Full Discussion and Summary - Creativity and the GED: Learning Outside the Practice Books - October 8 - 12, 2007

Discussion Summary

The discussion opened with emails pointing to the need to connect the GED material to real-life contexts. Many examples of how this happens in the classroom were shared. One subscriber discussed the use of a values-based approach for incorporating creativity into GED curriculum in her program.

The use and limits of standard texts were raised, and it was noted that these types of standard materials, if used without other resources, usually indicate that the program offers the "fast-track GED". The theme of fast-track versus creativity (or going beyond teaching to the test) prevailed throughout the discussion. One person noted that students may come to programs with a variety of opinions regarding either fast-track or going beyond teaching to the test, suggesting that both these approaches have merit depending on the needs/desires of the students.

The theme-based approach was described and discussed at length. Many merits were brought up, but subscribers also raised questions about the challenges inherent in balancing creativity with time constraints and pressures from both students and funders to take and pass the tests. The question of creativity as a 'distraction' garnered many replies, most of which indicated that creativity should not be exchanged for a much narrower result: learning to the test and earning the GED itself.

Most posters noted that they felt creativity was fundamental, even crucial, in helping GED students study, learn, and advance. Many responses included rationales for not excluding creativity. Rich examples of how to fold creative teaching and learning into lessons were shared.

Subscribers raised numerous challenges to avoiding a strict teach to the test GED approach. These included: how to incorporate the GED text itself into thematic approaches; balancing the development of new curricula with time constraints; pressures from both students and others to "hurry up and get the test over with"; a lack of support for creativity on the part of programs and funders; and developing a theme-based approach with multi-level classes and classes/programs with heavy turn-over of students.

The issue of how best to assess learning in GED programs raised questions around whether the test results were sufficient for judging if learning was effective, or if other types of measures were needed, including certain types of formative assessment as well as student-stated goals.


Full Discussion

Good morning, afternoon, and evening to you all. I hope this email finds you well.

Today we begin our discussion on the GED and Creativity. You can access the full announcement and accompanying guest bios and suggested resources at:


I would like to acknowledge that today is Columbus Day and there are many folks who observe this holiday. Please join us as you are able. As a reminder, all emails are automatically archived at:
http://lincs.ed.gov/mailman/listinfo/assessment - click on Read Current Posted Messages at the top.

To get us started, I would like to ask our guests to tell us how/why they ended up involved in these projects connected with the GED.

Also, I would like to ask subscribers to share any work that they do with GED preparation and study that is also more creative than drilling in the practice books.

And! Please post any questions you have for our guests now!

Thanks! Looking forward to our discussion!

Marie Cora

Assessment Discussion List Moderator


My name is Gail Bundy, I ran the night school at the Native American Multi-Cultural Education School (NAMES), a community-based GED school in Denver, CO. While our school is the only adult education school in metro Denver that targets Native Americans, we are open to all who wish to learn. We serve about 150 students a year with our student base being about 25% Native American, 75% Latino, and about 10% divided among people with Asian and African tribal heritage and people of European heritage. About 90% of our students are youth, ages 17 to 23, and the remainder are older adults. Our average student dropped out of public school in the ninth grade and pretests on the TABE at about 5th Grade. About thirty students a year earn their GED - and around 60% progress at least two grade levels in core subjects.

I am a semi-retired corporate strategic planner and writer. I was volunteering as a tutor, grant and report writer when the night teacher had to leave on family emergency. The director asked me pinch hit for a few weeks. I have now been teaching the night classes for almost 4 years. My corporate planning background helps me provide night students (who work during the day) with real life context for the GED. For example, when we work with graphs and charts, I ask them to ask to develop statistics from their work lives, so they learn the language for decision-making within their own industry. A cashier from an auto reports store brought in a daily chart of sales figures vs. inventory, and we developed a trend analysis. We used the knowledge of a clerk in a supermarket floral shop along with the other student's experience with flowers to examine the seasonal peaks and valleys of the flower business as the basis for understanding economic supply and demand theory. Another student who is a housekeeper in a large hospital, begin charting her supervisor's daily production orders, and developed her own solution for improving the work flow and presented it to her supervisor, who with some surprise, implemented the change.

My director specifically asked me to join this listserv to learn from other teachers about how they add special thematic instruction to their programs. Like most GED programs, we use the standard texts from Contemporary, Steck-Vaughn and others to help our students move towards attaining their goals of getting to the GED as soon as possible, and then moving on to college or some other higher education. However, we all know that the GED education texts are limited in what they actually teach.

