Nydia Negron-Lopez, English Language Learner and High School Equivalency Coordinator at Sampson Community College

When I first met Nydia Negron-Lopez, I was inspired by her bravery and enthusiasm. Dressed in red, white, and blue decorations, she acted out the part of a human firework for a group cover of Katy Perry’s “Firework”. She was not afraid to look silly for a good cause and bring on the laughs. It made me want to know more about her, so I contacted her for an interview for this blog.

Nydia was born in New York and raised in Puerto Rico. She loves summertime and the beach and spending as much time as she can with her family. Nydia has a passion for reaching the needs of the Latino community. She started teaching adults in 1999. She worked for the Employment Security Commission (now NC Works) and taught part-time at Wayne Community College and Sampson Community College. She continued working like this for seven years before a position opened up for her to become the ESL and HSED Coordinator in the College and Career Readiness Department at Sampson Community College. 

Interview Q & A

What made you choose to become an adult educator?

I chose to become an adult educator because of my interest in helping adult students become better educated, especially the English language learners who are in need to learn English and integrate into the community.

The adult student is different depending on local demographics and what academic level you are teaching. Describe the average student in your classroom today and some of the ways you encourage their engagement in the classroom.

My class is very diverse, but most are Latinos.  To encourage students, I ask them to do their best.  I assure them that it is ok to make mistakes because that’s how we learn.  I also allow and encourage students to help each other while understanding that respecting everyone is imperative

As an educator of English Language Learners (ELL), I’m sure you have heard a lot of stories from your students about why they are pursuing their education. What are some of the biggest motivating factors they have shared with you?

There are many factors why students are enrolled in English as a Second Language program.  Some students had shared that their willingness to learn English is to be able to incorporate in the society or to get a promotion at work that might get them a higher salary.  However, the reason that stands for why they are in class is to be able to help their kids with school work and able to understand school officials and teachers.

ELL students create a community environment with their classmates and instructors that encourages growth and retention. Why do you think this is a characteristic trait of ELL students?

One characteristic of the Latino population is that they like to accomplish what they have in mind and their commitment to learning the English language.  That’s what attributes a positive learning environment where everyone helps each other and learns. These students incorporate students from other counties and make them feel welcome immediately.  There is a sense of camaraderie. They value their instructor and the effort they make to help them learn the language and their new culture

What are some of the ways you encourage the community environment in your classes?

Explaining we all are diverse, and we can learn from each other is a method to create a positive learning community.  We have events where students can showcase their culture, their food, and their folk. Another way to create a positive classroom environment is by having students understand that the differences make us unique; therefore, we have to respect each other at all times.

You have a natural charisma that makes you work well with others, how does that help you in the classroom?

I think what helps me is that my parents raised me explaining that we all are human beings despite our skin color, who you are, where you come from,  the social status, or everything else society tried to dictate us. My parents preached to us that being humble, and help others without judging is what we need to do to make this world better.  Therefore, I place myself in my student’s shoes. I put myself if I am in a foreign country unable to speak the language, unable to understand, speak or not even knowing the culture. Nonetheless, I try to understand their needs, assist them with school and to provide community information.  One important rule is we can do all by respecting everyone.

What life experiences do you believe best shaped who you are as an educator today?

Many life experiences shaped who I am today; anyhow, the education I received from my parents was the most significant one.  Another person who influenced how I am today as an educator is my aunt. She was a professor, entrepreneur, and now retired from one of the most prestigious Universities in PR.  She had a Ph.D. in Math and wrote children’s books. She taught us that educators could improve people’s life; by teaching valuable lessons, where students not only learn academics but life skills.

What are some helpful ways that you have been able to reshape negative situations into positive opportunities in your life?

As with our daily lives, we learn from our negative outcomes.  This is how we also used the classroom negatives outcomes and turned them into a positive one.  For example, when a student makes a mistake, and the outcome turns wrong, it is imperative to explain to the students that it is normal, healthy and that is how we learn.  Always explaining them we fall many times before we learned to walk, we mispronounced many items before we learned to talk; therefore, with practice and time, we will master our objective.

How has the ability to shape negatives into positives helped you with your students? Explain.

It help me demonstrating students that mistakes are the way we reach perfection.

What are some things happening in your program at Sampson Community College that make it unique from other colleges?

What makes SCC ESL classes unique is the way faculty and staff approach students.  Making them feel welcome, comprehending them while providing an excellent classroom atmosphere, and going above and beyond to make sure students are receiving the best in academic and their necessary daily skills.

As educators, we are always encouraged to teach towards jobs and job markets that haven’t been created yet, so we stay ahead of the curve and teach what is needed for the demand of the marketplace.

We also see a changing demographic in our student populations over time. Based on your experience, what do you predict the future student to be like in your program and what do you think the job market will be for you to fill?

I foresee the Community College system providing more trade and certification classes. This way students are more prepared to enter the workplace with knowledge and some training and experience.  

What advice would you give to a new instructor coming into the field of ELL education?

My advice to a new instructor is to make sure to understand and nourish the students. Understanding that every culture is different and by not establishing bias or judging because we never know what the reasons are for why they migrate to the USA.


Transforming an Adult Non-Reader into a Reader

This post is written by Fiona Ingram as part of a blog tour for her latest book, The Temple of the Crystal Timekeeper. For more about Fiona or to join her blog tour, check out the information here.

Transforming an adult non-reader into an interested reader might seem, at the outset, to be an insurmountable task. How does one persuade someone who is perhaps now entrenched in their ways, who perhaps has a fixed mindset, that reading is fun and once they start they will discover a new way of thinking?

There are a few reasons an adult is a non-reader.

This could be physical, either poor eyesight or dyslexia that has not been properly diagnosed, and this should be addressed. Perhaps they read as a child, but life, work, busyness, stress, the vagaries of modern living made it impossible to settle down with a book at the end of a hard day, and so they got out of the habit of reading. It could be they were never taught properly during school, were mocked for being ‘slow,’ and did not have either parental or teacher support when they needed it. They may have had to leave school early to go out to work and bring money into the family. The list can go on.

There are easy ways to start a transformation from an adult non-reader to a reader, but it will be slow, depending on the person’s physical abilities and the willingness to learn.

Children may feel embarrassed about not being good readers, but an adult will feel this even more. An adult must rid themselves of any feeling of guilt or shame at not reading. Turn the ‘page,’ so to speak, wipe the slate clean and get ready for a new beginning.
The teacher/tutor or facilitator of the adult reading group can come up with wonderfully creative ideas to get those little grey cells working and to get the group interested.

Start small.

Find out what each person is interested in, what subjects or hobbies they enjoy. Everyone is interested in something. It can be anything from knitting to car maintenance to an interest in whale watching. That is the first and possibly most important step. An excellent task is to invite the group members to bring something – a magazine or newspaper article or a book from the local library – to the group and read an extract to the group for five minutes, outlining something of interest to the other members. The time required is short, most of the meeting will be spent listening to others read their extracts, and suddenly the whole idea is more of a warm and friendly get-together than a cold lesson in the ABCs.

Take the session outdoors.

If the weather permits, and there is a park or an open green space nearby, the tutor can take the students outside, let them relax on rugs (brought for the purpose), and each person reads a short poem. Luckily most modern poems are very short, and a collection won’t be hard to find. Of course, everyone will say they can’t read poetry, they never read poetry, and the last time they read a poem was at school, but soon they’ll all see that no one is a shining star; everyone is in the same boat. Discussion will naturally follow suit.

An adult non-reader will possibly automatically assume that reading always involves books. Not so. Magazines (any kind), the newspaper, journals, publications such as Time Magazine or National Geographic, or collectible part series for hobbyists all have value.

It doesn’t matter what someone reads, as long as they read.

Show and Tell.

Another fun task is to ask the group participants to work on reading something at home, be it an article, newspaper or just a few chapters of a book, and to tell the group about it when they next meet. They can speak for up to two minutes, nothing too long. If this is a topic that piques their interest, you’ll find the person will surprise themselves.
Show and Tell is such a fun way to get people involved. Let the members bring something to show the others while they ‘tell’ them about it. This can be interesting and perhaps even tasty if someone decides to use a recipe for cookies as part of the show, brings cookies, and then gets to tell everyone about the ingredients.

Swop topics.

