Webcasts From Assessment to Practice Part II: Research-Based Approaches to Teaching Reading to Adults Q & A

From Assessment to Practice: Research-Based Approaches to Teaching Reading to Adults

Responses to Part II Webcast Viewer Questions

Prepared by John Kruidenier, Rosalind Davidson, and Susan McShane
for the National Institute for Literacy
March, 2008


The webcast entitled From Assessment to Practice: Research-based Approaches to Teaching Adults to Read was presented in September, 2007. The presenters, Rosalind Davidson, John Kruidenier, and Susan McShane, used two components of reading, alphabetics and comprehension, to illustrate research-based practices and the direct link between research and practical approaches to teaching adults to read. Responding to requests from webcast viewers, the Institute decided to present a follow-up webcast by Davidson, Kruidenier, and McShane focusing on the other major components of reading, fluency and vocabulary. At the end of the webcast, viewers asked a number of questions that the presenters did not have time to answer. As happened during the first webcast, the moderator, Sandra Baxter, asked the presenters to prepare brief written responses to these questions that could then be posted. These responses are presented below.

To respond to the questions, the presenters first grouped them into the categories listed below. If two questions were essentially the same, they were listed together, separated by a slash (/). The responses to the questions are listed by category. The primary respondent's initials appear at the end of each answer.

The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent the policies of the National Institute for Literacy.
No official endorsement by the National Institute for Literacy for any product, commodity, service, or enterprise is intended or inferred.


Assessment / Reading Profiles Website
Teaching Strategies
Specific Teaching Materials
ESL Questions
Questions Answered During Webcast (not answered here)

Responses to Questions


Question: Why in the research does it say to start at Instructional level rather than starting at mastery to give adults a comfort level and encouragement?

Response: Independent level materials are appropriate for practice to gain speed and phrasing, Instructional level passages for practice to increase accuracy (decoding in context). (RD and SM)


Question: What about metacognition? Should that be another component of reading, or is it assumed within the other components? Is there research on working with adult learners on metacognition?

Response: There is no experimental ABE research on teaching metacognition specifically. We know from the K-12 research, however, that effective comprehension instruction does teach knowledge of comprehension strategies and when to use them. Susan discussed an effective comprehension strategy called self-monitoring during the first webcast. The think-aloud strategy is an example of self-monitoring or comprehension-monitoring while reading. It teaches students how to "think about thinking" (metacognition) or to think about how they comprehend as they read (metacomprehension). (JK and SM)


Question: At what grade level would you consider an adult literate? In other words, when would they graduate from literacy classes?

Response: Students who pass the GED test (high school equivalency test) are usually considered "graduates" of the Adult Education system. In this case, the high school level (12th grade level) would be the defacto cut-off level. There are, however, many definitions for "literate." (JK and SM)


Assessment / Reading Profiles Website

Question: Do you have an assessment that you can recommend to determine the independent, instructional, and frustration level?

Response: No, but the levels are easy to determine. Start with oral reading passages of about 100 words at the level the learner achieved on the reading comprehension test you use or on a Word Recognition Test such as the one on the ASRP website. If at that level the reader has difficulty with less than 5% of the words, this is her independent reading level. If there are more than 4% but less than 10% word errors, this is her instructional level. Reading passages that cause decoding difficulties of more than 10% of the words will be frustrating for the learner. (RD)


Question: What is the location of readability formulas that are easy to use?

Response: See the Readability section on the ASRP website (RD)


Question: Are readability levels really accurate? I tend to believe that adults can read pretty much anything if there is sufficient support. Is that true or proven at all?

Response: The goal in teaching reading is to help learners raise their Independent reading level. Readability levels are approximations but they do not vary very much one from the other since all are based on similar processes.

Most readability formulas are based on length of words and number of words in the sentences (notable exceptions include qualitative assessments of readability, such as the one presented in Qualitative Assessment of Text Difficulty by Chall, Bissex, Conard, and Harris-Sharples). A mathematical formula can only tell you so much. So, yes, sometimes, you will find the readability level is not a good indicator of difficulty. There are, for instance, many short words that are not in our readers' vocabularies, and if the reader is not familiar with the subject matter of a piece of text, even if it's simply written (as judged by the formulas), it may not be easily understood by all readers. One example would be simply written health-related materials. Even the most reader-friendly of these assume some background knowledge. At the same time, I don't think we can say that adults can read "pretty much anything with support" because some people have very limited literacy skills. (RD, SM and JK)



Question: Where can I get a Rapid Automatized Naming Chart?

Response: The chart is given as a slide on this archived webcast.

  • Click on Presentation Slides (PowerPoint file).
  • Click through the slides to find the one with the RAN test. (RD)


Question: Again, if the RAN (Rapid Automatic Naming) is high what does this indicate?

