“Lessons Learned In 2015-2016” Adult Literacy/Basic Education & Transformative Learning

Would this Blog Theme be a Good Idea?

I proposed the idea of a monthly blog series on transformative learning a year ago at our spring SARN Advisory Board meeting. But, I did so with a lot of trepidation. Was it really a good idea? One of the questions at the board table was and how to invite stories from readers—including students? I had never done this type of blog series before…

Three Worries:

The only way we could structure the series was to send out an invitation to practitioners and hope they pass it to students—both current and past. Inviting them to submit their stories on transformative learning. But we had to explain what transformative learning is first… Hmmm.

Not all good ideas are doable. Although I have developed 10 listservs that reach well over a hundred literacy practitioners in various literacy and BE  programs across Saskatchewan, I have no direct way to communicate with students, or invite them to write a blog.

But there was another worry. I have been writing and posting monthly blogs for, I think,  four years now (see WWW.SARN.CA) —so around 40 blog instalments over time. Although most of the postings have ended with an invitation to “post a comment in the box below,” in four years I have had maybe five posted comments. I guess we had imagined far more dialogue through these blogs back when I started. And, frankly, there have been moments when I wondered if there were any readers out there at all?

Should we commit to a whole year of blogs that depends on stories from students and practitioners focusing on a topic most probably know little or nothing about? (I return to this worrisome point later).

Since there was no way we could know if students would receive the invitation via their instructors or counsellors, and since I had no idea if they had ever heard of SARN, let alone transformative learning, Jacqueline Bruce (of our Training Team) and I created a story “template”—a page of writing guidelines—to help anyone interested in submitting a story so they would understand what transformative learning is and assure them of anonymity.

Finally, while our board agreed there were undoubtedly hundreds of potential stories on transformative learning in literacy and basic education—stories where practitioners and learners come to see themselves and their world in a totally different way, often through a disorienting dilemma–what if we were wrong? What if this learning theory didn’t apply to our field like we thought? Like any research, we had to be prepared to have a negative outcome, but did it have to be so public?

Here’s what kept my awake at night, “What if we launched a series idea that failed because we had misread the field or failed because we could not really communicate with those we hoped were there, but might not be there…”

You see the problem?

“But Guess What?”

One year later, at our recent spring board meeting—I was delighted (okay, I was relieved) to be able to report that we had received more than enough stories.

The year has reminded me of how our field is made up of really good people who care about their learners. In fact, basic education counsellors and instructors across the Polytechnic and colleges did go to their students and they did explain what SARN was. They did encourage them to tell their stories. They did ask for the template guidelines….and I could stop holding my breath. Further, any editorial suggestions I sent were taken back to students, practitioners sat down with students and discussed the proposed changes. And, in at least two cases, they personally typed both the first and second drafts on the students’ behalf and sent me the students’ work for posting.  The authors were asked for and gave their Informed Consent, and we published their stories. And by the way, every one of the stories was not only well written, but was extremely powerful and on target.

Seven Powerful Student Stories

Stories came from seven current and former students: Billy Castel, two students who chose to be anonymous, Lynn, Phoenix, Crystal, and Pauline. And, we are able to send them an honorarium this summer having received summer mailing addresses for them from their instructors and/or counsellors.

But, with our own practitioners not coming forward with their stories, I invited Brenda Wright in New Brunswick to be a guest blogger.  Brenda is a friend, a former BE instructor, and is currently a government worker in New Brunswick. Moreover, she is one of the very few in Canada to have researched transformative learning in relation to literacy/BE. Brenda also agreed to post some of her research on our Website’s Resources link.  Check it out. And, the series began with an invited lead instalment by Dr. Patricia Cranton—our nation’s world leader in researching this important area of adult learning, Happily, she made the theory practical and easy to understand.

It was a good year all round….but please read on…

So What Did We Learn? Some Findings Instructors and Counsellors Might Benefit From:

  1. We learned that many of our students want to tell their stories. Maybe not in the midst of a classroom of their peers; maybe not with an instructor whom they don’t know very well; maybe not until they feel comfortable in their classrooms, but this small sample of blogger-students not only showed us that students want to talk about their past, what those stories tell us can make a profound difference in the choices made on how best to engage them in the classrooms.

Each learner has a past. Each has a story. And this matters. The literature and experience tells us that the more we know about our learners, the better we can shape the teaching, the counselling, and the materials/activities we choose to engage them (Read on for an application you can use on this point).

  1. The student blogs we saw have shown us some incredible struggles and some amazing, even heroic, examples of resilience. But what was really interesting was how the majority of the stories were about students’ lives prior to coming to programs. This is a valuable piece of learning. Here’s why…

Based on my own experience of over 45 years, many literacy and BE instructors, not to mention many counsellors, are just not comfortable “digging into a student’s past.”  There are lots of reasons but, cutting to the chase, maybe what we have learned this year  can you.

Basically:  “How can we learn about our students’ past in a way that is comfortable to both the student and practitioner? How can this happen in a way that not only protects privacy but maintains a sense of respectful professional “distance”?”

I can attest that, in adult education programs at the university level, adults can’t wait to tell about their lives. But, and I have been there too, most adult literacy/basic education students (not all) just don’t want to talk about their  past in a classroom–ultimately a “public setting.” Few want to share their past (and current) struggles, fears, or describe the mountains they had to climb just to come to basic education. This is all very understandable, but not very helpful when trying to retain learners by, for instance, trying to alleviate learning anxieties and trying to help them with future plans.

Here’s A Tool You Can Perhaps Use?

It just a suggestion, but maybe the attached story template that we designed can open that door in a respectful, research-based way, that might just make all the difference to a student’s life.

The attached template worked for us. And, it insists on privacy through clear “informed consent” before it can be used.  It asks students if there was a “trigger” or special event that helped them decide to attend BE? Or if some event has changed them during their classroom experience? It asks about the impact of the program on their lives. Take a look at the template. It might be adaptable and useable for you.

How would it work?

  • Maybe this form can be adapted and used as a catalyst for a student journaling project? Or a counselling session. Or even have it used as something that a student could read aloud as part of a group activity?
  • Maybe, given a student’s informed consent, and after checking with your institution…if such approval is required, some of these transformative learning stories could be used for reading content in your program.
  • Maybe you could conduct an action research project with SARN assessing the value of this tool in your counselling and teaching?

Just a tip, saying “research” in an institutional or semi-formal setting somehow puts an extra layer of formality, distance and “objectivity” onto what is otherwise a straight forward the process of sharing.

 AND, some Learnings That Might Be Helpful For Administrators and Policy-Makers

Although it was in an earlier lifetime, I worked as a BE instructor in an Alberta college and, later, at a Saskatchewan college. I also worked for several years at the Sask. Department of Advanced Education as the province’s ESL/GED administrator…even had the responsibility of ABE on top of that until we created and filled the first ABE Co-ordinator position for the government. So, I can say I have no illusions on how hard it is to get literacy and basic education “on the agenda” at the governmental decision level or board table when the post-secondary system is faced with scarce resources on one hand, pressures of competing institutional and programmatic needs on the other.

I also know how often literacy and basic education programs so often get seen as “one more ‘needy-program,’” and how it often gets folded into the same institutional mould as all other training program. Read on..

Some Observations That Might Be Helpful For You When Working With Administrators and/or Policy-Makers

When we talk about literacy and basic education, we need to talk about levels of support that are considerably higher than normative levels of student support common to most post-secondary institutions.

BUT…. Trades programs typically need large investments in special equipment and shop space. Health and medical programs often need large expenditures on laboratories and specialized equipment. Technology training programs are often extremely expensive…  But, literacy and basic education resource needs are minimal be comparison.

As one blog series reader who recently wrote me said:

[I was surprised] “how often the transformative experience happened before the students entered ABE.” Implications for policy and practice, as seen in the blog series and in literacy/BE programs every day, are that our “students need support.”

She went on to say: “If students are in ABE as a result of a transformative experience, this new education-centered lifestyle needs to be encouraged. If ABE is where they experienced transformative learning, then we need to help them figure out what their next step is, and how they can build on their momentum.”She concluded: “We [often] don’t realize the type of life situations [our students] are dealing with.”

Bottom line, the learning outcomes from these blogs for administrators and policy-maker is essentially:

  • Literacy and basic education students often need much more support than mainstream students.
  • They often need administrative and policy exceptions to institutional rules.
  • They often need more professional help and, yes, they often need more compassionate consideration than is the institutional norm.

Obviously most students have struggles—before, during and after programs. But multiple studies make it clear that the majority of adults with lower literacy skills live in—or come out of—hard poverty. And, often do so having faced so many extreme socio/economic/cultural challenges that simply walking into the classroom is a triumph in itself for many of our learners.

