Improving Adult Literacy: Developing Reading and Writing

National Research Council
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation
National Academy of Sciences
Publication Year
Resource Type
Number of Pages

More than an estimated 90 million adults in the United States lack the literacy skills needed for fully productive and secure lives. The effects of this shortfall are many: Adults with low literacy have lower rates of participation in the labor force and lower earnings when they do have jobs, for example. They are less able to understand and use health information. And they are less likely to read to their children, which may slow their children’s own literacy development.

At the request of the U.S. Department of Education, the National Research Council convened a committee of experts from many disciplines to synthesize research on literacy and learning in order to improve literacy instruction for adults in the United States. The committee’s report, Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research, recommends a program of research and innovation to better understand adult literacy learners, improve instruction, and create the supports adults need for learning and achievement.

Benefits and Uses

This booklet, which is based on the report, presents an overview of what is known about how literacy develops, the component skills of reading and writing, and the practices that are effective for developing them. It also describes principles of reading and writing instruction that can guide those who design and administer programs or courses to improve adult literacy skills. Although this is not intended as a "how to" manual for instructors, teachers may also find the information in this booklet helpful as they consider how to plan instruction.

The principles described here apply to all adult literacy learners, including those learning English as a second language and those with learning disabilities. This booklet also includes specific principles to guide instruction for those groups of learners.