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Making the Most of This Book: A Reader's Guide

Understanding the Purpose of this Book

This book is an introduction to research-based principles of reading instruction for instructors in adult education and literacy classes. It is intended as a first resource for those with little knowledge of reading instruction and is written with the needs of teachers in mind--those who want to improve their ability to provide reading instruction for adults in family literacy and other basic education programs.

Many adults enrolled in basic skills and GED preparation classes need to improve their reading skills. They almost certainly need comprehension strategies, but also may need other skills, like basic decoding and fluency (defined on page 2). Because most adult education programs do not offer reading classes, instructors who want to meet these learners' needs must be able to incorporate reading instruction into their regular classroom schedules, routines, and lessons. If you are like most teachers, you want to learn what research has to say about effective reading instruction, but you understand the learners' goals and are aware of the demands and limitations of your program.

This volume begins by building background knowledge of important concepts and principles and then suggests practical ways to apply research recommendations to the adult learning setting. However, no single resource can provide detailed guidance for every teacher and learner in every context. You should see this book as the first step in your professional development journey. You may use it to learn some of the basics. Then you may apply this learning as best you can in your classroom, identify what else you need to learn, and plan ways to acquire additional skills and knowledge.

Surveying Content and Vocabulary

Beginning with an overview of the components of reading and reading instruction, the book next summarizes basic principles of educational research and suggests general approaches for applying research principles in working with adult learners. The components of reading instruction are described in detail, with reference to the appropriate research findings about instruction. Because research indicates that individual adult learners have varied strengths and needs in each of the reading component areas (Kruidenier, 2002), assessment for each component also is discussed. This information should help you understand the types of assessments required to develop reader profiles, so you can begin planning to address these needs in your program. Finally, the book reviews research-based general instructional principles and offers examples of approaches to instructional planning based on the needs of individuals and groups.

Important Terms And Abbreviations

Before you begin reading you should be familiar with some key vocabulary. Although many terms are defined when they first appear and in the glossary on pages 152-161, you should begin with an understanding of how important terms are used in this book.

ABE. ABE stands for Adult Basic Education and refers to publicly funded programs offering basic skills instruction to adult learners. ABE classes usually serve adults with reading, writing, and/or math skills below high-school level. The term ABE may be used generally to refer to all such services, but ABE programs are sometimes distinguished from ASE (Adult Secondary Education) programs, which provide instruction in higher-level skills in preparation for the GED tests (see GED below) or an alternative high school diploma. (So-called GED programs are a type of ASE program.)

Alphabetics. This term refers to the skills related to using letters to represent the sounds of language (the sound-symbol relationship). Alphabetics skills involve both phonemic awareness and decoding.

CASAS. The Comprehensive Adult Student Assessment System (CASAS) is a basic/functional skills test battery that was developed for use in adult education programs.

Decoding. Decoding is what readers do when they use their knowledge of letter-sound relationships to identify words. When readers intentionally use the letter-sound and syllable-sound connection, they may call this process "sounding out" words. Decoding becomes automatic for good readers who identify most words rapidly, but even good readers use decoding skills when they encounter an unfamiliar word.

ESL. These letters stand for English as a Second Language. The term may refer to the program--which provides instruction for immigrants in speaking, understanding, reading, and writing English--or the learners (as in ESL adults). These students are also called English language learners (ELLs).

ESOL. ESOL is often used interchangeably with the term ESL. ESOL stands for English for Speakers of Other Languages. Some people in the field make the distinction that this term is more accurate because its use does not assume that English is only the second language a learner is acquiring. ESOL is more often used to refer to adults or programs for adults (rather than children). These adults also may be called English language learners (ELLs).

Fluency. Reading fluency refers to speed, ease, accuracy, and expression in reading. A fluent reader is skilled at identifying words and reads with appropriate phrasing and intonation. Dysfluent readers are slow and hesitant; they may make errors in word identification and pause frequently to sound out words or correct mistakes.

GE. These letters stand for grade equivalent. A learner's test score may be described as "6 GE," meaning 6th-grade equivalent.

GED. The tests of General Educational Development are known as the GED test(s). For many purposes, the GED certificate is considered to be the equivalent of a high-school diploma.

Names and sounds of letters. In this book, we have adopted the convention of using bold type to refer to the name of a letter and slash marks to designate the sound of a letter. So s refers to the name of the letter and /s/ refers to the sound s represents.

NICHD. These initials stand for the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. In this book, NICHD, 2000 is a frequent citation, referring to the Report of the National Reading Panel: Teaching Children to Read (see Print Materials on page 5 for the complete title and citation).

Sight words. Words recognized very quickly (automatically) without conscious decoding are called sight words. A reader may have originally identified these words by "sounding them out," but after many exposures, they are stored in memory and recognized immediately. The term sight words should not be understood to imply that words are recognized as wholes. Instead, research suggests readers do process all the letters in a word even when reading very rapidly.

Sight word instruction. Some high-frequency words (especially those with irregular spellings that may be hard to decode, such as come, one, of, to, was, etc.) are taught initially to be recognized on sight. Other important words that follow common spelling patterns may also be taught initially as sight words if they are beyond the learners' current level of decoding ability. Examples are words adults need to read to achieve learning goals: e.g., toddler, patterns, predict, poetry, report, invoice, employer. Although such words are taught initially as sight words, eventually, after repeated readings, all words are read automatically as sight words.

TABE. The Tests of Adult Basic Education (TABE) are a battery of basic skills tests developed for use with adult learners.

