As an educational publisher, I receive many emails asking for assistance with products and/or instruction in a variety of settings. Although most of my business is in the K-12 market, I do get plenty of response from community college and trade school professors. Having taught three years (part time) in that setting, I do understand the challenges and rewards of working with adult learners. Those of us in the K-12 community who complain about how tough it is working with our diverse learners should walk two moons in the moccasins of our colleagues at the community colleges and trade schools before we cry “Woe is me.”
Here’s the email (used with the author’s permission).
Wondering what products you might suggest to me as an adult instructor of students 18 -70+ years old enrolled in a jobs training program. My adult learners in general do well being highly motivated with strong self-initiative. However, they have problems taking tests written for the specific class subject matter. My feeling is that some of the lower achievers bring along a suitcase (even a trunk load) of bad study habits; unresolved conceptual learning issues; and other bad life experiences preventing their higher achievement. Simple things like reading comprehension of test questions; basic math concepts and practical usage, etc.
The program consists of technical classes such as 40-hour Hazwoper; Confined Space Entry; Stormwater Managment; Chemical Safety Awareness; Underground Storage Tanks; Mold Inspection & Remediation; Alternate Remediation Technologies. These classes follow federal and state guidelines thus requiring success at 80% levels.
I work to help each student, but it is difficult to first analyze what is wrong (carrying the ones instead of tens in whole number addition) and then figuring out why they are doing what they are. In the end we work to try to find solutions which they use to see better results on exams, exercises, etc.
Thank you for your help,
Chris Goodman Lead Instructor
Making Sense of Community College and Trade School Instruction
Your email is quite similar to many I’ve received, asking for targeted resources for adult learners. You have a tough, but rewarding job. I’ve been there and done that! I taught part time in a community college setting for three years with a student population quite similar to yours. Entering and re-entering the work force at any age can be difficult. I’ve decided to respond at length to your thoughtful email to both commiserate and offer some solutions to your challenging instructional needs based upon my own experience.
At the community college I taught lecture classes and also served in the Learning Resource Center. In this large complex, professors staffed the Reading Center, Writing Center, and Math Center from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. daily.
The instructional design of each of the Learning Resource Centers had some significant strengths:
- Diagnostic reading, writing, and math exams were administered and scored in the Counseling Center. “Cut-off” scores were established and students who scored below were assigned to the relevant center for tutorial instruction while concurrently taking required classes in their selected instructional programs. Completion of the tutorial instruction served as prerequisites to certain core classes.
- Learning was self-paced with the Learning Resource Center open twelve hours a day for student drop-in. So important for working adults.
- Students completed individualized learning plans and set their own learning goals.
- Content professors “bought into” the instructional design and referred students for tutorial assistance.
- We professors wrote, purchased, or “borrowed” curriculum catered to both student interest and need.
- Credit was variable and flexible: Students worked on short-term specific learning modules in reading, writing, and math with check-in and review by the professors. Most modules were designed to be completed within 7.5 hours for the average student, and students earned .5 units. Some comprehensive modules were designed to be completed within 45 hours with students earning 3.0 units. Other modules ranged in between these extremes. Many of the learning modules permitted students to work together to complete the learning tasks. This “learning community” was nurtured by caring professors.
- Much of the generic study skills curriculum was excellent and appropriate for most all students in each of the three centers.
The instructional design of each of the Learning Resource Centers had some significant weaknesses:
As you mentioned in your email, “… it is difficult to first analyze what is wrong.”
Despite the appropriate entry-level reading, writing, and math assessments, no further specific diagnostic assessments were given within the respective centers. Thus, professors knew that the student “had a problem” in reading, writing, or math; however, trial and error via student feedback and completed work was the only means of more refined assessment of student need. Highly inefficient. Plus many students failed in their first learning modules until their completed work was analyzed by a professor; others students completed work on content and skills already mastered.
With no specific diagnostic assessments, the curriculum did not match the diagnosed learning deficits of the individual student. Furthermore, few formative assessments were built into the instructional design of the individual modules. Although student did complete the modules, professors had no vehicle to assess whether the content or skills had been mastered as a whole and no item analysis to be able to refine and assign remedial learning tasks to help students achieve mastery.
