"The whole movement of life is learning" (Krishnamurti). "To be an act of knowing, then, the adult literacy process must engage the learners in the constant problematizing of their existential situations" (Freire). "Once you learn to read, you will be forever free" (Douglass). "I can learn anything I have the desire to learn" (White, S.G.).

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Change Agent - New and Improved

FYI if this is your thing, the Change Agent is an awesome publication for adult ed teachers and students. Find their new website here: The Change Agent

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Identity and Learning Across the Pond

Hi Literacy Friends:  I lied. I'm not going anywhere.  I can't seem to let go of our blog-o-sphere just yet!

So, if you can see past my maternal pride, I wanted to share some language-learning and identity stuff about my son,  as well as get some feedback and ideas from you.  Hey, if we can't use our offspring as study subjects, what's the point in being a parent?

As you may recall, my 'Andrew' (age 17)  is spending the summer in a foreign country.  As part of his language learning experience, he is attending high school with his host student.  Andrew is one of two Americans in a high school of about 1000 students.

Much to my delight, Andrew and I are communicating by texting through an app, something he discovered and set up.  Our conversations have turned into a literacy, diversity, and identity lesson for both of us.

As a 17-year-old in his home culture, I see Andrew's identity as malleable and susceptible to influences good and bad; as a 17-year-old immersed in a new culture and language, I see his identity in a state of ambivalence.  Here's my data:

facebook updates include new hometown (he spent the first 6 years of his life in this host country)
using the second language (L2) on facebook
rush of new facebook friends from the host country

buying new clothes to "not look like an American tourist"
eating new food "because that's what they eat here"

Based on these observations, I think Andrew is investing himself in the L2 identity.  He's embodying the culture through clothing and food, and using the L2 to connect with people.  In doing these things, I believe  he's opened himself up to experiencing some culture clashes.  Here's what he wrote in his texts to me:

"They (people in host country) correct me when I _____________."

"But, they don't care when I ________________."

 "We can _____________ in school."

"But, we can't _____________ in school."

"I was asked if I hated Belgium now(World Cup stuff)."

"I was asked about the trade agreement between _________ and the U.S. and I was clue-less."

In my humble and truly biased opinion, I believe he is more aware of these cultural 'tests' and acts of 'discipline'  because he truly wants to belong.  Does that mean if he didn't care as much about belonging he wouldn't care as much about the ways he is being molded to fit in?  He is discovering that there is more to being in a culture than dressing and eating the part.  He also wrote the following:

"I help the English teacher."

"I answered questions in geography class (in L2)."

I hope these are signs that he is persevering.  Of course, if he is invested in belonging, and the host student/school/culture is determined to make him fit in, are these two complementary goals making learning happen more easily and quickly?    In other words, what would be the case if he hated it and didn't want to fit in?

How much do we set aside our first culture/language identity in order to fit-in?   How does age fit into this process?  How much more difficult would it be to belong in a new culture and language if one is not in such a privileged position and the new cultural 'discipline' stings a lot more?  Do you think it makes a difference to the host culture when the outsider is an 'American,' with a 'backpack of privileges?'

Thanks for taking the time to read this.  I would love to hear your thoughts on L2 learning, identity, and culture.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Being barbie in a post-barbie world: a voice from the borderland

Thank you, dear literacy friends, for your willingness to participate in my cloud-barbie-rock weirdness last week in class. Just for fun,  I’m resurrecting the barbie metaphor for this post.   

So, on with the weirdness…

I’m deep into the readings for my seminar project and have also begun a linguistics class “second language acquisition” (SLA).  I’m finding a curious parallel between the field of SLA and my home field of adult ESOL/ literacy (ESOL).  So, how does this relate to my seminar project?  Well, I’ve morphed my project—a literature review—into a lit review of trends in SLA and ESOL research.  For the purposes of my paper, I’m defining SLA as a branch of linguistics that studies the acquisition of a second or subsequent language, not necessarily English.  ESOL is the education side of teaching English as a second language and putting English into practice.  Anyway, it’s not about definitions, it’s about the curious parallel. Being in the borderland between LING and ESOL is weird and affords me an outsider’s view of both scholarly fields. 

For me, the TEDU seminar was set-up and framed by the epistemology stuff.   I (we) looked at much of the research in terms of what kind of knowledge it produced and how different kinds of knowledge are valued and applied to our field of adult literacy.  Bill shared his paper with us, and it presented an argument about an imbalance in the adult literacy research field.  This imbalance is perpetuated in the ways research is being funding, in the ways policies are being made, and in the directions our field is going.  The imbalance results in more of one kind of knowledge being produced and valued, and this one kind of knowledge is not able to address all of the issues and questions in our field.   

