Monthly Archives: April 2012

Free PD Opportunity – Help Us Pilot Our NEW EFF Online Math Mini-Courses

Register soon to participate in the FREE pilot of our new online mini-course Shaping Up! Connecting Geometry and Algebra for ALL Learners being held  from May 14 – 31st, 2012. Registration deadline May 4th (see below for details).

We are also offering Line ‘Em Up! Linear Functions – Graphs and Equations for ALL Learners from July 23rd – August 6th, 2012. Registration deadline July 6th.

To register for either of these courses, simply send an e-mail to with your full name, preferred phone # and postal mailing address.

The regular course cost of $189 will be waived for the first 15 persons who register and agree to provide pilot feedback.

We are pleased to offer our readers this online professional development opportunity designed to assist adult educators in building a stronger foundation in mathematics for their students and themselves. More information on EFF mini-course and information covered in these courses follows.

Please do not hesitate to leave a comment with any questions you have, or to share your experiences with EFF online PD!


Equipped for the Future online mini-courses provide you with one-on-one attention from a content-expert facilitator, and are designed to be completed on your own schedule in approximately 8 hours during the 2 scheduled weeks.

  •      Courses will be open for up to 3 weeks but are intended to be completed in 2 weeks
  •      Participants should plan on committing 3-5 hours per week for a total of 8 hours
  •      Course uses e-mail, online surveys, and individualized online portfolios to post assignments
  •      Certificate of Completion awarded upon completion of all assignments; CEUs available
  •      View the course policies & technical requirements

Shaping Up! Connecting Geometry and Algebra for ALL Learners explores:

  • Ways to introduce geometric concepts like similarity, congruence, perimeter and area to adult learners at ALL educational levels.
  • Developing informal rules and formulas for perimeter and area of rectangular and triangular shapes.
  • Using concrete and visual tools to make sense of geometric situations
  • Applying geometric reasoning in real-world contexts.
  •  Helping learners to see and articulate connections between geometry and algebra

Line ‘Em Up! Linear Functions:Graphs and Equations for ALL Learners explores:

  • Defining & describing functions using familiar examples from your own experiences
  • Making connections among different representations of a function, including
  • in-out tables, graphs, and equations
  • Deriving formulas from patterns in in-out tables and graphs
  • Differentiating between linear and non-linear functions

Again, registration is easy – just send an e-mail to with your name, preferred phone # and postal mailing address.

And remember – course enrollment is FREE for the first 15 persons who register and agree to provide pilot feedback!


For more information on ALL of EFF’s online professional development visit:

“Writing the Book” at COABE 2012: An Interview with Peggy McGuire

On Thursday, April 12, 2012, writing content expert Peggy McGuire lead a discussion at the National COABE Conference exploring how to support adult students in writing effectively for postsecondary transition.

Peggy McGuire photoAs a follow up to our post earlier this month, we interviewed Peggy about her session at COABE, and have posted her responses here for our readers. If you attended her session, please be sure to chime in and add your view point.  If you weren’t able to attend, please don’t hesitate to post any questions or idea you have for Peggy on this topic – she’d love to hear from you all!


Thanks, Peggy, for taking the time to share with us about your COABE session in Norfolk.

No problem, it was a great session, and I’d love for our blog readers to hear about it.

So, Peggy, remind us, what was your session about?

My COABE 2012 workshop was a double session (two 75-minute sessions back-to-back) titled ‘Writing the Book’ on Writing for Postsecondary Transitions. I designed the session to focus on the writing that adult education students need to do for successful postsecondary transitions, and on ways that adult ed teachers can prepare them to do it. Specifically, I was trying to support the proposition that to help our students write for transitions, we can teach them strategies for:

  •  Identifying transition-related purposes, audiences and tasks/contexts for writing (i.e., “rhetorical aims”).
  •  Identifying writing genres appropriate to the rhetorical aims to be addressed.
  • Generating and organizing ideas for writing.
  • Using the full writing process at the transition level to accomplish their writing goals/rhetorical aims.

Tell us a bit about the participants – who attended your session?

13 folks participated; they represented at least 6 states and a variety of adult education/literacy centers and community/technical college providers. This was admittedly a fairly small group; however, it felt like an ideal size to me for some good interaction and collaborative learning, and the members of the group were really smart, engaged and insightful! I felt really fortunate to get to work with them in a pretty intense way, and the time just flew by!

You had a double session on the COABE schedule – how did you organize your presentation?  Can you give us some more specifics about what you covered?

I organized the session so that the first part focused on what I call “the WHAT and WHY” – instructional activities that teachers can use to 1) help students identify the rhetorical aims of the writing they need to do, and 2) help students know the “rules” of the different kinds of writing they will need to use – different writing genres like persuasion, description, comparison, process analysis, etc. — in order to meet these rhetorical aims.

