I remember early on in my teaching ABE career, I ran into a colleague who wanted to have stories and articles with happy endings so we didn’t add to the misery of the students’ lives. I couldn’t then tell her why that seemed so wrong-headed to me. She didn’t want anyone upset and wanted the class to be comfortable for everyone—and I suspect most of all for her. —Evelyn Battell, comment on an earlier post
Many ABE instructors will give the same reasons as Evelyn’s colleague for not wanting to use “difficult” material with their students: it will upset the students, and it will make the teacher uncomfortable. The reasons come as two faces of a weighted coin: What is most comfortable for the teacher often turns out to be what is “best for the students.” Continue reading
Here’s a recent trigger warning from my personal life. A group of people organizing an art show in a small gallery in a local community centre had invited people to submit works of art about women’s lives. One painting caused a lot of controversy because it referred obliquely to back-street abortions. Some members of the hanging committee wanted not to have it in the show; others were in favour of hanging it. They reached a compromise by including the painting, while placing a trigger warning on the door of the exhibit, Continue reading
In this series of related posts with the title “Trigger Warnings” I am talking about strategies for using “difficult” material in an adult literacy or ABE class. I’ll get to why it is important to use such material in a later post.
Usually I was aware that a piece of material might be uncomfortable or very difficult for some students, and could prepare accordingly, but once I was caught by surprise by the need for a trigger warning. As I think about it, my surprise surprises me. Did I think everyone would be comfortable talking about menstruation in an ABE class? Or did I bury any misgivings because I wanted to right an imbalance my feminist soul had noticed and railed against? It happened like this:
In an upper level ABE class one year, two women students came to me with a trigger warning that I ought to have anticipated, but didn’t. Continue reading
After my success with asking First Nations students to decide whether or not to use a video about one reserve’s struggle against alcoholism, I began to use the same procedure with other content that I thought might be problematic. I remember a video and an article about a group of mothers on welfare who were fighting back against the way they were portrayed in the media, and the way they were treated by social workers and others who had power to grant or deny them benefits. Continue reading
It seems that “trigger warnings” are everywhere these days, from the usual “This program contains crude language and sexual content; viewer discretion is advised,” to “Trigger warning: rape, extreme verbal abuse, and torture.”
You might think if ever there was a place for a trigger warning, it’s an ABE, adult literacy or GED class where teachers daily work with students who have experiences of violence:
- those whose childhood experiences of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse made it difficult for them to succeed in the K-12 system;
- those who came from war zones, who may have been tortured and who saw loved ones killed or wounded;
- those who, as youth or adults, were or still are involved in gangs or other criminal activity;
- those who are currently living with violence from their boyfriend or spouse.
- those whose schools lives were miserable because of taunts and bullying from students and teachers because they did not succeed at school tasks.
A year ago today I began writing this blog, with the goal of sharing some of the things I’ve learned about teaching adult literacy and numeracy. On this anniversary, I’m re-playing my first post–still relevant, I think.
Slowly, over the years, because I was willing to learn, my students gave me a fresh take on the three R’s. I learned that to teach well, I needed to think about respect, resistance and reality. Continue reading
Sylvia Ashton-Warner with children in classroom, ca 1951
Reference Number: PAColl-2522-2-001
I have roots in New Zealand. Not physical roots—none of my ancestors came from New Zealand, or, as far as I know, ever visited there. But the roots of my ideas about teaching came from Sylvia Ashton-Warner, whose book Teacher I read in the mid ’60’s. She has been the single most important influence on my teaching practice.
She wrote about teaching pre-school and primary school children, and as far as I know never taught adult literacy or wrote about helping adults improve their literacy skills. But her ideas about creativity, what she called “organic teaching,” her respect for and celebration of the ideas that came from her students, not from curriculum and received texts, all of which went along with solid practical advice about classroom management, schedules, and “discipline,” spoke to me when I was in training to become an elementary school teacher, and came back to me when, much later, I started in adult literacy. Continue reading
I got an e-mail from Dave, who attended my workshop last week on “Putting Learners in the Driver’s Seat.” He asked, “If the learner is in the driver’s seat, where is the teacher?” I’m going to answer by telling the story of Lucie’s success at speaking in public.
Lucie won the class lottery! She got to come with me to Edmonton to present the Never Fail Writing Method that we used in our basic literacy program. A plane trip, three nights in a hotel, and a glimpse of the big city, Continue reading
The question of standard English is a thorny one for those of us who work with adult learners, and you will hear many opinions about how we should teach students who come from communities who use non-standard English.
Standard English is the language spoken by people who have been educated in the mainstream system. That means it is the language invented by people who have power, who are wealthy and who are white. It is by definition not the language invented by our students.
Standard English is not “correct” in itself, and in fact is constantly changing. For example, it is now considered correct to sometimes split an infinitive, and in Canada most people manage to get through days, weeks, and even months, without using “whom.”
Slowly, over the years, because I was willing to learn, my students taught me a new set of three R’s—Respect, Resistance and Reality.
First, Respect. Respect for them, and for every decision they took, every choice they made. Respect for myself.
Second, Resistance. They come back to school, that place of previous failures and humiliation, because they want what they think I offer—the key to a better life. I offer them different ways of learning: group work; choice; meaningful work; I invite them to join the teaching team and make decisions about how and what they will learn. But they resist my best efforts to do things differently, because it is not what they expect, and it scares them. They refuse to risk going back again into that position of failure and humiliation. I need to acknowledge their resistance publicly, to honour it, and to work with it. I need to recognize my own resistance, too, because it gets in the way.
Third, Reality. My work is most successful when I listen to what is really going on. Speak the unspoken thoughts and feelings. Do reading and writing that is real, in the real world. Find an audience for the voice; find information in response to questions; say yes to every chance to move the literacy work into the community, and bring the community into the class.