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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!