Week 4: 10/2-8 DISCUSSION 5 – Review and Share

Welcome to our final week of the PIAAC Literacy Circle! We look forward to continuing the conversation about your developing Unit Overviews. We invite those who have not yet shared about your experiences to do so--and hope to hear again from those who have!

We did not expect to cover all aspects of curriculum design addressed in the guide (e.g., sequencing and explicit instruction), but if you have questions or insights about these sections, feel free to raise those this week. There’s so much we haven’t even touched on!

But, at the most basic level, we hope we can at least discuss the following:

  1. What is a significant take-away from your participation in the PIAAC Literacy Circle, whether you’ve been a “lurker” so far or an active participant?
  2. What next-steps do you envision for sharing and implementing the work we have completed in this community?
  3. If we implement this Circle again, what suggestions do you have for improving the strategies and content used?

For those of you who actively participated in the development of the Unit Overviews, we would love to see what you have! We would like to work a few of these up as samples for the field, as supports for teachers/programs who want to move forward with this type of design. If you are interested in submitting your Unit Overview, please do the following.

  1. Download the blank template for the model we used and enter all content for each of the four sections: Contextualized Reading Instruction AT-A-GLANCE. (Google Docs or Word)
  2. Review your work, reflecting on how it meets the Unit Outline Development Checklist items for the activity.
  3. Add a title for the activity you developed, and state the level of the students you targeted, using NRS level definition. Our repository site also has all links listed: NRS Educational Functional Level (EFL) Descriptors that also include Test results for TABE, CASAS, and ABLE - This very useful table describes what students are able to do at different levels. GO to http://learnresources.org/guidetoliteracy.htm
  4. Also, add the name (s) of the author (s), with a statement that says, “Permission granted to modify and share with others, with attribution, as per Creative Commons License “Attribution-ShareAlike CC BY-SA” unless you want to specify other restrictions for use.
  5. Send to Leecy Wise, leecy@reconnectioncompany.com or post on Google Docs and share the link with us.

The moderators and Amy Trawick will follow up with you as needed before posting your Unit Overview for the public (some adaptations may be required). Thank you for being willing to share your materials!

If you need any help at all, simply ask and we’ll be there to lend a hand.

The PIAAC Team


Hello Leecy and group, My apologies, I've been out of state for a family issue. I will take time to contribute and review others' work tomorrow. I'm quite excited about what I've developed so far. Thank you for your support, Jamie

I came into the lit circle with some background on PIAAC, but little exposure or thought about a specific focus on one component, like literacy. I wanted to come in and learn what I did not know and to that end I feel I have found much success. The resources shared are great, but I learned that I need much more time to process all the goodies within. Maybe it was the timing of the lit circle coinciding with the start of a new school year and all the craziness that goes with that, but I just did not have the time available that I needed to really process everything in our 4 weeks. One of the advantages of a digital format like this is that I can keep working on things and drop questions or progress over time, which is nice. 

I felt the focus on just the literacy development elements of the PIAAC had both positives and negatives. My literacy efforts in volunteer work have encouraged me to dive into the English teaching side of the educational spectrum even though I still find the math side nice, warm and fuzzy. The resources and suggestions offered have given me much to process and helped me realize there are elements I have not thought of before. As you may have read in some of my posts, I found myself half way through our time together when I really started experiencing some inner conflicts. I have spent much of my time in prep setting up activities, possible resources, possible products to demonstrate learning and assessments, but I have not attempted to document those 4 items in a more conventional structure. I still struggle with this, but it is the discovery of this conflict that I appreciate from some of the discussion. 

The text shared and the examples were helpful for me to gain different perspectives. We all learn differently and observing/reading about aspects that I may have initially dismissed as not that important and then later seeing examples of the importance has been helpful. I still question how much of our more traditional academic work we engage students in transfers over to the real life work the student will hopefully engage in out in the work force. As I get more and more activities formulated, I think I wish to hit up some of my friends in the community that run different types of businesses to get their perspectives about how the work I generate for learning experiences lines up with work they expect from their employees. I have grown to really be cautious that our academic exercises are foolish or irrelevant to those that live in that real world place we mention often within our academic institutions. I wonder if others out there have tried sharing their activities with employers in the community and what kind of feedback you received? 

One last observation/lesson I had in this 4 week experience. We had a good number of people signed up for this 4 weeks. It has been a little disappointing to hear from so few voices in the group. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate what others offered. I just know there are so many talented people out there with so much they could share. On the other hand, I know that lurking has much value for the individual lurkers as well. I think there is some rule of the internet where you have something like 1/4 of any group that will be active, 50% lurk and the other 1/4 either forget they signed up for something or that pesky real life gets in the way. In any event, I am thankful we have the forum for discussion and thank the moderators for their efforts to offer resources, responses and encouragement throughout our study. I still have much work left to do on this topic and appreciate the option for future discussions around how we all work to address the PIAAC findings. 

