Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
Charlene Maill, Scott Davies
Using semi-structured interviews, this research brings to light the lived experiences of thirteen people participating in adult literacy programs. Despite the popularization of situated approaches to literacy in pedagogical models and practice in the field of adult basic education, few studies have emphasized the role of identity in shaping the educational experience and its effects. Symbolic interactionism offers a theoretical map from which to examine the varied experiences of adult literacy learners.
Gaining insight into learners’ negotiation of a literate identity yields a nuanced appreciation for how the experience takes shape as part of the broader processes that adults undertake as they seek access to the literate world. Three distinct pathways were identified in learners’ reasons for signing up for, and participating in, the literacy programs: the role fulfillment pathway, the personal betterment pathway and the instrumental pathway. Acquiring a literate identity had differing effects for learners on each pathway either by allowing them to fulfill socially desirable roles through status passage, by acquiring a more positive self-concept, or by acquiring the knowledge and skill to independently accomplish specific tasks.
Introducing identity change to the literature on the effect of adult education offers a twofold benefit. First, identity change can motivate adults’ investments in education and, more so than earnings as instrumental models predict, reflects the actual experience of adult learners. Second, identity change may be a mechanism through which education has its diverse effects on a variety outcomes.
Though one might assume that those with higher educational and employment goals benefit the most from literacy programs, it appears to be the opposite: those who seem the least likely to pursue education derive the greatest benefit – a finding akin to studies of broader educational effects. Implications for future research of the mechanisms by which these effects manifest themselves as well as considerations for policy development in adult literacy are discussed.
Ray McGinnis, Julie E., "Literacy, Identity and the Educational Effect" (2013). Open Access Dissertations and Theses. Paper 7605.
McMaster University Library