Category Archives: Quality Practices

On the Road: Supporting College-and-Career-Ready Adult Learners

Peggy will be “hitting the road” next week to represent EFF and CLEE at a national conference on effective transitions in adult education.

Peggy McGuire photo

Peggy McGuire,
EFF Writing Content Expert

Peggy McGuire will be in Providence, RI for “Promoting College and Career Readiness for Adults”, an annual event sponsored by the National College Transition Network, on November 7 through 9.

Peggy will present 2 sessions during the conference focusing on the writing knowledge, skills and strategies that participants in adult education programs need for successful transition to postsecondary education and training. One session will share effective instructional practices and the second will focus on developing an adult education research agenda around writing  and college and career readiness.

Peggy is also looking forward to networking with and learning from other practitioners from all over the country – practitioners who share her strong interest in supporting adult learners in their efforts to access, persist in and complete postsecondary programs of study (a bunch of them – the organizers say the conference is “sold out”!).

She promises to report back on the highlights of her conference experience when she returns.

Here are some sights to look out for Peggy!

Space   spasTextured Gear Providence R.I.

How DO They Learn Best? Using Learning Preferences in the Classroom and Beyond

How do you prefer to learn?
When attending professional development, taking a class or gaining a new skill, do you prefer to read? Listen? Watch someone do it? Learn by doing?

Based on just our own personal experiences, we can pretty easily figure out that different people use different styles of learning (or learning modalities) for different purposes.  The concept of “learning styles” has gotten a lot of attention in the adult education community over the past few years, especially among teachers who are trying to meet the differing needs of individual students while providing instruction in a group setting. It various forms, is also a commonly addressed in workplace professional development.

How have others’ learning preferences’ affected you in the workplace? Have you participated in ‘learning styles’ type training activities as an employee?

Learning Style theories propose that different people learn in different ways and that it is good to know what your own preferred learning style is. Often we hear learning styles defined as “visual, auditory, and kinesthetic” –  referring to how we use the senses to learn or demonstrate knowledge. Another popular model was developed by  John Gardner in the 1980s –  Multiple Intelligences Theory. 1  While he didn’t provide any direct empirical support for his theory, Gardner presented evidence from many areas of study including biology, anthropology, and the creative arts. 2  In the early 90’s he looked at how his theory might apply to the learning that goes on among children in school.His basic points were these:

  1. Individuals should be encouraged to use their preferred intelligences in learning.
  2. Instructional activities should appeal to different forms of intelligence.
  3. Assessment of learning should measure multiple forms of intelligence.

While Gardner did not include adult learners in his research, teachers working with our highly diverse groups of adult learners have found success in using this approach, as well as other learning style theories.  These days it is possible to find numerous tests, inventories and checklists that can be used by adults to help them identify their own preferred intelligences, or learning styles.

Have you used any of these ‘learning style/intelligences’ inventories/tools to determine your own preferences? Do you feel they were accurate? Helpful?

As an Instructor, how have you used (or might you use) information on your students’ preferred learning modalities? Do you feel it was (or is likely to be) important to your instruction?

Below is a story about one teacher’s ‘ah ha’ moment with her students – does her story sound at all familiar to you? Have you tried anything similar to the strategies she mentions?

Elizabeth Gardner is a Workforce Preparation Instructor at Suits for Success in Jersey City, NJ. For thepast 2 years she has been using EFF’s Preparing for Work curriculum to help prepare groups of clients for workplace success. In the Orientation Module at the beginning of the curriculum, an activity called “How Do I Learn Best?” guides students through the process of reflecting on and learning about their own preferred learning styles and strategies (including the use of an inventory). Elizabeth has facilitated this activity with several different groups of students, but note that one time it seemed to “work” above and beyond her expectations.

In this group, like others, some of the students had never done a learning style inventory, and several who had done one before noted that their preferred learning style had changed since the last time they did it. Because of the interest and enthusiasm they showed for the topic, I decided to take the activity beyond individuals just looking at their own preferences, and see if I could move them towards concepts in the Cooperating With Others Standard.

I asked my students to describe what they had learned about themselves to the whole class, and then to talk about how the class could play to their learning styles. As a result, in addition to talking about their own learning styles, they listened to each other, and some students started spontaneously brainstorming ideas for each other. Without being asked, they started thinking about how each of their peers might learn best!  Then the class ended up talking not only about how knowing your own learning style(s) can be used in the workplace, but also about how identifying other people’s learning styles can allow you to help out coworkers, i.e: How might you show consideration for someone else’s learning style at work? This conversation seemed to have a longer-lasting impact than I expected. I observed learning from students based on that discussion weeks later – such as a student ‘recorder’ for one activity drawing a picture next to the text “for visual learners” or one student asking another what was said because “I know you’re a listener.”

