Friday, September 9, 2011

Drucker on Leadership: Anticipating Crisis

Drucker’s second chapter on Managing the Non-Profit Organization is a wide ranging discussion on leadership. Much of what he says may seem like common sense, other points may not be so evident. The purpose here is to outline his key argument and to draw on it as a take-off point for additional commentary.

His first essential characteristic of effective leadership that Drucker highlights, the one that I will highlight here, is that of anticipating crisis in a timely manner, which, in turn, calls for the importance of “innovation,” or “constant renewal” at various smaller or larger scale. The emerging crisis could call for a changing focus on the level of organizational structure in order to better face new market or funding sources, or on the nature of the service in responding to unanticipated need, perhaps stimulated by changing demographic factors or new client demands. An example of the former would be some repositioning of staff responsibilities to better align with targeted service delivery.

As an example, I was initially hired by Literacy Volunteers of Greater Hartford as Manager of Community-Based Programming. My colleague served as the manager of the main program. We were both paid about the same and held equivalent rank, yet she supervised over 200 students while I worked with under75 students. Historically, providing services to a series of satellite centers had built in cost efficiencies when compared providing services in the main program with greater administrative support systems built in. After making a tough organizational decision to provide more resources into the main program, my boss divided up the responsibilities in which my colleague would oversee the ESL program while I managed the Basic Literacy program. The result was each of us were working more out of our core strengths and more closely working with an equal number of students and volunteer tutors That is an example of innovative change at the staff level which enhanced organizational capacity to more effectively realize agency goals.

The decision by my boss to drop the one-on-one tutoring program and to support students exclusively through the small group tutoring format is an example of a change at the level of service provision. The shift had been in the work for some years in the creation of our tutoring center in which we added small group tutoring as a vibrant complement to the traditional LVA individualized, “each one teach one” program orientation. The small group tutoring program provides a creative synthesis of the individualized student-tutor match and the collaborative dynamic of the ABE classroom. It also serves as a powerful source of community building in microcosm to parallel the program wide community building we were developing at our center. We were also facing certain demographic and cultural realities which pushed us toward an intentional embrace of the small group program in terms of increasing numbers of students desiring services and a diminishing pool of volunteer tutors to provide the instruction.

On a broader level, the shift to an all small group instruction program paralleled the broader agency-based transition of taking a suburban program model and transforming it into an urban program design. The one-on-one tutoring model is simply not an effective mode of program delivery when working with hundreds of students with a limited teaching pool with the programmatic desire as well to provide some decent managerial on-site supervision to assure that optimal learning is taking place.

The related shift was the declension in volunteerism in which it became increasingly difficult to say nothing of cost inefficient to training hundreds of volunteer for individualized student matches. The problem was compounded as we drew on a younger, upwardly mobile aspiring set of volunteers who would stay with the program for a year or two, but more likely to have multi-year careers as volunteer tutoring. The upside in drawing on this group is that as a whole, they were more receptive in serving as a small group tutor. The shift to an exclusive, site-based small group tutoring program was largely a response to these issues, which became feasible once we assessed that the model was intrinsically viable in meeting student learning needs.

It required the abandonment of the traditional model, which has been a stumbling block to many volunteer-based urban adult literacy programs which would be well served by making a similar move. Making these calls and carrying out the corresponding implementation processes required high level decision-making in the light of anticipated crises and abandonment of traditional programming, however valid they served the needs of the past. Effective decision-making is at the center of Drucker’s approach to managing for results that truly matter.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

On Literacy Day a Success Story

The following article appeared in the San Diego Union Tribune on September 8, 2011.


Literacy is referred to as “the people’s campaign,” partly because of the volunteerism in this effort. But the real “people” here are the students who emerge from darkness with a burning torch and from silence with voices that tell of their journeys to literacy.

Meet 23 year-old Dominique Calhoun.
Growing up in Reno, Dominique thought he would become a truck driver, like his father. But in school, something was making him see letters “backwards.” He knew by age 6 that he was not getting it. “All the other kids knew how to read and I didn’t. I knew right away. They called me ‘dumb’ and ‘stupid,’ and I was in fights all the time.”

He remembers a teacher from second grade who was helping him learn but who went away. He says, “At that time, I knew I was learning.” Years later, he was told by his ninth-grade teacher that, at best, he would end up being a thug. “I didn’t understand it. There was nothing wrong with me. I knew I could be somebody.”
Today, Dominique, a student of literacy programs associated with the San Diego Council on Literacy, is a graduate of the Adult Learner Leadership Institute, a leadership development program for advanced literacy students.

When asked if he thought this day would ever come, he said, “No. I thought I’d be dead or in prison. Four years ago, I couldn’t read at all.”

“I was homeless for two months, and that’s a scary thing,” Dominique said. “I left Reno and went to live with my sister in San Diego and she helped me. She looked at my reading skills and said, ‘Dominique. You can’t read anything.’ Once I became part of a reading program, I found out that I wasn’t alone in struggling to read.”
Dominique remembers the day when he realized that he was consistently breaking the code. “The letters and the sounds were all coming together for me. I broke down in tears and I raced home to tell my sister. It was my tutors who kept me encouraged.” One of his tutors was Gilbert Sandoval, a former literacy student himself. His tutors, all volunteers, saw that Dominique had the ability to read and reach his goals.

