Two Questions for You: Ann Leonard on Adult Basic Reading Instruction Best Practices Defined

Hi Everyone,

Today marks a new iteration of Two Questions for You, where adult educators answer two questions about their practice.  Ann Leonard, an adult educator from Emily Griffith Technical College in Denver, CO, has today's installment centering on a website she created: Adult Basic Reading Instruction Best Practices Defined. I'll present her introduction and answer to question 1 today. 


"I am an Adult Basic Education (ABE) teacher and career adult educator with an M.A. in Teaching and the appropriate state-mandated credentials. I have always attended yearly conferences. Yet...

"At a turning point in my career, I recognized that my skills relative to reading interventions weren’t sufficient to support the most struggling students. I used TABE assessment scores and analyzed skills correlation charts to develop differentiated learning pathways. I incorporated TABE-correlated textbooks to anchor my skills curriculum. Many students progressed. But still…

"Many did not. And it pained me to recognize that I didn’t know why. So I embarked on a year-long, independent research project to find out.

"I started my research with the search term... “teaching reading to adults”, which was a bit embarrassing because, well, shouldn’t I already know this?

"Maybe this story resonates a bit with you. If it does, I hope you will find this website, Adult Basic Reading Instruction: Best Practices Defined, a helpful resource for your enquiry. I put it together after a year of independent research so that my colleagues could more quickly arrive at the important conclusions that I have. And if it is helpful in that regard then, ultimately, we can better offer sound, science-backed reading instruction to the many adults that rely on us for support. Maybe other reading professionals will benefit from my time and effort.

Question 1: What can we learn from the website?

"Hopefully you took the recent opportunity to engage with Dr. John Strucker, in this forum, around EBRI and diagnostic assessment of the components of reading. I was especially interested in the conversation because it was with Dr. Strucker’s 1997 NCSALL research brief “What Silent Reading Tests Alone Can’t Tell You” that my research journey began. 

"Remember, in my introduction I noted that I had been relying solely on results from the TABE, a test of silent reading comprehension, to drive my skills-based instruction. In the  brief, Dr. Strucker clearly defined the shortcomings associated with this approach while also making me aware of how little I understood available alternatives, or even the need for them.

"So I spent ages of my free time reading and following references around the world of evidence-based reading instruction, excited that everything I needed was (mostly) freely available, and had been for decades. And this point leads me to define what, for me, has been an important takeaway from my work.

"Information on the science of reading that I always needed as a practitioner to improve my practice, while not easily found in one journal or even related to one discipline, has always been available. So why was I only just finding it? 

Hard Words: Why Aren’t Kids Being Taught to Read?, by investigative journalist Emily Hanford for American Public Media, offered important insight into the history of reading instruction and why I was struggling to find success. It put the work of Dr. Strucker and others into a helpful historical and political context. (Browse the references in the website)  Have you heard of “the reading wars”? Or “phonics vs. whole language” debates? Or “Why can’t Johnny read?”  Even if the answer is no, you have certainly been affected by the reading wars as an elementary student and influenced as a teacher. 

"So what I want folks to take away from my website is this: first, that there is no substitute, in my opinion, for reading the research first-hand because, secondly, not all instructional practices, assessments, textbooks, or methodologies are rooted in the science and data of what works in reading instruction. 

"And, frankly, our students’ futures depend on us knowing this!"


Thanks so much Ann! We look forward to part 2 of this discussion!

Steve Schmidt, Moderator

LINCS Reading and Writing Community 



Welcome! And happy Monday from a super rainy and, at higher elevations, snowy, Denver metro area. My thanks to Steven Schmidt for prompting me to reflect on my passion project for the benefit of open discussion. 

I hope you will share your experience as well as critique and question my work as we engage in this important discussion.  

And if you are an adult English instructor who teaches reading at the intersection of English acquisition and ABE; I want to learn more from you about valid, normed assessments, among other things. 

Hello Steve and Ann!

First, I love the "Two Questions for You" prompt.  This really helps us, as Community of Practice contributors, to focus on a specific thread of thought.  Additionally, Ann, thank you for devoting the time, research, and dedication to developing this website!  It is a great, concise resource for information and strategies related to reading instruction for adults.  

So, what I can learn from this website is the evidence that, as adult education reading instructors, we MUST assess and provide explicit instruction in the components that are areas of weakness for our students.  A TABE or CASAS test does not provide us with this information.

By the way, the Maya Angelou quote posted in the "Ideas for Instruction" tab is my favorite.  I have used it universally in any adult education setting in which I have taught.

I look forward to Question Two!



Hi Jeri, thanks for interacting. I had the same major takeaway as you mention from the work  - about our obligation as practitioners.  I would add, if you don't mind, that classroom teachers can not carry the torch for evidence-based reading instruction alone. Administrators, curriculum developers, school board members, grant writers, state departments of education, volunteers (did I get all the stakeholders?) etc. need to understand what effective reading instruction looks like - so that everyone is speaking the same language and working toward the same goals. The research is un-disputed - and that feels the most important. There may be preferences, and budgets, and access issues, but those issues create different conversations that need addressing. But we can at least all be clear about what reading interventions require which establishes a mandate.  

Ann, you are so right!  It is definitely the "It takes a village.." mindset to accomplish EBRI!  The responsibility cannot fall entirely on teachers.  Effectively assessing the components and providing explicit instruction takes planning, instructional time, and funding for both resources and staff.  It is also important that all stakeholders understand the importance and procedures involved in EBRI so staff involved are supported.