes involved (Cromley and Azevedo, 2007; Gernsbacher, Varner, and Faust, 1990; Graesser, Singer, and Trabasso, 1994; Kintsch, 1998; Trabasso, Secco, and van den Broek, 1984; van den Broek, Rapp, and Kendeou, 2005; Zwaan and Singer, 2003). First, comprehension requires adequate and sustained attention. In complex cognitive acts, such as reading comprehension, attention cannot simultaneously be focused in an unlimited number of ways. As mentioned earlier, facile readers develop fluent and relatively automatic decoding that allows allocating more attention to the information gleaned from words and phrases and creating coherent meaning from text (Ericsson and Kintsch, 1994; Kintsch and van Dijk, 1978; O’Brien et al., 1998). Concentration also must be sustained so that memories of previous sentences and pages do not fade before the next text is read, and this is less possible when a decoding problem diverts attention from prior content.

Second, comprehension requires the reader to interpret and integrate information from various sources (the sentence being read, the prior sentence, prior text, background knowledge, and extraneous information) (Goldman, Graesser, and van den Broek, 1999; Graesser, Gernsbacher, and Goldman, 2003; Graesser, Singer, and Trabasso, 1994; Kintsch, 1998; Kintsch and van Dijk, 1978; McCardle, Chhabra, and Kapinus, 2008; Rapp et al., 2007; Rumelhart, 1994; Snow, 2002; Trabasso and van den Broek, 1985; van den Broek, Rapp, and Kendeou, 2005). Comprehension depends heavily on background knowledge for understanding how elements in a text relate to one another to create a broader meaning (McNamara et al., 1996; O’Reilly and McNamara, 2007). Nontextual information that accompanies the text (figures or multimedia) must also be integrated to support deeper comprehension (Hegarty and Just, 1993; Lowe and Schnotz, 2007; Mayer, 2009; Rouet, 2006). Such information distracts the unskilled reader. With practice, however, strategic processes for remembering, interpreting, and integrating information become less effortful.

Third, each reader has at least an implicit standard of coherence used while reading to determine whether the type and level of comprehension

Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×

aimed for is being achieved (Kintsch and Vipond, 1979; van den Broek, Risden, and Husebye-Hartman, 1995). That is, readers must decide how hard to try and how long to persist in reading a text. Effective readers keep working to better understand text until certain requirements are met. The standard varies depending on such factors as the person’s reading goal, interest, and fatigue. A facile reader strives for an overall understanding of text that is rich with meaning and complete and is highly effective in adjusting the allocation of effort for particular purposes (Duggan and Payne, 2009; Kaakinen and Hyönä, 2007, 2008, 2010; Kaakinen, Hyönä, and Keenan, 2003; Kintsch, 1994; Linderholm and van den Broek, 2002; Reader and Payne, 2007; Stine-Morrow et al., 2004, 2006; Stine-Morrow, Miller, and Hertzog, 2006; Therriault, Rinck, and Zwaan, 2006; Zwaan, Magliano, and Graesser, 1995). A rich and complete understanding involves making inferences, retrieving prior knowledge, and connecting components of text that may not be contiguous on the page. It also requires attending to semantic connections given in the text. Two types of coherence relations—referential and causal—are central to many types of texts (Britton and Gulgoz, 1991; McNamara et al., 1996; van den Broek et al., 2001), but readers also use other relations in text (spatial, temporal, logical, intentional) to create meaning (Graesser and Forsyth, in press; van den Broek et al., 2001; Zwaan and Radvansky, 1998).

Although theories of reading comprehension overlap in many respects, they vary in the number and types of components emphasized and how these components interact (Graesser and McNamara, 2010). The Direct and Inferential Mediation Model (DIME; Cromley and Azevedo, 2007), for example, focuses on five general factors that affect comprehension and that every comprehension theory includes in some form: (1) background knowledge, (2) word-reading, (3) vocabulary, (4) strategies, and (5) inference procedures. These factors accounted for a substantial 66 percent of the variation in reading comprehension in a study of 175 ninth graders.

Different types of text place different demands on the reader, and skilled readers adjust their reading according to what is being read and why (McCrudden and Schraw, 2007; Pressley, 2000; Rouet, 2006). Thus, other approaches to comprehension research focus on how variations in text (genre, style, structure, purpose, content, complexity) influence how people read text and develop knowledge of text structures. Box 2-3 presents an example of one text-based model of reading comprehension.

Reading Comprehension Instruction

Although current theories and models of comprehension are useful for guiding instruction, they require further development. A more systematic and integrated approach to reading comprehension research is needed to

Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×

BOX 2-3
A Text-Based Model of Reading Comprehension

Proposed by Graesser and McNamara (2010), the multilevel text model, which extends earlier research by Garrod and Pickering (2004), Kintsch (1998), and Zwaan and Radvansky (1998), identifies seven main components of text processing that affect comprehension: lexical decoding, word knowledge, syntax, genre and rhetorical structure, textbase, situation model, and pragmatic communication (see also Graesser and McNamara, 2011; Kintsch, 1998; Perfetti, 1999).

•  Lexical decoding, word knowledge, and syntax components refer to word-and sentence-reading skills.

•  Knowledge of genres (narration, exposition, persuasion, description) and global text structures also aids comprehension. A proficient reader processes the rhetorical composition used in various genre and discourse functions of text segments (sections, paragraphs, sentences) and their relation to the overall organization of the text (citation). (Examples of rhetorical structures used to compose expository texts are cause + effect, claim + evidence, problem + solution, and compare + contrast.)

•  Full processing of the textbase (propositions explicitly stated in the text) is needed for accurate comprehension. For example, a ubiquitous problem among unskilled readers is the tendency to minimally process propositions, rely too much on what they “know” about the topic from their own experience, and miss parts of the text that do not match their experience.

•  Situation model refers to creating larger representations of meaning, derived both from propositions stated explicitly (the textbase) and a large number of inferences that must be filled in using world knowledge.

•  Pragmatics refers to the communication goals of spoken and written language. Proficient, goal-directed readers search, select, and extract relevant information from text, further evaluate what they read for relevance to their goals, and use relevance to monitor their attention while reading. People best comprehend and learn from text when the pragmatic function of the text matches the readers’ goals.

develop instruction that can be evaluated using rigorous experimental research designs.

The report of the National Reading Panel (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 2000a) is a main source of experimental evidence on instruction that contributes to developing comprehension. More recent research also has sought a better understanding of the components of instruction that improve comprehension among students at different ages and with different levels of reading skills (e.g., Berkeley, Mastropieri, and Scruggs, 2011; Edmonds et al., 2009). We draw on all of these sources of information in discussing what is known about effective comprehension instruction.

Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×

The National Reading Panel analyzed the results of 203 different studies of reading comprehension instruction with students in grades 4 and above and identified eight instructional procedures that had a positive effect on reading comprehension. In this analysis and in more recent research, comprehension strategy instruction emerges as one of the most effective interventions (Forness et al., 1997; Gersten et al., 2001; Kamil, 2004; Kamil et al., 2008; National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 2000a). Similarly, an influential meta-analysis of comprehension interventions, including for students with learning disabilities (Swanson, 1999), supports the efficacy of strategy instruction models.

Several core findings have emerged from the research on comprehension strategy instruction. First, different texts and challenges to comprehension require the use of different strategies. Effective comprehension requires understanding all of the strategies, when and why to select particular strategies, how to monitor their success, and how to adjust strategies as needed to achieve the reading goal (Mason, 2004; Sinatra, Brown, and Reynolds, 2002; Vaughn, Klinger, and Hughes, 2000). The greatest benefits occur when students learn to flexibly use and coordinate multiple comprehension strategies (Kamil et al., 2008; Lave, 1988; Vaughn, Klinger, and Hughes, 2000).

Comprehensive strategy instruction is more effective if students are taught all of the preskills and knowledge they will need to use the strategies effectively. The 2008 practice guide on adolescent literacy published by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences cautions that, to be effective, explicit strategy instruction must provide sufficient supports (Kamil et al., 2008). Among those supports are explicit instruction on different aspects of text structure (Williams et al., 2005, 2007), familiarity with different text genres, and recognition of the different conventions authors use to convey meaning. For example, less skilled readers often have limited knowledge of narrative or expository text structures and do not rely on structural differences in text to assist their reading (Meyer, Brandt, and Bluth, 1980; Rapp et al., 2007; Williams, 2006). As more text is available in electronic forms and as display devices become more ubiquitous, it will be possible to embed prompts and other “pop-up” preskill supports in texts to help scaffold the comprehension process.

Strategy instruction depends heavily on opportunities to draw from existing knowledge and build new knowledge (Alexander and Judy, 1989; McKeown, Beck, and Blake, 2009; Moje and Speyer, 2008; Moje et al., 2010). World, topic, and domain knowledge are important to the effective use of strategies (Alexander and Judy, 1989; Moje and Speyer, 2008). Learners with limited or fragmented knowledge of a subject typically apply general and relatively inefficient strategies in an inflexible manner (Alexander, 1997; Alexander, Graham, and Harris, 1998). As their knowl-

Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×

edge expands and becomes better integrated, learners begin to use strategies more efficiently and flexibly. The value of some strategies declines with more knowledge about the content (rereading specific sections of text), whereas the value of others increases (e.g., mentally summarizing or elaborating main ideas that involve deeper processing of text).

