Adult Learners Engage with the Drivers of Persistence

By Laura Porfirio

The 6 Drivers of Persistence offer a powerful framework for program improvement and learner leadership development. As a participant in Arizona’s Adult Education College and Career Readiness (CCR) Implementation Project, I knew I would learn a lot from the findings of the New England Adult Learner Persistence Project.

The 6 Drivers of Persistence quickly became a lens for me to re-examine everything we do:  from new student registration and orientation to classroom management to civic engagement and digital storytelling. The research affirmed our long-time practices in promoting community building and student voice and participatory philosophy in our program at Pima Community College in Arizona. It prompted us to make sure we meet these needs of adult learners: Sense of belonging and community, Clarity of purpose, Agency, Competence, Relevance, and Stability.

This research on learner persistence solidified our commitment to leadership development and civic engagement to help students build skills for success in future college and career endeavors.  Students (and teachers) reap the benefits when we provide them with opportunities to connect with others through leadership teams and training, take action outside of the classroom, and develop their voice in order to advocate for issues they care about.

In 2015, student leaders and I were asked to do a panel presentation at the Arizona Department of Education Directors’ Institute.

Adult Learner Persistence Panel from the Perspective of Adult Learners

This was our opportunity to highlight two powerful models for student engagement. We called our panel “Student Voices for Transformative Learning and Student Achievement.” I wanted the students to have some context to guide them in their remarks for the directors and other administrators from around Arizona. On a whim, I sent the students the 6 Drivers of Learner Persistence document. To my surprise, they wove the persistence research into their own observations and reflections. The following are excerpts from their panel presentations:

Sense of Belonging: For some adult learners, the decision to go back to school can be anxiety provoking. They are stepping into unfamiliar territory, possibly without an expectation of belonging there. When the director says, “This is your program, you can do whatever you want”, obviously we are going to learn but these words help us to feel part of this community school. We create connections that help to connect jobs for people looking for them, and we start friendships that continue for many years.

Clarity of Purpose: Research shows that learners who establish goals and see their progress are more likely to persist. Although our purposes, needs, and goals may be different, we students know exactly what we really want to learn and achieve.  As a cancer survivor, it increased my clarity of purpose. I decided that I needed to stay busy and do something to improve myself mentally, physically, and emotionally.

Agency: Agency is an action that a student takes to accept responsibility for its consequences in order to achieve his or her goal. Both students and teachers are constantly in a struggle with the challenges of teaching and learning. Good communication is essential. If students express opinions and preferences, teachers can make curriculum adaptations, change routines, and promote discussions that generate a democratic environment. Both teachers and students should apply the “agency driver” for success.

Competence: People who feel competent visualize success and those who doubt their competence visualize failure. Belief is very, very important. We must believe that our dreams can come true and goals can be reached. The better I get in English, the more I believe! When I see other students as competent, it helps me to believe that I can be competent, too. Leadership training and doing public presentations helped me feel competent.

Relevance: I lost my job last year. It was a catastrophe. I felt hopeless and totally lost my confidence. Then, a thought came to me. Are all these problems from language proficiency or lack of confidence? I knew the answer. I participated in Ms. Jackson’s leadership class. All the lessons are relevant to my needs – inspiring lessons and hands-on experiences.

Stability: Learning is difficult in an environment that is chaotic or unstable. There are some fears in the minds of adult students that stop us from believing that we can do whatever we want. In this program, we receive information that is very inspiring and that motivates us to feel stable in a safe environment for learning.

Those are the words of Queen Creek Adult Education students: Maybelin Rodriguez, Patcharaporn Phupaibul, Ana Morin, and Maria Alvidrez.

Our students’ experiences provide powerful testimony to the value of the learner persistence framework and how we are implementing it with a strong focus on leadership development and digital storytelling while building a sense of community and belonging. Our students express it the best. Just listen to Matias and Israel.

Matias' Story

Matias Rodriguez

Israel's Story

Israel Gonzalez


*Adult Student Persistence E-learning courses:


Queen Creek
That’s me (4th from the right) with my friends from Queen Creek.

Laura Porfirio is an adult educator in Tucson, Arizona at Pima Community College. She has spent her entire 23-year career in adult education looking for ways to help students take charge of their learning, break down the walls of the classroom, and promote student engagement in social justice oriented education.

Creating a Welcoming Community through Social Gaming in a Library

By Edward Latham


welcoming-week-guest-blog1Since February, 2016, I have tried an experiment that brings together US-born and immigrant residents of my rural community in Milbridge, in Downeast Maine. As I believe that libraries should be community hubs, I approached my local library to learn about their vision and goals as well as the librarian’s perception of the community’s needs. I learned that the library wanted to increase the community’s use of its physical space and resources, and to have activities that bring together different populations in the community.