For several years, NAMES has been working on what we call the Morning Star Medicine Wheel of Learning©, a values-based approach to the GED curriculum, which blends traditional Native American philosophy and story-telling techniques with the GED subjects: reading, writing, math, social studies, and science. The eight-pointed Morning Star is often seen on the beautiful star quilts made by Native American women. It is the first star seen in the morning, and represents that first light of hope and possibility that students have in reaching out to achieve their education dreams. The eight pointed star also represents a compass with each point related to values that provide students with a moral compass. We look for and share with students' traditional stories from many cultures related to the values of respect, truth, honesty, humility, humor, compassion, wisdom, and love. We also challenge students to write their own stories exploring these values. In this way we provide students with creative, practical, and humorous applications of knowledge gained by many cultures from around the world. We believe that this is particularly important for our younger students who struggle with growing up in these urban environments. Values discussions also provide our older students with a way to help teach the younger students.

Let me give you one example of how we include these values.

We ask each student upon entry (after taking the TABE) to write an essay on the topic of Respect. We give them some guides for potential topics, and an outline that guides them in developing three points, introduction, and conclusion. We let them take their own time with it. After they handwrite a rough draft, we sit them at the computer, and have them type it and work with them on one or two simple versions. If the student is a low level writer, we will let them dictate their ideas to us, which we will transcribe. But they will still have to type it and revise on their own. By the end of their second or third day with us, they have a typewritten five paragraph essay, signed and dated that describes their own beliefs and experience about Respect. We have a good idea of the student's level in writing -- but even more importantly, one of the teachers has had a discussion with the student about their perception of the value of respect. We learn a little about their families, their elders, and their lives. They learn a little about us as teachers.

The questions that I have for the listserve are:

  1. We wonder if anyone else is developing thematic work based on values -- and would like to understand the frameworks that are being used.
  2. I am also curious how teachers incorporate the standard GED texts into their thematic work. In actuality we have so little time with our students - that it is necessary to rely on the books for consistency and coverage. I am curious about how other teachers balance the creativity of developing new curriculum with student's time constraints.

I look forward to the discussion.

Gail Bundy


Hi, Gail,

I was really interested to hear about the work you are doing with Native Americans. As diverse as our student body is here in New York City, Native Americans are one group of students that we rarely see. I love the way you start off with students--asking them to write about a value. I think this can be such a great way to get to know students, and to show them that their education can be a way for them to reflect on their own ideas and experiences in the light of new information that they are learning in school.

GED classes at CUNY are thematically based. Values are not the center of any of the theme-based curricula we've produced, but I do think that the kinds of questions that would be raised in a curriculum centered around values would be similar to the kinds of questions that are at the heart of any good theme-based course. What's vital to a good theme-based course is that there is a broad, open-ended question at the center of it; a question such as (very broadly) "what makes a good relationship?" or (a bit more narrowly) "How is child development influenced by culture?" The texts that students read, the questions they discuss, the graphs they create or examine, can all provide information that students use to make up their own minds about the central question that guides the theme. If I were to develop a theme-based curriculum around values, I think I would probably focus on a series of short stories and/or essays that offered different perspectives on a central guiding question related to values. To bring in history, I might have students read some biographies of people who embodied some of the values under examination through the theme. This could be the opening to a short unit on the history of the time/place of the person whose biography we were reading in class.

But to comment on your second question. With this question, I think you raise important issues about creativity and theme-based approaches in the GED classroom. While I think creativity is important, I think it's also important that the course a teacher creates is developed with the GED test in mind. Experienced teachers generally have a pretty good sense of the subject matter most likely to come up on the test. The idea behind theme-based teaching is that you will not be able to cover all of the topics that could come up on the test. Rather, you will be able to target one or two areas within, say, the discipline of social studies, and address these in depth. Let's say you choose Colonialism, knowing that this is an important concept to understanding world history in general, and also knowing that there are bound to be questions on the GED test that will relate to it. My colleague Gayle Cooper and I created such a curriculum for GED students. We had a number of learning goals in mind when we did so. One goal was simply to engage students in a lot of reading and writing for a purpose. We've found it's easier for students to remember material if it related to a central concept. Another goal we had in mind was to introduce students to some broad concepts that come up again and again in the area of social studies. So, in the Colonialism curriculum, students were asked to examine three cultures--European, Native American and African--in some depth, and to compare these cultures to their own culture using a set of guiding questions that remained the same from culture to culture. Organizing students' learning in this way allowed us to bring in material on different ways of organizing societies, on social class, and on different types of economies, to name a few areas. The actual reading that students did came from a variety of texts that included excerpts from young adult historical fiction, textbooks, trade books and poetry. Each lesson had a number of GED practice questions attached that were clearly related to what students had been studying in class that day. So what the thematic approach allowed us to do was to teach with the test in mind, but to try to give students a deeper understanding by using richer texts (and more text--we think students need this) and teaching in a way that would highlight certain broad concepts that we thought were central to the discipline of history/social studies.

