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

Power Share

Power Share

all in it togetherHere’s another story about sharing power with adult literacy students, to go with the one I posted last week called “Who’s in Charge Here?” Continue reading

Who’s in Charge Here?

Who’s in Charge Here?

Arriving Saltspring Island photo credit: irfy via photopin cc

Arriving Saltspring Island

I was just one of the crowd of people on the trip—old and young, fat and thin, First Nations and white people, male and female. We were off by bus and ferry to Saltspring Island for the day. My job was to blend in, to let myself be represented by students. They were in charge, and I was along for the ride. I didn’t know it would be so hard.   Continue reading

Frustrated

Frustrated

Plutchik-wheel

When a feeling is not a feeling…

I don’t trust words that end in “-ed” when they are used to describe emotions.

Take “loved” for example, as in “I feel loved.” Well, no, “loved” is not a feeling. That sentence really means that you have noticed that someone loves you. What you feel is another thing. You may feel happy, joyful, ecstatic; you may feel love in return for the person who loves you.

On the other hand, if the person who loves you is a spouse that you want to divorce, you may feel guilty, sad, impatient, angry…. If the person who says “I love you,” is stalking you, you may be afraid, angry, anxious, curious…. Continue reading

Neither Kind Nor Patient

Neither Kind Nor Patient

patient dog Morgue fileThe last time I had my teaching evaluated by my administration, I was disappointed. Although I was happy to get a grade of “excellent” (highest on a five point scale), the comments from administration made me gag: “Kate is a kind and a patient teacher,” and Continue reading