Best Practices in Workforce Education
The quality of curriculum and instruction in workforce education programs is critical to their success. There is no single blueprint for what curriculum and instruction should look like, for there are multiple factors to be considered, including the goals of the learners, program objectives, and the expectations of prospective employers. There are also no definitive models of instruction, or practices, that are guaranteed to bring about success. The practices that are implemented are relative to the learners and their background, to available resources and time, to the curricular design, etc. ESL learners face the challenge of not only upgrading their job skills and related competencies; they must additionally develop literacy in a second language. Research in the fields of Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) and literacy have provided some insights that can inform practitioners who are working with students enrolled in workforce education programs.
- The affective aspects of learning are most significant for those students with low levels of prior schooling, as is the case with many displaced and/or unemployed workers who are threatened by the idea of returning to school after decades of not being in a classroom. This is particularly true for ESL learners who must also be socialized into a different system of instruction than what many are familiar with and who feel highly inhibited and fragile when using English. It is critical that the instructor creates a classroom learning environment that is warm, caring, and nurturing for the student; yet, that maintains high standards and student expectations. Some ways to demonstrate caring are greeting students as they arrive, inquiring about their well-being and that of their families, praising individual and group accomplishments, and taking time periodically to confer individually with students regarding class progress, instructional barriers they may be facing, and other issues as appropriate.
- In participatory instruction, the lived experiences and cultural and linguistic knowledge students bring with them to the classroom is acknowledged and valued. Integrating student experiences, knowledge, and opinions into classroom discussions is not only proven to raise student motivation, but also provides a bridge for instructors to learn more about their students and thus develop learning activities that are relevant and applicable to their lives outside of the classroom. A worker's prior experience in making, packaging, and selling tamales from the home, for example, would be a most valuable and relevant contribution to a discussion on budgeting, meeting deadlines, and assembly line production.
- Hands-on experiences are essential in both the academic and the occupational classroom. In the case of ESL instruction, this entails the integration of authentic communicative activities that are highly interactive and emphasize the meaning or content of language rather than its structure. Dialogue circles, journals, oral and/or written family histories, and presentations are examples of such activities. An occupation is also best learned through demonstrations and hands-on activities that are provided by someone who has years of work experience in the particular area being taught Functional context learning is particularly significant for Latino and other cultures that emphasize learning through modeling and doing rather than through verbal explanations.
- Metacognitive skills should be taught and practiced in the classroom, particularly for students with little formal education. The integration of metacognitive skills into instruction involves explicitly teaching students to reflect on their own learning processes and how they best learn. This might involve, for example, teaching students how to summarize or group ideas, how to ask questions for clarification, and/or how to "test" or monitor their own learning through the use of homemade flashcards.
- Praxis involves a process whereby problem-solving and critical thinking skills that are vital in today's job market are developed. Praxis begins in the classroom through problematizing of reality. In other words, learners identify problems, come to recognize the significance of the issues involved, and develop action plans that are implemented in order to confront and/or solve the issues. An issue that could be problematized, for instance, would be supervisors not allowing students to attend classes regularly when such an agreement has already been made with management.
These practices are not meant to be exhaustive; however, they do provide some of the fundamental characteristics of successful practices in workforce education.
About the Author
Ana G. Huerta-Macias is an Associate Professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at New Mexico State University. She has numerous publications in the areas of Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), Adult and Family Literacy, Border Education, and Sociolinguistics. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org