In your second question you also raised the issue of how much time teachers give to making their classes creative and how they balance this with the constraints of their own time. Of course, this is an important issue. At CUNY, we've been lucky to have a team of staff developers and a modest amount of funding to run curriculum development seminars that give teachers the chance to create their own courses. Also, there are a large number of teacher-created curricula that all CUNY teachers can now choose from when they plan courses. Interestingly, a lot of teachers opt to plan their own courses even though the curricula are available. I think that, for many of our teachers, this is one of the payoffs of the job--that they can be creative in their teaching.

That said, I do think that it is a very tall order--to create a curriculum that is both creative and will meet the needs of students. What I've found as a teacher is that I make a lot of mistakes the first time I teach a certain theme, but by the second time I've corrected a lot of those mistakes and by the third time it runs pretty smoothly. So while it's a lot of effort to create a theme-based course the first time around, it gets easier and the investment of time pays off as I go along.

I'll look forward to hearing others' responses on this

Kate Brandt


Hello All,

I believe that teaching is the most effective change agent in a person's life and my teaching career is diverse, ranging from the traditional K-12 classroom to summer programs for at-risk youth and job readiness skills. Additionally, I have been able to work with Adult Basic Education learners in the Illinois Department of Corrections. I found a passion for the adult education and was able to transition into the role as a professional development trainer. This opportunity helped me connect with adult education teachers throughout Illinois, building relationships with administrators, instructors, and adult learners.

In response to Marie's question, the Illinois Community College Board was taking a very proactive step in the support and development of an online learning curriculum for GED preparation. My role as an experienced classroom teacher and professional development trainer for the Center for the Application of Information Technologies (http://www.cait.org) at Western Illinois University made participating in the GED-i project a natural fit. Leading a team of GED instructors, web developers, and content experts through the curricular development to create an engaging opportunity was a phenomenal opportunity. The goal was to have dynamic lessons that met the instructional needs of the students and went beyond just drill and practice. The resulting project is GED-i (http://ged-i.org) and the environment allows for learners to prepare for their GED with interactive lessons, facilitated instruction, and peer communication. This goes beyond the scope of the traditional pen and paper practice.

Remember you can check the GED-i's online orientation at the following URL:


Let me know what questions you have any questions about this information or beyond this.

Crystal Hack

GED-i Coordinator



I am a proponent of creativity in adult literacy education -- indeed in all education. As Marc Tucker, President of the National Center for Education and the Economy, has said in a presentation recently to the National Commission on Adult Literacy,
http://www.caalusa.org/video/choices.html, the U.S. education system -- and he includes adult education, cannot be competitive without high academic standards AND creativity.

But many GED teachers and administrators believe that their students will not pass the GED unless they focus on skills and knowledge needed to pass the test, that creativity is a "distraction" and a time-waster. (Many K-12 teachers, administrators or policy makers also believe creativity distracts from passing high stakes tests.) I hate to be the one to raise this issue, but it's the key question on the minds of many GED teachers and administrators, so I invite the panelists to address it.

Is creativity a distraction or is it essential for success? Why?

David J. Rosen


I must respond to this question. I do not believe that creativity is a distraction. Creativity is the flesh on the bones of skills and knowledge. Although our students want to pass the GED, we have to ask ourselves what our job as educators is. If we simply believe that pushing our students to the level of the GED is all we have to do, then perhaps we can pass on the creative side of things. However, if our goal is create life long learners, who will pass the GED on then continue learning and contributing in more and more positive ways, then I think the answer is clear. Creativity is a must. It is what will hook a person into learning.

However, there is another issue. Not only do the students pressure GED teachers into teaching to the test. The pressure is on from above also. Students who pass the GED are counted and those numbers help the DOE decide if a program is doing its job.

I am not against accountability. But I do think that without considering all the long-term effects of the current method of "counting" students is revised, then some creativity will be squashed as teachers work to satisfy a numbers requirement.