We learned that episteme, and an episteme approach to research, is valuable in answering some kinds of questions, while phronesis, and a phronesis approach to research,  is valuable for answering others.  We discussed the imbalance in the ways episteme is valued over phronesis. We asked how we could be a scholarly field if were close-minded to this imbalance, right?    

In SLA, the self-described ‘divide,’ or imbalance, is an ontological one (let’s say I’m citing several names here) between theoretical and methodological approaches to research and the ways one kind of  theoretical framework and line of reasoning is valued and positioned as ‘scientific’ over another.  What I am discovering is that the ‘cognitivists’ who define SLA (and the field of linguistics as a whole) as a purely cognitive science, one which values inductive reasoning and experimental, controlled research as the foundation for and uniting umbrella of the field.  This positivist mindset asserts that truths exist about language and language acquisition, and that socio-historic context is not relevant to language acquisition.  

On the other hand, there are the socioculturalists, the ‘relativists,’ those whose methodologies are grounded in a different approach, and one that is perceived as bringing chaos to the field (and let’s say I’m citing several more scholars here). 

The curious parallel that I see between LING and ESOL is in the way certain kinds of knowledge and research, those that would produce episteme and result from an ontology of positivism, are valued over those that would produce other kinds of knowledge and come from an ontology of relativism.  I know my use of –isms and –ologies is crude at this it at this point; please bear with me.  I’m also making broad, sweeping generalizations just to wrap up my blog post; but, there is a perceived imbalance in both fields, and these imbalances are confronting me as I do my review of literature on trends in both fields and consider my future course of research.

Finally, I called this a curious parallel because I think it raises other questions: Why do we, as a society, seem to value and position certain kinds of knowledge and ‘scientific truths’ over others in the LING and ESOL fields (I’m sure many other social science fields as well)?  Is this just us Anglos / North Americans / whatever being ethno-centric?   Is it the result of economic, technologic, socio-historic forces at work? How do I avoid being pulled into a side once I insert myself into the fray?  These are the questions I'm left with after all of this learning.

This is my sayonara, adult literacy M.Ed. friends.  I’m one lit review away from a diploma!  I will treasure everything I have learned from you in this program—barbie.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Digital Literacy Practice and Engagement:

For my last blog post for TEDU 681 I've decided to write about Digital Literacy. During our F2F meetings in class, we touched on the topic somewhat. But then were given an opportunity to explore it further as individuals through the articles and discussion guide questions provided by our classmates.  I was happy to have Digital Literacy as my topic since I've been able to be an observer and user of this new practice in three separate arenas: professional, academic, and for my personal use.

Although our articles were different, I wasn't that surprised to discover the articles we selected had more than a few similarities and central connecting themes.  My (two) articles, Embracing the Squishiness of Digital Literacy and Digital literacy practices and their layered multiplicity explored how digital platforms, social media being one, can be used to facilitate learning regardless of their original intent – a form of entertainment through social engagement.  With digital platforms, the user determines (to an extent) how they will exercise their knowledge and versatility with that platform.  My classmate’s article, A Closer Look at Adult Digital Literacy Acquisition, also explored how the advent of digital technology has provided the user with an ease of use outside of a closed in arena.  In subtle ways, our articles challenged the concept of how and where we learn. Yet, the articles do not negate or promote digital literacy over adult literacy in print form.  They simply share observations on the shift in how we the users of this technology are redefining our learning spaces.   

For myself, I’d always thought that learning - “real” learning - took place within a box - the classroom. Of course, that is not the case. Yet, I found my biases challenged as an adult learner when I stepped into the world of eLearning a few years ago. New to my graduate studies, I was I was fortunate to catch the rotation of ADLT 640 Theory and Practice of eLearning Integration into Adult Learning Environments. In that hybrid online learning environment, I was able to experience first-hand how empowering, digital technology can be for the learner and the instructor.  I was introduced into a world of many digital or multi-platforms, teaching theories, and practices.  I found myself, in a unique place in that course.  I, along with my classmates, were facilitators/instructors in the class and for each other as adult learners using digital technology, digital literacy, and digital practice to create a dual hybrid learning environment to house our engagement practices.   After that course, I discovered my perspectives had changed.  I found that learning experience in that classroom – both digital and traditional – transformative.  I had gone from a firm skeptic at the beginning of that course to an advocate of digital technology, its platforms, concepts, and practice, both in and out of the classroom of the adult learner.  
Now, I find myself continuingly examining digital literacy and digital practice; the exploration of the two terms and how they fit and shape our digital experience.  Technology like any other tool can be invaluable to the user.  In the world of education, there are uncountable ways that technology can benefit its users.   In the world of adult literacy, digital literacy can be yet another methodology for the user/ the learner to move forward in their learning journey. 

