Learners’ Engagement in Adult Literacy ?? Engagement in Adult Literacy Education ... Cambridge, MA 02138 NCSALL ... Learners’ Engagement in Adult Literacy Education and ,

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  • Learners Engagement in Adult Literacy Education

    Hal Beder, Jessica Tomkins, Patsy Medina, Regina Riccioni, and Weiling Deng

    Rutgers University

    NCSALL Reports #28 March 2006

    Harvard Graduate School of Education

    101 Nichols House, Appian Way Cambridge, MA 02138

    NCSALL Reports are funded by the Educational Research and Development Centers program, Award Number R309B960002, as administered by the Institute of Education Sciences (formerly Office of Educational Research and Improvement), U.S. Department of Education. However, the content of NCSALL Reports do not necessarily represent the positions or policies of the Institute of Education Sciences, or the U.S. Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal Government.

  • iii

    CONTENTS

    TABLE ............................................................................................................................................. v

    DEDICATION................................................................................................................................. vii

    EXECUTIVE SUMMARY ................................................................................................................ ix The Instructional System ............................................................................................................. ix Teachers Roles............................................................................................................................x Classroom Norms........................................................................................................................xi Implications..................................................................................................................................xi

    CHAPTER ONE: INTRODUCTION ................................................................................................ 1 Context of the Study .................................................................................................................... 1

    Individualized Group Instruction (IGI) ...................................................................................... 2 The Professional Model........................................................................................................... 2 The Adult High School............................................................................................................. 3

    Organization of the Report........................................................................................................... 3

    CHAPTER TWO: LITERATURE REVIEW...................................................................................... 5 Introduction.................................................................................................................................. 5 Cognitive Engagement ................................................................................................................ 6 Emotional and Behavioral Engagement......................................................................................14 Conclusion..................................................................................................................................21

    CHAPTER THREE: METHODS AND PROCEDURES...................................................................23 Class Selection...........................................................................................................................23 Data Collection ...........................................................................................................................24

    Video ......................................................................................................................................24 Ethnographic Observation ......................................................................................................25 Stimulated-Recall Interviews ..................................................................................................25 Teachers in Data Analysis ......................................................................................................26 Theoretical Saturation ............................................................................................................26

    The Pilot .....................................................................................................................................27 Data Analysis..............................................................................................................................27 Organization of Findings.............................................................................................................29

    CHAPTER FOUR: FINDINGS ........................................................................................................31 Very High Level of Engagement .................................................................................................31

  • iv

    Motivation ...............................................................................................................................31 Teachers Encouragement .....................................................................................................33 Voluntary Participation in an IGI Context ................................................................................34

    Materials-driven Instruction.........................................................................................................35 ABE Case Studies ......................................................................................................................35

    Silvias Basic-Skills Class .......................................................................................................36 Pat and Celias Basic-Skills Class ..........................................................................................46 Pattis Basic-Skills Class ........................................................................................................58 The AHS and GED Case Studies ...........................................................................................73 Rays GED Class....................................................................................................................94

    CHAPTER FIVE: ANALYSIS........................................................................................................109 Learners Engaging with Materials.............................................................................................109

    Conclusion............................................................................................................................111 Learners Engaging with Teachers ............................................................................................112

    Helping .................................................................................................................................112 Support.................................................................................................................................115 Facilitation ............................................................................................................................115 Conclusion............................................................................................................................116

    Learners Engaging with Learners .............................................................................................116 Conclusion............................................................................................................................117

    CHAPTER SIX: IMPLICATIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS ...................................................119 Research ..................................................................................................................................119

    A Model for Engagement and Learning in Adult Literacy......................................................119 Engagement and the Outcomes of Instruction......................................................................120 IGI.........................................................................................................................................121

    Implications for Practice............................................................................................................121 Motivation .............................................................................................................................121 The Instructional Context......................................................................................................122 Professional Development....................................................................................................124

    What Next?...............................................................................................................................124

    REFERENCES..............................................................................................................................127

  • v

    TABLE

    Table 1: Summary of Data Collection and Analysis ........................................................................28

  • vii

    DEDICATION

    This report is dedicated to the teachers, learners, and staff of the New Brunswick Public Schools Adult Learning Center from whom we have learned so much over the past five years. You are the best!

