Conferences can be exciting and fun. While research clearly shows that extended professional development is more effective than single workshops (see Effective Teacher Professional Development and Standards for Professional Learning), conferences offer the opportunity to wander into a workshop you never knew you wanted, check out the exhibits and resources, see friends and acquaintances you might otherwise not see, meet new people, and talk shop with people from across the state or country.
But what sticks?
It takes extra effort to bring home and build on the learning from conferences and one-stop workshops. Do those great handouts and freebies sit in a bag? Are those good intentions to look up the web links ever realized? What survives the return to regular life?
Sometimes, something from a single workshop can become the seed of new learning and practice...if we take the time and attention to water it.
At the 2009 MCAE (MA Coalition for Adult Education) NETWORK conference, I was captivated by Akira Kamiya's "The Art of Presentation - Beyond Bullet Lists." Akira was the Regional Technology Coordinator for the Boston center in the old SABES system. Akira wrote:
At the 2014 ACLS conference on Implementing the College and Career Readiness Standards in the ABE and ESOL Classroom, a particular slide on a presentation by Amy Trawick struck home: it seemed to exactly describe the differing ways that my colleagues and I approached lesson and unit planning. It was a relief to realize that we were all correct, but alone we were incomplete. Together, the approaches combined to create strong curricula and learning experiences for our students. I spoke with Amy at the break, studied her materials, and later counted myself extremely lucky to get to work with her when I joined the SABES PD Center for ELA.
That same conference saw me sneaking in to Donna Curry's math session after lunch; after all, I reasoned, I taught ELA and Math and needed both sessions. It was fun! We played and learned at the same time. Donna let us struggle; she did not just model a math skill and have us copy her. We had to figure things out, but with lots of support. I was entranced, and immediately wanted to sign up for more of her PD.
The 2017 COABE (Coalition on Adult Basic Education) conference got me thinking about thinking and gave me some great seeds of learning, from a session with Eric Appleton and Mark Trushkowsky of the CUNY (City University of New York) Adult Literacy Program. Their session on Teaching Science Through Inquiry incorporated inquiry into reading and writing activities about evolution. It was eye-opening and a great affirmation of teaching through inquiry still being possible even with limited "hands-on" materials and limited-time students who are preparing for standardized tests. (See their session materials.) Later communication with the presenters also affirmed that inquiry teaching is not just for math or science; Mark wrote, "I really honed a lot of my inquiry instincts in a social studies context. I used a lot of photography and a lot of role-play/writing from different perspectives." In particular, two idea kernels I've been working with since are "push cards" and "Notice and Wonder".
This year (2018) at MCAE I attended sessions on the state's policy on College and Career Readiness, creating class websites, and dyslexia. I was gifted with free resources from Townsend Press, lunched with colleagues from across the state, and waited out the April snow fall.
And now, how to make the learning continue?
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Lakshmi Nayak is the coordinator of the SABES PD Center for English Language Arts. She taught adult education classes for six years in Boston, where she focused on bringing science and social studies to life for her students, as well as teaching writing, reading, math, "Health and Wellness," and "Science of Learning." She still teaches an evening ASE Science class in Cambridge. She has also taught, coached, and tutored people of various ages, on various topics (from singing to working in India to writing essays), and in various settings (including a boat).
Activities for Beginning to Develop Critical Consumers of Information
To following are brief descriptions of activities we designed to help reach our objectives:
Discuss personal experiences, or experiences of people they know, of being lied to or scammed, and how the person(s) doing it managed to pull one over one us. What strategies did they use to convince us? Extrapolate from this to introduce common persuasive techniques before moving to real life examples in advertisements and short passages of editorials.
For each article type—agenda, factual, and editorial—have students finish by creating their own short articles whereby they demonstrate knowledge of the features of each. Swap with other groups and see if students can correctly identify the bias.
In piloting some of these lessons and activities, we have found our students to be generally successful in identifying the various types of information, purposes, and biases when given explicit instruction. As always, it is easier to apply these skills in the controlled environment of the classroom with the instructor’s prompts then it is to transfer them to their real lives. For that reason, I’d emphasize bringing in authentic information sources that match closely to the way they actually consume news, including cable TV, social media sites, and radio stories.
Finally, have fun teaching information literacy! Articles from the satirical journal The Onion, outlandish claims in sources like the National Enquirer, and media clips of politicians unsuccessfully spinning a story are entertaining and fun starting points before moving onto the more insidious and subtle forms of misinformation. As serious as this work is, it need not be dull. Done right, it can be engaging and relevant, and can bring in contemporary issues that students care about.
Prooijen, J. W. (2017). Why Education Predicts Decreased Belief in Conspiracy Theories. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 31(1), 50-58.
Where to Start in Developing Critical Consumers of Information (Part 1)
by Kristi Kaeppel
Last year, in the media frenzy of the election year, my colleagues and I sat down to consider how we could develop our adult students to be better consumers of information, thus avoiding falling prey to sensationalist, misleading, or downright false news. We knew we had an opportunity—perhaps even a responsibility—to hone the critical thinking skills of our students in a way that could have a direct impact on their political reasoning and voting behaviors. Yet, it was difficult to know where to begin. Many fake news curricula that we reviewed emphasized a combination of analytical and technical skills such as reverse image searching to see the source of a photograph and using a variety of fact-checking sources and methods. As important as these skills are, for our learners in Adult Basic Education, we wanted to start with broader habits of mind. Talking among ourselves, we recognized that if we could get our students to do a seemingly simple thing—slow down, pause, and consider that information may be skewed, biased, or intentionally fabricated—that we would be successful in a giving them a crucial first step in information literacy.
While susceptibility to misleading or fake news is found across educational levels, there is research to suggest our adult basic education students may be particularly vulnerable. Prooijen (2016) found that lower educational levels are correlated with an increased belief in conspiracy theories, in part because low educational levels are associated with feelings of powerlessness and lack of control, which increase susceptibility to false information. Additionally, the tendency to assign simple explanations to complex issues (the kind found in conspiracy theories and in fake news articles) decreases as one’s educational attainment rises (Proojien, 2016). All of this suggests that as ABE instructors, we are uniquely positioned to help counter our students’ susceptibility to believe inaccurate information.
Recognizing that we needed to start with broad, meta-cognitive skills to achieve our mission, we decided on the following as objectives for our students in developing their information literacy:
Part 2, to be posted in April, will describe activities and related resources.
Read our first post.
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