Eventually, his hard work paid off. “I can read my bills now. I can fill out an application; I can read a lot more work-related materials. I’m a janitor now. People think that janitors don’t need to do much reading. I not only have to read. I have to write and I have to do math.”

His future plans include going to college. “And I want to speak to other young people, the troublemakers and class clowns and low-level readers, because I know that if they learn the way that I did, they’re going to be more motivated than the average person. I want to be a schoolteacher.”
Dominique now reads at an eighth-grade level but is also enjoying college-level books.

More than 20 percent of adults in San Diego County read at the lowest level of literacy, and most of them are fluent in English. On this International Literacy Day, as the San Diego Council on Literacy celebrates its 25th anniversary, this is a good time to remind the San Diego community about the importance of literacy and its impact on individual lives, families, communities and indeed, the nation.
More assistance for literacy students and programs would translate into parents being better equipped to help their children with their schoolwork and employees being better prepared to meet the informational needs of an increasingly service-oriented economy. It would also result in residents being better able to critically read and interpret the social and political issues of our time and to participate with a stronger knowledge base in the local community, thus contributing greater vigor to our home, San Diego.

Literacy programs alone are not the solution. If we want our children to succeed in school, dropout rates to decrease, more children from low-income families to go to college, health care costs to decrease and health care quality to increase, better parenting, a reduction in crime and an increase in employability, we need communitywide investments in greater literacy.

As Dominique discovered, he was not alone. And, as Dominique has proved, our investments are making a world of difference. The “people’s campaign” requires people. We invite you, encourage you, to join the San Diego Council on Literacy in going to the core of so many of our community challenges through the power of literacy.

Cruz is chief executive officer of the San Diego Council on Literacy. Demetrion is an adjunct instructor at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Reflection on Drucker's Thoughts on a Well-Crafted Mission Statement

For the time being I will be drawing on this site to highlight blog posts I have written on my website, gdemetrion Inquiry-Based Consulting

The blog that I created for that website is titled Transformative Change Management which will focus on various aspects of organzational deveopment at the staff, team, program, or agency-wide level. As the conprehensive adult educator, my focus extends into the arena of human resource development. Posts like this will probably be of interest among tose perating programs or agencies, though with creative appication could speak to classroom teachers as well.


Peter Drucker’s book Managing the Nonprofit Organization: Principles and Practices provides many useful insights relevant to the nonprofit as well as the for profit sector. In fact, Drucker observes elsewhere that “successful and [well] performing nonprofits” have a great deal to teach those operating for profit businesses especially in the area of professional management and ongoing training for all staff. In this, he draws a common link in organizational life that applies to both sectors.

In the first chapter of Managing the Nonprofit Organization Drucker draws out the importance of a well-structured mission statement which he lays out in broad, but impressive strokes. His points may appear obvious, but it is in its operation rather than in its formal articulation that is critical if the mission, in fact, is going to drive the organization. In this respect it is not the elegance, but the directive of the mission statement leading to “right action.” Such action, in turn, needs to be based on what is really going on in the current operation as it relates to what could come to be if organization or work unit were effectively structured to attain its optimal potential. Such a properly aligned mission statement would be the operational engine in the attainment of core values or principles. This is what Drucker prfoposes.

Among other things the mission statement needs to be both clear and narrow in focus in which, if well- articulated, still requires much finesse in bringing the mission to successful fruition. The challenge, as Ducker lays it out, are the few things that an organization is particularly adept in carrying out which will have the greatest impact on its stakeholders. Coming to terms with the few things an organization can do well often requires abandoning things which are currently done, but which don’t have sufficient payoff to warrant continued commitment to them.

Abandoning pet projects or even time honored programs and activities if they know longer fit the current or near future term of the organization is one of Drcker’s reoccurring themes. It is essential to any sharpening of an operationally focused mission statement that empowers action rather than staying on the shelf. In Drucker’s words, “Things that were of primary importance may become secondary or totally irrelevant. You must watch this constantly, or else you will very soon become a museum piece.” The reality of this observation is apt justification for its truism, which requires a great deal of amplification in bringing mission, including a well-crafted one to the operational objectives of the organization.

I’ll use our 55+ community as an example where I serve as the President of the Recreation Club. Our by-laws contain the two primary purposes of the club:

To promote good fellowship, encourage sociability, and insure a friendly feeling among the residents of the community.
To promote, organize, and execute activities that will encourage participation by all residents, thereby furthering a harmonious fellowship.
For the sake of this discussion I’ve restructured these two purposes to read as a single mission statement; namely: “To promote good fellowship, encourage sociability, and insure a friendly feeling among the residents of the community through the effective organization and execution of activities that will encourage participation by all residents, thereby furthering a harmonious fellowship.”

On the surface this may be a perfectly fine statement, which it would be if it actually reflected the motivation underlying our community life at this time. The issue is that it may not fit our current reality in terms of what the residents' actually believe and act on in our current setting, even though it may have done so in a previous era. To the extent that the current mission statementdoes not reflect the current reality, it sits on the shelf as an ideal or is simply ignored.

