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International Review of Education

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Adult literacy -- Research and Pedagogy


Practice engagement theory (PET) posits that individuals’ literacy proficiencies develop as a by-product of their engagement in everyday reading and writing practices and, reciprocally, that literacy proficiencies affect levels of engagement in reading and writing practices. This suggests that literacy training which increases engagement in meaningful practices might generate proficiency growth. Research has shown that this approach does indeed seem to be effective in improving (adult) learners’ literacy proficiency. A number of cross-sectional comparisons of participants’ and non-participants’ performance in various training activities, as well as quantitative modelling of adults’ proficiency growth in longitudinal studies have confirmed the theoretical assumptions of PET. The authors of this article describe the first application of PET to literacy and numeracy development in a longitudinal study of a nationally representative adult population. Their investigation followed a sample of adults initially interviewed and assessed in the German component of the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), adding longitudinal data from three additional waves of the national extension study (PIAAC-L), which included repeated assessments of literacy and numeracy proficiency over a period of three years. The authors’ quantitative modelling of the growth of literacy and numeracy proficiency over time provides strong support for PET. Their comparisons of how various practice engagement indexes predict growth of literacy and numeracy proficiencies indicate that reading engagement is the strongest predictor of literacy growth and maths engagement is the strongest predictor of numeracy growth. The authors conclude their article by considering their findings’ implications for sustainable development, lifelong learning policy and future.


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