Research + Resources

Included here are a variety of research and resource development works done by practitioners in the field, some by practitioners and researchers from Bow Valley College, and many others by individuals from varying organizations, institutions and programs in the field of adult literacy. We seek to establish dynamic and collaborative conversations between research and practice.

Research and resources are listed below by category and summaries appear alphabetically below.

Assessment & Measuring


Community Development


Program Accountability

Teaching & Learning

Viewpoints + Articles


Please click the TITLE or PDF to view the document.

Accountability in Adult Literacy: Voices From the FieldStacey Crooks, Paula Davies, Audrey Gardner, Katrina Grieve, Tracey Mollins, Marina Niks, Joani Tannenbaum, Brenda Wright. Abstract: The two-year project was designed to examine the impact of accountability on the adult literacy field across the country and explore new ways of approaching it. This report is from the field view.

Alberta Reading Benchmarks, Alberta Reading Benchmarks Team. Web resource. Visit the Alberta Reading Benchmarks Website. Abstract: The Alberta Reading Benchmarks (ARB) are a set of standards for measuring reading in adults. They are adaptable to the diversity of adult learning programs across Alberta and contribute to a more robust foundational learning system in the province. The ARB website offers resources and training videos to help you understand the benchmark levels. Read Forward and the ARB are compatible measures for reading skills. Use Read Forward to assess reading skills. Then access the tools on the ARB website to support reading instruction for the unique set of reading skills at each Read Forward level.

Answers May Vary Research Report: Literacy Strategies, Resources, and Effective Practices for Adult Learners with Developmental Disabilities (2015) Belle Auld. Abstract: “The number of researchers who have developed a line of study within literacy and developmental disabilities worldwide can be counted on your own fingers and toes, with some digits to spare.” [1] Answers May Vary research aims to help fill that gap. We interviewed tutors who work with adults with disabilities about the strategies, resources and effective practices they use when helping learners, working at International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS) level one, improve their reading and writing skills.

Results from tutor interviews revealed common themes that resonate with adult learning principles:

  • use daily life materials and/or learner’s experiences
  • use positive encouragement
  • work from learner goals—be learner centered and
  • make learning fun.

[1] Erikson, K., Koppenhaver, D., & Yoder, D. (1994). Literacy and adults with developmental disabilities. p. 1. Retrieved from

Answers May Vary Guidebook: Incorporating Literacy Strategies, Resources, and Effective Practices into Daily Life for Adults with Developmental Disabilities, Belle Auld.Abstract:  We took the results from the Answers May Vary Research report, plus interviews with teachers and additional tutors at Bow Valley College, and created an easy to read guidebook that gives concrete instructions about how to incorporate literacy and other skills building activities into the daily life of an adult with a developmental disability.

A Selected Literature Review for Adult Learner Success, Aboriginal Upgrading ProgramKaren Mercer, April Bellegarde, Alice Charland. Abstract: As faculty and staff of Bow Valley College, who are experienced in working with Aboriginal learners, we were curious to learn about best practices for learner success in the Aboriginal Upgrading Program. We looked at literature by Aboriginal scholars together with government reports that we felt would be relevant to our learners. Our aim was to implement promising practices that were suggested in the literature into the program. This brief review is the result of our inquiry.

A Study of Potential Incremental Success Factors Among Basic Education and Employment Preparation StudentsBill Holbrow. Abstract: The purpose of this exploratory and descriptive study was to examine the concept of incremental success factors in the lives of adult basic education students.

Best Practices for Late Entry Learners into College Academic Upgrading Programs: Annotated BibliographySarah Elaine Eaton, Ed. Audrey Gardner. Abstract: This annotated bibliography covers a variety of topics related to late entry learners in college academic upgrading programs, including adult literacy, adult basic education and upgrading, adult education, best practices, aboriginal literacy, literacy among learners of English as a Second or other language, literacy for persons with disabilities, and workplace and essential skills.

Building Community Capacity: Focus on LiteracyBill Holbrow and Audrey Gardner.Abstract: The idea behind the project Building Community Capacity – Focus on Literacy, was to develop a course and train literacy specialists. The project partners evaluated both sides of the learning and change process. The first report, Community Impact Evaluation, uses qualitative and quantitative approaches to look at the impact of literacy specialists as they worked with services, agencies and businesses in eleven Alberta communities. The second report, Literacy Practitioner Impact Evaluation, is a research in practice approach evaluating new skills practitioners developed, analyzing how they implemented these skills and assessing how the course enhanced their professionalism.

