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.



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.”