Archive for September, 2012

Changing Teacher Expectations by Changing Teacher Behaviors

September 27, 2012

You may be familiar with the 1968 Pygmalion in the Classroom study in which Robert Rosenthal found that teachers’ expectations of their students’ performance affects the students’ actual performance in that classroom. (Read about the study at .)

Teachers’ Expectations Can Influence How Students Perform, a recent  (8 ½ minute_ National Public Radio Morning Edition podcast, (also transcribed as printed text) references and updates this study; Robert Pianta, Dean of the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia,  “has studied teachers for years, and [told the interviewer, Alix Speigel] that it is truly hard for teachers to control their expectations.”

Spiegel continues, “But Pianta has a different idea of how to go about changing teachers’ expectations. He says it’s not effective to try to change their thoughts; the key is to train teachers in an entirely new set of behaviors.”

“Pianta and his colleagues recently did a study. They took a group of teachers, assessed their beliefs about children, then gave a portion of them a standard pedagogy course, which included information about appropriate beliefs and expectations. Another portion got intense behavioral training, which taught them a whole new set of skills based on those appropriate beliefs and expectations.”

“For this training, the teachers videotaped their classes over a period of months and worked with personal coaches who watched those videos, then gave them recommendations about different behaviors to try.”

“After that intensive training, Pianta and his colleagues analyzed the beliefs of the teachers again. What he found was that the beliefs of the trained teachers had shifted way more than the beliefs of teachers given a standard informational course.”

“This is why Pianta thinks that to change beliefs, the best thing to do is change behaviors.”

You can hear or read the whole interview at

Do teacher expectations research findings for teachers of children apply to teachers of adults?  Is it time for the Rosenthal study, or another study of teachers’ expectations of their students, to be done with teachers of adult learners?

David J. Rosen

Finding and losing our way

September 25, 2012

What do we gain and what do we lose when we learn a new technology?

Many years ago my wife, who was then an elementary school art teacher in a suburb of Boston, came home one day with some astonishing news: third graders no longer knew how to cut with scissors. She had to re-design part of the art curriculum; she could no longer assume that children had this basic (I suppose once “cutting edge”) skill.

How did this happen, I wondered. My theory was that computers were to blame, that the time parents in previous generations would have spent helping children learn how to use basic hand tools (including glue, tape, scissors and paper punches) had given way to using computers to word process and play computer games. Also, my wife thought that in the early grades the focus had moved away from skills like manipulating materials to computer skills. Ten years later the trend had not reversed. Although children had even better digital abilities, with some skills they could no longer “cut it” .

About the same time, when the price of pocket calculators dropped so that every American could afford one, and when they began to be allowed on tests, some teachers were concerned that students would lose some math skills. They were right; many children and young people can no longer do long division. (I can, but I haven’t used the skill in years.) On the other hand, perhaps some of those children are learning more math thinking and reasoning skills now that they don’t have to spend so much time learning how to do the calculations by hand. Still, what if – as Revolution, a new post-apocalyptic television show asks us to imagine – the world should lose all electricity…. I suppose if this were to happen there would be more serious concerns than doing long division.

Now, Eiizabeth Spelke, Director of the Laboratory for Developmental Studies at Harvard, is concerned about what Harvard students (and other Americans) may be losing in navigational skills because of their reliance on GPS technology.

Spelke has done cognitive skills research in an Amazon village in Brazil with uneducated Munduruku adults whose navigation skills equal or exceed Harvard undergraduates’. Spelke also found no differences in navigation skills based on gender.
‘I am worried we’re all going to be using GPSes all the time,’ Spelke said. ‘The Mundurukus are better than Harvard students because they have to keep navigating all the time.’
“Drivers in modern societies rely heavily on GPS navigation. Looking at a map is almost old-fashioned.”
‘I’m worried it will cause our systems to atrophy,’ Spelke said. ‘We’re doing this enormous experiment on ourselves and our children and grandchildren,’ she said. ‘Innate systems disappear if you don’t use them. It’s a real question of what’s going to happen with all this.’

Source: Finding our way: Researcher expands on human navigation By Judy Rakowsky, Harvard Correspondent, Harvard Gazette , Harvard Science, Science and Engineering at Harvard University. Retrieved 9.25.12 from

Integrating Technology into Adult Literacy Education

September 17, 2012

What does it mean, in 2012, to Integrate Technology into Adult Education?

