Overview: instructional tools for adolescent and adult learners

Literacy experts at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, in partnership with Benetech, have developed tools and content for a new Internet-based educational service that provides reading and writing instruction to beginning, adolescent and adult readers with disabilities.

The Facts About Low Literacy and Illiteracy

Literacy is critical to independent survival in modern society. It’s no secret that for individuals struggling with either low literacy or illiteracy, the inability to read or write creates an almost insurmountable barrier to many of life’s activities. Such individuals are unable to find and keep long-term employment, support their children’s education or participate actively in civic life.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, there are more than 800,000 students from elementary school through college age who have moderate to severe disabilities. The number increases to more than five million when all learning disabilities are included. This encompasses children and young adults with Down syndrome, as well as those with autism and related disorders and other developmental disabilities.

The problem of low literacy extends far beyond school-aged children. More than 20% of American adults read at or below a fifth grade level. These rates are much higher for non-native English speakers, a growing proportion of the population. The result: In the U.S. the number of adults with low literacy is estimated in the tens of millions. According to the National Adult Literacy Survey, 44 million people, or 21-23% of the U.S. adult population, lacks a sufficient foundation of basic literacy skills required to function successfully in our society.

A New Approach: Route 66 Literacy Emphasizes High-Interest Content

There is an obvious and significant need for a comprehensive, beginning reading instructional tool for adolescent and adult learners, particularly those with developmental disabilities. Literacy experts at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill — in partnership with Benetech — have developed a new approach. Called Route 66 Literacy, this distinctive strategy relies on a research-based instructional technique developed by these literacy experts.

Unlike existing products, Route 66 Literacy addresses all of the essential elements of literacy instruction — reading comprehension, word study, fluency and writing — while emphasizing high-interest content that is targeted at older students and adults. The central premise is this: adolescent and adult beginning literacy instruction is much more effective when timely content is tailored to the appropriate group or interest demographic. The content for the service, for example, is composed of stories about popular culture, current events and community participation. Even better: because the Route 66 Literacy service is delivered online, these materials can be updated as frequently as necessary.

Another essential and unique component of the Route 66 Literacy system is its integrated “Teacher Tutor” feature. The Teacher Tutor helps ensure that the instructors, often parents and volunteers working with individuals with developmental disabilities, have all the support they need to be as effective as possible. The integrated Teacher Tutor also serves to minimize the need for upfront training regarding the reading instructional approach.

The Perfect Partnership: Great Science / Great Technology

Route 66 Literacy is currently operated as a partnership between The Center for Literacy and Disability Studies (CLDS) of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Benetech. Leading researchers at the CLDS provide the service’s content and instructional information, while Benetech supplies the technical, managerial and marketing expertise, as well as the on-going maintenance of the site.

The partnership began more than a decade ago when Arkenstone, the company from which Benetech emerged, and researchers at the CLDS began working together on projects. Through the years, Benetech and the CLDS have continued to seek ways to work together to create the perfect partnership combining great science and great technology. Route 66 Literacy is the result of those efforts.


Student Profile

Route 66 Platform

Route 66 User Guide