Digital Literacy and Blended Learning in Adult Literacy Education

By: David Rosen, Ed.D

21st century, adult literacy education (including English for immigrants) must integrate digital literacy, a new set of core literacy skills, with existing curricula. While reading, writing and numeracy are still essential, adults now also need to be comfortable and competent in using technology for daily living, work, higher education and lifelong learning and training. However, many adult literacy education teachers are not well prepared to integrate the use of technology in their classes, and many adult literacy education programs and schools cannot afford and/or do not know how best to use state-of-the art technology. The effective use and integration of digital technology in teaching and learning is now essential to prepare adult basic education learners for opportunities in work, vocational training and apprenticeship, and post-secondary education.

There are important lost opportunities for adults who lack the ability to use technology for living, learning and working, and for the communities in which they live.   For example, adults without up-to-date skills, knowledge and experience in using technology to meet their daily needs:

  • Cannot as easily access government and private sector services
  • Miss opportunities to find jobs, and apply for college. Increasingly jobs are advertised and applied for online. In some cases only online applications are accepted. College admission applications and financial aid application are now most often made online.
  • Miss the opportunity to learn online.  Adults who do not have digital literacy skills cannot take advantage of free or inexpensive, high quality online and blended learning through which they can improve their basic skills, including English for immigrants.
  • Cannot engage with and are isolated from local and global communities and family members. Children use text messaging, social networking websites such as Facebook, and Twitter:  parents need to keep an eye on those activities.  Schools reach out to parents by email, and community groups use online networking and social media to organize and promote community events.   Immigrants use Skype to make free calls and to videoconference with relatives in their home countries.  Each of these is an example of the ways that the inability to use technology will limit adults’ ability to be active, engaged parents, family members and members of the broader community.

The following policy recommendations might help to address this problem:

Digital Literacy

  1. Require that programs receiving public funds integrate digital literacy skills in their curricula and instruction;
  2. Require that programs offer all adult learners basic digital literacy skills (including, for example: how to navigate the worldwide web; search for and evaluate information online; send and receive email; make good use of online learning; and use basic tools such as word processing, spreadsheets and email) so that they can be competent and comfortable in computer based testing; apply online for, and succeed in, post-secondary education; and use computers and other web-accessible devices in the workplace.
  3.  Provide funding to increase program access to computers and the Internet
  4. Provide funding for teacher training and for hardware and software  to enable programs to successfully accommodate those with learning disabilities, through assistive technology and universal design.

Blended Learning

  1. Provide funding to Increase programs’ hours per week of instruction) through blended (face-to-face and online) learning that will enable learners to progress more quickly. Learners who have more time for learning, because of unemployment or other reasons, can increase their basic skills learning intensity through online learning.
  2. Provide funding for web-based professional development for teachers who want to be effective in blending online and face-to-face instruction.
  3. Provide funding to develop adult basic education open education resources that support blended learning.

Paul Rogers- Digital ESOL with PUMAROSA.COM

PUMAROSA is a free ESOL website for Spanish speaking students. It is bilingual and phonetic, with voice. Currently it is divided into five levels: Beginner, Intermediate, American Civics, U. S. History and the 100 Questions that is part of the Citizenship test. It has been online for 9 years now, and will expand soon with additional lessons to be available for a small fee.

PUMAROSA has proven to be an effective Teacher’s Aid in the transition to an English Only classroom setting. It is also very helpful in a Blended class with “live” instruction combined with study on the computer. For example, I taught a blended class with a group of 10 and 11 year old children during the summer of 2012 in Tijuana, Mexico: The class met in a small computer lab 4 times a week for 90 minutes.

During the initial week, the students explored PUMAROSA, PRINCIPIANTE, focusing on the alphabet and numbers. We also read, studied and sang out loud nursery rhymes from one of my texts. I was a big hit, especially with my Hokey Pokey!

After a few weeks, we began to study verbs and sentences – adjectives, articles, pronouns and the verb TO BE.
 The students studied independently, repeating the exercises out loud copying my voice, which they could hear on the computer.

