Reading and Adult English Language Learners: A review of the Research

Burt, M.
Peyton, J.K.
Adams, R
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This resource synthesizes and reviews an extensive body of research on adult English language learners and learning to read, including what facilitates this process. The article combines the theoretical and practical results of the research into four sections:

  • Factors influencing adult literacy development in English;
  • The process of learning to read in a second language;
  • Reading to learn;
  • Summary of findings and implications for practice and research.

Each section is further broken down to explore particularities of the topic, such as, models of reading and reading skills. Three of the sections include implications and suggestions for practice.

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What the experts say

This is a succinct, well-organized review of the research on reading and adult English language learners. Its greatest strength is the legwork the authors have done for the reader: they sought out the studies, reviewed them as to the quality of their design and the related validity of their findings, drew lessons from them, and presented them in an extremely well organized manner. This document, coupled with its companion, the annotated bibliography of research on reading development for adults learning English (Adams & Burt, 2002), provides the reader with a wealth of information about what to consider when planning reading instruction for adult English language learners.

Furthermore, many of the essential points (e.g., factors influencing L2 literacy development, phonology teaching) are supported by clear graphics to aid reader comprehension. The open layout of the book (and its brevity as related to a complex topic) encourage practitioners and others to access the research and its implications.

Significant features include the background on the adult English language learner in the US and factors influencing adult literacy development in English. These help the reader contextualize the research. Another significant feature is the organization of the resource: The research is divided into the process of learning to read in a second language and the application of reading to learn, and a summary of findings and implications for practice and research. The resource is easy to navigate and understand.

There are two drawbacks to the resource, neither of which is the fault of the authors. The first drawback is that much of the research they found to review was flawed, so the findings must be considered possible implications rather than strong findings. The annotated bibliography explains succinctly the methodological strengths and weaknesses of each study and is, as mentioned earlier, a useful companion to this resource.

The second flaw is the age of the resource. Since 2002, when the studies upon which this resource is based were gathered, a number of additional studies of English language learner reading have been published. The field would benefit from an updated version of this useful resource.