In February 1998 I wrote on the National Institute for Literacy (now the U.S. Department of Education) LINCS Technology discussion list that I saw three major ways in which adult literacy education teachers were integrating technology:

1. Integrating computer-assisted instruction. A teacher looks at her curriculum, looks at what software s/he has or could buy, then tries to fit the software (usually computer-assisted instruction) into the curriculum objectives or topics or skills. The reasons for using software are: appeal of computers to some students, variety of instructional methods, especially useful where skill practice is needed, and in a few cases because the software is very well designed and is actually an admirable means of instruction.

2. Using computers as tools in a learning process. A teacher looks at how computers can be used as tools for accomplishing project-based learning. Students:

a) word process their writings,

b) publish online cookbooks or school or program newsletters,

c) carry out research using CD-ROM encyclopedias or the Internet,

d) learn science for example by dissecting frogs online, or by following actual scientific expeditions and posing questions to the scientists, or

e) practice writing skills with key-pals, using email.

Anyone Following me on Twitter already knows what I did this past summer.

3. Distance education. (Broadcast T.V., interactive T.V., videotapes, email courses, Web-based courses) joined with direct instruction, (with face-to-face, real-time instruction or as they say in chat rooms, IRL that is, in real life) Some times this is pure distance learning, sometimes blended with face-to-face instruction, and sometime supplementary to classroom learning, as homework or enrichment.

Fourteen years later these are still important ways that teacher integrate technology, but there are some new ways as well:

4. Blended learning. Increasingly, teachers and programs are trying to fit online learning what happens in their face-to-face classes and tutorials. This may mean more careful choice of a commercial online learning product or of individual (usually free) online learning materials, including videos, and linking them to existing curriculum or state content standards. One of the first comprehensive examples of this was Pima College Adult Education’s Splendid ESOL Web that indexes free learning resources with the Arizona ESOL content standards. Another model is the Learner Web, which has a wide range of online curricula (Learning Plans) that use primarily free, online learning resources. often built on top of an existing structure of face-to-face classes or tutorials.



5. New Digital hardware. In 1998 tech hardware meant computers and peripherals. Today it also includes netbooks, smart phones, electronic tablets, smart boards, and digital multimedia projectors. In 1998, if students wanted to access the web, their choices were a computer lab at their adult literacy education program, a public library, or possibly a community computing center. The hardware didn’t belong to them. Now the hardware is just as likely to a web-accessible computer at home, a smart phone and increasingly a tablet, hardware that is theirs. In some cases now, students who cannot afford these devices can borrow them from their local library, from their adult literacy education program, or buy them on time or at a considerable discount. Low-income families in many states can get Internet access, for as little as $10 a month. Will BYOD (bring your own device) be the next hardware technology phenomenon in adult literacy education?

6. Teaching Digital Facility. Increasingly high stakes tests are offered primarily or only on computer. Beginning in January 2014 the GED® high school equivalency exam will be available only on computer in an approved testing center. Digital facility (what some call digital literacy), i.e. competence and comfort in using computers and other web-accessible devices, is now essential for: job applications, almost all now online; searching for basic information such as health information; completing government forms; communicating with children’s teachers, communicating with family and friends who are far away; and for an ever-increasing number of other essential tasks.  Many teachers and administrators are concluding that fast and accurate keyboarding (typing) and basic word processing; efficient web site navigation; effective information searching and evaluating; email; retrieving, sending and managing attachments; and other digital facility skills need to be taught in adult literacy education programs along with other basic skills such as reading, writing, and math.

In our near future may be some other features that are becoming popular in higher education and K-12 education. These include:

7. Digital textbooks. Some Higher education institutions and K-12 schools have given up on (expensive) print textbooks. They provide Pads to all their students. Will adult literacy education move in that direction, too?

8. Live streaming classrooms. At least one workplace ESL program, English Under the Arches, sponsored by the McDonalds Corporation, is co-taught as online classes. Students, often in pairs, access their class from the computer in the back of their restaurant in the afternoon. This is an effective workplace ESL/ESOL model especially for learners who, because they often have two or more jobs, can only attend class online from work. Will it become more popular in the workplace? In the public sector?

Do you think these are fair characterizations of how we are using integrating technology in adult literacy education? Are there other ways this phrase is being used? Do you have good examples to add? If so, please comment.

Competency-based Adult Education in the Cloud Age

September 12, 2012

Competency-based education was in vogue in adult basic and vocational education in the United States from the 1960’s into the 1980’s. Although the term hasn’t been widely used since then, sometimes one sees its close cousins: mastery learning, performance-based learning, and outcomes-based learning; and by whatever name it is referred to, the approach is still widely used in vocational education curriculum throughout the world.

