View from a Participant in the Texas Adult Education
Standards and Benchmarks Field Test Fall 2006
Adult Education Instructor, Bryan Adult Learning Center
I am a master’s student in adult education. In addition, I have worked as an instructor in several different adult education settings and am currently teaching part-time in a GED/ABE class. As is the case with many adult education instructors, this was an interest that developed late in life and so my training has been “on the job.” One of my major frustrations in teaching has been a lack of structured curriculum, and so I have sought some sort of framework of the expectations for what an adult student should know at various levels of learning. My background is not in education, and so I don’t have training to fall back on that might provide this structure for me.
As I was searching on the Internet for some ideas to use in my class, I visited the TCALL website, and saw an invitation to participate in the field study being conducted to review standards and benchmarks for adult education. This sounded like a very interesting invitation! I immediately responded and sent in an application. Shortly thereafter I was accepted as a participant. I have never participated in a field study before, so this has been a totally new experience for me. The idea of being an integral part of research was very appealing, and doubly so because the research was in an area in which I was intimately engaged.
The first requirement for all the participants was to attend a mandatory training session. On August 3 a group of us met in Austin to be oriented to the field study. The session was to last from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. We were trained by a three individuals from Texas LEARNS and TCALL. We spent the day learning to understand the Standards and Benchmarks, why and how they were developed, and how we were to use them over the period of the field study. We were informed that we would also be required to participate in three conference calls and turn in a series of reports and lesson plans during the study. Statewide, there were 56 participants who are adult education teachers in various types of classes such as ESL, GED, and ABE. The locations of these classes range from community centers to homeless shelters to community colleges.
The benchmark matrices for each of the standards were introduced to us at the training session. There are seven standards in reading, writing, listening, speaking, and mathematics. Each standard is composed of many benchmarks (between 4 in speaking and 15 in math). The standards are (1) Reading with Understanding, (2) Convey Ideas in Writing, (3) Use Math to Solve Problems and Communicate, (4) Speak So Others Can Understand, (5) Listen Actively, (6) Reading with Understanding ESL, and (7) Convey Ideas in Writing ESL. These standards and benchmarks were developed by writing teams composed of adult education practitioners from across Texas who compiled the various benchmarks for each of seven standards.
Each field study participant was to choose a single standard to work on during the field study. Since I was at the beginning of my year with a new class, and the major need for most of the students was math, I chose Standard 3 “Use Math to Solve Problems and Communicate”. I was working on math pretty consistently in my class already, and I felt that the benchmarks would be fairly easy to incorporate into what I was already doing. We were asked to cover all the benchmarks in at least one level and to make note of how we felt the different strands worked together and individually and how they functioned in the classroom.
After reviewing the standard for math, I determined that the majority of my students were at Level 2 out of six levels. I was very excited to begin using the standards and benchmarks in my teaching because I saw it as the framework I had been lacking. What a great resource this was for me! Here was a description of topics that needed to be addressed at several levels of adult education that could provide adult learners with the foundation of education that they need. While I have many study guides that I can refer to for teaching topics, this was much more useful to me. Here an organized set of standards arranged by level that could help me combine the many areas of mathematics into a curriculum with a logical progression of topics appropriate for my students.
Since our academic year began on July 1, I began using the standards and benchmarks the week after the training session. I started at the beginning of the Level 2 benchmarks, and began to work my way down. However, after a couple of weeks of class, I realized that I was going to have to include some benchmarks from Level 1 and Level 3. It didn’t make a lot of sense for the students to be introduced to the idea of fractions, and then move on to measurement. When teaching math, as well as most other subjects, we don’t just introduce a new idea and then move on to another new idea, we build on the first idea and then expand and go into more depth. As with fractions, once I introduced them, we then learned about adding and subtracting them, comparing them, and multiplying and dividing. These ideas include strands in Levels 2 and 3, and after several weeks of working with my students, I have now gone into Level 4 in the strand dealing with fractions, decimals and percents.
I spent considerable time studying the benchmarks for math. Each day that I was going to teach, I would review the benchmarks and what I had already covered and what needed to be covered. It was a very good process for me and helped a lot as I tried to stay focused on using the benchmarks, but at the same time, making progress in teaching math skills. The benchmarks provided a constant future goal to work toward.
Over the weeks, I persisted in working my way through Level 2. By the time the study was completed I had been using the Standards and Benchmarks for 14 weeks. I have worked on each of the benchmarks in Level 2. There are a total of 15 benchmarks but each one is well defined and easy to use in planning a lesson. The benchmarks that I found most difficult to use were 2.10 “Collect data and construct simple everyday graphs and charts” and 2.14 “Construct simple patterns and sequences”. The difficulty for me was that I had not worked much with these topics and was unsure how to approach them in the classroom. The examples listed at the end of the Standards and Benchmarks were very helpful with other topics, but did not include any ideas for these particular benchmarks.