Hi Ed, 

I'm glad you found the PIAAC Literacy Circle meaningful. I want to address  your comment about retention, and think about how that critical component translates to our adult learners. The PIAAC circle offered a framework for developing meaningful instruction targeting specific content areas, but as you mentioned - interest and value may not be enough. So, as we develop the instruction, how did we integrate student expectations? How will we keep our students engaged long enough to benefit from our instruction? 
Just a few thoughts that were triggered from your comments. 


Kathy, as our educational community continues to share questions about retention, relevancy, persistence, motivation and other challenges we face, I continue to feel that it is the individual focus that is the key to helping us all find more success. A shift from the mostly teacher-centric approach (in which the teacher prepares the direction, actions, assessments with the hopes of having the most inclusion possible) to more student-centric approaches (in which teachers become navigators that help individuals with access to learning experiences, means to practice their learning, suggestions on products that demonstrate learning and help in learning to self assess progress). Such a shift is quite difficult for many of us to imagine and taking baby steps towards such a shift seems daunting and awkward for many. I feel very fortunate that I have had 3-4 years of experiencing mostly student-centric classrooms a few years back and it was a wonderful experience I hope to be able to recreate in my current work efforts. 

I wonder if education may ever adopt a model similar to a doctor's office. Student comes in, asks for some diagnostic for an educational need. Results are used to prescribe options for learning. Student engages in those options while assessing their perceived effectiveness and communicating with the prescriber to modify as needed. When the student feels the need has been met, a check up is administered to verify with possible follow ups if concerns are found in the check up process. Seems to work with how we deal with health issues (please disregard all the politics and insurance junk associated with this), do others feel that such an educational clinic model would work? Are they already starting up? Would such a model help or impede successes within the PIAAC model or perhaps there would be little change?


Hello Ed and all, Thanks for being an integral part of the Lit Circle. Learning from one another through a study circle such as this is so valuable to me.

While I will confess I am not keen on the medical model as a metaphor, I am inspired by the way you have described your learner-centric approach. I really appreciated the details you provided about how this has worked for you. There is no question that zeroing in on specific interests and needs of learners and co-designing with an individual a unique, step-by-step learning plan (with flexibility built in!) can be highly effective. I say this acknowledging that the adults who come to us often need a lot of guidance and support through this process-- especially since this approach is typically quite different from learners' expectations.

All of that being said, I am also wondering about the role of the learning community -- adult students interacting with one another and learning together. How can we best leverage this important aspect of learning. As I indicated above, learning from one another as adult literacy practitioners is incredibly valuable to me.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, Teaching & Learning and ELA CoPs

Susan, I agree with you that student interaction is vital as part of the learning experience. I get many questions about the socialization aspect if everyone is working on individualized paths. Perhaps a short description of the individualization may be helpful to illustrate how students are constantly working together and interacting within this framework. 

One of the key components of offering paths with flexible options is to have, for a lack of a better description, activity sheets done up. An activity sheet describes a learning experience that is broad enough to embrace many forms of inquiry, but has specific product/assessment goals. For example, there may be an activity sheet for expository writing and another for persuasive writing. Within each activity sheet there are standards listed that students can easily demonstrate within the activity. There are also descriptions of different products that could be produced to illustrate student success in expository writing (and the associated standards) and assessment rubric(s) are included. Lastly, the activity sheet has a suggested timeline and possible resources students may find helpful in learning about and practicing their expository writing as an example. 

Assuming you have a collection of these activity sheets, a teacher can now work with individuals to tailor experiences and goals and options. When students are engaging in an activity, they often choose to do so with peers that also need to prove mastery in an activity. Two or three students may be working on the expository writing activity for example. They are socially sharing what they know, what they have for questions and how they think they might find them. The products described within the activity are such that each individual will be producing their own variation of expository writing even though the small group is choosing to work together. This is hard to encapsulate in text without making this very long, but it is incredible to watch students learning specific skills together while having different goals for how those skills will be used. If the small groups have questions, they are much more comfortable asking questions because it is multiple people that have the question rather than just an individual that may feel insecure asking alone. These questions asked become great break out questions for everyone in the room. "Ladies and gentlemen, we need your expertise please.... this question has just come up concerning .... and we need to know how to ... do an of you have thoughts or experiences that could help us with this?" Of course at first, this process goes over poorly because it is so novel for our learners. I find it takes about 3 months for most students to really become comfortable with the whole idea and the layers of the system. Once they get it, they really enjoy and value their time and the work they do. 

