My 5 Year Plan

This blog is part of a professional development project that I started working on last year. The Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC) has an optional program called the Faculty Learning College Portfolio (FLCP) where participants set goals to develop a 5 year plan in partnership with the college. The FLCP is self directed and open to the professional wants and needs of the individual since NSCC has so many different and diverse departments. I work in the School of Access, mainly in the Adult Learning Program (ALP), a continuous intake adult high school. I also teach Chemistry in the Academic Careers and Connections program. This is for people who need to upgrade their credits or take courses they didn’t in high school. The goals I have chosen for myself are meant to improve the education and experience my students receive from 3 different angles.

One of the requirements of the FLCP is to communicate what you learn. This blog acts as a way to share with all the stakeholders in the project and with the wider world. My previous entries have been in that spirit but I have not formally outlined the project itself for others. The following is an edited version of the approved proposal I submitted to the college a year ago.

FLCP Goal 1: Explore Education science and best practices from other alternate programs as they pertain to adult education and learning. Incorporate them into my classroom in order to maximize student success.

Education science is a developing field dedicated to finding what helps and what hinders learning from the perspective of the brain. In my experience traditional best practices in education have been valued based on anecdotal evidence. Education science brings in the standards of the scientific method and is data driven. Education science is a mix of psychology, neuroscience and other scientific disciplines as they pertain to teaching and learning. I would like to research what it says about learning in general and specifically what will and won’t help adult learners. I expect to find little on adults as most of literature seems focused on how children and their developing brains learn best, however, there are no doubt some universal lessons to be taken from that. This research will be broad and comprehensive looking at what a wide variety of brain, education and psychological work has produced with respect to the adult classroom and brain-based teaching. I will use this learning in my lessons and general approaches in the classroom. Specific resources may be created as well as classroom procedures changed based on the findings.

Many non-traditional schools develop their own approaches to their classrooms and programs. What has been successful elsewhere? What might apply here? I believe there are lessons available from a wide range of alternative education settings. For example, I have been fascinated by Reggio Emilia schools since first reading about them in Howard Gardner’s The Disciplined Mind when I was in Teacher’s College. Reggio Schools pioneered the notion of the “emergent curriculum”, where students naturally determine the topics to be studied based on interest, context and sometimes just serendipity (e.g. Gandini, 1993). This concept has played in the back of my mind for many years. The model seems a natural fit with the andragogic pillar that adults learn best when they are in control of their own learning (Knowles, 1973). It is not just early childhood education where new and progressive ideas might be found. There are diverse examples world wide of schools practicing in alternative education where the true focus is on producing consistently successful graduates (Harlem Children’s Zone, KIPP schools, etc… see Tough, 2008 for example). What lessons can we learn from them?  Other adult high schools must also offer advice. I want to find out where and who the most successful schools are and take their lessons away. Are there examples of adult secondary programs where graduates outperform the norm both academically and economically? If so, what are they doing?

FLCP Goal 2: Define and develop a process to measure and assess non-cognitive skills associated with better learning, personal well being and higher economic status after finishing the ALP program

The life skills necessary to be successful have long been overlooked in favour of curriculum content and higher test scores. Historically, this hasn’t always been the case. In adult education especially, this is a mistake. Research on the GED has shown that the curriculum content has no bearing on the economic success of an adult high school graduate. The average income of a GED recipient is the same as a high school drop out. It is the soft skills developed in a classroom setting, related to things like reliability and motivation, that correlate higher with better incomes later on (e.g. Cameron & Heckman, 1993, Heckman and Krueger, 2003). NSCC’s mission statement is, “Building Nova Scotia’s economy and quality of life through education and innovation”. It is incumbent on the ALP program to try our best to develop the skills that actually promote higher economic status both for the individual and the community in general. This in time will help break the cycle of poverty many ALP students and their families find themselves in. While economics are a quantifiable way of defining success, I view it only as a phenomenological result of better Education and self-actualization, not the goal in itself. These same soft skills are associated with the humanization I mention in my teaching philosophy. It is through developing non-cognitive skills like perseverance and dedication where we find purpose and growth. It’s the effort I put into my teaching where I find pride, not the test scores my students receive. It should be the same for students as well. The learning process requires as many non-cognitive skills as cognitive ones yet they are seldom formally acknowledged. As part of this project I will try to define these non-cognitive attributes and present the case that we need to take developing these skills as seriously as any learning outcome in the curriculum. How do we incorporate them into our mandated curricula? I would like to develop strategies and resources for the ALP program that focus equally on soft skill development as it does curriculum content, while remaining respectful of adult learners and involving them in the process transparently.

FLCP Goal 3: Develop a standard based grading system that relies on continuous feedback for both curriculum content and non-cognitive workplace readiness development.

Lastly, a progressive teaching practice requires a progressive assessment and evaluation scheme.  This aspect of the project is how I see it all coming together. Simple numerical grading will not suffice.  I want to research what many others are doing with feedback driven, numberless, standards based grading (SBG).  Honest discussion and feedback about the quality of work being presented, the student’s approach to school and their future chances of success is a dialectic process where both student and teacher work together to move forward. It has the ability to be individualized and differentiated. It needs to be transparent and open so that students will actively participate.  After seeing what others are doing around SBG and what has worked and not worked for them, I would like develop an ALP specific version.

These are the goal I’ve been working on for a year now. In my next post I will update what I’ve done and what I’ve learned in that time.

Cameron, Stephen V., Heckman, James J.; 1993, “The Nonequivalence of High School Equivalents”, Journal of Labor Economics, vol. 11, no. 1, pg. 1-47

Gandini, Lella; 1993, “Fundamentals of the Reggio Emilia Approach to Early Childhood Education”, Young Children, vol. 49, no. 11, pg. 4-8

Heckman, James J., Krueger, Alan B.; 2003, “Inequality in America: What Role for Human Capital Policies?”, pg. 77-239, Cambridge, Mass., MIT Press

Knowles, M. S.; 1973,  “The Adult Learner: A Neglected Species”, Houston, Gulf

Tough, Paul; 2008, “Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada’s Quest to Change Harlem and America”, New York, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt


One Comment on “My 5 Year Plan”

  1. […] part of my 5 year project for the Nova Scotia Community College (called my Faculty Learning College Portfolio, FLCP) I had to present my thoughts on the process […]

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