Read with Understanding - Reflections on How Adults Use This EFF Skill

"Adult illiteracy usually involves a lack of proficiency in comprehension strategies and in metacognition. Over several years, Wittrock and Kelly (1984) studied several hundred young, functionally illiterate adults. Nearly all of them could decode words, but very few of them used, monitored, or evaluated learning strategies and metacognitive processes. In these experiments, when learning strategies and metacognitive processes were taught to these students, their reading comprehension, including their ability to read on-the-job technical text, improved substantially- about 20%." 1
-Merlin C. Wittrock

"To read critically means to read intelligently. When we read the newspaper we have to think about what they want to tell you. We...don't have to believe everything we read. Before when reading the newspaper I was just trying to read the words, but now I can understand what the papers are trying to say."
-Adult learner, Santa Clara Reading Program,
Santa Clara, CA

Insights From Field Research:
Using the Standard to Guide Teaching and Learning

Marty Duncan
Sumner Adult Education, East Sullivan, ME
ABE Level 1; One-on-one tutoring, series of lessons.
Teacher data from second round of field review, conducted 1998-1999.
(Adapted from Equipped for the Future Content Standards, p. 24.)

"I felt I was working from a more solid basis than before and that if I were asked to explain what EW and I are doing, I would be able to do that in a clearer way than before."

Describe what you know about the level of performance of your students.

  • Clearly identifies purpose for reading: EW determined before and during her first session at the learning center that she wanted to learn to read so that she could function independently in specific ways, especially grocery shopping. She has also discussed a larger purpose relative to her lifelong feelings of inadequacy because of her inability to read. After more than 30 years of marriage, she has been widowed for about a year and is feeling the loss of her husband's assistance in this area of her life.
  • Chooses appropriate strategies for reading: EW explained in the first session that she wanted to learn the alphabet including the sounds of letters. She had tried to learn some of this in the past but became frustrated and gave up... We agreed to begin a list of grocery words using the names of groceries EW commonly purchased.
  • Effectively overcomes external and internal barriers to comprehension: EW is willing to discuss openly and even joke about her negative self-criticism. She is aware that she becomes irritated and sarcastic whenever she makes even the slightest mistake. At this point, she places full responsibility for the fact that she didn't learn to read squarely on her own shoulders. Though I can guess from what she has told me that there are contributing factors from her family, social, and school situation, EW seems to believe that these are minor and that her own "thick-headedness" is the real reason that she hasn't learned to read.
  • Integrates new information with prior knowledge to address reading purpose: EW and I have been using the assessment forms from Project READ, San Mateo. We discuss each week what she has learned and how she uses it. Last week, she said that she was using her practice grocery list to make one to use for shopping. This week I will ask her how she knows when she is doing something better.

What are the steps you will look for in order to know if your students are making progress toward meeting the Standard?

  • Clearly identifies purpose for reading: EW will be able to discuss information she has gathered and knowledge she has gained.
  • Chooses appropriate strategies for reading: EW will be able to say what she is doing when she is trying to figure out something she is reading. She will be able to repeat a strategy that she has previously tried. She will be able to use increasing numbers of effective strategies. She will be able to match a problem situation with a strategy.
  • Effectively overcomes external and internal barriers to comprehension: EW will be able to identify both internal and external barriers to comprehension. She will be able to use what she has learned about these barriers to improve her attitude toward herself and her ability to learn. She will be able to recognize which external barriers can and cannot be removed. She will learn strategies that can be useful in overcoming the barriers. She will be able to apply a useful strategy when confronted with the effects of a barrier.
  • Integrates new information with prior knowledge to address reading purpose: EW will give examples of the ways she uses her increased understanding and knowledge in her daily life (for example, regularly using a grocery list, regularly reading ads and comparing prices before shopping).