As another example, math questions come up frequently because our traditional math instruction is very weak on building conceptual foundations before throwing procedure, syntax, vocabulary and formulas at students. When a math question comes up, it is amazing to watch the class reaction. As a student is sharing the question, heads start to pop up like flowers opening up to the sun after a rain storm. That is when I take my queue to share with the class that if anyone wishes to help out, we will be working on this math question up on the white board. People often move around if they wish to get closer and we have some Q&A that helps the small group discover solutions to the original questions. This has an even more interesting aspect because others in the class that may not have originally felt they wanted to dive into math are still lurking in the background and will often blurt out a thought, question or response that indicates they were very much engaging even though their primary focus was not particularly math at that time. 

I hope that helps illustrate a little bit how an individualized classroom still has many interaction possibilities. I will never force the groups, but I will always help connect individuals I know need similar work. This allows them to have sounding boards, someone to ask questions to (because I can't be everywhere at once). Does the description above bring up other questions around interactions?

Ed, thanks for your thoughtful comments on student-centric instruction and the doctor's office model. 

Re your first paragraph, how might student-centered approaches affect how a Unit Outline like ours here is developed? Interestingly, I just read a question posed by an instructor on another list, "What is the difference, if any, between student-centered and student-led instruction?" Any ideas here? 

Re your second paragraph, I might argue that it might be far easier to diagnose a specific physical condition than to diagnose a student's educational needs and overall abilities. Standardized assessments certainly don't paint a reliable picture. All they do is establish artificial (in my view) progress-reporting gauges for student participation. I would rather see the student-centric approaches you list applied to determining student needs, with constant monitoring and feedback provided as the student progresses. What think? Leecy


Hi Leecy, here are some thoughts to some of the questions you offered. 

Student-centered vs student-led
I view Student-centered as a more structured environment in which the teacher sets up the framework and allows individuals to pick and choose directions, pacing, topics and even sequencing within the framework. The model of having the activity cards I described in a previous post fits this student-centered model. The teacher is a navigator that helps learners as a coach would help a player go through different drills or to improve techniques (like goal setting, reading options, troubleshooting ...). In contrast, a student-led environment is one in which the students have more ownership in creating the framework in addition to choices about how the particular activities are engaged in. I see this more like the Socratic Method in some ways and like stand up comedy in other ways. Student discussions, interests and questions direct the content to be studied while the teacher assumes the role of educational instigator. The teacher asks critical questions that get students deeper and deeper into the choices they make and it is through the art of questioning that teachers are able to help students ensure they are heading in academically positive directions and meeting the academic goals needed. This model might look like a teacher starting off with, "So, whats on people's mind today..."  "OK child care certainly sounds like a challenge, how are others here dealing with that?" "What would help such a situation?" Questions would continue to branch off in directions here based on what academic standards students (as a group) may need to engage in. If writing specific standards were a target, the questions might head in this direction, "If you were to collectively write a letter that tried to persuade the town manager to ... and you factored in ... all to get this ..... accomplished, what would that look like? Why don't we each draft our own version and thoughts so we can then share those and pick out the best parts to make our group finished letter?" The students lead the topic or focus of energy while the teacher helps to keep energy moving and providing options, perspectives and suggestions that students may often struggle to derive on their own. 

Student-centered = teacher is navigator and sets up much of the framework while students dictate much of the order and timing of what activities are engaged in and how each activity will apply to the individual's interest and career goals

Student-led = teacher is instigator that asks questions that pull in academic content while students are dictating the topics of the day to explore, share what individuals have experienced or researched about the topic, and share with each other evidence of what they know or are able to do related to the topic. 

Sorry on the second paragraph, the doctor reference was not intended to focus just on diagnostics. In doctor situations, patients come in with needs "This hurts..." "I can't stop this from ...." and doctors diagnose and prescribe. In a similar vein students would have a list of objectives (standards) that must be engaged in and the student comes to the teacher with their academic focus they wish to engage in. The teacher must diagnose the condition (skills present) and prescribe options (differentiated based on skills) that best meet the stated academic focus (standard) the student initiated. Is that a better description? 

In any system, having the ability to sit with individuals every class to personally work with them as an individual is transformative. The constant monitoring and feedback you mention is wonderful and creates a relationship that students often never forget. I feel so lucky to have had positive experiences with some individualized environments, because it has been these positive experiences that help me fuel through the many challenges we face in today's "normal" environments. I feel so much more effective in individualized environments now and really struggle to be as passionate in more traditional settings. 

Finally, I feel you are being quite diplomatic to say standardized assessments "...don't paint a reliable picture." In general I continue to fail to see any results from standardized assessments that help my learners find more success in life, or any results that have offered me data that can help improve my ability to educate the individuals I work with. Add in that most of the questions asked are either so procedurally focused (here is a formula, shove in these numbers and tell me what you get), or the context of the question is absurd (If Mary was buying 2000 cantaloupe to bring to a party ...What??? Who does this?) and it is difficult for adults that have experienced the real world to even fathom what is being asked or why.