The teaching of literacy to adults has many controversies regarding objectives and methods. This chapter focuses on what teachers can teach and learners can learn if literacy is considered a part of the use of graphics technology. As noted in Chapter 5 in discussing the developmental model of literacy, though both literacy and oral language share a largely common grammar (lexicon and syntax), the graphic medium has features that differ from speech. These features include permanence, spatiality, and light.
The literate makes use of these features by drawing upon the human cognitive system with its knowledge base and information processing abilities. The permanence of graphic displays makes possible the storage of knowledge "outside the head" and makes it necessary for other literates to learn reading as a means of retrieving the stored information. Similarly, the feet that the graphics medium uses space and light makes possible the design of a wide variety of displays that permit literates to perform a number of cognitive and communication tasks. The use of this framework in developing functional context reading programs for mid-level literate adults is described later.
Debates About "Approaches"
Like the teaching of reading to children, the teaching of reading to adults is beginning to have many controversies. As educators who have traditionally focussed upon literacy in childhood have entered the area of adulthood literacy development, they have brought the debates about the "whole language" approach versus the "word recognition", "decoding", or "phonics" approach to the field of adult reading .1,24
Additionally, there are debates about the purposes of teaching adults to read, generally framed in the larger context of teaching literacy. Some argue for literacy for "empowerment," "giving voice," or stimulating "critical awareness" while eschewing reading (literacy) instruction that is "technical," that is, aimed at teaching reading "merely" as a cognitive task 2
Though there is no doubting the importance of the many issues involved in these debates, our literature review has found that, with the exception of Functional Context Education, no body of empirical evidence exists to argue convincingly that students learn better, go farther in their education, or become more successful citizens in programs operated in line with one or the other point of viewers And, indeed, there is often considerable ambiguity about just what the words being used actually mean to different people .
With the exception of the extensive research that has lead to the formulation of Functional Context Education, little by way of empirical evidence has been found to argue for one "method" or "approach" to adult literacy education over another. This is illustrated by the data on pre- and post-tests summarized in Chapter 3 of this notebook.
Given the controversies and the variety of ways of viewing the job of teaching adults to read, and the paucity of empirical studies on "best practices," this chapter presents a more-or-less technical analysis of what learners might learn and what teachers might teach if literacy is viewed as one aspect of the use of graphics technology to develop tools for communicating, developing knowledge, and accomplishing various tasks.4 The advantage of this approach is that it presents a body of technical knowledge that may be learned within the context of any of the various ideologies or instructional belief systems held by teachers of adults. For instance, whether one subscribes to the "whole language" or "decoding," "meaning-making" or "skills & drills" approaches to literacy instruction, or to "empowerment" or "functional, economic, utility" as aims of instruction, learners who wish to become literates or to improve their literacy must learn to recognize, interpret, and produce graphic symbols and devices such as forms, maps, and textbooks.