Adult 688 #4: Searching for Islands of Competency

Task:  How do you see yourself handling a teaching-learning scenario where there are individuals with learning disabilities in a mixed group?

Teaching adults in a learning event where there are disabilities in a mixed group seems a natural progression from the questions asked in the mid-term process.  All learning groups are mixed.  I cannot recall working in one where everyone in the group learned in precisely the same manner and by the same method of instruction. Conversely, I recall very few instances where appreciation for intellectual diversity as well as diverse modalities of learning were offered to me in a learning event.  It is unclear to me if differentiation was offered to a specific individual, which is as it should be.  While I am rather astute in determining the processes employed by a trainer, I am assured that confidential was in play if diverse strategies, assessments, evaluations or formal assessments were offered.

As an adult educator, there are many frameworks from which we consider adult programs.  The frameworks I would employ when planning learning events would draw from androgyny, intellectual diversity, and dialogue education.

My assumptions about the adult learner in a training conducted by me would reflect an understanding that Knowles Six Assumptions are applicable for all learners. The reservoir of learning experience should be a resource for learning in problem-solving, internally motivated events (Merriam, Caffarella & Baumgartner, 2007).  The teaching strategies that would best engage learners and allow them to flourish are those that welcome intellectual diversity.  Adults with learning differences may approach learning events where respect for difference was not honored and where diverse learners were often unable to design, develop or execute their own learning. Events which welcome heterogeneity allows adult learners to succeed (Rodis & Witherell, 2001).

Human Resource Management:

The purpose of this meeting is to discover the previous learning and training experiences of the individual. I would meet with the team member along with the representative responsible for managing the initial intake of EEOC and ADA forms and procedures. We would begin by engaging the individual in a conversation regarding the previous training/learning participated in this organization in the past. Along with a discussion of what is a struggle, I would ask specifically where the “islands of competency (Rodis & Witherell,2001) lie.  The areas where an individual may shine is an opportunity to discover the type of learner, situation or where how a team member may be paired with success. A conversation of equal measure is one that encourages the team member to share the areas of success in learning in this employment setting.  At this time, I would ask the team member to share the types of accommodations that are in place to ensure a productive workplace setting. I would ask the extent of the involvement of the team member in planning for and in considering which accommodations or learning strategies would be useful.

Human Resource Development:

At the outset of program design, evaluation indicators should be established by those who conduct training and development. Evaluation indicators are designed into the learning experience that will be used to indicate that learning has taken place (Vella, 2008). When planning for learning, I would include the individual, the accommodations for work well for learning. The type (s) of assessments, pre, mid and post-assessments are a viable way in which to capture learning in the moment.  Assisted technology tools, which may already be a part of the individual’s plan, can help an adult during a learning event. Low tech assistance, in height of noise, interaction or conversation, the movement of instruction and the presence of the learning plan being offered ahead of time is simple ways in which to assist individuals who may find learning auditorily a challenge. As a member of training and development, it should be an integral component of the conversation to ask if there is a device that would improve, maintain or assist the functional capabilities of the adult in that setting.

At the conclusion of “Shimmers of Delight and Intellect,” Witherell & Rodis provide a very useful list of suggestions that could most certainly be considered when planning for instruction for intellectually diverse learners. Of the seventeen suggestions provided, all of which are quite useful, these resonate with my experience in adult learning where struggle resides:

  • Teach in ways that are cultural, linguistically, and developmentally responsive to all students.
  • Recognize and affirm the “islands of competency” that reside in every student.
  • Support copious and yet non-punitive practice in basic literacy skills.

Understanding a proclivity for confluence, in terms of creative and non-traditional problem-solving, I can foresee that a future role in training and developing adults with diverse learning styles and differences is going to be a challenge.  I have never found it difficult to do what is best for the learner.  Where I find a challenge, is in working within a system that is either unable or unwilling to consider diverse learning for adults.  The last bullet above is one that is so very important to all learners, but I assume even more so for those with a difference.  For example, the last year that I taught in a public school setting is one where a new assessment tool was unveiled to the faculty.  This new program was taught in a large group setting, using a power point, a lecture along with visual images of the computer program. One hour of training with a lack of diverse tools or strategies, with no opportunity to practice this new skill, was so very frustrating for the faculty.  Couple this event with the unveiling of two additional programs presented in the same format was such a poor way in which to train learners. There are diverse learning styles differences in each work setting, however, the thought that the children in classroom settings one day become working adults in an employment setting does not appear to surface on anyone’s radar.  How is this possible?  This was one important event that helped to tip my decision to educate, advocate and support adult learners!

