Teacher Appreciation: Christopher Bourret

How did you get started in adult education?

A long time ago, in a universe far, far away…I was getting a Master’s Degree in Political Science and taking a college class on Immigration Politics. As part of the class requirements, I interned at two community agencies that provided ESOL for recently arrived immigrants. I got hooked on teaching, seeing how amazing and dedicated the students were in trying to learn English and make their way in a new country – two very difficult accomplishments!

After this experience, I took a few classes in teaching ESL and joined Peace Corps out of college. I stayed 5 years with them, working at a Teacher Training college in Poland. I really learned my teaching craft there, and had the added experience of mentoring new teachers. I also took on the task of learning Polish as a second language. Having to listen, speak, read and write in another language, in order to get by day to day, certainly helped give me insight into the language learning process and has made me a better teacher. Or at least very appreciative of what second language learners go through.

I came back to the US, got another MA in TESL, and ended up working at one of the community agencies that I had volunteered in college, RIFLI. I’ve now been there for over 16 years.

Where and what do you teach and do in adult education now?

I am a Program Specialist for Rhode Island Family Literacy Initiative, which is part of the Education Department at the Providence Public Library. I teach a few classes, as I would never want to totally give that up, and I also help out on the administration side of things, especially to support the teachers in the excellent work that they do. I advise teachers on their PD plans, provide resources or advice, schedule meetings, and help create partnerships with other agencies in the community.

Something I’ve worked on in this position is helping highly skilled immigrants succeed in this country. Too often these learners come with such great experience and ability but are underemployed here and often find themselves in a gap between exiting the highest levels of Adult Education classes services institutions of Higher Education provide. So we’ve started classes for this population and we’ve learned how to navigate systems for some of these learners, so that they know where to go and who to talk to in order to get on a clear and direct pathway. It’s a work in progress, but we’ve had some success.

What are you most proud of as a teacher and trainer?

Adult Education can be rewarding, in that you can actually see your work coming to fruition as students improve their language skills, find jobs, become citizens, enter college, complete training programs, help their children succeed at school, etc. I often run into former students who have carved out a life for themselves, and it’s great to see their progression. It can be very meaningful work when you see students succeed.

Tell us about your progression from teacher to teacher and professional developer? What did you do to further develop your skills?

Through my time in Peace Corps and in RIFLI, I have always had the opportunity to help out teachers and tutors, and I really enjoy doing that. I like learning about new techniques, activities, resources and share them with colleagues. I also help evaluate MA candidates from my Alma Mater who do their teaching practice in Adult Education ESOL, so that requires me keeping up on theories, methods, best practices etc., in order to coach others.

What keeps you in adult education? What are you most passionate/excited about as a teacher and as a trainer?

What is exciting for me is how far technology has evolved in the last 10 years to support language learning and teaching. Things change so fast that it is impossible for one person to keep up with all the new programs and apps, but the learning community that has been created in this environment, with educators sharing what they know with each other, has been great to be a part of. Also, students’ access to technology and their willingness to use it as a tool for learning, whether by choice or necessity, have been the biggest changes in our field by far. It’s been a real game-changer for the field, as it supplements what we do in class, leads to effective blended-learning models for students, and increases the amount of time these learners come into contact with the new language.

EdTech Panel at NCTN2016
Editor’s Note: Due to Chris’s experience using technology in teaching and his contributions to the EdTech Center’s work (a webinar and numerous blog posts in Tech Tips for Teachers), he was recently selected to be on the EdTech panel at the 2016 NCTN Conference.

What do you see yourself doing in the future?

I hope to keep doing what I’m doing, which of course is a challenge in Adult Education, given our constant search for continued and sustainable funding. Hopefully, we in the field can keep the powers-that -be in the know about how effective Adult Education has been, and how it’s changed the lives of so many in such a powerful way for them and for society as a whole.

In Appreciation: Recognizing Karisa Tashjian for National Teacher Appreciation Day

Karisa Photo

May 3 is Teacher Appreciation Day. Over the past few years we have highlighted outstanding teachers with whom World Education has worked. This year we would like to acknowledge a person who is not presently a teacher but who has been hiring, training and supporting teachers as Providence Library’s Education Director and as Director of the Rhode Island Family Literacy Initiative (RIFLI).

We also want to recognize her contributions to the field at large with deep appreciation for her leadership in World Education’s work in Rhode Island, New England and nationally with her involvement in the New England Literacy Resource Center and Networks for Integrating New Americans.