I will end this post with a video clip, titled, Palette (Promoting Art for Life Enrichment Through Transgenerational Engagement) *(This program was made possible through a multi-sponsored partnership with the Geriatric Training and Education initiative of the Virginia General Assembly). I discovered or stumbled upon this clip after I’d submitted my responses to my classmate’s article on digital literacy.  Perhaps, I was unduly influenced by the article, but this clip seemed connected to digital literacy and practice. From, my classmate’s discussion guide question, we are asked if we agree that the adult learners’ reflections found under the heading, “What Do Adult Learners Say About Acquiring Digital Literacy?” promote or support, “increased personal empowerment, civic participation, and lifelong learning.”  (April 2014)

For me, this blog forum and how we've used it to expand our minds and thoughts with each other is active digital literacy and digital practice. 

Thanks for sharing the ride with me this summer.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Parking Lot or Busy Intersection?

I enjoyed the reading from Reder this week. The piece that stood out the most to me dealt with the "Parking Lot Model", from Lender. Lender suggested that the existing program/model only looks at how long students are "parked in the program"... Lender wants to move towards a model that is more similar to a "busy intersection" and looks more at which direction people take when they leave instead of how long they spend parked. 

The "busy intersection" model is something I'd push to move towards as well. I've borrowed a few words here from the internet, but felt it was important to add in the opinions of others. Looking at a busy intersection, you see a very diverse pool of students. Some move faster than others, some need help to get through. For some, this help is in the form of technology, for others, it's from a teacher or peer. From the intersection, there are many exits. Most exits lead to new opportunities, careers, etc. However, one exit is simply the end. I'd like to think of us practitioners as crossing guards or traffic directors. We have the power to help these students in the intersection choose which exit to take. As Reder stated, "When we look further into the actual learning facility behind this metaphor, we see that students come to the program from different directions and depart towards different destinations. The adult education program helps them choose the best path as they leave the program and provides them with the resources and supports to become persistent lifelong learners and reach their destinations." 

What a simple metaphor for such a complex issue.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Digital Literacy: Social and Academic

     I enjoy digital literacy.  I pay bills on-line, I manage my academic blog, I own a Kindle, and I regularly e-mail friends and family.  What I don’t do is tweet or “friend” people.  For years I have weighed the value of joining social media for purely social reasons.  When my youngest child went to college, I figured I would “join” her socially.  She graduated last month without me lurking.  When a dear, true friend moved to Cairo, Egypt to teach, I figured I would finally “join”.  I didn’t.  She came back to visit this past weekend, a year away from each other, and I was still the one she turned to, asking for a little party to see everyone (that she saw on Facebook).  After reading the article JG shared this week, I even pondered experimenting by “joining”.  Yet, I’m still on the fence.  I think I have concluded one thing; I’m not against social digital media.  I’m actually glad people enjoy it.

    I guess my modified version of social media is a family e-mail that I send once a month to the closest relatives.  They all respond, and their always glad I started it or so they say.  We only see each other once each year, so we can keep in touch this way.  Many of them have “joined”, and sometimes I miss out on pictures I guess.  I guess I’d have more friends if I “joined”, but that might also change my definition of friend.  I enjoy lunch out with my friends, but I also see this is sometimes risky.  In many ways I think we like to avoid risks.  Maybe someone won’t answer when I call them on the phone, caller ID allows me to screen who I want to talk to when.  Chatting with someone on-line might be less risky, but then I don’t really want to chat with my friends – I want to see them, interact and know what they are thinking, as much as what they are saying.  Again, I’m not against social digital media, it’s just not my chosen form of interaction.

     Time might be a factor in my decision too.  I don’t want to be tempted to access something when I’m standing in line waiting – It might make me less angry that I am waiting, but then I am waiting for a human interaction.  Paying my bills anymore, doesn't even require me to stand in line for stamps.  That statement proves I’m not physically writing letters either – so maybe some part of my literacy skills are suffering by not joining socially.   Sometimes when I attend joyful (name changed to protect the innocent) hour after work on Fridays, people walk in knowing what others have done all week because they are connected.  I do at times feel left out, and I sit and think “maybe I should just join”.  When I get home, I’m over that thought because I have just connected socially with a fun group of people.  Now, I’m home with family and I want to connect with them, not with the internet. 