Jackie Coelho


On this question, I'd have to weigh in on the "creativity is essential" side. I'd argue that the "creative" lessons I've seen aim for a much higher standard than many of the more "traditional" lessons I've seen, because they ask more of students in terms of critical thinking, reading, and writing. Many of the theme and content-based curricula we've developed at CUNY (City University of New York) pose open-ended questions that require students to think, learn new information and then apply that information to the questions that have been posed. This approach to instruction also asks more from students in terms of reading and writing. A typical "course" would expose students to a range of texts--poetry, excerpts from textbooks and tradebooks, novels, short stories, graphs, newspaper articles, etc.--and a variety of different writing assignments, so that students learn to read widely and write for different purposes. Theme and content-based courses at CUNY also aim to expose students to the typical ways of thinking of each discipline. In developing our courses, we're thinking not only of students' need to pass the GED, but also of the academic skills students will need when they go on to college.

In New York City, the diversity and educational needs of the students we encounter varies enormously. Some of the adult students in our programs may need just a "brush up," but many others have large gaps in their academic knowledge. Recent research in reading instruction, such as that presented in an article entitled "Learning From Text" by Patricia Alexander and Tamara Jetton, point to the enormous importance of background knowledge in reading comprehension. Without a frame of reference, students are likely to forget what they have read and studied. Theme- and content-based instruction, when designed well, helps students build a frame of reference for the academic content that they are learning so that they are more likely to remember it and "make it their own."

In this discussion, I've had the feeling that "creativity" is being used to describe any approach to GED instruction that is not based almost entirely on the test-prep book. It's odd to hear "creativity" described as a "distraction" because the word I would use for the theme and content based approach I've been describing is "rigorous." While this approach is creative in the sense that we strive to engage students' interest by designing activities that require students to be active participants in their own learning, I have a hard time thinking of it as a "distraction." In addition to doing a better job of preparing students academically, it's based on respect for students' intelligence--the belief that they are capable of actively acquiring knowledge.

Kate Brandt


In our GED classes for Migrants, we teach creative writing. Our students publish books. See:

The books are in Spanish, but some of the stories and poems are translated into English.

Andres Muro


Hi everyone,

We like to add creative elements for DL students such as GED Connection videos and Web sites such as Purplemath.com or Coolmath.com to help students grasp content they struggle with in the main software program. Even inside the MHC Online software program there are several great materials in the World and US Timelines, areas to take practice GED tests, and other supports.

We also like to have students write essays and mail them to us for comments from time to time. Our challenge in offering creativity in these respects as compared to just studying the curriculum in the software is that none of these elements can be used for NRS Reporting in our state at this time. This issue is another one wherein we need to realize that creativity and meeting student needs must take first place.


Tina Luffman


David and All,

I believe that most of the problem we face in our AE programs is that we are entrenched in "GED classes" that making the minimum (just passing the test) is the predominant objective. Why are we not teaching to standards of learning that are required for a more generic purpose that can build a strong foundation for learning? It is very hard to break away from the GED focus when classes are called GED classes and teachers are called GED teachers. MA practitioners are encouraged to use the terms ABE and ASE to get away from the GED mindset. Most GED teachers, as you pointed out, feel the pressure to teach to the GED test rather than to facilitate learning that would encourage critical thinking skills that go beyond simply passing the GED.

If we are truly to be standards based, we must focus on what skills need to be taught and consider how we will assess the skills so we know when they are learned, before moving on. This should be part of our everyday practice and is not forced by following page by page in a GED workbook. Creativity and innovation should always drive instruction in order to motivate the learner to learn reading, writing, and math skills that can be applied in any situation, not just to pass the GED. Research gives us a lot of information today on how people learn, but do we consider these components of learning in our instruction? Yes, we should be creative in how we apply various methods of teaching and learning to our AE classrooms, especially knowing that for many the more traditional approach is not effective.

In RI the K12 has moved to a proficiency based system. This allows the focus on teaching and learning to be driven by standards that must be learned before moving on. My work allows me to look closely at what the K12 teachers are doing to allow various opportunities for the students to learn. Teachers have brought creative strategies into the classroom so that all children learn. I see no reason why these strategies would not work with adults as well, but it will require change, not just in the classroom and with the teachers, but with the administration and policy makers as well. Building academic and learning skills takes time and patience. Teachers must feel comfortable trying alternative ways to instruct and not feel the pressure of outcomes. Is it important that our students pass the GED or is it more important that exceed expectations when taking the GED because they have a strong learning base? If we all stop and think about what we really want for our students, it is not to achieve the goal to pass the GED. It is to build a strong foundation of academic skills and learning techniques that will benefit the student throughout life. And guess what? They will pass the GED along the way.