Everyone writes down on a piece of paper the topic that they are most interested in. Then the members pick the paper slips out of a hat and that’s their topic to research and bring to the next meeting. This can result in some hilarious stuff. Allow people to swop so they don’t feel forced to do a topic but encourage people to rise to the challenge. Keep tasks short, simple and to the point. The facilitator can also do some extra homework and find titles of books – either fiction or non-fiction – on the topics that the group members are interested in. Often people don’t know what they’d like to read after years of not reading.

These suggestions sound like a whole lot of activity and not much reading, but the point is not to sit and watch someone wade painfully through a book. It’s to find the spark that ignites the person’s interest in picking up the printed word for themselves.

Enthusiasm and energy are required to get these non-reading wheels turning, but it can be done. As with youngsters, getting people interested in something is easier when they are having fun!

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About the Author

Fiona Ingram is a children’s author, but up until a few years ago, she was a journalist and editor. Something rather unexpected sparked her new career as an author—a family trip to Egypt with her mother and two young nephews. They had a great time and she thought she’d write them a short story as a different kind of souvenir…. Well, one book and a planned book series later, she had changed careers. She has now published Book 3 (The Temple of the Crystal Timekeeper) in her middle-grade adventure series Chronicles of the Stone, with many awards for the first book,

The Secret of the Sacred Scarab, and a few for Book 2, The Search for the Stone of Excalibur, and one already for Book 3! She also teaches online novel writing for aspiring authors and she finds that very satisfying. Relaxation time finds her enjoying something creative or artistic, music, books, theatre or ballet. She loves doing research for her book series. Fiona loves animals and has written two animal rescue stories. She has two adorable (naughty) little dogs called Chloe and Pumpkin, and a beautiful black cat called Bertie.

You can find Fiona at –

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/secretofthesacredscarab/

Website: www.chroniclesofthestone.com

Twitter: http://twitter.com/FionaRobyn

Author Site: http://www.FionaIngram.com

Blog: http://fionaingramauthor.blogspot.com

GoodReads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/2868182.Fiona_Ingram

Using Computers to Improve Reading Skills

The following post is by Fiona Ingram and part of a blog tour promoting her new book, The Temple of the Crystal Timekeeper. To join the blog tour, see the list of dates posted here.

What makes children want to read, and how do parents encourage them to read, especially in a world where there is a dizzying array of technological devices to draw them away from the printed word. How can one make reading fun in a media driven world where social media and technology have such an impact on the
simple act of reading?

Digital and visual literacies are the new wave of communication specialization. Most people will have technologies readily available not only to communicate but also to create, to manipulate, to design, to self-actualize. Children learn these skills as part of their lives, like language which they learn without realizing they are learning it. Our children are natives of cyberspace—they are digitally well informed. The greatest challenge is moving beyond the glitz and pizzazz of flashy technology to teach true literacy in this new milieu, without losing hold of the basic building blocks of reading the old-fashioned way.

There are many creative ways to get kids to rediscover reading and one of them is by engaging them with something all kids understand: computers.

Many parents see computers as an obstacle to children reading the printed word. Many parents also fear that their children will lose out on the tactile pleasure of handling a real book, of learning to love and cherish firm favorites, and that their concentration will be affected by the instant gratification of technology-driven devices. This is also true where children show distinct signs of illiteracy yet can instantly manage to work a cell phone and tap into the sub-language that defines texting. However, some novel and fun ways of using technology creatively will get kids right where parents want them—reading! Parents can use computers to get kids more interested in reading by letting them create their own ‘books’ and projects.

Empower Your Child

Kids love playing around on computers so turn the idea of reading around—let them create their own story, become an author. What could be more empowering! This will allow them ‘ownership’ of the story, and that’s an irresistible challenge for any child.

Creative Thinking

The subject can be about them, an incident, or a fictitious character. They’ll not just create it but illustrate it (either their own drawings or using free images available from the Internet), design it and print it out. Parents will be amazed at what happens once the child takes charge of their own project. You can help your child develop the story, getting them to write it out first by hand, and then going through it several times (maybe another family member can also give their input). They can then create the project on the computer.

Share the Results

When their book project is finished, parents can suggest the child hand it in to their grade teacher for inclusion in the school magazine or newspaper. Or perhaps it can be a gift for a grandparent or family member. You could even have it properly bound at a local stationer.

Offer Praise

Praise and success are incredibly motivating factors in any child’s development. They’ll automatically feel inspired to achieve more. Now parents can introduce new activities that show printed books in a very novel light.

Read Together

This is a good time to find a book you both like and, besides reading together, ask your child to suggest alternative actions on the part of certain characters, asking if they agree on how the story is unfolding, and how they would have written the characters’ actions if they disagree. Encouraging a thought process will make your child feel their opinion counts. Once the book is finished, have your child create their own ‘review’ on the computer, print it out and either post or email it to your local bookshop or library. Imagine their pride and delight if the review is published in a local newspaper or put up on the library notice board.

Wonderful Websites

Most successful children’s books and book series have websites with interesting aspects to explore. Is the series set in a real or fantasy place? Do the characters have important choices to make? Don’t be afraid to let your child get onto the computer and read all about the series, the author, the movie, the actors, the settings, and the characters. Ask your child questions about what they have learned and praise their research.

Far from being an obstacle to reading, computers can enable children to think creatively in producing their own literary projects. Taking ownership of something unique and special will encourage a child’s confidence and inspire them to read and research more. Parents can assist their child to achieve the desired results by helping with practical aspects of the book project, by praising their child’s efforts, by involving other family members or teachers, and by reading together with their child.

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About the Author

Fiona Ingram is a children’s author, but up until a few years ago, she was a journalist and editor. Something rather unexpected sparked her new career as an author—a family trip to Egypt with her mother and two young nephews. They had a great time and she thought she’d write them a short story as a different kind of souvenir…. Well, one book and a planned book series later, she had changed careers. She has now published Book 3 (The Temple of the Crystal Timekeeper) in her middle-grade adventure series Chronicles of the Stone, with many awards for the first book,

The Secret of the Sacred Scarab, and a few for Book 2, The Search for the Stone of Excalibur, and one already for Book 3! She also teaches online novel writing for aspiring authors and she finds that very satisfying. Relaxation time finds her enjoying something creative or artistic, music, books, theatre or ballet. She loves doing research for her book series. Fiona loves animals and has written two animal rescue stories. She has two adorable (naughty) little dogs called Chloe and Pumpkin, and a beautiful black cat called Bertie.

You can find Fiona at –

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/secretofthesacredscarab/

Website: www.chroniclesofthestone.com

Twitter: http://twitter.com/FionaRobyn

Author Site: http://www.FionaIngram.com

Blog: http://fionaingramauthor.blogspot.com

GoodReads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/2868182.Fiona_Ingram

Sonja Redmon, Director of Transitional Programs to College and Career at Wayne Community College

Hello readers! Today we are talking with Sonja Redmon, former Director of Transitional Programs at Wayne Community College. Ms. Redmon has 30 years of experience in education including 22 years in the director position. During her tenure, she saw the program through many changes and helped it grow to one of the Top Ten in Enrollment in the State of North Carolina and Top Three in State Performance Measures.

The end of June 2018 marks the end of Ms. Redmon’s educational career. As she looks forward to retirement and the new adventures there, she has taken a moment to reflect back on her career and her legacy and share some wisdom with us.

How long have you worked in education? At which colleges? In what roles?

I’ve worked in education since 1988 when I was hired as a part-time Adult High School English instructor.  I worked as an instructor for a few years and was then hired as the lab coordinator. In 1996 I was hired for the director’s position. All of these roles were in the Basic Skills department at Wayne Community College.

What made you choose a career in education?

As the saying goes, I fell into education sideways. In other words, I did not choose education as a career, it chose me. My mother worked at the college in 1988 and heard about a need in the Basic Skills department for an English instructor. I was ready to get into the job market at that time since both of my children were in school and I had an English degree so the rest is history. No pun intended since I also have a history degree!

You have worked in both instructor and administrative roles in your career. How did these different roles help you become a better educator and communicator with others?

Working as an instructor helped me tremendously once I became an administrator. I could still identify with the needs of the instructors and that is something that stayed with me throughout the years. Sometimes, budget or higher ups would get in the way, but I always tried to do what was best for instructors and students.

What are some of the biggest lessons you learned from teaching?

Ha ha. I quickly learned in the beginning that I didn’t know everything and that if I only listened, the students had a lot to teach me as well.  Another lesson learned was that I couldn’t save them all no matter how hard I tried. It took me a few years to learn that bitter lesson.

