- By Michelle Walton, Northwest Indian Community Development Center
Entering the world of ABE only a year ago, I have been immersed in the standards, curriculum, and most importantly the students. One of the defining moments of working in any ABE program is getting to celebrate the success of our students in achieving their goals and sparking an interest in learning. Throughout the year, I have kept coming back to an integral question of how can I keep my students interested and motivated in learning.
The answer came henceforth through an ABE newsletter (just like the one you are probably reading at this very moment) for the Career and Contextualized Basic Skills Instruction Cohort. I was initially intrigued by the ability to gain professional development skills that could enhance the learning environment for our students. What I got was so much more.
Our ABE program is centered at the Northwest Indian Community Development Center (NWICDC) in Bemidji. Our mission is to identify, coordinate and deliver resources that promote wellness and equity for American Indian families in northwest and north-central Minnesota. We are informed by the guiding vision when Anishinaabe and American Indian families are connected to culturally rich environments and relationships, as well as appropriate contemporary resources, they realize and ensure well-being for themselves, their families and their communities. Each year, we serve approximately 150 students for GED and ABE programs.
Prior to the cohort, we had been using an academically driven GED curriculum that focused on the ability to add and divide, subtract and multiply with limited connection to tangible experiences that students could use and relate to their everyday lives. Our program works as a one-room school house as part of a larger career pathway initiative. What we missed was how to bridge the areas between GED and certificate programs.
The cohort started with an in-depth dive into the use of backwards design. As a non-teacher working in ABE, this was my first glimpse into the topic. Starting with the objectives, moving into the assessments, and finally coming around to the activities. In implementing the use of backward design into my lesson plans and units, I have been better able to navigate the sometimes-daunting task of developing curriculum that balances the need for both academic and career skills. As part of the cohort, we were charged with the task of taking the process of backwards design and applying it to an in-demand career fields in Minnesota. For the purposes of the program, I decided to focus on the field of healthcare.
In keeping with the use of backwards design from the cohort, I also learned the importance of the line of inquiry. The line of inquiry in instruction is used to explore the deeper questions over several lessons or units. For the purposes of my unit, I focused on a line of inquiry that could be used to blend the cultural importance of a healthcare professional with the hard skills needed to be successful. One of the most challenging parts of the cohort was finding instructional material that was able to be used for both work skills and basic skills. An additional component was trying to find material that was culturally relevant.
Working in a collaborative space such as the NWICDC allowed me to ask for guidance and career specific information from our Anokiiwin (Good Work) instructor. We were able to collaborate on specific career skills that students might need when entering into a healthcare field. By having this expertise, I was able to develop a soundly balanced unit that not only focused on the academic skills but also the sector specific tools. An important consideration when focusing on career contextualization was incorporating many on the job processes and forms. The unit allows students to have the hands-on experiences in the class before entering into the field.
The guidance and experience of the facilitators as well as the other cohort participants was an inspiration to me to continue the journey forward in curriculum development. With each lesson and unit, I was able to integrate feedback and suggestions. The vast knowledge that each individual brought to the table made the cohort what I needed to be successful.
I look forward to seeing the unit and lessons developed be used in a classroom setting. The skills around backwards design, the use of MN ABE Content Standards, and career contextualization will help build the capacity of our GED program to further engage students in relevant and meaningful content.