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Review of  Review of Adult Learning and Literacy, Volume 4

Reviewer: Stacia Ann Levy
Book Title: Review of Adult Learning and Literacy, Volume 4
Book Author: John Comings Barbara Garner Cristine Smith
Publisher: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 16.431

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Date: Fri, 11 Feb 2005 11:48:16 -0800
From: Stacia Levy
Subject: Review of Adult Learning and Literacy, vol. 4

EDITORS: Comings, John; Garner, Barbara; Smith, Cristine
TITLE: Review of Adult Learning and Literacy, Volume 4
SUBTITLE: Connecting Research, Policy, and Practice
PUBLISHER: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
YEAR: 2004

Stacia Levy, University of the Pacific


Intended for policymakers, teachers, and scholars of adult basic education
and adult ESL (English as a Second Language) programs, this book is part
of a series of volumes of the National Center for the Study of Adult
Learning and Literacy (NCSALL) that address major issues and research in
adult learning. Topics covered in the papers of this volume include the
following: the interaction of race, class, gender, and sexual orientation
in adult literacy and effects on power within the programs; motivation of
workplaces in providing education programs; implications of technology and
adult literacy and learning; application of constructive-developmental
theories of adult development to ABE (Adult Basic Education) and ESOL
(English for Speakers of Other Languages) practices, and changes in adult
literacy theory.


The forward is by Delores Perin, who addresses special issues in adult
literacy research, such as the difficulty in collecting data because of
the transient nature of the subject population. Part of the purpose of
this book is to suggest ways to design and interpret research in adult
literacy. Perin states the latest data available suggests that the largest
portions of adults with low literacy skills are at an intermediate, rather
than lowest, level of performance, while the bulk of the research has
focused on lower levels, giving us a need for research on intermediate

Chapter 1: This chapter, by Thomas Sticht, reviews the major events and
issues of 2001, most notably, of course, the terrorist attacks of
September 11. This seems rather strange, given the book's 2004 publication
date. This set an expectation for much of the information in the chapter
of being dated, although the author does address some perennial issues in
the field, such as the difficulty of programs in securing funding. The
author also addresses the new organizations forming to support adult
literacy, important reading research findings, and initiatives to address
the needs of the growing ESL population.

Chapter 2: In this chapter, the author, Deborah D'Amico, provides a
critical look at race, class, gender, and sexual orientation in adult
literacy programs. She reviews demographics, presents past and current
methods of addressing the issue of diversity, and gives examples of models
to grapple with bias in programs for both staff and students, as well as
strategies for staffing, instruction, and research.

Chapter 3: Here the author, Alec Levenson, addresses the role of
workplace education in building adult basic education programs and
addresses theories of human capital, or skills workers bring to their
jobs, as motivation for employers to provide these programs. He also
reviews the topic of the effectiveness of workplace adult literacy
programs. His recommendations are to provide more public funds to support
such programs and professional development. He also poses questions for

Chapter 4: In this chapter, Regie Stites examines new technology in adult
education and literacy programs. The author also reviews the research,
finding evidence of positive outcomes for use of technology in literacy
programs and discusses barriers to its use: limited accessibly, cost, and
practitioners' lack of expertise in incorporating technology in learning.
The author concludes by suggesting positive outcomes of investing to
overcome such barriers.

Chapter 5: In this chapter authors Deborah Hesling, Eleanor Drago-
Severson, and Robert Kegan review various adult development theories,
focusing in particular on the constructive-developmental model, or
theories about how individuals understand their world in terms of their
own development, and its implications for ABE/ESOL. They provide
recommendations for instruction and program design to support learning.

Chapter 6: Here the author, Sharan Merriam, reviews past and current
adult learning theories and includes an annotated bibliography of key
resources on adult learning theory. Topics covered include andragogy,
critical perspectives, and theories of the role of body, spirit, and
emotion in learning.


My main concern about this book is its apparent slowness in coming to
publication: no book published in 2004 should begin by discussing
September 11, 2001 as a current event. Particularly puzzling is that this
volume is said to be one of a series of 'annual' publications on adult
learning. The book also opens by discussing the results of two reports on
adult education from the National Center of Education Statistics (NCES)
and the National Reporting System (NRS), going into such detail that it is
likely to confuse anyone not deeply involved in the field of adult

After this rocky beginning, the book in general seems to provide a
thorough overview of the issues involved in education programs that serve
adults, both the theoretical and the practical. The book is concise, only
216 pages long aside from the reference list and index, yet it goes into
sufficient detail on most of the issues. For example, chapter 2, which
discusses the demographics of enrollment in ABE/ESL programs, could be
just a dry recitation of statistics, but it is not. Instead, the author
analyzes the reasons and implications for the participation of different
groups: why women outnumber men, for example, in adult basic education
classes. Also, in theories of adult learning in chapter 5, issues
addressed are age, gender, and the constructive-development model of
learning, with the four levels of adult learning broken down and detailed
thoroughly. I find this chapter particularly valuable for teachers of
adult learners, who often trained to teach elementary or high school
children, and have had little or no instruction on the teaching of adults.
This chapter details well why adults behave in the classroom as they do,
the expectations as learners they bring with them, and the implications
that has for instruction.

The authors also do a particularly good job in calling for more research
in such areas as workplace learning and pointing out the need for
additional funding because such research as we have shows the general
effectiveness of most available programs that serve this often-neglected


Stacia Levy is an English and education professor in California. She
recently completed her dissertation, which examined the vocabulary
patterns found in college student and professional writing. Her areas of
research interest include academic writing instruction, adolescent and
adult literacy, and vocabulary acquisition.

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