      Still, I’m not against this stuff.  This blog right now allows me to interact socially with my peers, but then am I doing this for academic reasons?  I’m not sure; maybe I’m just weighing things in print, an act of social literacy, because it is an academic expectation.   Perhaps I’m proving another author correct, learners use literacy in two complementary ways, socially and academically.  I’m feeling “squishy” to steal another author’s term.  Maybe social digital media is in my present after all.  Maybe when my kids get married I’ll officially “join”.

The torture of teaching and learning in the ESOL classroom

I decided to blog about the Worthman (2008) article I shared with the class because, as I wrote in the discussion guide, the content is personal to me: I saw myself in both of the ESOL-teacher study participants.   In addition, I can’t resist the opportunity to discuss adult education classrooms as a “site of struggle” and a place where “identity templates” are created.  Have I mentioned that I study identity issues (smile)?

At this point, I’m not sure which way I’m going with my identity research, but I have an intense interest in two broad areas: a) the classroom as a site of literacy practice (a ‘site of struggle’), and b) ESOL curricula that aim to domesticate and/or Other language learners (creating those ‘identity templates’).   For me, something that connects identity in these two areas—classroom and curricula—is the concept of belonging.  At the heart of adult education-ESOL is the learner’s desire to belong to a community of English speakers.  This desire to belong, and the process of creating an English speaking way of being, is what I seek to study.  So, my blog post today about Worthman’s ‘empowerment and emancipation’ article (EE) is written through my identity-belonging lens.

Firstly, EE has us conceptualize power in a Foucault framework of force that “installs itself” through a dominant discourse.  This is different than the notion of ‘power as capital’ that I have been writing about in other discussion guides.  I am humbled by how much I need to learn about the works of these scholars.  Nevertheless, I understand the dominant discourse to be both the discourse in which the learner seeks to belong (a secondary discourse for her) and the discourse that positions her as Other, de-valuing her knowledge and her language, subsuming her into the monological discourse of English-speaking ‘America’.

EE has us look at the adult education-ESOL classroom as a site of struggle, where this Foucaultian power is felt by the learner as she learns how to be in a secondary discourse, the monological—one and only—discourse of her new culture.  Power is delivered through this one discourse in a way that disciplines and
molds her into an ‘identity template’ of a ‘model citizen.’  Wow, I didn’t know all of this heavy stuff was going on.  It sounds like the ESOL classroom is a site of medieval torture!  Where am I, as teacher, in this gruesome scenario?

EE profiles two ESOL-teacher study participants, either of which could be found in a typical adult education ESOL program in our state. Both seek to teach adult learners the skills necessary to belong; however, one is using a method that 'molds' and 'disciplines', the other is using a method that ignores the mold.   

I realize I have set a tone that molding and discipline are somehow 'torture,' and that we should aim to defy this monological power, but I have also learned that we cannot assume an awareness of or desire to defy it on the part of learners.  On a more theoretical level, I argue that making the assumption that learners have a desire or will to defy the power that is, is acting as an agent of a different discourse, a counter- and critical- discourse, one in which the learner many not have a need to belong.

In the end, this dilemma is a torture.  It is the torture of trying to do what we think is best while respecting the agency of adults who seek to join the English speaking community. 

Thanks for taking the time to read through my ramblings!  

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Reading is power.

Reading is power.  Power because of the knowledge it can bring. The doors it can open and a
sense of self and identity it can help to shape or solidify for the reader.

In adult education – literacy – the ability to read and read well also brings freedom.  Freedom to do – to try – to reach for something more; whether you are in ESL, ABE, GED, K-12, or Higher Education.

For those that want to be seen for who they are (on their own terms) and not labeled by their education or lack thereof; the ability to manipulate those letters into sounds that form words, enable language, and with that language the user has a voice. In the world of education, having a voice is what gives you an arena or platform to be seen.

In chapter one of Janks, Literacy and Power, (p.11) English is defined as the “global language” in South Africa. In a country where there are many tribal dialects and languages, representative of the people that comprise its country and culture; the “linguistic diversity” of the country is categorized by level of importance.

Janks argued that by teaching children in only two languages - Afrikaans and English - children’s cultural identities were not being acknowledged and were therefore, “compromised”. Those two languages were seen as the key to learning, the key to power, and the key to freedom:
                “I could not but be aware that language is fundamentally tied to questions of power.”
                “…the fundamental connections between language and learning were clear.”
Clearly identity is tied to language and culture for all of us.  When your native language is not represented and acknowledge as important in your own country, what message does that send to us about our importance?  What does that do to you when you become an adult?  Where is your sense of self? What is your sense of self? Where is your power?

