As a literacy instructor, Nadia Mustillo aims to offer transferable technology skills that learners can apply in life and future employment. As a program administrator, Nadia is interested in learning about tools and applications that can streamline and support her daily tasks.

Nadia is the literacy and basic skills (LBS) supervisor at the Thomas Merton Centre for Adult and Continuing Education with the Halton Catholic District School Board (HCDSB), where she’s been working since 2023. Coming from a 35-year government and social services career, Nadia’s current role includes teaching (English and digital skills), marketing and administration.

“I work part-time, and it’s a bit of a balance and struggle between doing instruction, admin and coming up with new platforms to work in,” explains Nadia. “After speaking to colleagues working in the English as a second language (ESL) program, I became interested in setting up Google Classroom. Around the same time, I noticed that AlphaPlus offered a Google Workspace course and wanted to see what I could learn.”

Expanding skills to embrace new platforms and tools

Nadia took advantage of an evening training option within the AlphaPlus Building Digital Skills training series in February and March 2023. She explains that the instructor guided the group through the suite of options available through Google:

“The instructor for this training was excellent, and I discovered a whole suite of apps and resources I can use in the classroom. We got to hear about how these tools have been used in an educational context, including from the instructor and peers in the course. I feel confident, tech-wise, but I wasn’t familiar with the Google suite. During the training, I discovered that I could replicate what I already knew from using Microsoft products, and I learned ways to help learners pick up transferable skills in turn.”

Google Workspace offers many benefits to both Nadia and her learners, one of which is being free and accessible to anyone with a Gmail account. Google tools provide a low-barrier way for learners, many of whom are comfortable with phones or tablets, to transfer their skills to using a computer. And building skills in Docs, Slides, and Sheets prepares learners to move on to credit programs, many of which require computer proficiency.

In the fall of 2023, Nadia returned to the Building Digital Skills series, taking training focused on Microsoft: “Although I’m comfortable with Microsoft products, there are always things you don’t know. For example, I was familiar with Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Calendar but not with using OneNote with learners. It has accessibility features that will be useful for my students, who can use it for translation or help from the math assistant when they get stuck. It’s important to be well-prepared to help adult students with Microsoft products, as it’s widely used in business settings.”

From learning to implementation: Nadia’s next steps

Next, Nadia plans to spend more time exploring and applying what she learned in the training series. She would like to organize her Google Classroom as a central area for lesson plans and worksheets according to units and topics so that it’s more structured for students and fellow teachers. She’d also like to use the Google suite in new ways, including tracking work and progress for use in reports to the ministry.

“I’ve been blown away by the available tools and resources and the possibilities for me, my colleagues and our learners.”

“Because the training moved quickly, I’d like to take more time with the next steps, and I plan to get support from an AlphaPlus coach — getting guidance about what I can and can’t do based on our centre’s setup,” says Nadia. “I’ve been blown away by the available tools and resources and the possibilities for me, my colleagues and our learners.”

Would you like to build transferable skills for you and your learners? Sign up for upcoming AlphaPlus training designed specifically with the needs of adult literacy educators in mind.

With the fresh energy of spring upon us, AlphaPlus is embracing change and renewal. Here’s a quick glimpse of what we’re planning and thinking about this season.

Reach expanded by funding: The Skills for Success initiative has been a catalyst for change over the last two years, doubling our resources and allowing us to broaden our reach significantly. For example, the funding enabled our partnership with EdTechTeacher, through which we delivered a record-high volume of training opportunities. It also enabled thought-provoking initiatives such as the Planning a Lesson working group, a unique chance for adult literacy educators to leverage their knowledge and experience, engage in meaningful conversations with peers about their craft and develop resources for the field.

To learn more about teachers’ perspectives on these experiences, see our recent stories about training and working group participants.

Sustaining programs after the funding period: The Skills for Success funding period was dynamic and expansive, and we hope it was as enlightening for you as it was for us. We’ll build on the momentum of this period by continuing to offer essential training (don’t miss the upcoming repeat of trainings on artificial intelligence, accessibility and Google Workspace). We’ll also roll out sustainable resources, like the Planning a Lesson suite of tools, to continue enriching your teaching toolkit. As the funding period concludes and we return to relying on our own resources, we’ll work more closely with you to consolidate and contextualize the information and skills we’ve all acquired.

