~ Designing Courses Using Books

نتيجة بحث الصور عن Designing Courses Using Books
نتيجة بحث الصور عن designing books
so many of the things our adult students want—a GED, to communicate better in English, to know more about the world and themselves, to get a better job, to go to college, or even to be able to answer their children’s questions—depend on being able to read and write well.  Adult students in BE and GED classes should be asked to read and write extensively, even in beginning classes.

The emphasis in this booklet is on books and the importance of selecting meaningful and manageable books for every adult education class.  Books have the potential to address key issues in adult education.  Here are a few:

Reading development, vocabulary learning, and awareness of English language syntax depend on volume.  No matter how good our instruction about reading is during class, becoming an automatic and fluent reader rests on real practice.  Given the limited amount of time most adult education students spend in classrooms, reading outside of class is imperative to their development.  Students need to see the words over and over again, put their reading strategies to use over and over again, to develop.  Second language students who are placed in BE and GED classes need repeated exposure to the syntax, vocabulary and idioms of the English language.

Books help focus teachers and students on meaningful ideas instead of solely on skills.  When a teacher designs courses around books, discrete and sequential skill work is less likely to dominate classroom time.  Skill work is an important part of instruction, but it can be integrated, for the most part, into real occasions for reading, writing and speaking.  The inclusion of whole books in the curriculum gives meaningful direction to classroom planning and activities.  Students want to talk about the ideas in the books.  Teachers can then use books as a way to organize instruction.

Books help both the students and teacher answer the question:  what are we doing here?  Even when a teacher painstakingly attempts to clearly define a theme, students are often unable to follow the larger developmental objectives of a course.  Reading, discussing and writing about books helps give students markers with which to talk about their progress and what they have learned.

Reading whole books develops readers.  Adult education students are flooded with photocopies.  Although necessary, the use of copies alone can not powerfully initiate students into the habits and pleasures of reading.  Neither can workbooks.  Books must be held, borrowed, given, carried in a bag, stacked in a corner and browed through on the subway to become a part of life.   We hear again and again from students about the ways in which their reading of books has transformed them.  They start conversations with strangers on buses; they begin looking at the atlas with their children; they pass on a book to a relative.  These habits are exactly what we want to foster through our inclusion of whole books.

Questions To Ask Yourself When Planning a Class

Step #1:  Asking Questions

Books are part of a well-designed course.  Choosing which books are right for what students means putting some thought into the overall aims of the class.  Consider, as a way to select books, what an individual group of students needs to know more about or to do better than they did when they started the class.  Teachers need to have a good sense of what their particular students can probably already do well and what they might want or need to do to develop further.  Having very particular goals and/or objectives for students is very important.  One of the first steps when planning a course is to ask yourself the questions below:

How much time will I have with students every week?  Are there are any things that need to be worked into the class such as computer time or counseling sessions?  How much time will students need to work outside of class and what types of activities are most useful?

What kind of material can my students read now without missing more than 5 words per page?  What strategies do students already comfortably use when reading?  What kinds of topics interest them?

What does my students’ writing look like?  What kind of writing are they most familiar with:  narrative, letters, essays?  Is it more important just to get them comfortable writing more now or should they be developing their ability with a specific form?   If you can, ask for writing samples during the intake assessment. 

How much formal education have my students had either in the U.S. or in another country?  The amount of formal education students have already had, even if it is in another language, will greatly influence the amount of discipline-specific knowledge and literate practice they can draw on.  Students with less formal education will have gaps in background knowledge and may lack habits necessary for reading and intellectual development.

What do I already know about the theme, content or genre I am planning to teach?  There may be things you need to find out more about before planning your course.   Try consulting books and people that can help you figure out the most important information related to your course.  Once you have this information, you can start sequencing activities and readings in a way that allows students chances to build on their knowledge and return to ideas throughout the semester.  Students should have many opportunities to learn the same key concepts in a variety of ways. 

Planning a course before it begins is important.  A planned course can still be student-centered.  Part of the planning process takes into account students’ interests and needs.  In fact, a course that is more planned out, with definable learning goals, has a better chance of being more centered on students/ individual needs.  If a teacher does not need to think about what to read tomorrow, she is less likely to choose reading material that is too difficult.  She has more time to think about how a particular student and what might help him/her improve.

