Welcome Judy Mortrude to Our Team!

Judy Mortrude Headshot

World Education US welcomes Judy Mortrude to our staff as Senior Technical Advisor.  Judy has taken over directing the LINCS Professional Development Center and will continue supporting state efforts to scale and sustain integrated education and training and assist states in meeting the state leadership requirements set forth in Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) Section 223.

Judy has more than 30 years’ experience developing, delivering, and evaluating workforce education aimed at low-literacy and high-barrier adults.  She has been a classroom teacher, school administrator, and state agency staff.  Her most recent job was as Senior Policy Analyst and the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP). Prior to that, Judy co-designed and directed the Minnesota FastTRAK integrated education and training program for the Minnesota Department of Education and Economic Development. Judy will be based in our DC office. Judy says she is “thrilled to be joining the committed team of educators at World Education!”

Judy succeeds Kaye Beall, who will facilitate the transition before officially retiring later this year after 14 years at World Education. Our deepest gratitude to Kaye for her leadership and her many contributions to the field of adult education

Teaching and the Art of Tidying

By Hilary Harper-Wilcoxen

Marie Kondo, best selling author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up says, “The best way to find out what we really need is to get rid of what we don’t.” Teachers need to know how to teach effectively. Figuring out what to keep in our teaching, and what we can “get rid of” requires a good dose of self-knowledge, lots of reliable data, and a dash of humility.

The KonMari program, which I am using to tidy up my house, office, and teaching, asks you to consider only one question as you decide what to keep and what to get rid of: “Does this spark joy?”

When I got to all my papers, notebooks, and countless books on education while tidying, I almost panicked. All these authors who knew so much more than I did! All the notes from graduate school, online courses, seminars, courses I had taught, and conferences! Could I really get rid of them? As I looked at each one and tried to remember what I had learned, and if it still “sparked joy” I found I could, and they did.

While I put everything I had chosen to get rid of into plastic bags I felt something I had not expected to feel – an almost giddy sense of relief. I also realized that the guilt was gone, as was the thought, “But I need to know that.” It occurred to me that after all my years of searching for the magic formula to great teaching, it wasn’t in my notes, or even my books. It was in me; in what I had internalized from all the data and actual teaching. As I got rid of what I didn’t need, I had more space, mentally and physically. Space to see what I really valued (the things I had kept), as well as space to see what I still needed to learn.

We teach who we are.

Our biases, education, and life experiences inform how, as well as what, we teach. As a college professor I taught dance, history, composition and theatre movement. I also taught writing and study skills. I taught things I loved. My passion for these subjects shone through all the techniques I slowly acquired, techniques I knew I needed in order to share what I loved with my students. But the techniques and methods were an appendage, not the thing itself. My love for my students, and my love for what I was sharing, were the root of my work.

As columnist and former professor David Brooks puts it in his extraordinary article Students Learn from People They Love, “What teachers really teach is themselves — their contagious passion for their subjects and students.” He goes on to define love as, “Willing the good of another, and offering active care for the whole person.”

We learn from others, but we choose which others

Two experts in the field of education who have used their talents and drive in “willing the good of another,” and from whom I have learned, are Jay McTighe and Dr. Eric Mazur. Although their approaches differ, their basic philosophies are complimentary. They both care deeply about whether or not students understand and can transfer the material they are being taught rather than just parroting their teachers. They see possibilities everywhere and use them to improve teaching effectiveness, whether from athletic coaches (McTighe), or from classroom dysfunction that turned into Peer Instruction (PI) (Mazur).

They also both love data. Data that separates impressions and personal biases from real outcomes. Data that drives choices, and that is used in the pursuit of effective methods of instruction, rather than the newest fads.

Both these educators have been examples in their separate fields, of how we can all do better at reaching our students. Dr. Mazur, a Harvard physics professor, is well known for his thoughts on lecturing in Higher Ed. I will always remember the first time I heard his thoughts in an online interview. I couldn’t believe someone was saying what we all knew: Lecturing doesn’t really work, even though it is how most if us were taught . . . But, was it how we learned?

Another realization came while attending my first Understand by Design (UbD) seminar. Out of the large group of educators at the conference I was the only college professor. When McTighe asked all of us to think of an example of someone who taught us something, something that really stuck, and to share it with our table-mates we all had a story, and none of them involved college professors! The others spoke of parents, or coaches, or elementary school teachers. I shared a story about a ballet teacher who had changed how I saw dance, teaching, and myself. It motivated me to find out how the gap between expertise and teaching could be spanned. My answer was UbD.