Donna Chambers


Hello again assessment group,

Over the course of the last seven years, our instructional design process has grown as we have learned how to integrate multiple methods of assessment in the online design process. When working with the content experts, I instructed them to imagine the possibilities of assessment practices that go beyond the tools in the traditional classroom. Also, they are provided with ideas, examples, and templates to use as a building block. As with any quality instruction, it is critical that the assessment is aligned with the objectives of the lesson. Some methods of assessment appeared 'content light' and we worked together to create relevant and meaningful assessment activities. I have found that by reminding instructors of the key elements in the development process (to have procedures in place such as creating objectives, establishing assessment, designing the instruction, and reflecting on the completed process) they tend to have a much more effective instructional approach in the content they develop. Even more importantly as it relates to this discussion, they can do this and be creative.

We also take a group approach to developing lessons. This gets the minds of 3-4 instructors focused on the lesson topic, the objectives, the learning activities and content. The more feedback we get on the quality and creativity the better the end result for our student users. The process sounds like it would take a long time, but really we have streamlined the development process getting that amount of feedback probably takes only a little more time than developing a lesson without the input from others.

I guess my points are 1) the development process is the foundation of a creative meaningful lesson 2) lesson can be meaningful and creative and 3) don't create in a vacuum, involve others and tap into their creativity.

Crystal Hack


I'm going to have to weigh in on the side of creativity is essential as well. I definitely don't see it as a distraction - that being said, what I don't really see is creativity being supported. I liked how Jackie Coelho stated that creativity if sometimes stifled from above because the focus is on completion rates. I heartily echo that. When I am sent new students the first word out of everyone's mouth is "when can I test?" No matter how much I try to explain that attending class isn't solely about the "test" that is definitely where everyone's attention rest. When I first started teaching in adult ed 10 years ago, I remember being told that the idea was to teach differently than what the traditional school system had done - to provide an alternative learning environment in hopes that those students who had now returned to school would find a safe, student centered learning environment - yet over those 10 years, I've seen the creativity squelched as focus shifted more and m ore away from life-long learning to learning for the 'now', the 'test', program 'performance measures...' For some, not all, programs, the focus is on how quickly can you get them ready to test...not on how well the student might actually be retaining what they're being exposed to. Coming in to a class for 12 hours and just to test, doesn't allow much room for anyone to be creative.

I loved the ideas of a thematic approach - but I want to know how you do that in a program where every class is multi-level, open entry (daily - new students can arrive) and where administration is focused on bodies in a seat, quick turn around time and bottom line results?

How do you find a workable venue for creativity? I do some different things in my class that others in my area don't do and I hate relying on the "workbooks" and often come up with my own tools to use - but beyond that, I feel very limited in my ability to be creative.


Katrina Hinson


Hi. I'd like to add my two-cents to the discussion about the need to help students get their GED quickly.

I'm on a local shellfish committee looking for wardens to check out the clam flats. When I asked what the requirements were for being a warden, I was told they needed to have a GED or high school diploma. This struck me so I asked why. I was told that the warden would have to send in periodic reports based on his/her findings so s/he needed "at least a GED."

I worry about the disconnect between our teaching just to the test (in writing, for example, the test requires students to write an "essay") and what the broader community and business people are expecting our adult learners to be able to do once they have a GED (such as write short reports, but rarely an "essay").

Are we explicit in the skills that we're teaching so that students can actually use what they've learned after they pass their GED?? Do we give them opportunities to transfer their learning from the workbook (or computer) to real-life situations so they know how to use different skills in different situations?

Donna Curry


Assessment Colleagues,

Several obstacles to GED program creativity have been mentioned, and there are others. I would be interested in hearing how creative GED practitioners have overcome each of these challenges. I hope those who have solutions will pick one or more of these challenges and address them in this discussion. How have you pushed back the pressure for GED programs to be primarily test preparation, not substantive learning? How have you successfully addressed these constraints?