Here’s what I suggest… If you should have a supervisor, administrator, board member, or maybe a Deputy Minister or Minister who insists that it is all about motivation, saying, for instance: “These students need to learn how to function on the job. Or, they need to be motivated… Why all this support stuff?” )r, as a counsellor I once worked with said, “We aren’t here to spoon feed them”….  I suggest refer them to this year’s student blogs. As Pierre Bourdieu once stated: “Reality is not an absolute, it differs with the group to which we belong.” Our job of educating does not end with our students…

A Closing Comment: And Something I Learned

Remember how I wondered if anyone read this blog? Well, at the last board meeting I was able to report some statistics from our Website Manager. Guess what? Over the course of the 2015-2016 academic year, we had nearly 1,930 website users… And, of these, 791 (25.65%) were blog readers. Most were in Saskatchewan and Canada, but the website is visited word-wide. Yes, people do read this…and thank  you for hanging in for such a long, year-end, installment.

Oh, by the way, see the below box if you want to add a comment  

Hoping to (virtually) see you again in 2016-2017.

Dr. Allan Quigley and the SARN Team

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Pauline’s Story: From Basic Education Student to Superintendent of Education

Pauline’s is the last student story for this academic year. Hers is the closing chapter in our nine month series of remarkable stories on the theme of transformative learning and adult literacy & basic education.

We began early last fall with an overview of what transformative learning is by Dr. Patricia Cranton. Patricia also explained why this emerging theory of learning matters so much to adult education practice. Then, with fingers crossed, we invited students and faculty to submit their own stories and asked them to reflect on the possibility that they may have experienced transformative learning. Besides informed consent approvals, we sent them a set of descriptive guidelines to help them write their story. 

With a huge thanks to the instructors and counsellors in the colleges and Polytechnic who encouraged their learners to share their stories, we first received stories from students describing transformative incidents on how and why they chose to come to basic education.  Then, after Christmas, we received stories on the transformative impact the program had on them. We have seen how instructors, counsellors, the peer group and the very realization of  academic success changed often their view of themselves and their world.  And, significantly, most of the decisions to come to basic education and the life-changing experiences in the programs, were triggered by what Dr. Jack Mezirow and Dr. Patricia Cranton had  termed, “disorienting dilemmas”  early last fall.  We also had one story from a practitioner, Brenda Wright, who described her life changing transformative learning when she taught her first class of adult basic education.

 And now, with a special thanks to Jacqueline Bruce who encouraged her, here is Pauline Muskego’s story of how she went from an early school leaver to a superintendent of schools at Onion Lake First Nation. This success story  seems so appropriate to end off this series. The concluding June installment will focus on “Lessons Learned” from this series; but,  for now, we again thank all of the students and their instructors and counsellors who made this fascinating series possible.

We hope you enjoyed the journey as much as we did and we also hope the series has shed some new light on our learners and the powerful, transformative impact our field so often has on those who participate in it with us.

Dr. Allan Quigley and the SARN Team

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Pauline’s Story: From Basic Education Student to Superintendent of Education

I quit school in Grade 11.  My late father had a big influence on me back then.  He saw education in a different light.  Providing for his family was his priority.  I think education to him was a luxury, especially for women.  Women were meant to look after the home, cooking, cleaning, etc.  That was the mentality back in the day.  Life was hard.  So when I announced that I was quitting school, it wasn’t an issue.

Both my parents were hard workers.  My father was a WWII veteran who fought for this country.  My mother held labour jobs in the town of The Pas.  I went with her a lot of the time and worked alongside her.  She taught me what work ethic meant.   I was just a kid, but I will always remember how hard my mother worked to help put food on the table.  My father provided for the family as a hunter and a fisherman.  He lived off the land to provide for us.  Both my parents showed me the importance of hard work.

I later realized that one can’t get very far in in life with a limited education background. I saw that some of my friends were moving forward in their education, graduating from grade 12, going into post-secondary and getting jobs.  I think deep down I knew that education was the answer, the key.

I decided to enrol in a College program that only required a grade 10 education.  I took a six-month Clerk-Typist Course that enabled me to receive employment.  I attended school at Keewatin Community College in The Pas, Manitoba.  It is now UCN, University College of the North, I think.

After that, I worked for a year and a half at the Band Office for what was then called The Pas Indian Band, but it is now known as Opaskwayak Cree Nation.

Coming to Saskatchewan & a Husband’s Influence

When my older sister invited me to move to Saskatoon with her, I jumped at the opportunity to open my horizons.  This is where I met my future husband.  We married in 1978.  He was attending university and I worked at various jobs in the city.  I used to edit his university level papers for him. All I knew was when I read through his papers, I could spot errors.  I would correct them for him.  When he saw that I had an eye for this, I became his editor. He saw potential in me that I didn’t see in myself. He was my big motivator to go back to school.  He was the one who encouraged me. After he finished his education degree, we moved to Onion Lake.  This is where I started my pursuit of further education.

I attended a four-month upgrading program that was to eventually lead to a diploma in Business Administration. This course was offered on Reserve in Onion Lake.

“When You Come From A Struggling Family…”

When I first started upgrading, we had to take a pre-test to see where we should begin upgrading.  I scored at the university level in reading and comprehension.  In math, my score was not so great.  I scored at a grade 5 level.  This was very accurate as this was the grade when I got sick with tonsillitis and missed a lot of school. Back in the day, a person was in the hospital for a week.  Today, you are in for 1 day. There is such a big difference between then and now.  I also missed school if I didn’t have clean clothes.  When you come from a struggling family, there are many factors that keep you away from school.   Missing school led to my not understanding math very well.

I Realized That I Wasn’t “Dumb”

It wasn’t until upgrading that I finally understood integers, decimals, fractions, etc.  After finishing upgrading, I wrote a post-test and scored around grade 10.5 in Math.  I also attained a Grade 12 standing. It was like a light bulb came on in my head.  It was then that I realized that I wasn’t “dumb.”  Previous to this, I believed that I couldn’t learn Math.  Math was the biggest stumbling block for me.  I realize now that I had learning gaps.  Once those gaps were filled, I was able to move forward in my learning.

As I had said earlier, my husband saw potential in me that I didn’t see in myself.  He encouraged me to apply for University, the Indian Teacher Education Program at the University of Saskatchewan.  When I received my letter of acceptance, I couldn’t believe it.  I was going to University!

I finished the four-year degree program in 3.5 years.  After teaching for 5 years as the Business Education teacher here in Onion Lake, I decided to pursue my Masters degree, which I received in 1995.  Knowing that I had the capability to take control of my own learning was transformative for me.  After attaining a B.Ed., I realized that I had the potential to receive an M.Ed.  It was not easy, but attainable.

Since then, Onion Lake Education has given me the opportunity to work as Vice Principal, Principal, and presently, Superintendent of Education.

Barriers Can Be Transformed Into Challenges

Barriers can be translated into challenges.  Challenges can also be opportunities.  Opportunities can become achievements.  When I look back, I would say that life itself can be challenging.  Having my children at an early age and realizing that I am a role model to them made me aware that what I did with my life was a way for them to see what they can do with their own lives.

Whenever I have an open door of opportunity to talk with young people about life, I take it.  Now and then, young people drop by my office and this is when I speak to them.  By being a role model for them, I can show them that they can achieve their dreams.

Pauline Muskego

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Crystal’s story: “I hope that others will follow”

Crystal’s story is an important one in this series on transformative learning and adult literacy. Hers is the only one in the series involving home schooling. And, as she explains, her story develops out of a strongly religious upbringing. Nevertheless, here again is a story that shows us how literacy and basic education counselors and instructors can change lives and create new beginnings through transformative learning.

Thank you Karla Halcro for working with Crystal on this story and thank you Crystal… Every success in your future endeavours.

Dr. Allan Quigley and the SARN Team

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Crystal’s story: “I hope that others will follow”

I was the oldest of four brothers and three sisters. I grew up on a farm in the Mennonite culture and I was home-schooled. My mother was always busy with the younger children, so she pretty much just taught me how to read and write. I was pretty much left on my own after that. At 15, I moved away from the farm and started working part time at a butcher shop.  I finished grade eight and started working full-time by the age of sixteen. In my Mennonite culture, very few people ever get their grade twelve; they mostly only go to grade ten. Women especially didn’t get their education as most were married at 18 or even younger.

I got married at 17 and quit work once I was four months pregnant. My marriage didn’t work out so now I was on my own with my son. I was shunned from my family since I chose to leave.

I worked some jobs—general labourer on a dairy farm, as a support worker for Foster Families–but I soon realized I needed an education or I would be stuck in a cycle of working a job with extra hours every day or trying to balance two jobs.

I realized I needed an education”

I can remember the day I realized this. I was about 22 and it made me decide to take some steps. So I started to do research.  I made calls to different institutes and went online.  I found out that I had to do the CTBS placement test. I found out when the next available one was to be held and attended it and completed it. I scored high enough that they placed me into grade twelve. I was happy and surprised because I had not realized that my academic skills were so high.

I met with a counsellor and chose my classes. I was wait-listed for over a year to get into Adult Basic Education and I finally got in during the 2013-2014 year. I applied for PTA [provincial training allowance] and was approved and attended the full school year (four quads).

I lived just over 80 kms from the Prince Albert Polytechnic campus so my son could stay in the same school and I commuted in every day. I also had a part-time job in my hometown so I was pretty busy. However, my mother had a manic episode halfway through, and as always, she solely trusted me. I was completely burned out balancing everything. Not even two months after I got my mother’s medication balanced, my friend passed away in a tragic quad accident. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong.

“I was not ‘stupid’”

Panic attacks started to come. They got so bad I thought I was dying. I was ready to quit Basic Education. However, Karla, a counselor at Polytechnic, helped me and sent me to a professional counsellor who greatly helped me.

Looking back, schoolwork for the most part wasn’t too difficult except for math. Seeing as I had skipped grades 9,10, and 11, I had missed some basics but it soon came to light that there was more to these issues. I was sent to be assessed by a psychologist and found that my brain doesn’t quite know how to deal with numbers.  So, now I knew that it was a dysfunction in my brain, and that I was not “stupid.”   She gave me a variety of tools to work with and I passed math by only two percent in 2014.

My original plan was to go into nursing but as my math levels were so low, I decided to look at alternatives. I met with Laura, a career counsellor at the Polytechnic, and we researched a variety of jobs I was interested in and matched those with aptitude tests she had me do. I decided to go for Corrections. I applied and then got in.

“I am now a different person.” Some advice for others

Writing this in March, 2016, I can say I’m currently enjoying my studies and I know that I will have a career once I am done, which I will get more pay at and can live with only one income for the first time in my life. My son won’t be wearing my brother’s hand-me-downs anymore and I will have my own place without having two jobs.

I strongly believe anyone can do anything they set their mind to if they are willing to put in the work and are willing to look for the correct help. I was the first female to have graduated in the church I grew up in and, since then, two other girls have completed their grade twelve.   I know that my success helped to inspire these girls.  I hope that others will follow in our steps!

Looking back now on the challenges I have faced, I can say I am now a different person. I have transformed from a passive person to a more confident one.  And, if I had to give some advice to those who might be starting where I started, I would say that you need to check out every aspect of your dream.  If you don’t think you will like what you are planning to do, don’t waste your time doing it.

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Lynn’s Story: “Don’t ever give up on dreaming about a better and brighter future”

During this academic year, we have been exploring the topic of transformative learning. This topic was suggested in a readers’ survey conducted last year and, since SARN’s mission is to explore research that can help our field, this seemed a natural for 2015-2016.

We know that a great many of our learners leave literacy and basic education programs as very “different” people. We hear all the time from our learners—and practitioners too—that they are changed as a result of literacy and basic education. Many say they leave as better people with a clearer sense of self and their future. Literacy and basic education provide far more than the acquisition of academic knowledge alone.

But why? How? What can we learn from these transformative experiences? What actually brings students to sign up for and come to adult basic education? Then, what actually brings about the radical transformative changes within programs?

Back in October 2015, Dr. Patricia Cranton—a world authority on this important new area of research and theory—explained how transformational experiences may occur as a result of a single event (a “disorienting dilemma”) or through a series of events. Sometimes called “deep learning,” such a experiences will typically mean the person “sees the world in a different way, or perhaps [will] see himself or herself in a different way.”  Often for the rest of their lives.

We saw Billy’s story last November. We then saw how two young women (who chose to stay anonymous) came to BE as a result of their children. We saw the incredible story of how a “momentary death” on the operating table brought Phoenix to basic education and then, last month, how Brenda Wright became committed to working in the field as a result of working with her students in Fredericton, NB.

Now, we turn to stories from learners within our literacy and basic education classrooms.

Here now is Lynn’s story (fictitious name used).  She shares her experiences at the Saskatchewan Polytechnic campus in Prince Albert and we thank Lani Scragg, Education Counsellor at that campus, for encouraging and helping Lynn to share her inspiring story.

Thank you Lani! Thank you Lynn and every success in your new career!

What is your story? For details and a story template to help write your story, please contact Allan at aquigley@stfx.ca. or Jacqueline at jacqueline.bruce@onionlake.ca.

The SARN Team.

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“Don’t ever give up on dreaming about a better and brighter future”

When I started at the Prince Albert Sask Polytechnic for the ABE 12 program in 2015, the first day was exciting and nerve-wracking.  I had low self-esteem about my learning performance.  I had quit school in grade 11 when I was pregnant and had another child two years later.   I started working in 2001 when my oldest child just turned one. I worked for 13 years. When the company I worked for closed, I decided it was time for me to return back to finish my Grade 12.

 Returning to BE and What Helped Me Succeed  

The instructors have helped me through with words of encouragement, extra assistance and after school learning.  Many, many times I had become discouraged with homework.  I had not taken the biology or chemistry pre-requisites and the course content was very demanding and difficult.  The study skills I learned helped me pass the courses.

By the fall of 2015, I had achieved results in the harder classes and started to feel more confident about my future.   The small group and more relaxed classroom setting helped to make me feel comfortable.  My fellow students helped with encouraging words and by sharing notes.

I was not sure what my future career would be and I started to investigate some options with the Saskatchewan Polytech Career Counselor in Prince Albert.  Together, we came to a decision that I would be best suited to work in Early Childhood.  I want to work in a school setting as an education assistant.

 Mapping the Future and Transitioning to a Career

The process of career counselling helped me to understand my own strengths, interests and goals better.  In the Mapping the Future workshop held by the counselling staff, I listened to Basic Education graduated students talk about their success in post-secondary training and discussed how to get into the workforce. That really helped me realize that there is no limit to learning or gaining experience.

During the end of my last quad, I realized that, through all the struggles, it is worth it.  I will be finished my program at the end of January 2016. I can gladly say, “I have completed my Grade 12.”

The Influence of my Children

My children are my inspiration and I kept on pushing myself to do the best I could.  My children are helpful at home, by doing chores.   We study together at home and help each other. This makes it easier for me to study.  They are witnessing that education is important and that they too need to complete grade 12.

Don’t Ever Give Up

Each day, each step has been another great accomplishment in my life.  Learning each day is a credit to my career goal.

Thank you to the Polytech teachers and counsellors for giving me strength in pursuing my life long goals for a better future.  When I finish upgrading, I plan to work in the city.  This summer [2016], I will be relocating my family to another community, to join my fiancé.  There, I will be starting my post-secondary training if I am accepted.

Don’t ever give up on dreaming about a better and brighter future.

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“Story is Medicine”: New Brunswick Instructor Brenda Wright tells her Story

Turning the Page: Transformative Learning in the Classroom

Brenda Wright

Brenda Wright

This month’s installment is from guest blogger Brenda Wright. Brenda completed her Master’s in Adult Education in 2009 at St. Francis Xavier University, Nova Scotia, and also completed a Masters in Education in Counselling Psychology at the University of New Brunswick.  I invited Brenda to write this installment because she is one of the few adult educators in Canada to have researched the topic of transformative learning and adult literacy (and, if you are interested, her master’s thesis and a paper we did are referenced at the end of this blog).  

Brenda turns the page for us in this blog series as tells us about a teaching experience that made a profound impact on her while teaching—an experience that transformed her perspective of herself and the world around her back in 2006. As she discusses, that experience pointed her to her career. Brenda is now working full-time  as an Employment Counsellor for adults in Fredericton.  She also works part-time as a contract therapist in Saint John, N.B. for a private not-for-profit organization.

In her story, Brenda notes how she, “kept a copy of Jenny Horsman’s book Too Scared to Learn close by and referred to it often.” In that book, Horsman points out: “It is particularly important to look at the impact of violence on learning in the area of literacy.” Horsman also notes how, “ “extremely large numbers of adult literacy learners … have experienced violence” (1999, p. 19).  And, as most Basic Education practitioners can attest, learning basic skills; “which many assume should have been learned in childhood, can pose a challenge for anyone, [but] more so for someone struggling with a sense of self and low self-esteem, who may also have experienced violence or trauma” (Horsman, p. 19).