Recognizing and controlling my bias

Both Mazur and McTighe recognize that teacher bias is a big part of the teaching problem. For Mazur even the question of bias e.g., teaching a certain way because it is how we were taught, hinges on data. He says, “We all have our own bias. Anything that deviates from your bias you will treat with skepticism. What helps overcome those biases is hard evidence that something works better than what you did in the past.”

We all know hard evidence in teaching can be difficult to come by. Is it in student test scores? Evaluations? Peer review? The fact that there is no clear definition of teaching excellence points to two possibilities: That teaching is an art, and fairly subjective, or that we have avoided the complicated task of assessing teachers in the same way we assess students – through results.

Both Mazur and McTighe agree that the question of accountability and how teachers are evaluated in Higher Ed is broken. Mazur says, “The accountability we have in education is next to zero. Essentially the teachers are the ones evaluating their own teaching, especially in Higher Ed.” And McTighe says simply that teaching in Higher Ed is, “the last bastion of non accountability.”

If personal bias blinds us, teacher observations can enlighten us

McTighe and another educator I interviewed, Jacqueline Lynch, Dean of Adult Ed at Triton College, suggests having faculty (not administrators) do teacher observations. Lynch has seasoned teachers take on mentoring roles and provide supportive feedback to young professors. This enables the new teacher to receive support based on real life observation of their teaching and mentoring rather than just receiving poor evaluations on a skill they were never taught.

Creating a Positive Classroom Environment

Another important best practice in the classroom is the environment that is created. From peer instruction to peer review encouraging a space where students feel both supported and challenged is critical to the goal of learning, and difficult to achieve. Some ideas from our experts include UbD’s practical suggestion to do “backwards design.” McTighe also has provided teachers with a framework for creating clear lesson plans and syllabi which center on a Big Idea and Essential Questions, as well as using formative assessment and transparent grading practices. Much of the difficult work of engaging students with their classes is covered in Dr. Mazur’s now iconic process called Peer Instruction, where students spend class time discussing what they learned in their homework. In effect, Mazur has “flipped” the college classroom. His follow-up work on how best to deliver material outside of class has resulted in the creation of Perusall.com.

We value what we love, and we should love seeing our students succeed. McTighe said, “It is a college teacher’s job to be mindful of their student’s mindsets.” He, like Mazur and Lynch, believes that data can drive learning if it’s the right kind. He explained that formative assessment allows the teacher to, “give everyone data so we all know what to work on. We should also allow for the student to make use of feedback e.g., allowing for essays to be revised based on exchanges within a peer response group with a rubric ,and time to revise.” He likened not doing this to, “eating without digesting.”

The fact that students often feel overwhelmed reminded me of when I was trying to incorporate UbD into my syllabi. I was “eating without digesting” and it made me feel overwhelmed, stupid, and incredibly frustrated. When I told McTighe about my concerns he said, “Just pick one thing to do from the UbD framework.” (I think his catch phrase was, “Start small and go for an early win.”) I chose UbD’s focus on developing Essential Questions, and it worked. My students absorbed the course material more organically and thoroughly, and I lived to fight another day. Choosing one thing to focus on gave me space and time to really digest that one concept, and led me to the others when I was ready to move on. It’s easy for educators to suffer from what Harvard’s Steven Pinker calls, “the curse of knowledge.” In short, the inability to remember what it felt like before we knew what we have known for so long. For instance, when I first wrote, “the curse of knowledge,” I felt it was okay to leave it at that: To assume knowledge.

Many teachers are like that, but we shouldn’t be. It’s why empathy and humility play an important role in great teaching. Yes, we need to really know our base profession, but we also need to know the basics of how to communicate it to the people sitting in our classrooms. The people who are counting on us to help them make meaning out of what we know; not just give them information they could just as easily find on their phones.

We learn from our students

I asked one of mine, Madeline Demaree, what she thought about the teaching she had received in college. She pointed out that many of her professors didn’t, “carry out the basic tenets of good teaching.” As an education major she went on to explain that they didn’t:

  1. Give students clear directions,
  2. Give them homework that was relevant to what they were learning in class, and
  3. Let them know how they would be assessed.

When I read that I realized she was talking to me. She was talking to all of us. I also remembered what a colleague of mine, Gail Russell-Chaddock, had told me that as she looked back on her teaching career, the more she sees what she did wrong and wishes she’s been “plugged into these ideas.” The ideas being how to reach students, rather than just preach at them.

I rarely quote ancient Chinese proverbs but this one seems peculiarly appropriate: “Do not confine your teaching to your own learning for your children [students] were born in another time.”

Finding what works for us and our particular students is no easy task. But it is worth the effort. And, as we practice, we will find that we can more easily assess what our students need, and use the data to be sure. That will spark joy for us, and them.

Hilary Harper-Wilcoxen is the Founder of Bear Pond Learning, a nonprofit in Bridgton, ME.

Read Hilary’s previous blog post Teaching Expertise Worth Striving For.

Teaching Expertise Worth Striving For

By Hilary Harper-Wilcoxen

Hilary Harper-Wilcoxen is the Founder of Bear Pond Learning, a nonprofit in Bridgton, ME.

This blog was inspired by the workshop Hilary presented at this year’s National College Transition Network Conference in Cambridge, MA from November 12-14, “Professor-Proofing our Teaching”.

Professors are smart. They have to be. After all, they are the expert in the classroom. But, as comedian Chad Daniels says, “My wife has a Ph.D…but not in everything.”

The troubling fact is that if you ask almost anyone about their experience in college and their professors’ ability to teach they will nod knowingly and say, “I had one or two great ones. The rest? Not so much.”

Why is that? Here are two possible explanations:

  1. Professors are not taught to teach. Instead, they are taught, and encouraged to get better at what they are already good at – their discipline.
  2. Professors are not rewarded for putting the needed effort into becoming great teachers. All the brownie points (like promotions and tenure) go to those who continue to grow their expertise, not to those who focus on a skill they were never taught – how to effectively share that expertise with students.

Until the brownie points go to the best teachers the motivation to improve our teaching has to be intrinsic. For me it was an uneasy feeling that, although I knew what to teach, I didn’t really know how to teach it. I think I assumed that someday someone would show up and tell me exactly how to help students who couldn’t write, how to grade papers fairly, how to develop effective course curriculum. That day never came.

Our epiphanies happen when we are ready to accept them. My efforts to improve my teaching brought me to Dr. Eric Mazur from Harvard University, who said, “I never asked myself, ‘How am I going to teach?’ It was clear, I was going to lecture. I had learned by listening to lectures.” Dr. Mazur goes on to show us how his success as an instructor was really an “illusion” that one day was shattered. I had been teaching long enough to realize that, like Mazur, my students were not retaining the knowledge I thought they had obtained. Why? Because they hadn’t really understood it! I knew by then that you had to connect new knowledge with prior knowledge for the students to understand. I just didn’t know how to do that.

I had been directed to Mazur’s video by Jay McTighe, author of Understanding by Design (UbD), and after watching it I became even more committed to using the principles of UbD and Mazur’s Peer Instruction in my classroom.

Neither method or framework was a perfect fit, so I went about picking and choosing what worked for my department, my students, and my discipline. It was frustrating, exhilarating, and ultimately, transformative.

Here are some take-aways from my work that I hope will be helpful:

  1. Reduce content to what is essential for understanding. This is a core UbD principle and one of the first things I tackled as a new UbD adopter. It required me to distill my course (which spanned 2,500 years of dance history) down to one Big Idea. Then, I worked on developing an “essential question” or EQ for the entire course and, later, for my units. The EQ I finally decided on was, “Why do people dance?” It brought focus and clarity to everything else I did, and allowed the students to have an anchor, a question they could keep going back to as they waded through all the information. True, it is very hard to delete content that we love as experts. It is easier if we ask ourselves honestly, “Is this essential and, if so, does it help answer or enrich the EQ?”
  2. Design your classes to give greater student agency. What does that mean, exactly? Well, for me it meant giving up some control. To design homework and projects (connected somehow to the EQ) that require students to practice what they will need in the 21st century. Skills such as collaboration, communication, creativity and critical thinking; and to do it with as little direction from me as I could muster. I found that if I had the Big Idea and EQ in mind it was a lot easier to create experiential learning projects and assignments that incorporated the material we had to cover. That, in turn, allowed my students to create something that was truly theirs, but which incorporated the essential knowledge we were working on. I found that agency=engagement in almost every class I taught. It’s a lot messier than lecturing or small group discussions, but it is well worth the mess.
 Here are some more ideas on student agency.
  3. Bias. How a seemingly ugly word can help us. A master kindergarten teacher I know, Patty Poulin, says this about bias, “You have to know you have it, or you can’t do anything about it. And everyone has it.” But what, exactly, is it? There are a number of definitions, but I find the most useful one as a teacher is, anything that causes me to decide something, based on a stereotype and without the facts, that might affect how I treat my students.