 

Ultimately, at the core of any learning experience for adults is the learner.  When planning a learning event for an adult with learning differences, I cannot make assumptions about the individual and act on them without the learner.  The self-concept of the learner must be preserved.  Any prior experience that may be poor, exclusionary or collaborative is important to consider in order to allow for readiness to develop.  All adult learners can be motivated to learn in a positive, adult learner-centered, approach.

A new way to think about the word FAIL-first attempt in learning

FAIL

 

Resources:

Garrod, A., Rodis, P., & Boscardin, M.L. (Eds.), (2001).

         Learning disabilities and life stories. Allyn and Bacon, Boston, MA.

Merriam, S.B., Caffarella, R.S. & Baumgartner, L.M. (2012).

         Learning in adulthood.  A comprehensive guide. John Wiley & Sons.

Vella, J. (2008). On teaching and learning: Putting the principle

          practices of dialogue education into action. John Wiley & Sons.

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Adult 688 #3: Scenarios with mixed groups

Reflection Question:  How do you see yourself handling a teaching-learning scenario where there are individuals with learning disabilities in a mixed group?

Teaching adults in a learning event where there are disabilities in a mixed group seems a natural progression from the questions asked in the mid-term process.  All learning groups are mixed.  I cannot recall working in one where everyone in the group learned in precisely the same manner and by the same method of instruction. Conversely, I recall very few instances where appreciation for intellectual diversity as well as diverse modalities of learning was offered to me in a learning event.  It is unclear to me if differentiation was offered to a specific individual, which is as it should be.  While I am rather astute in determining the processes employed by a trainer, I am assured that confidentiality was in play if diverse strategies, assessments, evaluations or formal assessments were offered.

As an adult educator, there are many frameworks from which we consider adult programs.  The frameworks I would employ when planning learning events would draw from andragogy, intellectual diversity, and dialogue education.

My assumptions about the adult learner in a training conducted by me would reflect an understanding that Knowles Six Assumptions  (a layperson’s link) are applicable for all learners. The reservoir of learning experience should be a resource for learning in problem solving, internally motivated events (Merriam, Caffarella & Baumgartner, 2007).  The teaching strategies that would best engage learners and allow them to flourish are those that welcome intellectual diversity.  Adults with learning differences may approach learning events where respect for their individual difference was not honored and where diverse learners were often unable to design, develop or execute their own learning. Events which welcome heterogeneity allows adult learners to succeed (Rodis & Witherell, 2001).

Human Resource Management:

The purpose of this meeting is to discover the previous learning and training experiences of the individual. I would meet with the team member along with the representative responsible for managing the initial intake of EEOC and ADA forms and procedures. We would begin by engaging the individual in a conversation regarding the previous training/learning which occurred in this organization. Along with a discussion of what is a struggle, I would ask specifically where the “islands of competency” (Rodis & Witherell,2001) lie.  The areas where an individual may shine is an opportunity to discover the type of learner, situation or where how a team member may be paired for success. A conversation of equal measure is one that encourages the team member to share the areas of success in learning in this employment setting.  At this time, I would ask the team member to share the types of accommodations that are in place to ensure a productive workplace setting. I would ask the extent of the involvement of the team member in planning for and in considering which accommodations or learning strategies would be useful.

