Automatization and Retention of Literacy Skills in Adult Learners

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James M Bebko
Thomas Rhee
Carly McMorris
Magali Segers


Findings from recent efficacy studies comparing literacy program types suggest that struggling adult readers often make limited to moderate gains across varied types of literacy interventions, with no specific approach consistently surpassing others to date. An alternative to comparing program types is to investigate whether there are specific characteristics or skills that vary by individual that can predict higher gains and skill retention across program type. Using an experimental, prospective, longitudinal design, the present study examined the role of automatization (over-learning) of component skills involved in reading during participation in general literacy programs. On average, participants in the study gained the equivalent of one full reading grade-level after participation in programs for six months. The degree of automatization of reading skills was found to be the strongest predictor of gains made during programs; a measure of automatization was also the strongest predictor of subsequent retention of skills, months later at follow-up testing. Implications for adult literacy practitioners and directions for future research related to skill retention are discussed.

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Author Biographies

James M Bebko, York University, Toronto

James M. Bebko is a Professor in the Department of Psychology, York University, Toronto. His research is on the interface between language and cognition in individuals with diverse abilities and needs.

Thomas Rhee, Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, Toronto

Thomas Rhee is a Clinical Psychologist at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital in Toronto. He is part of a diagnostic assessment clinic and his work primarily focuses on the cognitive abilities and communication skills in individuals with various developmental disorders.

Carly McMorris, York University, Toronto

Carly A. McMorris is in her fourth year of her PhD in Clinical Developmental Psychology at York University. Her primary research interests are related to children with autism’s information processing abilities, such as short-term visual memory and attention. Additional research interests include examining the diagnostic histories and experiences of children and individuals with autism.

Magali Segers, York University, Toronto

Magali Segers is a PhD student in Clinical Developmental Psychology at York University, Toronto. Her research focus is on the cognitive processes involved during speech and language perception and understanding these processes in both typical and atypical populations.