Lorena García-Barroso, Columbia University

M.Carmen Fonseca-Mora, University of Huelva

Literacy is a crucial concept that forms part of our modern lives in this globalized world. In fact, literacy in an additional language is very much needed for people who want to find a new life in another country, yet not all adults are fully literate. Mobility, globalization and the migration processes are closely related to second language learning because language is at the heart of education for social development and citizens’ literacy influences their social performance.

In this multicultural and multilingual context, the concept of literacy has rapidly changed due to the huge cultural and linguistic diversity and the different profiles of adult language learners. This diversity affects the needs of adults when facing language education, especially when low literacy is still a challenge in our society.

In this sense, the multiliteracies pedagogy offers multiple possibilities as an inclusive pedagogical practice for adults. Our main aim is to summarize the benefits of the multiliteracies approach for adult learners and to synthesize the best language practices of this approach for adult learners in a systematic review.

The PRISMA protocol (Moher et al, 2015) was followed to assess the research published between 2011 and 2021. Due to this tool, we could provide the available research and create evidence summaries that can be used by decision makers to intervene in the programs and to address new directions for future research (Pearson et al., 2014).

For the inclusion criteria the SPIDER search tool (Cooke et al., 2012) was used. Studies with adults aged 16+ were selected. Finally, the mixed methods assessment tool MMAT was used for critical appraisal of the studies. In the end, we selected 20 studies that met the criteria.

As regards the research methods, we found that most of the studies used a qualitative research paradigm. The qualitative studies (n = 18) used mainly a combination of audio-video recordings, photographs of literacy artifacts and interviews for data collection. The mixed-methods studies (n = 2) used surveys, questionnaires, video recordings and interviews as well. In most of the studies, authors created self-developed interviews and questionnaires where validity was not established. In addition to these data collection methods, both types of studies used class observations to gather all the data.

The majority of studies (n = 16) collected the data from education contexts where there is a focus on settlement and integration for immigrants and refugees. Only four studies included participants who were not studying in the adult language learning classrooms or at community-based settlement services. From a geographic perspective, almost more than a half of the studies were conducted in North America (n = 11). Outside North America, studies were also conducted in Europe (n = 3), United Kingdom (n = 2), Asia (n = 3) and Oceania (n = 1).

Our findings offer an updated conceptualization of multiliteracies for adult learners. The analysis shows that studies contextualized their research within a variety of conceptual topics related to adult multiliteracies: multimodal classroom practices, teachers’ professional development, family-based literacy practices, literacy and identity, affective factors and translanguaging as a pedagogical practice in adult education.

As a general answer to what the best language teaching practices are for at-risk learners, studies clearly confirm the need of action-oriented experiences, where experiential learning, hands-on experiences and the combination of modality (digital, musical, visual, drama…) are included. These best practices seem to enhance adult learning opportunities. Furthermore, teachers who acknowledge adult learners’ cultural and linguistic diversity allowing translanguaging, multilingual interactions, in their classes help students to feel more involved in language learning and to feel their uniqueness confirmed by others. The inclusion of tasks where migrants share their own cultural references and traditions can be useful. Also, short texts or audiovisual materials that suggest several alternatives to solve problems migrants may face in the new country (opening a bank account, visiting the doctor, etc.) are reported as convenient. In fact, resilience is a common factor when describing adult language learning experiences, especially when migrants are the participants. All members of the adult class may benefit from the transnational knowledge that migrants bring with them. This capacity of overcoming difficulties can be increased when adults know the availability of social resources and when the sense of belonging to a learning community is developed.

We concluded that an adult learner-centered perspective seems still to be underdeveloped. A framework including all types of literacies, connecting multimodality to multilingualism, acculturation and social resilience is still needed to better understand the language acquisition process of adult learners.


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