Since the summer of 2023, adult literacy instructors Georgina Smith and Joe Spencer have been connecting and collaborating with a small group of peers as members of the AlphaPlus Planning a Lesson (PAL) working group. This working group was assembled to co-design and co-create a suite of lesson-planning resources for integrating digital skills.

Georgina and Joe work within the Ottawa Catholic School Board’s (OCSB) adult learning and skills development program. Georgina started at OCSB in 2010 and Joe in 2022, and between the two of them, they’ve designed, taught and facilitated a range of courses, including employment preparation, computer skills, life skills and academic upgrading.

A working group focused on lesson planning and flow

Over the years, Georgina has been involved with AlphaPlus, participating in professional development and coaching and contributing her insights to research projects. In early 2023, she joined a focus group exploring the potential for collaborating and co-creating lesson-planning resources for adult literacy educators in Ontario. When that project moved into its second phase, a working group, Georgina and her colleague Joe joined.

Meeting monthly since the summer of 2023, the working group is facilitated by the AlphaPlus project lead Olga Herrmann, who brings a different focus to each meeting.

Working group members are introduced to new ideas and methodologies, and between meetings, they research, reflect on and explore the monthly topic. The work is paced to allow members to take what they learned back into the classroom and regroup to discuss it the following month.

Incorporating learner feedback

Georgina and Joe went a step further, conducting a series of focus groups with their learners. They developed a set of questions for online and in-person classes to learn how adult learners use digital technology and to supplement the working group’s research into lesson flow.

“As instructors, we know when we have or don’t have lesson flow. However, we discovered that learners also have a very good sense of the impacts of how a teacher approaches a subject, presents information in different ways, gives opportunities to review and absorb it, and works collaboratively,” explains Georgina. “Connecting with learners through the focus groups was thought-provoking because we did it in parallel with researching and completing the working group tasks. We were able to connect some of the theories and ideas for lesson flow to the learner perspective.”

Olga describes Joe and Georgina as highly engaged working group members who contribute valuable insights. “But beyond that,” she explains, “the PAL project has been strengthened by the initiative they took to conduct focus groups. Their research has helped to ensure that the voices and needs of learners are incorporated into the working group’s approach to lesson planning.”

Professional development benefits of the working group

The PAL collection will be turned into a website that provides instructors resources to address the challenges and opportunities of integrating technology into lesson planning. It will include routines to enhance digital delivery and lesson flow, valuable frontline tips, handy lesson-planning templates and ideas for engaging adult literacy learners who are honing their digital skills. While the working group’s final products will help literacy educators across the province, participating in the process benefited Georgina and Joe professionally. 

“It was nice to be involved in a project that didn’t focus on what we teach but on how we teach — including the reasons behind different strategies and the value of learner feedback,” says Georgina. “Coming together as a working group with those outside my organization has broadened my horizons and given me space to reflect on my methodologies and best (and not the best!) practices.”

“It was nice to be involved in a project that didn’t focus on what we teach but on how we teach — including the reasons behind different strategies and the value of learner feedback.”

Georgina, Instructor with the Ottawa Catholic School Board

Because Joe is newer to adult education, he appreciated hearing from others with more experience. “Learning about the slightly different ways our peers teach adult literacy and organize their work has improved my practice. It was useful to hear their approaches to planning, lessons and flow and then tweak them for our classrooms. For example, I picked up ideas for using intake forms to understand my learners’ needs and expectations better. This working group has been a great opportunity to network and develop professionally, adding depth and a fresh perspective to our future approaches.”

Indeed, the PAL working group is hoping to bring that experience of sharing, hearing fresh perspectives and reflecting on lesson-flow solutions to the literacy field, capturing the spirit of peer collaboration. Georgina said it best in a recent group meeting: “Ideally, for somebody using the PAL resource, it’s going to be a bit like having a conversation with a colleague who had given it some thought, and it will be that kind of equivalent interaction.”

The PAL website will be available to all literacy educators in Ontario this spring. To be notified when the lesson-planning companion resource is available, make sure you’re subscribed to AlphaPlus email updates.

Back in June, I shared the news that AlphaPlus was about to embark on a Skills for Success funded project that would bring together a group of literacy and basic skills (LBS) practitioners to co-create a suite of resources conceived through the pedagogical lens of lesson planning and technology integration. As the project lead, I’m delighted to announce that we’ve assembled a dynamic working group of adult educators from across the sectors in the anglophone stream and that we’re already in full collaboration mode! 