Part of the current reality is that only a relatively small number (20-40 out of 180) participate in community activities on a regular basis and others do when there is nothing else going on for them. That is, for most members, the club activities are a low priority. This doesn’t mean that the synthesized vision statement is not viable. It does mean that there is some substantial gap between the stated mission and the reality on the ground. This, in turn could mean that a more effective organizational structure is needed to better realize the goals embedded in the mission, or that another mission statement is needed to help the community better enact the ideals of sociability, good fellowship, friendliness, and participation in common activities that may be effectively served by another structure than a formal Recreation Club.

I won’t explore this matter here since I’m using it simply as an example. To resolve this issue we could do worse than that of applying the three “‘musts’ of a successful mission statement" Drucker lays out in the conclusion of Chapter One.

The first is that of exploring opportunities and needs. As Drucker puts it, “Where can we, with the limited resources we have,” of time, energy, and money, “really make a difference?”

The second is that of competence; that is, what are we as a community good at and able to accomplish with distinction?
The third is that of commitment; what is it we will really put our heart, soul, and energy into on a consistent and long term basis?
Drucker’s core point in this chapter is that a cogent exploration of these three conditions provides the basis for a well-constructed tightly woven mission statement with a high operational impetus. That is, it provides the directive force to the fulfillment of its embedded ideals and keeps the organization on course. By contrast, a mission statement that falls down on any of these three lever points will fail in some fundamental sense.

There is obviously more to effective operations than having a well–crafted mission statement dynamically aligned with institutional behavior. However, it is a key standard upon which to construct what Jim Collins refers to as the great organization, one built to last. Without such a framing mission, the problem of going in too many directions and not building sufficiently on core values and strengths becomes all too pervasive. This, too, is one of Drucker's core claims with which perhaps many of us can resonate.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Exploring the Continuum between Learning to Read and Reading to Learn

Core Hypothesis

For the problem at hand, an examination of the relation of learning to read to that of learning to learn in an adult literacy context, the credibility of a study would be enhanced through comparative analyses among diverse students and programs of some to be determined significant quantity. All things being equal that would be so even if much of the needed work consists of delineating variables through in-depth case-study analysis that then become sifted through comparative research even without the prospect of a randomized sample. The utilization of whatever methodologies and approaches that brings further clarity to the matter throughout all the stages of the investigation (fidelity to the scientific method) within the historical evolution of the problem itself is the critical factor.

Whether learning to read or learning to learn is, or should be the central focus of adult literacy education, is a matter of some dispute, which has not been resolved within the literature of the field. There is substantial middle ground within these perspectives via the medium of balanced reading theory and a context-derived educational program that focuses on employment, family education, civic literacy, and lifelong learning (Stein, 2000). Nonetheless, tensions between the operative assumptions of the New Literacy Studies and advocates of phonemic-driven approaches to reading are particularly sharp in their articulation of competing definitions of literacy. In moving toward a dialectical resolution that incorporates balanced reading theory within a context-based adult literacy framework, my working hypothesis, much clarification is required.

A Duly Hedged Synthesis: The Role of Philosophical Reasoning

What stimulated these provisional statements about adult literacy education emerged in my reflection upon philopher Nicholas Rescher’s concept of a “duly-hedged synthesis” in working through problems leading to polarized thinking that seemingly conflict. The following statements emerged as a result of me working through that image in light of a particular problem in adult literacy education; that of coming to terms with the dynamic relationship between the need to learn how read in order to read for the purpose of enhanced learning.

In passing, let me stres the point that the following "synthesis" emerged in grappling with Rescher's philosophical concept. Clearly the insight was grounded in my own understanding of reading theory and content-based learning. However, it took the philosophial probing to bring my thinking to the formaton of the following rendition, which very well may not have emerged if I was focusing my attention directly problems relaed to adult literacy education. Thus, without the philosophical probing the very concept of a "duly-hedged sythesis" would have remained outside of my conscious awareness and operational thinking.

As I grappled with Rescher's philophical explanation my effort to gain clarity was expanded when I was able to make a concrete application to a specific problem I was deling with; that of incorporating balanced reading theory into a content-based instructional design within the context of adult literacy education; thus, the the conceptual tool of the duly-hedged synthesis in working through seemingly contradictory perspectives in the emegence of a greater unity in some plausible resolution. As Rescher briefly lays out the philosophical challenge:

"It is neither just answers we want (regardless of their substantiation) nor just safe claims (regardless of their lack of informativeness) but a reasonable mix of the two – a judicious balance that systematizes our commitments in a functionally effective way" (p.96).

A Duly Hedged Synthesis for Adult Literacy Education: Four Supportive Hypotheses and 19 Corresponding Statements

1. Literacy facilitates knowledge acquisition in the grappling with and mastery of print-based texts.

2. Literacy is enhanced to the extent to which individuals gain the capacity to read and write print-based texts.

3. Growth in literacy is experienced to the extent to which readers progressively comprehend and draw meaning from texts and appropriate them into their lives.
4. Literacy has a technological component in the mastery of reading, writing and the comprehension of texts and a metaphorical dimension that resides in transactions between the reader and the text in which meaning making and significance lies beyond the text into that of appropriation, however variously that may be defined.

Each of these statements, as working hypotheses of the “duly hedged synthesis” requires additional clarification, including the grappling with new contradictions that may arise as the investigative proceeds. Let us take these statements one at a time.