Planning a course also helps focus both teacher and students on definable goals, rather than vague objectives.  A goal such as “to improve reading and writing” is too vague, but goals such as “students will practice the strategy of note-taking” or “students will read three books,” are more defined.  Similarly, goals such as “students will understand when and where the Civil War took place and what caused it” is a specific goal.  Having definable goals that are articulated when a course is planned helps both teacher and students to track their progress.

Step # 2:  Finding Answers

There are a number of resources for teachers who are planning courses.  One thing you may want to when planning a theme- or content-based course is to read about the subject you are going to teach—photosynthesis, the Great Depression, etc.—in  a number of sources until you know what the important concepts are.  Children’s and young adult sections of public libraries are a good source for this, as is the internet.  Once you’ve gotten the basic concepts, you may want to go to more advanced sources to deepen your knowledge of what you are going to teach.

Once you’ve decided on the important concepts, you’ll have to think about texts for students to read.    Once again, children’s and young adult sections of public libraries, the internet and the CUNY Resource room are places you might find books to read.   Public libraries now have online catalogs and there are a number of websites (try the “Links” section of this website) that list young adult books in different subject areas.  CUNY curricula are another resource you might want to draw on.  At this point, there is a large reserve of CUNY-developed curricula on a variety of content areas and levels.  It’s not necessary to adopt a whole curriculum in order to use it—you may just want to draw on a few lessons.   An annotated list of CUNY curricula is attached to this website.

Choosing Books that Students Will, and Can, Read

Here’s a list of questions teachers say they ask themselves when choosing a book for their students to read:

Ø  What is the book about?  Will it be engaging to students?  While students from one type of background may love a particular book, students from another kind of background may find a book distasteful or simply boring.  Teachers must think carefully about their “audience” when choosing.
Ø  How familiar is the subject matter?  Does this book have a setting that is familiar to students or not?  How much background knowledge will students have to build in order to understand the story’s context?  (“Red Scarf Girl,” an easy-to-read memoir written by a Chinese girl who survived the Cultural Revolution is a riveting read, but students must have a chance to build background knowledge about Chinese communism in order to understand it) 
Ø  What is the book’s genre?   Mysteries can be page-turners, but can be challenging to teach.  Science fiction is a genre that many students are not familiar with and may not like.  Teachers must also consider literary conventions that students may not be familiar with, such as flashbacks or play format.
Ø  How long is the book?  Many students in adult literacy classes do not have a reading habit; a book that is too long is a risky choice, especially first time around.
Ø  How challenging is this text?  Text difficulty is a complex matter, involving many factors that include:  (1) number of words per page, (2) length of words; (3)  size of print; (4) amount of illustrations and other visuals; (5) page layout; (6) amount of words with unfamiliar meanings; (7) complexity of syntax; (8) amount of “literary language;” (9) amount of dialect, if there is any; (10) prior knowledge needed to understand the book (students may need to build background knowledge about setting, themes, historical context, literary conventions, specialized language, etc.).

Why level is so important

Reading books helps adult students develop in a number of ways.  Students learn new words; learn about times, places and concepts they may not have known before; and  improve their abilities to use reading strategies such as getting the “gist,” connecting personally to a text, and making inferences.  But all books are not created equal—though it might seem reasonable to think that a more difficult text will help students learn more in a shorter time, the opposite is true.  Books that include a lot of difficult vocabulary, or in which students must labor to sound out every fourth or fifth word, are actually working against students’ progress as readers.  Competent, fluent reading involves taking in an even flow of words in which the mechanics of “sounding words out” is generally automatic.  When a developing reader is required to devote a lot of energy to sounding words out or following a syntactically complex sentence, meaning actually breaks down.  Reading researchers have made it clear that in order to develop speed and fluency as readers, students must read a lot of text that is an independent reading level—that is, in which 90% of words are known.  To understand more about how text difficulty affects reading development, return to the “resources” section of this website, and click on the article entitled “What is fluency and why is it important?”

The need to choose appropriately leveled books makes planning courses challenging.  How do you choose a book that students will read all the way through, that works well with the theme/content area your class is focused on, and that is appropriately-leveled?    When selecting a book that meets all of these criteria, don’t sacrifice readability.  There are a number of resources you can turn to when looking for a book that fits with the “course” you are planning. If you’re working with a historical or scientific theme/content area, biographies will often work well.   Depending upon the theme you’ve chosen, a young adult novel may work.  The young adult and children’s sections of most public libraries are good places to find these.  In addition, for a list of books that have been used successfully in adult classrooms, return to the “Resources” section of this website and click on “Booklist.” 

