August 17, 2017

Skills Packets Won't Help You Now (or ever...)

Recently, I was talking to some adult education folks about needed revisions to their High School Equivalency courses. It quickly became an opportunity to discuss the importance of ensuring the Instructional Shifts lived in all of our instructional materials and classroom practices...

High School Equivalency (HSE) courses are mostly test-prep, designed to helps students take and pass various HSE exams (such as the GED, HiSET, or TASC). Until the recent past, these tests were built around skills assessment. With the adoption of the CCR Standards for Adult Education by most programs throughout the US, this has markedly changed. These HSE exams are now largely knowledge-based tests. GED’s website states the exam has four subjects and tests in the following areas: “Math - Quantitative & algebraic problem solving; Science - Life science, physical science, earth and space science; Social Studies - Civics and government, U.S. history, economics, geography and the world; Reasoning Through Language Arts - Ability to read closely, write clearly, and edit and understand written text”.  Gone are the days that skills packets have any hope of preparing adult education students to pass the GED (did they really ever?). As a test of knowledge, HSE preparation courses must be based on the learning of content through the reading of complex text and engagement with corresponding tasks. Skills packets won't help you now.

To be ready to take and pass any HSE exam, students will need some amount of background knowledge in and familiarity with the various content areas and disciplines mentioned above. Therefore, programs must provide test preparation in the form of content and text-based materials that provide not only valuable knowledge in the areas of literature and science but also some familiarity with question types and test-taking strategies. (And even better yet, in doing so programs are in line with the Instructional Shifts necessitated by CCSS and CCRS). Listed below are some examples of what HSE test prep courses and practices might look like in an alternative environment (a word of warning, lots of exemplars here from RISE Academy!):
  • Examples of how to create instructional block around both test-preparation and building of various knowledge types can be seen the HSE 100 Literacy course materials developed by RISE Academy for Adult Achievement, available here. Designated for use in a single, 8-week HSE course (for the high school equivalency tests: TASK, HiSET, or GED), these materials focus on the literacy, content, and test-taking needs for students signed-up for any non-math HSE test.
  • Examples of providing targeted, differentiated HSE prep for students not yet ready to enroll in RISE's HSE 100 Lit course (students with low level TABE results), students have the opportunity to take 1 to 2 quarters of HSE 90 (HSE 90 1 or HSE 90 2) prior to enrolling in HSE 100. These 90 courses have a similar literacy, content, and test-taking preparation focus as the 100 courses, but provide materials at a lower reading level to meet students’ needs.
  • If further, more elaborate, content area focus is needed, programs often provide single content area courses as a preparation (for either Adult High School Diploma or HSE preparation). See example of US Government course maps from RISE.
  • As a resources for teachers across various content areas, RISE has created and implemented across different courses these academic literacy strategies. Professional development has been provided for each and all have been strategically placed in various RISE curriculum maps to support reading, writing, and speaking about complex text.

August 4, 2017

Professional Learning framed by HQ Materials and College and Career Readiness Standards

For many of us, summer is nearly over. Le sigh.

As the school year approaches, many educators are putting the final pieces of this year's professional learning into place. My early August is no different. For much of this summer, I have worked RISE Academy to help them draft course curriculum maps and plain their roll-out this Fall. (These maps are a collaborative, multi-year, responsive effort to better support teachers to use instructional materials and strategies aligned to both the CCRS and the needs of their adult students.) Though this work could be a series of posts all on its own, I want to pivot away from the importance of high-quality curriculum and talk a little about the implementation of high-quality curriculum.

If a central purpose of using high-quality curriculum is to help students better meet the expectations in college and career readiness standards, then using teachers should have a working knowledge of those standards and the shift in instruction they imply. Without such a base of understanding, mis-using curriculum and no significant change in student learning is likely to be the result. Simply put, we cannot teach to standards we do not know.

Before we all get excited about the idea of unpacking standards (please don't), consider how valuable it is for teachers to see the standards and their instructional shifts paired with examples of student learning aligned to these expectation.  Whether teachers are new to their learning about the CCSS or this is their 1000th time around the sun, providing the opportunity to experience how high-quality instructional materials make achieving the rigorous standards possible (and fun!) in the classroom is not to be missed.

Making the assumption that there has already been a cohesive process for adopting materials  (this being the most obvious place to start), the next step might be to design professional learning that pairs the ELA-Literacy standards  and their Instructional Shifts (or Key Advances for my adult education friends) with exemplars from your adopted, high-quality materials. Such an approach provides an overview of the Standards and Instructional Shifts writ large, and then moves on to exploring each shift's definition and supporting research paired with a high quality example (or examples) from instructional resources. Places to see examples of materials are linked below. For each, be sure to include examples and work time with excerpts from your adopted HQ materials.

All of this learning is in the service of supporting teachers to better understand the design and purpose of the instructional materials they will be using in their classrooms. This learning, while a critical place to start, does not then replace the times teachers will need for orientation to new the new materials, the worthwhile (and continually necessary) common planning time, nor the PLCs teachers might for to review student work. Implementing new and high-quality curriculum is a heavy, ongoing, and worthwhile lift. Giving teachers a common understanding to start this worthwhile work from is key to its success.