In subsequent years I’ve written English-language arts curriculum to address these weaknesses. Some of the following resources I will recommend are direct instruction; however, most of the resources are individualized instruction. My credo has been “Help students catch up, while they keep up with age or grade-level instruction.” Resources include the specific diagnostic resources (simple, short, and comprehensive and administered “whole class,” … not individually) with self-paced curriculum designed to address each diagnostic need. Each targeted worksheet includes definitions, examples, practice, application, and a quick formative assessment. Supplementary resources provide additional practice with un-mastered content and skills. Recording matrices help teachers and students track individual progress. Each curriculum is offered in both print and digital formats*
For reading: Teaching Reading Strategies provides whole-class diagnostic reading assessments (multiple choice), enabling reading intervention teachers to differentiate remedial instruction for students ages eight-Adult. Blending and syllabication activities, phonemic awareness and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, and multi-level expository fluency passages highlight this user-friendly three-ring binder book. Fluencies are each leveled at third grade, fifth grade, and seventh grade reading to challenge readers of varying abilities. 390 flashcards, posters, games, and more! Everything you need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Perfect for EL and Special Education students, who struggle with language/audio processing challenges. An ideal choice for Tier I and II Response to Intervention. Simple directions and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program, with or without paraprofessional assistance. The matched activities and worksheets to the thirteen diagnostic assessments will ensure that each of your diverse learners will receive the targeted instruction and practice they need. This flexible curriculum and its resources is not a canned program. Teachers use what their students need.
For writing: Teaching Essay Strategies is a comprehensive essay curriculum designed to teach the essay strand of the Common Core State Standards. This step-by-step program provides all of the resources teachers to differentiate essay instruction with 8 writing process essays, 42 essay strategy lessons, over 150 interactive writing openers, and over 50 remedial and advanced mini-lessons with accompanying worksheets. Chris, the downloadable essay e-comments bank of 438 writing response comments will cut your essay response and grading time in half.
For grammar, usage, and mechanics: Teaching Grammar and Mechanics or the comprehensive Teaching the Language Strand Grades 4-8 These curricula are specifically aligned to the Common Core State Standards Language Strand (L.1, L.2). The user-friendly programs provide the full spectrum of basic to advanced skills to teach 4th-12th grade grammar, mechanics, and spelling standards in both reading and writing contexts. Get 64 interactive lessons, each with rules, examples, literary sentence modeling, error analysis, sentence manipulation, simple sentence diagramming, dictation practice, and engaging grammar cartoons. These scripted lessons are formatted for LCD/overhead projection and require no teacher prep or correction. Also get whole-class diagnostic assessments to differentiate instruction with 72 remedial worksheets. Chris, your students would certainly benefit from the targeted worksheets matched to their specific needs as indicated by the diagnostic assessments. A great resource for your English-language learners as well.
For study skills: Essential Study Skills is the study skill curriculum that teaches what students need to know to succeed and thrive in school. Often, the reason why students fail to achieve their academic potential is not because of laziness or lack of effort, but because they have never learned the basic study skills necessary for success. The forty lessons in Essential Study Skills will teach your students to “work smarter, not harder.” Students who master these skills will spend less time, and accomplish more during homework and study time. Their test study will be more productive and they will get better grades. Reading comprehension and vocabulary will improve. Their writing will make more sense and essays will be easier to plan and complete. They will memorize better and forget less. Their schoolwork will seem easier and will be much more enjoyable. Lastly, students will feel better about themselves as learners and will be more motivated to succeed. Essential Study Skills is the ideal curriculum for study skill, life skill, Advocacy/Advisory, Opportunity Program classes. The easy-to-follow lesson format of 1. Personal Assessment 2. Study Skill Tips and 3. Reflection is ideal for self-guided learning and practice. Teachers may post the program on class websites. The affordable site licenses are ideal for an instructional setting such as you describe.
Best of luck working on your instructional delivery model and I hope these products will benefit your students. Wish I had them when I was teaching in that setting.
Grammar/Mechanics, Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary, Study Skills, Writing