Besides advancing your career and salary, what made you change roles from teaching to administration?

That change was primarily about career advancement and salary. Back in my day as a teacher, the maximum pay for part-time was $9.00 per hour and that was even with a masters degree.

What are some of the biggest lessons you learned from leading other educators?

I’ve learned that like the students, other educators had much to teach me. Even after all these years, I was still learning from other educators including my teachers as well as teachers and administrators from other colleges. I never attended a meeting or workshop that I didn’t learn something. That’s why I have always been a strong proponent of professional development.

You have worked in fields outside of adult education. What made you choose to work in Adult Education?

I liked helping people. It was just that simple. I liked making a difference in a student’s life, and I liked making a difference in my instructors’ lives. I cannot even count the number of times an instructor has said thank you to me for hiring them. That has been special.

You chose to not only work in adult education but get your degree in it. How did that help your career?

Being in education administration, I knew I needed to go back to school myself and earn a masters. Adult Education seemed the only way to go since I enjoyed what I was doing. I also knew an Adult Ed degree allowed for multiple career opportunities. When I applied for the director’s position, a Master’s in Adult Ed or a similar degree was a requirement, so I can safely say that my degree helped me to get hired as director.

I’ve always been glad I made that choice.

You have been an avid supporter of professional development for your team. In your opinion, why is professional development important?

Lifelong learning is important in all aspects of life and especially in this career field. Change in adult education is constant whether it’s a better way to teach math or new requirements from WIOA and OCTAE. Learning from an expert and learning from peers at other colleges is vital to stay on top of the game. Teachers and staff have been fortunate to have access to the strong adult education staff at Appalachian State University. Like I said in a previous question, I’ve never been to a workshop or even one of our weekly meetings that I didn’t learn something. For those of you reading this, if you think about it, neither have you.

We all know that education is a challenging place to work in because it is often thankless, politicized, and changing. In the past few years alone, we saw a lot of changes in adult education that affected our budget. What advice can you give to current and future administrators navigating their way through shrinking budgets?

All you can do is keep a positive attitude and plan, plan, plan. By planning ahead, you may be able to save a job or two when in a low budget year. You do this by trimming out the non-producing areas. That is hard for me to say because I’ve always thought that a class with only one student was a class that was a gift to that one student. He or she needed the one-on-one at that point in life.

Communication is also critical. Instructors and staff must realize that they hold the power to make or break a program. Enrollment and retention are 90% instructors and staff. The best recruiter is a satisfied student and the best retention is when a student learns and doesn’t feel the class is a waste of time.

When negative changes happen, it is hard to stay motivated. What advice can you give for motivating your team when circumstances are demoralizing?

I believe communication is the key. Just keep everyone updated on what is happening. Often not knowing leads to imagining even worse circumstances. Communication also allows for input from everyone on how to deal with the situation. We all like to feel useful and when we do, it’s a natural motivator.

In your experience, what has been the biggest thing that helped you adjust to changes when they happened as well as help you lead others through those difficulties?

Patience. Patience with the changes. Patience with teachers and staff protesting the changes.

A lot of the changes in adult education have influenced educators to leave adult education or retire before their positions were cut. With so much fear over job cuts, why should anyone stay in adult education?

Adult education is a worthy cause and a good career. Job cuts can and do happen in all areas of education as well as in the private sector. There were positions cut this year in curriculum. It’s just a fact of life, especially in this day and time.

Think positive and make yourself valuable to the team is my best advice to anyone whether in adult ed, curriculum, or K-12.

You have been the Director of Transitional Programs to College and Career for many years and many of the current employees you leave behind have only known you as their leader. What do you hope will be your legacy as you leave this role?

I hope that I’ll be remembered as someone who cared for both students and employees. I also hope to be remembered as the director who grew the program into one of the top ten in the state enrollment-wise and one of the top three in the state performance-wise.

As you retire and look back on your career, what advice would you give to younger educators working in adult education now?

Accept change.

Persevere through the bad times. You’ll have more good times.

Hire the best team possible. The instinct for that will be gradually learned.

Stress professional development. Knowledge makes everyone’s jobs easier.

Thank you, Ms. Redmon, for sharing your time with us today. We appreciate your insights and all you have done for your program at Wayne Community College. We wish you much joy and success in your retirement. 

Karen Burnette, Program Quality and Accountability Coordinator for Transitional Programs for College and Career at Wayne Community College

Hello readers! Today we are talking with Karen Burnette, Program Quality and Accountability Coordinator for Transitional Programs for College and Career at Wayne Community College. Ms. Burnette has 27 years of experience in education including four years of teaching in public elementary and high schools. Her experiences in the community college system include work with literacy skills and instructional team leading. Prior to entering education, Ms. Burnette worked for seven years in scientific and agricultural research.

The end of June 2018 marks the end of Ms. Burnette’s educational career. As she looks forward to retirement and the new adventures ahead for her there, she has taken a moment to share with us some insights from her long career and advice. Thank you, Ms. Burnette, for sharing your time with us today. We appreciate your insights and wisdom.    

What made you choose a career in education?

I had always wanted to be a veterinarian, but when I took Chemistry at NCSU, I decide to become a Biology Teacher!

You have worked in both instructor and administrative roles in your career. How did these different roles help you become a better educator and communicator with others? 

It helps to have worked on both sides of the desk!  I have implemented and developed curriculum as an instructor and then used this knowledge to assist others and develop ways to manage and streamline the process from an administrative view.

What are some of the biggest lessons you learned from teaching?

Never prejudge a student.  Listen and be patient. Always remove a student from a situation before reprimanding or discussing.  There are always two sides to a story and the truth is usually somewhere in between.

Besides advancing your career and salary, what made you change roles from teaching to administration? 

I have always enjoyed technology part of education combined with; learning and making decisions, improvements, or adjustments to programming based on data.

What are some of the biggest lessons you learned from leading other educators?

It’s OK to make a mistake, but learn from it and don’t keep making the same mistake! Don’t procrastinate on a deadline. Don’t be afraid to try something new. Give others the trust and allow them to be creative. Be empathetic. It’s OK to ask for advice. Make a decision, because sometimes, no decision is worse than a wrong decision.

You have worked in fields outside of adult education. What made you choose to work in Adult Education?

Actually, Adult Education found me.  I was looking for something at a community college when I lived in Virginia and was working at an elementary school in Roanoke Rapids. The Literacy Skills Specialist position at Halifax Community College was advertised and I thought my diverse background would be a good fit for that job.  I had experience as a student teacher in a Middle School, taught high school biology (Basic, Intermediate, and Advanced), and worked in an elementary school as a reading teacher for 3rd graders.

I got the job and loved it!

You worked in the private sector before coming into education. Tell us a little about your other career experience and how that job influenced your career in education.

The private sector was where I learned all about technology and computers.  I ran High Pressure and Gas Chromatography, used large databases to run reports for manufacturing facilities, used computers back during the “DOS” days to run our robot named “Tobor” (Robot spelled backward), and was sent to school to learn SAS programming at Research Triangle Park.  I was also trained with Lotus 123 and WordPerfect the popular programs at the time.

All this experience gave me the knowledge to use computers, software, and new technology in the education field.  

What advice would you give to those currently working in another career field but wanting to work in education?

The reason I left the private sector was the frequent turnover in the industry of buyouts, mergers, and name changes.  When your company is bought out you do not have the security of a job. The state does not merge with other states and so job security was better at the time.  The unfortunate part of working for the state is the pay. It took 17 years working at WCC before I matched the salary I made in the private sector. But the benefits are good for me, due to the fact I started with the state in time to get health benefits and a pension when I retire.  

We all know that education is a challenging place to work in because it is often thankless, politicized, and changing. In the past few years alone, we saw a lot of changes in adult education that affected our budget. What advice can you give to current and future administrators navigating their way through shrinking budgets?

Hard decisions have to be made, but always make sure we remain student-centered.

When negative changes happen, it is hard to stay motivated. What advice can you give for motivating your team when circumstances are demoralizing?

I believe in involving the team and giving them a chance to communicate ways to implement change.  I think the “Huddles” we started have been good to voice opinions and listen.

In your experience, what has been the biggest thing that helped you adjust to changes when they happened as well as help you lead others through those difficulties?

