Innovative Strategies: Ideas that Work!

This guide contains 22 stories written by adult basic educators in Pennsylvania who describe the many different ways they have used PA’s Foundation Skills Framework.

Angelic Hardy (Ed.)
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation
Workforce Education Research Center, Institute for the Study of Adult Literacy at The Pennsylvania State University
Publication Year
Resource Type
Number of Pages

This guide contains 22 stories written by adult basic educators in Pennsylvania who describe the many different ways they have used PA’s Foundation Skills Framework to develop and/or provide work-related programs for adult learners in various settings, such as adult education classrooms, prisons, workplaces, unions, sheltered workshops, and English Language Acquisition programs. The stories have been sorted into specific strategy categories: Curriculum Development, Expanding Capacity, and Collaborative Efforts. Some of the terms used in the stories may be unfamiliar to practitioners outside of PA, but the stories are relevant for all instructors and administrators who address teaching and learning in the work context. It is recommended that users take the time to read all of the stories, not only the ones that apply to their situations, because this publication has hundreds of innovative ideas and reminds us of the depth and breadth of the adult education field.

Learn how one practitioner led his group of inmates through job histories (good and bad) to resumes to new technologies and the GED essay. Find out how several programs helped students develop and run successful “student-run businesses” to contextualize work-related finances and entrepreneurship. Workplace safety, ethics, language, culture, and interpersonal skills are covered in various stories; time management and interpersonal skills are addressed in others. Another program describes their work with students with special needs who have been employed in subsidized workshops or employment programs. 

Administrators will find systematic and specific ideas for building capacity of their staff and programs to provide work-based basic skills instruction. Find out ways to contact and partner with regional employers to address the skills needs of local workforce and partner with workforce development systems. One writer describes her work with the local workforce partners (One-Stop, Workforce Investment Board) to develop a “pipeline” of skilled workers. She explains the process they used to develop a specific curriculum to meet the demanding needs of local employers.

Again, this guide has something for everyone to think about and learn from. A thorough reading of the guide from beginning to end is an excellent tool for new and experienced practitioners to find out how one state built an effective network of practitioners who realize the benefits and rewards of work-contextualized learning.

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What the experts say

This document contains concise descriptions – written by adult educators – of how they adapted the Pennsylvania Skills Framework to create work-related basic skills programs for various populations. The best of these descriptions capture the creativity that adult educators bring to their work. Several use project-based learning activities to, say, have learners design their own business, make masks, and solve problems taken from typical workplace scenarios. Others focus on helping unemployed set job goals and otherwise prepare a strategy for getting a rewarding job. These activities thereby immerse learners in the kinds of problem-solving and team-based tasks they are likely to face in the workplace or when seeking a job. The curricula described also typically integrate basic skills, computer skills, and occupational knowledge. This easy-to-read book can be used by adult educators looking for practical ways to respond to the varied learning needs of job seekers and incumbent workers.

These stories ring true with their descriptions of real students engaged in authentic and contextualized learning activities as part of adult education and workforce development programs. Practitioners from other states will find these ideas useful because the instructional settings are not unique to Pennsylvania. A possible drawback is the use of Pennsylvania-specific terminology; a glossary and acronyms would have been helpful.

The collection includes:

  • great examples of project and work-based learning
  • ways to integrate ESL/ABE instruction and workplace skills development
  • collaboration among instructors
  • an excellent how-to on conducting a language task analysis
  • the power of play in a family literacy setting
  • excellent lessons on financial responsibility,
  • working with ex-offenders
  • measuring competencies with a rubric
  • the importance of integrating the hard literacy skills with “soft” employability skills
  • an I-BEST-like initiative for training nurse assistants.
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