These past week’s readings for TEDU 681 were diverse in their subject matter and focus, to say the least. Yet, I found that there was a universal thread that connected them all. Each assigned reading (Strucker, Alamprese, Janks, and Reder) examined the many different facets that make up or fall under the Adult literacy umbrella. I became more knowledgeable about the lack of funding made available for more research studies, theoretical discourse, critical theory, what comprises reading component assessment in a constructive and beneficial way for the learner; along with literacy practices by learners and their place in formal assessment of literacy skills in and outside of the classroom.  All of this had me thinking about my own reading abilities, and how I learned as a child through to my current status as “Adult learner” in Grad school. My fundamental identity of who I am is comprised of many things.  But my ability to read and practice various literacy skill-sets, at this point in my life, has empowered me beyond what I could have possibly imagined for myself in this dual role I now inhabit as an educator and learner.

As a reader of this week’s assigned material, there were times when I felt overwhelmed by the language and uncertain that I understood or could connect with the material. Yet, I didn't give up. I took my time (as much was possible and still meet the deadlines imposed) and found myself going

“back to the basics” of how I was taught by various teachers in my past.  I went back to learned skills of breaking apart the reading material and allowing myself time to absorb what I was reading so that I could better understand the material.  I didn't lose my dignity or sense of self in the process and nor should any adult learner.  In the world of Adult literacy, educators assist adult learners find their power.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Plurp, fronkett, gan...

        Plurp, fronkett, gan, fosh, nubble, staviousness… I’m pushing spell check today.  Nonsense words follow conventional sound-letter rules.  To start teaching our students we need to know where they are at.  Their current reading level can be determined with various tests, but our reading this week discussed nonsense words and we were asked to ponder the idea of why students who cannot manage the nonsense, can make great gains with phonics instruction. 

        I recall reading “Jabberwocky”, Lewis Carroll’s nonsense poem from the novel Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There.  I knew it was a sequel to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but I didn't “get it”.  I could read it, but my comprehension lagged horribly.  I knew something was killed, yet I wasn't sure if it was a good thing or not.  I did learn that the term “chortle” came from this poem, and is no longer a nonsense word.  However, I digress… my point being that when we understand phonics, we can decode, and later (maybe) we can comprehend.  This is what Alamprese discovered from her analysis of results from the WJ-R Word Attack test.  I was trained to administer the Woodcock-Johnson as a learning disability teacher, and administering the word attack is probably my least favorite, because it does seem like nonsense – yet important nonsense. 

        The unevenness of the ABE readers’ profiles is the puzzle the instructor needs to understand and interpret.  It must be a huge challenge, given other students, time, and limited resources.  I understand why statistics consider comprehension when they measure results, and I recognize this must seem frustrating to teachers who witness so many other gains in decoding.  Comprehension is the level that makes a difference in real life.  Decoding “plurp” makes no difference if I cannot comprehend its meaning.  Still, I empathize for the student who takes pride in reading “plurp” and the instructor that devoted such time to hear them read “plurp”.


Taking READ 602 this past semester certainly opened my eyes to the difficulties involved in teaching ABE readers. As Strucker stated: “Like other ABE teachers, I have struggled to teach learners with very widely divergent needs in the same class. It can be done if the teacher recognizes who those learners are and what their needs are, but it entails a terrible sacrifice of their limited and precious instructional time. To put it another way, attempting to teach "Richards" and "Vanessas" at the same time involves cutting in half the instructional time available to each type of learner.” During READ 602, I was tasked with finding a learner who struggled with basic literacies and then developing strategies to combat these struggles. After putting my learner through diagnostic testing, it was recommended that I focus my instruction on fluency, word meaning, spelling, phonemic awareness, visual memory and word recognition. These recommendations differ based on testing outcomes. 

As you can see, this reflects what Strucker mentions as far as having difficulty finding time to address the individual concerns of each learner- emphasizing that it would cut the instructional time available to each type of learner in HALF. I completely agree with this, as it took me hours upon hours to develop the most basic of basic strategies to assist my learner (trying to highlight his strengths while developing strategies to assist his needs). This is where I’d say ABE teachers are tasked with an almost impossible goal of addressing individual needs in very diverse classrooms- uneven learning profiles, which calls for a second look at testing and instructional policy.