The second part of the session focused on “the HOW”. In it we looked at the EFF content standard Convey Ideas in Writing and the research-based writing process that it describes, as an overall approach to accomplishing transition-related writing tasks that we can teach our students. With it, they will be able to apply the writing knowledge and strategies they are learning to plan, draft and revise text that will meet their writing goals. Then we spent time discussing some fairly detailed examples of what this kind of writing instruction might look like in actual teacher lesson plans.

That sounds great – a really chock-full session! Was there a specific format to the example lesson plans?  Could you share one of those examples with us?

Sure, here’s a model lesson plan we worked with that focuses on teaching students to write an ‘academic-type’ persuasive essay similar to those needed for post-secondary education placement tests and coursework.

As you can see, the lesson planning tool/form we looked at is organized so that the teachers have to clearly describe:

  1. What they expect students to know and do in each step of the writing process for a particular writing task, and 
  2. Exactly what knowledge, skills and strategies they will need to teach students in each step along the way.

As one participant pointed out, the planning form we looked at might also serve as a tool for developing scoring rubrics that both teachers and students could use to evaluate the resulting writing.

Sounds like there was a lot of discussion going on – like the participants were really involved.

In general I always like to “mix up” information-sharing and hands-on activities in a workshop like this, so participants did a bit of writing and talking to each other as well as listening to me! I remember one particularly great exchange about how we can help students learn how to do content revision of their writing (instead of seeing “revision” only as correcting mistakes or proofreading). In both sessions I tried to model in my own facilitation some instructional strategies that teachers can replicate and use in the classroom.

And how did the participants like your session? What kind of feedback did you get?

Participants seemed pretty pleased with the session. They indicated that they particularly enjoyed:

  • The discussion and interaction between presenter and participants – the good sharing of ideas.
  • The emphasis on explicitly identifying writing purposes and audiences (“rhetorical aims”), and
  • The focus on teaching specific conventions and strategies so that students have the tools to consciously make choices about the best way to address their writing purposes.

When asked how the session might have been better, they pretty much said that they would have liked MORE — more strategies, more materials, more time! I have to tell you – as a facilitator I love to hear that, even though there never seems to be enough time to do everything I’d like to. That was especially true for me at this session because the participants were so interested and so interesting; what a wonderful opportunity it was for a good conversation among colleagues!

Well it sounds like it was a great ‘writing’ session at COABE – thanks so much for sharing with us!

Thank you!  I’m just hoping I’m lucky enough to enjoy many more such opportunities – both at COABE and via this blog.

Again, Peggy would love to hear from you – whether you attended the session or not, please share your thoughts on this topic!

For more about on the EFF approach to teaching writing, including the research behind the process, visit the EFF Assessment Resource Collection and The Research Base for Convey Ideas in Writing

“Say That Again?” Why We Should Teach Strategies for Listening and Speaking

Think of a challenging speaking or listening task you’ve accomplished lately.
What did you do to try to plan for or get through this task?

Now consider, what kinds of listening and/or speaking tasks non-native speakers may find challenging.
Would the approach you used in the above situation assist them to communicate effectively for any of these tasks?  Which ones?

As educators, we are often encouraged to teach ‘strategies for reading‘ to our adult learners, as well as ‘strategies for writing‘ and even ‘strategies for solving‘ various types of mathematical problems.  But we don’t hear nearly as much about teaching specific strategies for listening or for speaking to our adult learners. What strategies should we teach? and how?

For most of us, listening and speaking is something we do repeatedly throughout every day. Thus we often take these skills for granted – unconsciously implementing important strategies that help us to communicate with those around us. When a speaking/listening task is more challenging or more critical, however, you are likely to slow down and think through how to handle it – engaging in strategic thinking. Language instruction expert Andy Nash provides an example and some information from the research:

…I know how to monitor my comprehension when I’m listening – I am  skilled at checking that things make sense, asking for clarification, taking notes, paraphrasing, etc. But I don’t always use these skills. I may let my mind wander and lose track of what’s being said. However, if I know the speaker is going to be talking about something that really matters to me and that I’m prone to drifting off, I may think ahead about which of my skills I’ll use in this situation. I might plan to take notes or sit up front to stay focused. My skills then become purposeful strategies that I’ll use to make sure I understand and remember what I hear.

Studies have found that good language learners are aware of the ‘communication strategies’ they use and are skilled at matching these strategies to the task they are working on. For instance, good learners know that if they lose the meaning because someone is speaking too fast, they need to use a ‘repair strategy’ that will solve the problem (e.g., asking the speaker to slow down) in order to regain their understanding.