Human Resource Development:

At the outset of program design, evaluation indicators should be established by those who conduct training and development. Evaluation indicators are designed into the learning experience that will be used to indicate that learning has taken place (Vella, 2008). When planning for learning, I would include the individual, the accommodations which work well for learning. The type (s) of assessments, pre, mid and post assessments are a viable way in which to capture learning in the moment.  Assisted technology tools, which may already be a part of the individual’s plan, can help an adult during a learning event. Low tech assistance, as in the intensity of noise, interaction or conversation, the movement of instruction and the presence of the learning plan being offered ahead of time are simple ways in which to assist individuals who may find learning auditorily a challenge. As a member of training and development, it should be an integral component of the conversation to ask if there is a device that would improve, maintain or assist the functional capabilities of the adult in that setting.

At the conclusion of “Shimmers of Delight and Intellect,” Witherell & Rodis provide a very useful list of suggestions that could most certainly be considered when planning for instruction for intellectually diverse learners. Of the seventeen suggestions provided, all of which are quite useful, these resonate with my experience in adult learning where struggle resides:

  • Teach in ways that respond to the linguistic, culturally and developmental difference of all students.
  • Recognize and affirm the “islands of competency” that reside in every student.
  • Support copious and yet nonpunitive practice in basic literacy skills.

I can foresee that a future role in training and developing adults with diverse learning styles and differences is going to be a challenge.  I have never found it difficult to do what is best for the learner.  Where I find it challenging, is in working within a system that is either unable or unwilling to consider diverse learning for adults.  The last bullet above is one that is so very important to all learners, but I assume even more so for those with a difference.  For example, the last year that I taught in a public school setting is one where a new assessment tool was unveiled to the faculty.  This new program was taught in a large group setting, using a power point, a lecture along with visual images of the computer program. One hour of training with a lack of diverse tools or strategies, with no opportunity to practice this new skill, was so very frustrating for the faculty.  Couple this event with the unveiling of two additional programs presented in the same format was such a poor way in which to train learners. There are diverse learning styles differences in each work setting, however, the thought that the children in classroom settings one day become working adults in an employment setting does not appear to surface on anyone’s radar.  How is this possible?  This was one important event that helped to tip my decision to educate, advocate and support adult learners!

Ultimately, at the core of any learning experience for adults is the learner.  When planning a learning event for an adult with learning differences, I cannot make assumptions about the individual and act on them without the learner.  The self-concept of the learner must be preserved.  Any prior experience that may be poor, exclusionary or collaborative is important to consider in order to allow for readiness to develop.  All adult learners can be motivated to learn in a positive, adult learner-centered, approach.

A new way to think about the word FAIL-first attempt in learning.

FAIL

Resources:

Garrod, A., Rodis, P., & Boscardin, M.L. (Eds.), (2001).

          Learning disabilities and life stories. Allyn and Bacon, Boston, MA.

Merriam, S.B., Caffarella, R.S. & Baumgartner, L.M. (2012).

Learning in adulthood.  A comprehensive guide. John Wiley & Sons.

Vella, J. (2008). On teaching and learning: Putting the principles and

         practices of dialogue education into action. John Wiley & Sons.

Something to chew on…   Lab chewing a bone

The self-concept of the adult learner is the most important consideration when planning for instruction. A productive work setting is one in which adults transition from being directed to directing themselves as learners.

 

Adlt 606: #4 Field of Dreams-Embracing the why

“People will come, Laurie.  People will most definitely come,” say my gardening friends.  Asking a master gardener about the validity of a program such as the “Community Gardening Day” events designed for the adults of student gardeners is like preaching to the choir.  Master Gardeners gravitate to any training or educational experience that enhances one’s skill as a gardener.  Trainees, those who matriculate through the state program register for the course understanding that there are many previous ideas and assumptions to be challenged.  They take the “why” harder than the well-seasoned gardener. It is common to listen to the sighs of frustration between presentations. Our instructors, university professors, county extension agents as well as those engaged in private practice, are well skilled in releasing the whys behind their presentation.  They have no problem telling us what we are doing wrong and presenting the science behind it to validate their statements.  We accept the why and embrace it.  After all, to refute the science behind the why is to make oneself look less than enlightened.  On numerous occasions, I have jokingly suggested that one of the training sessions should be “Partner/Spouse 101,”  you know the individual (s) that we live with who not only refuse to embrace the why, but whom at times, sabotage the why of our work.  Laughter erupts, listeners nod in agreement and the conversation moves on to another topic.  I am left holding the proverbial bag, thus exposing a weakness in our program.  Where do I go from here and how do I engage others to embrace the why? Help!

