Nearly half the population is struggling

Australian Bureau of Statistics research on adult literacy makes it clear that many adults are struggling with literacy. People at literacy level 1 or 2 don’t really have enough literacy skills to cope with the complex demands of modern life (details here). Here’s how Australians scored:

ABS Adult Literacy survey 2013It’s rather astonishing that this has not had much media attention, and that there’s been no more recent research, since good literacy skill levels are closely related to achievement in education, employment, wealth and health in later life.

Curriculum quality issues

As a university student in the 1980s, I volunteered at an adult literacy program. I recently threw out a few of the teaching materials I’d kept from that time, which made me realise why I didn’t enjoy the experience or choose to continue.

The program was well-meaning, but vague and unstructured, and based firmly on Whole Language principles, whereas students were much more likely to have needed to have the sounds and spellings of English to be broken down for them and taught explicitly and systematically. So the learners didn’t learn a lot, we mostly just wasted time.

Finding a good synthetic phonics program suitable for adults

Click here for my list of synthetic phonics-type literacy catch-up programs which are suitable for adults.

In particular, I’d recommend:

Games such as TRUGS and apps like the ABC Reading Magic and ABC Spelling Magic ones and the Oz Phonics 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 apps, and the CVC Phonics Spelling Practice app, are also suitable for adults.

My own Spelfabet materials are also intended for use in teaching phonemic awareness, spelling patterns and word structure to learners of any age.

Where are the Synthetic Phonics courses for adults?

If you go into Google and pretend to be a not very literate adult and try to search for help with spelling and reading, most of what comes up doesn’t look a lot different from the program I volunteered with all those years ago, basically Whole Language programs.

The 2011 National Foundation Skill Strategy for Adults set a clear and ambitious target for improving the ABS stats on adult literacy, but when I opened it up and did a search through the document for the word “phonics”, it wasn’t there. Given that we know that most people who struggle with literacy have either poor phonemic awareness, poor spelling pattern knowledge, or both, that’s a bit of a worry.

The Skills for Education and Employment program provides free training, but phonics doesn’t seem to get a mention in this either.

Maybe neighbourhood houses or other providers of literacy training are out there doing super-duper, explicit, systematic, synthetic phonics, but just not bragging about it. If anyone knows of providers who are, please let me know about them via Likewise if anyone in the adult literacy sector wants to talk about teaching methods and resources, I’m all ears.

7 responses to “Adults”

  1. […] the literacy drum again. Today they were talking about adult literacy, starting from the fact that almost half the adult population does not have the literacy skills to take advantage of the exciting economic opportunities our […]

  2. Daniel says:

    Hi I’am a elderiy person in my late 60’s and have never been able to spell well even worse at dictation. Can you advise me on any programme that can help me sound out words?

    • alison says:

      Hi Daniel, I think you’re looking for a computer game or a set of workbooks to help you with spelling, but without knowing what you can and can’t spell it’s pretty hard to know what to suggest. I think the best thing to do would be to find a teacher or therapist who can assess your skills and difficulties, and provide you with a personalised plan, as it’s much more complex teaching older learners who have gaps in their knowledge but often some strong foundational skills, but might also have habits needing to be overcome. Sorry that’s not the answer you probably wanted, but a good teacher is really what would help you more than anything you can buy off the shelf. Alison

  3. Natasha Lukic says:

    This is something I’ve been working on, tutoring adults usually with dyslexia working primarily on phonics. Most resources are inappropriate for age. It just seems to be a massive gap in education as you said and I’m yet to find a program that is designed for adults. I’d love to work further on this but it’s difficult to find support.

  4. […] the literacy drum again. Today they were talking about adult literacy, starting from the fact that almost half the adult population does not have the literacy skills to take advantage of the exciting economic opportunities our […]

  5. […] and migrant kids. Many parents have signed my permission forms with a cross, and I’m aware of Australia’s adult literacy statistics. So I know that many parents can’t actually read to their kids, because they can’t read. […]

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