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Thursday, November 12, 2015

More from Kate!

I hope you enjoyed the great great suggestion last week from Kate Fergus of Ohio ABLE Professional Development Network (PDN)! Here's another great suggestion from Kate.


Sometimes, we forget that our students actually have the thinking skills necessary for success in the adult education classroom; it’s just that they’ve never had to apply those skills in an academic context. For instance, adult learners are often excellent problem solvers – especially when it comes to hands-on challenges such as those a mechanic or engineer might face. 

One student I worked with for years, we’ll call him Steve, was an especially gifted problem solver – he just didn’t see himself that way.  Steve was fairly typical (if there is such a thing as “typical” in adult education!) for an adult learner: he placed at EFL 2 on his initial TABE, was diagnosed with severe dyslexia, and he wanted his GED as soon as possible. One day, while we were working on a fractions lesson together, using pizza to explain parts of a whole, Steve was clearly frustrated and needed a break. During our short ten-minute time-out, I asked him what he did over the weekend. Steve’s response? He dug an irrigation canal around his 10-acre property. My reply: “WHAT?!”

What Steve didn’t realize and what I only then understood was he had the problem solving know-how all along, he had just never applied it in a purely academic environment. When it came to problem solving at home, he was all over it! This was a gateway to understanding for him – I just needed to present information in a context that he understood. 

From then on, Steve and I worked on math and reading in a language he was familiar with: home and yard maintenance and repair. As much as he enjoyed pizza, we found that talking about fractions in the context of his home and property made the concepts more immediately understandable and applicable to him. We did math in terms of how to maintain his yard. We tackled informational non-fiction by doing activities using how-to manuals on home repair. Suddenly, Steve was making connections that were once overwhelmingly challenging and seemingly impossible for him. He flourished. 

What if your students aren’t interested in home repair or yard maintenance? I know I’m not! Let’s start with something more interesting and even less academic: pop culture! Believe it or not, a whole lot of our students are watching the Walking Dead and not reading about early colonial settlers. That’s ok! We can use the lessons of the Walking Dead to teach our students how to make connections and learn content that will more than likely appear on one of the high-school equivalency assessments they’ll ultimately face. Here’s an example I’ve been using lately – all you need is a basic graphic organizer and a little knowledge about zombies!

Challenge Faced
Walking Dead Survivors
Early American Colonists
Isolated – no modern communication channels (phone, etc.).
Isolated – no modern communication channels
Threats to Survival
Multiple threats!
·         Weather (harsh winters)
·         Disease
·         ZOMBIES
·         Other humans
Multiple threats!
·         Weather (harsh winters)
·         Disease
·         Unfamiliar wild animals
·         Other humans (colonists, natives)
No system of food distribution, must rely on farming and scavenging.
No system of food distribution, must rely on farming and scavenging.
Ultimate Goal
To build a small community of survivors
To rebuild civilization
To build a small community of colonists
To establish a larger colony

OK, perhaps it’s not the most academic exercise one can imagine, but it certainly helps illustrate the challenges the early American colonists faced in a context that is entirely understandable and familiar to our students: zombies! When our students can see the connections between what is NOW and what WAS, it helps deepen their understanding of the new information and even, dare I say, enhances their interest in the subject at hand. At the very least, it lends itself to a rich discussion that engages even the most disengaged students. 

We see contextualization in other areas, too – most recently, in terms of career awareness and preparedness. Teaching math and reading comprehension skills by using concepts specific to a career pathway, such as nursing, truck driving, or heavy equipment operation, will not only help your students who are interested in that career field better understand the challenges faced by professionals in that position but also make the concepts more immediately applicable and relatable.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Rewordify.com - Great Suggestion from Kate Fergus of Ohio!

I was fortunate to meet a cool professional, Katherine B. Fergus, at the Technical College System of Georgia state conference where we were both presenting. 

Kate is a Program Specialist for the Ohio ABLE Professional Development Network (PDN), based at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. Kate’s areas of interest include critical thinking, curriculum development, special learning needs, and instructional technology. 

She has agreed to share some ideas with us. Here is the first of a few to come!

