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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.

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