Shifting to responsive, seamless support: Our plans for the coming months involve a more integrated approach. AlphaPlus team members will be available to work as coaches and project managers to identify and provide the training and support you need. Skills-based training will be your entry point into a comprehensive suite of support, including customized professional development, communities of practice and opportunities to collaborate with peers.

Facilitating dialogue among teachers: In the last two years, it’s been apparent that teachers want to talk with fellow teachers… about teaching — but the opportunities are scarce. Moving forward, we’ve renewed our commitment to creating spaces for these critical conversations, with a mindset shift focused on current practices, exploring your teaching goals and the skills that support them.

Expanding the definition of adult literacy education: We applaud the ministry’s program eligibility expansion, which acknowledges the digital nature of literacy skills today — a shift we pushed for. This change aligns with our vision of evolving literacy education to meet the demands of the digital era, with the potential to change many aspects of our field, including intake conversations, curriculum planning and assessments.

Forming our new strategic plan: Your voice is central as we shape the path forward for AlphaPlus, especially now as our board of directors spearheads strategic planning. A heartfelt thank you to the 300+ respondents to our recent survey for contributing insights about your aspirations for students, professional development, resource and technology needs, and other aspects of your work. Stay tuned for more details on the survey results and our new strategic plan.

As we look ahead, we’re optimistic about the future of adult literacy education. The last two years have included unprecedented outreach and connections for AlphaPlus. We’re eager to build on this momentum and contribute to the growth and development of our field in Ontario.

Warm regards,

Alan Cherwinski

Executive Director

Two years ago, AlphaPlus organized an advisory group to explore Open Educational Resources (OER) and establish criteria to build a collection for the field. The result is hundreds of FREE units, courses and instructional support materials (with more items being added) that you can use for reading, writing and math instruction, in addition to specific topics of interest to adult learners.

During the session we will introduce you to the collection and demonstrate how it fills a gap, look at a few example resources that rival paid resources and discuss priorities for adapting and modifying specific resources for your use in online and in-person settings.

Join us on Tuesday, May 21, 2024, 3:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. to explore the library and discuss how OER can enhance your practice. 

This FREE session will be 1.5 hours long and ASL interpretation services will be provided.

Come along to learn, share and get tips to add to your digital resources toolkit. 

Don’t delay! Register today!


Save the date

Planning a Lesson (PAL) project: What’s involved in creating an LBS lesson that flows?

Tuesday, June 18, 2024, 3:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.

A Literacy and Basic Skills (LBS) lesson is a window / microcosm into the complexities of and opportunities for teaching adult learners. There are a number of LBS-specific considerations that factor into the planning of a lesson in a blended learning context. 

During the session we will share how the Planning a Lesson (PAL) working group explored the intricacies of planning a lesson with a realistic eye toward digital integration, while co-creating resources to assist in planning a lesson that makes for better learning and flow. Practical examples, tips and lesson plan resources will be shared.


Check out the Past Sessions section of the website for presentations, recordings, additional tips and resources shared by guest presenters. 

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.

This timely training is designed to support educators in understanding and using AI applications (such as ChatGPT) to create effective learning experiences and manage student learning.

In 3 Zoom sessions (90 minutes each), you will:

See the training overview for more details about what we’ll cover, the format, timing and deadlines for registration.

The training series is three workshops:

If you’re interested, secure your spot. And don’t forget to invite tutors working in your programs.

Get the registration links herearrow right

This training is designed to support educators in understanding and using accessibility functions to create effective learning experiences for diverse cohorts.

There are three series of workshops on Wednesday afternoons: 

Each series consists of 3 Zoom sessions (90 minutes each)

See the training overview for more details about what we’ll cover, the format, timing and deadlines for registration.

The training series is three workshops starting in the summer of 2024.

If you’re interested, secure your spot. And don’t forget to invite tutors working in your programs.

Register nowarrow right

For Anita Dhanjal, a community literacy worker at LAMP Community Health Centre, teaching literacy and basic skills has changed significantly from when she started at the organization five years ago. Today’s learners operate in a very different digital world and have a strong appetite for learning new things.

Anita’s role at LAMP, which serves community members in South Etobicoke and South Mississauga, includes supervising and tutoring adult learning classes. Anita also covers tutors’ classes when they’re away and manages the program’s administration, including reporting to the Ministry of Labour.