Most of the stories we have seen so far in this series have been from learners talking about the struggles they have had, violence included, and the transformative learning that lead them to literacy and basic education. Now, Brenda turns the page as we see begin to see how transformative learning can change the lives of practitioners and how tranformative learning can occur in our classrooms.

Do you or one of your learners have a story to tell? Contact Allan Quigley (aquigley@stfx.ca) or Jacqueline Bruce ([jacqueline.bruce@onionlake.ca])  for story guidelines.

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“Story is Medicine.” New Brunswick Instructor Brenda Wright tells her Story

In the fall of 2006, I began teaching a community adult learning class in a halfway house for women. The focus of the class was adult basic education and GED preparation. The class was comprised of twelve adult learners, most of whom were connected to the community halfway house, either through their past or present circumstances. The other women who had no previous connection with the house were mainly women from other countries who had come to Canada in search of a better life. Regardless of where they had come from, most of the women in my class were survivors of trauma.

During the first few weeks of the program, my focus was to create and maintain a safe and respectful learning environment for all, which was no small task given some of the behaviours.  However, I soon realized that most of these behaviours were a form or self-protection and some were as a result of our basic human needs not being met, such as the need to be seen, heard and valued. So I remained curious and open. And, I kept a copy of Jenny Horsman’s book, Too Scared to Learn close by and referred to it often.

Creating a Safe Space to Learn

I knew it would take time for these women to trust me, so we started that process by doing a Social Studies project together where we—myself included—researched and presented information about a country or culture we were interested in learning more about.

Each morning we started class by writing in our journals. I would first place three journal topics on the whiteboard and the learners could pick which to write about (“guided choice”).  After journal writing, we read for 20 minutes. They could choose to read whatever they wanted whether it be a novel, a short story, the newspaper or a magazine.  Once the reading period was over, the class was provided an opportunity to share their journal writing if they chose.

Because a number of the learners’ lives where chaotic, establishing a routine created a sense of safety. The journal writing eased them into the learning process and created a safe “container” for their feelings. I noticed that when learners felt cared for, heard, accepted and supported, it created a safe space for them to express their true voice. Throughout those journal writing discussions, many stories emerged…..many transformative stories. As Dewey said, “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.”

This routine of journaling, reading, sharing and discussing the journal writing took approximately 60-90 minutes of class time. Apart from this activity, we followed the community adult learning program curriculum for New Brunswick.

I realized early on that before learning could occur, I needed to honour what the women were feeling and honour their stories. Otherwise those needs would resurface as unhealthy and unproductive behaviours in the classroom.

One woman was married with a family and had lived on the street for many years.  Another young woman was from a country in Africa and, with the exception of one sister. was separated from her family. Because of the extreme violence of the ongoing war in her country, the sisters had no knowledge of whether the others in their family had survived or not. There was another young woman from Russia. She spoke about how she would get on the bus each day to go to work in her home region never knowing whether she would arrive to work alive as there was a rash of buses being blown up daily.  One young girl, barely nineteen, never shared her story openly, but each day she gave me her journal to read privately. I became witness to a story of unspeakable abuse which started early in her life. Each day I would write a note about her courage and inner strength before I returned her journal to her.

As they changed, I can easily say that the women’s stories changed me too. The students, the stories, their changes —they all transformed me–and the experience also changed the class in ways I could continue to keep writing about for days. All this within the context of literacy education. All through the power of reading, writing and speaking.

A Classroom Activity That Made a Difference

One particularly resistant and aggressive woman, whom I will call “D,” shared with me that she had always wanted to learn how to read a map, but insisted that she would never be able to learn how to do that. I simply listened and then waited for an opportunity to present itself.

“D’ liked to read novels written by Laura Ingalls Wilder because of the idealistic family life in those novels. One day she told me about a journey that one of the characters in the novel had taken. So I suggested that it might be interesting for her to create a visual representation of the character’s journey to which she excitedly agreed.

The project took her about two weeks to complete. First, I asked her to trace a map of the United States, as this was where the journey took place. Next she was to put the names of all the states and their capital cities on the map. Then she created a red line that represented the character’s travel by horse and wagon from their starting point to their final destination. When completed, I asked “D” to explain it to the class, which she did beautifully. At the end of her presentation, I congratulated her on reading a map. She could hardly believe that she had actually accomplished, albeit unknowingly, one of her life-long learning goals.

This learning experience had a profound positive impact on her self-concept. She could now see herself as someone who could learn and who was not an outsider in the world of education. It was a world she could now step into. It changed her inner- narrative.

Stories as Medicine 

I used other stories to teach as well. The story of the “Ugly Duckling,” which I took from Clarissa Pinkola Estes’s (1992) book, Women Who Run With the Wolves, was very useful. I noticed that the story and the discussion that followed improved the women’s ability to make meaning out of their grief and related feelings of “not belonging” in society due to their life circumstances. When the learners were able to connect with a deeper perspective—what I call a “sacred perspective”—they were often able to begin the difficult work of examining their own distorted perceptions of themselves and a change took place. I saw their approach towards themselves and others become more accepting. Their inner-narrative changed, their self-concept grew, and their quest for knowledge and meaning began to expand. “Transformation is the emergence of the Self,” as Cranton and Roy have stated (2003, p.92).

All of these learning activities were turning points for our class. And, that class was a turning point for me too. Through the process of reading and writing activities and by sharing stories, the women started to see themselves as learners and as part of a community; a community where learning was possible and where we were each connected through our humanness.

Reflections on What I Learned 

One of the many things I learned was, in order to foster transformation in a learning environment, you must believe in the power of the human spirit and in the power of story. As a result of the learning experiences in that class room, I became a better educator and, I believe, a better human being. My world view changed. I learned the only difference between me and the women in that class was our life circumstances. I learned the value of writing about life experiences and how sharing those stories connects us in meaningful ways.

One of the goals of transformative learning is to assist learners to make meaning of their experiences. If learners are unable to make meaning of their experiences, they remain disconnected from their education and from a healthy sense of self.  I learned so much from each one of them and I went on to become a counsellor as a result of my teaching experience. As the educator, author, and Jungian Analyst, Clarissa Pinkola Estes says in her classic book, “Story is medicine (1992).”

Sources Used

  • Cranton, P. & Roy, M. (2003). When the bottom falls out of the bucket: Toward a holistic perspective on transformative learning. Journal of Transformative Education, 1(2), 86-98.
  • Estes Pinkola, C. P. (1992). Women who run with the wolves. New York: Ballantine Books.
  •  Horsman, J. (1999).  Too scared to learn: Women, violence and education. Toronto: McGilligan Books.
  •  Ingalls Wilder, L. (1976). On the Way Home: The diary of a trip from South Dakota to Mansfield, Missouri. New York: Harper Collins Publishers Ltd.
  •  Wright, B. (2009) Seasons of Loss, Learning, and Self: Grief, Transformative Learning and Individuation. (Master’s Thesis). Copy may be requested from the Department of Adult Education, St. Francis Xavier University, NS.

 

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Phoenix’s Story: “I Died for a Few Minutes”

Transformative learning & the road to  adult literacy/adult basic education

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French sociologist, Pierre Bourdieu, once wrote: “Reality is not an absolute. It differs with the group to which one belongs.”

These past three months have given us a glimpse into the lived-realities of three literacy/basic education students. Their stories have shown how a single “disorienting dilemma” or several disorienting events changed their lives. We have also seen how such transformative learning has led them to literacy and basic education.

This month’s story is perhaps the most powerful story so far. Our  student this month shares how, “I … found out that I had died for a few minutes, went blue, and stopped breathing.” She has chosen the fictitious name, “Phoenix.” It is an amazing story.

Reflecting for just a moment on the stories thus far, I think about the struggles and transformative learning that has lead these adults to literacy and basic education and can’t help but contrast their realities with those of so many of the grade 12 graduates who take a “career pathway” to post-secondary programs. And, I think about how vital it is to have empathetic tutors, counsellors and instructors—not to mention supportive programs and policies—that can recognize and accommodate such difference and diversity.  We will be seeing stories with this focus in the months ahead. So please stay tuned

Meanwhile, Phoenix, we thank you for sharing your remarkable story. Every success in your program and every success in the future.  

 Dr. Allan Quigley & the SARN Team.

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All my life I swear it’s always been a constant struggle. There are very few times I remember when I was young that my mom, my little sister and I were completely content. No matter how hard we struggled, though, our mom always showed us and told us how much she loved us. We were rich on love.

As I grew older and older our mom kind of lost herself along the way. My sister and I would get sent to foster homes when she went off and did her own thing. We were used to it. To us it was normal. By the time you knew it, my sister and I were old enough to take care of ourselves. We knew what to say if social services came for us. We became good liars so they wouldn’t take us.