A common problem I see when reviewing adult and out-of-school youth curricula used in the U.S. and elsewhere is curriculum writers’ lack of familiarity with the underpinnings of competency-based curriculum design. For a quick refresher, here’s my take on what those are.

Twelve underpinnings of competency-based education

  1. A competency-based or mastery learning approach focuses on learning objectives (expected learning outcomes or competencies), not seat time in class.
  2. The approach assumes that all the students will master the competencies (learning objectives). Time on task may vary from student-to-student, and by subject area; however, mastering the competencies is held constant for all the learners in the class. Students learn at their own pace; some quickly or more slowly.
  3. In competency-based education, curriculum and instruction are driven by the learning objectives. In some contexts, for example work-related or vocational learning, these intended learning outcomes may need to be aligned with what is needed in the context, in this example, for what is needed at work in a particular industry.
  4. Students and teachers can correctly describe and explain the learning objectives of each lesson or module, unit and course.
  5. Instructional materials and activities are aligned with the learning objectives. More students will reach mastery of learning outcomes if their instruction is designed to help them acquire the intended learning. Although not required for competency-based education, there is evidence that contextualized materials and activities (embedded in a highly-motivating context or content) are most effective.
  6. Lesson/module, unit and course assessments are all aligned with the learning objectives at each level.
  7. Learning objectives:
    • Describe what learners can demonstrate that they know or can do, after the lesson/module, unit or course; they do not describe what a teacher will do in the classroom,
    • Include the conditions under which they will be measured, for example, what materials or tools are needed to perform the task, and
    • Include a performance standard that is measurable, one that clearly indicates how well a student needs to perform for mastery (for example, 4/5 or 80% correct, or that includes a list of specific measurement or observation criteria for determining mastery.)
  8. A teacher or other expert observes or measures and records how well each student has mastered the learning objectives.
  9. If students are pre-tested (at the beginning of a course or unit) they can “place out of” lessons, units or courses for which they can demonstrate that they have already mastered the competencies.
  10. Competency-based models greatly benefit from individually paced rather than solely group-paced instruction.
  11. Learning takes place inside and/or outside of a classroom. It is not important how students master the learning, only that they do. This means students may benefit from a wide range of instructional resources outside as well as inside a classroom.
  12. Although some people misunderstand “competency-based” to mean “minimum competencies”, the approach is not limited to only a minimum performance, and often mastery is expected.

These curriculum features or underpinnings are not dependent on having computer or Internet technology. The approach can be used in designing curriculum for villages in poor or developing countries where there may be no electricity and possibly few or no phones; however, they are especially interesting and rich in the context of blended learning that offers a combination of face-to-face and online, web-accessible learning.

Competency-based Curriculum Design with Blended Learning

Computers and other web-accessible devices (smart phones, tablets, and netbooks) enable curriculum writers and teachers to more easily individualize instruction and assessment for each student, providing greater ability for classroom teachers to assure mastery of the learning objectives for all their students. With thousands of online instructional videos available now, some with print-based practice pages and  sophisticated data management systems, teachers can benefit from a model that blends face-to-face and online learning for easy, practical solutions to individually tailored and mastery learning.

Changing Role of Teachers

Use of a blended online and face-to-face instructional model has implications for changes in the teacher’s role. As Dr. Robert W. Mendenhall, the President of Western Governors University, a large nonprofit, competency-based, online university, wrote in a recent Huffington Post blog post,

“[We must] fundamentally change the faculty role. When faculty serve as lecturers, holding scheduled classes for a prescribed number of weeks, the instruction takes place at the lecturers’ pace. For most students, this will be the wrong pace. Some will need to go more slowly; others will be able to move much faster. Competency-based learning shifts the role of the faculty from that of “a sage on the stage” to a “guide on the side.” Faculty members work with students, guiding learning, answering questions, leading discussions, and helping students synthesize and apply knowledge.” [1]

The web provides teachers and students with a wide array of excellent (often free) web-based learning resources, including instructional videos and podcasts (mp3 or audio files), and it increasingly provides teachers with tools for finding and organizing these resources. Among these tools, I have recently published a list of free, short instructional numeracy and math web-based instructional videos, many designed for adult learners. This free publication may be useful to numeracy or math curriculum writers or teachers who want to integrate free instructional videos into their existing curriculum. [2]

In the digital, and now cloud, age, especially with the acceleration of access to the web through smart phones and tablets, it may be time to combine the power of competency-based approaches and online learning.  Individually paced blended learning leading to mastery learning, once pie in the sky for most classroom teachers, is now as close as a digital cloud.

[2]The ABE and ASE/HSE Math Videos List will be found in my public dropbox folder (you can subscribe to dropbox for free) at: