Summary of Recommended Topics for Discussions

Summary of Recommended Topics for Discussions

[SpecialTopics 558] Summary of Recommended Topics for discussion

From: David J. Rosen djrosen at
Sun Sep 2 07:22:05 EDT 2007


Below is a summary of the recommendations from a recent discussion here
about possible topics and guests. There are many good ideas, although
some may be better suited for other National Institute for Literacy
discussion lists such as assessment or family literacy. Some are ideas
that I am now considering for the coming year on the Special Topics
discussion list. I am very grateful to those who made these recommendations.

David J. Rosen

Special Topics Discussion Moderator
djrosen at


  • Local immigration policies and how they impact students and teachers
    of Adult Education
  • The impact of the Bush administration’s Homeland Security plans to
    enforce current immigration laws and the development of a national plan
    for citizenship education. See
  • Incarcerated immigrants: how many participate in ABE classes, and the
    long-term results for those who participate and those who do not. (This
    could include a discussion of why some do not participate and how
    available these classes are to incarcerated immigrants, especially
    illegal immigrants.)
  • Qualitative studies of immigrants pursuing ABE and ESOL education;
    perspectives of students, teachers and administration
  • Collaborative efforts between state and federal agencies and
    non-profits to expand the human rights of immigrants, women, and low
    income adults pursuing education and self-improvement
  • Immigrant integration and the role that language and literacy
    development can play in that goal – perhaps with a strong focus on what
    it takes to not only support immigrants making a new life in the U.S., but what we as a society can do to support communities that have a hard time
    absorbing large numbers of newcomers – and what we in adult education
    can do so we don’t pit the different kinds of needs of native born and
    foreign-born citizens/residents against each other.

Possible Guests

  • Professionals in the field to discuss their perspectives of immigrants
    working towards assimilation, citizenship and language skills


  • Technological literacy: who has it, who doesn’t, how we can improve it
  • Gender differences in technological pedagogy (for example, is there a
    difference between the way males and females teach basic technical
    skills? Do men and women have different learning styles when it comes to
    technology? How does this affect students?)
  • What is being done around the US to better use educational
    technologies to provide more and better learning opportunities for adults?

Possible Guests

  • Teachers in the field of technological literacy
  • People who are using technologies in creative ways.

Corrections Education/Ex offender re-entry
(7 people mentioned this topic)

  • Helping ex-offenders transition to productive lives has tremendous
    implications for our society. We are starting a new program and could
    benefit from learning from others who are already running successful
  • Transition programs for ex-offenders who studied in jail/prison and
    need to connect to educational opportunities in the community. Too many
    ex-offenders leave prison and are faced with immediate housing and
    employment needs, and have no easy access to complete their studies.
    Access to educational services becomes a way to reduce recidivism.
  • Specific Transitions Issues:
  1. Locating the appropriate program(s) in the community
  2. Communication between programs to "hand-off" the student -- flow of academic info
  3. Coordinating the Program and instructional delivery
  4. Sharing information -- Since correctional ed has accountabilities that they have to meet as do community adult ed programs, is there a way to provide feedback on offender success. The classic example is that all too often, the learner is ready to take the GED Test, but (s)he is released before the test could be taken. (Yes, there are even tales of the offender being pulled out the middle of the GED testing situation to be released.) I am sure there are stories of the adult learner in the community ready to take the test, but does something that gets them incarcerated, so the community program would like to have feedback too. While we do not like to admit it, the "road" to transition goes both ways -- so what info does each program want if on the receiving end of the new student? Are there effective models currently working?
  • Literacy Volunteers of Westchester County is currently working on a
    Corrections Education version for their bilingual low-literate EL/Civics
    curriculum (Civics for Immigrants: From Native Language to English
    Literacy) and it is interesting to see what changes need to be made in
    language, content, and tasks. I would be curious about how others see
    the differences, specifically with regard to civics topics and tasks.
  • I deal with the education of inmates in our local jail - some of whom
    are awaiting transfer to the penitentiary. I am particularly interested
    in how other programs are funded, as ours is volunteer instruction and
    jail paid testing for the GED. Also, interested in approaches for
    special education for those whose services have not existed for many years.
  • Possible Guests