It is many years later and we each have kids of our own and we’re expected to raise these little people, to teach them how to grow, how to live. This is the part where our mom went wrong. It wasn’t her fault, though. It is a cycle. It needs to be broken.

I noticed myself starting to do the things she did when I was younger. I started drinking more and more. I experimented with all kinds of drugs. I started to neglect my children. I was hurting everyone, especially my very own babies. I knew I needed to change.

I usually overcame all my obstacles but the hardest one that I think is going to bother me forever is losing my mom. She passed on June 19, 2013. I fell into a depression and didn’t really care anymore. I knew she had a rough life and she was very tired. She is at peace and I know that now.

I slipped a few times, but the number one thing that made me want a better life was in the summer of 2014. It was July 16th, just before my two sons’ birthdays. My best friend was just getting back from Florida and I missed her so we hung out, took my kids to the beach and had a few drinks. It was a good day.

Day turned to night and I woke up the next morning in the hospital with a broken chest bone. I was so lost. I didn’t know it right away, but I later found out that I had died for a few minutes, went blue, and stopped breathing. I had overdosed on a mixture of drugs and hard liquor. I thank God my Bestie’s mom was there. CPR saved my life.

Just four days before my kids’ birthdays, they would have had to put me in the ground. I’ll never forgive myself for that, for hurting everyone, all my family, and all my friends. I am so sorry. It was this awful thing that changed me.

I want better for my kids. They deserve the best life. I know I need to give that to them. So now it is a little over a year later and I have a clearer outlook on life. I know what I want. I know what I have to do to get it. Not only being accepted into school but all the positive that came from such a negative experience made me think. I make better decisions. I am thankful that I was given a second chance. It was a wakeup call for sure.

I love my life. I’m grateful. I’m definitely blessed. I think about that day and I think to myself, “I bet my angel up above was watching over me and said, ‘She’s not done her job yet.’” This is why I’m alive today: to be the best mom for my kids. I’m giving it my all. It’s a promise I made to myself and my children.

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The Influence of Our Children: “Transformative Learning & How We Came To Basic Education” 

First, a correction. In our last posted story, I said Andrea Jonasson–the practitioner who encouraged Billy Castel to submit his story—was a counsellor. My mistake. Andrea is a basic education instructor. My apologies. However, let me again thanks Andrea and Billy for last month’s powerful story.

You may remember in the first installment of this series, Dr. Patricia Cranton explained that transformative learning may occur as a result of a single event—a so called, “disorienting dilemma”—or, it may be the result of a series of “disorienting dilemma” events. Either way, such “deep learning” means a person comes to “see the world in a different way, or perhaps [will] see himself or herself in a different way.”

Last month we saw how Billy’s relationship with a new, caring, partner lead to a radical change in Billys’ ways of seeing. His  “habits of mind” were changed irrevocably. As Billy concluded: “If I was given a second chance to change the time I spent with her, I wouldn’t change it for the world. If I did, I wouldn’t be the person I am today.”

Turning to this month’s installment, we have two stories from two BE learners who asked to remain anonymous. Like Billy, each describes how they came out of extremely difficult backgrounds. They each go on to explain how the world seen through the eyes of their own small children brought about a transformation in how they saw the world and themselves. Just like Billy, they effectively came to basic education as changed people.

Our sincere thanks goes out to these two remarkable students for sharing with us and to the BE practitioner who encouraged them to submit the two stories…that follow.

Do you or your learners have a story of transformative learning? Contact me at [aquigley@stfx.ca] or Jacqueline Bruce at ‎[jacqueline.bruce@onionlake.ca]‎ for details and story guidelines.

All the best in 2016.

Allan Quigley and the SARN Team

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 “I Don’t Want To Be A Hypocrite:” The Influence Of Our Children:

I grew up in an unstable home. My grandparents were alcoholics and barely home. I went to school every day but as a teenager I got into my rebellious stage. I started cutting class, hung out with wrong crowd and everyone just gave up on me. I met and had kids with my first love. We lived with his mom and two siblings which one of them had a baby also.

We lived in a 3 bedroom house on his reserve. After a while stuff happened and we separated. I moved back with my family and that wasn’t the best decision. I struggled to get on welfare and find a place. The only way I was going to get help from welfare was to do job searches and find a job. They would supplement the rest if I didn’t make enough. I can’t recall how many times I applied and got accepted into school and dropped out. My family filled my head with negative thoughts and at this point I didn’t have the drive, the motivation or the confidence.

I can proudly look back now and say to myself, “What was I thinking?” In Basic Education today, I am almost done, 2 credits to be exact. Coming back to school wasn’t the easiest task I had to face. Especially having kids at a young age, no family support and not having a positive role model. I don’t want to be a hypocrite telling my kids to finish school and I didn’t. I want to be their positive role model. I want to be able to support them without the struggle. I don’t want to be at a dead end job for the rest of my life. I want a career that I love.

Coming to ABE has helped with my confidence and I am looking forward to getting into post-secondary. Before this, this would have been something that I could never imagine. With the help and support of my ABE instructors I have the confidence to be proud of myself. Like what I always say now, “It’s better late than never!”

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“A Better Future For My Family:” The Influence Of Our Children

When I was 16, I became a young mother and dropped out of school to care for my baby. I had no family support or encouragement to go back to school. As the years went on, I and my boyfriend had more kids and our family became bigger.

I did a lot of thinking and wanted to come back to school but it was a struggle having children to care for at the same time. Living on welfare was not doing any good for me and my kids. I really needed to get back to school so I can have a better future for myself and my family.

I made the decision that it was time for me to go back to get my education. Coming back to school has given me great opportunities and has opened a lot of doors for me and my future. The instructors and staff in the program I am in are great. They have given me a lot of support and are helping me to succeed in getting my education.

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Billy’s Story: Transformative Learning and ”How I Came To Basic Education”

HI and welcome to the first in a new series of blog instalments. The theme for this year is Transformative Learning and its implications for literacy and adult basic education.

Check out our October instalment by Dr. Patricia Cranton to read more about this important new area of research and how we are inviting practitioners and learners to share their stories. As Patricia explains, a transformational experience may occur as a result of a single event (a ”disorienting dilemma”) or as a result of a series of events. Either way, a person will typically “see the world in a different way, or perhaps [will] see himself or herself in a different way.” As Patricia notes–and as most practitioners know–this life-changing phenomenon happens often in literacy and basic education,  not only with learners but with practitioners as well.

Andrea Jonasson, an instructor at the Prince Albert Polytech campus, worked with Billy Castel for the story that follows. Thank you Andrea!

Billy shares how and why he came to basic education, and how a single person made a transformative difference to his life. As he says: ” It takes only one person to change who you are.”

Thanks for sharing this, Billy. Every success in your program.

What is your story? For details and a story template to help write your story, please contact Allan at quigley@stfx.ca or Jacqueline at jacqueline.bruce@onionlake.ca.

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Billy’s Story: Transformative Learning and ”How I Came To Basic Education” 

 By Billy Castel, Basic Education student, Saskatchewan Polytechnic Prince Albert Campus.

There have been many life changing events in my life, from conversations to events. When I was fifteen I lost two brothers and a cousin in a house fire. I’ve always been easily distracted, in school at home or outdoors with my friends.

After the fire, I started drinking and fighting a lot. I lived in Pukatawagan, Manitoba most of my life. In 2005 I moved to The Pas, Manitoba, for a year. This was the year my brother Troy was born. I moved back to Puk later on in the year. This kind of put me back a bit in school. Later on after the house fire I moved to Lynn Lake for about a year. This really slowed me down in school. I was actually out for a year. I attended the school there for a few months but didn’t get the credits.

I was angry and sad about the loss of my family members and I did have abandonment issues. I grew up with my grandparents. My dad was a gangster, and my mother was too young to take care of me.  My grandparents took me in since birth. I am very grateful for that. Who knows? If I had gone with my dad I’d probably be dead.

I ended up going to jail the year I turned 18. In there I learned quite a bit about stuff on the other side of the law. I got out on bail twice. When I messed up the third time, I ended up getting bail again. When I got bail, I attended a treatment center in Nelson House, Manitoba. In there I learned a lot about myself with the problems I had in my head. It was there that I realized that I had abandonment issues. The counselor there helped me a lot. I strongly believe if I did not attend that treatment center I’d still be sitting in jail.

Before I went to jail I got an inbox on Facebook from a girl I met early on in the year before I got charged for fighting. She inboxed me, telling me that I was going to have a child. She wanted me to sign some papers when the time was right. I did sign the papers, not really knowing what I was doing. I was young and didn’t know much about things. I wasn’t sure about signing the papers, because I wasn’t sure if it was my kid.

Before that I was really unstable, I almost shot myself the weekend my son was conceived. After my son was born, I did kind of slow down on acting out on the world. I still drank, I still fought, and I was still feeling lost in the world not knowing what to do with my life.

In 2013 I moved to Steinbach, Man, for about a year. Later on in the year I moved to Winnipeg, Man. There I was really doing bad, hanging out with the wrong crowd. It was actually the same crowd my dad hung with. I was sitting around with gangsters and users, selling drugs and watching people use hard drugs. I’ve watched people smoke meth and crack, and I was snorting pills and coke. It wasn’t untill I got asked if I wanted to patch into a gang, that I realized that this wasn’t the life I wanted. I thought about my son, and how my dad’s choices affected me.

I went back to Puk after that. I was still drinking when I got there, and messing around with different women. It wasn’t till New Year day when I settled down, but I was still drinking a bit. I got into a relationship with this girl who change my whole thoughts on life.

I didn’t believe in love. I saw my grandparents, and thought that love belonged to the generations before mine. We were only messing around for the first few months. I was always out doing nothing, until I started spending time with her more often. We kept telling each other that we were only cuddling, so I just kept on fooling around with other women. I ended up messing with one of my exes and she found out. This was the first time I actually felt the pain of heartbreak, I felt more lost than when I was sitting with the people who were doing meth. I was a boy before I met this girl. She changed me so much. If I hadn’t of spent the time I’ve spent with her, I believe I’d be in a cell or a box.

She noticed something I didn’t notice in myself. Look at me now in school, working on success. If I didn’t spend the time I did with her my life would be cold and grey. I’d be looking to get high or laid, getting paid for sitting on my ass, waiting for a welfare check every month.

It takes only one person to change who you are, or to at least notice that there is more to life. Usually it should be you.

The time I spent with this girl was mostly at night, spending all hours of it just talking watching movies, and laughing. The stuff we talked about was what we thought we wanted to do in life. I don’t think I ever answered that question, because I didn’t know the answer. I’m pretty sure I was always the one asking the questions, because I was just interested in her, and everything she did. She wasn’t like the other women I spoke to, or spent time with.

If I was given a second chance to change the time I spent with her, I wouldn’t change it for the world. If I did, I wouldn’t be the person I am today.

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In Search Of Stories: SARN Explores Transformative Learning

Hi. Welcome to another exciting year with the Saskatchewan Action Research Network. We have a new theme for this year’s blog series—a topic suggested by a reader (hey, if you are reading this, thank you for your idea).

This year, SARN is exploring transformative learning in adult literacy and basic education. We need your help! We are looking for stories from students, instructors, counselors, administrators—any participant who has changed as a result of involvement in literacy/basic education programming. We are especially interested in stories that include how and when literacy/basic changed the way a participant “sees the world in a different way, or perhaps sees himself or herself in a different way” (see Patricia Cranton’s article below).

Perhaps you can help a student write their story and get them published? Let’s involve our learners more this year.

If you would like more information or want a template form that should help you tell your story, please send a note to either Jacqueline Bruce (jbruce0116@hotmail.com) or me (aquigley@stfx.ca). Stories should be no longer than 1500 words and Jacqueline and I will help with any editing that may be needed..

Please pass along this invitation together with Patricia’s blog installment. We are really forward to this exciting series and really looking forward to those stories… Again, contact Jacqueline or me for more information.

Allan Quigley


 

Dr. Patricia Cranton.

Dr. Patricia Cranton. Professor of Adult Education, University of New Brunswick

Transformative Learning in Adult Literacy and Basic Education
 by Dr. Patricia Cranton

There are times in the practice of adult education when a student or instructor undergoes a meaningful shift in the way he or she sees the world in a different way, or perhaps sees himself or herself in a different way.  These are usually moments of joy and appreciation.

Transformative learning theory describes this process.

Dr. Patricia Cranton is a Professor of Adult Education at the University of New Brunswick

 

Dr. Jack Mezirow

Dr. Jack Mezirow, Professor of Adult Education

What Is Transformative Learning?

Transformative learning theory originated with Dr. Jack Mezirow when he witnessed the experience of his wife Edee who returned to college after many years.  He later  conducted a study of women’s re-entry into college in 1975 to 1978.  He proposed that a perspective transformation included the following phases:

A disorienting dilemma, self-examination, assessment of assumptions and a sense of alienation, relating to others, exploring options, building competence and self-confidence, planning a course of action, acquiring the skills for the course of action, trying out new roles, and reintegrating the social context.Transformative learning theory originated with Dr. Jack Mezirow when he witnessed the experience of his wife Edee who returned to college after many years.  He later  conducted a study of women’s re-entry into college in 1975 to 1978.  He proposed that a perspective transformation included the following phases:

 “Am I Alone In This?” An Example

To take just one example, a person has an experience that challenges her beliefs about herself.  This leads her to question herself and think about the assumptions she might be making about the role of women.  There can be a sense of isolation or alienation (asking, “Am I alone in this thinking?”) followed by relating to others who have the same experience.  Through conversations with others, she can explore options that lead to feeling more competent and confident.  The transformative learning process is complete when the person finds a way to act on her revised perspectives and reintegrates into the social context.

“Habits of Mind” & A Definition

Mezirow periodically adjusted his definition of transformative learning over the years, but essentially it remained the same.  In 2003, he wrote: “Transformative learning is learning that transforms problematic frames of reference—sets of fixed assumptions and expectations (habits of mind, meaning perspectives, mindsets)—to make them more inclusive, discriminating, open, reflective, and emotionally able to change.  Such frames of reference are better than others because they are more likely to generate beliefs and opinions that will prove more true or justified to guide action” (pp. 58-59).  That is, when people encounter an experience or perspective that is in conflict with their beliefs and values, that encounter has the potential to call those beliefs and values into question and to lead to a deep shift in the way people see themselves and/or the world.

There are, says Mezirow, “habits of mind—the groove in which our mind runs. Habits of mind are a product of past experiences, knowledge of the world, cultural background and psychological inclinations.  People develop habitual expectations—what happens before is likely to happen again.  Mezirow identified six types of habits of mind:

  • Epistemic habits of mind are those related to knowledge and how we acquire knowledge.
  • Sociolinguistic habits of mind are related to social norms, cultural expectations, and the way language reflects those norms and expectations.
  • Psychological habits of mind have to do with people’s self-concept, inhibitions, anxieties, and fears.
  • Moral-ethical habits of mind define good and evil, morality, and the extent to which people see themselves as responsible for advocating for justice in the world.
  • Philosophical habits of mind are based on worldview, political views, and religious doctrine.
  • Aesthetic habits of mind include values, tastes, judgments, and standard about beauty.

Habits of mind are not easily accessible: they tend to be deeply embedded and unexamined.  As such, they can create constraints that prevent people from learning or critically questioning their perspectives.

Since Mezirow’s original research, many other scholars have come forth with alternative ways of understanding transformative learning.  Transformation may not be the cognitive and rationale process that Mezirow describes; it might be intuitive, spiritual, or relational and collaborative. Transformative learning has also been related to social change, social justice, and ideology critique.

“Learning Companions” Rather Than Instructors

The practice of literacy educators and basic education educators is often neglected in the transformative learning literature. Some argue that a certain level of cognitive development and, hence, formal education is a prerequisite for transformative learning. This assumption may serve to discourage researchers from examining the experiences of literacy learners. Yet, in the field of adult literacy education, anecdotes and stories abound that can only be interpreted as transformative learning.

In a paper presented with two colleagues, Brenda Wright and Allan Quigley, we examined the experiences of eight adult literacy educators in terms of how they fostered transformative learning.  Every interview and narrative revealed a strong current of the educators’ deep caring for their learners and an explicit passion for their work as well as a belief in the learners’ abilities. It was the nature of the relationships among educators and learners that led us to the term learning companion as a descriptor of how literacy educators see their role in fostering transformative learning.

“Scared Stiff” & a Closing Note

I have not worked as a literacy educator nor as a basic education teacher, so my comments must be limited.  I have, however, worked with educators who are literacy and basic education teachers and have learned a great deal from them. I also think that my work with tradespeople making the transition into teaching their trades is relevant here.

For many years, I worked in a program at the University of New Brunswick for tradespeople who wanted to become teachers of their trades.  They were carpenters, auto mechanics, marine mechanics, refrigeration experts, and the like.  Almost all of these people had never been a student at a university, but it was on a university campus where this mandatory program was held. The program they need to complete as a prerequisite for their being hired at the New Brunswick Community College was conducted at UNB.  These good folks were scared stiff.  They did not know what to expect. They were afraid that they would have to write “academic” papers, and they had no idea how to do this.

