Adult Learners | Widely Used | Programme Design | Total Literacy for Adults | Stereotypes and Inequality

Adult Learners

There is a strong focus on learners being involved in their own learning to build confidence and enjoyment in class with a view to beginning to overcome any negative feelings that many may feel from previous educational experiences. Learners practice their reading and writing skills by blending sounds together to create set words, and sentences as well as learning how to break down / decode these words in the web app. Then in the classroom situation they can build on those skills to read and write their own sentences to help build their knowledge and skills as well as confidence. Transferring their learning from using the web app and the classroom-based resources to the learners’ own real-life situations is paramount, and tutors are continually encouraged to highlight these possibilities until the learners begin to do this for themselves.

Widely Used

Our resources were originally designed to help existing speakers of English improve their literacy skills in community education settings such as colleges, charities and prisons. But, due to their revolutionary design they are now being used in a wide variety of other contexts. These include: Literacy development for those whose first language is not English (ESL / ESOL) in the UK and around the world. Special Educational Needs. Refugee Education. High School / Secondary School. As a CPD resource for teachers in Elementary / Primary School. For a full list and mini case studies of ways our resources are being used creatively by tutors please see our Case Studies and our Supporting Tutors pages.

Programme Design

The aim is to support tutors to help adults make rapid progress in their literacy skills and gain confidence as they go. By the second lesson they are starting to read and write simple sentences. This is made possible by the highly effective use of free and open digital resources for the learners and printed and digital materials for tutors and their learners to use in ‘class’. Our free and open learner web app makes it possible for learners to undertake considerable amounts of independent learning in between face-to-face tutor sessions. Having the ability to practice at times which suit the adult learner has an immense benefit to the learner and their tutor who are used to having perhaps only one or two hours of class, face to face time per week. The progression value that can be gained from this will encourage the learner to return to the web app and not look upon their time interacting with it as homework but as a more positive activity. This helps to accelerate learner progress by providing unlimited practice and instant personalised feedback, reducing some of the strain on adult literacy tutors. Tutors have access to a comprehensive range of support and training materials, including tutor handbooks with lesson plans and tutor notes in printed and digital formats. In addition, tutors also have access to our ground-breaking ‘Tutor Hub’ digital toolkit, the first of its kind in adult literacy education. You can find a more detailed description of the programme in the Prospectus Pages of this website.

Total Literacy for Adults

The educational design is based on our own practical experience as teachers and research into how people come to be able to read and write. In the English-speaking world, many learners fall through the net at school and never catch up. Currently in the UK there are more than 6 million adults with poor literacy skills, and in the USA the figure is 43 million. None of this is inevitable.

Our approach leverages the existing ability of adult learners to understand spoken English, this enables us to link the sounds of the language (phonemes) to their letters in words (graphemes). This is a ‘structured phonics’ approach, and is increasingly being used in primary / elementary schools. We call our method to teach reading and writing to adults ‘Total Literacy’*. In addition to the use of ‘structured phonics’, learners quickly develop a broad range of skills such as spelling, punctuation, alphabet awareness, and grammar. This supports the rapid development of the functional literacy skills that adults need, this is very different to the numerous reading and writing phonics schemes created for children. Learners practice their reading and writing skills by blending sounds together to create set words, and sentences as well as learning how to break down / decode these words in the web app. Then in a classroom situation they can build on those skills to read and write their own sentences together with their peers, which helps to build their knowledge, skills, and confidence. Our training materials for tutors stress the need to adapt their teaching to link to the needs and interests of learners’ real-life situations.  In addition to all this, our use of digital technologies also improves the digital literacy of learners – an essential life skill for the modern world. You can find out more on our Empowering Learners Page. [link]

* The Total Literacy concept is inspired by the ideas of the ‘Total Football’ system

Stereotypes and Inequality

There are many stereotypes in our culture about people with low basic skills, often reinforced by negative media reporting, this adds to the sense of stigma and shame that many experience. The reality is very different:

“Low-skilled adults are a diverse group. It is sometimes assumed that the majority of adults lacking basic skills are school dropouts, outside the labour market and living on benefits. In fact, rather few meet this description. The low-skilled are a surprisingly varied group, the majority are in work of some sort or other, and include a number of migrants. More than 5 million are in work.”

Adult skills in England 2016 OECD

Low literacy is indeed a contributory factor to inequality in society, but it is also a product of existing inequality. An article in the Irish Times provides a useful and thought-provoking exploration of this topic in the context of Ireland, which applies equally to the rest of the English-speaking world. Given the UK government policy focus on economic growth, it is strange that funding to develop such basic skills that enable a modern economy to function has been cut by 50% in the last 10 years*.

* Getting the basics right: The case for action on adult basic skills, The National learning and Work Institute, 2021

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