“Building Capacity for Literacy Friendly Communities.” Literacies: Issue #6Kathy Day, Audrey Gardner, Janet Pringle, Janet Quinn, Rebecca Still. Abstract: Reflections on the 3.5 year Connecting Literacy to Community project, a partnership between Bow Valley College and six urban and rural communities in Alberta, whose goal was to create communities that not only realized the need for, but were also committed to, providing a ‘literacy friendly’ environment for everyone in the community.

Connecting Literacy to Community. Building Community Capacity: Focus on Adult Literacy HandbookAudrey Gardner. Abstract: This is a handbook for adult literacy educators interested in using community capacity building ways of working to broaden a community response to adult literacy needs. 

Connecting Literacy to Community. Building Community Capacity: Literacy Audits and Strategic PlanningBill Holbrow. Abstract:  The Research Project investigated the literacy assets and barriers of 10 community agencies in 3 urban and 3 rural Alberta communities. The Project helped agencies to identify and begin to either minimize or resolve specific literacy barriers in an effort to enhance the services provided to clients in general and specifically to those with low literacy skills.

Connecting Literacy to Community: Literacy Specialists: Competencies and PracticesBill Holbrow. Abstract: Literacy specialists have a wide variety and range of roles and responsibilities that call for diverse backgrounds and knowledge. However, little was known about the skills, or competencies, which literacy specialists utilize as they go about their day-today activities. The purpose of the research component of Phase 2 was to achieve one of the Key Project Objectives, that of “examining the role of the literacy specialists by conducting research with the literacy specialists about how they do their jobs.”

Creating Learning Partners Facilitator Manual, Berniece Gowan, Candice Jackson & Marnie Schaetti. This manual was written for experienced practitioners who will be delivering professional development and training for adult literacy and foundational learning practitioners. The focus of this resource is on the use of the tool Creating Learning Partners and on increasing practitioner knowledge and confidence about tutor training.  Creating Learning Partners Participation Workbook  and Creating Learning Partners Powerpoint, The workbook and powerpoint were developed to be used by practitioners who are attending the Creating learning Partners training. The complete package is available on the CALP Portal or contact

Effective Techniques and Tools for Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Bilingual and Bicultural Literacy Programs: A Practitioner Research Project for Practical Results Phase 1 Brent David Novodvorski.Abstract: This report contains the findings and recommendations of the qualitative case study conducted by the Bow Valley College Deaf and Hard of Hearing Adult Literacy Program. Qualitative multiple case studies were the methodology of the research; interviews, direct in classroom observations and surveys were the methods employed.

Effective Teaching Techniques and Tools for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Adult Immigrants in ASL and English Bilingual and Bicultural College Programs Phase 2Brent David Novodvorski. Abstract: In this second phase, the teacher, as researcher, and learners piloted teaching approaches and tools. Participatory Action Research methodology was used on the basis of the research objectives which were to increase knowledge of effective teaching approaches and tools, empower learners to guide the research and to provide multiple opportunities to collect learners‟ perspectives.

It’s Time to Reboot Education for Adults With Low Literacy SkillsJudith Maxwell. Web resource. Abstract: Canada is turning a blind eye to the low literacy skills of nine million working age adults. In doing so, it is putting future economic growth and social cohesion at serious risk. In summary, the problem of low literacy skills is large and it is not going to disappear unless we reboot the learning system for adults with low literacy skills. And these people face serious personal barriers to learning – stigma, fear, inability to navigate the system and poverty.

LaDS: SARAW Survey ReportAudrey Gardner.Abstract: The Literacy and Disabilities Study (LaDS) project conducted a survey of literacy and other community programs in Canada that use the Speech Assisted Reading and Writing (SARAW) computer program with adults with disabilities. The purpose of the survey was to learn about different delivery models and educational settings where adults with disabilities use SARAW to help them develop and strengthen reading and writing skills. 

LaDs: SARAW It Gets in Your BrainAudrey Gardner. Abstract: A guide for literacy educators working with adults with disabilities which offers activities, resources, and suggestions that will help increase literacy learning opportunities for learners.

LaDs: SARAW Learner StoriesBelle Auld. Abstract: This is a compilation of stories written by learners who participated in the Literacy and Disabilities Study (LaDS) project. They created fiction and non-fiction stories using the Speech Assisted Reading and Writing (SARAW) program.

Literacy and Disabilities Fact SheetAudrey Gardner. Abstract: The factsheet discusses the literacy rate and needs of people with disabilities including suggestions for action and further resources.

“Literacy for Adults with Disabilities: Still a Long Way to Go.” Literacies: Issue #9, Audrey Gardner. Abstract: Discussion of Literacy and Disabilities Study (LaDS) research project, conducted from 2004-2005 at Bow Valley College in Calgary, Alberta.