I have experienced several major changes over time from testing changes, WIA and WIOA, to personnel changes.   I think the first time you go through major changes is the hardest. Once you have experienced a successful change, you are better able to implement and support future changes.   You can understand the anxiety for those going through a change the first time but can talk about previous changes and how they were hard at first, but eventually work out just fine.  

A lot of the changes in adult education have influenced educators to leave adult education or retire before their positions were cut. With so much fear over job cuts, why should anyone stay in adult education?

Good question!  You have to love what you are doing to help others!

ALWAYS keep your resume up to date!

You have led a very diverse career in both business and education. Now you are retiring to start another career in real estate with your sister. What advice can you give to those looking forward to retirement someday?

Set up an NC 457 plan now.  DO NOT procrastinate. It is very easy to do!!!  Just let Melanie Bell know you would like to do so and it’s a piece of cake.

The NC 457 is a place you can stow away as little as say $25 a month, tax-deferred, and you will never miss it, but you will be glad you did when you are ready to retire. You can access this money as soon as you retire.  It’s not like a 401K where you have to wait till you are 59 years old.

As you retire and look back on your career, what advice would you give to younger educators working in adult education now?

Karen’s Top Ten Advice for Younger Educators (in no certain order):

  1. Keep a notebook of your accomplishments and certifications.
  2. Every week, give a compliment to someone you work with, work for, and works for you.
  3. Don’t be afraid to make a mistake or try something new.
  4. You can’t do it all in one day….it will be there tomorrow to finish.
  5. For the above, don’t wait until the last minute to get something done.  Work on it and have time to sleep on it before it has to be complete for a deadline.
  6. Leave your personal problems at the door!
  7. Be flexible and always have a backup plan.
  8. Spend money on good shoes, a good chair, and a good mattress.  
  9. Be a good listener.
  10. When making a big decision, go with your “gut” feeling, because it is almost always right!

All The Law Allows: The 13 Considerations of WIOA

Adult Basic Skills Education has changed a lot over the years. Just in five years, we have seen regulations come and go about what we have to do for funding to keep our programs–our jobs–alive. When this post was written in 2018, adult education programs had to comply with the following guidelines known as the Thirteen Considerations of WIOA. These considerations are still in play today.

The original text is worded as such:

WIOA’s 13 Considerations

(1) The degree to which the eligible provider would be responsive to —

  • regional needs as identified in the local plan; and
  • serving individuals in the community who were identified in such plan as most in need of adult education and literacy activities, including individuals who have low levels of literacy skills; or who are English language learners;

(2)  the ability of the eligible provider to serve eligible individuals with disabilities, including eligible individuals with learning disabilities;

(3)  past effectiveness of the eligible provider in improving the literacy of eligible individuals, to meet State-adjusted performance levels, especially with respect to eligible individuals who have low levels of literacy;

(4)  the extent to which the eligible provider demonstrates alignment between proposed activities and services and the strategy and goals of the local plan, as well as the activities and services of the one-stop partners;

(5)  whether the eligible provider’s program—

  • is of sufficient intensity and quality, and based on the most rigorous research available so that participants achieve substantial learning gains; and

(B) uses instructional practices that include the essential components of reading instruction;

(6)   whether the eligible provider’s activities, including whether reading, writing, speaking, mathematics, and English language acquisition instruction delivered by the eligible provider, are based on the best practices derived from the most rigorous research available and appropriate, including scientifically valid research and effective educational practice;

(7)  whether the eligible provider’s activities effectively use technology services and delivery systems including distance;

(8)  whether the eligible provider’s activities provide learning in context, including through integrated education and training, so that an individual acquires the skills needed to transition to and complete postsecondary education and training programs, obtain and advance in employment leading to economic self-sufficiency, and to exercise the rights and responsibilities of citizenship;

(9)  whether the eligible provider’s activities are delivered by well-trained instructors, counselors, and administrators who meet any minimum qualifications established by the State, where applicable, and who have access to high quality development, including through electronic means;

(10)   whether the eligible provider’s activities coordinate with other available education, training, and social service resources in the community, such as by establishing strong links with elementary schools and secondary schools, postsecondary educational institutions, institutions of higher education, local workforce investment boards, one-stop centers, job training programs, and social service agencies, business, industry, labor organizations, community-based organizations, nonprofit organizations, and intermediaries, for the development of career pathways;

(11)  whether the eligible provider’s activities offer flexible schedules and coordination with Federal, State, and local support services (such as child care, mental health services, and career planning) that are necessary to enable individuals, including individuals with disabilities or other special needs, to attend and complete programs;

(12)  whether the eligible provider maintains a high-quality information management system that has the capacity to report measurable participant outcomes and to monitor program performance; and

(13)  whether the local areas in which the eligible provider is located have a demonstrated need for additional English language acquisition programs and civics education programs.

These considerations are important to understand, and we can benefit from a translation into plain English. Thanks to Steve Schmidt, Assistant Director of Adult Basic Skills Professional Development at Appalachian State University, we have the following translation.

WIOAs 13 Considerations in Plain English

  1. We serve students who most need our services, especially lower level students
  2. We serve individuals with learning and other disabilities
  3. We meet state student performance standards, especially at the lowest levels
  4. We and our partners work together to meet our local plan goals
  5. Our program lasts long enough for students to make progress, and we use research-based reading practices
  6. All of our instruction is based on scientifically valid research and best practices
  7. Our instructors use technology effectively for both classroom and distance learners
  8. We provide learning in context so individuals acquire skills to transition to post-secondary, obtain career/jobs and exercise their citizenship rights
  9. Our staff is well-trained and pursues quality professional development including through technology
  10. External partners help us create career pathways and support students to completion
  11. We offer flexible schedules and necessary support so our students succeed
  12. We keep an excellent student management system that reports student and program outcomes
  13. We teach ESOL and civics education to adults in our communities

How are you doing meeting the letter of the law in your program?

Assistive Technology for the Classroom

One of my favorite things about any ABSPD Institute training at Appalachian State University is learning new technology available for my classroom. New ideas and tools invigorate our methods and make our classrooms more interesting. Here are some of the ideas from the 2018 Institute.

Fortune-Telling Game

Jeff Goodman created a simple writing game by using some of his photography to make a set of “fortune telling” cards. The cards have been physically printed and turned face down on a table to reveal just their backside (a mosaic of one larger image). Students pick a card and a different image is revealed on the face side of the card. Peer students write a fortune for the student based on the image that was chosen. The fortunes are shared orally and used to discuss cognitive theory such as how everyone saw something different in the image.  In the digital version of the game, images of the cards are projected through a slideshow and animation is used to link image slides to a master slide to create the card flipping action. A shortened version of the digital game is shown on this post, but you can download the full game here.

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Select and Speak – Text to Speech Google Chrome Add-On

Select and Speak is an add-on tool for Google Chrome that will let users highlight text and have it read to them in multiple languages. It can be very useful for English Second Language learners as well as learners with Learning Differences such as dyslexia or visual impairments. The add-on is free, but it does have an upgrade that you can do at an additional cost. You can find the add-on and a short video about it here.

Click to Dictate – Speech to Text Google Chrome Add-On

Click to Dictate is an add-on tool for Google Chrome that will let users talk to their computer and have it type for them. It can be helpful for visually-impared students, but it is also a great time saver in general. I dictated a whole set of lessons in Google Docs using this tool. It is not good at punctuation, so you will need to edit it for corrections, but it will translate every word it hears with fair accuracy. Check it out here.

Newsela – News Articles in Different Reading Levels

Newsela is a pretty impressive resource that offers articles in a wide range of current and historical events. Every article is available with multiple reading levels and questions for quizzes and/or activities. I have used the free account access to expand reading comprehension with my students in the context of the subject I was teaching them at the time. The quality of this product and its expansive selection are very impressive. Check it out here.

ABSPD Vocabulary Lessons

Part of what students struggle within testing is simple lack of knowledge of key vocabulary terms. There are tier 2 words that students need to be familiar with in any subject area, but teaching them can be a burden to make creative and fun. ABSPD created a series of lessons to help with this. Each lesson teaches five tier 2 words with breakout activities and discussion. Lessons are downloadable here.

Google Suite for Collaboration

Part of having a Gmail account is having access to a free network of tools called the Google Suite. In the Suite, you have cloud storage, word processing, spreadsheets, calendars, drawing capabilities, and more. Any add-ons you have on your Google Chrome will also work in the Suite, so, for example, I can use my add-on to dictate text into a document. I used that to transcribe a whole series of grammar lessons. Anyone can share a file via email and work on it with other team members by using the Google Suite. Use is free and easy with most accounts though there is a limit on storage. For more information, check them out here.

