Ch 1 Using Integrated, Theme-Based Instruction with Adults
According to Dirkx & Prenger, stimulating motivation for a small group of learners poses little problem. For them it may be best just to focus on their identified learning needs, whether GED preparation or any type of direct learning that they want to take on (p. 1). What we know from our own collective experience and national statistics about drop-out rates is that a large proportion of adult students who initially enroll in adult education program leave well before attaining their goals or other sustainable learning objectives. Some students who drop out return and on second or third time around may obtain longer range goals or tangible benefits of some sustaining sort. Yet the reality remains that a much greater ratio simply cycle in and cycle out of programs resulting in what Tom Sticht refers to as the “turbulence,” characteristic of many programs and class rooms; especially open-enrollment ones. John Strucker’s instructive rejoinder provides an important other perspective (http://www.ncsall.net/?id=1151).
Select one of the three adult education writers below (Quigley, Fingeret and Drenon, or Kegan et al) to do an in-depth study of their model.
As argued in Focus on Basics article written by Allan Quigley, the first three weeks are critical in determining whether students will remain in the program http://www.ncsall.net/?id=420. As he argues more extensively in his book Rethinking Literacy Education: The Critical Need for Practice-Based Change Practitioners, program-based institutional as well as student situational barriers such as day care, transportation, which are difficult to control for, also need to be addressed. http://www.amazon.com/Rethinking-Literacy-Education-Critical-Practice-Based/dp/078790287X. Clearly, curriculum is one intervening institutional factor, but not always the uppermost one even as sometimes it is.
On this topic Quigley, like Dirkx & Prenger discuss relevant content-based curricula through the prisms of four central curricular prisms:
• Vocational Working Philosophy
• Liberal Working Philosophy
• Liberatory Working Philosophy
• Humanist Working Philosophy
My review essay of Rethinking Literacy Education titled, “The Pragmatic Reform Vision of B. Allan Quigley,” provides a summary of Quigley’s arguments on potential barriers (pp. 8-10) to participating in adult education programs and Quigley’s curriculum recommendations (pp. 10-14) http://www.nald.ca/fulltext/george/rethink/rethink.PDF
In Literacy for Life A Framework for Change, Hannah Fingeret and Cassndra Drennon propose a life cycle model consisting of the following stages http://store.tcpress.com/0807736589.shtml
1. Prolonged tension: Some basic life problem (e.g., dependency or unemployment) that propel individuals to seek a solution.
2. Turning point: Making the initial decision to seek adult literacy education as at least a part of the solution leading to some life-based resolution (enhancing literacy skills to become increasingly independent through gainful employment).
3. Problem-solving and seeking (advanced) educational opportunities: Students begin to build on the skills and confidence that they’ve gained from the program to begin to achieve some visible outcomes beyond the program that matter to them.
4. Changing relationships and changing practices: Relationships at home, work, and the community begin to change outside the program as a result of participating in the program (adults who become increasingly independent or set new goals and the impact of these changes on significant others)
5. Intensive continuing interaction: Increased learning and enhanced sense of efficacy within the program where students can continue to work on their skills in a “safe zone” as a for addressing the continuing needs of enhanced life efficacy outside of the program
For a program to be maximally effective it has to work for students through the entirety of the life cycle of change. Curriculum is important, but so are other critical factors.
1. What is your assessment of the viability of Fingeret and Drennon’s Life Cycle Model of adult literacy as a whole?
2. In what ways can this model be of value to you as you reflect on the challenges you face as a classroom teacher or program director or administrator?
3. Do you see any of the five turning points to be of more significant than others?
4. Which of the five would you identify as most important? Why
5. Which of the five are in your direct span of control as a teacher or program director or administrator?
6. What are the implications of any of these turning points being missing for the quality of adult education programming, especially on the issue of student persistence.
