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:
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:
- That Reading Thing
- Phonics Resources for Older Learners. Click here for sample pages.
- Sound Out Chapter Books and Workbooks (US)
- The Rip Rap books from Cumquatmay in Tasmania might interest and suit some adults.
- Toe by Toe (UK, uses a buddy system, I got my copy from DSF in Perth).
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Likewise if anyone in the adult literacy sector wants to talk about teaching methods and resources, I’m all ears.