Dilemmas of participatory practice: Teaching, learning and managing in a nontraditional adult literacy program

Rebecca Jane Reumann, University of Pennsylvania


This study examines what happens when an adult literacy program enacts participatory approaches at all levels of the organization. It investigates this evolutionary process at a particular point in time, when the organization was restructuring administratively to enable broader involvement in organizational decisions. By investigating across program levels, thus rejecting the view of administrative structures and classrooms as separate entities, this research emphasizes the vital connections between program context and teaching and learning. It seeks to contribute to the small but growing body of empirical research about participatory literacy programs, thus broadening the national dialogue about possibilities for adult learners and programs. This study is based on a year-long, interpretive research project which sought to enact a form of research as praxis (Lather, 1986), i.e. inquiry characterized by negotiation and reciprocity. Data collection consisted of participant observation in a range of program settings and contexts, formal and informal interviews, and collection of a variety of documents generated by learners and staff. This study identifies three critical features that characterize participatory practice in the classroom and in program management: adopting a questioning stance, experimenting with leadership, and negotiating. Given these features, negotiating the dilemmas that sometimes characterize participatory practice can itself become an opportunity for individual learning and organizational growth. Though these features were more fully integrated into teaching and learning than management, this study indicates that philosophical congruence between classroom and program can further the work of both. In this participatory environment, the ideals of community-building and a learner-centered focus on the individual did not function as competing entities but were interdependent, each serving as catalyst for the other. Finally, the study explores the nature of this particular community, demonstrating how it was built through focus on the diverse participants' shared experiences and concerns as women.

Subject Area

Adult education|Continuing education|School administration|Curricula|Teaching

Recommended Citation

Reumann, Rebecca Jane, "Dilemmas of participatory practice: Teaching, learning and managing in a nontraditional adult literacy program" (1995). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9532261.