Literacy for Deaf Immigrant Adults: A Symposium for Collaboration and Learning – Final ReportSarah Elaine Eaton, Ed. Audrey Gardner. Abstract:  The report identifies participant questions, issues, concerns, challenges and an action plan to address some of the issues that were raised at the Literacy for Deaf Immigrant Adults: A Symposium for Collaboration and Learning.

Literacy Survey of Disability Serving AgenciesBelle Auld. Abstract: The Literacy Survey of Disability Serving Agencies project (Literacy Survey) was an applied research project initiated by the Speech Assisted Reading and Writing (SARAW) adult literacy program at Bow Valley College in Calgary.  This shortened report explores two themes arising from the results of the Literacy Survey including what an ideal inclusive adult literacy program would look like and disability practitioners’  ideas of what community inclusion is.

Measurement and Assessment in Adult Literacy and Essential Skills: A Critical Literature Review, Candice Jackson & Marnie Schaetti. Abstract: A critical review of literature relating to measurement and assessment in adult literacy and essential skills was conducted for the Literacy and Essential Skills: Learner Progression Measures research project. When reviewing over 100 local, national, and international publications, the researchers for this project hoped to explore the ways in which assessment and measurement were highlighted and how these tools and measures influence perceptions of progress and program quality, best practices for assessment and measurement, underlying theories surround adult literacy assessment and measurement, and of course, “why measure?” This review examined relevant literature to further explore how perceptions of measurement and assessment shape how learner progress is perceived, reported on, and represented in terms of funding accountability, program requirements, and public policy. The researchers examined how perceptions and applications of, measurement and assessment also impact the different spheres that shape LES learning, such as tensions and changes within the field.

Measuring Learning Progress in Literacy and Essential Skills: Recommendations for Literacy Stakeholders and Government, Audrey Gardner & Candace Witkowskyj. Abstract: The purpose of this paper is to provide recommendations on the measurement of learner’s progress in Literacy and Essentials Skills (LES) programs, policy and future literacy directions in Alberta. This paper is the result of an extensive research project on learner progression measures in adult literacy and essential skills (LPM). This paper gathers influential data gained throughout the literature review and research project to discuss key themes which influence the perceptions, values, and contextual factors that influence the ways in which learner progress is perceived, reported on, and reflected within policy and program development. Key considerations are highlighted in relation to policy and program development and broad LES discussions.

Meeting the Need: Student Success in the Online Environment. Teaching, Learning, Development, Administration: A Literature ReviewMurray Ronaghan.Abstract: In 2010 adult online student enrolment in Alberta passed 10,000 course registrations. Growth in this area has been steady and research that attempts to explore some of the fundamental questions surrounding online education is vast. In an attempt to share in this burgeoning body of information, Bow Valley College sees the importance of undertaking a literature review (followed by structured practitioner interviews and student surveys) of online educational Best Practices in four broad areas: Teaching, Learning, Development and Administration.

Numbers and Narratives: Adding up Stories of Success in Adult LiteracyAlberta Action Research Team. Abstract: The Alberta Action Research Team explored the concept of mutual accountability. We looked for characteristics of mutual accountability within an existing working relationship between a community-based funder and two adult literacy/basic education programs in a community college.

“The New Literacy Studies: A Point of Contact Between Literacy Research and Literacy Work.” Literacies: Issue #1Guy Ewing. Abstract: New Literacy Studies is a name given to a line of research that has been developing in the last twenty years. Most of this work is in the tradition of ethnography, an approach to anthropological research designed to learn about social and cultural behavior through unobtrusive, unstructured observation.

Read Forward, Read Forward Team. Web resource. Visit the Read Forward Website. Abstract: This new adult reading assessment resource contains: 30 Tests, Answer Keys, Locator Tests, Results Feedback forms, Learning Activities and User Guide. These paper-and-pencil tests take one hour or less to write and integrate easily into the curriculum for a variety of programs including literacy, basic education, vocational, essential skills, upgrading, GED, workplace and college. The series uses familiar texts that reflect where everyday reading takes place: in the home, the community and the workplace. It is divided into 6 reading skill levels, based on skill development, and contains 5 different tests for each level. The resource is available online for free.

Research FindingsCandice Jackson & Marnie Schaetti. Abstract: The Learner Progression Measures (LPM) project conducted extensive research on measures of learner progress in Literacy and Essential Skills (LES) to assist the Alberta Government Ministries of Advanced Education, Education, and Human Services with the development of future directions, policies, and programming. Informed by “Measurement and Assessment in Adult Literacy and Essential Skills: A Critical Literature Review,” an extensive literature review, and a total of fifty-eight interviews with Alberta LES learners, practitioners, administrators, and funding agencies, the LES:LPM project studied both the tools and resources that currently exist to measure learner progress and the contexts in which they are used. This research paper highlights the data’s key themes which explore why people measure progress and how they use the results, what it is people actually measure when they measure progress, and how people measure progress, as well as what tools and methods during the measurement process.

