# Math Strategies in Context

A student demonstrates that 1/2 = 6/12, 3/6, 2/4 and 5/10

“EXPLAIN HOW YOU WOULD TEACH YOUR LEARNERS PLACE VALUE” and “Explain in detail how you teach ABET level 1 learners fractions” are two recent requests from readers of this blog. (ABET stands for “Adult Basic Education and Training” and is a term used in South Africa as well as other places.) Continue reading

# The Joy of the Difficult

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

# A Trigger Warning Tells a Lie

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

# The Perils of Giving Advice

“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

# A Healthy Disrespect

Adult literacy and GED students have enormous respect for text–too much respect, I think.

They may fear text, or be confused by it. They may loathe the printed word, and/or ignore it. They may have a hundred different coping skills to get around the fact that they do not read well, but they respect text. Continue reading

# Resistance Live

Attending to Resistance: An Ethnographic Study of Resistance and Attendance in an Adult Basic Education Classroom. Every teacher who tries to change things in the classroom meets with resistance from students, from administration, and from his or her own internal voice. Unless dealt with, this resistance can sabotage the implementation of any new teaching strategy or curriculum.

I watched a group of 30 or 40 ABE and adult literacy instructors bring the full force of their resistance to a presentation Continue reading

# Refuse to Give Advice

If you’re trying to have a more equal relationship with students, refusing to give advice is the best policy. Here’s my advice about giving advice to adult literacy, adult basic education or GED learners.

Watch the video, from Literacy Nova Scotia’s collection of videos called The Teaching Toolbox.

This is the last of five strategies for developing stronger relationships with learners. See also “Listen,” “Yes Means Yes,” “Make Your Teaching Transparent,” and “Say How You Feel.”

(You will find all five written up here.)

# Respect, Resistance, and Reality

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.