Literacy facilitates knowledge acquisition in the grappling with and mastery of print-based texts.

· Knowledge acquisition may refer to understanding and progressively attaining the skills and knowledge needed for the technical mastery of reading and writing.

· Literacy may refer to the enhanced ability to read to the extent of providing an independent resource that students can apply to texts that they encounter either in the instructional program or outside of it without assistance from others.

· Knowledge acquisition may refer to the mastery of the content of print-based texts at varying levels of literal and inferential comprehension.

· Literacy may refer to the knowledge needed for such acquisition regardless as to how much or how little a student learns to read.

· While both learning to read and learning to learn are valid indicators of literacy, educators need to determine where priorities should be placed in terms of various student need and ability and what focal points of concentration stimulate what aspects of learning for any given student or groups of students.

Literacy is enhanced to the extent to which individuals gain the capacity to read and write print-based texts.

· If not by definition, it is at least a strong inference among most adult literacy educators and students that literacy includes the ability to read and write print-based texts and may even be its main purpose.

· All things being equal, increased capacity to read and write texts enhances literacy, whether a literal or metaphorical definition of literacy is adopted.

· The extent to which adult literacy students increase their ability to read print-based texts varies widely. Such variability needs to be factored into the reading and writing aspects of a given program and corresponding modes of assessment and accountability regardless of reading methodologies and the instructional content selected.

Growth in literacy is experienced to the extent to which readers progressively comprehend and draw meaning from texts and appropriate them into their lives.

· The capacity to comprehend and draw meaning from print-based texts in a supportive instructional environment does not depend on the ability to read the text independently.

· Students who have enhanced their ability to read and write have gained additional skills in comprehending and drawing meaning from texts in their ability to study independently. As a general rule, this capacity enhances a student’s mastery of the content embedded in printed texts.

· There may or may not be any intrinsic correlations between comprehending the authorial meaning(s) of a text and a student drawing meaning from it. While literacy may be enhanced through either, as a general rule, it is strengthened most so when reasonable inferences between the two can be made.

Literacy has a technological component in the mastery of reading, writing and the comprehension of texts, and a metaphorical dimension that resides in transactions between the reader and the text in which meaning making and significance lies beyond the text into that of appropriation, however variously that may be defined.

· Literacy, in the most comprehensive of definitions includes both the technological mastery of reading and writing, along with that of comprehension and deriving meaning from print-based texts.

· Taking the capacities of students into account, literacy progresses most when all of these dimensions are factored in, in which none of them serves as the privileged foundation of the definition.

· Even adults who remain at beginning levels of reading and writing ability who do not even come to approximating independent fluency can benefit as a result of the progress they achieve in the areas of comprehension and meaning making, although how durable such learning is and its significance requires much research.

· The extent to which even advanced students who progress in their reading and writing benefit in doing so also requires discriminating analysis. The salience to which gains in reading ability short of the GED certification open up opportunity structures for life improvement requires careful analysis in which the separation of variables may prove difficult.

· Even if little in the realm of opportunity structures is attained, being able to read, write, and comprehend print-based texts and appropriating such knowledge for one’s own purposes has a certain value in itself (although how much so remains in question) as a form of self development that may or may not have broader societal impact.

· What is determined as efficacious in relation to adult literacy education may have as much to do with values of individual students and programs that seek to support them as with specific impacts subject to objective forms of direct measurability.

· Literacy is a cultural metaphor of considerable pluralistic range and scope of knowledge acquisition that includes the technical capacity of reading and writing as an important, but undetermined variable of the broader definition encapsulated in the term, “multiliteracies.”

· Definitions of literacy that programs appropriate will be shaped by the sum total of cultural, social, political, economic, and intellectual influences interacting on them. In short, the cultural matrix as a variant in adult literacy education is unavoidable.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Core Teaching Strategies

My colleagues and I at Literacy Volunteers of Greater Hartford crafted this document several years ago, which we utilzed as a handout for volunteer tutors and inserted into our tutor training program. As part of the revision process we obtained invaluable feedback from a selected set of tutors. The challenge was two fold: to hone in on those key strategies that have the most significant potential teaching effect and to craft clear support statements that could be readily grasped and easily implemented.

No doubt if I were currently utilizing this document in a training capacity there would be opportunity and need for additional refinement. It is in that spirit that i post it here. Draw on it as you may to make sure that it resonates with your particular training or program needs.

The initial concept sprang from a handout on learning disabilities that was housed on the Center for Literacy Studies website

Core Teaching Strategies in Adult Literacy Instruction

A. Balance Contextual Learning with Basic Skill Development

a. Focus on a mix of basic and context skills that reflect the needs and abilities of your students. Use your best judgment, as well as feedback from students, other teachers, and supportive staff.
b. Include opportunities for regular practice of skill-based activities related to phonemic awareness, vocabulary development, fluency, and structured comprehension activities.
c. Include life application material that apply to student interest areas that can be accessed from books, the Internet, and real life contexts

B. Draw on Adaptable Structured Materials

a. A well constructed text usually provides a basic structural framework, but you will want to make adaptations based on the learning needs and styles of your students and the nature of the learning task.
b. Spontaneous, improvisational learning opportunities are often stimulating in opening up new insight and fresh perspectives. Nonetheless, a regular return to adaptive materials available in well constructed texts brings a sense of practiced regularity to the learning process that benefits students a great deal.