Then, once again on the Internet, I found a lesson plan that was a perfect match for the 2.10 benchmark on graphs and charts. I took the lesson and adapted it to use in the time I had for a class. The lesson plan incorporated generating the data, creating a pictograph, a bar chart, and a pie chart. The students were very involved in the lesson and stayed focused through the entire two-hour class. It was a great success for me and for the learners. This lesson topic is not one that I would have sought out had it not been for the guidelines in the Standards and Benchmarks.
For me, one of the more useful parts of the field study participation was the conference calls. Although the calls were fairly brief, and the conversation was directed by Dr. Lesley Tomaszewski, the participants were able to exchange ideas and compare notes to some extent. Without Lesley’s guidance, we may not have had as much discussion as we did. As we responded to Lesley’s prompts, we often found that we were experiencing the same things, and just as often were able to gain new insights from another participant’s understanding or know-how. I found these exchanges very enlightening.
One of the requirements of participation in the field study was creating and submitting three lesson plans based on the standards and benchmarks. Unfortunately, the lesson plan form being used was very difficult to work with. When the time came for the first lesson plan to be turned in, I pulled out the lesson plan form and read through it. Then I read through it again, and realized that I could not make heads or tails out of what it was asking for. The wording of the questions was ambiguous and difficult to follow, and as a result, a response was virtually impossible for me. So, I am sorry to say, I just put it back in the notebook and moved on. It was so difficult for me to work with, that I avoided it until the very last conference call. I realized that the time for the field study to end was at hand, and that I had to figure out some way to submit the lesson plans. I emailed Lesley and asked her if I could turn in lesson plans in a different form. She said that it was important for all of the lesson plans to be in the same format, and that she would try to help me figure the form out.
Then we had the final conference call. In response to one of the questions asked, I said that I was having trouble filling out the lesson plan. It was like opening the flood gates! Apparently, everyone was having trouble with the lesson plan form! We were able to discuss that for a while, and I came away feeling as though I was not quite so far behind everyone else, and that my experience had been shared by others. It was a helpful experience for me, and actually enabled me to make another try at the lesson plan form.
There have been a couple of really important outcomes for me as a result of my participation in the Standards and Benchmarks field study. First, as an instructor, one of the outcomes of participation in this field study has been the desire to reevaluate my teaching. I am looking at the techniques and methods I use and the ways I present the material, the curriculum I have been teaching, and the ways in which I can tie in the lessons to my students’ day-to-day lives. Through interaction with the other participants and studying the Standards and Benchmarks, I have been introduced to some better techniques and methods. It is valuable to hear of the struggles and successes of other teachers. The Standards and Benchmarks gave me a whole new view of the curriculum. They helped me to see the many facets of mathematics and the interrelationships of the various levels. By using them I was able to teach in a more organized and structured way, which I believe is beneficial to me as an instructor as well as to the students.
One of the biggest changes I want to incorporate in my teaching will be tying the lessons to my students’ day-to-day lives. I have recognized the value of this for some time, but have not been very successful in accomplishing it in the classroom. This is the area where I need the most improvement. However, I can truly say that many of the experiences I have had during this field study have helped me to gain a greater appreciation for and understanding of the necessity of applying this concept to my teaching in a consistent way.
During the past year and a half of teaching at the Bryan Adult Learning Center, it has become very clear that the students need to see the value of this education for their daily life – at work, at home, in the community. If they do not see the value of it, they don’t come back to class. My job is to help them realize the value of education by demonstrating how they can use it.
The second important outcome has been a very clear understanding of the value of Standards and Benchmarks for new and/or inexperienced adult education teachers. This information is something that some states have in use, but I had not been able to find in Texas. Now I have.
This is valuable and useful information – for me it could have made the difference between continuing to teach in this program or not – and it should be highly visible and available. My hope is that the result of this research project will be a well-defined and user friendly set of standards and benchmarks for adult education in Texas, and I truly believe that this is a very realistic goal. However, as with all research, if the results of the research are not published and made easily accessible to those who can benefit from it, it is not successful. So I hope that the Standards and Benchmarks will be advertised and made highly visible so that they can be used by instructors and students alike. These Standards and Benchmarks have the potential to be very beneficial to the adult education programs of the State of Texas, and I sincerely hope they will be put into service to the benefit of adult educators and adult learners across the state.