I think my experience of this one activity really affected how I plan other learning activities. It really helped me to understand that each group I work with will be made up of individuals with various learning styles, so each group dynamic will be different. This will cause students to respond differently to activities in the curriculum I follow; something that doesn’t work with one group could be a favorite with the next group of students. One group, for instance, might enjoy and learn from a role-playing type activity, but are much less likely to respond or stay engaged in more static “think and talk” activities –  while the next class  might be just the opposite! I think it is really important to figure out up front how students learn best, and then choose or change learning activities [from ANY curriculum] to match up with the learning styles/preferences/goals of each group of students.

Please share with us your experiences in using information about students’ preferred learning styles in your instruction – how that information helps you meet your students’ needs, how you address the differences you find, any ‘ah-has’ you’ve had, etc.  Any of the questions posed in this post can help you get started.

We look forward to an exciting conversation!

Click to learn more about EFF Preparing for Work curriculum or contact us via

For more information on Learning Styles, you can start by visiting this page.
Note that the links ‘For Further Study’ listed on the right hand side lead to some sample inventories.

Post Contributors:
Peggy McGuire, EFF Trainer & Content Expert, Center for Literacy, Education and Employment
Duren Thompson, Program Coordinator and EFFTIPS Technical Editor, Center for Literacy, Education and Employment
Elizabeth Gardner, Workforce Preparation Instructor at Suits for Success in Jersey City, NJ


1 Gardner, H. (1982). Art, Mind and Brain. New York : Basic Books.

Gardner, H. (1983). Frames of Mind. New York: Basic Books.

3 Gardner, H. (1993a). Multiple Intelligences: The Theory in Practice. New York: Basic Books.

In the News: The Structure and Purpose of Algebra Instruction

Have you recently found something interesting ‘in the news’? If so – let us know at Here’s something we found that seems to be creating a ‘buzz’ in the adult education community:

Aaron Kohring and Donna Curry, EFF math content experts, note that the recent New York Times op-ed piece by Andrew Hacker “Is Algebra Necessary?” sparked a *lively* discussion over on the LINCS numeracy discussion list – they recommend that you hop over and take a look at it.

In particular, these quotes from the discussion stood out:

“Teaching math without algebra is like teaching science without the scientific method. [i.e.] ‘This is the way it is. Memorize it. No, I can’t explain how I know. This is what’s in the book, so it’s right.’ It might get you through the test, but it’s a long way from helping you understand how to use these powerful tools for your own purposes.”
Rachel Baron GED/ABE Instructor

I haven’t always been the mathlete that I am today, but math taught me to never give up, to try different approaches, to think differently about the problem I was working, and jubilation of finding a solution. Math has not depleted my brainpower but has given me more tools in which I am able to think more efficiently and effectively.” 
Brooke Istas, Moderator, LINCS Math and Numeracy List

“The study of algebra promotes forethought and planning, devising a systematic and logical process to derive a solution. Does this not apply in all aspects of life? I tell students that “algebra” is a planning system. When problems become more complex and require the execution of multiple steps in the correct order, we think it through and create the “plan” of execution which is the algebra equation. It is like a recipe.” 
Maureen Carro, Academic Learning Solutions

Now some might say that subscribers to a Math and Numeracy discussion list might be biased in favor of Algebra. Here’s a post Duren found on the blogosphere from a young bibliophile and professed ‘math hater’  — also in rebuttal of the NYT article: The Fear of Math.

In the EFF online mini-course Algebrafying Arithmetic: Developing algebraic reasoning with ALL learners Donna Curry addresses this issue of ‘algebra fear’ and the need to re-think algebra instruction:

“Rather than refer to ‘algebra’, we might want to talk about ‘algebraic thinking’ or ‘algebraic reasoning’ so that we understand that it is more than just about manipulating symbols. When we understand what algebraic thinking includes, we can more readily recognize how it is used in life. Algebraic thinking involves recognizing and analyzing patterns, studying and representing relationships, making generalizations, and analyzing how things change. It is about making predictions based on patterns or relationships, making decisions, and solving real problems. It is about creating models based on phenomena that occur around us.

If we want our students to be proficient in algebraic reasoning, then we may need to rethink how we approach math.

Algebra is often taught as an abstract set of rules for manipulating cryptic symbols – and many adults have learned to fear algebra because of it. Activities based on real-life examples, solved with concrete tools like [play] money or other manipulatives, can combat these fears.

Donna also notes that the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) advocates for algebraic reasoning to be taught and learned at the very earliest ages (see graphic at right).1  This recommendation is echoed in all levels of the EFF Use Math to Solve Problems and Communicate Performance Continuum for adult learners.