James Earl Jones, in his Field of Dreams monologue reminds Kevin Costner’s character, Ray, that baseball is a part of America’s past.  It reminds us all of what was good and could be again. All he needs to do is to build the baseball field and then people will miraculously come.  How different is this idea about baseball, the Great American pastime, and America’s roots in gardening?  All I need is to create a gardening program and the community will come, yes?

Take any small group of people and give them a little time to reflect and reminisce.  Conversations about gardening and family members reflect significant experiences for many adults.  Older adults share memories of how gardens created to sustain families during the depression transitioned to Victory Gardens during World War II.  Middle-age adults recall hippy parents who become exurbanites who live organically.  Many within my surrounding area talk about how their grandmothers “put up” fruits and vegetables to enjoy during the winter months. Time spent with family doing work that is useful and meaningful reminds adults about what was and can be important.  Conversation almost invariably moves in a circuitous manner, as adults wonder why they no longer garden.

An important component to state and local gardening initiatives is to show that gardens provide nutritious food for family members with minimal cost and maxim health and economic benefits.  I have considered these ideals when creating a series of gardening events for adult learners.  Cafarella’s Successful Transfer of Learning Model considers the elimination of barriers a component that does not affect a program in isolation, but rather is interconnected with other factors. The Community Garden program, encompassing four learning events is broad enough to make the learning experience complex.  I found it challenging to take twenty or more initial objectives and condense the program into eight achievement based learning objectives (ABOs). Successful transfer of learning is crucial to the participants overall feeling of time well spent, as well as the acquisition of useful skills.  When writing this program, I considered carefully the myriad of ways Caffarella suggested as possible reasons for the lack of transfer.  The “other important people in the learners’ lives” is the one aspect of change that causes me concern.

I have neither the tools nor the experience thus far in my own gardening life to assist others.  When faced with an unknown I typically reflect on my experience as an educator and as a student for inspiration.  As a student in the Teaching with Technology track, I am reminded of the power of crowdsourcing as a way to problem solve.  In the world of digital learning, one is never alone.  There are many gardeners on Twitter ready to supply an idea or suggestion.

There are many changes necessary for learners to become successful gardeners. Embracing the changes necessary to create a community of gardeners means being willing to embrace a period of transition.  William Bridges suggests that every transition begins with an ending, is followed by a period of confusion, which eventually leads to a new beginning.  While some adult educators may consider this a misuse of his theory of transition, I would like to suggest that the learning events in this program indeed require greater effort, time and consideration, on the part of the learner, prior to making the leap to change old behaviors with new ones.

What behaviors will need to end?

  • Composting means that participants need to create a new routine for waste management along with time to sort the harvest. This practice is easier said than done.  Composting eliminates excessive garbage and smell during the warm months, yet means remembering to sort correctly and to feed worms that are living in your home. (To which some readers say, “Yuck!”)
  • Gardening preparation means that participants will need to consider the health of the soil by testing and amending it. The clay soil in Virginia leaves much to be desired!
  • Intensive gardening means considering not only the spacing of plants but also the need for resources and beneficial partnerships with other plantings, such as flowers and herbs.
  • The old method of plop and go does not yield a successful crop of vegetables, as a friend recently lamented when telling me of the death of his garden.

The structure of the learning tasks provides a safety for the learners as well as accountability for me as the designer.  I structured a time for dialogue and discussion during the induction period of each event. The time to understand the context in which learning occurred engages emotional intelligence on the part of the designer and implementers. Leaders should strive to develop a personal relationship with each participant.  Bridges suggests that individuals keep the connections to the people and places that define who we are. Learners who feel a sense of connection to the community garden and a sense of acceptance among the volunteer gardeners may develop a positive reaction to their new learning. Merriam and Clark suggest that in order for the experience to be significant it must be attended to and reflect on.  Dialog provides a place in which the learner could tell his or her story about the learning. It is my hope that the learning events produce positive effects on the learners through education. An increased sense of worth, because of the learning and relationships developed through the program, makes the effort necessary to produce this program well worth it!

