Developing and sharing learner-centred approaches to digital literacy education through the PAL working group

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.



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