ASL Sign Language Dictionary

If you have a student that is hearing-impaired, you may want to try this app. The app allows you to look up a word and learn how to say it in sign language by watching a short video. One teacher used to help communicate with a student and other students became excited about it and wanted to learn too. It can be a great team-building skill as well as a necessary life skill for some learners. Check out the app here.

National Library of Virtual Manipulatives – Math

Sometimes it helps to be able to teach a math concept with objects that can be physically moved around and manipulated to learn the concept with. This website hosts a vast array of manipulatives for math and some games. Tools range for levels K-12 in all areas of math. You can explore the website for free here.

Free Audio Books – Librovox.org

I love having audio books to read through a text and I have found a lot of good readers submit their work for free to Librovox.org. The whole site is copyright free and can be downloaded or streamed for instructional purposes. I have used several books here, but my favorite read is Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Check it out here.

NASA – Great Science stuff

NASA releases high-definition images from space and Earth on its website as well as tons of articles, streaming video, downloadables, and other cool bits of Earth and Space science. Check out their website for more information here.

Mind Vector – Brainstorming

This app is a lot of fun for brainstorming for writing essays or group projects. It can also be used to create organizational charts. The app itself is free for Mac or Android. You can find out more about it here.

Table Topics Cards – Writing Prompts

Table Topics cards are a set of flash cards you can use for writing practice. They were created to be conversation starters around a table at a party, but they can make for fun writing practice as well. Coupled with Mind Vector, they become engaging tools for students who may struggle with writing in general. Find out more about the cards here.

Story Cubes – Writing Prompts

Story Cubes offer a fun way to prompt writing practice with a set of dice that have pictures on them. Sets of cubes come with different themes and can be used individually or in groups. Users toss the dice and have to create a story using whatever random set of images they land on. For more about the cubes, check out their website here.

The Power of Story-Telling to Build Community in the Classroom and Beyond

The featured image on this post is of a !Kung San storyteller in 1947. The storyteller sits with his hands raised and every muscle in his body tensed to tell the details of his tale. His audience is completely captivated and excited by his tale. Nobody is sneaking out a cell phone to get on Facebook or play a game here; they are all in to what he is telling them. Wouldn’t it be lovely if teachers saw the same dedication in their students in the classroom? Why can’t it be?

I love what my friend Jeff Goodman does concerning cell phones in his class. He first tells them that they need to be off their cell phones and give their full attention to the class because they don’t have much time in the class each day and need to stay focused. Then he tells them that if they do take out their cell phone, he will be forced to call his mother.

A student got on their phone in class after this warning, and Jeff followed through with calling his mother. He made a big show of crying to his mom about how he was such a failure as a teacher because he couldn’t keep his students engaged enough to not even want to get on their phone. He put the phone on speaker, so the students knew he was really talking to his mom. Of course, his elderly mom is used to calls like this now and they don’t upset her, but the point was clearly made to the student about the message he was sending to the instructor and the other students by such disrespectful behavior. The student put away his phone and never got on it again for that class or any other class through the rest of his entire college career. 

There is no instruction without emotion, meaning, delight, and connection. –Jeff Goodman

A group of students were given a standardized test and right before they went in to take the test, they were shown a picture of a man’s face.

Some of the students were shown a face with a wide grin and eyes crinkled with smile wrinkles. He looked happy and enthusiastic like he would be a nice guy if you met him.

The other students were shown a face with a furrowed brow, flared nostrils, and a mouth slightly parted and frowned. He looked angry and like he would either cuss you out or punch you into the ground if you met him.

The test results for the students were markedly different. Those that saw the nice guy got higher scores; those that saw the mean guy got lower scores than if they had been left alone entirely.

No school has ever had a former student say a standardized test has changed their life. –Joe Martin

I’ve just modeled for you, in this post, two examples of telling a story to teach a lesson. We humans are story-telling creatures and we remember the lessons we hear through a story much more than those without it.

How does story-telling look in a classroom?

In my English classes, I teach grammar as if the sentences were relationships. Compound sentences are marriage because two independent people (clauses) are agreeing to live together as equals. Complex sentences are a parent-child relationship because one person (clause) is dependent on the other to survive as a sentence.

In my math classes, I talked about converting mixed fractions like you were climbing up a mountain. You climb up the mountain by multiplying the bottom number by the whole number. Then you cross over the mountain by adding the top number to that.

In my science classes, I teach the different aspects of science by how they are experienced through books. Our two main books, The Martian by Andy Weir and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, introduce amazing scientific questions for us to explore through discussion questions and material on our class website.

In my history classes, I love to teach with film. Students connect with characters and engage in what really happened in the past while they also answer questions based on the films.

How would your class look if you included more story in it?

Why Creativity is Important in a Classroom

The Lascaux Paleolithic cave paintings in southwestern of France are famous. They join neighboring painted caves on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list. These paintings are significant because they are over 20,000 years old and contain images of animals that used to be native to the region but are no longer there. They are evidence of an important part of our history, but they are also a testament to the power of creativity.

There was no real life-altering purpose for painting in the caves. One could suggest that the caveman would have been better served spending his time hunting and gathering, discovering fire, or creating a wheel. Nevertheless, history shows us that it was the man that created art that survived. Why is that?

Creativity is unalienable tied to our evolutionary history and success as a species.

Think of a baby that is just learning to walk. In the beginning, you can see the little worry lines of thought cross their foreheads as they weigh out the possible consequences of moving from squat to stand to first steps. In those first moments, creativity accesses a part of our brains that challenges us and enables us to problem-solve. We learn and grow as we take on new tasks. Not all creativity serves the same purpose. Some exist merely for the beauty of it or the challenge of accomplishing it.

Creativity and Innovation (5)

Nevertheless, each opportunity we take advantage of to create something new, we empower our brains to accomplish more work.


Creative thinking is essential to success.

Creativity and Innovation (7)

We often think about problem-solving and creativity in terms of invention, but that is not the only place where it is needed. More and more, we are seeing employers require creativity in everyday job tasks like maintenance and cleaning. Creative thinking enables workers to manage multiple demands on their schedules while also being sensitive to the needs around them like a family sleeping in the room you are supposed to clean.

Creativity empowers students with learning differences.

The brain is a powerful and interesting machine. It is more active than a thigh muscle during a marathon and it can help us creatively maneuver around problems. Such is the case with many people with learning differences who achieve success daily by developing coping skills around their differences. The ability to adapt so readily creates long-term success for them. According to a study reported in the New York Times, 35% of entrepreneurs are dyslexic in America. That number is higher than in other countries. You can read the New York Times article to find out more about it here.

Creativity and Innovation (6)

Images from Jeff Goodman, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, Appalachian State University

How Can I Bring This Home In The Classroom?

Being creative is a process of trial and error in the classroom. Your goal should be to always keep the class interesting and exciting. Don’t be afraid to try new things, and don’t be afraid to ask your students for honest feedback.

If you care about getting something across to your class, put extra emphasis on it through personal stories, visuals, activities, etc. A lot of times we are so focused on covering the material we are supposed to cover in our lesson plan that we don’t even care about making sure that the students are actually getting it. Try asking them what they remember the next day after you taught it to them. Would you like to be a student in your class? If you don’t think you’d enjoy being a student in your own class, why should they?  

–Jeff Goodman, Instructor at Appalachian State University

Another approach could be to establish an atmosphere where students are able to question material and decide for themselves what they need to learn. I leave you with Danez Smith’s experiences on this subject.

Design Thinking: Teaching to Problem-Solve in Creative Ways

When you realize the value of creativity, one of the questions that begin to probe your mind is: how can I get started integrating innovation and creativity in learning environments?

One approach is through Design Thinking

Design Thinking is a problem-solving process that begins by seeking to understand the end user of a product and challenge and redefine ideas and assumptions about making that product to better suit the needs of the end user.

What does design thinking look like in the real world?

There was a doctor named Doug Dietz who saw a problem with our modern MRI system.

Creativity and Innovation (2)

The problem he found was that children were really scared to go into the system, so it was hard for them to be still enough to get a clear scan. To resolve this issue, Dr. Dietz thought about what designs changes could be done to the machine to make it less intimidating to kids. The results were amazing.

