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The Impact of Use of Authentic Materials and Activities

The Impact of Use of Authentic Materials and Activities

The Literacy Practices of Adult Learners Study (LPALS), sponsored by NCSALL, looked at changes in the literacy practices of adults as a result of attending literacy classes. Students who participate in classes that include authentic, or learner-contextualized, materials and activities are more likely to say they had started new literacy practices or had increased the amount of time spent engaging in literacy activities outside of school. This was true even when the researchers controlled for (or accounted for) students' literacy levels and the amount of time they had been attending class.

When one looks closely at the questionnaire and interview data, many of the students in the LPALS reported that they began, increased the frequency of, or stopped specific reading and writing practices when their lives changed in some way. These life changes brought with them different types of texts, different purposes and requirements for reading and writing, and different inclinations to read and write. New mothers began writing to family members for the first time after their children's births. Immigrants found new types of texts available for reading in their new country. When children began school, parents began receiving letters and directions from school authorities, many of which required written responses. New jobs meant having to learn how to read and write different types of materials, including, for example, bus or train schedules. Moving away from home meant reading and paying bills for the first time. Literacy practices (actual reading and writing in life) are always interwoven with peoples' lives and the ways in which they are lived. Classes that were sensitive to the changing nature of students' lives outside school were seen as doing a better job of supporting students in their learning of new uses for reading and writing.

With these findings, the researchers are able to provide empirical justification for the beliefs of many adult educators: Bringing the lives, needs, and interests of the students into the classroom is an integral part of best practice. Creating Authentic Materials and Activities for the Adult Literacy Classroom, A Handbook for Practitioners, a book designed to help teachers turn these findings into action in the classroom, by the LPALS research team of Erik Jacobson, Sophie Degener, and Victoria Purcell-Gates, is available now from NCSALL. Access the report online or contact Caye Caplan by phone at (617) 482-9485 to order a printed copy for a small charge. Additional articles based on this research are available in Volumes 4D (pp. 19-22) and 3D (pp. 26-27) of Focus on Basics.