In this program, we focused on what people needed and wanted to learn.  I used a participatory planning strategy in which the course was developed with and by the participants.  When the students realized that they had a say in what was going to happen, they began to be involved in a more meaningful way, trusting that someone was going to listen to what was important to them.  And this, quite often, became a transformative learning experience for them. From “scared stiff” to adults confident in their own voice and abilities.

I hope that my comments encourage others to foster transformative learning in their practice in both literacy education and basic adult education. .

Some Suggested Additional Readings

Cranton, P. & Wright, B. (2008).  The transformative educator as learning companion.  Journal of Transformative Education, 6, 33-47.

Cranton, P. (2013). Transformative learning.  In P. Mayo (Ed.) Adult learning: A reader (pp. 267-275). Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.

Cranton, P., & Wright, B. (2007). The transformative educator as learning companion. In P. Cranton & E. Taylor (eds.), Proceedings of the 7th international transformative learning conference.

Kroth, M., & Cranton, P. (2014). Stories of transformative learning. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.

Wright, B., Cranton, P., & Quigley, A. (2007). Literacy educators’ perspectives of transformation and authenticity. Paper presented at the 48th Annual Adult Education Research Conference, Halifax, Nova Scotia.

 

 

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LESSONS LEARNED: SARN in 2014-2015

BUILDING PRACTICAL KNOWLEDGE:  SARN LOOKS BACK ON 2014-2015…. “WHAT  DID WE DO & WHAT DID WE LEARN?”      

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“Research that produces nothing but books will not suffice.”   — Kurt Lewin (1946)                                              

OUR BUSIEST YEAR EVER…   

June is year-end for our SARN project and, looking back, this was easily our busiest year ever–the busiest since 2003 when SARN began. We typically conduct two invited workshops per year at postsecondary institutions but this year we not only conducted our two workshops but added a webinar (our first ever).  Another major change, the selected theme this year was a focus on “transitioning adult basic education students into the workforce.” The webinar focused on this topic, as did the follow-up workshop two weeks later. This topic was included along with learner retention in the workshop we conducted later for North West College in North Battleford.  In addition to presentations at both the SABEA conference and the TEAL SK conference, we made strides in building our Face Book and Twitter communities.

But perhaps you read a few of our monthly blog installments that concentrated on how other provinces delivery literacy and basic education this academic year.  We asked, “How does BC, Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario deliver adult literacy and basic education programs?”  And, “What is the potential of distance education here in Saskatchewan to help meet the adult literacy and basic education need here?”

So, with that quick overview, here’s a closer look at what SARN did last year.  But, before I move on dear readers, thank you for your involvement and support this past year. Our 2014-2015 website statistics show that we had our highest readership ever. Again, thank you.

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READ ON:   

  • Webinar: In 2014-2015, our Saskatchewan Action Research Network conducted its first ever province-wide Webinar. It was conducted with an expert on this topic  speaking from Ottawa and was held over a noon-hour on February 25. As mentioned, the topic selected by our Advisory Board was: “Transitioning Basic Education Students into the Workplace.” We had 51 registered (our largest group ever) and we had extremely positive feedback. The plan now is to build on this success next year with a “Part Two” Webinar on this same important topic, hopefully with the same presenter (stay tuned).
  • Follow-Up Transition Workshop: Two weeks after the webinar, we conducted a follow-up workshop with an action research “hands-on” training workshop. Held in Saskatoon, we had 31 registered from across the province.  Interestingly, we had a large number of counselors and workplace coordinators in attendance. They came from colleges, Dumont Technical Institute, the Sask. Polytechnic and other allied providers. This training workshop began with an overview of SARN, moved to a review of what we heard and saw in the webinar presentation, then we switched to small groups after learning how to use and apply action research. Participants left with exciting, practical plans on how to help their students transition from classrooms to employment—or to employment following further education. Each plan was developed to meet the unique needs of each discussion groups’ own work settings.
  • North West College: We also conducted an invited workshop in North Battleford for the BE staff of North West College. Again, it began with an overview of SARN, moved to a review of SARN research posted on our  website (SARN.CA) about proven ways to reduce learner dropout and improve student attendance. And, since the college had requested a review of what was presented in the webinar, we covered that as well. So, at the end of that productive day, 21 participants left with  step-by-step research plans to implement back at their worksites. AND, you can see a very promising project already posted on our  website (WWW.SARN.,CA) resulting from this workshop.  This group explored the intervention strategy of introducing healthy food and exercise into the classroom schedule to see if that would increase learning performance, make the curriculum more relevant with these activites and see if this strategy had the potential to improve student attendance and retention. Check out that latest report on the SARN website.

SARN team members also presented at the annual SABEA conference and organized and sponsored the SABEA reception. Team members also presented at the annual TEAL SK conference to introduce SARN to more ESL/EAL practitioners, and we hosted two Advisory Board meetings. Whew!

But perhaps our widest reach came with our monthly blog series… The statistics show we had readers from across Saskatchewan, New York, San Francisco, Europe, and even Buenos Aires, South America. So let’s take a look at some of the things we learned in our blog series….

READ ON 

BLOG SYNOPSIS: “HOW IS ABE DELIVERED IN OTHER PROVINCES?”

From January through May, I posted monthly blogs on each of: British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario’s BE delivery systems. We also had a look at distance education developments in our own province. I gave some observations on the practices and policies that might benefit our own province along the way in hopes this might engender some discussion as we move forward with adult education into 2015-2016.

A thumbnail sketch of our west-to-east journey:

I.  For over 20 years the B.C. government has supported a providers’ lead project to create and maintain: Adult Basic Education: A Guide to Upgrading in British Columbia’s Public Post-Secondary Institutions. This guide is continually updated to try to keep the k-12 and post-secondary systems informed.  It also helps inform multiple providers, referring agencies and employers by updating them on what, where, and how literacy and basic education programs are made available in the province.  A side benefit, by maintaining this guide through regular meetings and internet discussions, contributing practitioners have the opportunity to discuss specific new materials and best practices in each others’ teaching areas and subject disciplines.  Couldn’t we use something like this in Saskatchewan?

Some further snapshots of B.C.’s system:

British Columbia’s “Highly Comprehensive System.

  • The “Dogwood Diploma” Alternative:  As will also be seen in Manitoba and Ontario, B.C.’s adult learners have a choice of graduating with either a grade 12 High School Diploma or an Adult Graduate Diploma (AGD)—also know as the “Dogwood Diploma.” Both diplomas are offered by most postsecondary institutions. More information is available at the website of the B.C Ministry of Advanced Education.
  • School Boards & Embedded Courses: Both B.C. and Ontario have long histories of school boards offering ABE. This route to high school completion is free for full-time adult learners over 18 in B.C. And, in many institutions, such as the Vancouver Community College, younger adult learners and more mature adult learners are often “streamed” to different classrooms routes for pedagogical reasons. This is further discussed in that individual B.C. blog article and in more depth in the Ontario blog article, but, both provinces’ school boards enroll at least as many adults learners as their provinces’ post-secondary systems.  The school board’s BE courses for adults are typically offered in facilities such as adult campuses.

Here in Sask., to the best of my knowledge, only the Saskatoon School Board has adult campuses. One is at Saskatoon’s Royal West campus and the other is located at Nutana Collegiate. The Regina School Board also has an Adult Campus in downtown Regina. Perhaps the wider need could be better addressed with more Ministry of Education adult programs? Since the school boards’ BE courses are free for full-time adult students up to age 21 here in Sask, this existing structure would permit good pedagogical “streaming” into appropriate cohorts for younger adult learners, leaving more of the more mature learners in our postsecondary programs and overall helping take some of the backlog pressure off those BE programs with waiting lists.

Embedded BE Courses: Some B.C. colleges and post-secondary institutes are teaching basic education courses simultaneously with trades courses. This means basic ed’ courses are effectively embedded in the trade classes’ schedule so adult basic students may, for instance, have their BE courses in the morning and their trades classes in the afternoon. Both may well be in the same room or shop space but with different instructors.  The objective is to make BE streamlined to meet the prerequisite needs of trades courses.

II.  Alberta’s “Entrepreneurial System”

  • Alberta raises a question:  “What is the Purpose of Adult Basic Education anyway?” Looking at Alberta, one has to ask about the purpose of a province’s basic education delivery system.

In Saskatchewan, graduates must complete the public school’s grade 12 curricula to graduate. While this has obvious academic and future educational benefits, Alberta sees basic education very differently. As my Alberta interviewee said, basic education is meant to help adults “upgrade and meet pre-technical needs.”  In Alberta, each individual postsecondary institution has its own BE curriculum and each assumes it will prepare learners to enter their, or another’s, trades programs. The concept is not so different from the way many universities today have their own preparatory courses at the front end of their academic program.