  1. Students' determination to pass the test in the shortest time possible
  2. Students' holding the goal "getting the GED" as an unexamined act of faith that this is what they need that "having the certificate or diploma" will meet their needs
  3. Students' belief that "real school" looks just like the often failed) schools they have attended, traditional models of schooling
  4. Teachers' lack of experience (and therefore discomfort) with creative teaching such as theme-based or project-based learning
  5. Accountability for "GED outcomes" within a short time period from funders at the national, state and/or local level.
  6. Other obstacles or constraints, especially those that are unique to GED Preparation programs or, Adult Secondary Education.

David J. Rosen


Katrina, I wanted to reply briefly to your message because I think you bring up some important points. It's certainly true that not only administrators but students as well tend to be very focused on the test. I've been teaching for ten years and invariably the students who enter my pre-GED class ask when they can take the test on the very first day of class. When I look at their reading and writing, I know that they have a road to travel, yet they just want to "get it over with."

My feeling about this is that when students have such a long road to travel to reach their goal, they are going to have to learn to like learning, to embrace it somehow, or they're just not going to get there. This is where I feel what we're calling "creativity" is important. Students deserve the chance to have good educational experiences--to enjoy talking about a book that they've read with a fellow student; to look at pictures from a particular historical era and imagine life in that time. This is a second chance for them to become, as you put it, lifelong learners.

I also think you made a good point about thematic education. I think it is very difficult to use a thematic approach if you have constant turnover in your classes and a wide range of levels. One of the decisions made at CUNY (City University of New York), where I teach, was not to let students into a class past a certain point in the semester. I really think that's an essential decision to make if you want to teach content, because when you are learning content, it's necessary for new information to build upon previously learned. I do think that "creativity" has to be supported by a program or it will have to be limited. Even within limits, it's possible to do some "creative" things. For instance, I think, when teaching a particular content area--let's say photosynthesis-- it's possible to go out and look for other texts besides those in the GED book. Students need to review information more than once to really "get" it--also reading multiple texts helps students get a sense of what's most important about a topic and gives them additional reading practice. It's a lot of work to do this in the beginning, but you can re-use texts once you've found good ones. There are many other ways to draw students in by doing something that is more active than traditional learning. I like to use these methods to "trick" students in to liking school.

Kate Brandt

City University of New York


Hi, colleagues,

In response to David Rosen's questions, I think I'll respond to number four. Because I work at an institution where theme-based teaching in GED classrooms is policy, I think I'm in a good position to speak to this one.

The City University of New York has taken a theme-based approach to instruction, particularly GED instruction, for at least a decade now. There are eleven campuses throughout New York City where GED classes are offered. The administrators and teachers who work at these sites are overseen by CUNY's Central Office and so there is a community of sorts between CUNY adult literacy teachers and administrators across the campuses. While theme-based teaching, when it was introduced, encountered some resistance from teachers, there was also a lot of enthusiasm for it. Having a community allowed teachers who were trying out this new approach to share materials and experiences, both at their campus programs and across programs.

In addition to supporting each other, teachers were--and are--supported by a team of staff developers who work with them in a number of ways: team-teaching, periodic campus meetings, seminars, conferences, online fora, and more. One of the seminars that is run regularly is a curriculum development seminar in which teachers are paid to work with staff developers, first in a group setting, and then one-on-one, to produce curricula that they can use in their own teaching and which are also available to other CUNY teachers in "ready to use" form.

I do think this approach to teaching is challenging and that institutional support makes a world of difference. In our curriculum development seminars teachers have the chance to plan instruction carefully, thinking about the broad concepts they want to get across, the texts and other materials they will use, the learning goals they have for students, and the way that the many threads that must be included in GED instruction can be "braided" together. While it's challenging, I also think planning in this way forces teachers to think about teaching in a deep and detailed way. They must really think through each class--what students will learn; which activities they will engage in; which texts will be used and why.

As a staff developer, I work with teachers who vary widely in terms of their approaches to teaching. Some of the teachers I work with would be considered "traditional," while others favor "student-centered" learning and still others mix a variety of styles. It can be hard to get teachers who have never tried an activity like student role play to take the risk. As part of a group of teachers taking part in a seminar, though, that teacher is more likely to try it out.

So I do think theme-based teaching is a challenge, but well worth it. And my experience has shown me that institutional support makes all the difference.

Kate Brandt


Assessment Colleagues,

I have some assessment questions below, but first please look at the following two examples of creative, theme-based and project-based GED teaching:

1. The Fabric of History curriculum -- designed for young adults who are not usually excited about learning American History, but who are interested in clothes and fashion, a whole American history curriculum built on this theme:


2. A Virtual Visit to a Lowell, Massachusetts Mill museum -- a Web site designed by and for young adults in a GED preparation program that features a visit to a 19th century mill and readings, writings and discussion about the period.