C. Quality Over Quantity

a. Adult learners need intensive instruction combined with numerous opportunities for practice and reinforcement to master and retain skills they are working on. Don’t short change this in order to “cover” the curriculum.
b. Our goal is to help students learn. This is the curriculum-their internalization of the learning that they deem significant— not the book. If such learning is not at the center of your classroom activity then modify your approach, and seek assistance, if needed, on identifying new approaches.
c. Check in with your students as well as teacher and staff colleagues on questions you may have on the extent to which you think significant learning is taking place in your classroom.

D. Explain What is to be Learned and Why it is Important

a. Explaining the purposes of a learning activity of a lesson helps students understand what they are learning and gives them some tools for practicing more effectively on their own.
b. Make sure your students are really understanding your meaning. Ask questions and read body language.
c. Use modeling, demonstration, and structured practice to reinforce new learning.

E. Review and Reinforce Previous Learning Activities Before Teaching the New

a. Systematic review and routine practice of developing skills and knowledge are essential for learning mastery.
b. Successive approximation rather than complete mastery serves as a realistic aim. For example, common sight words, basic rules of grammar, developing context skills, fluency, and basic comprehension will be reinforced from lesson to lesson. Consequently, it may be better to move on to a new lesson to reduce boredom and practice skills in a new context, keeping in mind that older lessons can be reviewed from time to time.
c. Be consistent, yet be flexible. Make adjustments based on the responses of your students. Introduce new learning gradually, building on established learning. Follow the cues of your students as well as your own best judgment and balance the need for continuous reinforcement with opening up new learning opportunities.

F. Model the Skills to be Learned and Provide Sufficient Practice

a. Give a clear demonstration prior to practicing a new skill, strategy, or activity.
b. Effective modeling includes clear descriptions and slightly exaggerated demonstrations. Acting out is definitely encouraged!
c. Provide opportunity for practice through specific prompts, cues, questions, and feedback.
d. Carefully monitor student performance and provide individual attention.
e. Provide enough structured practice for students to develop competency.

G. Use Controlled Materials

a. During the initial stages of practice, control the difficulty of the task. Initial practice with easier materials allows students to gain confidence.
b. Focus on more difficult tasks when some success has been achieved. Review challenging learning tasks from time to time and include plenty of opportunity for reinforcement.

H. Enhance Student Engagement

a. Ask to the point, fact-based questions and draw out as many students as you can.
b. Ask point of view questions and draw out as many students as you can.
c. Provide directions that are clear and are doable. Check in with students to make sure they’re with you.
d. Use multiple methods and approaches, and materials (text, discussion, the board, interesting real-life materials, and computer-based instruction).
e. Provide opportunity for individual, paired and small group work and circulate around the room.
f. Draw on more advanced students for part of the lesson.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Basic Pedagogical Principles of a Context-Based Approach to Adult Literacy Education

Current research on literacy states that language development is most fully acquired when it is applied in living contexts that people identify as important. This is the foundation for LVA's student-centered approach. This core assumption is at the heart of the five principles upon which ground the Basic Literacy curriculum in our program.

Principle #1 Adult literacy learning is best stimulated by a student-centered focus. As put by Elsa Auerbach: "People learn best when learning starts with what they already know, builds on their strengths, engages them in the learning process, and enables them to accomplish something they want to accomplish." Learning best takes place when students identify their own questions and gaps in knowledge as well as their own interests and work out of their own sources of strength. Our binder-based curriculum orientation is designed to facilitate such a discovery process.

Principle #2 Adult literacy learners are multidimensional in their interests, experience, and knowledge. As Juliet Merrifield and her colleagues put it, "Adults with limited literacy skills should be credited with the skills and knowledge they do have. Educators should start to build on and extend the knowledge and skills of students, based on their needs, desires, and interests, rather than dwelling on measuring how 'functional' a learner is or needs to become according to standardized tests." Adult students seek to enhance their learning in various areas that may not always seem immediately practical as well as to gain important useful knowledge to help them find employment or do better in their jobs and to help them with their family responsibilities. As researcher Susan Lytle put it:

“Some [students] come with a desire to learn more about a particular subject, for example, American-American history, parenting, or health. Many seek ways to deal with their own children's literacy and schooling, whereas others wish to participate or assume new roles and responsibilities in their families, workplaces, or communities. Some are looking for community in the literacy program itself. Some seek economic improvements in their lives through new jobs or promotions, or by dealing more competently with personal finances and/or their encounter with 'the bureaucracy.' For many, the program offers the possibility of taking more control and ownership of their own learning. For most adult learners who come to the programs, the desire for enhanced self-esteem is implicit in many of their stated and unstated goals.”

Principle #3 Literacy and conversational English are developed while in and through application. One does not learn to read, write, speak and comprehend English first through decontextualized exercises and then apply such skills to relevant contexts only once basic language mastery is attained. Rather, LVGH's binder-based curriculum focus utilizes authentic content from the inception of instruction even among those students whose basic skills are least developed. Basic skill work is not ignored, but incorporates authentic language and content. Literacy Volunteer of America supports this contextual approach to language development in the 7th edition of Tutor and the 4th edition of I Speak English.

