Susan Pittman and I are doing two rounds of PD next month for Federal Bureau of Prisons (FBOP) instructors across the US. These instructors have had very little academic training in the last 5 years. We have three days of PD which will center on reading, math, and writing. We did a similar PD session last September, and I learned a great deal about the challenges these educators face I have been involved in corrections education only as an administrator of a local adult basic ed program, and we had classes at state prison facilities and county detention centers.
Here are my requests for help. Please tackle one or more of these.
1. I have the feeling that inmate tutors provide most of the instruction in FBOP classes. I believe the best teacher in the classroom should be the one teaching. The inmate tutors in most cases do not have any education background. How could I encourage the FBOP instructors to take more of the lead in instruction?
2. I like to do group work and have students interact with each other. I know this is possible at some prison facilities and will not work at all at others. What group work activities function well in corrections and what should be avoided?
3. Since I have never taught in corrections, I have no "street cred." How should I handle myself at the PD sessions in light of this?
4. Is there anything else helpful I should know?
Thanks in advance for your help,
Moderator, LINCS Reading and Writing Community of Practice
GED did a couple of webinars for corrections, probably two and three years ago. In one of them, someone from a community college in Oregon was talking about the education "system" in the OR prisons in which ALL the education was done by inmate tutors (if I"m remembering correctly). The community college went in and provided educational instruction to those tutors so that they had knowledge of basic instructional strategies. I know that's not what you're looking for, but it could be something to check into. If the FBOP instructors are not trained educators (which is how it sounds), this could be a similar model so that they can get more consistent, ongoing training.
In different systems, tutors are used differently. We try to hire a tutor who has recently completed the GED, because he is able to explain and describe what the students need to know to answer the test questions. Some systems have tutors who meet with the class and work kind of like a teacher's aide, helping students as they work. Some have tutors who meet individually with students on a schedule throughout the day.
Group work is hard. I have tried various types and configurations of group work and haven't found many that work well. I work in minimum security, so we don't even really have the gang issues that many prisons are plagued with, and it's even hard for us. There has to be a very, very high level of comfort between the students and between the students and the teacher before group work will work. I have done "jigsaw" type of work, and if they can choose who they work with, this can work. I don't know the level of science experimentation that FBOP teachers can do, but our science teachers have found that some simple experiments can work well in a self-selected group. One of our math teachers has a class that works together very well and I guess kind of looks like "group work" but this is more related to the students in his class rather than anything that he is doing (this is in max security). I would say the biggest thing is that the group-work topic should not be controversial and the groups should be self-selected.
You may not have the street cred, but if you ask questions and tailor your answers to their responses, that will help a lot. People who come in with a set agenda and don't pay attention to the things we can/can't do make us tune out (for example, when they talk about all the exciting apps available for adult learners and our students aren't allowed on wifi/internet). If they don't have computers and projectors available, don't talk about showing videos. That kind of attention to detail will help you to be as relevant as possible. I've been to a couple of presentations by Sharon, and I have found them to be helpful and accessible, even if she was not talking only to corrections teachers. Everyone needs the basics.
Michelle Candy, Instructor (ND DOCR)
PS: I attended your COABE presentation on good PPT presentations, and I have implemented what you taught and passed on that knowledge to my colleagues--we're making much better presentations now, and getting comments on them at conferences, so THANKS!!!
I so appreciate your detailed response and your kind words!
Regarding the inmate tutors, I certainly do not want to argue with success. Oregon has one of the the highest GED pass rates in the US. If the FBOP teachers are not teaching their class directly, I would assume they can train the inmate tutors on what they learn at the PD sessions. The downside to that plan is that inmate tutors cycle in and out but ongoing PD is the nature of our business in adult education!
I did learn quite a bit about the working conditions in FBOP last fall:
"I haven't seen my students since June. We've been on lock down."
"I've been assigned to TAD the past two weeks driving a truck around the facility."
Despite these challenges, FBOP met and surpassed their goal of GED completions in 2018-19 with over 3000 students completing across the system. Kudos to you FBOP educators!
What are the topics and expectations for this traininig? In my trainings for corrections educators, we usually start with discussions on their challenges. Those challenges provide me a framework to adapt the information shared.
Let me know your topic and we can brainstorm some strategies.
We have three full days of PD:
Day 1 - Reading/Reading in Content Areas
Four components of reading overview
Assessing the four components
Teaching strategies for the four components
Social studies strategies
Day 2 - Math
Teaching from concrete to representational to abstract
Teaching using manipulatives - algebra tiles (we'll be giving them paper ones!)
Teaching with questions
Teaching using Polya problem solving method
Day 3 - Writing
Progression from writing frames to quick writes to GED RLA Extended Response
Building a better claim for the RLA Extended Response
Thanks for any input you can provide!
I actually started in Adult Education with the FBOP. During my time with the BOP I was the lead instructor in the ABE/ASE classroom (because I was the only federally trained officer). Additionally, I had a support person, a contracted instructor from the local community college, a test administrator, and several inmate tutors. The only instructional training we received was through our formal degree/education program. We did not have specific training for working with adults. I have been away from the federal system for some time, but the federal prison education centers may still function pretty much the same way. If you would like to connect with me to talk about my experience, I would be more than willing to share some insights and suggestions before you begin the PD sessions.
Jody L Angelone
Staff Training & Development Coordinator
Thanks Jody! I will be in touch!