    • Administrators in the criminal justice system and law officers who
      will openly discuss communication efforts and issues from their
      perspectives and interactions
    • I have suggested two potential "panelists" to David who have recently
      completed doctoral dissertations that involved interviews with
      incarcerated individuals. While not focused specifically on literacy -
      their research does give voice to the views of students from whom we do
      not hear often if at all (i.e. actually incarcerated individuals). One
      paper focused on perceptions about corrections education, and the other
      about K-12 experiences of drop-outs who are now incarcerated -- each
      with a view to informing current educators about potential efforts to
      deter current students from such future ends.
    • John Linton, former correctional educator and now Director of
      Correctional Education for the U.S. Department of Education
    • Bill Muth, former Director of Education for the Federal Bureau of
      Prisons and currently a professor of correctional education at Virginia
      Commonwealth University
    • Steve Steurer, former correctional educator and now Executive Director
      of the Correctional Education Association
    • Carolyn Buser, former director of correctional education and current
      adult education specialist at the U.S. Department of Education who has a
      wealth of knowledge about how the adult education system and
      correctional education system works together.
    • John Nally, director of CE in Indiana who is Chair of the Council of
      Directors of CE

    Work-related Literacy/Basic Skills

    • Work-related basic skills: What is now being done around the US and
      world (at national, state, and local levels) to help job seekers and
      incumbent workers develop the basic skills and other career tools (e.g.,
      technical knowledge, credentials, connections, etc.) to move into and
      succeed in rewarding jobs? (Possible guests: In addition to US-based
      people, we might invite representatives of New Zealand, the UK, and
      Canada to participate.)
    • Looking at workforce education programs that are partnerships between
      businesses and local literacy organizations: the structure of the
      program, curriculum and assessments

    Family-related Literacy/Basic Skills

    • Family-related basic skills: What is now being done around the US and
      world (at national, state, and local levels) to help adults develop the
      basic skills and other life tools they need to help their families deal
      with educational, health, financial, housing, and other needs? (Possible
      guests: People who are thinking outside the box on what constitutes
      "family literacy.")

    Civics-related Literacy/Basic Skills

    • Civics-related basic skills: What is now being done around the US and
      world (at national, state, and local levels) to help adults develop the
      basic skills and other life tools they need to participate actively as
      community members and citizens? (Possible guests: People who are
      thinking outside the box on what constitutes civic literacy/citizenship


    • What is being done to build leadership for adult education among
      stakeholder groups (e.g., employers; populations with low levels of
      reading skills, language fluency, and educational attainment; criminal
      justice agencies; etc.) who theoretically should have an interest in
      this field but who have largely been silent and invisible? (Possible
      guests: critical thinkers in this area. Maybe tie this in with the state
      policy topic below.)
    • Adult learner leadership: What is being done to promote/develop the
      leadership capacities of adult learners? Why is it important to do so?
      What are ways of doing so? What are challenges and resources for doing
      so? (Possible guests: Representatives of national, state and local adult
      learner groups and the practitioners they work with.)


    • State policy: What are states doing to build adult learning systems
      that prepare adults for work, family, and civic responsibilities?
      (Possible guests: Representatives of some states which have shown
      innovation and commitment regarding adult education policy.)

    Advocacy and Public Awareness

    • How to encourage adult learners to advocate for education for
      themselves and others including those for whom the GED is not a viable
    • What do the public, donors, and elected officials REALLY need to know
      about the impact of low-level literacy skills in our country so that
      professionals get the help that they need to meet service demands? What
      is essential information we should be collecting or calculating? We have
      to appeal to different audiences: What messages are attractive to the
      general public vs donors vs elected officials?
    • How do we grab the attention of the general tax-paying population and
      major funding organizations to the critical need of literacy programs. I
      have seen the extensive research and results but not seen strategies to
      engage the general and specific populations.
    • There was a big push in the wake of the 2000 National Literacy Summit, From the Margins to the Mainstream, an Action Agenda for Literacy. Seven years later we are still very clearly at the margins. Was it the wrong agenda? In a nutshell, the agenda was three pronged.
      Priority 1- Resources

      Priority 2- Access

      Priority 3- Quality

      Could we use the discussion list to revisit and reformulate an Action
      Agenda? As a first thought, I would think that Priority 1 would be
      answering the following question: How do we make a compelling case to
      the general public, the media, the politicians, and policy makers that
      the achievement of universal adult literacy (in English) is central to
      the preservation of our nation’s founding principles as well as our
      social and economic well being?

    Possible Guests

    • People with influence who have the ability to be advocates… or people
      who are adversarial who also have influence. We could learn from those
      who are anti.

    System Building

    • In a time of limited resources, are adult educators retreating from
      building effective learning systems or are we finding new ways and
      resources to provide more and better quality services? (Possible guests:
      Critical thinkers in this area. Maybe tie this in with the state policy
      topic above.)
    • What is the essence of the US ABE/ESOL system (what works and what
      doesn’t?) and how does it compare to systems in other countries?
      For example, In the U.S. the adult education system is somewhat (ok a
      lot) separate from the job training and workforce development system
      making it difficult to implement integrated models that combine
      education and training. How are other countries managing to embed
      language and literacy development into services designed to help
      adults get jobs with a future.