Response: It means that the learner is slow in the process of looking at a word, applying their decoding skills to decode it, and then saying it. It is important for these learners to work toward automaticity in reading sight words and in basic decoding of unfamiliar words. They will need extra practice with guided oral reading to improve their reading rate. (RD)


Question: What about teaching scanning and skimming techniques?

Response: These might be used for understanding texts (comprehension) but not for fluency. Previewing a text by scanning the text, looking for headings, and reading just the headings would be an example of a comprehension strategy. Skimming or scanning could be used to generate questions which the reader would try to answer when reading. When working on reading fluency, learners should read the entire text; it should be more than skimming and scanning. (SM and JK)


Question: In terms of developing fluency, what role should controlled texts play? Also, have "read alouds" of non-controlled texts benefited learners alongside repeated guided oral readings?

Response: Controlled texts, as I understand the term, are controlled for difficulty, based on the learner's reading level. Generally, I think if you are using controlled texts, you are probably using a textbook series or curriculum. If so, these should be appropriate for repeated oral reading to develop speed, and improve phrasing and expression.

I'm not sure what the term "read-alouds" refers to. Is the teacher or the student doing the reading? The teacher might read a passage first as a model (one way to provide the guidance referred to in "guided repeated oral reading"), before the learner reads it. This is one of the approaches included in the research. As to using non-controlled texts, I think it would depend upon how difficult the material is. One recommendation is to use more difficult material to improve a reader's ability to decode words in context. However, one would probably not want use material that is too difficult-as in "frustration level."

The teacher read-aloud approach was one of two approaches used in a descriptive study based on 27 adult learners. Here's the reference for the study: Greenberg, D., Rodrigo, V., Berry, A., Brinck, T, & Joseph, H. (Summer 2006). Implementation of an extensive reading program with adult learners. Adult Basic Education 16 (2), 81-95. (SM)



Question: The denotative meaning of words is relatively easy to teach--but what about teaching connotative or figurative meaning and word collocations? Any research or teaching suggestions on those?

Response: Figurative meanings are best taught in the context of an illustrative sentence or passage. This is true also for connotative meanings, but teaching affixes and root word derivations is a significant skill to teach to get at connotative meanings. (RD)


Question: What is the link for the Isabel Beck resource? / In the last 3 minutes of you presentation you mentioned a resource that was reader friendly what was it? / What book did Susan reference at the end of her presentation? I thank you.

Response: It's "Bringing Words to Life" by Beck, McKeown, and Kucan. (SM)



Question: Could you give a synopsis of suggestions for teaching critical thinking skills for high school diploma students enrolled in adult education?

Response: Yes, please refer to the first webcast where comprehension was presented. Many of the comprehension strategies involve critical thinking. (SM)


Question: What do you think is the best way for students to organize the large number of vocabulary introduced over the course of a semester?

Response: Some teachers have had students keep "personal dictionaries"-notebooks in which they record the new words learned, with definitions, and sample sentences or phrases for each. If they're using a particular dictionary, they could also include the appropriate dictionary page number, so they could look it up for a refresher, if need be.

If the teacher approaches vocabulary instruction systematically, then the learners could be encouraged to put the words in different categories in their notebooks, such as signal words, science, law and government, history, math, etc. When words are taught incidentally as they are encountered in a piece of text, the teacher and students could decide in which category the words belong. (SM)


Teaching Strategies

Question: Is it better to pre-teach new words, stop and teach them in context or teach them after reading?

Response: All of the above and more - see the vocabulary section in Applying Research in Reading Instruction for Adults: First Steps for Teachers. It's partly a matter of teacher judgment. If there are lots of possibly unfamiliar words, you will probably want to pre-teach some of the important ones, so you can limit the number of interruptions during the reading. (RD and SM)


Question: What benefits or problems are there in assigning extensive texts, like simple novels?

Response: It depends on the level of the text. Is it at the Independent or Instructional reading level of the learners? If it is to gain background knowledge or improve fluency, or to encourage reading, a text close to their Independent level would be appropriate. If it is used for reading accuracy or guided oral reading, a text at the Instructional level could be used BUT only if it is of high interest to the readers. (RD)


Question: What teaching instruction is most useful for those individuals who present serious processing deficiencies?

Response: Try to assess the reason(s) for the problem - Memory? Hearing/distinguishing sounds? Articulating letter combinations? General cognitive ability? Whatever the cause, gains will only result from a sequentially structured program of decoding and oral reading with 'over teaching' and practice. (RD)


Question: Do you recommend SRA kits of reading cards for adult ESL intermediate level readers? I am pro and con. I like the reading practice but I like more interaction between teacher and student or student to student.