“As a professional developer in the realm of adult education, I am always asked the question ‘But what about my students with special learning needs? How can I help them succeed in the multi-level classroom, too?’ This question is, of course, one that many of us face as adult education professionals – whether it’s asked of us or we are asking it of others. Because there is such a prevalence of LD in adult learners, whether diagnosed or – more often – suspected, we need to be sure we are accommodating these learners in what is often a classroom full of students at different levels with various strengths and challenges. Here is one of my favorite resources for differentiation in the adult education classroom:


This tip is actually my favorite resource of 2014 and I’ve been sharing it with people all over the adult education community since it was introduced to me by an instructor here in Ohio. 

Rewordify.com is the most marvelous solution to the multi-level classroom challenge I’ve seen…maybe ever! What makes this site so fabulous is its ease of use and the fact that it is completely free for educators to access! Here’s how it works:

    Copy and paste ANY text (I use it for informational text) from the web, a PDF (if the PDF allows it), or a Word file into the Rewordify box and BAM! It’s reworded to a lower level for students who struggle with more challenging text and vocabulary. 

     Copy THAT reworded text out of the webpage and paste it into your own document for use in the classroom. Ta-da!
But WAIT! There’s more!

You can create customized worksheets, quizzes, vocabulary boxes (with or without definitions) with the click of a button and change the level of rewording and format of the final output – there are six levels of difficulty/ease and different formats that you can use in the classroom with your students of all levels!

I really can’t praise the folks who developed this gem enough – it is an absolutely amazing resource for instructors who have a hard time finding materials that can be used in a multi-level classroom. It certainly takes some of the aches out of differentiation! I hope you enjoy it as much as I have!"

Thanks Kate! More to come soon so keep on the lookout for guest posts. Kate shared with me that she loves graphic organizers. All you SLN folks out there know that’s also a passion for me so we’ll talk more about those soon!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Make applications come to life!

Love this picture of making angles come to life for our students through application! Hmm...can I make it through the door with it at a 40 degree angle? Give me a wide opening at 180! Where else do we have a 180 or a 360? Do your students like sports? So many applications there.

Found this on Pintrest pinned by Patricia O'Rourke - thanks!

What concrete applications have you found in your classroom to make learning come to life?

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

October is Learning Disabilities Awareness Month!

In honor of Learning Disabilities Awareness Month, let's all remember to focus on what our students CAN do instead of areas where they struggle. Make a list with your students of what they are GOOD at and start building from there!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Keep Those Metacognitve Ideas Coming!

Sally Guy from Elgin Community College provides many opportunities for student success through fostering metacognitive skills.Sally shared the following:

"I like to engage students in group projects such as creating a class booklet or calendar or some other "take away."  The level of students helps determine the project.  For instance, I have had lower NRS level students implement vocabulary word/s they have learned and come up with a sentence or short paragraph using the words. I have them work with a partner to come up with some type of dialogue, then I take their photos, create a calendar page with all my students, have it printed so that they all get copies.  They then have worked collaboratively, utilized new vocabulary, created a document, and finally have something tangible to take with them when class ends.  I feel that such projects give students a sense of accomplishment.  I do similar things with higher level students, but the booklets we make would be based on a novel read in class or some other connected activity. (This is also FUN!) 

In some classes I have students create and present to the class.  They have an option of choosing their topic, whether they work independently or with a partner, and the type of media they use.  (Some learn/do power point, others may use a poster or demonstrate in another way.)  Before they actually get in front of the class I help them brainstorm, show them an example or two of other student work, and we have a discussion of how this is valuable......such as in a work environment or job interview situation."

Monday, September 21, 2015

Special Learning Needs Sessions at the Forum for Excellence

I hope to see you at the Forum for Excellence Tuesday, September 22 and Wednesday, September 23 at the Bloomington-Normal Marriott Hotel and Conference Center! Here are SLN sessions that will be offered there:

Fostering Metacognition and Critical Thinking
9/22/15 1:45-2:45pm Redbird E – Sarah Goldammer

Is Your Writing Instruction Relevant and Meaningful from your Students’ Perspective?
9/22/15 4:15-5:15pm Redbird G – Kimberly Maddox-Reihl

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and its Significance for the Adult Education Instructor
9/23/15 8:30-9:30am Fell C – Bevan Gibson

Differentiation: Giving Everyone the Opportunity to Succeed
9/23/15 11:00am-12:00p Redbird E Heather Martin & Tara Schwab

The NOT so Magic Kingdom of Adult Education
9/23/15 2:20-3:20pm Redbird A Christine Decker & Kellie Anderson

Monday, September 14, 2015

More Metacognitive Ideas!

