TitleLearner’s Engagement in Adult Literacy Education
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2006
AuthorsBeder, H, Tomkins, J, Medina, P, Riccioni, R, Deng, W
Type of ArticleAdult
KeywordsAdult, Educators, Engagement, Grouping, Individualized Group Instruction, Learners

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 engagement—how the educational environment affects how and whether learners engage. Although both traditions are important, in this study we have focused on the second tradition—how 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 (2000–2005), 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.