Strategy instruction seems most effective when it incorporates ample opportunities for practice (Kamil et al., 2008; Pressley and Wharton-McDonald, 1997; Pressley et al., 1989a, 1989b). Incorporation of attributional retraining (Berkeley et al., 2011; Borkowski, Weyhing, and Carr, 1988; Schunk and Rice, 1992) and training to improve metacognitive processes (Malone and Mastropieri, 1992) also appear to enhance the effectiveness of strategy instruction. Understanding of text improves if readers are asked to state reading goals, predictions, questions, and reactions to the material that is read (Kamil et al., 2008; National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 2000a; Palincsar and Brown, 1984). These practices may be effective because they engage readers in more active processing of the content or develop the metacognitive and self-regulatory skills needed for reading comprehension, which requires substantial metacognitive capability.

Knowledge of the various ways to support comprehension remains to be developed in several ways. It is known that the development of comprehension requires having extensive opportunities to practice skills with materials and engagement with varied forms of text (Rayner et al., 2001; Snow, 2002). A question for research is the degree to which explicit instruction to develop knowledge of text components facilitates comprehension. Often the components of text described in text-based models of reading (e.g., see Box 2-3) are learned mainly from practice with reading varied texts instead of from explicit teaching (Hacker, Dunlosky, and Graesser, 2009). Adults who lack reading comprehension skills developed through years of accumulated experience with reading especially might benefit from explicit instruction to develop awareness of text components that often happens implicitly.

Research on the development of literacy and language in the context of learning domain content for broader learning goals (e.g., Lee, 1993; McKeown and Beck, 1994; Moje, 1995, 1996, 1997) is promising to pursue with adolescents and adults needing both to improve their literacy skills and to develop background and specialized knowledge. One of these approaches, disciplinary literacy, seeks to make explicit the different reading and writing demands and conventions of the disciplinary domains, given that the disciplines use particular ways of reading and writing to solve real-world problems (Bain, 2000; Coffin, 2000; Hynd-Shanahan, Holschuh, and Hubbard, 2004; McConachie and Petrosky, 2010; Moje, 2007, 2008a;

Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×

Shanahan and Shanahan, 2008; Wineburg, 1991, 1998). This emerging body of research points to several important findings.

First, rich discussion about text may increase both literacy outcomes and understanding of content (Applebee et al., 2003). Similarly, instruction specific to the writing valued in the disciplines can increase both the quality of written text and the disciplinary content learned (e.g., Akkus et al., 2007; Coffin, 2006; Hohenshell and Hand, 2006; Moje et al., 2004b). Second, readers of a range of ages taught to read using texts and language practices valued in the disciplines show enhanced understanding of the content and ability to engage critically with the content (Bain, 2005, 2006; Palincsar and Magnusson, 2001). Third, close study of the linguistic structures of textbooks and related texts appears to enhance students’ understanding of the content (e.g., Schleppegrell and Achugar, 2003; Schleppegrell, Achugar, and Oteíza, 2004). Research is needed to evaluate the approaches more fully with samples that include diverse populations of adolescents and adults who need to develop their reading skills.

Although experimental research has focused mainly on the use of effective reading strategies, research is needed to determine how best to combine strategy instruction with other practices that may further facilitate the development of comprehension. McKeown, Beck, and Blake (2009) demonstrated, for example, that focusing students’ attention on the content of the text through the use of open-ended questions was more effective in developing comprehension than the same amount of time invested in strategy instruction. An important direction for research with adolescents and adults is to identify the best methods of integrating strategy instruction with the development of content knowledge, vocabulary, and other aspects of language competence for reading comprehension to meet the assessed needs of the learner.

Findings also suggest that the critical analysis of text, such as asking readers to consider the author’s purposes in writing the text; the historical, social, or other context in which the text was produced; and multiple ways of reading or making sense of the text may encourage deeper understanding of text (Bain, 2005; Greenleaf et al., 2001; Guthrie et al., 1999; Hand, Wallace, and Yang, 2004; McKeown and Beck, 1994; Palinscar and Magnusson, 2001; Paxton, 1997, Romance and Vitale, 1992). Introducing and explicitly comparing features of texts and literacy practices across languages and cultures also may be helpful to some readers (Au and Mason, 1983; Heath, 1983; Lee, 1993). A recent meta-analysis (Murphy et al., 2009) indicates that critical thinking, reasoning, and argumentation about text all warrant more systematic attention to determine the instructional practices that are effective for developing comprehension skills.

In general, more needs to be known about individual differences in comprehension, which is a major objective of the Reading for Understand-

Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×

ing initiative of the Institute of Education Sciences launched in 2010. Individuals may possess certain combinations of proficiencies and weaknesses in comprehension that are important to understand and to measure to guide instructional practice.

The range of skill components to be practiced and the amount of practice required are substantial for the developing reader. At the same time, available evidence suggests that adult learners do not persist in formal programs for anywhere near the amount of time needed to accomplish all of the needed preskill training and reading practice (Miller, Esposito, and McCardle, 2011; Tamassia et al., 2007). Consequently, it is important to better understand how to motivate longer and deeper engagement with reading practice by adult learners.

It is likely that selecting texts that are compatible with learning goals will result in more persistence at deep understanding. Self-reported motivation to perform certain reading tasks in the classroom predicts moderately well students’ performance on the reading tasks and reading achievement scores (Guthrie and Wigfield, 2005; Guthrie, Taboada, and Coddington, 2007; Schiefele, Krapp, and Winteler, 1992). In general, it is well established that academic performance improves when motivation and engagement are nurtured and constructive attributions and beliefs about effort and achievement are reinforced. Opportunities to collaborate during reading also can increase motivation to read (Guthrie, 2004; Guthrie and Wigfield, 2000; Slavin, 1995, 1999; Wigfield et al., 2008) although more needs to be known about how to structure collaborations effectively. We highlight key findings of that research in Chapter 5.

WRITING

Writing is the creation of texts for others (and sometimes for the writer) to read. People use many types of writing for a variety of purposes that include recording and tabulating, persuading, learning, communicating, entertaining, self-expression, and reflection. Proficiency in writing for one purpose does not necessarily generalize to writing for other purposes (Osborn Popp et al., 2003; Purves, 1992; Schultz and Fecho, 2000). In today’s world, proficiency requires developing skills in both traditional forms of writing and newer electronic and digital modes (see Appendix B). In the last three decades, much more has become known about the components and processes of writing and effective writing instruction. As with reading, most of this research comes from K-12 settings.

Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×

images

FIGURE 2-1 Model of the components and processes of writing.

Components and Processes of Writing

Figure 2-1 shows the component skills and processes of writing. As the figure shows, the writer manages and orchestrates the application of a variety of basic writing skills, specialized writing knowledge, writing strategies, and motivational processes when writing. The application of these skills and processes is interrelated and varies depending on the task and purpose of the writer.

Basic Writing Skills

Basic writing skills include planning, evaluating, and revising of discourses; sentence construction (including selecting the right words and syntactic structure to convey the intended meaning); and text transcription skills (spelling, handwriting, keyboarding, capitalization, and punctuation; Graham, 2006b).

Sentence construction involves selecting the right words and syntactic structures for transforming ideas into text that conveys the intended meaning. Skilled writers can deftly produce a variety of different types of sentences for effective communication. Facility with writing does not always mean constructing more complex sentences (Houck and Billingsley, 1989). Sentence complexity varies as a function of several factors, such as genre (Hunt, 1965; Scott, 1999; Scott and Windsor, 2000). Yet better writ-

Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×

ers produce more complex sentences than less skilled writers (Hunt, 1965; Raiser, 1981), and teaching developing and struggling writers how to craft more complex sentences improves not only their sentence writing skills, but also the quality of their texts (Graham and Perin, 2007b; Hillocks, 1986).

For those developing or struggling writers who need to develop spelling, handwriting, or keyboarding skills, instruction in these areas improves these skills and enhances other aspects of writing performance (Berninger et al., 1998; Christensen, 2005; Graham, Harris, and Fink, 2000; Graham, Harris, and Fink-Chorzempa, 2002).

Specialized Writing Knowledge

Writing also depends on specialized knowledge beyond the level of specific sentences: knowledge of the audience (Wong, Wong, and Blenkinsop, 1989), attributes of good writing, characteristics of specific genres and how to use these elements to construct text (Englert and Thomas, 1987; Graham and Harris, 2003), linguistic knowledge (e.g., of words and of text structures that differ from those of speech) (Donovan and Smolkin, 2006; Groff, 1978), topic knowledge (Mosenthal, 1996; Mosenthal et al., 1985; Voss, Vesonder, and Spilich, 1980), and the purposes of writing (Saddler and Graham, 2007). In general, skilled writers possess a more sophisticated conceptualization of writing than less skilled writers (Graham, Schwartz, and MacArthur, 1993). The developing writer’s knowledge about writing also predicts individual differences in writing performance (Bonk et al., 1990; Olinghouse and Graham, 2009). A small body of evidence shows that efforts to increase developing and struggling writers’ knowledge about writing, especially knowledge of text structure, improve the writing performance of school-age students (Fitzgerald and Markham, 1987; Fitzgerald and Teasley, 1986; Holliway and McCutchen, 2004) and college students (Traxler and Gernsbacher, 1993; Wallace et al., 1996).