At a certain point I walked around and gave each student a “quiz”. 
I would ask them in Spanish to tell me how to translate a sentence from Spanish to English. 
They had to listen carefully and repeat in English and then listen – repeat again to improve their pronunciation. After a while, each student improved very well.

I also introduced texts I had written which included Grammar tests and a few Guided Readers (stories written in a second or third grade vocabulary with lots of cognates). I was pleased with the success I had with this group of students, primarily because it is usually difficult to keep the attention of children this age.

Currently, I use SKYPE with several students and have included more advanced lessons. There are many ESOL programs online for free or at a low cost. Grammar lessons can easily be found which include worksheets. In addition there are online course to teach English literacy to English speakers, Spanish literacy to Spanish speakers, GED, English to children, plus…. math and science, etc.

With online lessons, email, SKYPE, YouTube, FACEBOOK and cell phones, it has become very easy to set up a Digital Learning ESOL course that can be centrally located in any computer lab. Also, Computers For Families is the name of a program that can provide used, re-furbished computers to low-income families free or at a low cost. There is also a growing interest in providing this kind of approach with grant money.

Please contact me for more information.

Paul Rogers



Steve Quann: Flash Cards with PowerPoint and Photos

:Tech skill: PowerPoint Basics: make new and duplicate slides

Whether it’s working on multiplication tables or reviewing vocabulary terms, the process of creating and using flash cards can sometimes be a great instructional activity for learners. This is especially true for those using them for self-study.

I used to make flashcards with index cards but now various new technologies have their advantages. For those with smartphones there are a myriad of apps for making flash cards, so students may store them on their smartphones, which they use every day, and don’t have to carry a set of index cards around. But let’s take a look at an “old” technology to create simple activities that you might want to use in your teaching: PowerPoint.

PowerPoint has many uses for educators, but one that shouldn’t be overlooked is using PowerPoint slides as flash cards. In PowerPoint, create a series of flash cards. Create a slide with a new word, making sure to enlarge the font size. Then create the next slide with its synonym (or definition). Continue with each new word as before. There are a number of ways you can use flash cards with your class. Here are a few:

Using a projector, introduce the definitions of words or math formulas.  As part of a pre-reading activity, using flash cards could help students learn words that will help them better understand what they will be reading.  Then review words or formulas at the end of class or the start of the next day’s class. You may also use flash cards as part of a game, where for instance, the teacher shows the first slide to the class and groups gain points by trying to guess the correct answer before the teacher clicks to the next slide. Don’t forget to have students create their own PowerPoints with words (or images) on one slide and definitions or synonyms on the other slide.

For self-study here are a couple of options:

Print out copies that students can keep for future study, or email your students the PowerPoint,  so they can use it on their home computer (or for that matter on a smartphone app like QuickOffice slideshows). For students who have smartphones in your classroom, allow them to use their phones in class to take photos of each slide (make sure that they do these in order) and they can view the images in their photo gallery swiping to the next word or definition much like a slideshow. This may also keep students engaged during the lesson, since they know that they will be given a few minutes to use their phones at the end of the activity.

Entry written by Steve Quann of World Education, co-author of Tech Tips for Teachers.

Most common mistake when teaching writing

What’s the difference between revising and editing a piece of writing?  Many people, including tutors and professionals, confuse the two.

Revising is the process of expanding and clarifying what is written and should be done before the piece is edited.  The writer may revise a piece several times.  The tutor uses questions to get the learner to do the work.  Strategies could include the following:

  • Ask what the piece is about, who the audience is and how this should affect the audience.
  • Have the learner read the piece to you and then discuss the content.  Ask if the topic is clear and can any details be added, changed or taken out to make the ideas clearer.
  • Are the ideas put in a logical order?
  • The tutor reads the piece aloud as the learner listens critically.  You might ask, “Does this say what you want it to say?” “What do you like best about it?”  “Can you do anything to improve it?”

When you make suggestions, use the form of questions, such as

  • What would happen if …..?
  • How would it sound if…..
  • When this happened, what else did you notice?