We are not the only ones who have noticed her good work.  Recently, Karisa received an award for excellence from the Coalition of Adult Basic Education (COABE) for her exemplary work as an administrator. Read more

Kick Off of the EdTech Center

This month the EdTech Center launched at the NCTN Conference, backed by a panel of national experts speaking on Promising Models in the Use of Technology.  This was followed by a successful and well-attended webinar (497 registrants!) given by Dr. David Rosen on Blended Learning in the Adult Education Classroom. This was an outstanding start for something that had its genesis almost two decades ago.  

Eighteen years ago when I came to World Education to work on a U.S. Department of Education project called the Literacy Information and Communication System (LINCS), we trained teachers to integrate brand new technology as part of their instruction. That “new” technology was the Internet!  Although now that might seem basic, at the same time we were introducing teachers to truly innovative approaches for using technology by helping them create websites as a classroom project-based activity. Since then, we have continued to give professional development with “two feet on the ground”: one foot planted where teachers and learners have access and are comfortable with technology, and the other stepping forward to push the envelope with the investigation of cutting-edge technology and teaching methodologies.

During my time at World Education we have provided thousands of teachers with professional development to help them appropriately integrate technology into instruction, and we have been involved in many ground-breaking educational technology projects.  The EdTech Center brings together existing educational technology projects at World Education and amplifies their services through our partners. The EdTech Center supports educators and local partners in the integration of digital technologies into instruction and promotes digital literacy and access through mobile and online learning opportunities.

The goal of the EdTech Center will be to continue to meet the evolving education and training needs of under-educated adults and youth. As we look to the future, our aim is to do this through high-quality, innovative approaches for increasing local staff skills and program capacity.

Teacher Appreciation: Recognizing Wendy Quiñones

World Education will periodically honor outstanding adult educators. Wendy is an adult education teacher and professional developer. We asked Wendy a series of questions about her work.

How did you get started in adult education?
Like so many of us in adult ed, I didn’t start out here. I had been a journalist for many years when I began volunteering at a family homeless shelter near my home. Research with their former guests had shown that their strongest desire was to get off welfare; the shelter director asked if I could develop an educational program to help them do that. “Steppingstones,” as the participants named it, led to a series of other courses, all aimed at helping them move on and improve their lives. From there I moved into teaching GED for the next 15 or so years.

Where and what do you teach and do in adult education now?
I’ve been out of the classroom for a couple of years now, although I still teach students online in the Massachusetts distance learning program. More and more, though, I am working with teachers as a professional developer, particularly in the areas of differentiated instruction — helping teachers work with the multi-level classrooms we all face — and persistence, the bugaboo of adult ed. That is the most rewarding work I do.

What are you most proud of as a teacher and trainer?
Of course I am thrilled when my students earn their high school equivalency credential (now the HiSET in Massachusetts rather than the GED). But I also love it when the light bulbs go off for teachers – when they can finally develop a way of working with all the different personalities, skill levels and obstacles that confront them in a roomful of students.

Tell us about your progression from teacher to teacher and professional developer? What did you do to further develop your skills?
My early work at the shelter was a formative experience, introducing me to the philosophy and practice of Paulo Freire and a popular education curriculum called “Training for Transformation.” I tell my students that my goal has always been to change the world; as a teacher (which, by the way, as a child I said I would NEVER be) I do it one student at a time. At first I did a lot of reading (especially Freire, but also Jack Mezirow, Stephen Brookfield, Robert Kegan, Geoffrey and Renata Caine) and took an extensive training with the late Jane Vella (Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach, 2002). Participating in the Adult Multiple Intelligences Study in the 1990s (which produced Multiple Intelligences and Adult Literacy: A Sourcebook for Practitioners, 2004) was another transformation of my practice. Putting into practice Howard Gardner’s theory allowed me to acknowledge and take advantage of the many skills adult students bring with them into the classroom. Teacher-researchers in that study presented our work to a variety of audiences, and that was probably the beginning of my work as a professional developer. Somewhere along the way, I took a course on differentiated instruction, and participated in another study of teaching intermediate reading skills that offered a lot of training. Being a ham (aren’t all teachers?), I was happy to take what I was learning to other teachers.

What keeps you in adult education? What are you most passionate/excited about as a teacher and as a trainer?
Our society doesn’t make many allowances for those without the privilege of education. I see education, especially adult education, as a political act, helping those who have so often been marginalized gain the knowledge and power they deserve. One of the things my students taught me early on is that respect – something they have seen all too seldom in their lives – is the key to teaching and, more to the point, learning. This is the touchstone for both my teaching and training, my personal and passionate rebellion against inequality.