Writing Strategies and Self-Regulation

Writing depends on the use of strategies and knowledge that must be coordinated and regulated to accomplish the writer’s goal (Graham, 2006a; Hayes and Flower, 1980; Kellogg, 1993b; Zimmerman and Reisemberg, 1997). These include goal setting and planning (e.g., establishing rhetorical goals and tactics to achieve them), seeking information (e.g., gathering information pertinent to the writing topic), record-keeping (e.g., making notes), organizing (e.g., ordering notes or text), transforming (e.g., visualizing a character to facilitate written description), self-monitoring (e.g., checking to see if writing goals are met), reviewing records (e.g., reviewing notes or the text produced so far), self-evaluating (e.g., assessing the

Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×

quality of text or proposed plans), revising (e.g., modifying text or plans for writing), self-verbalizing (e.g., saying dialogue aloud while writing or personal articulations about what needs to be done), rehearsing (e.g., trying out a scene before writing it), environmental structuring (e.g., finding a quiet place to write), time planning (e.g., estimating and budgeting time for writing), self-rewarding (e.g., going to a movie as a reward for completing a writing task), seeking social assistance (e.g., asking another person to edit the paper), and emulating the writing style of a more gifted author (Scardamalia and Bereiter, 1985; Zimmerman and Riesemberg, 1997).

As in reading, the strategies must be applied intelligently with an understanding of when and why to use a particular approach (Breetvelt, Van den Bergh, and Rijlaarsdam, 1994, 1996; Van den Bergh and Rijlaarsdam, 1996). For example, in a study of high school students’ use of 11 writing strategies, use of strategy at the most opportune time was a strong predictor of the quality of writing. Skilled writing especially requires planning and revising (Graham and Harris, 2000a; Hayes and Flower, 1980; Zimmerman and Reisemberg, 1997). For example, children and adolescents spend very little time planning and revising, whereas more accomplished writers, such as college students, spend about 50 percent of writing time planning and revising text (Graham, 2006b; Kellogg, 1987, 1993a). Explicit teaching of strategies for planning and revising has a strong and positive effect on the writing of both developing and struggling writers (Graham and Perin, 2007b; Rogers and Graham, 2008). Similar results have been found for adults needing to develop their writing skills (MacArthur and Lembo, 2009).

Writing Motivation

Despite its importance, motivation is one of the least frequently studied aspects of writing. In this small literature, the most commonly studied topics are attitudes about writing, including self-efficacy, interest, and writing apprehension, and goals for writing (Brunning and Horn, 2000; Graham, Berninger, and Fan, 2007; Hidi and Boscolo, 2006; Madigan, Linton, and Johnston, 1996; Pajares, 2003).

Attitudes toward writing predict writing achievement (Knudson, 1995; see also Graham, Berninger, and Fan, 2007), and poor writers have less positive attitudes about writing than good writers (Graham, Schwartz, and MacArthur, 1993). Thus, it is important to establish positive attitudes about writing. Attitudes may be influenced by self-efficacy or belief in one’s ability to write well. Self-efficacy predicts writing performance (Albin, Benton, and Khramtsova, 1996; Knudson, 1995; Madigan, Linton, and Johnston, 1996; Pajares, 2003), and, with only some exceptions (Graham, Schwartz, and MacArthur, 1993), weaker writers have a lower sense of

Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×

self-efficacy than stronger writers (Shell et al., 1995; Vrugt, Oort, and Zeeberg, 2002).

Self-efficacy is especially important to the social-cognitive model of writing proposed by Zimmerman and Reisemberg (1997; Zimmerman, 1989), which specifies that writing is a goal-driven, self-initiated, and self-sustained activity that involves both cognition and affect. The model, which is derived from empirical research and professional writers’ descriptions of how they compose, specifies the self-initiated thoughts, feelings, and actions that writers use to attain various writing goals. Related findings show that the perceived level of success (or failure) in the self-regulated use of writing strategies enhances (or diminishes) self-efficacy and affects intrinsic motivation for writing, further use of self-regulatory processes during writing, and attainment of writing skills and goals. Goals are important because they prompt marshaling the resources, effort, and persistence needed for proficient writing (Locke et al., 1981). Setting goals is especially important when engaging in a complex and demanding task such as writing, which requires a high level of cognitive effort (Kellogg, 1986, 1987, 1993a). As noted earlier in this chapter, arranging writing tasks so that they are consistent with learners’ goals is especially helpful.

Linguistic and Cognitive Foundations of Writing

Writing systems developed as a way to record speech in more permanent form for such purposes as extending memory or creating legal records (Nissen, Damerow, and Englund, 1993). Thus, it is not surprising that facility with reading and writing draws on many of the same skills and that these overlap with those of spoken language (Nelson and Calfee, 1998; Tierney and Shanahan, 1991). These include knowledge of alphabetics (phonemic and phonological awareness), English spelling patterns, vocabulary and etymology (word origins), morphological structures, syntax and sentence structures, and text and discourse structures.

Skilled writing also involves cognitive capacities that evolved earlier and separate from literacy (Graham and Weintraub, 1996; McCutchen, 2006; Shanahan, 2006). Key among these is working memory (Hayes, 1996; Swanson and Berninger, 1996), which is needed, for example, to create interconnections that increase the coherence of text. Writing also requires use of executive functions to coordinate and flexibly use a variety of writing strategies (Graham, 2006b) and more generally purposefully activate, orchestrate, monitor, evaluate, and adapt writing to achieve communication goals (Graham, Harris, and Olinghouse, 2007).

Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×

Writing Instruction

A number of principles for writing instruction are supported by research (see Box 2-4), although the body of research is smaller than for reading. This research includes a focus on both narrative and expository writing (Graham and Perin, 2007a).

A key principle from this research is that explicit and systematic instruction is effective in teaching the strategies, skills, and knowledge needed to be a proficient writer. Almost all the effective writing practices identified in three meta-analyses of experiments and quasi-experiments (grades 4-12, Graham and Perin, 2007a; grades 3 through college, Hillocks, 1986; and grades 1-12, Rogers and Graham, 2008) involved explicit instruction. These practices proved effective with a range of writers, from beginners to college students, as well as with those who experienced difficulty in learning to write. What should be taught, however, depends on the writer’s developmental level, the skills the writer needs to develop for particular purposes, and the writing task.

A comprehensive meta-analysis of experiments and quasi-experiments by Graham and Perin (2007a) conducted with students in grades 4-12 supports use of the practices in Box 2-5. This meta-analysis also shows that learners can benefit from the process approach to writing instruction (Graves, 1983), although the approach produces smaller average effects than methods that involve systematic instruction of writing strategies (Graham and Perin, 2007a). In another recent meta-analysis, the process approach was not effective for students who were weaker writers (Sandmel and Graham, in press). The process approach is a “workshop” method of teaching that stresses extended writing opportunities, writing for authentic

BOX 2-4
Principles of Writing Instruction

•  Explicitly and systematically teach the strategies, skills, and knowledge needed to be a proficient writer.

•  Combine explicit and systematic instruction with extended experience with writing for a purpose, with consideration of message, audience, and genre.

•  Explicitly teach foundational writing skills to the point of automaticity.

•  Model writing strategies and teach how to regulate strategy use (e.g., how to select, implement, and coordinate writing strategies; how to monitor, evaluate, and adjust strategies to achieve writing goals).

•  Develop an integrated system of skills by using instructional approaches that capitalize on and make explicit the relations between reading and writing.

•  Structure instructional environments and interactions to motivate writing practice and persistence in learning new forms of writing.

Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×

BOX 2-5
Effective Practices in Writing Instruction

•  Strategy instruction for planning, revising, and/or editing compositions.

•  Summarizing reading passages in writing.

•  Peer assistance in planning, drafting, and revising compositions.

•  Setting clear, specific goals for purposes or characteristics of the writing.

•  Using word processing regularly.

•  Sentence-combining instruction (instruction in combining short sentences into more complex sentences, usually including exercises and application to real writing).

•  Process approach to writing with professional development.

•  Inquiry approach (including clear goals, analysis of data, using specified strategies, and applying the analysis to writing).

•  Prewriting activities (teaching students activities to generate content prior to writing).

•  Analyzing models of good writing (discussing the features of good essays and learning to imitate those features).

images

NOTE: The practices are listed in descending order by effect size.

SOURCE: Adapted from Graham and Perin (2007a).

audiences, personalized instruction, and cycles of writing. It relies mainly on incidental and informal methods of instruction. The approach is most effective when teachers are taught how to implement it (Graham and Perin, 2007a). It is possible that process approaches would be more effective if they incorporated explicit and systematic instruction to develop essential knowledge, strategies, and skills, especially for developing writers. This is a question for future research.