Principle #4 LVGH's binder-based curriculum focus is premised on basic principles of adult learning theory such as the following:
• Education is lifelong learning and helps individuals prepare for changing needs and interests in the present and for the future. As one study puts it, "Students do not necessarily have a concrete goal in mind, an instrumental view of literacy tied to some specific task or aspiration. More than anything, they want to feel that there are possibilities for the future, that there are choices and potential for change."
• Adult education focuses on what adults want and need to know and to be able to do to succeed as parents, citizens, community members, workers, consumers, and in other important social roles and contexts. It integrates basic skills with expanding competency in communication, decision-making, and interpersonal relationships, across specific contexts and roles.
• Adult education is driven by what adults say they need and want to know in order to meet self-defined life-plans. It provides resources for individuals in meeting personal as well as social goals.
• Progress is measured by the capacity of adults to progressively organize experience and perform real-world tasks that cannot always be measured in standardized ways.
• Adult education is developmental as well as cognitive. It integrates emotional and social growth with cognitive capacity in the development of persons as individuals and as social actors within a variety of community contexts.
• Adult education helps students to learn how to learn-to expand their ability to explore new knowledge.

Principle #5 Mastery of specific language and learning contexts of the social environments in which students are or would like to be engaged is critical to their success, what literacy researcher Thomas Sticht refers to as functional context education. The curriculum focus draws on such contexts in setting the instructional program in order to help students progressively master the range of social environments that are important to their lives. While emphasizing the significance of the external setting, LVGH's binder based curriculum is responsive to current student development and fosters an interactive relationship between what students currently know about such environments and what they need and want to learn through supportive mentoring instruction. The instructor, other students, or other persons or certain activities assist students to progressively master the language and learning demands of particular social contexts critical to their self defined objectives. Simultaneously, the challenges embedded within the social environments students seek to master, if tapped in a manner that builds on and extends current student knowledge, is a powerful stimulus to learning that matters for life.

Adult Literacy Curriculum Development: Core Concepts

Adult Literacy Curriculum Development: Core Concepts

1. Functional context theory, which maintains that interest and motivation play a crucial role in a student's ability to read and comprehend a text, is one underlying assumption that has underlined my approach to adult literacy education. The premise of functional-context theory is that all else being equal (which it never is), students will be able to read more complex texts at a given reading level that are of interest to them than those that are not, and in any event, will be more engaged in the topic matter. In creating and organizing curriculum I have drawn on the life competency Comprehensive Adult Student Assessment System (CASAS) and the National Institute for Literacy's Equipped for the Future (EFF) frameworks as well as my own experience with a wide span of many types of materials. All of this points toward a life application curricular focus, combined with a focused attention on developing basic reading and writing skills.

In creating instructional binders, my colleagues and I took special effort to assure that they contained a wide range of topics in the areas of work, family education (especially parenting), health, civic awareness, money management, and human-interest stories. Many of these materials have been field tested and shown to be of interest to students. Many of the content-based materials have basic skills activities built in to them as well. The content and organization of the binders can always be improved, and we still may find a text book that meets the wide ranging needs and interests of our students. In the meanwhile we draw on our locally-created binders which we will improve in succeeding years or will find a textbook instead, that better meets our needs.

2. My understanding was also premised on the balanced theory of reading. The general assumption of this theory is that adults develop reading and writing skills in multiple ways. These include automatic processing skills such as the mastery of the sight sound connection (phonemic awareness) and sight word memorization, and more holistic approaches like assisted reading, reading fluent texts, and context clues. Independent decoding fluency is most thoroughly mastered when students can decode isolated sounds, syllables, and words. Nonetheless, there is no universal process of getting there, and for effective reading development, focused attention on comprehension and critical thinking is also required even as students are developing phonemic awareness competency. Therefore, technical mastery of the basic skills of reading is essential, along with the ability to draw meaning from texts and utilizing such information for one's own purposes, which is the ultimate objective of adult literacy education. We have done our best to create a format where the relationship between basic skills development and content-based knowledge is as interactive and as mutually reinforcing as possible.

3. The third assumption that underlies my binder-based approach to curriculum development is the symbolic nature of instructional materials in their role of tapping into student and tutor imagination. What is important is not always what comes across at the surface, but what instructional materials come to mean to students and tutors who use them. The search, therefore, is for "the learning that matters," as interactively defined by students and tutors in their interface with the text and each other. While this objective might be viewed as overly subjective, its partial fulfillment is experienced whenever a "learning/teaching moment" is achieved. In whatever shape it takes it is the subtle learning connection that we experience when learning is most alive that drives what we are after in adult literacy education. Instructional materials play an important symbolic role in facilitating this learning. They are an indispensable resource toward the realization of this broader an end of learning and knowledge acquisition in areas that students deem important, including utilization in real-life settings and situations outside the program.