What do you see yourself doing in the future?
I imagine I will keep teaching and training as long as I can. I talk about writing a book on differentiated instruction for the adult classroom, since virtually all the resources are for K-12, but talking is about as far as I’ve gotten with that idea. Otherwise, I plan to see more operas and do more gardening.

Are you Digitally Literate?


Adult literacy has been at the heart of World Education’s work since it was established in 1951 in India and founded the Literacy House upon the urging of Mohandas Gandhi. Sixty-four years later, while gains have been made in many parts of the world, the need for literacy education remains great:  there are nearly 800 million adults and out-of-school youth in the world with limited or no literacy and numeracy.  In the U.S., adults’ basic skills are falling behind those of other developed nations.  For the first time, the skills of young adults are lower than those of their parents’ generation.  At the same time, people need even more different types of literacies to move ahead in their lives than in 1951. World Education’s approach to literacy education and how we define it has evolved and expanded commensurate with the skills adults need to navigate systems, pursue opportunities, and address problems successfully in their personal lives, work, and communities.

To commemorate the Adult Education and Family Literacy Week, in this series of blog posts World Education/ U.S. staff share their views on what literacy means to us today and how we are helping to advance adult education in multiple ways.  Our list is not comprehensive: there are not enough days in a week to feature all the types of literacy youth and adults need in today’s world!  Please join the dialogue.

Digital Literacy

If you have working knowledge of computers and how they work, can use all the programs within Microsoft Office and navigate the Web like a banshee, you still might not be considered digitally literate. Say what?

Digital literacy is not only about possessing computer skills.  According to the Museum and Library Services Act of 2010, digital literacy comprises the skills associated with using technology to enable users to find, evaluate, organize, create, and communicate information. So as you can see, digital literacy or readiness goes beyond the mere physical realm of accessing and manipulating information.

Why is that important? According to the results from PIAAC, the international survey of adult skills, our citizenry score is far below much of the world in the related skill of problem solving using technology. It seems we may be good at using the technology for Facebook, YouTube and other forms of social media and entertainment, but we are rather abysmal when it comes to using digital technology, communication tools, and networks “to acquire and evaluate information, communicate with others, and perform practical tasks.“(OECD, 2012)

What are we at World Education doing about it? Our newly created EdTech Center has as one of its core missions to promote and improve the digital literacy of adult learners in the United States.  Some ways we have approached this has been to encourage adult educators to integrate technology into teaching and learning through our Tech Tips for Teachers blog and offer professional development opportunities such as TIP and our course, Integrating Technology Using Project-Based Learning. In addition, we have been working closely with the Office of Career, Technical and Adult Education on the digital literacy initiative.


Mobile Apps Make Learning Accessible for Adult Students

Steve Quann is a former adult education instructor who now does professional development on technology integration and designs e-learning projects for World Education. Digital Promise talked to Steve about Words2Learn, a vocabulary app for adult learners, and why innovation in adult education is important.

Q. Explain the Words2Learn approach in a nutshell.

The approach is important, possibly more so than the app itself. The delivery of the content is via mobile apps – and the Web – and it utilizes a learning management system.

Students can download the word lists and exercises onto their phone or tablet and work on them without needing to be connected to the Internet. Once they’re connected, the quiz results are automatically sent back to the learning management system so teachers can view student progress. Teachers found this helped increase homework completion, giving students a leg up in their class work.

Q. How does this type of technology help improve access for adult learners?

It improves access in two major ways. One is that it puts learning in the pocket of the learners. The second way is that it helps teachers teach.

I talked with one of the users and really pressed him on why he liked the app. I asked, “Why do you like to use this app? Why not a piece of paper?” and he said, “I don’t carry around a list of words to a store, waiting in line, or waiting on the bus. With my phone, the words are always there for me to study.”

A lot of teachers said it was an aha moment when students realized they could use their phone as a learning device. Some of them were Certified Nursing Assistants and said, “Hey, I could use this during a break. I could go outside and learn these words.”

This app also helps teachers teach. They can get information on how students are doing on the quizzes via the learning management system, see what words students had difficulty with, and adjust their teaching accordingly.