For more on this topic, we recommend the following NCTM resource on Algebraic thinking — cited in both the LINCS discussion and the mini-course: A Journey in Algebraic Thinking, by Cathy L. Seeley

SO – based on the original article and the various viewpoints expressed, what are YOUR thoughts on the importance of algebra? Is algebra useful to everyone in their daily lives or only for those continuing into postsecondary education?

Why teach algebra to our adult learners? What are some examples of algebra – or algebraic thinking – in YOUR daily life? Your students lives?

Comment and add your voice to the buzz!

To learn more about teaching Algebraic thinking in the EFF online mini-course,  Algebrafying Arithmetic: Developing algebraic reasoning with ALL learners contact us via

Post Contributor:

Donna Curry, EFF Trainer & Content Expert, Center for Literacy Studies

References and Resources

1 National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, Executive Summary: Principles and Standards for School Mathematics, pp 3-4., Reston, VA

Benchmark Numbers: Everyone Can ‘DO’ Fractions, Decimals and Percents!

How do your students generally feel about fractions? decimals? percentages? Do they moan and groan and say “I hate these” or “I can’t DO… (fractions, decimals, percents)”

How about yourself? How much do you enjoy computations and problem solving involving fractions, decimals and percentages?

A common challenge for many of our learners is their ability to work with a particular set of number concepts: fractions, decimals, and percents. Our learners have often developed ‘mental blocks’ to these mathematical concepts and even develop anxiety upon hearing the terms. Yet anyone entering an adult education classroom has already had years of experience in solving problems and mental math involving fractions, decimals, and percentages. Honest!

Think back over the past 24 hours. How often did you use fractions? Think about a percentage? Interact with a decimal?(other than as part of instruction)

Ok now, how often did you use or encounter the concept of  ½? 10%? .25? How about quarters, dimes or dollars?

Clearly, adults encounter and use these types of benchmark numbers every day in various facets of their lives – in their work, with their families, and out in the community. See if these examples sound familiar:

  • “Split that with your sister – each of you can have HALF.”
  • “I want to see a 100% team effort!”
  • “Thank you for shopping with us, you saved $3.75.”

Helping students to realize that they ALREADY SUCCESSSFULLY USE  fractions , decimals and  percentages is one way to combat anxiety and “I can’t” attitudes. Another recommendation is to incorporate activities using these friendly ‘fractional numbers’ into instruction with ALL learners – even those still learning their basic math facts.1 Note that these recommendations are not limited to adult education – the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics call for fractional concepts to be explicitly taught at the 3rd grade level, and introduced less directly even earlier (via telling time, comparing measurements, dividing shapes into parts, etc.). These standards also state: 

Mathematically proficient students can apply the mathematics they know to solve problems arising in everyday life, society, and the workplace.”  (CCSS-M Introduction)

Thus of course, as always, it is important to keep it REAL. Instruction should be based in everyday contexts that are meaningful to your specific group of learners. Here are some example contextual activities from the EFF Preparing for Work Curriculum that address fractional concepts:   A Typical Day/Time on Task

It is also important to note that many adult learners working at more advanced levels of math instruction may have an incomplete understanding of fractional concepts. They may have memorized a process, or algorithm, but cannot easily or readily apply it to real-world situations, or easily convert from fractions to decimals to percentages. Again, some work with basic benchmarks can help – even those who think they ‘know’ fractions, etc..

 Could your students easily move from ‘80 out of 100’ to ‘80 percent’ to ‘8 tenths’?Do they seem to confuse fractions, decimals and percentages or give up when asked?

In Algebraic Thinking in Adult Education (2010), Lynda Ginsburg emphasizes the importance of making connections among multiple representations of the same information – symbols, tables, graphs, etc.2   This idea applies to number concepts for fractions, decimals and percents as well.  Learners need instruction and practice in understanding the equivalencies between fractions, decimals, and percentages to deepen their conceptual understanding of these numbers. Activities that mix together fractions, decimals and percentages, and/or ask students to move from one representation to its equivalent (10% to 1/10 to .1) are effective tools for both assessing and strengthening understanding. Comparing Numbers is one example of such an activity (also from the EFF Preparing for Work Curriculum).

Please share with us your tips and tricks for helping adult students to understand number concepts relating to ‘fractional parts’ (fractions, decimals or percentages).
Try out one of the ideas in this post, and let us know how it worked for your learners
(and you).  Below is one last resource to help get you started!

Using Benchmarks: Fractions, Decimals, and Percents – STUDENT BOOK – Lesson 5: One-tenth3

We look forward to hearing from you and your class!