Creativity and Innovation (3)

Dr. Dietz created whole worlds that made the MRI become a portal into a new adventure. Kids responded well to the new machine and were excited to use it. (I would be too.)

These are the sort of out of the box solutions that the world is craving on a large scale, but this kind of thinking is also needed on a smaller scale. Take, for example, a janitor in a hospital at night. The janitor is told to vacuum in the waiting room, but he realizes that a family is sleeping in that area right now. Instead of disturbing the family while they sleep, he decides to do some of the other work on his shift and come back to vacuum at a later time. His design thinking provided extra quality of care for the customers when they needed it the most. We can’t train employees fast enough to meet the demand for creative thinkers like this.  

What are the steps in Design Thinking?

Creativity and Innovation (1)

Creativity and Innovation

Images from Jeff Goodman, Dept. of Curriculum and Instruction, Appalachian State University

  1. Empathize
    1. Think about the people experiencing the problem and in need of your solution
    2. Imagine how they feel and what it is like to live their life
    3. Gain perspective about them through market research such as interviews, historical sketches, etc.
  2. Define
    1. Outline what the problem actually is including any sub-parts of it
    2. Identify what you want to achieve by solving this problem
    3. Identify any barriers to solving the problem
  3. Ideate (Brainstorm)
    1. Think through the issues defined about the problem and its proposed customers
    2. Sketch out ideas to resolve the problem and meet the needs of the customer
    3. Work together in groups and/or on collaborative software such as Google Draw or Google Docs
  4. Prototype
    1. Create a 3-D model of what the solution to the problem will be
    2. Physically build the solution in a replica form; don’t just let it stay on paper or conversation
    3. Work together in groups and/or on collaborative software such as Google Draw or Google Docs
  5. Test
    1. Conduct a series of experiments to test the product with consumers to see if it fixed the problem
    2. Modify the product as needed to obtain the desired solution
    3. Repeat this process as necessary till a workable product is obtained

How can we use design thinking in the classroom?

Design thinking is more than creating a project for students to complete together. It is more like creating a story with many complex and interworking parts. Design thinking should be something that challenges students to do research and think through problems that develop along the way on their own or in a collaborative group. 

Imagine having students identify a reoccurring problem in the class and set about creating a solution to fix it?

What if they decided to work together to create their own survival kit for a bomb shelter in World War II?

What sort of business could students design that would also give back to charities in the community?

Given a set budget and a travel book to a foreign country, what sort of vacation would they plan?

What could students do to provide supplies for a fall-out shelter if you have to make your own energy, clean water, and food?


To find out more about Design Thinking and why some of the world’s leading brands and top universities are using it, check out this website.


Ability to Benefit: Changing the Way We Look at Learning Differences

One of the first students I ever really struggled with was a student who had been in our program for many years but never really progressed. He bounced from one class to another. He showed up to do the work and, most days, he was happy and engaged about it…but he just couldn’t do the work at the same level as his peers. We started to have conversations about conversations with him. It was suggested that we should have a conversation with him about his “ability to benefit” from the education he was getting–or not getting–in the classroom. None of us had the heart to have that talk, and he eventually left on his own. Years later, it still bothers me what happened to him.

We call disabilities “learning differences” because it removes the stigma and provides a more accurate term for the broad range of differences in our students. Students can have physical limitations, intellectual challenges, emotional challenges, and/or learning difficulties. Some of these problems are actual diseases and illnesses; others are phobias students are working through; considerably more are not diagnosed at all. According to the Learning Disabilities Association of America, one-third of students enrolled in adult basic skills education programs have a disclosed or undisclosed learning difference or disability.

As educators, we are told to meet certain standards and follow certain benchmarks that keep inching ahead of us…changing before we can meet them. It is hard enough to get a student to these benchmarks when they have every cognitive ability to do well in class, but what about the ones who don’t? What about the ones who are different? How do we get them across the benchmark?

If you really want to make a difference, start seeing the differences as assets, not deficits.

I love what the writer, Nalo Hopkinson, said about herself. She has a non-verbal learning difference and doesn’t pick up on a lot of social cues, but she says of herself that it is “a good brain for a writer to have”. As she explains what her mind is like in this short video, she keeps telling you why her differences are a good thing.

Learning Difference (LD) learners need extra encouragement in a classroom because they have very few positive experiences in learning. The last thing an LD wants to do is try to learn when it already carries bad associations of bullying peers and teachers who cared more about content cramming and bottom-line scores then what they needed to do to help them learn.

An LD may not look like much on the struggling side of learning, but look what they can become!

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Adopting the right attitude can change a bad experience into a positive one.

  • (Teachers) Be patient with your students and be willing to change your teaching styles to whatever works best for them NOT you. Get CREATIVE!
  • Reinforce a positive perspective on their abilities; minimize focus on their inabilities. Take this project for example; it is a beautiful representation of turning a learning difference into a positive situation.
  • Change your mindset to see their weaknesses as gifts. Learn growth mindset!
  • (Students) Be willing to work your way out of accommodations.


The greatest lesson I have learned in life is that I still have a lot to learn. –Anonymous


Perception is Everything: How Growth Mindset Increases Outcomes in a Classroom

Over thirty years ago, Dr. Carol Dweck began studying students’ attitudes about failure. Her research led her to coin the terms “fixed mindset” and “growth mindset” to describe the way people view intelligence and their ability to learn. More specifically, she studied the way the brain worked and how neuron connectivity can change with experience. Her discoveries backed the idea that the brain can learn new ways to process information. Couple that with a changed belief structure (believing your brain can grow) and really impossible results become possible.

Growth Mindset 2

In a fixed mindset, students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that’s that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb.
In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point.
This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. –Dr. Carol Dweck, 2012.

The key to a growth mindset is perspective.

Both students and teachers need to believe that someone can grow and change even when they do not currently show signs of ability to do so. Discouragement does more to stop progress in a classroom than anything else does. It is the teacher’s job to encourage and motivate his/her students to see their own worth and put in the effort to live up to their potential.

Growth mindset starts with teaching cognitive learning theory.

Research shows that educational goals are reached when both students and teachers are knowledgeable about how the brain works and learns new material. Teachers should discuss successful learning practices with their students before they cover the necessary material of their course; taking the time to do so will enable those students to actually retain the information they are about to receive. USA Today did a great article on how the brain works for students about to enter college. This article can be a tool for training and discussion in the classroom. Teachers can also read more about growth mindset and download the lesson plan used by Dr. Dweck’s team to teach it here.

Growth mindset is a journey not a destination.

Changing the way you think about yourself is not something that is going to happen overnight. We cannot always have a growth mindset because discouragement is going to happen. That is just a part of life. However, we can recognize fixed mindset elements in ourselves and get feedback and strategies for improvement. The Mindset Works website has a quick interactive quiz for this. In a few short questions, you can gauge where you are and get feedback on how to improve. Check it out here.


Google Classroom: An Approved Online Learning Environment for Adult Education in North Carolina

(This post was presented during a live workshop presentation at the 2018 ABSPD Institute at Appalachian State University.)

If you are a teacher like me, you are constantly looking for a way to help your students be more engaged in their learning. Let me tell you a little about my history with Google Classroom.

A little over two years ago, a student came to me and asked me why we were not using Google Classroom. She had read an article about a chemistry instructor using it on campus, and she wanted to know why we, in Adult Education, were not on the boat with the rest of the college. To be honest, I was floored. I was partly impressed that my student was so motivated to learn, and I was partly embarrassed that I didn’t know more about this product being used on my own campus. I took the initiative to set up a meeting with that chemistry instructor. He graciously showed me all he knew and pointed me to the guru, Alice Keeler, to learn more. I became curious and I started to play with creating classes.

Courses launched in January 2016 for Adult High School English 3 and 4. Then courses launched for High School Equivalency in math, social studies, science, reading and writing, and digital literacy. The courses were tested by over 100 students and time was meticulously calculated and averaged for reporting and getting the courses approved by the State.

When you are considering any form of online learning, you have two major questions to answer. While Google Classroom had wonderful answers to the first question, it presented problems for the second.

1: How are my students going to access it?

Google Classroom offers free access to their platform online and through a free mobile app. Students can access their work on their phones and do their work on their phones without the need of a computer. The app does require internet access so they will need to work with their data plan and/or in a wifi area.