Q. What should developers consider when designing an app or other tech resource for adult learners?

Focus on how to motivate adult learners. There are many things to consider when doing this, but two really important ones. The first is the experience base. Adults have a great wealth of experience that can be tapped when developing any activity. What we did was try to make the examples related to their life, so the questions would be geared toward going to college, because some of them were in college, or toward their work life.

The second is to create a sense of confidence, so that they find the information kind of like Goldilocks – not too hard, not too easy, and not too much. What tends to happen with vocabulary, for example, but certainly other online content, is students are given too much information and they don’t leave feeling like they’ve mastered the words.

User testing is also important. Many of us don’t know what it is to be an adult learner. We haven’t had to try to learn to read as an adult. Input from actual learners is crucial to developing a product that will be used and useful.

Q. What is the biggest misconception about adult learners?

People wonder if adult learners are capable, but I’ve taught everyone from doctors all the way to students who struggled with reading in school because of a learning disability, but yet can run circles around me in math.

Another misconception is they don’t want to learn. For example, some people think English language learners don’t really want to learn English, but there are huge waiting lists for these programs. They are thirsty to learn how to navigate going to the hospital or using an ATM machine, any of these day-to-day things.

I can see real advantages in using technology in a blended approach to then be able to add more classes and reduce waiting lists.

This article originally appeared on the Digital Promise website. Photo credit: Flickr/Jens Scott Knudsen

We’re Goin’ Mobile

Mobile technology plays a key role in the everyday lives of the people we serve. Ask your students how many own laptops or computers. Then ask how many own cell phones. You will likely find more have cell phones. And what about smartphones? Early on we realized the educational potential for smartphones. When we first examined the prospect of integrating mobile technology into instruction, smart phone technology was in its infancy and few students or teachers had them. This has been rapidly changing. We recently completed a survey of some classrooms in Boston. We found that 38% of adult learners surveyed own smartphones. Now add to these ipads and tablets, and it is easy to see that mobile technology is clearly part of our learners’ lives. Why not leverage the tool they use on a regular basis for the purpose of increasing literacy!

Why mobile learning?

If you are not yet convinced of the educational value of mobile technology, consider the following:

Mobile learning applications

  • Increase time on task outside of the classroom, which adds to the limited hours of instruction that typical adult education programs can offer.Eenable busy adult learners, who typically juggle work, family, and school responsibilities, to use spare moments of down time at home, work, or on the go to study.
  • Provide instant feedback to learners and prod them to try again.
  • Deliver content in small increments that are manageable for busy adults, and that can create a sense of accomplishment, which can boost persistence.
  • Allow students to take greater responsibility for the learning process.
  • Enable teachers to gather and analyze student performance data in a timely and efficient way that allows them to adjust and customize teaching based on what individual students need, e.g. more practice or more challenge.

What are we doing?

One of our current projects is to develop and pilot two apps (for use on standard feature phones and smartphones) that accelerate learning of academic and health career-related vocabulary and concepts for adults preparing to enter postsecondary education and technical training.

With funding from Nellie Mae Education Foundation, World Education’s National College Transition Network is recruiting six adult educators in New England to pilot a new mobile phone project, called Words2Learn.

Whether students work in groups or individually, in or out of the class, the core strategies of the apps will include:

  • Introducing learners to the words (listening to the pronunciation, reading the definition, and seeing the word used in a sentence)
  • Engaging learners in higher level thinking activities (students will have the ability to type their reflection/opinion of how they would respond to a given scenario)
  • Checking students’ knowledge (student feedback on objective exercises)

We are planning on adopting a flipped classroom approach. During class time, we expect teachers to work to deepen students’ understanding by giving them any needed support. Using this approach, teachers will also have more time to provide opportunities to extend and apply what students have previously learned from the app. Students are given five words at each session through the apps developed for this project. The apps will be designed to provide students multiple exposures to each word or concept in different formats to optimize learning. Reports of student activity and progress can be accessed by the teachers from a web-based platform. We’ll also investigate if with training teachers can learn to create their own learning activities in the apps.

The pilot ends in December 2013, so we’ll be sure to let you know our findings after that.

World Education has been studying the viability of mobile technology in education for years. Here are some other examples of the work we have been doing:

  • With funding from USAID, World Education, in collaboration with its Cambodian partners is implementing the Total Reading Approach for Children (TRAC) program to support a new reading curriculum. As part of the grant, an android app is being developed to help support learning with smartphones and tablets. The devices will be available for children through libraries.
  • Since 2011, CocoaLink, with support from World Education provides text messages to cocoa farmers with information crucial to improving yield.