Reversing Reading Failure in Young Adults


Curtis, Mary
Longo, Ann Marie
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation
Boys' Town
Publication Year
Resource Type
Informational Material
Number of Pages

This article was written by two educators, with experience working in Harvard's Reading Lab, who are developing research-based programs for nationwide dissemination at the Boys Town Reading Center (part of the National Resource & Training Center). They approach their task from the lens of Jeanne Chall's stages of reading development.

Curtis & Longo have designed instruction focusing on: 1) a developmental framework, 2) a strengths model, and 3) a stage theory of learning. Brief summaries of each focus should be helpful to ABE instructors.

They used Chall's reading development stages as a framework to accelerate their student's growth in reading skills since their students are at several different points along a continuum of reading levels ranging from as far as 5 or 6 years below grade
level to 2 to 3 years behind. Chall's 5 stages, clearly outlined in the article for ready use by other instructors, and the four courses developed at Boys Town, along those lines, are explained in detail. The course connects to a specific reading developmental stage and the goals therein are detailed enough that ABE instructors might find this a "primer” for replication.

The authors describe: 1) "Foundations of Reading" about knowledge and application of letter-sound correspondence, 2) "Adventures in Reading" for word recognition and fluency improvement, 3) "Mastery of Meaning" related to vocabulary
development to improve comprehension, and 4) "Explorations" learning to integrate information via both reading & writing.

Brief discussion of the importance of diagnostic assessments and program evaluation are included. The authors used Diagnostic Assessments of Reading (DAR) for student placement which, of course is the diagnostic centerpiece of NCSALL's ARCS assessment and thus, is suggestive of possible diagnostic coordination with already in place tools for use in ABE such as ARCS. The summary notes 5 aspects of creating an effective reading program which should be most helpful to anyone working in this aspect of ABE.

Required Training

Some understanding of Chall’s work would provide a better framework for understanding this article.

What the experts say

The authors present a clear description of a program model that works with adolescents. It is entirely consistent with the kinds of program models advocated for adults (building on strengths, use of stages, instructional pattern from direct explanation to independent practice, informal and formal assessments). Even though the article is brief, details, such as the commercial instructional materials and assessment instruments that are used, are provided to help an ABE instructor implement the program.

Appearing in Focus on Basics from the National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy (NCSALL), now unfunded, it is intended for adult education practitioners. As a result the article is well written and accessible.

The authors have adapted the framework skillfully, for example, by stressing the importance of including instructional materials that are relevant to young adults (as opposed to vocabulary more suitable for younger students). They also discuss the need for high-interest games and computer software as well as the importance of group work for social development. They also stress the need to build on learners’ strengths rather than focusing on their weaknesses, important in teaching learners who have already failed in school.

The discussion of the use of different kinds of assessment instruments is noteworthy. Many instructors rely only on standardized tests and teacher-made informal checks. Although both of these are appropriate, it is also important to use other types of assessments that are discussed in the article.

The authors’ assumption that their framework could be adapted to ABE classes seems reasonable. If ABE instructors also emphasized the use of interesting and relevant materials, as well as show their students a clear roadmap of their instructional progress, retention might be improved in ABE classes.

Readers should be aware that Jeanne Chall’s framework (used in this curriculum) caused considerable debate at the time of its publication. It still is not universally accepted. However, it does provide a useful structure for an instructional program for remedial reading instruction.

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