Thanks to Carolyn Markel of Moraine Valley for sharing these ideas. Way to go Carolyn for empowering your students!

"For math, I like to have the students sometimes show math problems with drawings or manipulatives.  For example, students may be able to solve 1/4 of 20 on paper, but they struggle with how to show it with manipulatives.  They are often tempted to put the counters in groups of 4, instead of showing how there are four groups, and one of those groups has 5 in it, which is the answer.   

Also, after we complete an activity in class, I often ask my students to tell me why we just did what we did.  After being with me for a few classes, students soon learn that "because it will be on the GED" is not an acceptable answer to this question.  A lot of times the students will come up with much deeper reasons for doing an activity than I originally had in mind.  I think the students find this exercise empowering because it puts them in the mindset of the instructor.  They learn that my instruction is intentional and purposeful - and that a teacher isn't a magician or a puppet-master.  There is a method to the madness, so to speak. "

Please feel free to comment and share other ideas of what you do in your classroom.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Fostering Metacognitive Skills and Critical Thinking in Your Classroom

Fostering metacognitive skills and critical thinking is a topic covered multiple times and in multiple ways in the Institute to Credential Special Learning Needs Resource Specialists. It's a topic everyone in education should value so I'm going to share some great posts from previous SLN participants and ask everyone out there to share their thoughts.

This is a topic I'll be presenting on at Elgin Community College this Saturday morning as they host the APC 509 15th Annual Adult Educator's Fall Conference. Then I will share the same information at the Forum for Excellence in Bloomington on September 22nd.  

Let's start a discussion here beginning with suggestions from Cathy Kramer of Waubonsee Community College:

"I would start by sharing my own thought processes.  What am I doing while reading?  How will I organize my thoughts? How will I find out the information I don’t know.   I like to share how I write down EVERYTHING I have to do during the day in the morning, even if it seems like I wouldn’t forget.  Marking each thing off my list gives me a sense of accomplishment.  Overtime, this has given me a real sense of how long each task will take to perform so that I can better organize my day."

What do you do to foster metacognitive skills and critical thinking?

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Great Video for Start of the Educational Year

Check out this link suggested by Christine Decker of Parkland that features "Famous Failures":


What a great way to set the stage for the new educational year. It would also be a nice  starting point for classroom discussion on who these people are/were, what they did, and where we would be if they HAD given up! And you teachers know this leads to a natural writing prompt! 

Hope the new year is a great success!


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

New Dates and Locations Announced!

Visit the link below to find the applications for the 2015-16 SLN Institutes:


Thanks to Triton College hosting our northern group and Southwestern Illinois College hosting our southern group.

If you have questions or need more information, contact Sarah Goldammer at sgoldam@siue.edu

Please note if you are interested but your program is waiting for your funding, please let Sarah know and we'll work with you.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Special Learning Needs Institute 2015 - 2016

We're ready to make plans for new SLN learning groups. Click on the link below to take you to the SIPDC website and some promotional information. Dates and locations are still being finalized. If you are interested in being a part of the 15-16 group, email Sarah at sgoldam@siue.edu!


Monday, June 15, 2015

Please Share Your Knowledge at the Forum for Excellence

We're looking for presenters for the fall conference this year. Please consider sharing your expertise with the field by submitting a proposal at:

If you have questions or want to discuss topic ideas, please email Sarah at sgoldam@siue.edu

September 22 & 23, 2015

Bloomington - Normal Marriott Hotel and Conference Center

The Forum for Excellence is Illinois’ premier Career and Technical Education (CTE) professional development event. In 2015 we are building on CTE’s expanding partnership with Adult Education (AE). This Conference is sponsored by the Illinois Community College Board, and hosted by the Illinois Center for Specialized Professional Support (ICSPS), the Southern Illinois Professional Development Center (SIPDC), and the Central Illinois Adult Education Service Center (CIAESC).