I proposed to use social gaming as the activity that would bring new and established community members together and that would promote nonformal learning. Social games require all players to interact, and each player must choose from a number of options in every turn. These options may include picking from several available roles, whether to buy, sell or trade resources, or choosing how aggressively to pursue a goal in the game. The games came from my collection of European-style games and included board games, card games, scale model conflicts with miniatures, simulations, roleplaying, and storytelling games.

welcoming-week-guest-blog2

By the third week in February, I sat in the library with my best friend all set up to play some games. We had set up the games Puerto Rico and Pandemic, hoping to gain some interest from library patrons. Many patrons stopped to ask questions, but no one joined in to play even though we had advertised the activities for two weeks before the event. It was disappointing when no one showed up for that first activity meeting, but I knew it might be difficult to “sell” this activity.

In our second week, we got two families. Both had read about the event on the library’s Facebook page. Two mothers each brought a child about the same age. The two families came from different cultural backgrounds: Long-time, local, English-speaking Americans, and Spanish-speaking Mexicans. I was very excited to have someone show up, shared four game options, and together the group picked the one they wanted. I was a little concerned because the choice they made, Puerto Rico, is a complex game. I was pleasantly surprised. The activity was a great hit for all and, to my delight, the two families asked if they could bring others in the following week.

The families did bring in others; after a month we had an established rhythm going. On average we now have 6-10 participants every Saturday from 11am through 5pm. Their ages range from eight to 58 with slightly more females than males. I originally set the times to be 11am to 3pm, but the participants continued to ask for more and more time. The participants currently push for 6+ hours every Saturday, and we have played dozens of different games, including those found in the list at the end of this article.  The Librarian and I emailed a summary of our Community of Social Gaming project efforts to two game manufacturers. As a result, the library has received over $300 in games donated by the manufacturers.

I provide a mix of games that sometimes require competition and sometimes cooperation. In some games, the entire group succeeds or fails based on the choices of each individual. In other games, the group may fail but some individuals may have more personal success. In still other games, success is up for each individual to snatch from the others. This variation from individual focus to collaborative focus has been important in building a community of trust. It is not unusual for newcomers to meekly come in to check things out and for at least two of our regular participants to pull the newbies under their wings to show them what we are doing and how it all works. I have set the stage for mentoring in these sessions, and participants of all ages have now eagerly embraced the mentoring role when needed. It makes me long to see similar experiences offered in formal education environments.

I have observed the following kinds of learning:

Language Learning

Families for whom English is a second or other language have experienced much growth and comfort in terms of being able to more clearly articulate in English their intentions, and with figurative expressions and with understanding and expressing humor. One of our older participants is a mother who had much difficulty expressing herself in English when we started. She always appeared so dour, serious and even a bit detached at times. As I got to know her more each week, it was readily apparent that English was getting in the way of her expressing herself as she might normally do in her other social circles. As she became more comfortable with the game vocabularies, she was able to relax and enjoy the experience much more. Today, it is such a joy to see her laughing, teaching, directing, and coordinating activities with such confidence!

Players have suggested that we might put Spanish names and instructions on all of the library game pieces to better facilitate all members of the community being able to play the games. English speakers will also learn some Spanish!

Strategic Thinking

In our games, all participants are encouraged, and often prompted, to share their thought processes, for example what they perceive as good and bad options. This open discussion makes it easy for everyone to learn from the thought processes of others. It also allows me to see marked differences and changes in individual approaches. A young boy’s comment, “…Well, now I realize that I spent way too much time being aggressive early on and I have little chance of catching up to where everyone else is at in the time we have left…” is representative of the reflection and revision process constantly at work in our games. The complexity of suggested solutions has been increasing in every session as well as individuals’ speed in trying to apply options that were successful in past activities. Participants are constantly applying what they have learned from past successes to current challenges, and adapting from there. This is quite the contrast with the often random “guess and check” that happens when new participants come into the group. Our players quickly learn, however, that success in one game does not always translate to success in other games.

Mathematics

In addition to strategic thinking, our games force individuals to process many variables at a time and to project the results of a choice made two, three, or more steps ahead. The discussion centers around many dependent variables and how slight variations in each variable contributes to the success or failure of the option being presented. Although participants are not formally processing the algorithmic procedures involved in multi-variable equations, participants are constantly working at the conceptual level with complex and interdependent systems.