Word analysis. Some prefer to reserve this term for the analysis that takes place during decoding; however, it is also used more broadly to refer to all word identification skills, including decoding and sight word recognition. Word analysis, word identification, and word recognition are often used interchangeably.

Word identification and word recognition. These terms refer to the processes used to determine pronunciation/meaning of a word: both conscious decoding and automatic (sight word) recognition.

Related "Phon" Terms:

Phonological awareness. Phonological awareness is a broad category that includes phonemic awareness. Phonological awareness is the perception of speech sounds as distinct from their meanings. It includes the ability to detect rhymes, syllables within words, and (at its most refined level) individual sounds within syllables and words (phonemic awareness).

Phoneme. A phoneme is the smallest unit of sound in spoken language. The word sat is composed of three phonemes: /s/ /a/ /t/.

Phonemic awareness. Phonemic awareness is the ability to detect and manipulate individual phonemes in words. It is a specific type of phonological awareness. A reader with good phonemic awareness knows the word book has three sounds and can replace the /b/ with a /t/ (for example) to make the word took. Phonemic awareness is necessary for development of accurate decoding skills. Once decoding skills are established, readers may not consciously use phonemic awareness in reading.

Phonics instruction. Phonics instruction is a method for teaching word identification that stresses letter-sound relationships. The method involves teaching the sounds that letters and groups of letters represent and how to blend the sounds to identify words. In this book, the term phonics is used to refer to instruction--what teachers do--and decoding is used to refer to what readers do.

Planning To Meet Your Learning Goals

Because this book is just one of several tools you may use to develop your understanding of reading, you may find it useful to think about short-term needs and longer-term planning to achieve your professional development goals. The suggestions below may guide your thinking.

1. Analyze your setting.

Because classrooms and programs vary, we can't tell you exactly how to implement the research-based principles and suggestions described in the coming chapters. Before you begin reading, think about the setting in which you work. Try to find a description of your program or classroom using the checklist on page 4.

2. Identify what you want to know about teaching reading.

Do you have a specific goal in mind? What do you already know? Consider this definition: [Reading is]...a complex system of deriving meaning from print that requires all of the following:

  • the skills and knowledge to understand how phonemes, or speech sounds, are connected to print;
  • the ability to decode unfamiliar words;
  • the ability to read fluently;
  • sufficient background information and vocabulary to foster reading comprehension;
  • the development of appropriate active strategies to construct meaning from print;
  • the development and maintenance of a motivation to read. [Partnership for Reading reading_defined.html]

Which elements of this definition raise questions in your mind? What topics would you like to learn more about? Which of the reading-related skills are most appropriate as the focus of instruction for the learners in your class? Do you know which components to work on? Do you know how to assess learners' reading needs? Do you know how to deal with varied needs in a multi-level setting?

3. Read to find answers to your questions.

Consider your learners and your setting as you read, and think about ways to implement the research-based principles. This book will help you find answers to some of your questions, but it probably also will raise additional questions about how you can begin to incorporate reading instruction in your classroom or improve your current practice.


Class Composition:

Which of these describes your class?

1. All levels of basic-skills learners and English-language learners in one class

2. ESOL learners and native English speakers (basic-skills learners) in separate classes; all skill levels together in each class

3. Separate classes for different goals and ability levels:

  • Basic literacy (0-3 GE)
  • ABE (4-8 GE)
  • ASE or GED (9-12 GE)
  • Beginning ESOL
  • Intermediate ESOL
  • Advanced ESOL

Which of these describes your class?

1. Combination of programs and funding streams represented in one class:

  • Family literacy-enrolled parents
  • Basic skills or GED-focused learners
  • Work-focused/welfare clients
  • Employer-sponsored learners

2. Separate classes for different programs and learner goals

Instructional Format:

Which of these describes your class?

  • Individualized instruction: learners study alone using workbooks or computer programs to complete assignments based on their assessed needs and goals, with teacher assistance as needed (sometimes described as a learning-lab approach)
  • Whole-class group instruction
  • Small-group instruction (3-6 learners)
  • Whole-class and small-group instruction
  • Individual tutoring by professionals or volunteers
  • Combination of two or more of the above formats

With your classroom in mind, consider as you read whether or how a change in structure or format might allow you to better meet the reading needs of the learners in your program. When you know what it takes to make a difference, you may find some changes are within your control.

4. Make a plan to continue learning.

Find out how you can build on this beginning to learn more about reading instruction and better meet the needs of the learners in your program. Depending on your interests and needs, one or more of the following resources may be helpful.

The U.S. Office of Vocational and Adult Education (OVAE): Division of Adult Education and Literacy (DAEL) is working with states to develop new teacher training on evidence-based reading instruction practices. Information about the STAR (STudent Achievement in Reading) program is available at: ovae/pi/AdultEd/index.html

  • Education and training
    • College or university course work in reading
    • Training offered by state or local staff development programs
    • Specialized training in one of the instruction programs designed for beginning readers
  • Print materials
    • Kruidenier, J. (2002). Research-based principles for adult basic education reading instruction. Washington, DC: National Institute for Literacy.
    • National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). (2000). Report of the National Reading Panel. Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction: Reports of the subgroups. (NIH Publication No. 00-4754). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. Available on-line:
  • Web-based resources
  • Current research studies

In 2002, the National Institute for Literacy, in partnership with the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), and the U.S. Department of Education (Office of Vocational and Adult Education) funded six multi-year research studies aimed at identifying or designing effective program structures and models for adult literacy instruction. Watch for information on the findings of the Adult Literacy Research Network. For more information check the U.S. Department of Education website readingabs.html?exp=0

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