What It Means To Be A Teacher: Wisdom from a Mentor, Dr. Gerald Parker

He comes in early in the morning to share a cup of coffee and meet new people. He is always smiling; the wrinkles behind his white whiskers leave a trail upwards. He is enthusiastic and kind; he loves to sit and just listen to people, but he usually has a word of advice to give them too. No one would know he ever struggled with education and reading; he went on to get a doctorate degree. He doesn’t claim to be of special importance, but he founded the first ABSPD Institute. Though he is retired, he comes out of retirement every summer to share with other younger instructors at Institute. He is a treasure of wisdom and experience. He is a man who had every excuse to be disgruntled in life but remains optimistic. He’s an inspiration. That’s who Dr. Gerald Parker is. Here’s what he said about teachers.

Who are WE? What are WE doing here? Where are we going?

In Soviet times, an old Rabbi was approached by a young man from the local militia. “Who are you? What are you doing here? Where are you going?”

The Rabbi responded, “How much do they pay you to ask those questions?”

“Two rubies a day,” was his proud reply.

“Each time you see me, I’ll pay you two rubies if you’ll keep asking me those questions.”

So–Who are WE? What are WE doing here? Where are we going?

We are gifts…

To the one who fears rejection — we show acceptance.

To the one who fears inadequacy — we guide step by step as their fears melt away.

To the one who feels disconnected — we build community.

To the one who feels lonely — we listen.

To the one who has experience failure — day by day, we celebrate success.

To the powerless — we give a pen and a voice.

To those who feel defective — we celebrate their uniqueness.

To those who feel worthless — they see reflected in our eyes — they are priceless.

To those who feel abandoned — we help reclaim as treasures.

Who are we? We are adult educators!

What are we doing here? We are making a difference that really matters!!

Who are we — roots on a tree, quiet and mostly unseen, giving life and nurture.

Who are we — air under the wings of a bird — lifting those who were caged to new heights.

Who are we — gifts — precious gifts of hope, fostering transformation of lives who will never be the same.

Who are we — bridges to expanding opportunities.

Who are we — high touch in a high-tech world.

Who are we — God’s instruments — giving “wings to caterpillars”

Who are we –blessed–far beyond what we deserve.

Where are we going? Intentionally pursuing what MATTERS!! Helping ourselves and others become more than we ever dreamed we could become!


More Wisdom from Dr. Parker

What if you could buy someone for what they think they are worth and resell them for what they are really worth? –Dr. Gerald Parker

Your fruit grows on other peoples’ trees. –Dr. Gerald Parker

The most effective professional development for me was becoming good friends with my students and finding out what worked for them, what didn’t, and how I could have done it better. –Dr. Gerald Parker

I’ve never met anyone who couldn’t teach me something. Ask people: “What are you really good at? How did you learn to do that?” –Dr. Gerald Parker

The best tutor I have ever had is the one that married me. –Dr. Gerald Parker

One person with passion can accomplish more than many with a mere interest in something. –Dr. Gerald Parker

Kate Keaveny, Neurodiversity Expert

According to the National Symposium on Neurodiversity, neurodiversity is a concept and social movement advocating for viewing many learning differences as something to be celebrated instead of something to be cured. Kate Keaveny of Leicester, England is an accomplished teacher and advocate of neurodiversity. Her experiences in the classroom have taught her many insights into working with students with dyslexia and other cognitive differences. Check out her presentation in the link below.

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Neurodiversity Slides (PDF)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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

Science

Math

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.

 

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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.