Language Arts

Communicating the rationale for an option presented creates strong “compare and contrast” skills in verbal interactions. Other participants often assist individuals with perspectives that increase an individual’s rationale. In our activities, it is important for participants to communicate clearly when they have finished experimenting, and when others are able to jump in. The stories and reflections shared at the end of every session create many narratives that are shared with participants every week. Whenever a new participant comes in, the narratives fly wildly, as veterans of our sessions share stories to inspire and encourage new people joining our fun. The participants are developing much better questioning skills that efficiently describe the situation and lead to successful resolution quickly.

Social Skills

With such a range of cultural, language, and age diversity in our groups, participants are always working to keep exchanges polite and positive. In one case, we had a very immature and self-centered youth join in an activity. The other members in the activity immediately engaged in positive demonstrations of what the group expects for behavior. The youth quickly learned that with collaborative behaviors comes much more inclusion and success in any of our activities.

Our regular players are starting to market our Saturday sessions in the community. Members of the group are collaborating on the creation and purchase of group tee shirts that advertise and entice others to join our Community of Gaming. Members are also coordinating on bringing snacks. We are also contemplating taking our game sessions on the road to another library twenty minutes away to introduce social gaming in that area. Our librarian has been sharing with another librarian what we are doing, and much excitement has been generated in the other community. Some group members wish to mentor others in how to set things up, how to run activities in a positive and engaging way, how to drum up local interest, and how to best communicate weekly with all potential participants. We currently are using a digital tool called Remind to share updates, news, postings, and suggestions with all the families involved. Those that don’t have digital devices have automatically been taken under the wing of other families that do in order to create a sort of phone tree..

As an educator, I am encouraged by all the positive evidence I see weekly from these nonformal learning experiences. Formal education and adult education in particular, should feel as positive as our group feels. While I have offered options, guidance, and resources to get everyone started, it is the collaborative framework the group established early on that has helped to grow our experiences from no-show events to events that now require two or three large tables and facilitate 18 or more people at times and may well expand to libraries in other local communities.

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List of games played in order of approximate frequency that the game has been played

  • Puerto Rico
  • Extinction
  • Pandemic
  • Marvel Legendary
  • Dominion
  • Bohnanza
  • Mancala
  • Pinata
  • Compounded
  • Carcassone
  • Ticket to Ride
  • Dice Masters
  • Magic the Gathering
  • Sentinels of the Multiverse
  • Eldritch Horror

Edward Latham is an adult educator in Maine who has also provided professional development to other educators for more than ten years. He specializes in mathematics, computer science, and technology integration in his work with learners and teachers. He is a partner of World Education’s Ed Tech Center. He is also part of the Maine College and Career Readiness Standards team at the state level and has been an educational consultant to many agencies. His email address is ohgeer@gmail.com

Applying the Helping Students Stay Course in the Classroom

Even though my schedule was pretty much maxed out, I decided to make time for the Helping Students Stay course. Our program had a number of students, more than we were comfortable with, who didn’t make it past the twelve hour mark. What was going on? What I found out when I took the course is that what our program was experiencing was by no means an anomaly. It was happening all over, especially in rural areas similar to mine, where transportation is a big issue. However, what I also learned as the course progressed is that many programs have implemented strategies to curb this trend. Some of those programs had really impressive turnarounds so if they could do it, why can’t we?

I started in my own classroom by trying to figure out how I could do a better job of building a sense of community and belonging, one of the drivers of persistence identified in the course. I had noticed that the ESL classes in my program seemed to have that going and I wondered why. True, they have the commonality of coming to a new country and needing to adjust to a different culture and learn a new language. But it was more than that. For example, they always had coffee brewing and frequently brought in goodies to share with each other.

Coffee, I decided, is something I can do. So, I commandeered a coffee pot and brought in the fixings for the coffee. I also went out to the dollar store and bought a bunch of white mugs and some paint markers. I gave the students a mug to decorate and call their own, as you can see pictured above. My class is open enrollment, so every new student gets one as well, and I really enjoy watching their reaction when I hand them the mug and the markers. To be sure, I can see by the looks on their faces that it wasn’t something they were expecting, but rather, a pleasant surprise.

Did this make a difference? I think it’s too soon to tell; although, I did have a student say to me today, “I don’t know what it is, but when I come in here I just want to take off my shoes. It feels like home.” I’ve also had the number of students who attend class more than once a week double over the last two months (my class is scheduled four mornings per week).

