OVAE: Office of Vocational and Adult Education
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Writing in Adult Education

Research and Evaluation | Noteworthy Practices | Additional Links

The challenges and demands of the 21st century workplace require adult learners to develop and strengthen skills in writing and for educators to identify what works best in developing those skills. Writing skills act as a gatekeeper for further education and training, and significantly affect employability and career options. The ability to express oneself in writing is a critical skill needed for success as an adult learner, employee, and citizen. It is a basic requirement for participation in civic life and the global economy.

The role of adult basic education in strengthening writing skills is integral to the U.S. Department of Education's vision for adult education.

Research and Evaluation

  • Writing Development is one program area of study at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). This programmatic focus seeks to understand the development of orthographic processing, spelling, written composition, written expression, knowledge transformation, meta-cognitive skills, and compositional fluency. Programmatic emphases include foundational and translational science investigating the cognitive, behavioral, instructional, and neurobiological contributions to the development of these skills, and the relationships among oral language, reading, and written language skills. The program particularly encourages longitudinal and mixed-method approaches to these topics.

  • The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) presently has two requests out for applications (RFA's) that focus on adult education. The long term outcome of RFA 84.305A , #16 – Adult Education, will be an array of tools and strategies (e.g., assessments, instructional approaches, programs) that have been documented to be effective for improving reading, writing, and mathematics. The second RFA 84.305C , #4 Topic One: Requirements for the National Research and Development Center on Cognition and Adult Literacy focuses on the underlying cognitive processes that contribute to or inhibit reading and/or basic mathematics performance of adult learners and to develop and test interventions to support instruction of adult learners in ABE, English literacy, or ASE programs.

  • Writing to Read: Evidence for How Writing Can Improve Reading by Steve Graham and Michael Hubert is a report that draws on a statistical review of the research to highlight writing techniques shown to enhance students' reading. One often-overlooked tool for improving students' reading, as well as their learning from text, is writing. Instruction in writing not only improves how well students write, but it also enhances students' ability to read a text accurately, fluently, and comprehensively. Three closely related instructional practices are identified as being effective in improving students reading: (1) have students write about the texts they read, (2) teach students the writing skills and processes that go into creating text, and (3) increase how much students write.

  • In May 2009, the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute for Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and the National Institute for Literacy conducted an invitational scientific workshop on writing development and instruction. This two-day workshop convened approximately 15 nationally recognized writing researchers. The workshop provided a forum to identify what is known about writing across the lifespan; topics that remain understudied; barriers that might impede future research; and ways writing can be connected to other basic skills and content areas. The proceedings will be made available to the broad education research community and other stakeholders through a scientific summary or edited volume.

  • Learning to Achieve : A Review of the Research Literature on Serving Adults with Learning Disabilities is a report by Juliana M. Taymans, H. Lee Swanson, Robin L. Schwarz, Noel Gregg, Michael Hock, and Paul Gerber covers six topics: assessment, English language learners, accommodations, teaching methods, transition, and impact of LD. General implications for practice are provided as well as those specific to the domain of writing.

Noteworthy Practices

  • Writing Next: Effective Strategies To Improve Writing of Adolescents in Middle And High Schools by Steve Graham and Dolores Perin, found several elements that are effective to teach. Specific strategies from the report involve:

    • Writing Strategies—teaching students strategies for planning, revising, and editing their work

    • Summarization—explicitly and systematically teaching students how to summarize texts

    • Collaborative Writing—promoting instructional arrangements where students work together to plan, draft, revise, and edit their work

    • Specific Product Goals—assigning students specific, reachable goals for writing they are to complete

    • Word Processing—using computers and word processors as instructional supports for writing assignments

  • Supporting Teacher Quality Across Content Areas in Adult Education: Teaching Excellence in Adult Literacy (TEAL) is a project designed to improve the quality of teaching in adult education in content areas and to enhance state and local adult education providers' capacity to understand and apply evidence-based instructional practices that promote student learning. Beginning with the content area of writing for Adult Basic Education (ABE) students, the TEAL Center will offer a program of professional development and individualized technical assistance to participating local staff in up to 12 states, project website will be available fall 2010.

Additional Links

  • The National Institute for Literacy's Basic Skills Resource Collection focuses on providing reading, writing, mathematics and numeracy resources to improve instruction in basic skills. The resources in the Basic Skills Collection assist include research articles, materials and curriculum based on research, and discussion lists that can be used to ask questions and share ideas.

  • The Reading and Writing Skills Discussion List provides an ongoing professional development forum for practitioners, advocates, researchers, learners, policy makers, and all other persons who are interested in discussing matters related to reading and writing in the field of adult literacy. This list promotes the sharing of information, research, expertise, and resources on topics such as motivation and reading/writing; diversity and reading/writing; component skills of reading/writing; reading/writing instruction, reading/writing strategies; reading/writing skills necessary for postsecondary and workplace settings; and child/adult differences in reading/writing.

  • The National Commission on Writing for America's Families, Schools, and Colleges was founded by College Board to focus national attention on the teaching and learning of writing. This effort resulted in a published series of reports on the importance of high-quality writing instruction.

  • The Neglected "R" was the first report to Congress on writing and discusses how American education will never realize its potential as an engine of opportunity and economic growth until a writing revolution puts language and communication in their proper place in the classroom. Writing is how students learn to connect the dots in their knowledge.

  • Writing: A Ticket to Work...Or a Ticket Out A Survey of Business Leaders is a survey of 120 major American corporations that were affiliated with the Business Roundtable concluded that in today's workplace, writing is a “threshold skill”. The survey indicated that writing is a ticket to professional opportunity and that employers are spending billions annually to correct writing deficiencies.

  • Instruction and Assessment for Struggling Writers: Evidence-Based Practices is a book with the focus on how to provide effective instruction to students who find writing challenging. Several federally-funded researchers have contributed to this edited volume and report their findings and suggestions for writing instruction and assessment using evidence-based practices. Summaries of the research and ideas to implement are provided. While the book targets the K-12 population, there are many suggestions offered for building students' skills at the word, sentence, and text levels that are applicable to adult basic education students.

  • Writing Research Across the Borders Conference was held in 2008 at the University of California, Santa Barbara. It focused on writing development across the lifespan, including the early acquisition of writing, writing across grade levels (K-20), in the disciplines, as well as in the workplace and other community and institutional settings. The next conference will be held in Washington, DC in 2011.

  • Teaching and Learning Writing: A Review of Research and Practice reports on what is known about the teaching and learning of writing that might be relevant to adult literacy learners. Two separate literature reviews were undertaken. The first review addressed the question – 'How do relevant studies, which conceptualise writing and writing development, contribute to an understanding of how adult literacy learners develop as writers?' The second literature review addressed the question – 'What factors in adult literacy programmes enable learners to develop effective writing skills?' This study was funded by the Department for Education and Skills in the United Kingdom as part of the national strategy for improving adult literacy and numeracy skills – Skills for Life .

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Last Modified: 06/22/2010