My Overall Question: How should we assess learning in creative GED programs? Consider the examples above, the theme-based CUNY GED program that Kate Brandt has written about here, and other examples from this discussion and elsewhere:

How should we do summative assessment for a creative GED program? How should we do formative assessment?

1) Summative Assessment

Are scores on the GED test all we need? Or do we also need to know, for example:

a. College as a Goal. How many/what percent of GED program participants hold the goal of going to college, and how has that changed from the beginning to the end of the program? b. College Preparation. For those who hold this goal, how many/what percent are prepared for college? For example, how many have been admitted to college, and how many/what percent have been admitted as regular, not developmental studies, students? How many have high GED scores as one indication of preparation for college level work? How many, particularly "first generation" college students, have learned about the culture of higher education and how to navigate it successfully? c. Success in college. How many of the GED program graduates complete the first year of college? How many complete a two-year degree? A four-year degree? d. What else should be assessed at the end of the program or later to determine impact or effect of the GED program?

2) Formative Assessment

Formative assessment is systematic measuring of learning progress or learning about how-to-learn strategies for the students themselves and for their teacher or tutor.

What formative assessment tools are/could be effective in creative GED programs, for example in programs that use themes or learning projects: Dialogue journals? (Online or hold-in-the-hand) portfolios? Videotaped demonstrations of application of skills, knowledge or understanding? Assessments of attitude changes? Something else?

David J. Rosen


Hi folks:

I was catching up on the posts last night and wanted to make some observations related to providing more than just test prep in GED programs. Many of you have identified very salient points and are doing great things it sounds like.

I'll just toss out some ideas in an email or two to keep the conversation churning.

The first one is on program retention. Adult education struggles with persistence and retention issues, sometimes mightily. I have seen the research that speaks to the outside reasons (family, work, illness) that students leave, but one that is not written about as much is that students sometimes just get bored.

If we consider just one large and growing population in adult education, recent public school leavers (AKA drop outs), consider that one of the main reasons they identify as for dropping out is that they were bored. A Gates Foundation report last year (The Silent Epidemic) found that:

"nearly half (47 percent) said a major reason for dropping out was that classes were not interesting. These young people reported being bored and disengaged from high school. Almost as many (42 percent) spent time with people who were not interested in school. These were among the top reasons selected by those with high GPAs and by those who said they were motivated to work hard."

The report found that 88% of high school leavers had passing grades; 70% were confident they could have graduated; and 81% understood that graduating was vital to their success.

This being said, how can programs aim to provide anything BUT programs that are engaging, relevant and have a future focus --on higher education and work?

As the respondents on this list have identified (I'm preaching to the choir) there are multiple instructional reasons for providing a "creative" GED class. As to the notion of performance, consider that if students stay in class (because they are challenged and not bored), performance should benefit. I'm some ways, providing GED "test prep" tracks in programs only really seems to reinforce a message that the program is delivering at 'just the minimum" ----prep for a test. It seems that, at least for out of school youth, they are looking for much more.

Saying that, I always thought there was great benefit in viewing students as our customers (we are providing a service after all). Some will come and are on a fast track to get somewhere, they really just want to "take the test." They have their mind set on another goal and that is what we want. Fine. Make sure we provide them with that option. Others are looking for more and are undecided as to what direction they want to go, to training or to a better job for example. Programs need to provide both customers with these options. Doing so will position us toward better outcomes and better retention.

So that is my first observation.

Anson Green


I am familiar with these statistics on bored students. Left out of the research is "What does 'bored' mean?". People are most often bored when they put little effort into what they are supposed to learn. If someone is making zero effort he/she gets more and more bored. Many "Let's make the GED exciting" classes just keep the students from doing the work. In order to pass the test, students must make a big personal effort. They have to bring their reading comprehension way up, get used to the type of test, bring up their math and their grammar and writing. A class where the teacher is spending most of the time talking will not work, though, because students must grapple with the GED material, and sometimes the most interesting teachers make the worst GED teachers because they keep the students from doing what needs to be done to pass the test. Encouraging students, calling them when they don't come, keeping track of their progress, and making that personal connection -- being persistent is what makes a good GED teacher. Students are not bored when they are succeeding and they succeed when the teacher takes an interest in their progress. Also, individualizing instruction is important in getting students through the GED. Computer labs with programs such as Plato and Contemporary's PreGED are great. A GED teacher must be fixated on the progress of each student and the best way to do that is to keep a notebook where student progress is recorded. Then phone calls to absent students are easier to make because the teacher can discuss the next step more easily with the student: "Oh, you need to come in for your Social Studies Pretest", etc.

