Blog Archives

New Blog: Tech Tips for Teachers


For those looking for ideas or strategies for integrating technology into instruction, you might want to check out World Education’s new blog- Tech Tips for Teachers.
http://techtipsforteachers.weebly.com/index.html

A few years ago, EFF updated their Technology standard– which used to focus mostly on computer literacy- to more broadly think about technology and, of course, the breadth of new technologies that continue to arise. You can take a look at the Technology standard here: http://eff.cls.utk.edu/fundamentals/standard_use_information.htm

What are some of the challenges you face integrating technology into your instruction? What about challenges in knowing how to use these new technologies yourself (something I know I struggle with)?

What about successes and/or technologies you are currently implementing now?

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FAQ: What is “Standards-based Instruction”?


From time to time, we address questions on key/core education concepts from adult education practitioners like you. These blog posts are collected on the EFFTIPS FAQ page for easy reference.

Question-puzzle imageEFFTIPS is designed to be a place for adult education teachers to learn and exchange ideas about implementing standards-based instruction and/or instruction based on quality instructional principles.

Q: But what exactly is “Standards-based instruction?” What do we mean when we say that?

In adult education, we feel that standards-based instruction starts from a BIG IDEA:  that the quality of the adult education services we offer is better when we focus teaching, learning, assessment, and accountability processes around the knowledge and skills that adults need to accomplish their goals in life.

Thus one part of the answer to “What is standards-based education?” is this: Instruction that is structured around the content that people widely agree is most important to be taught, learned and assessed.  ‘Standards” then, are a set of clear and broadly understood descriptions of that content. You may also have heard some other phrases lately: “core standards,” “performance standards” “content standards,” “state standards,” etc.

So going back to our BIG IDEA, “Content Standards” for adult education must then DEFINEthe knowledge and skills that adults need to accomplish their goals in life.”

Q: But what is that knowledge? What are those skills?

Read the rest of this entry

FAQ: What is “Contextualized Instruction”?


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It seems like contextualized instruction is getting a lot of attention lately, especially when the topic is basic skills instruction that helps adults along “career pathways”. Let’s take a closer look at this idea.

Q: So, what *is* Contextualized Instruction? And what would it look like in an Adult Education class?

A: In adult education, the term “Contextualized Instruction” describes a set of teaching, learning and assessment practices that:

  1.  are aimed directly at developing the skills and knowledge that adults need to deal with specific situations or perform specific tasks, and
  2. that they have identified as important and meaningful to themselves “right now” in their everyday lives.

In addition, rather than focus only on the possession of basic skills and knowledge, contextualized instruction focuses on the active application of those skills and that knowledge “in a context”. (And this context should be as “real-world” as is feasible.)
Idea - lightbulbs old and new

Q: OK, this sounds familiar – is Contextualized Instruction a new idea?

A: No, in fact, it is not a new idea.

Early in the 1990’s, a report from the Secretary’s Commission on Acquiring Necessary Skills (SCANS)1 stated that acquiring job-related content and basic academic skills is not enough to prepare adults and youth to be effective on the job. Just as important, it said, are interpersonal, decision-making, and planning skills along with the knowledge of when and how to apply these skills within the context of the workplace. This same report indicated that teaching these skills would require instructional approaches that focus on cooperative learning, apprenticeship models, and teamwork.

The 1990’s also produced some sound research about the importance of teaching basic skills “in context”. This cognitive research (about how people learn and develop expertise) showed that knowledge learned only at the level of rote memorization rarely transfers from one context to another.2 With the way that most people’s brains work, it just isn’t effective to first teach skills and knowledge separated from their context, and then hope that learners will end up knowing how to transfer what they have learned to life outside the classroom. Instead, learning will transfer more effectively when learners:

Read the rest of this entry

To Role-Play or Not to Role-Play?


One of the broad goals of quality standards-based adult education instruction is to help students “build on their prior knowledge, deeply understand concepts, and master new skills well enough to be able to use their new learning in their real lives” – when we teachers are not around to help!  This of course begs the question:

How can we know for sure that our students are learning in this way, and what kind of teaching will make it more likely to happen?

Cognitive scientists – those experts who study the brain in order to understand how people learn and develop expertise – tell us that one way people are more likely to learn effectively is if they get immediate and multiple chances to use what they are learning for a purpose that is meaningful to them. This is one reason that the instructional strategy of Role-Playing has gotten a lot of attention recently.

Let us hear from you: Do you use role-playing regularly in your instruction?  For what purposes? With what results?

Role-playing gives students the opportunity to practice using a skill in real-life-like contexts, with other real people, to address specific situations. This contextual, “hands-on” approach is meant to deepen their learning. For the instructor, role-plays can be an excellent tool for assessing students’ grasp of concepts and ability to apply knowledge and skills. Other assessment strategies simply may not work as effectively for these same situations. Through role-plays, both students and teachers can actually see evidence of learning in action, and that makes it really hard to resist using them!

But wait,” you may say, are role-plays always an effective strategy to use in instruction?

