Writing Instruction for Adult Literacy Learners: What Can We Learn from Research with Adolescents? - Reading and Writing Skills


Writing skills are important to adult learners for employment, further
education, participation as citizens, and personal fulfillment. The National
Institute for Literacy's standard-setting initiative, Equipped for the
Future, identified "conveying ideas in writing" as one of five critical
communication skills. Yet little research has focused on writing instruction
in adult basic and adult secondary education.

One way to identify potentially effective approaches to writing instruction
is to look at the research that has been done with adolescents, particularly
with struggling writers. Graham and Perin (2007) thoroughly reviewed the
research on writing instruction for students in middle and high school. They
found 11 instructional methods that had at least four studies showing them
to be effective. The effective methods were: strategy
instruction,summarization, peer assistance, setting product goals, word
processing, sentence combining, inquiry, prewriting activities, process
writing approach, study of models, and writing for content area learning. In
comparison to other methods, grammar instruction was not effective. A link
to the original report is provided below.

Following the logic of testing methods that were effective with adolescents,
my colleague and I studied the use of strategy instruction with adult
education students who were working to pass the GED (MacArthur & Lembo,
2009). We tutored three middle-aged African-American adults in a strategy
for planning, writing, and revising persuasive essays along with
self-regulation strategies. All the adults made consistent gains in the
quality and organization of their essays. Mean gains in overall quality for
the three students were 2.7, 1.9, and 1.7 on a 7-point scale. The results
demonstrated that strategy instruction, which has had positive effects with
adolescents, has potential for adult literacy learners as well. A link to
the article is below.

In the online discussion this week, we will be talking about writing
instruction for adults who struggle with writing, including adult education
and basic college writers. Please join in: Ask questions, Share what has
worked for you, Offer your own perspective.


Charles A. MacArthur is Professor of Special Education and Literacy in the
School of Education at the University of Delaware. A former special
education teacher, he teaches courses on literacy problems, writing
instruction, and assistive technology. His major research interests include
writing development and instruction for struggling writers, adult literacy,
applications of technology to support reading and writing, and development
of self-regulated strategies. He recently completed a research project
investigating instruction in decoding in adult basic education. He has
published over 100 articles and book chapters and edited several books,
including the Handbook of Writing Research and Best Practices in Writing

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