Less strategic learners, like many adult ESL students, may be aware of being confused, but may not know what to do, or may choose a less effective strategy (e.g., asking for repetition, which may still be too fast). Less able learners tend to use what communication strategies they do know in a more random, unconnected, and uncontrolled way (Chamot, 2005).

Many contemporary textbooks give students practice with strategies, and even provide some steps to follow. They may include activities such as this one on  the ‘Prediction’ strategy for listening:

  1. Predict what you will hear the speaker talk about.
  2. Take notes as you listen.
  3. Now compare what you heard to your predictions.

Such an activity is intended to give students practice with prediction strategies. It assumes, however, that learners will appreciate the value of this language strategy and transfer its use to real-life communication situations outside the classroom. Research finds, however, that transfer cannot be assumed (Bransford, Brown, and Cocking, 2000). Without explicit discussion of why the strategy is useful or how and when to adapt the strategy for use in diverse real situations, application does not usually go beyond the classroom walls.

Understanding that proper strategy use is contextualized – that it will vary by situation – is key to students’ ability to apply strategies to real life tasks.  It is not enough to simply present a strategy and have students practice it during academic tasks. Instruction must explore how that strategy will be applied in a variety of different real-world activities – or contexts – in order to be sure students can use the strategy to meet varied communication purposes.

While Andy was specifically addressing the needs of non-native speakers of English (ESL learners), her points could apply to many of our native-speaking adult learners as well.  Effective listening and speaking – communication – skills are critical components of success in both post-secondary and workplace settings.  And basing instruction on real-world situations – contexts – is an effective approach for any subject.

Please share with us your thoughts on strategies for listening and speaking – its importance both in and outside the classroom, how you address it, any ‘ah-has’ you’ve had, etc.  Below are some questions Andy poses to get you started:

  • What strategies for listening and/or speaking do you currently teach your adult learners? How do you teach these strategies (what examples or approaches do you use)?
  • Have you ever talked with your students about the strategies they use when  they communicate? If so, what strategies do they describe using? How do these compare with your own?

We look forward to reading your thoughts and experiences.

Learn more about teaching listening and speaking strategies in the EFF online mini-course, Teaching Listening and Speaking Strategies in Adult ESL, or via other EFF professional development materials/services!

 Research cited in this post:

Anna Uhl Chamot (2005). Language Learning Strategy Instruction: Current Issues And Research. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 25, pp 112-130.

Bransford, J. D., A. L. Brown, and Cocking, R.R., eds. (2000). How People Learn. Washington, D.C., National Academy Press. Available at:

Writing for Postsecondary Transitions: COABE Discussion, Thursday April 12

What writing do adult students need to do for successful post-secondary transition?

How can teachers prepare them to do it?

Writing content expert Peggy McGuire will lead participants at the National COABE Conference in exploring these questions during a double session Thursday, April 12 from 10:45 am – noon and 1:45 – 3 pm.

During her session, Peggy plans to lead a discussion of:

  • the writing process
  • writing purposes/audiences/tasks relevant to post-secondary education
  • what it means to write effectively for post-secondary transition (skills and experiences needed)

Her session will also include discussions of ‘how to teach’ writing for post-secondary purposes/audiences/tasks, and will engage participants in activities designed to support  adult students’ development as writers who write effectively for post-secondary transition.

In preparation for her session, and for those of us NOT able to attend, we ask you to reflect on the following questions and then please  post a comment in response:

What kinds of writing have *you* needed to do to get into college/university or for any postsecondary courses you have taken? What writing skills did *you* need to be successful in classes?

We look forward to reading about your college-level writing experiences!

Again, Peggy’s session is Thursday, April 12 from 10:45 am – noon and 1:45 – 3 pm, and is currently scheduled for the Marriott III.  Be on the look out for a follow up post on her COABE session here on EFFTIPS!



The Commission on Adult Basic Education (COABE) is hosting their Annual Conference in Norfolk, Virginia April 9th – 13, 2012.  For more information visit:
You can also check out this link to the full conference program book  [pdf format].

EFFTIPS goes International!

Welcome to our visitors and new subscribers from New Zealand! 

We are excited and surprised to have visitors from the far side of the world to our EFFTIPS blog while it is in its pilot phase.

Please, let us know – How did you hear about this online resource?
And as international subscribers, what kinds of information, supports, and ideas would you like to see on EFFTIPS?

And to our U.S. readers, what kinds of questions might you have for New Zealand practitioners?

 We’re looking forward to hearing from you all!


Moeraki Boulders in New Zealand's South Island