Perhaps not. What if…

  • Your students seem to feel uncomfortable with or resistant to engaging in them?
  • Your class attendance is variable and you’re not sure enough students who are ready for them will actually be in class?
  • You need an opportunity to extensively assess each individual student’s progress in using a particular skill?

Here are some insights into when and how to use role play from Peggy McGuire, standards-based instruction expert:

The key for teachers in the process of planning a learning activity is to always start with asking ourselves, “What kind of learning do I want to see in this particular activity?”,  and then, “What can I ask students to do that will show me (and them!!) that learning?

For instance, if my goal is to see that students can “acquire through reading” the information they need to address particular situations, students do not have to demonstrate that skill by role-playing. Let’s take Elizabeth’s* small class of 5 students as an example. 

Elizabeth knew from previous experience that this class did not respond well to role plays. Her planned activity focused on ‘reading to find information’ to use in addressing a situation with a client or supervisor at work. The curriculum suggested having students role play these work situations for practice and as a check on reading skills. Instead, for each workplace scenario, Elizabeth called on students in turn, and one by one students individually demonstrated what they would say to their client or supervisor in that situation. This seemed the best way to make sure everyone had a chance to practice ‘using found information to address situations’ without the stress of a “formal” role play. It also gave Elizabeth a great alternative opportunity to assess the reading skills of each individual student.

On the other hand, role-playing can be especially effective in situations in which it is important for students to act out their learning in a specific context (for instance, in a mock job interview when students are currently seeking employment), or where interpersonal interaction is a critical component of the learning process (for instance, when instruction is focusing on skills like Cooperate with Others or Resolve Conflict and Negotiate). In cases like these it’s good to be quite explicit with students about “Why role-play in this particular activity” (instead of “Why role-playing in general”). This specificity about the “role of role-playing” might help to lower student resistance. It also might help them see that, like ALL useful strategies, role playing is one more strategy to have in their “toolbox” and to pull out when it is the BEST tool for the situation at hand.

Please share with us your thoughts about planning instructional activities that include role-playing – how you decide whether or not it is an important part of your lesson, how you help students prepare for it, how you assess what your students are learning through it.  Below are some questions that may help you stir up ideas or experiences to share:

1) How do you currently use role-playing as a part of your instruction? Are there situations in which you think role-playing is a particularly effective teaching/learning strategy? Are there situations in which you think it doesn’t work so well?

2) How do your students respond to role-playing in class? Like it? Resist it? Seem to learn something valuable from it?

3) What have you learned about your students by observing them in role-plays?

 We look forward to hearing from you in the comments!


Click to learn more about  a quality standards-based approach to teaching and learning or contact us via eff@utk.edu.


*Learn more about Elizabeth and her classes in the post:  Attendance Issues in Adult Education: How do You Adjust Instruction “On the Fly”?


Changing Our Math Practices: Moving Toward the Common Core Standards


Do you, like many adult educators, face challenges in the classroom when it comes to preparing learners to meet the math demands of daily life and to be college and career ready?

The Adult Numeracy Network would like to help!

During an all-day pre-conference Workshop at the National COABE Conference, the Adult Numeracy Network will bring adult ed practitioners together for a full day to focus on topics concerning the improvement of numeracy/mathematics learning and teaching. This year, the intent is for participants to delve into what the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics might look like when implemented in their adult education classes – at all levels.

While the Common Core State Standards were designed for the K-12 audience, they will be an integral part of the new GED test in 2014. In case you are not familiar with them, these standards for mathematical practice are:

  • Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.
  • Reason abstractly and quantitatively.
  • Construct viable arguments & critique the reasoning of others.
  • Model with mathematics.
  • Use appropriate tools strategically.
  • Attend to precision.
  • Look for and make use of structure.
  • Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning.

As standards, each of the above skills can be implemented at ALL levels of mathematics instruction, and with many different math topics/procedures. ANN’s focus on this topic leads us to wonder:

   >  What standards or curriculum guides do you use in designing your math instruction?
Do you currently base instruction on the Common Core Standards for Mathematics? The EFF
  Use Math to Solve Problems and Communicate Standard? Something else?

   >  What does standards-based mathematics instruction look like in your classes?
How do standards help you face challenges in preparing learners to meet the math demands of daily life and to be college and career ready?

As two of our EFFTIPS math content experts – Aaron Kohring and Donna Curry – serve in leadership roles with the Adult Numeracy Network, we plan to bring back and share ideas from ANN’s COABE pre-conference session via this blog. In the meantime, however, we’d like to hear from you about the standards you use for mathematics instruction and how you implement instruction based on those standards.

Your experiences and comments are integral to this blog – please share!


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The Commission on Adult Basic Education (COABE) is hosting their Annual Conference in Norfolk, Virginia April 9th – 13, 2012.

The Adult Numeracy Network Annual Meeting and Institute  will be held at COABE during a pre-conference session on April 10, 2012 from 8:30am – 4pm (lunch provided).

For more information visit: http://www.coabeinvirginia2012.org/pre-conference-workshops.html