Whenever the topic comes up I am reminded, shamefully, of a time when I almost failed a student. This particular freshman kept arriving late and unprepared for my class. She missed a scheduled meeting and did almost no work. When I finally got her to my office she broke down in tears. She told me that she had to leave school because of a family situation. All I could do at that point was tell her I was sorry and wish her well. My bias — seeing her as a disinterested freshman who was lazy and irresponsible— had not done either of us any favors. It was a stark lesson for me, and one I never forgot. It was my job to make the effort, to seek to understand, but I had been more concerned with papers and attitude than with her.

My elementary school colleagues understand this. They are trained educators, and they have a name for it — Social Emotional Learning, or SEL. We need to pay attention to the current conversation regarding best practices. David Gooblar states in his article, Yes, You Have Implicit Biases, Too that we can become “conscious of the existence of implicit biases, and the probability that you yourself might be influenced by them, before you can do anything about them.”

I guess Patty knew what she was talking about.

As higher ed educators we still need to seek to understand in order to develop empathy. We all know that the demands of time, burn out, and personal needs can drop empathy and listening to the bottom of our list, but we have to challenge that. Our students really are more important than our discipline, our lesson plan, or our biases. If we are going to reach them we need to “learn from each other’s lived experiences.” (Beegle, 2007)

Learn, and then put what we learn back into our meetings with students, our classes, and our sense of who we are and why we wanted to teach in the first place. My superintendent, Kevin Richard describes the work we are all here to do, “To empower our students to get the skills they need to fix their own problems.”

Now that’s expertise worth striving for.

Beegle, D. M. (2007). See poverty…be the difference! Discover the missing pieces for helping people move out of poverty.  Tigard, OR: Communication Across Barriers, Inc.

Gooblar, D. (2017, November 20). Yes, you have implicit biases, too. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved December 27, 2018, from https://www.chronicle.com/article/Yes-You-Have-Implicit-Biases/241797

Happy Mother’s Day!

In honor of Mother’s Day, here are stories from 3 women who against all odds are pursuing an education to better not only their lives but, their children’s lives too.

Education Provides New Opportunities

By Mary Crumble, GED/College Transition Student

My name is Mary and I was born and raised in Washington, DC along with three other siblings. I attended the public school in my area, however, I never completed high school and had to drop out because I became pregnant.

In order to get my GED, I began going to Academy of Hope, a program that helps individuals obtain their GED. I was struggling with the program and decided to switch to the National External Diploma Program, a high school completion option for adults. Four years later, I graduated and received my high school diploma.

When I first told my oldest daughter that I was going back to school, she was proud of me. I will never forget that moment. Now, my dream is to attend college and receive a degree in early childhood education. I’m taking college prep classes to help me prepare. Once I finish the prep classes and save enough money, I plan to attend community college.

SInce I graduated high school, I can now fill out applications on my own and no longer have to worry about the part, ‘Name your high school.’ I’m happy that I made a change for myself and pursued my high school diploma. Now, I have so many new opportunities that I never had before.

Education Empowers Individuals

By Camille Myers, ABE/GED Student

My name is Camille Myers and I am a mother to a son and a grandmother of three. I was born in Utah but I was raised by a widowed mother in Idaho with an old-fashioned Midwestern upbringing. My schooling was varied; I was diagnosed with seizures and was given a wide variety of drugs starting at 6. Because of the drugs, I was labeled mentally challenged and spent my first four years in a state school for people with severe mental retardation. In the fifth grade, I went to a special school for mentally challenged students until I was 16.

At 16, I became a mom and quit school. At the time I quit school, my reading ability was at the 4th grade level. It was a struggle to be a single mom. It was very hard to get employment as I could not fill out the applications. I missed many opportunities for work even though I was a good worker. Because of the misdiagnosis on my educational abilities, I felt that I missed out on the opportunity to fulfill my dream of becoming a nurse. Yet somehow, even though it was a struggle, I managed to raise my son and provide for us.

When I was 50, I realized that I wanted to continue my education. I started going to an adult literacy program, Del Norte Reads in California. Much to my amazement, I loved attending classes and was able to learn many new skills..