In the meantime, I created a student survey that all students in our program are filling out. We plan, as a program, to carefully examine these surveys, along with the persistence strategies I learned about in the Helping Students Stay course, so that we can make some decisions about what we might change in order to boost our classroom attendance program-wide. Our goal is to implement some of these changes by the start of the 2016-2017 school year. Who knows? Maybe you’ll be reading about our program’s success story this same time next year!


bio pic Patricia Helmuth2

Patricia Helmuth is an Adult Numeracy Consultant and Educator, who teaches for the Adult Program and SC BOCES in New York. She also works with the Hudson Valley RAEN Regional Staff Developers Network, as a Teacher Leader-Trainer, to provide support for Adult Education Instructors in CCSS mathematics instructional strategies. She recently became Co-Editor of the Math Practitioner, a newsletter published by ANN, The Adult Numeracy Network. Patricia is a contributor to World Education’s Tech Tips for Teachers blog.
 
Student persistence is a critical first step to enable student success. Helping Students Stay: Exploring Program and Classroom Persistence Strategies is a six-week online course for adult education professionals that explores the six core drivers of persistence, identified in the New England Learner Persistence Project. Participants use this information to create a persistence plan relevant to their own situation. The next session will be starting on March 23. You can read more about the course and register on our website. 

Making Skills Everyone’s Business through Ideation and Innovation

By Heidi Silver-Pacuilla, Team Leader at the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education


“How might we solve…?” Is the question that sparked nearly 100 educators in an early morning design session on the final day of the National College Transition Network’s annual conference.

merged
“How might we…?” questions for participants in the Design Workshop at the NCTN 2015 Conference.

Attendees brainstormed solutions to challenges faced by adult learners connected to the strategies embedded in the report, Making Skills Everyone’s Business (U.S. Department of Education, Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE), 2015).

Heidi Silver-Pacuilla, Team Leader, and Lul Tesfai, Senior Policy Advisor, from OCTAE, led the group through the 90-minute sprint. The session used the Stanford Design School‘s freely available toolkit which organizes the process around five stages:

  • Empathy
  • Define
  • Ideate
  • Prototype
  • Test

 

models

Video stories of adult learners, drawn from the KET series, Dropping Back In, grounded the effort in human-centered design thinking. Real stories from students they know spurred attendees to think outside the box to likely and unlikely partners who have assets to leverage.

By the end of the session, groups had articulated and prototyped new solutions to existing challenges. And they had experienced the power of design thinking to shake up old assumptions and move beyond “we can’t because…” to “how might we…?”

Adult Basic Skills Programs: A Crucial Tool in Fighting Poverty

Steve Reder, Portland State University
By Stephen Reder, Portland State University

Literacy has long been a connector that helps hold us together as a society. General health and key markers of social cohesion such as trust in others, feelings of political empowerment, and willingness to volunteer are closely tied to adult literacy, as are more direct economic indicators such as employment and earnings.

Unfortunately, the United States has lower levels of adult literacy than most advanced countries, and we continue to slip further behind. Our society’s growing income inequality is closely linked with our inequality of adult literacy. At every level of education, the less literate an American adult is, the greater the chances that he or she lives in poverty. If we are serious about improving economic well-being and addressing the gaping disparities our country faces, we need to develop and support adult educational programs that increase literacy and other basic skills

An obvious response to these challenges would be focus on improving our K-12 schools and early childhood education programs. Although such reforms may eventually improve adult basic skills, they can’t have much impact in the short run, since most adults with weak basic skills – and most adults living in poverty – have already aged out of the K-12 school system. They need better basic skills and higher incomes now. In addition, increasing parental literacy skills and incomes will improve their children’s future educational outcomes.

Adult basic education programs can have a quicker impact. The recently enacted Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) includes support for adult basic skills programs as part of workforce development. Although basic skills programs can certainly help, unfortunately they are not adequately funded (for example, the basic skills grants to states in 2015 were 18 percent lower than in 2005 after adjusting for inflation).

Expanding funding for these programs will likely be quite cost effective. A recent study estimated that adults who went through these programs earned an average of about $10,000 more per year than they would have earned had they not gone through the programs.

A limitation of WIOA-funded basic skills programs, however, is their required connection to the workforce development system. Many of the 24 million unemployed or underemployed adults in poverty – and the 6 million full-time “working poor” – are not in a position to benefit from these programs. Some do not have the education or the minimal literacy skills required for entry into local career pathway programs. Others live in family or housing situations that must be stabilized before they can realistically participate in training or work. An additional 8 million adults who have serious disabilities or are retired seniors live in poverty but cannot access these programs because they are out of the workforce.