Editing involves correcting the grammar, spelling, sentence structure, punctuation, capitalization, etc.  In other words, editing works on the mechanics.  We don’t want to overwhelm the learner—just work on one or two errors or one general principle at a time.  It is very important to encourage the writer that the message is more important than spelling, grammar or penmanship.  Show the learner that you value and understand what (s)he has written by responding to the message before correcting minor errors. This may give the learner the courage to actually use writing.

Regardless of whether the writing is a personal letter, essay or term paper, the process is the same.

-A lesson in writing compliments of Olive Burkard,
Certified ProLiteracy Trainer, Lake County Library System

Creating a Financial Literacy Program: Being a VISTA and the Importance of Community Connections

Hank Hollins

I’m the AmeriCorps VISTA for the Literacy Council of Sarasota. For me, being a VISTA has been all about community connections. Having a plan about what I wanted to accomplish and sharing that plan with grant-makers and community leaders has led to a great financial literacy program. Now I’m there each week as the learners enjoy the resources which my service has helped provide. It’s extremely gratifying and fun to boot!

I had heard about the great success of programs which paired money management education with matched emergency savings programs. Financial education is combined with a free savings account and what the learner saves is matched up to a certain amount at the end. I decided that this was a combination with great appeal.

I first approached CredAbility ( They were very eager to help teach the workshops. As one community connection leads to another, my CredAbility representative passed along the name of a local Regions Bank associate she knew to be very involved in financial literacy and actively seeking non-profits to partner with. I talked to him, and he wanted to join us on this project: Regions would donate free savings accounts.

It was around this time I applied for my first grant. To my admitted surprise, I obtained a grant for the workshops portion of the program right out of the gate. The first grant I’d ever applied for! I was, however, only halfway there. The local foundation gave us money for the workshops but not the matching funds. I tried numerous things, calling local businesses and researching grants, exploring various ways of finding this money.

The connections I had already made, though, were where the solution lay. I reached out to my partner at Regions and asked if they might want to become more involved. He put me in touch with head of Community Affairs for the whole Tampa Bay region. We were both a little nervous, reaching so high up the chain of command, but it went wonderfully! He was very interested in our program, and Regions agreed to provide a $100 match to each of our learners for our twelve-week, twelve-class program. We were ready to go!

Now the classes are underway. The learners were given an introduction to banking during the first class, and learned the importance of setting financial goals the next. Next week, we will be covering the importance of paying yourself first. There will be classes on tracking expenses, budgeting, credit, investments, etc.

The classes are so much fun! We laugh and learn in the common room of one our Housing Authority complexes—yet another partnership—and I couldn’t be more satisfied. The most important part to me, though, was what I learned about community connections. I started with an idea and connected the dots between funders, community leaders, educators, and learners. In a way, I’m proud of this program as my own, but it really isn’t—it could go on without me. It belongs to the community.

Della Palacios: Ah-Ha Moments

I registered for the Florida Literacy Conference on a whim.  My rationale went something like this, “Adult and Family Literacy certainly applies to SensAbleLearning, LLC, I’ll go.”   It was a very good whim  I followed.

Souns® is a hands-on phonemic awareness program inspired by the Montessori Method.   Letter sounds are taught before letter names.  It’s a simple switch with brilliant results.  Brenda Erickson, founder of Counterpane Montessori and creator of  Souns® , designed it for ages  0-3, but I have used it as intervention with children in high school and Brenda has used Souns® with adult refugees.  (I learned  Souns®  for my two children, then ages 3 and 4, now 4 and 5. They learned to read so naturally using  Souns®, I had the thought, “So many kids need this.”  And SensAble Learning, LLC was born.

At the conference, I had my first experience using Souns® with an adult learner.  He inquisitively looked at the Souns® symbols (letters) and I explained quickly how the program worked the first time he happened by.  I realized quickly that his curiosity was more than piqued as he touched the letters and said the sounds with me.  I wondered if he could read, but I did not ask.