4. A final consideration: What proves effective for one tutor or one group of students may not necessarily have the same impact with another. In this respect, materials are what the educational philosopher John Dewey refers to as "middlemen" in the stimulation of important learning. In short, materials are a resource in which their effectiveness will depend on how they are used. The materials included in the binders were selected for their potential in stimulating highly significant learning, including knowledge transference to settings beyond the tutoring environment. Other materials might do as well, but on our judgment, the materials we were able to assemble for the binders was the best collection we could put together, at this time, based on our collective experience and available texts at our disposal. Of course, improvement is always possible and desirable. Regardless as to materials used, a stimulating learning experience taps into the imagination and motivational drives of students, pushing them on toward broader knowledge acquisition and learning. Stimulating such curiosity is what, we as adult literacy educators are seeking to accomplish, utilizing the best resources we have. Instructional materials are one important resource in such facilitation. In this respect they are means and not ends.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Core Instructional Premises of Adult Literacy Education

Core Instructional Premises of Adult Literacy Education

• Learning to read and using print based texts to gain relevant knowledge and information in one's life outside the program are interrelated. Basic skill development in reading and content-based mastery knowledge, mutually reinforce each other in our program. Drawing on the language of K-12 education, the object is to teach reading across the curriculum in order to help students apply what they are learning to as many contexts of their lives as possible. Because basic reading skill development is the common denominator, that is featured prominently in the binders at every level.

• Meeting the needs of a broad range of students and tutors requires a balanced approach between structure and flexibility in instructional materials and in approaches to teaching and learning. Within certain guidelines, each group of students and their tutor needs to work out that balance for themselves. A loose curriculum construction with adequate resources built in is preferable to a tight curriculum construction in order to accommodate the range of our student and tutor needs and interests.

• The core content areas-employment, family, health, money management, civics, human interest are the primary topic areas highlighted in adult literacy resource collections and curriculum guides. They are also the topics that students and instructors have gravitated toward over for many years in many divergent programmatic contexts. It is one of my underlying assumptions to adult literacy curriculum development and instructional design.

• Instructional materials are means and not an ends. Their value is in their capacity to stimulate important and interesting knowledge and learning. The mastery of the materials in the binders as an end is only important to the extent that any lesson focuses on specific content students actually need, such as accurately filling out a job application. Short of that the materials serve as a pathway in the stimulation of learning and knowledge creation rather than having intrinsic value in their own right. Neither binders nor a book are an ends in themselves, but a means toward the end of highly effective learning.

• Accordingly, the primary goal of the instructional program is not to cover the curriculum, but to stimulate effective learning. Oftentimes focusing on fewer materials with more depth is the most effective pathway to this goal. Success, in the final analysis, is determined by what and to what extent student growth in learning how to read, how to learn, and broad content mastery has increased over some decent interval of time, typically, over a year or more.

Integrated Reading Theory (2005)

Integrated Reading Theory and the Role of Successive Approximation

A discussion between colleagues initially on the AAACE-NLA and later on the NIFL-Content Standards list points to the pragmatic usefulness of the four-part approach to reading instruction of alphabetics, fluency, vocabulary development, and comprehension as advocated in the Partnership for Reading’s Put Reading First report. (I make a distinction between literacy and reading wherein the latter is a subset of the former—discussion for another day). In combination these components draw upon and draw out a range of analytic and synthetic skill development leading toward the acquisition of knowledge. I take no issue with Tom Sticht’s technical critique of the “components” of the reading process. If I were doing a formal research paper I would look most discriminatingly on the findings of the report and would be seeking to discern the difference between what is important, what is unimportant, and what may be inaccurate about the report. Whatever flaws there may be in this four-point definition, it does offer the important advantage of significant practical utility in discussions with volunteer tutors in explaining the various components of the balanced reading approach.

I’ve discussed some of this in various listserv notes. What I want to emphasize here is the importance of both stimulus-response behaviorist and intuitive-inferential constructivist approaches in learning to read as a both/and rather than an either/or phenomenon. As in learning anything complex, mastering the basics in this case, of how print literacy works, is indispensable. In this respect, an emphasis on the regularities of written English is a proper focus of initial instruction, while introducing the exceptions later. Otherwise, phonics can only be taught episodically based on need as it arises.

This approach very well may be effective with many learners, which strong phonemic advocates sometimes deny even as many whole language advocates tend to downplay the viability of systematic phonics for some (more than a few, I would argue). Even still, a program that focused only on phonemic instruction, or one that required phonemic mastery before moving on to other aspects of the reading process (including the utilization of whole language and balanced methodologies), would, in my estimation, be extremely short sighted. Thus, for example, a dismissive approach to sight word instruction is unwarranted, even as I grant the obvious point that sight word instruction alone is unsatisfactory. Both phonemic awareness and sight word instruction build on stimulus-response behaviorist mechanisms that draw schematically on different aspects of print language. In schematic terms, both individual sounds (and syllables) and words represent isolated chunks of information that individuals can process whole, as both are separate and real parts of print-based language mastery.

Where I think some phonemic advocates get it wrong is in viewing the phonic unit (the letter or blend) as the underlying basis for mastering written language. No doubt the written code is based on the alphabetic principle. Still, what has to be considered is the highly symbolic nature of the alphabetic principle in which there is no relationship between the sound and the meaning of what is being signified. Stimulus-response exercises can, and often do help in developing some level of automaticity without which fluent reading cannot occur. Nonetheless, this type of approach is extremely limited in itself in the development of reading, which also requires much practice in fluency at the level of instruction that is appropriate for an individual’s current reading ability. In a comprehensive reading program sight words, which can easily be incorporated at least into short term memory also facilitate automaticity in which the unit of focus here is the whole word rather than the individual sounds (mastered through segmentation and bending). It would be folly, indeed, to eliminate this approach to reading instruction, which, as I gather, some phonemic purists are arguing because sight word instruction interferes with the more “fundamental” need of mastering the sight-sound code.