As with reading, it is important to combine explicit and systematic instruction with extended experience with writing for a purpose (Andrews et al., 2006; Graham, 2000; Graham and Perin, 2007a; Hillocks, 1986). It is important to note that most of the evidence-based writing practices suggest the importance of considerable time devoted to writing and the need to practice writing for different purposes. These findings are consistent with qualitative research showing that two practices common among exceptional literacy teachers are (1) dedicating time to writing and writing instruction across the curriculum and (2) involving students in varying forms of writing over time (Graham and Perin, 2007b).

Some foundational writing skills need to be explicitly taught to the point of automaticity. Spelling, handwriting, and keyboarding become mostly automatic for skilled writers (Graham, 2006b), and individual differences in handwriting and spelling predict writing achievement (Graham

Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×

et al., 1997), even for college students (Connelly, Dockrell, and Barnett, 2005). Thus, it is important that writers learn to execute these skills fluently and automatically with little or no thought (Alexander, Graham, and Harris, 1998). When these skills are not automatized, as is the case for many developing and struggling writers, cognitive resources are not available for other important aspects of writing, such as planning, evaluating, and revising (McCutchen, 2006). Use of dictation to eliminate handwriting and spelling also has a positive impact on writing performance for children and adults, especially on the amount of text produced (De La Paz and Graham, 1995), although functional writing capability in everyday life probably needs to include the ability to write via other means than dictation. Overall, it is clear that automating what can be automated helps improve writing competence. Some aspects of writing, such as planning or sentence construction, require decisions and cannot be fully automated (Graham and Harris, 2000a). Other, more strategic processes need to be taught and practiced to a point of fluent, flexible, and effective use (Berninger and Amtmann, 2003; Berninger et al., 2006; Graham and Harris, 2003; Graham and Perrin, 2007b).

Instructional environments must be structured to support motivation to write. Although some studies have focused specifically on enhancing motivation to write with positive results (Hidi, Berndorff, and Ainley, 2002; Miller and Meece, 1997; Schunk and Swartz, 1993a, 1993b), the evidence base related to motivation and instruction stems mainly from a few ethnographic, qualitative, and quasi-experimental studies. A small number of experiments show practices that improve the quality of writing and that reasonably could affect motivation to write or engage with writing instruction, although motivation itself was not measured. These practices include setting clear goals for writing; encouraging students to help each other plan, draft, or revise (Graham and Perin, 2007a); use of self-assessment (Collopy and Bowman, 2005; Guastello, 2001); and providing feedback on progress (Schunk and Swartz, 1993a, 1993b). Several single-subject design studies with adolescent learners have demonstrated that social praise, tangible rewards, or both can improve students’ writing behaviors (Graham and Perin, 2007b).

Experiments are needed to identify how to deliver motivating instruction that encourages engagement with and persistence in writing and to explain how the practices work (via improved self-efficacy, improved self-regulation, etc.) to improve writing. This research might also draw on observational studies that describe instructional routines used by teachers to support engagement with writing and that enable developing writers to become a source of writing improvement for their peers (Dyson, 1995; Lensmire, 1994; Prior, 2006; Russell, 1997; Schultz, 1997; Schultz and

Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×

Fecho, 2000). Other qualitative research with exceptional literacy teachers of elementary school students suggests additional instructional approaches for engaging learners that warrant further study with older populations (see Graham and Perin, 2007b).

When the connections between reading and writing are made explicit during instruction, a more integrated system of literacy skills develops and learning is facilitated. Historically, reading and writing have been taught as separate language skills (Nelson and Calfee, 1998). As Fitzgerald and Shanahan (2000) note, this may be due to a variety of factors, such as greater value placed on reading than writing, professional division between those who teach and study these two skills, and gaps in teachers’ skills and knowledge. Yet reading and writing depend on similar knowledge and cognitive processes, so insights in one area can lead to insights in the other. Making reciprocities explicit between reading and writing systems will facilitate skill development, contribute to metalinguistic awareness, and enhance retrieval of and access to text forms and meanings (see Graham, 2000; Graham and Hebert, 2010; Wolf, 2007).

Spelling instruction, for example, deepens awareness of correspondences between letters or letter patterns and speech sounds and thus enables forming a more specific mental representation of words for faster word reading (Ehri, 1987; McCardle, Chhabra, and Kapinus, 2008; Snow, Griffin, and Burns, 2005). A meta-analysis involving students in grades 1 to 7 shows that reading fluency is enhanced through teaching spelling or sentence construction skills (Graham and Hebert, 2010). Similarly, alphabetics instruction for reading improves spelling (Graham, 2000).

Reading comprehension improves with frequent writing, according to a recent meta-analysis of 60 experiments involving elementary school students (Graham and Hebert, 2010). Process approaches to writing, teaching sentence construction skills, and teaching text structure as part of a writing activity had a small-to-moderate impact on reading comprehension. Activities included writing questions and answers about the material read, taking notes about text, summarizing text, and analyzing and interpreting text through writing.

Teachers need to understand the components of skilled reading and writing and how they reinforce each other so that a coherent system of skills can be taught, but the differences between reading and writing should not be overlooked. Both reading and writing involve the mastery of specialized skills, knowledge, and processes and thus require dedicated instruction. Instructional programming can be designed and delivered so that all reading and writing components are developed as needed and support each other (Englert et al., 1995, 1998; Roberts and Meiring, 2006).

Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×

NEUROBIOLOGY OF READING AND WRITING
DEVELOPMENT AND DIFFICULTIES

Neurobiology of Reading

Early findings on the brain pathways (neurocircuits) for reading and reading disorders came primarily from studies of acquired dyslexia associated with brain injury (Damasio and Damasio, 1983; Dejerine, 1891; Geschwind, 1965; Warrington and Shallice, 1980) or postmortem histological studies of individuals with a history of reading disability (Galaburda, 2005; Galaburda et al., 2006). Early studies implicated several posterior regions of the left hemisphere (LH) as critical to reading behavior, including the angular gyrus in the parietal lobe and the fusiform gyrus in the occipitotemporal region. In recent years, structural (MRI) and functional (EEG, MEG, PET, fMRI) neuroimaging technologies have provided a new window on neurocircuits involved in reading and its disorders (Pugh et al., 2010). The new technologies, some of which are relatively unobtrusive, allow observing levels of brain activity associated with reading and writing components. A more extensive reading circuitry has been documented with these new technologies, and the findings are broadly consistent with earlier neuropsychological research.

Specifically, across a large number of studies with skilled readers, it is seen that visual word reading (fluent decoding) involves a largely LH circuitry with temporoparietal (TP), occipitotemporal (OT), frontal, and subcortical components (for reviews, see Pugh et al., 2010; Schlaggar and McCandliss, 2007). In typically developing readers, all three of these components (with subcortical mediating influences from the basal ganglia and thalamus) come to function in a highly integrated manner (Bitan et al., 2005; Hampson et al., 2006; Seghier and Price, 2010). Indeed, at the level of neurocircuits, a foundation of skilled reading appears to be the establishment of adequate connections among distributed LH regions (operationally defined with measures of functional connectivity). This LH circuitry, when established through reading experience, supports efficient mapping of visual percepts of print onto knowledge of the phonological and semantic structures of language for fast and automatic word recognition during reading (Booth et al., 2001; Church et al., 2008; Cohen et al., 2000, 2002; Shaywitz et al., 2002).

By contrast, for both children and adults with reading disabilities (RD), there are marked functional differences, relative to typically developing readers, in language processing (see Pugh et al., 2010, for reviews) with reduced activation and connectivity at both TP and OT sites. Moreover, these differences in brain function appear to be associated with anomalies in brain structure. Structural MRI studies have identified differences, such

Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×

as reduced gray matter volumes in RD, at those regions showing functional anomalies (e.g., Brambati et al., 2004). Several studies using diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) also reveal reduced white matter connectivity for several pathways that support interregional communication among these LH foci (e.g., Niogi and McCandliss, 2006).

While establishment of this LH circuitry for fluent decoding is necessary, the goal of reading is comprehension. Research on neurocircuits that support reading beyond the word level is beginning to focus on how neurocircuits organize as readers cope with syntactic, pragmatic, and cognitive processing demands associated with sentence and text reading and comprehension (Caplan, 2004; Cooke et al., 2006; Cutting and Scarborough, 2006; Ferstl et al., 2008; Kuperberg et al., 2008; Shankweiler et al., 2008). In general, the same broad LH circuitry evident for word-level reading is observed, with additional increased activation in regions beyond those activated by simple word reading tasks (Cutting and Scarborough, 2006). A recent meta-analysis of neuroimaging studies (Ferstl et al., 2008) confirms that these higher order language processes involve an extended neural network that includes dorso-medial prefrontal cortex, posterior cingulate cortex, and heightened right hemisphere (RH) involvement. As with research on word reading, recent studies contrasting skilled and less skilled “comprehenders” reveal anomalies across these extended LH networks (Keller, Carpenter, and Just, 2001; Rimrodt et al., 2010).

