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Literacy for Young Adults Part 1

NEWS: Due to recent discussion around the inclusion of phonics in adult literacy, I thought I’d better mention that all lessons in both Part 1 and Part 2 of Literacy for Young Adults are age-appropriate linguistic phonics. It’s not about c-a-t says cat!

Community literacy, offered in an informal one-to-one setting, is a powerful tool for people who are wary of classrooms – and that includes many people who have tried and failed to learn to read and spell in the past.

Here are some uplifting stories of success with young adults who got help through a community based That Reading Thing project.

The case studies are written by and used with the permission of Stefanie Boyle of Port Reach in Ellesmere Port, Cheshire. All initials have been altered from the original report. (Click on the photos to enlarge them.)


TG started with us in July 2015. She was referred through Armstrong Works the Work Programme people. She had difficulty with spelling so filling out applications forms without help was difficult although she felt her reading was fine.

We established that her reading was okay with high frequency words but anything unusual or long, TG couldn’t read.

TG was committed and never missed an appointment, made steady improvement but memory issues slowed down her progress. We had to repeat a number of sessions (such as ‘tion’ and the split ‘e’ cake, time etc.) In April 2016 on our 22nd session TG reported that she would have to stop as she had been offered a job. She had been offered an apprenticeship at one of the local primary schools as a receptionist. TG felt that she would not have been able to secure this without TRT. She had been confident enough to apply online something she would not have done before because of her spelling.


KT                                                                                        KT started with us in April 2016. He was referred to us by his family support worker. He had applied to join the Army but had failed the English test. One of our volunteers agreed to work with him. He scored quite competently on the ‘Burt’ reading test and he denied he needed any help, but it was clear from our assessments with him that he was rushing and making unnecessary mistakes as well as not understanding some of the technical grammar terms which had come up in the Army Test.

We struck a deal with KT; he would do one session of TRT with our volunteer to help her practice, and then she would do some grammar with him and some test papers from the army.

He managed to attend 5 sessions. He rang the volunteer two weeks later to say that he had passed his English test and had been offered a place with the army from September.

When we completed the second ‘Burt’ test with him, despite his reluctance, he had progressed 23 months in those 5 hours – from a reading age of 11 to a reading age of 12 and 11 months.



TKS was referred to us via the local college community English classes. She had managed to secure a place on a teaching assistant course but was terrified she was going to lose the place because of her literacy. She was especially worried about her spelling and having to do it in front of the pupils on her practice placement.

We started working together in September 2015 and she flew through the sessions. Just showing her how the language worked had a marked effect on her confidence to spell. We managed 6 sessions before she texted to say she could no longer meet because she had been offered a job by the school where she was undertaking her practice. It was great news to hear, but disappointing for our records as she couldn’t find any time to complete our monitoring forms.


The Burt Reading Test

The Burt Test is in many ways very unsatisfactory. However, with community projects in mind, it’s free and easy to administer and it does show distance travelled. Though it’s a “sight word” test, it demonstrates how our students use linguistic phonics to go from skipping over to reading meaningful words. It consistently shows that the students who use TRT strategies improve on their word attack skills. You’ll see from the soft outcomes that this improved ability can have a dramatic effect on life in general.

We never talk to students about reading ages – not least because the test was last revised in 1974. I do always tell them that I don’t know every word on the test.

  1. […] Phonics for Adults part 1 Phonics for Adults part 2 […]

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