The alphabetic principle, notwithstanding, I don’t think this is the way the mind works, and in this respect, Frank Smith’s discussion of schema theory should be carefully considered. One needs to make a careful distinction between the alphabetic principle without which we cannot have a written language system as we know it, and the ways in which print-based literacy is mastered. Both phonemic-based and sight word instruction contribute toward automaticity, although in different ways. In a more indirect manner, so do various scaffolding approaches to fluency (such as assisted reading methodologies) and work on comprehension and meaning-making and the role of world knowledge in facilitating the reading of texts at higher levels than “typically” accessible on based on reading levels alone as an abstract principle.

Mastery, then, requires a combination of much explicit practice and skill development focus of a variety of types (stimulus-response behaviorism) and inference-making scaffolding support in all areas of language development. Effective reading pedagogy includes phonemic awareness, but extends to fluency, vocabulary development, comprehension, meaning making, and unconscious assimilation over time, in which, in the scheme of things, learning to read is as much caught as specifically taught. How these factors apply with specific individuals is variable, though one might reasonably conclude that a balanced, or integrated perspective attuned to specific learning styles and needs, is, practically speaking, the best that we can do.

While full mastery often remains elusive, successive approximation throughout the entire leaning-teaching process has much merit as a symbolic representation of “the best that we can do” at any given time in place. Keeping students as fully engaged as possible at the nexus of their learning curves through methodologies, approaches, materials, and support systems that draw out as much as reasonably can be accomplished is the nearer term objective in an educational climate in which at some significant way learning is always happening. Throughout the effort of learning and teaching certain principles and approaches may emerge as more salient than others. However, if we move too far beyond an experimental inquiry approach we may find ourselves within the realm of dogma rather than at the cutting edge of science and practice. Solid and durable knowledge about adult reading pedagogy remains somewhat rudimentary even as we know more than a little and can come to know a great deal more.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Adult Education Teaching Philosophy

I've been asked to submit my teaching philosphy for a position in an adult high school diploma. I wrote an earlier one for a community college position I applied for which I posted here in July, which can be accessed here

I took that initial dscription as a basis for a re-write as follows, for the high school diploam application. This is all part of my broader effort of seeking, if not to re-invent, to refine myself once again at age 63 in determing the extent and/or manner to which I can remain connected in a professional manner to the field of adult education.

Teaching Philosophy
I’ve drawn deeply on the work of the pragmatic philosopher John Dewey, especially from his short powerful book, Experience and Education and his more detailed Democracy and Education, both to develop my philosophy of teaching and philosophy of education. What I have drawn mostly from Dewey is a passion of probing inquiry within the context of a collaborative class dynamic and a strength-based model of teaching drawing on the knowledge that students do possess as the avenue for tapping into their areas of curiosity. These serve as pivotal entry points in the stimulation of greater learning whether teaching in adult basic education classrooms, adult high school diploma programs, or online graduate courses in adult education.

I believe it is the primary responsibility of the instructor to provide an orienting structure to any given course or class session. As a consequence I place a great deal of thought and detail into structuring a syllabus which serves as a working plan which includes scope for revision and modification throughout the course. This is a fluid process that I shape and reshape through a continuous working through of the identification of key texts, websites, and the sequencing of assignments throughout the semester until a sense of completion emerges.

I also place a good deal of attention into the up-front planning for each of the class sessions especially in the first few weeks in thinking through the content and also the instructional strategies designed to open up the materials and to encourage optimal student engagement. In the process I am seeking to bring together the course content to be covered, a deepening of my understanding of the subject matter through intense engagement, the learning needs and interests of the students, and a provisional sense of what comprises an optimal teaching/learning situation within each class session. Once in class, my primary mode of instruction becomes broadly interactive in which I might open with a question or some basic information and engage in a dialogue with students in the probing of the significance of the topic under discussion. The responses may open up the class in directions not specifically identified beforehand, in which I seek to keep the broad direction of what I am attempting to accomplish in mind based on the syllabus and the specific lesson plan for the day. Through such a process students strengthen their internalization of the content which increases both their motivation and comprehension.

In working both with emerging student understanding as well as the logic of the content itself, I usually find a way to spiral back into the main direction of the lesson plan in illuminating the significance of the class objectives for the students in which I have also gained some knowledge and appreciation as well. Throughout all this I seek to work at the higher edge level of given student potential in the process of encouraging and inspiring students to stretch further in their knowledge and in their intuitive leaps. In working with the grain of each student’s developmental process as the best possible way of advancing educational progress I am drawing on Dewey’s core concept of “growth” or optimal potential that he so clearly articulated in his timely as ever test, Democracy and Education. This learning objective, in turn, requires close attunement to the importance of scaffolding in identifying that nexus between what students can accomplish independently and what they could come to achieve with critically supportive assistance at just the right time. Stated otherwise, each class session serves as an opportunity to hone my own skills in deepening my mastery of the art and science of teaching.