At first, students could only access Google Classroom through .edu accounts. These emails are made automatically for all active students of our college, but they are also deactivated every semester that a student is not actively enrolled in. It takes time to find the accounts, set up passwords, and enroll the students. If a student takes a semester off and their account is deactivated, we have to start all over with the enrollment process.

There is talk that Google is now opening Google Classroom to non-edu accounts. I have not seen that work yet, but it could resolve the access issue if students could use their existing Gmail accounts instead of ones set up for them by the school.

2: How are we going to track their time using it?

Google created the tool and gave it to us for free, but they do not plan on entering the game of telling us dates and times that students log in to do their work. The bottom line on this issue is to either use an external time clock or experiment and test your times and get them approved by the State for proxy time. While you may have a physical time clock for your program, that cannot work for students logging in to work remotely. What we did was test and submit average times for proxy approval to State. In 2018, we finally got our approval.

Here is the document we submitted for approval that includes detailed descriptions of how the courses were created, the outline for each course, and the time allotted for each assignment in each course.

WCCs Google Classroom for ASE Learners_updated 09-16-16.docx

What Got The Ball Rolling for Approval

During an auditor’s visit from State, I was asked to show the auditors what I was doing with Google Classroom. The people were highly impressed and asked me if I would be willing to share my work with other schools. Of course, I said yes. 😉 A few months down the road, I was invited to present during a Webinar. I shared this presentation.

Google Presentation

We submitted the document “WCC’s Google Classroom for ASE Learners” for approval and, two years later, we finally have it! In April 2018, Arbony Cooper, Adult Education Coordinator of Integrated Technology and IEL/CE Programs for College and Career Readiness at the North Carolina College System Office, wrote my director to say our program has been approved for use starting July 1, 2018 and the information has been submitted to the NCCCS Compliance Review team.

This means the hours as specified in the document above are approved for use in North Carolina for the courses as specified! This is a BIG leap forward in Adult Education. It was approved for our program at Wayne Community College, but I see no reason why it could not be used for any other program in the state. I would reach out to Ms. Cooper for clarification if needed.

How do I Create Classes Now?

Now, when I want to use Google Classroom to teach a course, I create it following the approved outline and allotted hours earned. I create a new course and post assignment using priorly approved content and/or content equivalent that meets the standards and time requirements of the approved lesson. I schedule each assignment to be at least a day apart so they will show on the reports. I also include the approved time in the assignment title so the time will show on the reports. I can adjust the due dates as need be for my course, and use the reports generated by Google to suffice for the end of course reporting.

How do I Handle Reporting Now?

If I am using Google Classroom in combination with other courses in Odysseyware–another platform I create content in–then I create custom reports and update them weekly. For assignments completed in Google Classroom, I give credit for the approved time according to the report submitted to and approved by the State. At the end of the course, I will present my custom reports as well as the Google Classroom reports as proof of the time recorded during the term in Web Advisor.

What are some helpful resources for learning more about Google Classroom?

In addition to the links above, I recommend starting with the source itself–Google–and reading all they have to say about Classroom, apps that work with it, and their other interesting projects here.

Next, I recommend reading blogs from teachers that are currently using it. Alice Keeler is a go to in the industry. She is a big supporter of technology, blended learning, and flipped learning. She believes Google Classroom should be used to connect and interact with students. You can read more from her on her blog at http://www.alicekeeler.com/

I’ve created a YouTube playlist of several videos that teach more about Google Classroom and how to use it. There is also an introductory version of my presentation for students. You can access my playlist here.

How can Google Classroom help prepare students for College and Career?

At Wayne Community College, we have asked businesses in the community what they see most lacking in their new hires that are also our students. The overwhelming response was that they were very well trained for their jobs, but lacked soft skills like responsibility, teamwork, professionalism, and showing up to work on time. Transitioning from Adult Education to College, I have asked professors what they see most lacking in their new students. The overwhelming response was that they are not prepared for the online learning environment and the level of discussion and collaboration that they will be required to do there. Google Classroom can help with all of this.

I find that the best way to better soft skills with students is not to teach it directly–like lessons about time management–but indirectly–in the level of expectation we expect from them in their existing classes. In my classes, grades (in Adult High School) and practice tests (in High School Equivalency) are dependent on their attention to their work, class attendance, and participation. Many of the student assignments involve teamwork and a professionally organized presentation. If students play around, leave early, or don’t do their work, their ability to practice test and/or earn good grades will suffer for it. Furthermore, all students are required to enroll in Remind, a free texting app, and let me know if they are running late or going to miss a class. When they notify me, I arrange for work to be available online to make up for their missed time. If a student misses more than four classes, they can be dropped from the course. All of these requirements raise the bar of expectancy for my students; most of them will rise to that level. Having high expectations on them now will help them be better employees and students in the future.

As far as preparing them for online learning in college, I like to do this through the applications I have them use for student assignments. Not all students have computers, and those that do are not always equipped with expensive software programs. I like to stick to using mostly the Google Suite–Google Docs, Sheets, Forms, Open Docs, etc.–because I know students will need to be familiar with them for college and career and they have free access to those programs with their Gmail accounts. In addition to familiarity with collaborative tools, students need to understand how to make constructive feedback comments on discussion posts. To help them learn this, I use the questions feature in the Google Classroom environment to host discussion boards. I also teach a lesson on blogs and how to respond to them using my own blogs and those of a few trusted friends.

What can I do for course content in Google Classroom?

Google Classroom makes it easy for you to use any type of information that you want to use to build a course. You can link websites, upload YouTube videos, insert docs from your Google Drive, insert self-grading tests from Google Forms, and more. What is super cool now, is that several web content sites are joining in on creating content that will add directly to your Google Classroom. My favorite for this is Khan Academy

You can find a lot of good material in other places too such as OpenEd, EdPuzzle, Ted Ed, and several other apps mentioned on the Google Apps for Education website.

Here is a list of some of my favorite content sources based on subject area:

English and Writing

Social Studies



Test Prep & Transitions to College and Career


In addition to all of the websites and information linked here, I hope you will consider my blogs as a resource for course content. Sign up to follow this website, and be the first to see new content post specifically for teachers of adults on Whitman’s Academics. Consider following Bairn’s Bard for original children’s stories and Rebecca Whitman for inspirational non-fiction and commentary.


Copyright Permission

Users are free to use the content from any of my blogs for educational purposes as long as the use credits Rebecca Whitman as the author and links directly to the online blog for use. Content is not to be printed or copied without the express written permission of the author.

Do We Love To Hate Or Hate To Love?

“I always knew that deep down in every human heart, there is mercy and generosity. No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart.”–Nelson Mandela

I have always played my political cards close to my vest. I don’t advertise my party affiliations not because I am embarrassed of the person I voted for in our last Presidential election but because I have learned that doing so brews hatred. For similar reasons, I avoid watching the news. Nevertheless, I don’t have to monitor my Twitter feed to catch the pulse of our nation; I read it every time I enter my classroom.

My students are over saturated in news media. They are constantly watching and reading about people on social media and streaming channels. This does not mean, however, that their education is a quality one. They know more about George Michaels than they do about George Washington.

What are they really learning?

What are they really watching?

My nieces–who are still between the ages of 7 and 13–recently showed me some shows they were watching on YouTube. In the show, blocky Minecraft-like characters wobble around hitting each other while screaming and laughing and singing silly songs. The show is supposedly made by video gamers sharing their “craft”, but it has no substantial value. It does not encourage craft in gaming. It does not encourage healthy social behavior. It does not help my nieces become better human beings. I have seen some adults watch the same types of shows and games and call it “informative”. At the risk of sounding like an old-fashioned, out-of-touch person on a rant, let me just tell you that it is mind-numbing crap.

There are voices out there on the internet to fit any slant you want to hook into and believe–in any language you want to hear it in. If you think the government is corrupt and out to hurt you, there are websites and shows you can watch to support that point of view. If you think one racial group is always the enemy of another group, there are plenty of channels to support your view. Several guest speakers are lining up to help you rally a protest on that idea too. If you think the media is biased and corrupt, go underground and find an unfiltered channel sneaking out the “real truth” to you. If you care little about the rest of the world, that’s okay too; Hallmark has some nice, happy endings for you.

No matter where you sit in the spectrum of perspectives I just mentioned, you have a place in the United States of America, and that place is protected by the first amendment of the Constitution. If you have never heard about the Constitution of the United States, if you have never read it, Google it; it’s online too. Before you burn that flag or bend a knee during the National Anthem or spit on all things American again, realize men and women have a long history of fighting and dying for your freedom to do just that in this country. If you protest a country that gives you the freedom to protest, what exactly is your point? And if you hate this country so much, why are you in it?