Neurobiology of Writing

Reading and writing make common demands on orthographic, phonological, and semantic processing and so must involve at least partially overlapping neurocircuits (Berninger and Richards, 2002; Berninger and Winn, 2006). Available studies indicate substantial overlap (Philipose et al., 2007; Purcell et al., 2010). Research on the component systems associated with writing-related behaviors, such as handwriting (James and Gauthier, 2006; Katanoda, Yoshikawa, and Sugishita, 2001; Menon and Desmond, 2001) and spelling (Bitan et al., 2005; Booth et al., 2001; Richards, Berninger, and Fayol, 2009) is rapidly increasing. Together, these studies implicate a highly integrated perception-action neurocircuitry for writing that overlaps substantially, but not entirely, with the neurocircuitry involved in reading words and sentences. Connections between writing and reading also have been identified in the higher order aspects of writing, such as planning of written and spoken messages (see Indefrey and Levelt, 2004, for a meta-analysis), which in turn overlap with the broad circuitry for comprehension (Ferstl et al., 2008) and lexical finding (i.e., finding the right word to convey the writer’s intended meaning). It is known that reading and writing difficulties often co-occur in learners at different ages and that some of

Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×

these learners struggle more at the word level (Wagner et al., 2011) while others struggle at more abstract levels of processing (Berninger, Nagy, and Beers, 2011). More needs to be understood about shared and unshared neurocircuits at each level to better understand individual differences in the difficulties learners experience with writing.

Implications for Instruction

It is possible in future research to track populations with different literacy challenges that receive different instructional approaches to see which produce the most efficient change in neural circuitry. Although this information does not directly or completely test the effectiveness of instructional approaches, such knowledge of brain processes will be important for validating theories of reading and writing and skill acquisition. With a better understanding of how brain processing changes with age, one can also better determine whether and why certain instructional approaches are likely to generalize across populations of different ages. It will be important to extend the research to reading beyond the word level and to writing.

It will be especially valuable to understand how neurocircuits involved in reading and writing become organized, why they fail to organize properly in individuals with reading problems, how they are modified by experiential factors that include instruction and intervention, and why they do not develop as expeditiously with learning and practice in some subpopulations. More knowledge about how shared and unshared neurocircuits organize for reading and writing could help in the design of instruction that maximizes the carryover of skills from one domain to the other (e.g., identifying when and why focusing on spelling might impact silent reading or vice versa).

Ongoing developmental research is examining both structural (Giedd et al., 1997; Hua, Tembe, and Dougherty, 2009) and functional (Booth et al., 2001; Shaywitz et al., 2002) brain changes as individuals mature from early childhood into adulthood. Such research will be invaluable for understanding how learning to read and write differs at different ages. This information can be used to design optimal learning environments that take advantage of neurocognitive strengths and compensate for declines at different points in the life span. It is also important to learn how structural or functional factors constrain the basic computational skills on which learning to read depends (memory capacity, consolidation, speed of processing) (Just and Varma, 2007).

More knowledge about gene-brain-behavior relationships will be critical for understanding changes in plasticity that may affect learning to read and write in adulthood. In particular, more needs to be known about individual and developmental differences in the sensitivity of reading and writ-

Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×

ing neurocircuits. Ongoing treatment studies, which suggest that gains in reading skill after intense reading intervention produce more “normalized” brain organization for reading (Shaywitz et al., 2004; Simos et al., 2001; Temple et al., 2003), have focused mainly on younger learners. Generalization to adult learners may not be straightforward. One recent study does suggest a good deal of plasticity following reading remediation even for those disabled readers who had adequate opportunities to learn to read at a young age but did not develop adequate skills (Eden et al., 2004). Thus, it is reasonable to hypothesize that those learning to read later in life, whether because of inadequate access to instruction or learning disability, are able to achieve at least some degree of brain reorganization that is common among more typically developing readers as a result of effective instruction. An understanding of why reorganization does or does not occur and for whom it occurs requires further study.

INSTRUCTION FOR STRUGGLING READERS AND WRITERS

The principles of reading and writing instruction presented thus far are equally important for both typically developing and struggling learners. A separate, sizeable literature on interventions for struggling K-12 learners points to additional principles of instruction to help overcome specific areas of difficulty through targeted remediation. Both children and adults experience difficulties with cognitive and linguistic processes of reading and writing that require attention during instruction to develop literacy proficiency. In Chapter 7, we describe in more detail the difficulties with component reading and writing processes that adults with learning difficulties may experience and review the literature on accommodations, used mainly in college settings, which enable students to benefit from academic instruction and demonstrate their knowledge and skills. Because research on interventions to develop the reading and writing skills of adults with learning disabilities is limited, we describe here what is known from research with children and to some degree adolescent students about how to intervene with struggling readers and writers.

Decontextualized Interventions

Before discussing additional principles of instruction for learners with disabilities, we first note that there has been a tradition in the field of learning disabilities to offer students with reading and writing difficulties training targeted to general cognitive or sensory processing deficits believed to cause the person’s problem with academic learning. This has led to interventions involving balance beams, colored lenses, and brain retraining exercises; such programs are often designed to remediate what some

Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×

researchers have identified as core deficits in specific lower level sensory or motor processes (visual, auditory, cerebellar) believed to underlie the academic learning problems (see, e.g., Lovegrove, Martin, and Slaghuis, 1986; Nicolson, Fawcett, and Dean, 2001; Stein, 2001; Tallal, 1980, 2004). Training in motor, visual, neural, or cognitive processes without academic content, however, does not lead to better academic outcomes for children with learning disabilities (Fletcher et al., 2007). There is no evidence that nonreading interventions of this sort will improve the reading outcomes of those with reading disabilities. This is not to say that interventions targeting cognitive processes used in reading would never be helpful, but that it is only useful to develop and practice these processes as they are needed in the context of literacy instruction and literacy practice.

Thus, the first principle below is supported by findings that argue against this type of decontextualized intervention for reading and writing difficulties. The principles that follow specify further that, rather than needing instruction that is qualitatively different from the instruction that is effective with typically developing learners, learners who struggle benefit from certain adaptations—even more explicit and systemic reading and writing instruction; enhanced supports for the transfer and generalization of skills and opportunities for practice; attention to maladaptive attributions, which can be particularly important to address for struggling learners; and scaffolded and differentiated instruction that targets specific difficulties while continuing to develop all the skills needed for reading and writing development.

Principles of Instruction for Struggling Learners

•  Interventions that directly target specific literacy difficulties in the context of explicit reading and writing instruction result in better literacy outcomes for struggling readers and writers.

This principle is based on solid evidence (but often from studies of young students) that effective intervention for literacy learning problems directly targets specific difficulties in literacy skills (Fletcher et al., 2007; Foorman et al., 1998; Lovett, Barron, and Benson, 2003; Morris et al., 2010; Swanson, Harris, and Graham, 2003; Torgesen et al., 1999). As mentioned earlier in this chapter, good remedial interventions that address core areas of processing deficit in the context of literacy instruction appear to partially normalize patterns of brain activation for those with learning disabilities: their brain activation profiles after effective intervention come to resemble those of more able readers as they perform reading-related tasks—for example, judging whether two nonwords (e.g., lete and jeat) rhyme, a

Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×

task with both phonological and orthographic processing demands (Meyler et al., 2008; Shaywitz et al., 2004; Simos et al., 2002a; Temple et al., 2003).

Most who struggle with reading and writing, particularly those with severe literacy learning disorders, have specific difficulties in aspects of speech or language that impact their ability to learn to read and write, such as poor phonological awareness and phonological processing skills, lags in oral language development (e.g., vocabulary, syntax), and slow naming speed (that may or may not be independent of phonological deficits) (Catts and Hogan, 2003; Liberman, 1971; Liberman and Shankweiler, 1991; Pennington and Bishop, 2009; Schatschneider et al., 2004; Shankweiler and Crain, 1986; Share and Stanovich, 1995; Vellutino et al., 2004; Wagner et al., 1997; Wagner, Torgesen, and Rashotte, 1994; Wolf and Bowers, 1999). Based on studies mostly with younger participants, it is reasonable to assume (subject to needed empirical verification with adults) that these difficulties can be remediated by increasing the time and intensity of instruction that is focused on building the language skills on which fluent reading and writing skills depend.

Targeted interventions also improve the performance of struggling writers. Although some who experience difficulties with writing have other difficulties with learning (Graham and Harris, 2005) or language processing (Dockrell, Lindsay, and Connelly, 2009; Smith-Lock, Nickels, and Mortensen, 2008), not all aspects of writing are necessarily affected (see, e.g., Mortensen, Smith-Lock, and Nickels, 2008). In these cases, interventions that target a specific component skill on which writing depends have had some success. Teaching the language skill of phonological awareness, for example, results in better spelling performance for those who are weak spellers (Bradley and Bryant, 1985; O’Connor, Notari-Syverson, and Vadasky, 1996). A few studies have shown that teaching vocabulary to developing writers enhances their writing performance (Duin and Graves, 1987; Popadopoulou, 2007; Thibodeau, 1964). Sentence combining, an oral language practice that often relies heavily on combining smaller sentences into larger ones when speaking, has improved the quality of writing in adolescents (Graham and Perin, 2007b). In addition, some limited evidence with elementary school students experiencing difficulties with regulating attention shows that teaching ways to monitor attention while writing improves writing skills and increases the amount of text written (Harris et al., 1994; Rumsey and Ballard, 1985). Again, these findings must be verified with adult learners. Common to almost all effective interventions is that they targeted specific areas of processing as part of teaching and practicing the act of writing, instead of trying to remediate processing problems in isolation.

