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
Students’ writing improves when they write for an audience. When you find them an audience that is close to home and a situation that is meaningful, there are many reasons for them to get the writing right. If you make it safe for them to write (e.g., don’t bring out the grammar hatchet), not only will they make art (reflect, express and polish), they will display it for immediate feedback.
In this activity, to honour and thank those who support them in coming back to school, students will consolidate and formalize part of their support system, and supporters will not only strengthen their commitment to supporting their student, but they will forge a connection with the literacy/ABE/GED program itself. Continue reading
Writing is hard because it takes you places in your heart that you have spent a lot of energy trying to avoid. It’s healing for the same reason.
My Parents by Caroline Canute
I was upset at Dr. S. for giving my late dad too many morphine. I wish he asked us first if anyone wanted to speak to him. The same thing happened with my mom. Why couldn’t they give us a chance to speak with our parents? Dr. P. could of asked if any family want to speak with their parent. My late dad struggled with cancer. My late mom had pneumonia. Continue reading
Early in the term, I hand back their first writing assignment. I’ve made comments on what is effective in their pieces. No one pays much attention to the comments.
Instead, I hear a chorus of questions: “What’s my mark?” “How come there’s no grade here.” “What did I get?”
“I don’t give grades for writing,” I say.
When asked why, I give the real reason: I value my time and effort. 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
Naomi started in September, a quiet young woman with a wary eye. She began to say “I pass” immediately upon hearing the classroom rule, “Pass if you want to.”
We were team teaching the literacy class, in two interconnecting rooms. In one we held group sessions in reading, writing, math and science; in the other students could work individually on assignments or on private literacy work (filling out forms, reading and responding to business letters, etc.). We teachers scheduled ourselves so that we each taught some of the group sessions, and spent the rest of our time in the other room, helping students individually. Students were free to choose to take the scheduled classes, or to spend time working on their own. Some students spent all their time in the group sessions, and did assignments at home; most divided their time between the two rooms.
Naomi was different. She chose not to go to any scheduled classes. Every hour or so, as the group activity changed, one of us would invite her to join the next group session. She would pass. The teachers figured it might take her a few days to get comfortable enough to join the group. Continue reading
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.