Small Gestures – An ASL Report, Brent Novodvorski. Abstract: Small Gestures was a partnership project between Bow Valley College, Deaf and Hard of Hearing community services, and Immigrant support services. The goal was for community services to learn more about the needs of Deaf immigrants with a key focus on access to education and ASL (American Sign Language) programs. As an adult literacy project, it focused on appreciating the small gestures people and organizations make to improve settlement for Deaf immigrants.

Video: Introduction

For the other parts of the video, please see our YouTube channel

Stories from the Field Professional Development for Literacy Practitioners (Volume 1), Sandra Loschnig. Abstract: This unique project took a journalistic approach to professional development for adult literacy and essential skills practitioners throughout the province. We explored current issues, innovations, and challenges in teaching and learning reading, writing, numeracy, and technology in adult literacy and essential skills in Alberta. Our purpose was to encourage conversations about teaching philosophies and instructional practices,  to highlight information, communication, and professional development needs as practitioners articulate them,  and  to create awareness of the diverse learning needs of adult students, and the adaptations and innovations that are being created to meet those needs.

Stories from the Field: Professional Development for Adult Literacy Practitioners (Volume 2), Sandra Loschnig. Abstract: In this second volume, we focused on adult literacy programs that are specifically designed to address the needs of marginalized adults in Bow Valley College and the Calgary region. This provided us with an opportunity to “lean in” to some of the non-formal, non-traditional adult literacy and essential skills learning settings that have been developed. In exploring program innovations, adaptations, and delivery methods, we hope to increase awareness of community connections, disability services, and the role of culture and language within programs serving non-traditional learners.

Stories from the Field Professional Development for Literacy Practitioners (Volume 3),Sandra Loschnig. Published Oct 13, 2015 Stories from the Field Volume 3 is a new series of stories that explores innovations in ESL literacy programming that have been spearheaded by the School of Global Access. Over the past fifteen years, we have become a recognized leader in the field of ESL literacy, producing a wealth of resources that have been developed and vetted by ESL literacy experts.This unique applied research project is a collaboration between the School of Foundational Learning and the School of Global Access. Stories from the Field Volume 3 reports on current issues, challenges and innovative work happening in the adult literacy and essential skills field throughout Alberta. Stories from the Field Volume 1 and Volume 2 were both published in 2014.

Strategic Conversations Facilitator Manual, Berniece Gowan, Candice Jackson & Marnie Schaetti. This manual was written for experienced practitioners who will be delivering professional development and training for adult literacy and foundational learning practitioners. The focus of this resource is on literacy assessment, increasing practitioner knowledge and confidence about using assessment with and for adult learners.Strategic Conversations Participant Workbook and Strategic Conversations Powerpoint, The workbook and powerpoint were developed to be used by practitioners who are attending the Strategic Conversations training. The complete package is available on the CALP Portal or contact

Using Practitioner Reflective Critical Inquiry to Manage Change in Adult Basic Education, Patricia Pryce & Candace Witkowskyj. Abstract: This project engaged adult basic education instructors within the Centre for Excellence in Foundational Learning department of Bow Valley College in a collaborative process that used reflective critical inquiry as a way to manage programmatic changes. Informed by adult learning principles and framed as participatory action research (PAR), this project created a safe space for practitioners (instructors)1 to reflect on philosophical perspectives and tensions that emerge during large-scale program change. As a result of engaging in the PAR process, participants identified several key factors that impact the management of, and often resistance to, institutional change: practitioner engagement, teaching philosophies and ethics, training and technology, learners, perceptions of change, resistance, and environment. The project resulted in deeper understanding of the interconnections between structural changes, internal and external challenges surrounding institutional changes, philosophical perspectives on adult basic education, and instructional practices. The recommendations resulting from this research can be drawn upon by educational institutions navigating similar changes or utilized to facilitate further discussion around navigating change.

Vocabulary AcquisitionGlenda Kittler.Abstract: There has been discussion among the instructors in Bow Valley College’s Academic Preparation unit of Academic Foundations regarding recurring problems with teaching students, especially in the areas of vocabulary development and reading comprehension. Instructors have asked questions such as “Why don’t students remember what they’ve read? Why can’t they do context clues? Can you believe they don’t know this vocabulary? ” From these discussions has come the research question for this project: What are the effective strategies for teaching adults vocabulary to be successful in future learning?

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