Affecting change in literacy practices: Impact of two dimensions of instruction


Purcell-Gates, V.
Degener, S.
Jacobson, E.
Soler, M.
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The research investigated the extent to which the use of authentic materials (newspapers, bus schedules, novels, labels, etc.) and the level of collaboration between students and teachers (teacher-directed or more student teacher interactive) impact learners' literacy practices outside the classroom. The questions were: What are the relationships among (a) the degree to which adult literacy classes employ real-life literacy activities and materials; (b) the degree to which students and teachers share decisions making; and (c) changes in students' out-of-school literacy practices. The outcome measure was change in out-of-school literacy practices, both in frequency per typeOutcomes indicated that:

  • The lower the level of students' literacy at entry the more likely to report change in literacy practices.
  • The longer students attend class, the more likely they will report change in literacy practices.
  • Students in ABE classes with greater degrees of authentic materials and activities are more likely to report change in literacy practices at a statistically significant level.
  • There was no statistical effect on the degree of collaboration between student and teacher and literacy practices.
  • ESOL students were less likely to report literacy changes.
What the experts say

Why this resource may be of value to the field of adult education and its potential use. (Most significant or useful features, etc.)This is a carefully designed and executed study that explores the relationship between materials and methods used in adult literacy classrooms and learner persistence and achievement. Multiple methods, both quantitative and qualitative, were used to explore the issues of interest. Discussion, which begins on p. 77 of the document, does an excellent job of situating the research into the broader context of adult learning.This resource is of value to the field because: 1) it is an excellent example of a high-quality report of a high-quality research study, 2) it is supported by a peer-reviewed article (Reading Research Quarterly, 2002, 37[1], 70-92), and 3) it provides empirical information about the effectiveness of practices often advocated in the field of adult literacy but heretofore unresearched, i.e., using authentic materials and collaborating with students. The authors provide an interesting rationale for exploring engagement in literacy practices outside the classroom as an outcome of instruction, making strong connections to family literacy and the effects of home literacy practices on the emerging literacy of children. More research is needed to support the positive findings for the use of authentic materials and to further explore why collaboration did not have similar results. However, practitioners and programs interested in these approaches will find the rich descriptions of classrooms and the experiences of adult learners within them (in addition to the findings themselves) fodder for thought if they are considering the benefits of more contextualized forms of literacy instruction.See also:Purcell-Gates, V., Degener, S., Jacobson, E., & Soler, M (2001). Taking Literacy Skills Home. Focus on Basics, Volume 4, Issue D.

Jacobson, E., Degener, S., Purcell-Gates, V. (April 2003). Creating Authentic Materials and Activities for the Adult Literacy Classroom

Sample and methodology (summary) included:

  • Descriptive and correlational design. Multiple methods used to describe the classes in terms of the two dimensions and to document the a) full range of literacy practices and b) the changes, self-report, in practices of the adults.
  • Classroom observation using strict protocol (3 types)
  • 83 adult literacy classes in 22 states
  • Data on class activities and texts and degree of student influence of these were triangulated from three sources-5-page teacher questionnaire, class observation, group-student interview.
  • 173 adult students' questionnaires administered individually in their homes every month for up to a year inquiring on new or increased individual literacy practices.

Data on individual classes were coded and triangulated along the two dimensions: information from each of the three protocols transferred to a coding sheet with the following headings:

  • Source (class observation, teacher questionnaire, student interview)
  • Activity/material
  • Purpose
  • Assigned (by teacher, together, by student)

Hierarchical Linear Modeling to model change on 157 students in 77 adult literacy classes (due to missing data.) 

Item Response Theory to analyze questionnaire responses

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