I listen to Margaret Roach’s podcast “A Way to Garden,” while doing housework or while waiting for soccer practice to end.  I find her weekly dose of “gardening know how and woo woo” inspiring. Through her podcast interviews, I have met many gardeners of national importance, who share failures and successes of a life of gardening endeavors.   She is Terrance Mann and my fellow gardeners are the baseball players of games long gone. She is standing in the community garden telling me, “If I plan it, they will come.”

 

Adlt 606: #1 This I believe…

source: questpcs.com
source: questpcs.com

A mission statement is a common element found in every academic institutions where I have worked.  In my early days of teaching, I would stand in front of the elevator at the end of the day, laden with a cart full of objects, and stare at the mission statement for my school.  The statement, created several years before I arrived, was an idea that I was to uphold. It was understood that it would best serve the needs of the community.  I wondered if this statement, crafted with great care after hours of meetings, reflected the verbiage and ideas relevant to the community?  This institution is not necessarily any different from any other in which I have worked. In all the planning, are the stakeholders, namely those of the community of educators, parents and students involved in the discussion and writing of a statement about them?

Design and Delivery of Adult Programs promises to be an incredibly useful course, one that is certain to establish a path for how to create and unfold a program from the beginning to the end!  I enter this stage of my graduate studies with the understanding that I will relive the myriad of ways in which I have skirted through programs by the seat of my pants.  I will be confronted with all of the errors made in good faith. I’ve offered numerous programs for both children and adults.Small after school activities, such as “Yarn Girls,” a program for elementary girls interested in learning how to knit required relatively little planning on my part.  Three day events to Wallops Island the Eastern Shore of Virginia meant suffering one year through the beginning stages of pregnancy to the next year where I brought my infant son on a marine biology excursion with 7th grade life science students.    The adults who accompanied me were warm and supportive. They marvelled at my tenacity years before Americans saw, “Keep Calm and Carry On,” in every shop. I reflect on those years of program planning with little or no experience and wonder how not only I survived, but how did the participants survive? (Thank goodness all of these programs occurred prior to Facebook, Instagram and text messaging.)

Dr. Rosemary Caffarella, in her short interview with Dr. Terry Carter, recalled an assignment that she gave to her students, “This I believe.”  A clearly defined set of beliefs, she recalled, should be the basis for every educator’s practice.  For surely, what one believes certainly affects one’s practice.  With this idea in mind, I began to consider the informal learning and reading that I have done during the last year. The authors that I have read and several of the MOOCs that I have taken since January have not only influenced my beliefs, but have certainly challenged them! A smattering of ideas that have circulated throughout conversations, writing and hangouts this year contribute to the ideas below.

