Thursday, August 7, 2014

Looking for a Place to Upgrade your Reading Skills?

By Dr. Deborah Young
(as printed in August 2014 issue of LDAU Newsletter, pages 1-3 -- official publication of the Learning Disabilities Association of Utah)

As adults in our society, we are expected to graduate from high school and then either wholeheartedly enter the world of work or delay full-time employment until we graduate from college or trade school. Based on the mandate from our own governor in his 2010 State of the State address, at least 66% of us between the ages of 20 to 64 are now expected to “have a post-secondary degree or certificate” by 2020.

This pathway from high school to college may be appropriate for many high school graduates, but not all. For example, currently, many teens are graduating from Utah high schools without college-level reading skills. Some of these graduates have learning problems. Other graduates do not do well enough in school to successfully enroll directly into college after high school. And, what about the teenagers who didn't finish high school? Or, what about the adults who have been out of school for many years and their skills need re-tooling? Then what?

Utah has only a few programs available for adults to enhance their current reading skills. Some are run by library or nonprofit organizations, some are run by school districts or community colleges, and some are run by for-profit companies. Regardless of which program is available to you, what should you look for in a good, effective adult reading program? Here are some questions to ponder.
  • Assessment. Does the program assess learning strengths and needs and then use the results to tailor instruction for the individual? Do the learners and teachers continually assess and adjust instructional effectiveness? How do they aid learners in transferring skills and strategies to reading opportunities outside of the instructional setting?
  • Content & Materials. Does the program include the five components considered to be necessary for result-oriented reading instruction – phonemic awareness (manipulate units of sounds, like word beginnings, word endings, or syllables), phonics (know relationship between sounds and their associated symbols), fluency (read smoothly, accurately, and with appropriate speed), vocabulary (understand words and their uses in specific contexts), and comprehension (understand and use text-based information)? What is the role of writing within this instruction? Is writing used to reinforce and explore all aspects of reading instruction? Are real books and real-world materials included? Are these materials related to learners’ goals? For instance, if someone needs to get a driver’s license, is the driver’s license manual one of the “books” being used for instruction? Does instruction engage all three learning styles – auditory, visual, and tactile/kinesthetic?
  • Teaching methods. Is the instruction systematic? Is there an obvious progression? Is the instruction explicit? Does a live instructor (or a well-executed video) actually show the specific steps needed to perform a reading strategy? Does this instruction include the conditions and purposes of these strategies? Does instruction include scaffolding – where the teacher explains, demonstrates, and models the new skill or strategy, and then guides learners through the process of practicing the skill or strategy until learners can perform independently? Does instruction actively engage the learners? Are instructional activities and materials relevant? Are the instructional methods used based on research evidence or through the consensus of expert practitioners? Is a combination of group versus individual instruction available? Is a combination of live versus electronic instruction available?
The questions above focus on selecting a strong, effective reading program. The best program for you, however, depends on how you learn best. The more you understand about what you need to help you learn, then the more you can decide which program will help you the most. What questions do you need to ask in order to suit your learning style? Take your questions with you when you check out an adult reading program near you. What to know more about what to look for? Then check out these resources:

   Kruidenier, John R. (2002). Research-based principles for Adult Basic Education reading instruction. Accessed at on 5/22/14.
   Learning Point Associates. (2004). A closer look at the five essential components of effective reading instruction: A review of scientifically based reading research for teachers. Accessed at on 5/22/14.
   McShane, Susan. (2005). Applying research in reading instruction for adults: First steps for teachers. Accessed at on 5/22/14.
   National Reading Panel. (no date). Five Components of Reading Instruction Frequently Asked Questions. Accessed at on 5/22/14.

Dr. Deborah Young, with the help from many community volunteers, transforms English-speaking adults with low reading skills into skilled, passionate, habitual, critical readers, writers, and mathematicians! You can contact Dr. Young at

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