Designing Courses with Books:  Content-based, Thematic, and Genre-based Curricula

There are three approaches to curriculum design that make sense not only for selecting books, but also for planning useful discussion and writing activities for adults:  content-based, thematic and genre-based curricula.  Which approach will work best depends on the needs of your students as well as your own interests. 

Once you’ve found an approach that feels right, start hunting for appropriate books and supplementary material.  Try to make sure that the one or two books you choose can be read by students fairly independently.  Harder material should be either read to students or accompanied by activities that make the text more accessible.  Instruction in reading for meaning should include time preparing to read, reading, and processing what was read.

Use a Theme to Focus Instruction

A theme is a broad idea that engages students’ interest and encompasses a variety of activities.   In the past years, thematic teaching has been used widely as it allows teacher to use material from a variety of disciplines.

Unfortunately, a theme can become too spread out, disjointed or incoherent when teachers try to include something from each subject area or don’t make connections across the areas to be studied.  For example a course designed around the theme of “Choice” that includes all of the following threads isn’t really a theme at all:  reading and writing personal narratives about choices made in their own lives (literature); looking at the issue of choice in abortion debate (Social Studies); studying the choices involved in the Civil War (history) and learning how to choose the right function in a word problem (Math).   It’s hard to see what unites all these areas of exploration except the word “Choice.”

What’s missing in the theme described above is a connection between the various activities or threads of the course.  The heart of thematic instruction is to provide students with opportunities to discover and make connections between and across bodies of information. Themes must be coherent so that students can make genuine connections and thoughtful responses.  The right theme gives the classroom focus and provides a rubric for making decisions about what to teach.  The reason that thematic teaching became so popular in the first places was to reverse the often fragmented way that knowledge is presented in discipline-specific classes.

One way to make the theme more coherent is to dispense with the idea that every theme needs to include something from every discipline.  Perhaps only one or two disciplines will make sense.

Here are suggestions for two ways to plan a thematic unit:  (1)  establish a point of view or perspective for the study that students can explore, or (2) ask a central question that can be studied comparatively with material from many disciplines.  In either case, the theme you select is worth careful consideration. 

Option #1:   Establish a point of view or perspective students can explore.  The example above of “Choice” as a central theme for a curriculum didn’t work well, in part, because it failed to unite information across the various disciplines of literature, history, math and social studies that it attempted to cover.  One way to understand this failure is to understand that the idea of “Choice” was framed as a topic, not a theme.  The teacher took up many topics that had something to do with “Choice.”  A theme, on the other hand, asks students to explore a particular perspective.

If the teacher had instead formed a guiding statement that displayed a particular point of view for students to explore, information from particular disciplines could have been more carefully chosen.  Here’s a guiding statement that asks students to explore the idea of “Choice” more coherently:  “Despite our best efforts, we can’t escape the environment in which we are born.”  This is a perspective that can be disagreed with.  It is dynamic and more along the lines of what educators call problem-posing or inquiry.  In this case, the teacher could then choose memoirs and novels that explore the relationship between home environment and personal development.  Students would then be reading to understand/explore the guiding perspective of the theme.  Magazine and newspaper articles as well as information from the social sciences could easily work into the theme.  If the teacher wanted to provide even more focus, he or she might limit the theme to a particular group of people in a given time, for example American immigrants of the early 1900s.  This would allow the students a chance to look at historical material and literature.  Again, depending upon how the theme was structured, students might even study the influence of geographic environment on a persona’ physical and cultural development.  The key is focus and coherency.  Each aspect of the curriculum should inform or challenge the other. 

Here’s another example of a theme that establishes a perspective or point of view statement:  “The mother is more influential in a child’s development that the father.”  A beginning BE class could begin by creating language experience texts in response to this guiding statement.  Then, they could read stories created by other beginning students,  examining ways that these stories inform the investigation.  A GED class could take the same guiding statement and do a more ambitious study.  In addition to writing their own narratives in relation to the statement, and reading literature that fruitfully contributes to the study, they could also take a look at theorists like Freud. 

Adult students will have had meaningful experiences and thoughts about themes like these that express powerful points of view, whether or not they have had an extensive formal education.  They can use their life experiences to speak and write “with” and “against” the books you have chosen to provide depth and breadth to their knowledge.

