Thursday, September 8, 2016

Connecting with Our Founding Leaders

The debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is alive at our center. This ongoing discussion recently led to our Wednesday morning group posing questions like:

"Who started our government?" 
"How did they start our government?" 
"What are political parties all about?"

Documents that define the underpinnings of our US government
Three historical documents that frame today's US government

We are focusing the first part of our exploration on eight founding leadersGeorge Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, Aaron Burr, and Alexander Hamilton (taken from Richard Morris' book Seven Who Shaped Our Destiny: The Founding Fathers as Revolutionaries and Joseph Ellis' book Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation).

Step 1. Last week, we brainstormed what we wanted to know about these men. Our questions, typed into google docs, included: 

Birth-Death dates, Birth place, Occupations, Family relationships, Wealth, Hobbies, What famous for? Invent anything? Voted offices held, Slaves - Owner? For or against slavery? Role in Declaration of Independence, Role in Revolutionary War, Role in Articles of Confederation, Role in Constitution, Which ones were friends? Which ones were enemies?

Step 2. Yesterday, in small, self-assigned groups, they sought answers. Learners used books and websites. They examined the authority behind the texts (sites) to ensure that they were using only reliable sources. Then they read, discussed their answers to the questions, and typed them into our shared google document. 

Did everyone have the skills to read the texts? No. In fact, about 1/4 of the learners struggled reading words like "the." They were partnered however with learners who could read the words. Another member of each group had some computer skills. A (volunteer) tutor also teamed up with the groups to help with harder words and digging information out of the text. The groups had to work together to complete the task.

Where they engaged? Absolutely. The buzz in the room was extremely focused. Members in some groups even shared what they learned with other groups when they found that their leaders connected in some way. What was supposed to last about 30 minutes turned into a 2-hour segment.

Step 3. In two weeks, we'll check in to see what information was found and what is needed. Then, we'll decide together how to share this information with each other to have some interesting conversations. Will our findings bring us back to Hillary and Donald? Check back with us in a few weeks to see what happened next.



Why are we, an adult literacy organization, reading books and websites about founding leaders, especially when some learners struggle with "the"? 

Simple answer - the group asked to read and learn about these individuals. They wanted to know something. Individually, this group has never used printed texts to answer questions. They lack experience posing and researching questions. These group activities allow these adults to learn much more than just decoding and interpreting words. 

Our charge is to ensure that all learners are college-career ready when they leave us to move on to the next phase of their lives! This means our learners need to build their abilities to the point where they can read complex informational texts, analyze and synthesize evidence in texts, and build and express their knowledge by writing expository texts

This charge requires that we engage all of our learners - including those with the least amount of literacy skills. We've found that their engagement in these activities actually helps to increase their word knowledge at a faster rate than just sticking to low-literacy texts.

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