The NCSALL report by Rober Kegan, and his colleagues Toward a New Pluralism ABE/ESOL Classrooms: Teaching to Multiple Cultures of Mind Executive Summary
http://www.ncsall.net/fileadmin/resources/research/report19a.pdf draws out important insight on the way that students with different “cultures of the mind” learn, and what they seek to focus on in adult education settings. Specifically, Kegan identifies three “cultures of the mind” linked to Instrumental, Socializing, and Self-Authoring ways of knowing, which play a major role in how students interpret what they are learning and its significance. Take a look first at the two page research brief: http://www.ncsall.net/fileadmin/resources/research/brief19.pdf
1. To what extent do you find Kegan’s pluralistic model persuasive?
2. Whether or not or the extent to which you agree with his ideal typology to what extent have the students you’ve worked with exhibited these three “cultures of the mind?”
3. Which typology or mix most typifies the students you’ve worked with?
4. Regardless, what can you draw from Kegan’s model that would be of value to you?
With these three studies in mind, what is clear is that students have a range of critical life application issues that they process in highly divergent ways that they are seeking to address through adult basic education, which programs and adult education institutions need to be as keenly focused on as possible. Several key factors are required:
• A supportive atmosphere where students will feel accepted and valued, and then challenged in a way that builds up their capacities and esteem
• Timely intake and appropriate placement
• Well taught classrooms with appropriate materials
• A relevant and interesting instructional program that in some significant manner addresses both basic skill enhancement and application to life contexts beyond the program though content-based subject matter that provides students greater access to those contexts
• A program well attuned to effectively working with students with a wide divergence of backgrounds, learning styles, expectations, goals and current life challenges, and self-processing psychological prisms
• Highly attuned counseling and referral services
Key Curriculum Content areas include at the least:
• Workplace literacy and Career development
• Family Literacy
• Health Literacy
• Becoming a more informed consumer
• Civic Awareness
• Identifying and Keeping Personal Goals
• Transitioning to College
• Computer literacy
• Strengthening basic skills in reading, writing, speaking, listening, numeracy
A few questions related to the course example on nature:
• What do you make of the example cited on p. 3 of developing a course of study on nature in a corrections setting?
• Could you envision a similar application in your setting?
• Could you envision utilizing such a webpage as the National Geographic Xpeditions site with your class? (http://www.nationalgeographic.com/xpeditions/)? In what ways?
• What do you conclude about the comparative group study on pp. 3-4 in which the class that studied the nature theme had a 50% higher program participation rate than those took a non-thematic subject matter course?
See Tom Sticht Functional Context Education Introduction: Making Learning Relevant to the 21st Century http://library.naldatwork.ca/item/5893. Ch 1 (intro) and Ch 6 or 7 (Case studies) who argument is similarly to that of Dirkx & Prenger on the importance of a relevant curriculum focus in enhancing motivation with some positive impact on general literacy aptitude. While Sticht’s early work in the 1960s and 1970s focused on the functional contexts of the military and workplace, in more recent years he has broadened his focus to include any content focus, including spiritual development that particular students would find valuable. What has remained consistent with Sticht is the central argument that the development of literacy skills occurs most effectively when it is a function of content rather than an independent stand-alone in which “basic language skills” and life skills are separately taught or that one needs to learn to read first before applying such decontextualized knowledge to concrete applied situations.
Characteristics of an Instructional Theme Based Approach
ITB is more than just content-based instruction. It is an integrated theme-based approach to instruction. In this respect it is a transdisciplinary real-world view of the curriculum in focusing life contexts outside the program (p. 5). For example, writing a business letter is not an end in itself or an “exercise” in writing, but incorporated into a broader theme of getting and keeping a worthwhile sustainable job.
