Five Reasons to Continue Literacy Instruction at Any Age

Jun 25, 2018 | Read

My family loves to read.  My husband reads classic novels and mysteries for relaxation.  Our son reads history and sci-fi fantasy with a passion.  I like to read history as well as non-fiction about culture and life around the globe.  I simply cannot imagine a life without reading.  Yet, “a national survey found that 43% of U.S. adults (an estimated 56 million people) do not possess the necessary literacy skills to fully participate in contemporary society” (Mellard, 2013, p. 13).

Did you catch that phrase, “to fully participate”?

Literacy is vital to inclusion. In fact, five research-based reasons for continuing literacy instruction among adolescent and young adult students with special needs are:

  1. Literacy can increase social interactions, leading to a greater sense of belonging (Forts & Luckasson, 2011)
  2. Literacy facilitates knowledge about healthy choices for physical well-being (Taggart & McKendry, 2009)
  3. Literacy creates access to recreation and leisure activities (van Kraayenoord, 1994)
  4. Literacy opens up opportunities for more education and employment, which can lead to economic stability (deFur & Runnells, 2014)
  5. Literacy empowers active citizen participation in the democratic process (deFur & Runnells, 2014)  

While not comprehensive, this list is a pretty good description of what it means to fully participate, which is what inclusive education is all about.

The challenge for educators, however, is how to support literacy acquisition among adolescents and young adults who thus far have not reached this goal.  To state the obvious, giving up on literacy instruction is NOT the way to achieve this goal. A good beginning is an educational system that persists across all grade levels to provide literacy instruction to students who struggle to read as well as those who need extensive support. Adult literacy research highlights the importance of differentiated instruction matched to student needs and motivations for learning (Mellard, 2013)—like one might see in a middle and high school multi-tiered system of support.

If you aren’t quite sold on the idea that literacy instruction can and should continue for adolescent and young adult students who need the most extensive support, I recommend listening to Drs. Kinas-Jerome and Ainsworth’s recent SWIFT Unscripted podcast.  Their conversation about why and how they support literacy acquisition inspired me to look again at the research, and to reaffirm the importance of continuing literacy instruction for students of any age or need for support.


deFur, S. H., & Runnells, M. M. (2014). Validation of the adolescent literacy and academic behavior self-efficacy survey. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 40(3), 255-266.

Forts, A. M., & Luckasson, R. (2011). Reading, writing, and friendship: Adult implications of effective literacy instruction for students with intellectual disability. Research and Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities, 36(3-4), 121-125.

Mellard, D. (2013). Observations on providing effective instructon for adults with low literacy.  Perspectives on Language and Literacy, Spring, 13-16.

Taggart, L., & McKendry, L. (2009). Developing a mental health promotion booklet for young people with learning disabilities. Learning Disability Practice, 12(10), 27.

van Kraayenoord, C. E. (1994). Literacy for adults with an intellectual disability in Australia. Journal of Reading, 37(7), 608-610.


By Kari Woods

Photo of blog authorMs. Woods manages communications and product development for SWIFT Education Center in the Life Span Institute at the University of Kansas.