      Another example, here in the U.S., family literacy focuses on teaching
      language and literacy skills in the context of life skills and helping
      parents understand the U.S. school system so they can help their
      children succeed. Other models (in the UK and some in Canada), help
      parents who’ve had few opportunities for schooling acquire the content
      knowledge their kids are learning (math, social science, geography,
      history) so that when there are questions the child has (about school,
      homework, tests), the parents can answer them with authority. I can see
      this system meshing nicely with what the GED is trying to do but if
      would be good to hear from experts in other countries about their
      insights into what has worked and what hasn’t.

    Learning Disabilities (styles, disorders, differences)

    • We know that students drop out of high school for a variety of
      reasons. How many drop out because they do not fit into the standard
      educational model? One respondent noted that many adult learners do not
      do well in traditional test-taking situations. Would they do better with
      alternative assessments? Should we educate them using the same model in
      which they were previously unsuccessful? How many are AD/HD? How many
      have what a psychologist might describe as an "Anti- Social Personality
      Disorder"? Should we continue to try to put them in a one-size-fits-all
      learning situation? Is it even practical, given the limited adult
      education resources, to try to assess differences beyond literacy levels?


    • How to develop/encourage/support independent/critical readers and
      writers. At what point do/can adult learners "leave the nest" and
      challenge ideas on their own? Is that not the epitome of literacy?


    • Assessment as a way to capture what counts and giving learners the
      opportunity to demonstrate knowledge and skills in ways that reflect
      real life tasks. Have we all just gotten so beaten up by the required
      standardized testing that there is no room or desire to consider
    • Exploring both (1) assessments of the learner before and after
      instruction and (2) what
      degree of English language functioning is sufficient for learners to
      continue developing language proficiency on their own. The federally
      funded ESL assistance provided through programs, like the Refugee
      Resettlement Program, expect the ESL activities it funds to focus on
      economic self-sufficiency and on the learner's ability to function in
      the workplace. Those who contract with resettlement providers struggle
      with knowing (i) what expectations to have of ESL activities and (ii)
      what results are sufficient.

    Other Topics

    • How do we know that the learners we work with have reached the
      "critical/independent" stage of literacy where they can stand on their
      own and continue their learning? When should a program certify the
      learner - that is, does having "gone through" the program suffice for
      the learner to have reached the level of independence that enables
      him/her to be a continuing and active learner, or should more be
      required? How should teachers be trained, how should curriculum
      be designed, how should programs be designed to support learners
      becoming critical and independent readers?

    Other Possible Guests

    • Local and national policy makers willing to discuss impact of literacy
      issues and plans for reform

    In the future, emphasize:

    • Discussion of student profiles and specific, personal, qualitative
      anecdotes about students, ESOL and ABE teachers
    • More focus on specific students, classes, and student populations
      (such as immigrants, adults, K-3, 4-6, postsecondary, etc.) Look from
      the ground up and not the top down in order to really make sense of the
      issues related to literacy and THEN apply the information to the level
      used by policy makers and administrators
    • More links to national and local studies with follow up discussions
      (but not too many studies at one time)
    • Further explanation and exploration of related statistics and how
      these impact daily interactions between students and teachers in Adult
      Ed and K-12
    • Simultaneous unification of the ABE and Literacy field. We all came
      together when ABE was on the verge of being cut. We need to be proactive
      (not that I have been) not reactive.

    Other Comments

    • Use live chatting instead of asynchronous text discussions
    • Combine topics (e.g. corrections, data and advocacy – including
      learners as advocates) using the Special Topics list for synergistic
    • Begin some discussions "ourselves" before inviting guests. It could be
      that with 'just us' questions will bubble up that we can then seek
      responses to/input from others with particular expertise?
    • Slow down and really pace ourselves between conversations
    • Why have we not compiled statistics in a way that serves all of our
      purposes? Most of the data on the NIFL web site is very dated. That’s sad.
    • I don’t think we are very politically outspoken. Over the past seven
      years, the media has failed us and the many of us have opted to be
      CAREFUL about how we express our discontent. Support for people most in
      need has dwindled down to a pathetic state and, in general, the outrage
      is but a peep in the night. It’s disgusting. I don’t know that it serves
      us to bash The Administration…but let’s stop pretending that there
      wasn’t a genuine attempt to dismantle the ABE systems just a couple of
      years ago. The worst kind of politics is when one side doesn’t want to
      acknowledge blatant abuse of the public…because it makes their party
      look bad. I don’t really care for the left or the right. We need to do a
      better job of being on OUR OWN SIDE…the side of greater literacy for
      all. We need to take risks that might regenerate the movement. I’m
      under- impressed with discussion lists in general. They tend to be heavy
      on philosophy, intellect, and light on raw truth and gutsy calls to action.

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