PROJECT IDEA CORNER
Life Skills Equip Inmates to Be Future Citizens
As teachers, we continuously search for ways to improve our instructional practices so that our students can learn. Teachers often spend hours outside the classroom preparing lessons, only to find learners unimpressed and unmotivated to learn from them. A year and a half ago, I developed an effective method for teaching Life Skills to men in correctional facilities. Sooner or later, these incarcerated men will get out of jail and they will need to be equipped with the skills necessary to be good citizens and community members. Equipped for the Future (EFF) provides an excellent framework for teaching Life Skills to men who have failed in school and in society. EFF helps the teacher provide the knowledge and skills necessary to be successful on the outside.
Briefly, learning life skills emphasizes making good choices and decisions. Once in the correctional system, eighty percent of the inmates return to jail or prison. Why? Often they are young, fearful, and distrusting. The inmates need guidance, purpose and direction. Too often they repeat criminal acts and go back to the same environment, friends, and activities that got them in jail. Inmates lack knowledge of the roles they play in society.
Life skills instruction begins by building self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-respect. The EFF framework enables the students to see themselves accessing information, voicing opinions and ideas, taking independent action to solve problems and make decisions, and bridging to the future with lifelong learning. EFF echoes in their minds because inmates look forward to the day that they will be free. Equipped for the Future empowers students to go beyond their imprisonment and to prepare for the future. EFF creates a positive mindset that is conducive to learning. It is about how to be successful outside in the community.
I start Life Skills classes by asking students about their goals and objectives for themselves, their families, their work, and their community. This exercise allows the students to envision their future and their roles in that future. However, this task is not an easy one. Because inmates are often reluctant to reveal a personal side, the goals and objectives are written on a Goals Worksheet that I keep in individual student files. Students can add, modify, and delete as they begin to think and reflect about what they want to do when they get out of prison. The process requires that they plan how they will accomplish goals, what actions they will take, and whether they will need study.
Creating trust in the classroom begins by showing that I care about my students and that I respect them. I make it clear that I am not interested in their past crimes. I am interested in their ability to think, their ability to analyze, their ability to convey an idea orally and in writing, and their ability to make good decisions. The idea of starting with a clean slate appeals to inmates. They believe they are being given a second chance.
The focus of Life Skills classes is on the four generative skills: communication skills, decision-making skills, interpersonal skills, and lifelong learning. The students must be able to demonstrate these skills as described beginning on page 15 of the publication Equipped for the Future Content Standards. Contact the Adult Literacy Clearinghouse at (800) 441-7323 for your free copy.
Class lessons consist of identifying an issue, a problem, or an idea that is relevant and meaningful to the inmates. Discussions require problem solving. My most effective Life Skills classes focus on a "hot topic," issue, or idea that is connected to the goals of the students. In essence, the lesson emphasizes things that matter in their lives. For example, inmates want to share lessons learned from past mistakes. By sharing their mistakes, they begin to interact, receive feedback, and learn from each other. Often I will bring current newspaper articles about Central Texas crimes such as the James Byrd, Jr. case, the Lytton Springs robbery and murder, and the Yogurt Shoppe murders. The students will role play by placing themselves in the shoes of the victims, the community, family, or criminals. Students will analyze situations, determine consequences, and try to develop good decisions.
Teaching Life Skills using EFF as a framework makes sense to inmates because they can relate to the role maps and the skills necessary for success on the outside. This fall I taught two separate classes in the Caldwell County Jail to female and male inmates. While participation was voluntary, 100 percent of the females and 25 percent of the males attended class. EFF and Life Skills make a good a team.
About the Author
Robert Anchondo teaches part-time for the Lockhart Adult Learning Center. Previously he taught ESL, GED, and Life Skills for Ten County Co-op. Robert is a Master Teacher in EFF and an alumnus of Project IDEA. Married and a father of four children, he serves on the Navarro Elementary School Improvement Committee and is active at St. Mary's of the Visitation Church in Lockhart. Robert earned a BA from Stanford University, a MBA from Boston University, and a MA from Trinity University.
What IS Project IDEA?
Project IDEA was created as a collaborative effort by the Adult Education Professional Development Consortium (AEPDC) to give teachers throughout Texas a new option for professional development. This TEA-funded program provides teachers with opportunities for professional growth through networking and ongoing training designed to develop new knowledge and skills related specifically to their programs and classrooms. Teachers who are nominated by the local programs to participate in this Statewide initiative, are guided through a process of facilitating student-generated projects. These projects serve as the catalyst for the teachers to begin identifying questions and conducting inquiry into their teaching. Past participants have indicated that this helped them to upgrade their instructional skills, renew their job satisfaction, and become more active professionally.
Are YOU interested in hearing more about Project IDEA? If so, please call or contact either:
Director - Project IDEA
Coordinator - Project IDEA