ITB is a way of thinking and about developing instruction in which teachers draw objectives, concepts, and skills from all areas of desired competencies, including basic skill development (p. 5). In the ideal scenario the course or unit is developed from a general idea or theme that is relevant to a learner or group of learners. The theme must emerge from or speak to the life contexts of participating learners (see Elsa Auerbach’s Making Meaning, Making Change http://www.amazon.com/Making-Meaning-Change-Participatory-Development/dp/0937354791) especially Ch 1 where she discusses her important theme on the Emergent Curriculum. The emergent curriculum is a student-centered instructional planning process which is very different from expert driven top-down curriculum design.
An overview on the Emergent Curriculum (http://chiron.valdosta.edu/whuitt/CGIE/yule.pdf) can also be read here. This is a useful article in providing a solid overview of the concept of the emerging curriculum even though there are a few syntax problems in the essay, due to the fact that the authors are not native English writers. The core assumptions undergirding the emergent curriculum are suffused throughout Planning and Implementing Instruction for Adults, though a clear statement of its core principles is not concisely articulated by the authors.
However it specifically emerges, which can be some combination of top-down pre-planning and bottom-up refining and fine tuning, Dirkx & Prenger maintain that a curriculum should ideally be grounded in thoughtful dialogue with students. It should reflect personal, vocational, family, community, societal or other contexts and other compelling student areas of interest such as the nature course, which was a uniquely discovered interest within a given class setting. Even if specific themes are developed in advanced they can be modified in response to specific student feedback once classes meet. It is still important to include basic or academic skills; however the materials will be drawn from real or real like contexts that students utilize in their actual lives and will be as contextualized as possible (p. 9).
Comment: Planning and Implementing Instruction for Adults presents an idealized pedagogical format based on the integrated thematic model. One of the core issues issue becomes where the need for concentrated skill development comes in. What is the role of systematic practice in basic or academic skill development such as writing essays in preparation for the GED writing text? That is, are such skills best developed “naturally” while working with theme-based content as both Sticht and Auerbach suggest or should basic skill work be separated out and given its own separate attention in order to facilitate systematic development? This is an important issue that has both philosophical and practical import which very much gives shape to the nature and focus of everyday classroom work. There are various ways to work through these issues which would depend in part on specific program focus, background of both the teacher and the students, and academic level of the students. For example Sticht argues that one should provide explicit and separate attention to phonemic development with students at fourth grade reading levels and below while those at higher levels would best benefit through an exclusive functional-context approach based on topics and themes of identified interests to students as well as program developers.
According to Dirkx & Prenger, the thematic approach not only differs from basic skills or academic-focused approaches that concentrate on “decontextual” skill development. The ITB approach also differs from other functional approaches which reduce “real life” application to a set of specific skills that will shift from one topic to another without broader thematic context, such as what one will see in many textbooks. It also differs from approaches that focus just on a set of life skills that one may derive for example, from a list of CASAS competencies. Thus, in an ITB approach, the topic of consumer awareness might also include some focus on the role of consumerism as a cultural value in contemporary society and the psychology of consumerism on the lives of participating students and their families and communities. In a fully developed Integrated Theme-Based approach both attention to the basic skills are fully addressed in context, and the themes selected are sufficiently broad to be integrated into some meaningful life contextual framework such as that of developing a meaningful vocation rather than that of simply finding a job.
This, at least is the ideal proposed by Dirkx & Prenger even as the authors of this text are fully aware that such a vision of adult basic education is an ideal toward which to strive where progress rather than perfection is the more realistic and satisfying objective at least for many programs. It is not my intention for you to accept the pedagogical presuppositions advocated by the authors of Planning and Implementing Instruction for Adults. It is my desire that you vigorously (a) grapple with the ideas presented in the text as a thinking/planning tool to work through your own curriculum development planning; (b) give studied consideration to infusing your own work with greater intentional focus on student-relevant theme-based instruction while simultaneously including sustained attention to basic and academic skill development as well, and (c) to rigorously think through how a bottom-up emergent curriculum and top-down planned curriculum focus can creatively intersect at key junctures rather than to be intrinsically viewed as oppositional.