So much of what I see today is angry people with no sense of their human history. History should be our friend and allie, not the thing we avoid like the Black Plague. Instead of blindly believing the many filtered voices offering “truth”, we should all pursue truth from the source. Watch the speech and read the document; don’t just accept what others tell you about it. Don’t just spout racist ideals like bullies in a school yard when you don’t even understand half the words you are using.

What started all this anger, and what fed it into a raging wildfire? I believe it started in childhood with the way we chose to raise our children.

Right now, generations are closer in age then they have ever been before. Children are raising children who are raising children. Clueless, overwhelmed adolescents leave babies to parent themselves through devices and social media. Those babies grow up without social skills or the confidence that the world is their oyster. For them, the world is against them and every person in it is set out to hurt them. They stumble into adolescence and adulthood, get pregnant, and repeat the cycle of what happened to them. They seek to redeem their world through the spoilage of their child and end up acting more like a friend to them then a parent. If I were raised like this, I’d be angry too.

How can we stop the cycle?

How can we show each other more love than hate?

Dumbing Down: What We Hide & Why We Hide It

I remember one of the earliest tasks I had in junior high school was to look up words in a dictionary that I did not know and expand my vocabulary. I couldn’t tell you now what some of those words were, but I can tell you they were hard. I remember the feeling of accomplishment as I learned them. I was getting smarter and the pride of knowing it made me feel better about myself than I knew was possible.

I remember the first time I started hiding my words. I was at a family gathering and everyone around me was talking in short, simple sentences. I remember thinking that my big words would sound out of place and snobbish if I spoke them there. I remember intentionally not using them so I could avoid hurting the people I loved. That was the beginning of my dumbing down.

Dumb down = to convey some subject matter in simple terms to avoid seeming condescending with technical or academic language; to become simpler in expression or content; to become unacceptably simplistic

Synonyms: oversimplify, downplay, trivialize, vulgarize, simplify

I told myself that dumbing down was a good thing because I wasn’t making others around me feel bad; I never stopped to consider that I might have challenged them to better themselves. It never occurred to me that I was potentially causing more harm than good.

South Beach Diet Whipped Chocolate Almond Snack Bars Close

I remember when diet food first started coming out. It was all the rave to find chocolate in low calorie, low fat versions. We thought all of these options made chocolate more approachable for those of us who found extra pounds in the real thing. But no matter how good a bar or cookie or cake looked, it was but a poor understudy for the real thing. It left you wanting the real thing even more.

When you oversimplify something, you create a distorted view of the truth and you set yourself and others up to believe the lie that something is not as important as it really is. When I dumbed down my language, I trivialized the importance of education and intellect. I robbed myself and others of the beauty of my work by removing its refined, subtle, and complex qualities.

I let shame and fear hide my intellect because I thought a simplified version of myself would be more inspiring and relatable. But when I think of the people I have found inspiring and relatable, I realize they were all people who were not afraid to be themselves and strive for excellence in their particular set of skills. They challenged others and bettered the world not by downplaying their gifts but by intentionally sharpening them. I believe that is what we are all called to do.

What are you gifted at doing?

What are you doing to better yourself in those areas?

How are you sharing those gifts with others?

NASA Television | NASA and the Impact of Andy Weir’s “The Martian”

As I watched the International Space Station receive a resupply shipment from Florida (most likely aided by my brother there) and controlled from the infamous Mission Control Houston this morning, I had to think of how all this is connected to Andy Weir’s “The Martian”.

Sure the astronauts were not in distress and stranded on Mars or anything, but part of the tons of cargo they will unload today is science experiments “for future use”. This led me to think about what future use may mean, and why we would be interested in it at all to begin with. In Weir’s “The Martian”, Mark Watney is a botanist who colonizes Mars by finding a way to create soil and grow his own food on the planet. Sure he still has to wear a pesky space suit because, well, you can’t BREATH on Mars, but he has a series of blow-up tents/greenhouses called Habs that provide enough Earth-like atmosphere for himself and the plants to be able to live outside of suits most of the time. In the book, Mark has a hard time communicating with Earth; in real life, NASA is live-streaming from space! You can watch NASA live here.

Since “The Martian” arrived, there has been a real interest in recreating the science of the book. (It helps that the book became a bestseller and Hollywood made a movie out of it.) There are kids–and adults–all over the US building rockets to go to Mars and reproducing the garden from the book in special labs replicating Martian soil conditions. Some scientists are even trying out different potatoes with soil from Peru because it is most like Martian soil. You can learn more it all here.

What does all this mean?

I believe we may be looking at the dawn of another Space Age. As the public opinion sways the use of the almighty federal dollar, we may see more federal funding return to Space travel. If this happens, our overall knowledge and society will progress. John F. Kennedy felt that way in the 1960s; he had numerous speeches explaining that space exploration could further medical research and so much more. He was a big supporter of space exploration, and it was his bold statement that we would be the first to put a man on the moon that ultimately got us there. In the 1960s, we cared about space enough to put our money where our mouth was. If we do that today, the return could be tremendous.

What “The Martian” taught us was that Mars can be a place for growth and expansion, and space itself can overcome some limitations such as contamination for experiments to learn more. What if we can find cures for diseases? What if we could learn more about the universe and finally figure out time travel? What if we could increase food production by growing in space? What if we could colonize another planet?

Andy Weir and NASA seem to think so.


Why Reading Is Important (Especially For Writers)

Just how important is reading in the life of a busy adult today? Can reading help you be a better writer? How do I become a better writer without surrendering my originality? I used to have all those questions and more about reading. This post is my attempt to answer them.

It is a not-so-hidden fact about myself that I love to read. I read books all the time, in every spare minute of my time, on trips, at home, in the day, and at night. The bare white pages freshly inked with words are a magical aroma better than any perfume. I can go anywhere in a book. I can be anyone in a book. I have an unlimited passport and a free ticket to wherever I want to go in a book. I live to experience these moments.

Or, I should say, I DID…

Until I grew up.

There is something about grownups that’s gone terribly wrong in the world. Somewhere between high-flying fairytales and real-life careers, we have forgotten how to dream anymore. Heck, we work so hard we barely sleep anymore. Worst of all, we stop reading–apart from the latest status updates on social media and the mandatory readings for our careers, that is.

But did we really run out of time or did we run out of love? Where did the love of reading go?

In the home stretch of my Master’s degree, my love of reading got sucked up in all the boring mandatory texts I had to read for my career. I’ve read more textbooks and articles than I can count–I’ve written some too–but I can’t remember past the highlights of a few of them.

After college and in my career, I found my way back to reading through audiobooks. The commute became my favorite part of the day because my head was filled with the skilled craftsmanship of my peers: other writers. Something happened to my heart and mind in all that reading time. Books were strengthening my spirit and honing me in my skill.

When I became a remote worker and the commute went away, reading became something I had to be intentional about. I couldn’t listen during a Zoom meeting. I couldn’t listen while processing through writing. But that didn’t change the fact that this was still a very important part of my life and learning.

I couldn’t always give it the same quantity of time per day, but any amount of time I gave it made me stronger and more focused. I also discovered that I could read self-help books better when I had the physical book in my hand, so I used this intentional time to help me get through some books that were more like textbook pills for me to swallow.

If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut… If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write.

Stephen King

Writers have a lot of opinions on what it takes to be a writer, but more often than not, they all agree on this point: you can’t be a writer if you aren’t a reader first. For more quotes from writers on this subject, check out Austin Kleon’s blog.

Final Thoughts

I used to wonder why I struggled so to read self-help and textbooks, but I could remember full plots and details of the stories I read and loved. What’s the difference? The difference is love. When you find a genre that resonates with you, embrace it. It may be that it will speak life into the work you are supposed to do down the road. Either you will write for that genre or it will be an inspiration for what you do in service to your community.

The people and places and things we see and do and say that we enjoyed, leave a mark on us. We are shaped by these moments of pleasure as much as we are the moments of pain in our lives–if not more. When I look back on a childhood filled with books, I see a life full of adventure and joy.

Adults have to make a conscious effort to read for fun today. Turn off the TV and pick up the book. Skip the talking heads and play the audiobook on your daily commute. Share the experience; sit and read a book to a friend. I promise you will get more out of it than all that other stuff. I am.