Archive for March, 2013

Beyond Student Councils: Adult Learner Leadership

March 11, 2013

The national adult learner leadership organization, VALUE, has long said that the success of the adult literacy education field depends on adult learners. This doesn’t mean only that practitioner success is measured by adult learner gains in education progress. It also means that, as a marginalized field, the best hope for mainstream attention and increased public investment, especially in economic hard times, is a large number of well-organized adult learner leader advocates.

We know, from years of experience, that legislators on both sides of the aisle pay more attention to what adult learners say than practitioners, whose jobs they often rightly believe depend on public funding. What gets legislators’ attention is passionate and articulate adult learners, people from their Congressional or representative district, especially those who are politically active and who are registered to vote.

Student councils; student or graduate-led mentoring or learner support groups; student participation on program boards and advisory councils; student-produced projects, such as health literacy information and advocacy in their communities; and student-led public speaking events about adult literacy education are all important adult learner leadership activities, but they are not enough. Look at the devastation of adult education funding in New Jersey, New York, California, Arizona, and any number of states, not to mention states like Iowa and Colorado that have no state funding devoted to adult literacy education. This must be changed.

Recently the Massachusetts Coalition for Adult Education (MCAE), an organization I am proud to be a member of, began to mobilize adult learner and practitioner advocates to ask candidates for the U.S. Senator position left vacant by long-time Senator John Kerry these four questions:

U.S. Senate Candidates – Adult Basic Education Questionnaire

1. Do you believe adult basic education is a right or a privilege? Should we have a social contract for adult basic education the way we do for K-12 education?

2. Currently our state has many residents who lack access to adult basic education services either because there is no program in their area, the programs in their area have long waiting lists or there are scheduling, transportation or child care barriers. What steps would you take to correct this lack of access?

3. Efforts are underway at the state and national level to raise the quality and standards of adult basic education programs and services to be comparable with that of the K-12 system, yet the ABE system receives only a small fraction of the funding that goes to the K-12 system. What would you do to increase the resources allocated to adult basic education in order to promote the development and professionalization of the field?

4. What do you believe should be the vision and purpose for the adult basic education system, in good economic times and bad?

These are great questions. So great that New Hampshire’s Adult Education Director, Art Ellison, sent them out to adult basic education state directors and advocates across the country to consider using in their own state, and with U.S. Senators and Congress people. The greatest power to move legislators with these questions is in the hands of adult learner leaders. The challenge for practitioner- and other advocates is how best to help organize program graduates and students who are leaders, or who could become leaders, to meet with their elected officials, to ask them questions like these and to talk about the impact of adult literacy education on them, their families and communities.

For several years a collaboration of the Massachusetts Coalition for Adult Education and an adult learner leadership group organized and led by students and graduates of adult literacy education programs, the Massachusetts Alliance for Adult Literacy, have offered adult learner leadership training. This is a volunteer activity, one that does not use public funding, and where students can choose to attend. They meet for training in the morning and then many choose to visit their state legislators’ offices in the afternoon. They are told that it is their own story, how they came to realize they needed adult literacy education services and how they and their family and community have benefited, that legislators want to hear. They are also given an adult literacy education fact sheet, and they have a clear idea of what the “ask” should be, because legislators usually want to know what they think should be done about the problem of long waiting lists for services. This is one activity, but there are others in a leadership training process.

Many adult learner leadership training models involve inviting learners to take leadership roles in their programs: participation in program decision-making, and telling their story and talking about the unmet need for adult literacy education services in community venues such as rotary club meetings, church or library forum, and other activities. One part of this process can be a large annual rally at their state legislature. We live in a democracy, and adult learners need to visit their “state house” or state legislature to appreciate that it belongs to the people of their state, including them, if they are citizens. Many students have said that visiting the state house, walking through its halls in large numbers, and talking with legislators is a profound education experience. One student, many years ago, put it this way on a trip home. He said, “In my country, if I had done what I did today, talk with my legislators, I might have been shot.”

There is a natural confluence of democracy education and helping adult learners understand how to advocate with their elected officials for what they believe is needed in their community or state.