Here is what NAIT’s Website states: “Students who complete the Academic Upgrading program do not receive a certificate or diploma, and do not receive course credits toward an Alberta Learning High School diploma. However, the courses are accepted as entrance requirements at NAIT and at all other Alberta post-secondary institutions (December 12).”

In Western and Central Canada, the continuum of high school completion diplomas seems to range from Saskatchewan’s mandatory grade 12 for BE completions, to Alberta’s requirement whereby each post-secondary institution has its own BE program. Between these two poles are B.C., Ontario and Manitoba which individually offer parallel or dual systems of high school grade 12 and Basic Education diplomas. Should the purpose and completion diploma discussion be re-visited in Saskatchewan?

The Role of Alberta’s Non-Profit and Community-Based BE Providers: Who should offer the lower levels of basic education? Alberta and Ontario both work especially hard at having non-profit and community-based providers deliver most of the lower levels of basic literacy—at least this seems to be the case in their larger cities.  The objective, according to my Alberta informant, is to have levels 1-4 located in community-based centres and locations where learners live and feel comfortable. Bow Valley College in Calgary, as I was told, works with libraries, Aboriginal centres, civic facilities, the United Way and any number of local organizations to have their basic literacy programs located in free or low-rent facilities where many learners live. As will be seen, the same is true in Manitoba and Ontario.

Should more of our province’s level 1-4 program be in the community based programs of the province?

IV.  Saskatchewan Distance Education

  • Distance Education: The Saskatchewan installment focused on what our province has been doing and learning about BE delivery with distance technologies. In my interview with Kami DePape at Parkland College—our province’s main distance provider for over 10 years—Kami explained:  “Currently, we offer 20 and 30-level asynchronous programming through our distance school, which was officially launched provincially in 2009. We also have grade 12 face-to-face staff teaching our campus-based levels 2, 3 and 4 Adult Basic Education programs. These are in addition to the 3 instructors in our distance program.”

According to Kami, “Parkland has had an average of 275 learners yearly since 2009 with many taking multiple 20 or 30-level subjects.”  As she told me: “We have served 1,379 learners over the past 5 years, all at level four, meaning 20 and 30-level courses leading to a high school diploma.”  And the numbers appear to be rising with learners registering from our province and others, including former Saskatchewanians now located in other provinces, Europe or the United States.

The Parkland experience for the past decade has been to serve adults who need some credits to finish high school. And, the retention rates are quite impressive. Kami reported: “Our retention rate over the past 5 years has been 83%.”

 Does this route hold promise for the 21st century for Saskatchewan?

READ ON

  • But this is not the whole story.  Three of the Saskatchewan Polytechnic campuses offer the lower level 1-4 program to a limited number through an off-campus  Polytechnic contract with Arrowmight. Arrowmight delivers basic literacy education classes in other parts of Canada as well. And, as of January of this year, the (then) Dean of Basic Education told me this distance innovation was going very well using local tutors for support.

Saskatchewan has two things in great abundance—lots of distance and lots of adults who have not completed high school. Should our province build a larger off-campus outreach delivery system using distance technologies as we move into the 21st century?

IV.  Manitoba’s Integrated System

As I said in that blog article, Manitoba may have well have Canada’s best delivery system. It depends on one’s criteria for “best system” …. but consider the following:

  • One Ministerial Funding Branch: It is impressive to see how all funding for all levels and all types of adult literacy and basic education is funded and supported by a single branch out of one MB ministry—the Adult Learning and Literacy Branch of the Manitoba Ministry of  Multiculturalism and Literacy.  From the John Howard Society to colleges, that single branch administers a network of adult literacy programs at the non-credit upgrading level as well as  approved/registered adult learning centres (ALCs) that offer both the high school curricula the Manitoba adult BE alternative.
  • Legislation: This province is also impressive in that it has government legislation in the form of  The Adult Literacy Act and The Adult Learning Centres Act.  Under these two acts, adults have the option of attending tuition-free programming at Adult Learning Programs to upgrade their basic academic skills and/or attending tuition-free programming at Adult Learning Centres so they can obtain a high school or a mature high school diploma. Further, adult students can have their previous learning assessed and recognized for credit at Adult Learning Centres and can earn up to two high school credits for their prior learning at the basic literacy level.
  • Dual Credits: As in B.C. and Ontario, Manitoba’s adults have the opportunity to obtain dual credits at some ALC’s so their credits are then recognized by the schooling system and the post-secondary system. Here is a dual credit system not seen in most provinces. And, those who already hold a high school diploma may be eligible to enroll for four additional courses, tuition-free, to obtain the necessary pre-requisite credits for employment or further post secondary education.

Is this Canada’s “best” literacy and basic education system? Maybe. But however you see literacy/basic education purposes or optional delivery systems, I would like to suggest other provinces need to look at what they have developed in Manitoba.

V.  Ontario’s Massive, yet Forward Looking System

Imagine this, Ontario’s basic education system annually serves some 85,000 learners.

In this case, I interviewed an academic, a consultant and a senior official with the Adult Education Policy Branch in the Ontario Ministry of Education. Each has over 25 years of experience in practice, policy and/or research.  What I mainly learned was from the point of view of literacy/BE as offered by the Ministry of Education, not so much from the viewpoint of  “employment literacy” (as the senior official termed it). The employment literacy  side is the responsibility of the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities.

Here are someOntario innovations to consider:

  • Age Matters:  As explained by my academic interviewee, it is pedagogically important to stream younger apart from more mature adult learners. In Ontario, younger adults typically go into the youth-oriented ABE programs; likewise, older–the typically more mature adults with more life experience—often can perform better with their own age cohort.
  • Competing for Students?  Another important point, there is a concerted effort in Ontario to build a stronger collaborative approach to literacy/BE programming among colleges, school boards, CBO’s and other providers to reduce competition for adult students. Competition for students is perhaps the least discussed problem in our delivery systems. But, in Ontario, providers are being strongly encouraged to plan and work together.
  • Two Diplomas: As in B.C., Alberta and Manitoba, the lower levels of literacy are often offered by community based organizations. And, what we see in Ontario are CBOs developing more and more innovative pathways with “boutique programs” to meet the special needs of so many of their higher risk adult learners. Meanwhile, the higher 4-5 levels, as termed in Ontario, are offered by both school boards and colleges where adults can earn either a high school diploma or the widely recognized Adult Completion Certificate (ACE). This constitutes a “parallel” system of diplomas, not a dual credit system since the ACE certificate is not officially recognized by the Ministry of Education. Rather, the ACE certificate is a postsecondary certificate offered by and recognized by the postsecondary system.
  • One Course per Quarter: Increasingly, ON postsecondary institutions are adopting a “quadmester system” for BE; meaning 8-week terms whereby students normally take but one course. This concentrated approach, they have found, is proving to be very effective for the high level of “stop-out” among our adults who often have family and life challenges.
  • Learning/Training Pathways: The Ontario Ministry of Education is seeking better articulation across schools and colleges. The idea has been that students do not necessarily need to first finish their basic education diploma, then apply for trades training, then enter the workforce. It doesn’t have to be steps on a “ladder.” The ministry respondent I interviewed gave the recent example of 25 basic education students in a George Brown College Registered Practical Nursing Program—well known to have high academic standards—who received both high school and advanced standing in biology and mathematics in their nursing program simultaneously, and they all then moved into the Ontario health field via the college’s co-op placement program.
  • A New E-Learning Hybrid: The Ontario Ministry of Education is piloting a promising “hybrid E-Learning system” that involves both classroom teaching and distance delivery. This should better accommodate the schedules of adults who attend classes only when they are able. The hybrid approach will have built-in diagnostic placement tools so returning adults can re-assess where they should re-engage in programs of study and will have a required refresher component so re-engaging won’t be so difficult. As of spring, 2015, this new approach was being pilot tested by 15 boards with some 200 learners involved. And, they were showing an 80-100% completion rate.
  • “Learn & Earn:” Some Ontario school boards are experimenting with an approach where adults can gain credits while on the job. Programs and credits are being developed where literacy and basic education knowledge and skills can be acquired while doing specific tasks on the job—an “Earn and learn” approach.

So it is hard to say which province has the “best” system but Ontario is doing great innovative work…

In closing, there is a lot to be learned from our neighboursI hope you agree… Comments are always welcome…  But, once again, thank you for your support and engagement in this important movement. We are building practical knowldege… 

Hoping to “virtually see you” next year,

Allan

 

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