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Reflections From the 2018 COABE Conference

16th May, 2018

Blog post by Erin Moses, Instructor & Site Manager, Laurel County Adult Education & Literacy, London, KY

Sometimes when people say they're going to a conference you can't help but imagine they're really heading to Orlando or Vegas for a working vacation - more emphasis on the vacation than the work. I had never been before, but I didn't go to this year's COABE conference in Phoenix with that expectation. And it's a good thing.

Though graced with beautiful weather in the Valley of the Sun, COABE was not a vacation. It was three full days of informative, inspiring presenters and fellow adult educators with great ideas and contagious passion. And it was exhausting.

Yes, I suffered from a little jet lag, but it wasn't that. What was exhausting was being a student again.

Out of my comfort zone, there I was, having to digest lots of information, navigate a new environment (and an app that went with it!), take notes, mix with new people, evaluate myself, and find my stride. I was constantly worried about being late to my next session and finding my friends.

More than once it hit me, "This must be how my students feel." Especially at the beginning of their journeys, but maybe every day when class is over. They face challenges and barriers that I don't - you're thinking of them right now, I don't have to list them.

The bad news? No session I attended gave a checklist or two-week workshop that will help students develop all the life skills they need. There is no magic solution. No missing ingredient will assure 3 to 5 more points on the GED test either. The obstacles many students face will remain with them, most likely.

So, what do we do? All the presenters at COABE said the same thing, "Keep pushing forward." Feed off each other's passion, use each other's great ideas, and find inspiration every day to help students grow. Continue to make connections, be a guidepost, a listener, an encourager, and hopefully, have the energy left to be a good teacher for however many weeks or class sessions a student will be gracious enough to give us. Show them how to build the skills they need to take with them out into the world or for a demanding test; when they're uncomfortable, when what they're reading is boring, or when they don't see how this stuff matters to real life.

I am happy to say that my COABE experience vindicated many of my current classroom practices and assured me that our local program is on track. But I did take away lots of specific ideas to incorporate right away with students.

I can use Deborah Estes's tips for designing good presentations. She seemed like a natural at presenting engaging, entertaining content. I can work toward that by having a lighthearted classroom. I'll immediately incorporate some of her points, including getting students moving and socializing in discussions about what they're learning.

I will continue encouraging students to think, just like Steve Hinds modeled for us in "Active-Learning Strategies for Teaching Measurement and Geometry." He questioned us the way we should question our students so we don't have to just hope they start critically thinking, we can cause it to happen. Steve did what good teachers do. He didn't just tell us what to do, he practiced what he preaches.

I can get students to read closely, almost by sneaking it in, with Bill McBride's sample lessons from "Fun and Effective Literacy Strategies for Struggling Readers." It's not enough to tell them to do it. Not even enough to model it and then tell them to attack a passage with a highlighter or start making notes. They first have to start engaging with what they read. The textbook he showed us seemed to force us into doing that, with adult interest content, video pairings, and a way to get students moving around the room and talking about it.

I also learned a few things for the next time I attend a COABE conference (hint, hint to my director).

Here's what I learned:

  • Find guideposts. My favorites were a yard full of statues we called "the naked people" that helped me orient myself to which buildings I needed to hurry to.
  • Reach out to your peers. Everywhere I went I searched for friendly faces and reassurance that reminded me I wasn't alone. I asked what they found in the exhibit room— "What's interesting?" and "Who's giving out those cool tape measures?"—so I didn't miss anything. I asked, "Is this a good plan for lunch?" so that if I got lost, it at least wouldn't be by myself!
  • Over-analyze everything (Probably not necessary, but it's just how I roll). All day long, I was planning, checking myself for understanding, summarizing, paraphrasing, moving, socializing – all the things, as I was reminded numerous times in sessions, that are super-helpful in learning. Figure out how you learn and make sure you do it, how's that?
  • Make the snack breaks. Be there early. I'm talking free cake pops! What a great idea!

So, really, when you boil it all down, I'm a lot like my students. To learn and navigate life, they need more than expertise on the Pythagorean Theorem. They need me to connect with them, encourage them, and show them how to build and use a support system. And a cake pop every now and then probably won't hurt!