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Adult learners’ experiences of a literacy programme in the southern United States: an interview based study

Hart, Bernadette (2017) Adult learners’ experiences of a literacy programme in the southern United States: an interview based study. Masters thesis (MA), Manchester Metropolitan University.

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Abstract

The thesis investigates the experiences of a group of students following an adult literacy programme in a Southern State of the US. It grew out of reservations about the aims, pedagogy and structure of this and similar programmes, and a desire to explore the potential of a more holistic approach, which would take account of the personal experience and the cultural context of adult learners. An interview study was conducted with six adults who were participating in the selected literacy programme. The study was guided by the following research questions: 1. How did students’ personal experiences of literacy affect their success or otherwise on the adult literacy programme? 2. How did the literacy programme connect, or fail to connect, with students’ personal experiences? 3. What are the implications for curriculum and pedagogy in adult literacy programmes? The overall orientation of the study was broadly ethnographic, in that it was interested in the perspectives, beliefs, family background and cultural histories of the participants, and the meanings that they themselves attributed to literacy. Issues of empowerment, identity, pedagogy and achievement (or lack of it) were pursued. The resulting interviews provided a rich source of data, which were analysed using grounded theory, in the attempt to minimise the influence of the researcher’s values and stay close to the participants’ accounts. Key themes from the analysis included:  The significance of affect and emotion  The intergenerational transmission of failure  How to convert positive attitudes into achievement  The significance, and the problematics, of personal experience  Resistance to writing  ‘Unacknowledged’ literacies. Above all, the research indicated that attitudes, identity and achievement were inextricably bound up with issues of race, class, poverty and the history of segregation in the South. The thesis considers the implications for curriculum and pedagogy in adult literacy programmes: in particular, how literacy programmes can be better tailored to the needs of adult literacy learners as part of a local community, and tackle issues of equality and access within that community.

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