“When I started in this role, we relied on GCFglobal.org for our curriculum, printing off worksheets as we went,” says Anita, describing how her work at LAMP has been transformed since 2019. “Today, both instructors and learners are moving forward with the technology we were forced to learn during the pandemic. Now, our learners are constantly asking to learn new skills and new ways of using existing technology and tools.”

Learning new ways to use digital tools in teaching

To prepare to answer learners’ questions and learn alongside them, Anita continuously seeks applicable training opportunities. In 2023, she participated in the AlphaPlus Building Digital Skills training series, designed to help literacy educators sharpen and apply digital creation and collaboration skills. Starting in the spring with the first series, which focused on using Google Workspace, Anita followed up in the fall with the second series on Microsoft Office 365.

“Over the course of these trainings, I learned about many free tools within Google and Microsoft that I can use in teaching and program administration. Free is helpful because some of our learners aren’t able to pay for subscriptions,” explains Anita. “From Forms to OneNote to learning how to use Sway for reading and writing classes, I discovered amazing new tools — and tools that can do much more than I had realized. It was fun to see what we could get from the training and what we could use to teach our learners.”

Starting with the basics, building confidence

Anita explains that the LAMP approach to adult literacy is to start with the basics and build confidence, keeping learners engaged by catering to their curiosity and topics of interest. Each week, they review what was discussed the week before and the new skills learners want to acquire.

“If they want to learn OneNote, we’ll have that ready for them. Google is everywhere, so they want to know all about it. These are applications that people want to learn and use,” says Anita. “We were able to apply all of the little tips and tricks we learned in the AlphaPlus training with our learners, giving them bites of everything they’re curious about. We’ve also noticed that learners are excited to help one another use digital tools. That’s what we want: for the experience to be creative and interactive, helping learners to navigate and use digital technology to communicate and collaborate.”

Next steps: Continue exploring how teachers can use digital workspaces

In the coming months, Anita will continue to use and teach what she learned in 2023. She’s already started to use digital forms for assessments and is evaluating how to support tutors with additional resources. She’ll continue to explore learners’ areas of interest, paying particular attention to their desire to learn on smartphones.

“These training series have opened access to learning, information, advice and resources. Any application we learn gives us the confidence to use it, teach it and then learn other things. Learning all the time is how we get better at our jobs.”

Would you like to build confidence in using digital technology in your teaching? Register for AlphaPlus training. The upcoming series includes sessions on artificial intelligence, accessibility and a return to Microsoft Office 365.

Our progress as a field over the last few years has been nothing short of transformative. The pandemic forced a shift to technology integration, resulting in a field of educators who are now more tech-savvy and have a greater capacity to engage with digital technology and tools.

Reflecting on adult literacy education in 2023

By 2023, we noticed that you were ready to solidify and consolidate what you’ve learned, taking time to consider new approaches. This change is a testament to your collective effort and commitment to advancing literacy education. For AlphaPlus, this change has shifted our approach from promoting the idea of integrating digital technology to collaborating with educators in ways that are driven by your motivations.

Over the last year, funding from the Skills for Success (SFS) program has allowed AlphaPlus to work with educators directly and in larger numbers than ever. We provided training at a scale we’ve never done before. The Building Digital Skills training series (which focused on using Google Workspace and Microsoft 365) allowed us to work directly with more than 300 educators, fostering a community driven to explore and adopt digital technologies. This has given us a glimpse of the adaptive capacity of educators and learners and what you’ve accomplished in the last year.

Looking ahead: 2024

In 2024, we’ll finish delivering the training funded by Skills for Success while also evaluating the strategic direction of our organization. This year, we’re introducing two innovative training series focused on artificial intelligence (AI) and accessibility. We’re committed to ensuring our community is well-prepared and confident in leveraging AI tools ethically and safely. The upcoming training sessions and sandbox experiences (dedicated time with AlphaPlus staff and other participants to try out new knowledge) are designed to facilitate this, providing practical, hands-on learning opportunities.

The increased training and services we delivered with Skills for Success funding helped us clarify how to consolidate some of our offerings and gave us information on which to base our new priorities. In addition, we sought your input via a recent survey, the results of which reinforced educators’ longstanding need for the following:

While partial solutions exist, we recognize the need for a more comprehensive solution to address these priorities.

