how to make adult education literacy class inclusive and welcoming
September 3, 2019 9:29 AM   Subscribe

I am teaching a small adult literacy college class this semester (maximum 10 students) and, inspired by recent threads by neurodiverse folks/people with disabilities, am looking for advice on best practices in an adult education classroom. I’d prefer to hear directly from neurodiverse folks/people with disabilities themselves (links to first person articles about lived experience would also be fine). Specifically, I’d like to know how to be a more effective instructor and how to make the classroom a more secure, welcoming, comfortable place for everyone. I do always ask the students for input on how they best like to learn, but most of them haven’t been in school for a while so they may not know right away what to suggest.

More info:

-my students are all adults between 18 and 40 years old, not children
-this is a multilevel literacy class, and everyone reads and writes at elementary school level
-many have had negative previous experiences with education
-they are poor and can’t afford assistive devices not provided by the college
-I have a very small budget but I do have some funds available, so if there’s an indispensable item that’s under, say, $75, please do mention it
-I am familiar with and generally try to employ principles of universal design for learning. This is not primarily a lecture/worksheet class.
-I must adhere to provincially mandated learning outcomes, but I do have freedom in how I teach and assess for those outcomes

Thank you very much for any advice you are willing to offer me on how to be a better instructor! I am sure my students will appreciate it.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl to Education (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I have audible processing issues (self-diagnosed) and *really really appreciate it* when any presentation like a powerpoint is also available to the student as a PDF or handout, so I can follow it at my pace and read things that my listening brain couldn't decipher.
posted by odinsdream at 9:46 AM on September 3, 2019 [3 favorites]

If any texts you're teaching require trigger warnings, please use them.

Also, how much freedom do you have in selecting your texts? From speaking to friends, many got put off reading by the unbearable white maleness of the 'classic' literature they were studying. YA novels can be as literary and powerful as anything by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway or JD Salinger and as a bonus will have less noxious views of women and minorities. LMK if you want a reading list.

Make sure that all instructions are clear, and both explained in class and emailed/posted on the class website. Make sure that any audio/video has transcripts, and if you have any students with disabilities that require a chair or a cane, that the classroom is laid out in a way that is easy for them to navigate. Let students make up tests/assignments, and have a variety of things they can use for extra credit. Let them use laptops or tablets if they find that easier.

Most importantly: believe them when they tell you what accommodations they need.
posted by Tamanna at 10:37 AM on September 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

what kind of seating is there? is it the terrible tiny connected desk/chair thing? if so, ask for a couple of tables and chairs so a) fat people can sit comfortably and concentrate on learning and not trying to fit into a seat (i speak from experience), b) anyone in a wheelchair can sit at the table.

also, people with low-vision or similar conditions may need more high-contrast visuals, so design your powerpoints or whatever you use with visibility, legibility, and readability in mind.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 12:01 PM on September 3, 2019

ADHD/Anxiety here.

If allowed by the college, let the students have something to drink with them, if needed. I do a lot better when I'm sipping on a tea or coffee, instead of having to do without. I get anxiety/panic attacks at times, and tasting/smelling something (like coffee) will 'recenter' me.
posted by spinifex23 at 12:01 PM on September 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

I like this class policy, because it makes due date accommodations available to everyone, without question or any need for documentation. The reference to 'zeros' being added refers to an online gradebook that students can access to see the impact on their grade.
Due dates are designed to manage the workload during the term, and points are not docked for late work. Zeros will be added for missing assignments after the due date, but all assignments can be turned in until the end of the term.

Please note that turning in late work is strongly discouraged, particularly for any assignment that requires instructor feedback on a draft before a revised version is due. While every effort will be made to return feedback as quickly as possible, timely feedback cannot be guaranteed for assignments turned in late.

Revisions of written assignments are permitted for additional credit before the term ends.
This policy may also help reduce anxiety about turning in assignments, i.e. even if the assignment is not 'perfect,' and encourage involvement in the editing and revision process. You may need to be prepared to defend this type of policy as student-centered and thoroughly grounded in the guiding principles of the ADA. It does put the responsibility for time management on the student, but also supports their learning process as needed.

Ultimately, if a student is not able to complete the work within the term, and needs an Incomplete at the end of the term, or a grade change afterwards, that would be when they would need to follow school procedures and policies to obtain that accommodation, if it is something beyond your authority to grant without administration approval.

I also deployed multimodal presentations as much as possible, and always printed powerpoints to go along with lecture/discussion presentations, and uploaded them online to the class website. In addition, I created online 'quizzes' that could be taken multiple times to reinforce and practice core concepts, which also seemed appreciated as a study tool before exams, including because they were accessible on a smartphone, which students may have better access to than a computer.

I also suggest asking the college librarian and/or an academic support person at the college to be guest speakers for a few minutes, to talk about the services available and answer any questions. Students may understand generally that computers and academic support are available, but helping build relationships with the individuals offering the resources could help make the college environment generally feel more welcoming.
posted by katra at 7:34 PM on September 3, 2019

Not everyone is comfortable with, or gains anything from, “icebreaker” activities. You will make your classroom a much more welcoming place for the anxious among us if you don’t force people to go around the room and name their favorite flavor of ice cream or something. Treat people like adults—if they want to talk, they will talk to other students. Having everyone name the season that best describes their personality is torture for a lot of people and serves basically zero purpose. I have dropped classes based on the awfulness of “getting-to-know-you” activities designed for chipper extroverts.
posted by corey flood at 8:01 PM on September 3, 2019 [3 favorites]

Thank you everyone for taking the time to answer. I really appreciate it.

You’ve given me some ideas for things I can change and be more attentive to and reassured me about things I already do.

Katra, I have the same policy in all my classes about due dates but no late penalties. It works very well for all the reasons you described. (I like your wording better than mine though.) We are not in the US so the ADA isn’t applicable, but it does align well with Canadian disability provisions and I’ve never had pushback from admin on it. I do know some of my colleagues think I’m weird for doing it but I don’t care. It works for me and my students.

spinifex23: Students are free to eat and drink as they please in class as long as they clean up after themselves. It definitely helps alleviate stress and anxiety!

Tamanna: I have total control over text choice and almost exclusively use literature by women and/or black, indigenous, and people of colour. Almost all my students are indigenous so I try to make it so they see themselves reflected in the literature.

I will take a good look at classroom layout—we have tables and chairs rather than little desks, thankfully, but I’ll check that the tables are the right height for my student in a wheelchair and that the pathways are easily navigable. I’ll also re-examine the layout and formatting of handouts to make sure they are more readable.

corey flood: I’m an introvert and hate those types of icebreakers too. Your examples made my skin crawl in recognition. I try to give students more organic opportunities to get to know each other because I do find the trust building is important.

Thanks again and if anyone thinks of more suggestions I’d be interested to hear them.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 2:27 AM on September 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

I also like reflective/freewrite essays, i.e. on past educational experiences, learning style preferences, goals for the class, goals for the future, etc. I would give full credit for reaching the minimum word count, and it can be a low stakes way to assess where a student is at with their writing skills, as well as offer insight into their motivations and interests.

I also avoid assigning or offering online discussion forums, and I think the neurodiversity threads offer some good examples of why required or optional online forums can be problematic. I agree that 'icebreakers' can be alienating and I would never use them as an instructor, and similarly would only carefully deploy online discussion forums if I used them at all in a classroom environment.

Additional resources, ideas, and reflections are available in my previous incarnation's FPP and comments: But You Look Fine: A Reading List
posted by katra at 4:26 PM on September 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

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