To learn more about teaching Benchmarks in the EFF online mini-courseHow Close is Close Enough?: Improving Estimation Skills  or in the EFF Preparing for Work curriculum, contact us via

Post Contributor:
Duren Thompson, EFFTIPS Content and Technical Editor, Center for Literacy Studies

 References and Resources

1 National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, Principles and Standards for School Mathematics,  (2000) Reston, VA.   Pages 33-35

2 Lynda Ginsburg (2010); Algebraic Thinking in Adult Education  National Institute for Literacy, Washington, DC.  (reference error corrected 7-27-12)

3 Using Benchmarks: Fractions, Decimals, and Percents Schmitt, Steinback, Donovan, Merson, & Kliman (2006) Key Curriculum Press, Emeryville, CA.  (Part of the EMPower mathematics Curriculum developed at TERC)

Teaching Text Structure and Signal Words: A Key to Reading Informational Text with Understanding

How much ‘informational text’ do you read in a day? (as opposed to narrative/fiction reading)? Consider ALL the reading you do – including all the ‘incidental’ and ‘necessary’ reading (like billboards, headlines, package directions, blogs, e-mail at work, etc.)

How much ‘informational text’ do you think your students read? How much do they NEED to do in order to reach their learning and career goals?

Informational (or expository) text is the text we use to learn about something. For most of us, informational text forms the majority of the necessary reading and writing we do in a day.  As adults at home, at work, or in our communities, we are constantly faced with informational text that we need to read with understanding.

EFF LogoIn recognition of this, the EFF Performance Continuum and the Curriculum Framework for the Read With Understanding standard emphasizes the importance of students reading a wide variety of different kinds of materials for varying purposes, particularly in real-world contexts. This aligns with the Common Core State Standards Initiative’s College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Reading which states:  Reading is critical to building knowledge in history/social studies as well as in science and technical subjects. …Students must be able to read complex informational texts in these fields with independence and confidence because the vast majority of reading in college and workforce training programs will be sophisticated nonfiction.

Yet research shows that informational text presents greater burdens to reading comprehension over narrative text. This can present a problem since so much of what we need and want to read as adults is, in fact, expository in nature.

What strategies do YOU use to read informational text? To make it easier to analyze and comprehend?

At home, at work, or in our communities, adults are constantly faced with informational text that we need to read with understanding. We all use a variety of strategies when trying to comprehend text. One strategy that might be especially helpful to us, and a strategy that we can teach to adult learners, is recognizing text structure.

We all use a variety of strategies when trying to comprehend text. One strategy that might be especially helpful to us, and a strategy that we can teach to adult learners, is recognizing text structure.  Every informational text has a structure. Depending on what the writer of the text wants to accomplish with it – the writer’s purpose – the information in the text will be organized into one of several possible structures.

So for instance:

If writers want to focus on…  the text structure might be:
 Steps in a process or a logical chain of events …………………  Sequence
 Similarities or differences between two ideas ………………….  Comparison / Contrast
 The impact of an event or the reasons that something happened  Cause / Effect
 Details to elaborate on a topic …………………………………..  Description
 A way to resolve a situation, or a suggested course of action …  Problem solution

Skilled readers are able to identify the structure of the texts they are reading – even if they are not aware that they are doing it (since the more skilled a reader is, the more “automatic” this kind of behavior becomes). This ability helps to clue them in on the purpose of the text and to understand what they are reading more deeply. Teachers can explicitly teach students how to recognize and use text structure (as part of the process of reading that is described by the EFF standard Read with Understanding).

What approaches or strategies might you – as an adult reader –  use to recognize different informational text structures? What strategies do you teach your students to use?

An important strategy that writers employ to help readers understand their main points is the use of “Signal Words”. Signal words are the words in a text that suggest its structure.  Skilled readers use these signal words to identify and follow the text structure that the writer of the text intended. Let’s consider the most common kinds of text structure and some of the signal words used for each.  [Click on the image below to view the full-sized pdf document.]

But WAIT, here’s an important note to remember  (making things just a bit more complicated): While one particular text structure will probably predominate in any given text, other structures may also be present in that text. In other words, texts may include more than one text structure. You will need to assist students to determine the primary text structure for a document. If readers are aware of text structures, they can select strategies for reading comprehension that are likely to be effective.

Many readers need direct instruction to develop awareness of basic text structures. Teachers should provide explicit and systematic instruction in text structure, supported by scaffolding. Here are some practices that can be especially effective:

Suggestions for Teaching Text Structure via Scaffolded Instruction

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

  • What kinds of informational texts do you use in the classroom? How do you find and select informational texts to use with your adult learners?
  • What kinds of strategies do you teach your students to use when reading informational text with understanding? How do you teach these strategies (what examples or approaches do you use)?

We look forward to reading your thoughts and experiences.

Learn more about teaching Text Structure for Informational Text in the EFF online mini-course,
Using Text Structure and Graphic Organizers: Strategies to Enhance Reading Comprehension
or via other EFF professional development materials/services!

Post Contributors:
Peggy McGuire, EFF Trainer & Content Expert, Center for Literacy Studies
Duren Thompson, EFFTIPS Technical Editor, Center for Literacy Studies