Many states, all over the country, have been supporting adult learner leadership efforts like this for years. You’ll find this in Pennsylvania, Texas, California, Missouri, Georgia, Ohio, New Hampshire, and in many other states. However, this may be a new idea in other states, and in some states it happens in fits and starts. This needs to be a regular, year-in and year-out activity with many hundreds of adult learners and graduates. If adult learner leadership is of interest to you, email me, including information about what adult learner leadership activities you have now in your program or state, and I’ll send you a list of contacts of people who can help you organize or give you ideas on how to improve what you do.

David J. Rosen


Using Free Online Instructional Videos with Adult Learners

March 7, 2013

Recently I have done an adult education professional development presentation in Atlanta, New York City, and (a webinar) in New Jersey. I will be presenting it at the National COABE Conference in New Orleans in March, and twice in Massachusetts in April. The presentation topic is Students and Teachers Learning from Free Online Instructional Videos. In a couple of the presentations, not surprisingly, I have been asked for advice on how teachers could use these videos with their students. Here’s the short answer:

Where to find free online instructional videos appropriate for adult learners

You can find lots of good instructional videos on YouTube, You may have to narrow your search using terms like “essay writing” “adding and subtracting decimals”  or “comma faults”.  A few years ago our problem was not being able to find many good videos on YouTube suitable for adult education; now the problem is that there are so many videos that it is hard to sort the wheat from the chaff.  If YouTube is blocked at your program or school, you can still preview the videos at home, and using software such as DVD VideoSoft  you can save it to a portable storage device that you connect to a computer lab LAN or show in class using a multimedia (LCD) projector. If you are looking for numeracy and math videos, I have done some of the review work for you. To download a free, 21-page list of adult basic education and adult secondary education numeracy and math video web sites, go to my drop box at: )

Always preview videos before showing or assigning them to students.

If possible, form a team of people who teach the same subject at the same level to review and share videos. This could be a group of teachers at your school or program. It could also be a group of teachers from several programs in your area or state. It could be an online team. You could use free online group software like Wiggio, Yahoo or Google groups, or for real-time video meetings for up to nine people, Google Hangouts, or Skype. Of course, someone needs to take the lead and invite others to join, moderate the meetings, and follow up.

Evaluating Videos

Create a simple, shared video evaluation form that the teachers would use, something like this:

  • Would you assign this to your students? If yes, continue. If no, stop.
  • What subject and level?
  • How many minutes long is the video?
  • What’s the video’s web address?
  • Is there an accompanying assessment? If so would you assign this, too?
  • Are there accompanying print materials that could be downloaded? If so, would you assign these?
  • Rate the video: E = Excellent, G= Good, O= okay

Develop a simple way to get video evaluation comments from learners for the videos you show or assign – a simple questionnaire such as this:

  • What did you like about the video?
  • What didn’t you like?
  • Did it help you learn? (yes/no)
  • If so, what was helpful?
  • Other comments:

Where your students may watch the videos

Videos can be shown in class, but students can also, or instead, watch them from a computer at home, work or a library, or from a smart phone. They could watch them before and/or after class, connected to the classwork, or as a supplement to classroom instruction. The Khan Academy “flipped classroom” model, where students watch a demonstration before class, and take a quiz whose results are instantly organized in a class data display for the teacher, enables the teacher to work directly with the students who have not passed the quiz, while assigning other videos to students who “got it” or asking them to be peer mentors to those who didn’t.

Teach your students how to watch online videos

If you assign videos for students to view outside class, on their own in a class, or in a computer lab, be sure that your students know how to access the videos, and also how to use the video controls:

  • Play
  • Pause
  • Stop
  • Rewind
  • Fast forward
  • Slider to move ahead or back
  • Enlarge the video to fill the screen
  • Turning on closed caption (CC)

Encourage students who don’t understand the content, or can’t do what it is demonstrating after watching once, to rewind and play it again (and again).

Consider using the (often free) assessments or supplementary print materials available for some of the videos

If the video has a quiz, encourage students to take it. For some vides, e.g. Khan Academy, USA Learns, TV 411 there are quizzes and/or accompanying downloadable print materials. Be sure you know what’s available and show students how they can access the materials.

Professional Development videos

If you are looking for adult education professional development videos, check the (free) Media Library of Teaching Skills, and also YouTube. For some topics, for example,  essay writing, YouTube has lots of videos. You can check out several different approaches, and choose the one that you think is most effective.

Do you use online instructional videos with your students? If so, what’s your advice for other teachers who want to try this?