Notably, the process-writing approach, which does not systematically target specific difficulties (Graves, 1983), has not been effective with strug-

Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×

gling writers in a recent meta-analysis of five studies (Sandmel and Graham, in press). Varied forms of the approach are often used, however, and research is needed to determine whether some form is effective with some struggling learners.

•  Struggling learners benefit from more intense instruction, more explicit instruction, and even more opportunities to practice.

The most significant gains obtained in reading interventions are associated with more intense, explicit, and systematic delivery of instruction (Fletcher et al., 2007; Torgesen et al., 2001). Reading interventions are especially effective if they teach to mastery, include academic content, monitor progress, and offer sufficient scaffolding of skills and emotional support (Fletcher et al., 2007). Greater time devoted to literacy activities allows for the additional explicit instruction required to remediate skills; opportunities to address gaps in vocabulary and language knowledge; and the additional exposures needed to consolidate, review, and explicitly teach for the generalization of newly acquired skills (Berninger et al., 2002; Blachman et al., 2004; Lovett et al., 2000; Torgesen et al., 2001; Wise, Ring, and Olson, 2000).

Similarly, almost all of the strategies that have proven to be effective in teaching struggling writers have involved intense and explicit instruction with ample opportunities to practice taught skills (see the meta-analysis by Graham and Perin, 2007a; Rogers and Graham, 2008). This research included teaching planning strategies together with genre knowledge (see the meta-analysis by Graham and Harris, 2003), revision (Graham, 2006a; Schumaker et al., 1982), handwriting and spelling (Berninger et al., 1997, 1998; Graham, 1999), as well as sentence construction (Saddler and Graham, 2005) and paragraph construction skills (Sonntag and McLaughlin, 1984; Wallace and Bott, 1989). In addition, the self-regulated strategy development model for teaching writing strategies has been more effective than other approaches for teaching writing strategies to struggling writers (Graham, 2006a). It involves explicitly teaching how to regulate the use of strategies and requires developing skills to a criterion, unlike other approaches that are time-limited.

•  Struggling learners need enhanced support for the generalization and transfer of new literacy skills.

A majority of struggling learners do not apply and transfer newly learned literacy skills spontaneously. To be effective, instruction for all learners must attend to the generalization of new skills and knowledge and include opportunities to practice these in varied tasks outside the intervention context. This

Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×

observation is particularly true, however, for those with reading disabilities. For example, children with reading disabilities demonstrate problems with transfer that are specific to printed language; these difficulties are not evident on learning tasks with parallel cognitive demands but no phonological processing requirements (Benson, 2000; Benson, Lovett, and Kroeber, 1997; Lovett, Barron, and Benson, 2003). Children with severe reading disabilities also demonstrated marked transfer-of-learning failures even when instructed target words were well learned and remembered (Lovett et al., 1989, 1990). For example, in one study, those who learned to read the word bake and practiced on words with the same spelling pattern (e.g., rake, fake, lake) could not later reliably identify make (Lovett et al., 1990).

A recent synthesis of intervention research with adolescent struggling readers (Edmonds et al., 2009) confirmed that older struggling readers do benefit from explicit reading comprehension strategy instruction, but these skills did not generalize well. It is possible that more explicit training and scaffolding would support generalization, as might more practice opportunities.

Struggling readers experience particular difficulties in acquiring self-regulatory strategies across a variety of literacy tasks (Levin, 1990; Pressley, 1991; Swanson, 1999; Swanson and Alexander, 1997; Swanson and Saez, 2003; Swanson and Siegel, 2001; Wong, 1991), and these difficulties are likely to affect the transfer and generalization failures observed among struggling learners (Harris, Graham, and Pressley, 1992; Meltzer, 1994). For example, when children with reading disabilities have received strategy instruction, some appear to remain novices relative to their more able peers because they fail to transform simple strategies into more efficient forms (Swanson, Hoskyn, and Lee, 1999; Zimmerman, 2000a, 2000b). Multidimensional interventions that combine explicit skills instruction with the teaching of specific strategies for reading can help those with reading disabilities to generalize strategies and skills (Lovett et al., 2003, 2005; Lovett, Lacerenza, and Borden, 2000; Morris et al., 2010; Swanson, 1999). Faster growth and better outcomes in word identification, for example, are attained when a multidimensional intervention is adopted, particularly one that combines direct and dialogue-based instruction, explicit teaching of different levels of syllabic segmentation, and teaching of multiple decoding strategies. Although most of this research has focused on word reading, the critical importance of explicit instruction for developing the flexible use of strategies to identify words and read extended text cannot be over-emphasized when it comes to achieving generalization and maintenance of remedial gains.

Although the evidence base for struggling writers is smaller than for reading, it suggests that struggling writers also have difficulty maintaining and generalizing gains from instruction (Wong, 1994). The findings need

Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×

to be interpreted cautiously, however, because maintenance decrements do not appear to be severe (Graham, 2006a; Graham and Harris, 2003), and in most research maintenance of gains was assessed for no more than a month from the end of the intervention. Generalizing specific writing skills to tasks and contexts beyond those in which they were taught is not an all-or-none phenomenon, and transfer often appears to generalize to some degree (Graham, 2006a; Graham and Harris, 2003).

A very small body of research with elementary and middle school students who are struggling writers shows that maintenance and generalization of taught writing skills and strategies can be facilitated by teaching target material to mastery, having students set goals for using the skills and strategies and monitoring their progress in doing so, analyzing when and how to use the skills and strategies, and enlisting peers as a resource for reminding and helping struggling writers to apply new skills (Harris, Graham, and Mason, 2006; Sawyer, Graham, and Harris, 1992; Stoddard and MacArthur, 1993).

•  Maladaptive attributions, beliefs, and motivational profiles of struggling learners need to be understood and targeted during instruction.

The motivational profiles of struggling and typical readers and writers can be very different. Struggling learners are usually lower in intrinsic motivation and a sense of self-efficacy for reading and writing, more likely to be extrinsically motivated or unmotivated, and more likely to attribute failure to internal factors (e.g., ability) and success to external factors (e.g., luck)—all of which lead to disengagement from reading and writing activities, less reading and writing experience, and markedly lower literacy achievement (Deci and Ryan, 2002b; Graham, 1990a; Graham, Schwartz, and MacArthur, 1993; Guthrie and Davis, 2003; Harter, Whitesell, and Kowalski, 1992; Moje et al., 2000; Morgan et al., 2008; Ryan, Stiller, and Lynch, 1994; Sawyer, Graham, and Harris, 1992; Taboada et al., 2009; Wigfield et al., 2008). Specific difficulties in these domains include maladaptive attributions about effort and achievement, learned helplessness rather than mastery-oriented motivational profiles, immature and poorly developed epistemic beliefs, and disengagement from reading and writing activities.

There is a dearth of experimental evidence on how to build adaptive attributions and motivations for struggling adult readers and writers during the course of intervention, although research with children and adolescents with reading disabilities is emerging (Guthrie et al., 2009; Lovett, Lacerenza, and Borden, 2000; Morris et al., 2010; Wigfield et al., 2008; Wolf, Miller, and Donnelly, 2000). In other research, positive attri-

Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×

butional change has been observed for children in middle school with the effective remediation of reading disabilities. Emerging research with struggling adolescent readers suggests the importance of intervening directly to address the attributional and motivational correlates of literacy learning difficulties (see Guthrie, Wigfield, and You, in press). In this research, adding attributional retraining to comprehension strategy instruction was associated with better maintenance of gains (Berkeley, Mastropieri, and Scruggs, 2011).

Similarly, few writing studies have examined how to address the maladaptive attributions and beliefs that affect struggling writers (Wong et al., 2003). Adding attribution retraining to strategy instruction in writing is a promising approach that has enhanced the compositions of struggling writers (Garcia-Sánchez and Fidalgo-Redondo, 2006; Sexton, Harris, and Graham, 1998). For example, one writing program improved struggling writers’ motivation to write by including components for enhancing multiple affective factors, including self-efficacy, self-esteem, expectations, and beliefs about writing (García and de Caso, 2004).

•  Intervention should be differentiated to scaffold learning and meet the individual needs of those who struggle with literacy.

Scaffolding is the term used to describe teaching approaches in which the instructor or presentation of tools supports execution of a skill until the student gradually develops full mastery. Differentiated instruction is the term used for teaching that meets individual and small group needs by providing learning activities and supports for the development of skills that have not yet been acquired but that are necessary to move through an instructional sequence. With this type of scaffolded and integrated instruction and intervention model, learning deficits are addressed and remediated while teaching all of the necessary skills for reading and writing development that enable struggling students to participate and move through the broader program of instruction (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 2000a). Differentiation avoids provision of extra or specialized instruction to those who do not need it, which is counterproductive and could lead learners to view literacy activity as uninteresting.

One of the premises of special education, the arm of educational practice that specializes in learning difficulties, is that instruction should be further tailored to meet the processing needs of individual students (Edmonds et al., 2009; Scammacca et al., 2007). As discussed earlier, to date, little evidence from controlled intervention studies supports the tailoring of literacy instruction to difficulties with more general processing; what seems most important is that the intervention offer explicit, systematic, and intense reading remediation targeted to develop component literacy skills in the

Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×

context of reading instruction and reading practice (Fletcher et al., 2007; Morris et al., 2010; Torgesen et al., 2001).

Differentiation of instruction also appears to be effective for writing. Most of this research has focused on teaching planning strategies to struggling writers who spend little time systematically planning their papers (e.g., Englert et al., 1991). The instruction has a positive impact on the quality and structure of text produced by struggling writers (see meta-analyses by Graham, 2006a; Graham and Harris, 2003; Graham and Perin, 2007a; Rogers and Graham, 2008). MacArthur and Lembo (2009) also found this to be a productive strategy with adult literacy learners. Similarly, a few studies show that instruction that targets the handwriting or spelling of elementary school students experiencing difficulties with these skills improves these skills as well as how much the students write and their facility with constructing sentences (Berninger et al., 1997, 1998; Graham, Harris, and Fink, 2000; Graham, Harris, and Fink-Chorzempa, 2002). In addition, the writing performance of middle and high school struggling writers was enhanced when they were taught sentence construction skills (e.g., Saddler and Graham, 2005; Schmidt et al., 1988).

READING AND WRITING ACROSS THE LIFE SPAN

Although much is known from research about the processes involved in the development of reading and writing and effective instruction for typically developing readers and writers and those who struggle, almost no research has focused on changes in reading and writing processes from early childhood through adulthood. This research will be needed to establish whether adults with low literacy have not yet achieved an asymptotic level of skill along a common learning trajectory or, perhaps less likely, whether they need truly alternative pathways to competence. A small body of research on cognitive aging has, however, examined differences in reading and writing processes between younger and older adults, although some studies examine change in cognitive functions from the late 30s or 40s. Most of those who receive adult literacy instruction are older adolescents and young adults (e.g., according to Tamassia et al., 2007); in the program year 2001-2002, 34 percent were 16- to 24-years old and 46 percent were 25- to 44-years old. Yet a significant portion of adult learners (18 percent) are older than 44. Thus, we review this research with older populations to identify whether adults may experience unique challenges in developing and using their literacy skills in midlife and beyond. There is a lack of research on changes in literacy (and learning processes) from young adulthood to middle adulthood because most research has focused on young populations or older adults.

An important caveat to the findings reported here is that the research

Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×

has focused not on older adults who need to develop their literacy but on relatively well-educated and literate populations. The research typically compares the performance of older adults to that of college students who serve as samples of convenience. Thus caution must be applied in generalizing the findings to populations of adults who need to develop literacy skills later in life.

In general, the processes involved in the component skills of reading and writing studied thus far appear mostly preserved into later adulthood, although older adults do experience declines in areas affected by perception and speed of processing (Durgunoğlu and Öney, 2002; Stine-Morrow, Loveless, and Soederberg, 1996). Word recognition reappears to be fundamentally preserved throughout the adult life span. With age, readers tend to rely more on recognizing a whole word as a unit instead of decoding it using phonics skills (Spieler and Balota, 2000), although phonics facility remains essential for reading new words. As in younger readers, eventual automatic recognition of newly learned words occurs through adulthood (Lien et al., 2006). In both spoken and written communication, aging may bring reliance on the broader discourse context to decode individual words (Madden, 1988; Stine and Wingfield, 1990; Stine-Morrow et al., 2008; Wingfield et al., 1985).

Vocabulary knowledge is maintained and has the potential to grow throughout adulthood (Birren and Morrison, 1961; Schaie, 2005). For example, the ability to recognize the meanings of words in a text appears to be intact (Burke and Peters, 1986; Burke, White, and Diaz, 1987; Light, Valencia-Laver, and Zavis, 1991). It is possible, however, for vocabulary growth to decelerate later in life, perhaps because declines in working memory hinder inferring the meanings of novel words in the course of ordinary reading (McGinnis and Zelinski, 2000, 2003).

Reading comprehension can become compromised in several respects with age. Sensory impairment, which becomes more prevalent in later adulthood, may require adult readers (and listeners) to allocate more attention to decoding the surface form, which reduces cognitive resources available for understanding the meaning of text (Dickinson and Rabbitt, 1991; Stine-Morrow and Miller, 2009; Wingfield, Tun, and McCoy, 2005). Phonological skills also may be affected by sensory acuity deficits (Hartley and Harris, 2001), presenting a barrier to comprehension.

Skills in basic parsing of syntax may remain intact throughout the life span (Caplan and Waters, 1999), although age-related declines in processing capacity may reduce comprehension of syntactically complex text (Kemper, 1987; Norman, Kemper, and Kynette, 1992). The production of utterances in both speech and writing shows reliable trends toward syntactic simplification and reduced informational density with age (Kemper, 1987; Kemper et al., 2001; Norman, Kemper, and Kynette, 1992), so one

Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×

would assume reasonably that the ability to read more complex and dense texts might be slowed or otherwise compromised. Comprehension of complex constructions may require more controlled/executive processing with age (Wingfield and Grossman, 2006). For example, older adults may find it more necessary to use such strategies as making notes and rereading text elements.

Decreased ability to rapidly construct meaning from language may result from age-related declines in mental processing capacity (Federmeier et al., 2003; Hartley, 1988; Hartley et al., 1994; Stine and Hindman, 1994). Aging readers also may allocate relatively less attention to the semantic analysis of sentences (Radvansky et al., 2001). With age, people usually experience decreases in memory for text (Johnson, 2003; Radvansky et al., 2001; Stine-Morrow and Shake, 2009; Zelinski and Gilewski, 1988), perhaps beginning as early as midlife (ages 40-45) (Ferstl, 2006; Van der Linden et al., 1999). These declines are mitigated by routinely engaging in activities that require text memory, by having high verbal ability, and by having knowledge related to the topic of the text (Hultsch and Dixon, 1983; Meyer and Rice, 1989; Stine-Morrow et al., 2008).

Older readers tend to remember information from elaborated texts that provide redundant support for key information better rather than isolated facts (Daneman and Merikle, 1996; Stine and Wingfield, 1990; Stine-Morrow et al., 2008). The ability to generate inferences about the larger situation described by a text is mostly intact (Radvansky and Dijkstra, 2007). Yet comprehension skills can be affected by decreased capacity for making inferences as a result of memory decline. For example, older adults can have difficulty with important inferences that require remembering text from one sentence to later ones. As a consequence, they may create a fuzzier or less complete representation of the text (Cohen, 1981; Hess, 1994; Light and Capps, 1986; Light et al., 1994; McGinnis, 2009; McGinnis et al., 2008; Noh et al., 2007).

An important strength of adulthood is accumulated knowledge that often occurs as a consequence of literacy. The dependence on knowledge in reading may increase throughout adulthood (Meyer, Talbot, and Ranalli, 2007; Miller, 2003, 2009; Miller and Stine-Morrow, 1998; Miller, Cohen, and Wingfield, 2006). Knowledge has a variety of forms, including the ability to articulate ideas (declarative knowledge), skilled performance (procedural knowledge), and implicit processes in work and social contexts (tacit knowledge), and encompasses the range of human experiences (e.g., cultural conventions, facts, conceptual systems, schemas that abstract essential elements of a system and their organization). Such knowledge can enhance text comprehension through a number of routes (Ackerman, 2008; Ackerman and Beier, 2006; Ackerman et al., 2001; Barnett and Ceci, 2002; Beier and Ackerman, 2001, 2005; Charness, 2006; Ericsson,

Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×

2006; Graesser, Haberlandt, and Koizumi, 1987; Griffin, Jee, and Wiley, 2009; Miller, 2009; Miller and Stine-Morrow, 1998; Miller, Cohen, and Wingfield, 2006; Miller et al., 2004; Noordman and Vonk, 1992). Knowledge enables, for example, understanding relations among concepts not obvious to the novice, understanding vocabulary and jargon, abstract reasoning (e.g., analogy), making inferences and connections in the text, and monitoring the success of efforts made to comprehend.

Less research has focused on changes in writing processes with age. Although vocabulary knowledge either stabilizes or grows through adulthood, especially if the adult continues to engage with text (Stanovich, West, and Harrison, 1995), adults may have difficulty with recalling a word, may substitute or transpose speech sounds in a word, and may make spelling errors more frequently beginning in midlife (Burke and Shafto, 2004; Burke et al., 1991; MacKay and Abrams, 1998).

As people age, the speech and writing they produce has simpler syntax and is less dense with information (Kemper, 1987; Kemper et al., 2001; Norman, Kemper, and Kynette, 1992). The tendency to produce less complex syntax is due partly to declines in working memory (Norman, Kemper, and Kynette, 1992), but also to some extent may reflect greater awareness that simpler syntax is easier for the listener or reader to understand. There is not a universal trend, however, toward simplified writing with age. For example, although syntax becomes simpler over time, narrative storytelling becomes more complex (Kemper et al., 1990).

In sum, not enough is known about the ways in which reading and writing processes change across the life span to determine whether or how instructional approaches would need to be modified to make them more effective for learners of different ages. Most research has concentrated on young children at the beginning of reading development and on older adults at the opposite end of the life span who are proficient readers benefiting from the fruition of knowledge growth but beginning to experience some declines in processing capacity. The findings available hint, however, at some of the underlying cognitive processes that are likely to remain intact in older adults. They also suggest some challenges in developing and using literacy skills later in life that may require enhanced supports.

SUMMARY AND DISCUSSION

A complete understanding of reading and writing development requires knowledge of the learner (the learners’ knowledge, skills, literacy practices, motivations, and neurocognitive processes) and features of the instructional context (types of text, literacy tools, literacy activities, instructor knowledge, beliefs, and skills) that scaffold or impede learning. Because different disciplines study different aspects of literacy, research has yet to systemati-

Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×

cally examine how various social, cultural, and contextual forces interact with neurocognitive processes to facilitate or constrain the development of literacy.

The major components of reading and writing are well documented. Depending on the assessed needs of the learner, instruction needs to target decoding and strategies for identifying unfamiliar words. Instruction should focus on depth, breadth, and flexibility of vocabulary knowledge and use. Learners also need strategies for comprehending and learning from text. Instruction should support the development of knowledge, including background, topic, and world knowledge. Learners also need metalinguistic knowledge (phonology, morphology) and discourse knowledge (genre and rhetorical structure). Metacognitive skills may need to be developed to facilitate comprehension and meet goals for reading.

Figure 2-1 shows the writing skills that may need to be targeted with instruction, among them sentence construction skills, planning and revising, spelling, and usage (capitalization and punctuation skills). As for reading, knowledge to develop for writing includes background, topic, and world knowledge as well as knowledge of the potential audiences for written products. Writing instruction, like reading instruction, needs to develop facility with writing for particular purposes, contexts, and content domains. Writing also requires mastery of tools required for writing (typing, word processing, and handwriting).

Literacy development, like the learning of any complex task, requires a range of explicit teaching and implicit learning guided by an expert. Explicit and systematic instruction is effective in developing the components of reading and writing and facilitating the integration and transfer of skills to new tasks and context. Full competence requires extensive practice with varied forms of text and tasks that demand different combinations of literate skill. It also requires learning how to use tools required in a society for producing and using text for communication, self-expression, and collaboration. Principles of effective reading and writing instruction are summarized in Boxes 2-2 and 2-4. Box 2-5 lists practices shown to be effective in the development of writing. Reading and writing involve many shared components and processes. Instruction that includes activities that capitalize on and make explicit the relations between reading and writing facilitates development of a better integrated and mutually reinforcing literacy system.

A sizeable literature on efficacious interventions for struggling learners points to additional principles for teaching reading and writing to this population that include (1) direct targeting of specific areas of difficulty in the context of explicit reading and writing instruction; (2) more intense instruction, more explicit instruction, and even more opportunities to practice; (3) direct targeting of the generalization and transfer of learning; (4)

Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×

targeting of maladaptive attributions and beliefs; and (5) differentiation of instruction to meet the particular needs of those who struggle or have diagnosed disabilities in the course of broader instruction to develop reading and writing skills.

Several limitations in current knowledge of component processes indicate that research is needed to (1) develop more integrated and comprehensive models of reading comprehension processes, including metacognitive components, to develop more complete approaches to instruction and assessment; (2) understand the relation of fluency to comprehension and how best to develop fluency; (3) identify efficacious methods for developing vocabulary and other aspects of linguistic knowledge for reading and writing proficiency; (4) develop more integrated models of writing processes and writing instruction; (5) develop methods of teaching reading and writing in tandem with world and topic knowledge in academic, disciplinary, or content areas; (6) understand the neurobiology of reading and writing to test theories and models of typical and atypical developmental processes, develop more sensitive assessments, guide teaching and treatment of disability, and prevent reading and writing difficulties; and (7) understand the social and contextual forces on reading and writing and the implications both for the design of instruction to develop valued functional literacy skills and the assessment of these skills as part of evaluating the effectiveness of instructional outcomes.

Cognitive aging research suggests that adults may experience some age-related neurocognitive declines affecting reading and writing processes and speed of learning that might need consideration during instruction. Most research has concentrated on young children at the beginning of reading development and on older adults at the opposite end of the life span who are proficient readers beginning to experience some declines. As a result, more needs to be known about how reading and writing processes change across the life span to determine how to make instruction effective for learners of different ages.

As Chapter 3 makes clear, except for a few intervention studies, the study of component literacy skills and processes has not been a priority in research with adults, nor has the research fully incorporated knowledge of the practices that develop reading and writing skills in K-12 students. The population of adult learners is highly diverse. Adults bring varied life experiences, knowledge, education levels, skills, and motivations to learning that need attention in instructional design. Research with adolescents and adults will be required to validate, identify the boundaries of, and extend current knowledge of literacy to identify how best to meet the particular literacy development needs of well-defined subgroups of learners.

Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×
Page 24
Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×
Page 25
Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×
Page 26
Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×
Page 27
Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×
Page 28
Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×
Page 29
Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×
Page 30
Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×
Page 31
Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×
Page 32
Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×
Page 33
Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×
Page 34
Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×
Page 35
Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×
Page 36
Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×
Page 37
Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×
Page 38
Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×
Page 39
Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×
Page 40
Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×
Page 41
Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×
Page 42
Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×
Page 43
Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×
Page 44
Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×
Page 45
Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×
Page 46
Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×
Page 47
Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×
Page 48
Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×
Page 49
Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×
Page 50
Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×
Page 51
Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×
Page 52
Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×
Page 53
Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×
Page 54
Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×
Page 55
Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×
Page 56
Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×
Page 57
Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×
Page 58
Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×
Page 59
Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×
Page 60
Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×
Page 61
Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×
Page 62
Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×
Page 63
Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×
Page 64
Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×
Page 65
Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×
Page 66
Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×
Page 67
Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×
Page 68
Suggested Citation:"2 Foundations of Reading and Writing." National Research Council. 2012. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13242.
×
Page 69
Next: 3 Literacy Instruction for Adults »
Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research Get This Book
×
 Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research
Buy Paperback | $75.00
MyNAP members save 10% online.
Login or Register to save!
Download Free PDF

A high level of literacy in both print and digital media is required for negotiating most aspects of 21st-century life, including supporting a family, education, health, civic participation, and competitiveness in the global economy. Yet, more than 90 million U.S. adults lack adequate literacy. Furthermore, only 38 percent of U.S. 12th graders are at or above proficient in reading.

Improving Adult Literacy Instruction synthesizes the research on literacy and learning to improve literacy instruction in the United States and to recommend a more systemic approach to research, practice, and policy. The book focuses on individuals ages 16 and older who are not in K-12 education. It identifies factors that affect literacy development in adolescence and adulthood in general, and examines their implications for strengthening literacy instruction for this population. It also discusses technologies for learning that can assist with multiple aspects of teaching, assessment,and accommodations for learning.

There is inadequate knowledge about effective instructional practices and a need for better assessment and ongoing monitoring of adult students' proficiencies, weaknesses, instructional environments, and progress, which might guide instructional planning. Improving Adult Literacy Instruction recommends a program of research and innovation to validate, identify the boundaries of, and extend current knowledge to improve instruction for adults and adolescents outside school. The book is a valuable resource for curriculum developers, federal agencies such as the Department of Education, administrators, educators, and funding agencies.

READ FREE ONLINE

  1. ×

    Welcome to OpenBook!

    You're looking at OpenBook, NAP.edu's online reading room since 1999. Based on feedback from you, our users, we've made some improvements that make it easier than ever to read thousands of publications on our website.

    Do you want to take a quick tour of the OpenBook's features?

    No Thanks Take a Tour »
  2. ×

    Show this book's table of contents, where you can jump to any chapter by name.

    « Back Next »
  3. ×

    ...or use these buttons to go back to the previous chapter or skip to the next one.

    « Back Next »
  4. ×

    Jump up to the previous page or down to the next one. Also, you can type in a page number and press Enter to go directly to that page in the book.

    « Back Next »
  5. ×

    Switch between the Original Pages, where you can read the report as it appeared in print, and Text Pages for the web version, where you can highlight and search the text.

    « Back Next »
  6. ×

    To search the entire text of this book, type in your search term here and press Enter.

    « Back Next »
  7. ×

    Share a link to this book page on your preferred social network or via email.

    « Back Next »
  8. ×

    View our suggested citation for this chapter.

    « Back Next »
  9. ×

    Ready to take your reading offline? Click here to buy this book in print or download it as a free PDF, if available.

    « Back Next »
Stay Connected!