I've Opened Up: Exploring Learners' Perspectives on Progress

Instructional material, from Ontario, Canada, covers assessing learner progression based on the student's point of view. 

Author(s) Organizational Affiliation
Parkdale Project Read (PPR)
Regent Park Learning Centre (RPLC)
Wellington County Learning Centre (WCLC)
Festival of Literacies Office (FOL) at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education
University of Toronto (OISE/UT). Canada
Publication Year
Resource Type
Instructional Material
Number of Pages
Product Type

This project explored learners' experiences and understanding of progress and sought to define and articulate this knowledge. The research showed the importance of understanding and valuing the perspectives learners have of their progress. We discovered numerous nonacademic outcomes critical to learners' progress that they associated with adult literacy programs. Learners realized very well what literacy can do for them and value the many nonacademic outcomes they experience in various facets of their lives.

The learners' comments also provided insight into the richness and complexity of the learning outcomes and of the interactions between these outcomes, their program environment, the learning process and non-academic learning outcomes they achieved.

Key Points

  • Independence, further education/training and employment related goals are often pursued simultaneously.
  • Although the majority of learners reported that estimating how long it will take to reach a goal was difficult, they were easily able to articulate the pace of learning they required to be successful.
  • The learning environment has a powerful influence on learning, motivation and retention of learners. A safe, comfortable and non-judgemental environment where they could learn from and support each other was needed and highly valued.
  • Learners described their progress by referring to the real life activities they could now do in a wide variety of life contexts (everyday practices, leisure practices, work practices, community practices and educational practices).
  • Learners described a wide range of non-academic indicators of progress which they associated with their participation in adult literacy programs. These indicators appear to be both a consequence of learning and necessary for learning to happen. The first three were identified by almost all learners and seemed central to their perspective on progress:
    • Self-confidence
    • Finding voice
    • Opening up to learning
    • Independence
    • Building relationships; building community
    • Wellness
    • Taking risks / new challenges
    • Public disclosure and asking for help
    • Listening to enhance understanding
    • Cultural awareness and tolerance
    • Conflict resolution

Research question(s) investigated: The authors used a qualitative exploratory approach, facilitating 18 focus groups comprised of a total of 56 adult learners to explore their perspectives on progress. The learners were drawn from the five participating literacy organizations. They used a semi-structured interview approach to elicit answers to our basic question: how do learners perceive progress?

Sample and methodology (summary): The foundation for our approach came from Battell's (2001) research, Naming the Magic: Non-Academic Outcomes in Basic Literacy. This project described and field-tested six techniques for documenting non-academic outcomes of learners as a result of their participation in literacy instruction. One technique involved questioning learners with the intent to encourage them to develop a "growing awareness of the various changes in their lives". (Ibid., p 47) The project made use of some of the suggested questions and prompts from that technique. Below are the questions used in the focus groups.

  1. Why did you decide to come to this literacy program?
  2. What did you want to learn when you first came?
  3. How long did you think it would take to learn what you wanted to learn?
  4. How is the learning different from what you first thought it would be? Why did you keep coming to the program?
  5. Have you learned some of what you wanted to learn? How can you tell?
  6. Do you see a difference in your everyday life as a result of your learning?

Data collection and analysis procedures (summary): The project produced verbatim transcripts so that they could analyze the data, looking for patterns and themes. Data analysis and review happened in multiple ways and at multiple points throughout the project. These included activities involving:

  • pairs of facilitators after each focus group session
  • the entire research group during 2 meetings and 2 conference calls
  • individual authors as they wrote articles for the magazine
  • means of written feedback on materials posted on a web-site Listserv
  • the author of this report in the course of drafting the report and reviewing feedback on the draft from the practitioners, the advisory committee and the research mentor

Results (summary): This project recommends that:

  1. Ontario adult literacy programs value, document and incorporate learners' perspectives on progress in assessments.
  2. Ontario adult literacy programs examine how they currently document real-life practices and non-academic indicators of progress and investigate other strategies, techniques or models that already exist which facilitate the description, documentation and validation of learners' perspectives on progress.

A tool for documenting learners' perspectives of their progress is also provided

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