Trigger Warnings 3: An Outlier

Trigger Warnings 3: An Outlier

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.

sun 5684697184_d397407927Usually 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

Trigger Warnings from Students: Standard Procedure

Trigger Warnings from Students: Standard Procedure

Welfare Moms

trigger_warningAfter 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

Trigger Warnings

Trigger Warnings

trigger_warningIt 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.

Continue reading

Joy in Disguise

Joy in Disguise

dancing for joyThe opportunity for joy often comes disguised as a request for advice. When I refuse to give advice, when I take a moment to ask a question instead, a space opens up to let the joy of teaching in.

A student working on a piece of writing asks, “What should I do? I don’t know if I should explain that Tom is my boss and my uncle right here at the start, or if I should leave it out until closer to the end.”

Or maybe it’s a more mundane question Continue reading

The Perils of Giving Advice

The Perils of Giving Advice

no smoking posters vertical“I can’t decide,” Maria said. “I don’t want people to smoke in my apartment any more, so I’m making a sign for the door. Should I say, “Please don’t smoke here” or “Butt Out”?

She had come to class with a project from home (the best kind of adult literacy work, generated by personal need and totally student driven).

She was asking for my advice, which put me in a very gratifying position: there I was, with someone tacitly acknowledging my expertise, and waiting to be told what to do. She had my ego right where it wanted to be!

“Always better to be polite when you’re asking people to do something…” The words were almost out of my mouth when my imagination was caught by the brevity and wit of “Butt Out.”

Suddenly I was sharing her dilemma–I couldn’t decide either.

It was the dilemma Marie presented, the dilemma of not knowing what advice to give, Continue reading

Foot Feedback

Foot Feedback

FootprintsScenario 1: Mohan tells you he has an appointment tomorrow at the financial aid office, scheduled for the middle of your class. He adds that he is sorry that he couldn’t get the appointment at any other time. The next day, he arrives at your class on time, slips out to go to his appointment, and returns quietly half an hour later.

Scenario 2: You explain an activity, divide the class Continue reading

Tempest in the Pool

Tempest in the Pool

Aquafit  classI was a student today, at my aquafit class. I was a student who resisted, who didn’t participate, who went missing. You know, one of those students who makes you wonder why you ever wanted to teach.

We had a teacher who has taught our class only a few times, a lovely, enthusiastic teacher with a bounce in her step and encouragement in her voice. Continue reading

Learning from Our Mistakes

Learning from Our Mistakes

pencilStudents learn from their mistakes, they say.

I agree. They learn something. But often what they are learning is not what the teacher thinks she is teaching.

M. Moriarty said it well in a comment on an earlier post:

To this day I cannot bear a red pen… it signals math failure to me – and try as I might – I never did learn from my many many mistakes in grade school math – what I learned was that I wasn’t very good at math and that after a while it really wasn’t any use to try…. Continue reading

“Afraid” to Teach Numeracy

“Afraid” to Teach Numeracy

scaredA news item by the BBC has led many viewers to my blog in recent days. According to a recent report, primary teachers in Great Britain are scared of math, which results in poor math teaching.

I can’t say much about primary teachers, especially in Great Britain, but in 2006 I consulted with about 100 teachers of adult numeracy, GED and Adult Basic Education math classes (whole numbers through algebra) about bringing their teaching practices into line with research findings. I didn’t find them scared of math, but I did find specific barriers that prevented them from improving their teaching practice. (You will find a fuller description of my study in the introduction to Changing the Way We Teach Math.)

As a basis for discussion with these math instructors, I used principles from “Instructional Strategies for Teaching Adult Numeracy Skills” by Lynda Ginsburg and Iddo Gal. They include strategies such as determining what learners know before beginning instruction on a topic; looking at learners’ attitudes about math; using manipulatives; developing skills in estimation and Continue reading

Back to Basics

Back to Basics

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