ADULT EDUCATION IN MINNEAPOLIS
Cedar Riverside teachers do their best to accommodate the learning needs and cultural traditions of their learners. The adults in their classes range in age from 25 to 78. Most have very low-level literacy skills in their native languages. Teachers often use large-group instructional strategies because their students prefer this to working in small groups, and teachers have found that student performance increases with social interaction. Because of cultural taboos, teachers are mindful of pairing men and women during learning activities. The teachers often integrate hands-on activities in class because learners are accustomed to this from their home countries. The adults in the Cedar Riverside classes present significant challenges for the teachers, including:
Relationships between the teachers and learners extend beyond the classroom. As one teacher described it, "We are cultural liaisons for our students." Because they trust the teachers, learners come to them for help navigating the American system. Many learners have experienced civil war in their home countries. Some have post-traumatic stress disorder that reduces their short-term memory and diminishes their self-confidence. Teachers refer them to counseling and other services when needed. Teachers recognize that they are "ambassadors for the American culture."
NAVIGATING LIFE IN AMERICA
Newly arrived immigrants and refugees can find it very difficult to adjust to a country where they cannot read or speak the language and where the culture is so different from their own. Routine activities in this new setting, such as food shopping, catching a bus, or cleaning a home, can be intimidating and, at times, even dangerous. For example, when teachers heard that some students had injured themselves using household cleaning products common in America, they developed a lesson about how to read labels and use the products properly. The Cedar Riverside teachers not only teach their students English and other academic subjects, they also help them master the day-to-day challenges of life in their new homeland.
Computer Instruction for Low-Level English Literacy Learners
Riverside Plaza Resource Center's computer lab started with just a few computers, but has grown to two rooms that have 36 computers purchased with funding from Wells Fargo Bank and the McKnight Foundation. Learners from all the Cedar Riverside Adult Education partnership classes spend time in the lab two or three times each week. The computer literacy and English literacy teachers team-teach the lab sessions.
One recent morning, members of two Level 1 English literacy classes sat at computers in the larger of the two rooms, using the computer mouse to match letters to the days of the week that appeared on their computer monitors. These men and women of all ages were from Somalia and Ethiopia and speak Somali, Oromo, or Amharic. They were all smiles when asked why they want to learn to use a computer. Many replied, "To e-mail my family in Somalia." Some said, "To get a good job," and others answered, "To help my children with their school work." A smaller group of Level 4 learners worked at about a dozen computers in the other room. They were reading stories about famous African Americans on their computers and clicking on highlighted words to see their definitions.
In October 2002, the Cedar Riverside Adult Education Collaborative received a Community Technology Center (CTC) grant to incorporate technology into English language acquisition instruction. The partners credit the partnership with their success in securing the federal grant. The grant has made it possible to staff the Resource Center with two full-time computer instructors, to develop software for pre-literate EL learners, and to provide computer training to the adults in the neighborhood's EL and family literacy programs.
When Eden Rock, the CTC project director, with the help of the Minnesota Literacy Council, brought the RPTA and Coyle Center teachers together to discuss using software with their students, the teachers were skeptical. They had reviewed several programs, but they found that either the content wasn't appropriate or they required a high degree of manual dexterity. They were concerned about the coordination required for using a mouse, since many of their learners never had held a pencil.
The computer teachers researched various software development programs and came up with a combination of computer-based instructional support that looked promising. It included a software-authoring package, a web-based lesson-planning tool, and word recognition software. They found an easy-to-use software development program designed for K-12 teachers and students and adapted it for adult learners (HyperStudio, www.hyperstudio.com). They also found "Sebran's ABC," a Danish web-based lesson-planning program for children that has letter recognition exercises suitable for adults. (To preview Sebran, visit www.cnet.com and type in Sebran under Search.) They used "Word Order" shareware to reinforce reading and spelling skills (teachers select the words, scramble them, and then ask learners to put them in order).
The teachers agreed that they wanted a smooth flow of instruction in the English and computer classes. The computer teachers asked the English literacy teachers what their needs were and then developed the computer lessons with those in mind. The software development program gives the computer and EL/family literacy teachers flexibility; they can design new computer lessons as needed, either to accommodate changes in the curriculum or to respond to requests from learners.
Instruction in the computer classes reinforces the curriculum in the EL classes. Learners are able to work at their own pace, and teachers feel that they are serving their low-level learners more effectively. In the end, the teachers' initial concerns about students' motor skills were unfounded; learners have no trouble using the mouse. In June 2003, the teachers made a presentation on the computer-based lessons to 40 adult educators at the Minnesota Literacy Council's Technology in Adult Literacy conference. They are exploring the possibility of creating a Web site that will make the lessons easily accessible. To view sample lessons, return to the Cedar Riverside Partnership Profile Summary.