Teach Adult Beginning Readers – Use Our Toolkit


It’s NeveACLTRlogor Too Late is a Philadelphia-based grassroots initiative that is dedicated to helping adult non-readers achieve the basic skills needed to cope with the text in their everyday lives.

Our initiative has been sponsored by the Friends of the Kingsessing Library and is called Adults CAN Learn to READ.

Currently, the resources for those who want to learn to read are extremely limited. Many of these individuals are directed to Adult Basic Education classes where, without beginning reading skills, the curriculum is too advanced. Then the student, who had the courage to give it another try, feels left behind and like a failure all over again. In many cases, the teacher also feels frustrated and inadequate because  it is impossible to successfully teach non-readers in the midst of a larger class intended for those reading at least at third grade level.

Some programs offer one-on-one tutors to address the needs of adult non-readers. This can be costly, but even if the tutor is a volunteer, it is difficult to find and assign an instructor to every student, especially in areas with a large population of non-readers. In addition, tutors and teachers may be very dedicated and well-intentioned, but often lack appropriate training to effectively teach beginning readers.

Over the years we have developed a curriculum and class structure to teach these students, with the goal of preparing them to successfully join existing ABE classes. About 10 years ago, my son Harry Fishburn made a 4-part video that features poignant testimony of our students. You can see it on Youtube (links on the right).

Several years ago, we added the app Ultimate Phonics that students can use to practice their decoding skills anywhere on a mobile device. It fits very well with our basic curriculum, which has always centered on ABeCeDarian by Dr. Michael Bend, and the first 50 lessons are free.

Now, we have been learning about the research findings taught through the Science of Reading. We were already using many of the strategies proven to be effective, but extending the skills to developing orthographic mapping for instant recall seems like it may be the missing step–what our students need to be more successful. We have adapted our curriculum to include these important skills.

The Free Library of Philadelphia asked us to put together a toolkit to show how to set up classes for adult beginning readers. This is the culmination of many years of reading instruction. Our model can be used with groups as well as individuals. We have used parts of several different low-cost, easily available reading programs and pulled together resources that we have found critical for these learners.

We are sharing the toolkit in two parts. You may want to print the curriculum part, so download it here:

ACLTR Toolkit 2023

The Appendices to the toolkit are large and easily read online, so you can download them here

ACLTR Toolkit Appendices

UPDATE: We recorded our first zoom training for using the toolkit. Please forgive its lack of polish, but you may find it helpful. Watch here.