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    EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

    Engagement is mental effort focused on learning. It is important to understand how and why adult learners engage in literacy instruction because engagement is a precondition to learning progress. Researchers who study engagement conceive of it in different ways. Some focus on engagement as a cognitive, or mental, process closely related to such factors as motivation and self-efficacy. They seek to understand how the engagement process works and how it is related to learning. Others are more interested in how learning context shapes engagementhow the educational environment affects how and whether learners engage. Although both traditions are important, in this study we have focused on the second traditionhow learning context shapes engagement. We have done so for a very practical reason; to a great extent adult educators control the educational context. Thus, if they understand how the educational context shapes engagement, they can influence engagement in positive ways.

    This study was conducted at the National Labsite for Adult Literacy Education, a partnership between the National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy (NCSALL) and the New Brunswick Public Schools Adult Learning Center. The Center serves about 3,800 learners a year with basic literacy and English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) classes, preparation for the tests of the General Educational Development (GED) credential, and an adult high school that issues a school district diploma. Over a period of five years (20002005), we studied six classes: three basic literacy, two adult high school, and one GED preparation. Our methodology was qualitative, with multiple data-collection methods, including the use of video, traditional ethnographic observation, and learner interviews. The teachers of the classes we studied participated in some of the data-analysis sessions, and when they did, the session was recorded and transcribed. The transcripts were then treated as an additional data source. Multiple data sources enabled us to triangulate in data analysis. We found that there were three contextual factors that shaped engagement in the classes we studied: the instructional system, teachers roles, and classroom norms.

    The Instructional System

    Five of the six classes we studied employed an instructional strategy we have termed individualized group instruction (IGI). In IGI, at intake learners are tested to determine their literacy skills levels. Based on this diagnosis, they are placed in classes where they are assigned instructional materials at their appropriate skill levels. Learners then work individually on the materials. When they complete an exercise, teachers correct the work. If it is essentially correct, more difficult work is assigned. If it is incorrect, materials at the same level are assigned and teachers often render one-on-one instruction to help the learner. If learners become blocked during the process, teachers assist.

  • NCSALL Reports #28 March 2006

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    Because learners worked individually on assigned materials, they decided when they would engage. If they missed a class, they would simply begin where they left off in the previous session, without penalty and without missing instructional content. Learners also engaged at their own pace. Faster learners progressed more rapidly, while slower learners did not fall behind the group as they might have in a group-based class. Because the materials, rather than the teacher, primarily conveyed instructional content, the materials determined what the learner engaged in. Moreover, to a great extent the materials directions determined how the learner would engage. Learners assessed the outcomes of their engagement by how successfully they were progressing through the materials. Thus in IGI, the instructional system shaped many aspects of learners engagement. In the classes we observed, learners were highly engaged in IGI. Eyes moved along the page, pages turned, pencils wrote. Although learners occasionally took short breaks, they quickly returned to work when the break was over. As was evident from interviews with learners, at least part of the high degree of engagement was due to a high level of motivation.

    That the instructional system shapes learners engagement means that classroom management is an important concern. Management issues in an IGI setting include accurately diagnosing learners skill levels, assigning appropriate learning materials, keeping learners engaged in their work while they are waiting for help, and rendering help effectively in a one-on-one teaching environment.

    Teachers Roles

    At the Center, all teachers had to be certified in a K12 subject. Thus nearly all had K12 experience. Most, however, lacked experience in either adult education or IGI when they were first hired, which meant that teachers had to self-define their roles in relation to IGI and teaching adults, and for that reason, role behavior varied somewhat among the teachers. One teacher of a basic-level class defined her role primarily as helping her learners to get the correct answers on the teaching materials. Thus most of her efforts were directed at correcting the materials and showing learners what the correct answers were if their answers were incorrect. She rarely checked to see if learners actually comprehended the material. Although the learners in this class were consistently engaged, their level of comprehension was an issue. When the teacher left to take another job, the new teache...

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