This I believe….about Adult Learners

  • The “School of Hard Knocks” is probably the single most connective experience that joins all adults.  Yes, some skirt around it while others wallow in the hard lessons learned as an adult.  I believe that these knocks color one’s outlook on life and often shape the way an adult progresses.  When developing relationships with learners, there’s always something that binds us, even if it’s not the most outstanding moment of our lives.  I believe that experience shapes an adult. Informal learning is often more significant than formal learning.  It’s important to acknowledge every experience and understand how it may guide the life and work of the adult. (No time limit on this schooling, as it is unfortunately on-going!)
  • Years ago I discovered the work of Michael Gurian.  His latest work, The Wonder of Aging, celebrates life after fifty! Imagine research that extols the virtues of wisdom that comes with age? Gurian segments the second half of life into three stages; The Age of Transformation, from the late 40’s until the early 60’s, The Age of Distinction, from the mid-sixties until age 80 and The Age of Completion, from 80 years of age until death. The ideas proposed in this work are important for me to consider as an adult educator. We life in a society where older adults can enjoy the benefits offered by senior centers, institutes for lifelong learning and volunteerism.  I that as an educator, I believe that I can help aging adults through transformation to completion as Gurian suggests. I believe that older adults have so much to offer young people, yet they often speak disparagingly of  themselves.  Diversity is a politically correct term that peppers many conversations in higher education. I believe that diversity in learning and working environments should also encompass the inclusion of older adults in the workforce rather than the exclusion of them.  Michele Woodward’s interview about Working Life After 50 is certainly worth the time to listen.  (Don’t bother looking for this book in the library or the local bookstore, as it’s “out of stock” in all of the Barnes and Noble stores around my area!) (Read: August 2013)
  • Life in a university town certainly certainly offers residents a wealth of resources.  I spent the last two years as a public school educator participating in the CASTL (Center for the Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning) research program at the University of Virginia.  One component of the research study asked me to respond to questions about my attitudes and perceptions about learning.  A quick look at Carol Dweck’s  quiz will provide an idea about how a teacher’s perceptions might “color” the behaviors of students.  While I knew what the test hoped to uncover, I found that my answers often fell in either the the non-committal column.  I just wasn’t sure about the statements asked on the survey that quite frankly resembled those on Dweck’s quiz.   My ideas about learning and teaching experienced a shift as a result of her work.  (Read: July 2013)
  • The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle should really be read in tandem with  Carol Dweck‘s work. Duke University used the first chapter of this book for a Coursera writing course.  While many students shredded his ideas, I found that once I waded through the first two chapters that Coyle’s ideas were grounded in research and provided ideas about the concept of practice, dedication and most importantly mistakes.  Adult learners have lived a lifetime either in fear of making a mistake or of paying for their mistakes.  I used the example of knitting in my review of Coyle’s first chapter.  The task really doesn’t matter, what matters is one’s mindset about effort and building myelin-that broadband that results when deep practice occurs.  I spent two days knitting, ripping out and restarting a new project.  The ideas proposed by Coyle make me believe that it’s worth my time to go back to the source of my mistake and to participate in deep practice.  I learned the pattern…spoiler alert… for this year’s BFF Christmas presents! This ol’ dog continues to learn new tricks! (Building myelin also gives one a chance to keep those “choice” words polished and in working order, yes?) (Read: June 2013)
  • My mentor is amazed at the number of social media and technology skills that I have cultivated at “my age!”  While I laugh and tell her that I paid $2k to learn these skills, I wonder if her reaction is steeped in the myth of Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants?  If there’s one complaint that I have regarding work with adult learners, it is the common belief young people have technology skills because it comes naturally to them.   I listen with patiently as adults provide a variety of reasons for their lack of knowledge.  I remind them calmly about all of the technological changes that they have welcomed and enjoyed.  Ah, yes, they nod.  We have all enjoyed electric windows for years, electric garage door openers and keyless entry for our automobiles. My older teacher friends recall with fondness the days when we were required to wear stockings and heels in classrooms with no air conditioning, “Said no teacher ever!” (If you have teacher friends the someecards circulate FB with regularity.) So what makes the computer, a smart phone and social media so intimidating?  One component of the E-Learning and Digital Cultures, a MOOC through the University of Edinburgh, was the discussion of Natives vs. Immigrants.  The language is itself presents political challenges to so many people, yet the Marc Prensky’s ideas permeate the thinking of many adults.  The connectivist approach to this on-line course fueled a global approach to discussions around concepts such as the meaning of digital prowess.  A class colleague, Andy Mitchell, shared David White’s work, which provides a more accurate and graceful way in which to begin a conversation about digital literacy with adult learners.  I believe that the emergence of social media presents many challenges for adult learners, one of which is a natural suspicion for anything linked with the internet.  Connective theories of learning are exciting ways in which adults cultivate relationships at every stage of adulthood. (Coursera Class:  January 2013)

This is an exciting time to be an adult learner. I’m transitioning through Gurian’s “Age of Transformation” as I look forward to this next segment of my graduate studies.  I welcome opportunities to develop ideas about adult learners through traditional coursework, v, as I cultivate relationships globally through Massive Open Online Courses and while exploring facets of adult learning through the design and delivery of programs.  Beliefs about learning, unlike mission statements, are fluid.