Innovative programs in both the public and nonprofit private sectors are exploring new ways to help adults, families, and communities move out of poverty. These include training and support for goal-setting, financial planning, “assertive engagement” in family stabilization, building “executive function” skills, family independence in economic development, and other innovations in life management. Improved basic skills will facilitate these important life management tasks that are so often needed to escape poverty and attain economic stability.

Basic skills instruction can be contextualized in these programs to help adults, including young adults who are not in school, address meaningful goals they set for themselves—whether those involve financial planning, personal and family health, care of elderly parents, or involvement in children’s education. Investments in basic skills programs will not only reduce poverty, they will return additional economic benefits including decreased health care costs and lower costs associated with crime and incarceration.

We must measure basic skills with more than just standardized test scores: we want to measure people’s use of text, numbers and diagrams – in printed and digital form – to gather, process, and communicate information in their important everyday activities. Basic skills development must be presented and delivered in a culturally responsive way that enhances individuals’ dignity and potential and builds on their strengths rather than labeling them as “basic skills deficient” (the unfortunate terminology still found in WIOA).

We need policies and programs that support lifelong and life-wide adult literacy in both workforce development and other important life contexts to build a more equitable society. To achieve this vital goal, federal, state, and local policymakers and advocates must pay systematic attention to broad-based needs for adult basic skills as they set funding priorities and develop initiatives to reduce poverty and increase economic opportunity.

This article was originally published in Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity.

Federal Initiative Highlights Role of Libraries in Immigrant Skill-Building

By Amanda Bergson-Shilcock, National Skills Coalition


Participants in the federal Networks for Integrating New Americans technical assistance initiative gathered in Washington DC recently for a two-day convening. Joining the convening for its second day were members of the initiative’s Technical Work Group, a group of advisors that includes National Skills Coalition Senior Policy Analyst Amanda Bergson-Shilcock.

The initiative is funded by the US Department of Education, Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education. It is led by World Education, Inc. and supported by partner organizations Community Science, IMPRINT, National Partnership for New Americans, Network Impact Inc., and Welcoming America. (Learn more about the initiative, and read the detailed Theoretical Framework (pdf) on immigrant integration that guides its work.)

The recent event highlighted the diverse approaches taken by the five local networks supported by the initiative. Each network is comprised of stakeholders in adult education, workforce development, and other fields who work to facilitate immigrants’ linguistic, economic, and civic integration.

The five networks are:

  • We Rhode Island Network  (WeRIN) (Providence, RI)
  • Neighbors United Network (Boise, ID)
  • White Center Promise Network (White Center, WA)
  • Lancaster County Refugee Network (Lancaster, PA)
  • Networks for Integrating New Americans of the Central Valley (Fresno, CA)

Libraries as Sites of Integration: Two Examples

Several of the networks’ presentations at the recent convening shed light on how libraries can facilitate immigrant integration and skill-building. For example, WeRIN members are participating in the Adult Lifelong Learning (ALL) Access project, spearheaded by Rhode Island libraries and funded by the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services.

As part of ALL Access, local libraries now offer a “Learning Lounge” that allows adult learners to drop in (thus creating an on-ramp for participation even while prospective learners are on a waiting list for an adult education class). ALL Access also provides learners with one-on-one technology appointments with librarians, and offers computer skills certifications through library classes.

On the other side of the country, members of the White Center Promise Network are participating in The Big Read, a storytelling and civic engagement project coordinated by a host of partners including the King County (WA) Library System. Focusing on Ethiopian-American author Dinaw Mengestu’s book The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears, the project is offering dozens of activities for immigrant and US-born community members over a months-long period beginning in September 2015.

Perhaps the most notable: Teenage and adult immigrants have been trained as facilitators for community discussion groups.  Armed with translated excerpts of Mengestu’s book, newcomers are now fostering their fellow immigrants’ civic engagement and literacy skills while improving their own public-speaking abilities.

A National Push

Looking beyond the local examples of WeRIN and White Center Promise Network, libraries’ role in supporting access to skill-building and economic opportunity is receiving increasing attention at the federal level.

In 2013, the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and US Citizenship and Immigrations Services signed a Memorandum of Understanding. The USCIS website now hosts a resource section specifically for libraries on citizenship.

Similarly, in 2014, the US Departments of Labor and Education collaborated with the IMLS on an article emphasizing opportunities for libraries in implementing the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. Soon after, the American Library Association hosted a webinar: $2.2 Billion Reasons Libraries Should Care about WIOA.

National Skills Coalition will continue to highlight emerging developments in this important arena.