Leadership from our board members

Our board of directors, which includes several new members, will lead the development of our new strategic direction. Complementing the strengths of existing board members (Mr. Koosha Golmohammadi, Mr. Andrew Vaughan and our chair, Mr. Paul Gibson), our new members bring academic and practical experience from working in the Ministry of Labour and directly delivering adult literacy programming. Welcome, Mr. Tariq Ismati, Dr. Tannis Atkinson, Dr. Farra Yasin and Ms. Susan Lefebvre, whose wealth of experience in the literacy sector will be instrumental in shaping our future initiatives. Their insights, coupled with the feedback from educators and learners, will guide us in refining our strategies and offerings.

Your active participation and engagement remain crucial as we evolve and grow. I invite you to register for our AI training, join our sandbox sessions, and stay connected and involved with AlphaPlus.

Alan Cherwinski
Executive Director
AlphaPlus

Community Gabfests are Zoom gatherings for literacy educators who want to connect with their peers in an informal setting. Connecting with other educators helps us see our work with fresh eyes, validates our experiences and is a powerful way to renew our energy, purpose, and excitement about our work.  Join us as we chat, vent, brainstorm, etc., about this work that we love.

The next Gabfest is on February 8, 2024 from 4:00 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

The conversation starter is

How do you create your own learning pathway?

  • How do teachers learn?
  • Where do teachers learn?
  • What do LBS teachers want to learn about in 2024?

Tracey and Guylaine are your hosts.

Contact tracey@alphaplus.ca or guylaine@alphaplus.ca if you would like more information.

Future Gabfests – save the dates:

  • February 8, 2024: Teachers as learners

Past Gabfests – see what happened:

Thanks for a wonderful year as we piloted this new program: Real talk as Community Gabfest pilot continues

Here is what participants say happens at a Community Gabfest:

  • Lots of opportunity for discussion.
  • Others sharing their best practices
  • Learning about what other programs are doing to increase learner engagement.
  • To know that others experience the same challenges that we do. Sharing ways to enhance our programming; sharing ideas to help solve problems
  • Meeting new people from the literacy field and learning about their ideas.
  • Going into different breakout rooms and meeting different practitioners.
  • Connecting with others in small groups

And here are some of the ways participants describe the Community Gabfests:

  • The Community Gabfest gives everyone an opportunity to share, to learn and to discuss. We are guided by seasoned adult literacy professionals.
  • It is great to meet, share, discuss ideas, and best practices.
  • An avenue to share techniques and strategies that are working in our programs. A forum to learn together about best practices, challenges, and possibilities.
  • It was a place where people could share their ideas, issues and challenges and share solutions too if needed. You also got the chance to meet people that were outside of your immediate region and you had the opportunity to expand your network in the space. There are also of really great people and agencies out there doing really great work for the community. It was nice to see just beyond your own agency or region.
  • It was nice to learn about different experiences from literacy practitioners. The environment was safe and cordial to talk about your experiences with learners.
  • We got to meet different literacy practitioners on Zoom and talk about what we do, resources, and learn from each other. It was a really relaxed environment and we wouldn’t normally get to do this in-person. This was a great alternative.

Are you taking advantage of the many ways Microsoft tools can support and enhance your adult literacy program? Go beyond Word and PowerPoint to access a powerful suite of tools that will help you to:

About the Building digital skills with Microsoft 365 training series

This training is an in-depth look at the use of Microsoft 365 for teaching and learning. There will be eight 90-minute online sessions that look at the following topics:

  1. Outlook and calendar
  2. Introduction to OneDrive
  3. Using OneNote for organization and to save time
  4. Teams meetings and Microsoft whiteboard or Stream for instruction and collaboration
  5. Using the Microsoft accessibility suite to meet the needs of every learner
  6. Using Word Online and PowerPoint Online for feedback and collaboration
  7. Using Sway for creation and collaboration
  8. Using Microsoft Forms for learning, assessment, and course feedback.

See the training overview for more details about what we’ll cover, the format, timing and deadlines for registration.

We’re offering two cohorts of up to 20 participants (one afternoon and one evening option).

The training series is eight workshops starting January or March. We are offering afternoon and evening sessions.

This might be the only time we offer this training. So if you’re interested, secure your spot. And don’t forget to invite tutors working in your programs.

Register nowarrow right

There is so much more to Microsoft 365 than documents and presentations, and we’d love to help you tap into the potential of these tools. We hope to see you at the training!