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Developing a Deeper Understanding of Content

September 15, 2013

In my experience in adult literacy, I have learned that many adult literacy educators were not formally trained in education, not formally trained in the adult literacy content areas (especially mathematics or mathematics instruction), and were not familiar with teaching methodologies or adult learning theories.  Many teachers, like me, had not had a mathematics, science or social studies course since high school or undergraduate school.  It is no surprise then that, despite our best efforts, many students who feel ready to sit for the GED tests come back with scores that are too low to allow them to pass.  My co-workers would often say, “They do fine until they get to that mathematics,” or "If they could just learn to write a good 5-paragraph essay. . .”  Instructors appeared to be baffled by this, but it became very clear to me that students never did understand the mathematics; they simply memorized steps that were presented to them by their instructors, and had forgotten them by the time they were ready to sit for the test.  Similarly, the students did not understand how their writing skills fell short. 


This became even clearer to me over the next several years as I conducted professional development workshops and found current instructors lacked understanding of basic mathematics concepts and the conventions of modern English that are presented in the main GED books used at program sites, with one instructor admitting that he could look at a student writing sample and discern that it was not correct, but that he could not tell the student exactly what was wrong with it.    


How can we help our students to develop a deeper understanding of what we want them to learn?  We have to develop a deeper, conceptual understanding ourselves.  This takes a little time and resourcefulness on our parts.  I know that many of us (like me) labor for free, and those of us who are paid are often not paid prep time, but I don’t think that should stop us from “knowing our stuff.”  There are tons of great videos out there such as the ones on “TeacherTube” or Khan Academy.  It only takes a few minutes of watching to understand a topic a little better or learn a new approach to teaching it.


If you do just one thing this week, take 5 minutes to watch a video on a topic that you would like to understand a little better.


Dr. Carmine Stewart


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