Option #2:  Ask a central or guiding question that can be studied comparatively.  Here teachers organize themes that are representative of issues that cross disciplines.  The focus for students is on a particular issue that has been framed by the teacher as a guiding question.  For example, the theme of “Childhood” could be explored by asking the question:  How is child development influenced by culture?”  Then, students could investigate the question by looking at several books, fiction or non-fiction, describing the experience of childhood.  One book describing childhood in Puerto Rico could be compared with another about a child growing up in California, then contrasted with a story set in Pakistan.  This study could be undertaken regardless of class level.  What would change is the type of reading material selected and how many disciplines it made sense to bring into the inquiry. 

Another theme that could work in this comparative framework is “Work.”  The guiding question could be:  “How do we define work and how are we defined by the work we do?”  Students could compare and contrast different perspectives on work.  They could read oral histories and hear how people think about themselves and their jobs.  Perhaps they would compare two very different types of jobs (farmer versus factory worker) through reading a novel.  Some historical understanding of labor and class issues would make sense.  If students did study the farm, they might even want to do a small content-based unit on plant growth. Adult students would be able to bring a wealth of experience to such a course of study. 

Decide to Explore a Particular Content Area

“Earth Science” or “the Civil War” are examples of content areas.  Notice in each of these “contents” a particular academic discipline predominates.  For example, earth science encompasses geography, chemistry and astronomy, but each of these contents is part of the discipline of science which has particular ways of knowing and communicating.  An Earth Science content-based curriculum would necessitate having students do experiments, write observations, hypothesize, etc.  Learning via a content-based curriculum means that the teacher and students actively put on the “hats” of a particular way of thinking.   The reading and writing tasks fit with the conventions of the discipline being studied.  Therefore, learning science requires doing experiments (however simple) and learning geography requires working with maps.  The teacher helps students get at the major concepts of a given field by sequencing activities and readings appropriately.

One of the common pitfalls of content-based instruction in adult education is that it often becomes simply reading about a particular content and not learning by using the tools of that discipline.  When content-based curricula get narrowly defined as learning certain facts from a given discipline, students aren’t exposed to the types of activities that would really develop their understanding of those facts.  For example, trying to learn science concepts without making hypotheses is like trying to learn the conventions of fiction without reading fiction.  You can read about fiction, but reading a good novel teaches you experientially.  Similarly, it’s difficult for students to learn about history without creating timelines, reading first-hand accounts of actual events, or researching historical events via oral interviews or library research.

Content-based curricula are helpful for many BE/GED students, since many of them lack fundamental school-based language.  Students for whom English is a second language benefit from the chance to transfer content knowledge from their native language to English.  In addition, focusing on one content assists students’ vocabulary development as they are more likely to return to words and concepts repeated throughout the course.  

When creating a content-based curriculum, it is important to know the key events or concepts of the content you are trying to teach.  Then, you should examine ways that the information is most commonly learned in that discipline and create appropriate activities.  A good textbook can help you understand the key issues of a given content and may even suggest activities.  Of course, you will need to think about how the ideas and activities may be made accessible to your students.  Most textbooks will not be appropriately-leveled for our students.  But after you know the key ideas, you can look for better texts.

Select a Particular Genre for Study

By genre, we mean that all the reading material would be a particular type (e.g. autobiography/biography, poetry, science fiction, mystery, historical fiction, etc.)  This approach allows students to both examine and compare particular conventions of a genre while creating work of their own.  Autobiography lends itself to adult education classes where personal narrative material is plentiful.  Students could read several autobiographical pieces and work, over time, on writing their own.  The class could culminate in a student publication.

Final Suggestions about Curriculum Development

Regardless of the design you select, there are three points worth making.  One, make sure that extensive reading both and outside of class supports and extends the rich discussions that writing that each approach offers.  Second, each of the approaches described above has the potential for meaningful inquiry but only if the teacher consciously designs activities that are not solely lecture-based, discussion-based, writing-based or for that matter, reading-based.  No one mode of learning should dominate instruction.  And third, no one approach needs to dominate a year’s worth or even a semester’s worth of instruction.  Depending on the class, students may complete one genre-based project and one point-of-view them in a given semester.  Or, one theme might take a whole semester.  What you do is in relation to the needs of your students.  Many teachers like to use two themes because they feel students get bored with one idea.

And again, adult students should be challenged by the ideas we explore in class.  Even simply written materials can help students explore complex ideas.

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