Reading and Research

Reading and Research

Rebecca Still, Community Learning Network

0 1 28 February 2023

knowledge to learning

I’ve recently realized I’m a curious person, meaning I have questions and I want answers. I definitely have an eager desire to know more, and I want to know more about is adult literacy.

This curiosity leads me to reading research. What I mean is, I love reading research! You might think I’m crazy, but I didn’t always love to read research. I thought research was about stats and long complicated sentences using words I didn’t even know. You might also think like I did, but I’ve learned that not all research is like that. In fact, research has had an impact on my beliefs and philosophies around literacy. It has shaped my perceptions on literacy, reading, adult learners and has changed how I do my work.


Let me tell you a story. I was a Literacy Coordinator for a volunteer adult literacy program in the early 2000’s. The Literacy Conference was coming up, and, somehow I ended up in a session on reading research. My first thought was that it would be a boring session even though Mary Norton, Director for The Learning Center in Edmonton and a though-leader in literacy was leading the discussion (I knew anything Mary was involved in would be good).

Mary gave us a research article to read, and then we explored what it meant to us. As the session went on I thought, "Wow! I didn’t know that! This is really interesting!" Well, I was hooked.

Not long after that, Mary was looking for literacy practitioners to join her in a project to learn about research in practice in adult literacy. I was intrigued and applied to participate. Research in practice is about asking questions about one’s practice and going through a process to find answers. I had lots of questions about my work with adult learners, adult literacy…and by the way what is literacy anyway? How do adults learn to read? Is it the same way children learn? What do adult learners think reading is? So many questions and no answers.

A major component of the research in practice project was to read research and think about what it meant to me. One of our first articles was by Allan Quigley, Rethinking literacy education. The critical need for practice-based change (1997). This was the first time I learned there were different philosophies or approaches to teaching reading to adults. I discovered there is no one right way to teach reading.

The more articles I read, the more my whole perceptions around literacy, learning to read, learners, and the work I was doing shifted and changed. I suddenly saw my work in a totally different light! Reading research over the years has resulted in many "aha" moments for me.

Hidden Gems

Now I know there are hidden gems in research articles. Answers I will find to my questions, concepts to ponder that will lead to more questions and new ideas to explore further.

There are the difficult research articles, full of complex sentences and technical jargon, but I’ve learned to skip over those parts and find out what they learned from the research. Other research drags me in and I keep reading to learn more. There are articles that are written about research that give me greater insight to what the research is telling us. These are often easier to read and understand.

I’d like to invite you to read an article and see what gems you can find. Listed below are some easier to read research papers and a few articles on what the research says on specific topics:

  • A tutors’ experience working with an adult learner. Hyjek, June (2021) "A Life in the Day of an Adult Literacy Tutor: A Perspective on Tutoring Adults," Literacy Practice and Research: Vol. 46 : No. 1 , Article 1. DOI: 10.25148/lpr.009344. Available at: 
  • ProLiteracy is an American literacy organization that has developed a number of Research Briefs on a specific topic. Two of the briefs look at the research around keeping learners motivated and retaining learners in programs. Look for Motivation and Adult Learners and Perspectives on Persistence: A Review of the Research on this website. You can download the briefs for free here:  
  • Stephen Reder conducted a research study over nine years to answer four questions around the impact of literacy on participants, “Longitudinal Study of Adult Learning: Challenging Assumptions” (2012). Contact me if you are interested in reading his research brief that highlights his findings.        

question markTips on reading research

  • Skim the article or research, or read the introduction to determine its complexity.
  • If the research has a lot of technical aspects to the method, I will usually skim over it and go to the end to read what the researcher learned.
  • Most research follows a set format:
    • Introduction to research and questions the research is trying to find answers to
    • Some background information often referred to as Literature Review (what other research has said related to the research question)
    • Method used to gather the research information
    • Results of the findings

 If you get hooked on reading research, or read something about adult literacy and want someone to talk with, reach out to me! I love talking about research, ponderings on research, thoughts and questions raised from research…well anything you're curious about regarding literacy and adult learners.

Rebecca Still 


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