I feel that getting an education, even at my age, sets an example to my family and to other learners. I made sure my son finished high school and he then went to culinary school.  In addition, my self-esteem has skyrocketed. I am able to fill out applications, read books and understand what I am reading. I can now balance my checkbook, and I even have the confidence to tutor others and counsel prospective learners to encourage them to pursue their educational goals. The most exciting thing is that I have found that the “labels” put on me as a child were not merited. I am a strong, intelligent woman who is capable of fulfilling anything I can dream.

Education Makes Dreams Come True

Mary Mach, ESOL Student

My name is Mary Mach and I was born in South Sudan. I attended school there until 2nd grade but, due to war, I had to drop-out and flee South Sudan to Kenya in 1992. When I was in Kenya, I never had the opportunity to go to school because I was tasked with taking care of my younger siblings. Daily in the refugee camp, I had to cook and fetch water for my family. In 2004, my family and I moved to the U.S. for a better life.

After being in the U.S. for some years and having my own children, I decided go back to school to learn English. However, being a mom and going to school is not easy and I have to juggle many responsibilities. On a day-to-day basis, I have to take care of my six children, bring them to school, cook for them, and help them with their homework.

When I went to see my doctor, I used to need a translator, and that was my motivation to go back to school because I wanted to be independent. My son encourages me a lot. He said, “Mom, you don’t need a translator now. Mom, you can read and return the teacher’s notes back to her.” Because of my children’s support, I have found the willpower to overcome the obstacles and have received my CNA license.

My dream is to be a midwife. In my country, women die every day in their villages because they don’t have the proper education and guidance.When I was working for two years in Kakuma, a refugee camp, I witnessed pregnant young girls dying from labor. I want to help change that.

Support for mothers’ education is one of the best education investments a society can make. It brings multiple returns to the family, community, and to the mother herself. In the United States, that investment is limited in relation to the amount of need. 36 million adults in the United States need to improve their pre-college level academic skills. Yet, the publicly funded adult education system has the capacity to serve only slightly more than 2 million young and older adults per year.

Donate to World Education, where your gift helps mothers achieve their educational goals, provide for their families, and inspire their children to succeed.

The stories were originally submitted as part of World Education’s Mother’s Day campaign in 2014 and have been edited for this blog

World Education Staff Workshops at COABE 2018

Every year, our staff delivers engaging workshops across a range of topics. This year we have 18 workshops being presented by staff members, and we are sponsoring two strands at the conference!

Below is a list of all the workshops our staff members are presenting, but don’t forget to check out the “Transitions Strand” sponsored by the National College Transition Network, and “Digital Literacy & Technology Strand” sponsored by the EdTech Center @ World Education!

Sunday, March 25th Preconference

12:30pm – 3:30pm
  • Digital Literacy: Essential Element of College and Career Readiness presented by Priyanka Sharma Laveen A

Monday, March 26th

8:00am – 9:15am
  • Building High-Quality Professional Development Programs Using LINCS presented by Kaye Beall and Chrys Limardo* CC 102B
  • Teaching Digital Literacy: Working with Tutors, Teachers, and Volunteers to Meet Diverse Learners’ Needs presented by Jenifer Vanek, Jill Castek, and Kathy Harris Encanto A
11:30am – 12:45pm
  • Inspire Excitement about Writing: Use The Change Agent Call for Articles presented by Cynthia Peters, Hazel Robin, Luz Elias, and Carlos Contreras Ahwatukee A
  • Learning Circles for Adult Basic Education (Including ESL/ESOL) presented by Priyanka Sharma and David Rosen CC 102C
2:00pm – 3:15pm
  • Preparing Adult English Language Learners for the Workforce: Models and Resources (LINCS) presented by Andy Nash CC 102B
3:45pm – 5:00pm
  • Characteristics of Effective Online Learners and Online Learning Coaches presented by Sandy Goodman and Leah Peterson CC 104A

Tuesday, March 27th

8:00am – 9:15am

Digital Revolution: Leveraging Technology for Increasing Adult Learning & Employment Outcomes presented by Alison Ascher Webber Encanto A