Response: Yes, structured programs are fine as a basis for instruction, but you need to include time for other reading activities. (RD)


Question: Are reading skills best taught within a reading class exclusively, or as an integral part of a communications class?

Response: Ideally reading skills should be addressed in all classes - even math, but instructional reading has to have its own block of time in which to present sequential lessons and practice. (RD)


Question: Any suggestions for working with very low level students in a multilevel setting?

Response: This is not an ideal situation of course, but I know that in some programs, this is what you have. Do you have a teaching assistant who could get training in one of the structured curricula (Lindamood-Bell, Wilson, Corrective Reading, etc.) and then work with the students one-on-one or in very small groups? Do you have space for them to meet apart from the rest of the learners at least a couple of times each week?

Another possibility would be to use volunteers, but they would also need training in one of the programs. Do you have a community-based literacy program in your area? If so, maybe they could send a trained volunteer to help out in the class. Of course, the effectiveness of a volunteer depends on his/her knowledge of reading instruction and/or additional training.

These are the only thoughts I have on this difficult question. The very low readers need a structured approach with lots of explicit teaching and regular review. That's hard to provide in the kind of multi-level setting many programs have. (SM)


Question: Teacher read-alouds would also support vocabulary growth and model fluency.

Response: I think teacher read-alouds have been used for more than one purpose, and I don't know about specific research related to this practice. The teacher would be providing a model for fluent reading, and if she discusses some of the terms and how they're used, it's also an opportunity for introducing vocabulary in a meaningful context. You would of course, need more than one exposure/example, so the teacher would have to include other activities using the new words. And of course, the students also need to read the text to improve fluency, so the material should be at an appropriate level. (SM)


Question: No one has mentioned the importance of writing to support reading.

Response: During the last webcast, we talked about summary writing (summarizing what you have read) and the beneficial effects this can have on reading comprehension. Spelling can also be used to work on reading (alphabetics). (JK)


Specific Teaching Materials

Question: How about urban lit in public school classrooms with street savvy, shut down guys? / What about urban lit with GED, high school and adult intermediate students in public school? / Many of the guys are shut down and disinterested. Or a book such as Makes Me Wanna Holler by Nathan McCall?

Response: Just about any text can be used when teaching reading as long as the teaching strategies are effective ones (this includes making sure that the difficulty level of the text is appropriate). For example, comprehension strategies could probably be taught with any of the texts listed above (see the previous webcast for suggestions for comprehension strategies). Vocabulary exercises could also draw on the content in a wide variety of texts. (JK)

I have no experience to speak from on this one, and I'm not familiar with the book. There is, however, a lot of material written recently on adolescent literacy instruction. One example is NIFL's book, titled "What Content-Area Teachers Should Know About Adolescent Literacy." The section on motivation is relevant to the question. (SM)


ESL Questions

Question: Are there any materials for beginning ESL literacy students that are based on this research?

Response: Research with adults has not adequately addressed approaches to teaching reading to those who are learning English as a second language (ESL students). An upcoming issue of an Institute publication, QEd, has an article by Heide Wrigley that addresses some of the important issues that teachers should consider when teaching reading to a second language learner. For example, how much schooling did the student have in her native language? Can she read in her native language? How good is the student's English; how good is the student's vocabulary?


Question: I teach adult ESL students where the focus in reading instruction is on strategies for comprehension of written text read silently. How important is it for them to develop oral reading fluency? What kinds of texts would be best for repeated oral reading?

Response: It is important for all readers to develop fluency in reading although one would not expect ESL adults to read without an accent. When students read aloud, it is easier for teachers to see where they are having difficulties and to make useful suggestions. It is important, when working with ESL students, to differentiate between oral reading difficulties that result from an accent (difficulty pronouncing some English sounds) and difficulties that result from problems with basic sound-symbol relationships. In response to the second question, there are really no restrictions on texts that can be used for repeated oral reading other than that they be at an appropriate level, as discussed during the webcast.


Question: Can you suggest some resources for graded and leveled reading for assessing adult ESL students' reading abilities?

Response: The same passages used with other students can also be used with ESL students. Some suggest that having ESL students read graded passages in their first language can give teachers valuable information about their general level of literacy (how well they are able to read in their first language). (JK)


Questions Already Answered at the End of the Webcast

(These questions are not answered here. Please view the webcast or read the transcripts for responses.)

  • Can you briefly explain what the independent, instructional, and frustrational reading levels are?
  • How can guided oral reading be used in a multi-level adult classroom?
  • If all components of reading are assessed then effective developmental instruction needs to focus on individualized needs; therefore, are computerized individualized programs best?
  • What kind of work outside of class can be given to students to reinforce the principles discussed today?
  • Could you please address what type of materials are appropriate for the adult learner. Would it be acceptable to use children's books?