Bottom-up, collaborative approach to enhancing digital delivery

This motivated group of adult educators brings their pedagogical expertise, teacher wisdom and seasoned frontline experiences to the co-creation arena, setting the stage for a bottom-up collaborative process that will formalize their collective professional insights and knowledge into a product that can benefit both educators and learners in the field. It is indeed action research — research rooted in practice and in problem-solving around the challenges and opportunities of lesson planning for blended learning. 

The core working group members are:

The secondary working group members (due to professional or time constraints) are:

Conceptualizing and co-creating a PAL for the field

Our working group has been meeting monthly since late July and is committed to co-developing a suite of resources through collaborative action research whereby, together, the practitioner group members interrogate how they plan their lessons and how they meaningfully integrate technology into their activities and lessons. They’re looking at “the how” of lesson planning and “the why” of activity choices and tech tool choices that serve to enhance blended learning — online or face to face — with a contextualized sensibility to the readiness and the needs of their LBS learners.

For now, we’ve taken, quite fondly, to calling ourselves the PAL working group. (Yes, “Planning a Lesson” does transform handily into a catchy acronym — educators love their wordplay.) Ultimately, the PAL suite of resources will encourage and showcase the power of a well-thought-out lesson flow — a flow that organically strengthens foundational and soft skills by virtue of engaging teaching practices and active learning opportunities.

Stay tuned for future updates. If you have any questions or comments about this project, please email me at

This year, I’ve been reaching out to literacy and basic skills (LBS) educators to gather front-line perspectives on technology integration, mainly through the lens of lesson planning and teaching practices. It’s clear that the field has shifted from emergency remote delivery and is now steeped in fresh insights, approaches, lessons learned and a desire to collaborate — that’s where our new Skills for Success project and the opportunity to co-create planning tools and curricular supports comes in!  We’ve given you glimpses of this project in Alan’s January message and when the team introduced me in March. Today, as we wrap up the consultation phase of this work and get ready to move into the next phase, I’m reporting back on some key findings and project directions.  

Key themes that emerged from speaking with educators

Through focus groups and one-on-one conversations, I’ve spoken with 23 adult literacy educators and nine program administrators from local programs and school boards in Ontario. Your peers — whether they’re back in the classroom, teaching online or using a hybrid model — are looking for creative ways to incorporate meaningful technology into their sessions, based on an understanding of the engaging flow of activities that makes a good lesson and organically hones skills that adult learners bring. 

We’re hearing that many of you would welcome planning routines that are pedagogically sound, thoughtful and deliberate ­— that consider variability in the learners, in their devices or digital access and in their needs. Educators want planning templates and routines that are modifiable, grab-and-go, easy to reuse, complement a predictable lesson flow and are focused on relevant, practical topics.

Several additional themes emerged from our conversations, including the following:

 Materials to help integrate technology into a lesson flow for learning

As we move into the next phase of co-designing materials, we know that we need to consider learners’ needs, differentiated instruction principles and the variety of group dynamics within a session (online or face to face). The co-designed lesson-planning companion resources that will be created, therefore, can’t be prescriptive, but would make engagement through digital integration that enhances learning and self-direction a key focus. Curriculum in the form of workbooks, open educational resources (OER) and modules are already out there — you’ve indicated that you need resources that guide decisions about effectively planning lessons that have an impact.

We also want to highlight existing AlphaPlus supports that can meet some of the needs you’ve identified. For example:

Next step: Co-creating a blended-learning lesson-planning flow

We’re now ready to start building a new product: a blended learning flow that addresses technology integration, thinking routines, lesson planning and stages, engagement strategies, collaboration, reflection and problem-solving. We’re now assembling a small working group that will finalize our initial concept and co-create the product, drawing from their experience with what’s exciting about engaging lessons.

AlphaPlus will contribute expertise (for example, on blended learning, pedagogical models and existing research), participate in co-creation, facilitate the process in the lesson planning stage and provide an online platform for the materials that are designed. This co-creation process will be beneficial and instructive for our field — it’s an opportunity to learn from each other in thinking about our planning routines and how they strengthen blended learning.

Thank you to everyone who has contributed to this project so far. If you’d like more information or are interested in participating in the paid working group, please email me at