11:00am – 12:15pm
  • Problem Solving in a Digital World: Using PIAAC’s PS-TRE to Support Learning presented by Jenifer Vanek CC 102A
  • Engaging Your Students with Mobile Learning and Apps presented by Priyanka Sharma and Alison Ascher Webber CC 106A
2:00pm – 3:15pm
  • Digital Literacy Curricula and Teaching: What Works Well presented by Jenifer Vanek, Tom Cytron-Hysom, and Eric Nesheim CC 104B
3:45pm – 5:00pm
  • Work and Civics: Breaking Down the Silos presented by Andy Nash and Cynthia Peters Alhambra
  • How Investment in Technology Can Accelerate and Expand Collective Impact in Adult Learning presented by Alison Ascher Webber, Jenifer Vanek, and Mitch Rosin CC 105A

Wednesday, March 28th

8:00am – 9:15am
  • We Learn By Doing!: Authentic Practice Outside of Class Through Technology presented by Alison Ascher Webber and Jenifer Vanek CC 104A
  • Using the Adult Education Teacher Competencies (LINCS) presented by Andy Nash CC 102B
11:00am – 12:15pm
  • Digital Literacy, Computer Vocabulary, and English Language Learning: An Inseparable Combination presented by Jenifer Vanek CC 104B
1:45pm – 3:00pm
  • What is Blended Learning? Real Implementation Examples from IDEAL Consortium States presented by Jenifer Vanek, Stephanie Bulgrin, and Christy Nelson CC 104B
3:15pm – 4:30pm
  • Updating Digital Literacy Assessment for the Future: Northstar 2.0 presented by Jen Vanek, Tom Cytron-Hysom, and Eric Nesheim CC 104B

*Presenters in italics are partners for World Education, Inc.

Math and ESOL, A Winning Combination

Pam Meader is a math consultant for TERC in Cambridge, Massachusetts and a national math trainer for LINCS. Pam is co-facilitator of the Mathematizing ESOL series serving as the math expert. She is co-author of the Hands on Math series from Walch Publishing and is a member of ANN, Adult Numeracy Network.

Integrating curriculum is nothing new to ESOL teachers, but many times ESOL teachers feel less prepared to discuss math topics with their learners. Many ESOL teachers may not feel comfortable with math themselves, as math was taught procedurally requiring memorization to get through a math class. Since the Mathematizing ESOL series was introduced three years ago, some ESOL teachers have approached this course with trepidation but soon found their fears diminished. There were many reasons for this change.

First, many participants appreciated the experiential approach to teaching math topics: using manipulatives, incorporating visuals such as number lines, and acting out a problem directly related to approaches ESOL teachers were already utilizing in their classrooms.  They also appreciated the real-life context for introducing math such as creating budgets and shopping, tasks that were already part of the ESOL curriculum. As one participant wrote, “The content of the course and the teaching strategies validated a lot of the work I’m already doing, which makes me feel that I’m on track.”

Secondly, the course provided insight into better ways to teach math concepts than ways the teachers may have experienced as learners themselves. Teaching conceptually, making the math more accessible or more challenging, realizing the different ways to think about numbers and operations, and being more aware of various math notations or strategies used in other countries, helped deepen teachers‘ understanding. “The different algorithms, commas, decimals, etc. were interesting and informative. I found myself struggling with some of the various formats and it was a good lesson on how my students must sometimes feel.”

Many participants have already started implementing ideas from the course into their classrooms. “My class did a shopping activity today, and I introduced estimation prior to asking for a total spent. That step made the activity more accessible for all students.”

“Soon after completing the exercises to explore the meaning of subtraction, I had a lesson on completing a timesheet in 15-minute increments. We would calculate the total time for various blocks of time worked. While I was demonstrating how to add them, some of the students were taking the blocks of time to the next full hour and then subtracting the quarter increments. We were able to discuss the different ways of calculating the timesheet to reach the correct answer. This course helped me see the various ways subtraction could be used and I was comfortable working with the students from their perspectives.”

Another strong component of the Mathematizing ESOL series was building a community of ESOL practitioners. Many responded that they enjoyed sharing ideas with other colleagues and learned new ideas as well. “I enjoyed reading what other teachers are doing in class, their discussion, and your comments.”

You could feel as upbeat about math as the teachers who have participated in the Mathematizing ESOL series. We hope you will consider enrolling in Mathematizing ESOL, beginning with MESOL I. As one participant shared, “This course was the first time that I was really exposed to ideas and strategies for how to integrate math into an ESOL classroom….Prior to this course, I was a bit intimidated by the prospect, but the class has helped me to recognize both the necessity for teaching math as well as some concrete ways to contextualize it so that it remains relevant to learners (and can still be seen as a part of ‘English class’).”

Learn more about the Mathematizing ESOL series:

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.


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.


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.


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