Mary Lynn Simons


Good morning colleagues,

This has been a great discussion this week! Great questions have been raised here and great ideas have been shared. I will prepare this discussion in UFF (User Friendly Format!) once is has completed and post it for your convenience and use.

Today is our last day of the discussion with guests! Please share your thoughts, experiences, and ideas now.

I would particularly like to hear people respond to David's set of questions focused on formative and summative assessment. While I'm anxious to hear about both, I'm really interested in what subscribers have to say about David's questions regarding the summative piece: how can we determine the effect/impact of earning a GED in more creative ways than what we do now, which is mostly done through examining the scores. We could track some of the data that David suggests - does anyone do it? Would you now consider it? Do you feel that tracking other pieces of the puzzle would be beneficial to you, your program and students? In what ways?

Thanks and looking forward to reading more from you today!

Marie Cora

Assessment Discussion List Moderator


David, these are fabulous projects. I have to admit, as a fan of 19th century culture, I was completely sucked into the "fashion" unit. Great pictures! Minus the corset, I would love to have worn those clothes (but not in the heat, in which case I would do the Jo March thing and wear only pantaloons, much to the chagrin of my neighbors).

I have put off responding to the assessment question because I have not used this kind of tool in my teaching other than when I have assigned projects to undergrads. When I did so, I used a check sheet that covered first, the parts of the project requirements (i.e. did they complete all the parts and what was the grade for each part); second, separate grading for each part of the project. Students would receive a copy of this so they knew exactly how they did on each part.

So the grading "matrix" (I guess that's what you would call it) looked something like this:

WRITTEN RESEARCH PAPER Completed? yes/no Grade____






VISUAL AIDS Completed? yes/no Grade____


__Relationship to Project

__Representation of topic (i.e. did it add anything to our understanding of the topic?)

ORAL PRESENTATION Completed? yes/no Grade____


__Presentation of Content




Final Grade for Project (all pieces averages together) _________

Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt


Hi everyone,

We found one model that worked really well for retention and creativity: organizing a class of GED students who were interested in health careers. Arizona's Adult Education program is piloting Allied Health GED classes this year. We ran a morning and evening Allied Health class this summer during July and August for 6 weeks. The students came for health-related education on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays for 3 hours each day, and on Tuesdays and Thursdays they received a more traditional GED class, but even here we tried to focus the reading and writing parts especially on materials pertinent to health careers.

Our educational gains were at 60% and almost all of the students finished. Why was it successful? Perhaps the answer is intensity, or perhaps the answer is the short term of the class. Perhaps the students felt more engaged because they knew everything they were learning was directed for their particular career future. After watching this first successful pilot, I am really eager to see how the November/December class fares. I am also interested in our program diving in to see if we can find another occupational area where we could run another specialized GED class like this one.

Tina Luffman


Hello all,

I weigh in on the side of creativity! My class created the virtual visit that David Rosen mentions, and I can tell you that the experience allowed students to enter history in a way I can't imagine anything else would have. It allowed them to see what could have been a dry subject (GED Social Studies materials, for example) as something that affected real humans, that real people participated in. It gave them a new framework for all of the history and social studies we were studying, as well as a real and shared experience to write about.

Had it occurred early in the year, I'm sure my students would have objected. But by then I had perfected my answer to the perennial question, "Will it be on the test?" Now I simply say, "Yes." You'd be amazed at how seldom I have been called upon to justify the answer! But it's not hard -- history is a subject, critical thinking is required, and so on.

Finally another possible way to reduce at least student pressure for a test-driven curriculum is to give homework out of the Steck-Vaughn skills books. They are cheap (maybe $2 apiece or so) and they keep students happy, along with giving you material for discussing test-taking skills -- which, after all, is a form of critical thinking.

Having said all of that, I have also struggled with theme-based learning. The same issues of open enrollment and spotty attendance plague me. I'm trying it again this year, though, with lower-level students (GLE about 3-6) who generally tend to have better attendance than higher levels. I'm keeping my fingers crossed!

Wendy Quinones

Please note: We do not control and cannot guarantee the relevance, timeliness, or accuracy of the materials provided by other agencies or organizations via links off-site, nor do we endorse other agencies or organizations, their views, products or services.