He left to attend a workshop but he soon returned and apologized for having to leave.  I asked if he would like to sit and work with me for a bit using Souns®.  He said yes.  We went through each letter sound, just as the program suggests.  Most of the sounds he learned very quickly.  I have the tracking sheet we used. He did not recognize many of the letter sounds initially, but we practiced and he learned.  Next, I began building words with him using Souns® symbols and the objects I have ready in my box of three letter words.  With each new word he built, a smile stretched from ear to ear displaying his delight in what I can only assume is a new understanding of this mysterious language code.  I wish I had more time with this young man.

I loved every ah-ha moment that came across the faces of trained professionals, tutors and scholars  as they “got” how teaching sounds first before letter names removes much of the confusion not needed for a beginning reader.  But, the ah-ha that will remain in my heart is the one I saw in the smile of the curious young man.

Della Palacios

Founder and Owner of SensAble Learning, LLC

I am a traditionally trained teacher who chose to put my career and doctoral work on hold to stay at home and raise children.  Last year, I met Brenda Erickson, founder of Counterpane Montessori and the creator of Souns® .  The trajectory of my life has changed as we have joined hands to make sure kids will read, and read well.   I tell her she will be the bridge from Montessori to mainstream.  She tells me,  Souns® will be the bridge from Montessori to mainstream.

Florida TechNet to Stream Live from the Florida Literacy Conference!

Florida TechNet is proud to announce live streaming from this year’s Florida Literacy Conference. The five session presenters listed below have agreed to stream their presentation for those who are unable to attend the conference.

Please refer to the list below for dates and times. Streaming will be done through an Elluminate Webinar session.  The link will be the same for all sessions.

Florida TechNet to stream sessions at the Florida Literacy Conference

Join us at:

Session 1
Wednesday, May 9; 3:45 PM – 5:00 PM
Building A Local Database to Enhance Adult Career Pathways
Judy Johnson, Withlacoochee Technical Institute

Session 2
Thursday, May 10; 9:00 AM – 10:15 AM
The Top Ten Components of Building an Adult Education Career Pathways Program
Libby Livings-Eassa, June Rall and Luci Mello, Indian River State College

Session 3
Thursday, May 10; 10:30 AM – 11:45 AM
When Words Count: Fostering Story Writing in Adult Learners
Betsy Stoutmorrill, Adult Literacy Consultant

Session 4
Thursday, May 10; 1:30 PM – 2:45 PM
From Literacy to Post Secondary: Keeping Students on their Career Paths
June Rall and Luci Mello, Indian River State College

Session 5
Thursday, May 10; 3:45 PM – 4:45 PM
VALF Literacy Technology Petting Zoo
Sandy Newell, Volunteers for Adult Literacy

Suzanne Ensmann: FATDEC and Face to Face Learning

In the beginning… After we all got over the fear of what students might do with the internet if we allowed them to access it, face-to-face (f2f) learning incorporated technology and elements of online learning.

Then we said “run with it” and some literally did… Never to be seen again.

Now in the era of persistence to complete and transition students, it’s time to go back to the basics. Research reflects that time-after-time success is directly correlated with the relationships we make.  So we call the students right?  And, we call.  And, we call.

Fast forward to this era.

How many friends do you have at work?
How many friends do you have on Facebook?

How often do you have time for meaningful conversations in the workplace?
Do you even have time to wait for an answer to the standard: “How are you?” greeting?
Think your colleagues really take the time to answer this “greeting” or do you get a “Fine, thanks.  How about you?” standard reply?

Do they take the time to tell you their dog died; they just found a deal on a car; their long lost aunt just flew into town; or they are just really sad today?

I can tell you our students are having these meaningful conversations.  They’re not long.  They’re succinct and to the point.  But, they’re of meaning.  And, their network of friends is vast!  Employment, community, friendships… relationships are happening via social media sites!  Why should your virtual classroom be any different?

Did you know Skype and Facebook had a baby?  A new f2f experience to enhance relationships was born!  Is this too scary of an endeavor to take on at your school?

Learn how to keep it simple and see how you can use FB to put education “in the face” of your students 24/7, form relationships with them, and just maybe flip education as we know it.

Stop centering student learning on classroom  and curriculum  infrastructure.  Offer the exoskeleton to your students and see how they take off with meaningful learning!  

But, don’t go it alone!  Let’s place this experiential learning, jumping on board with relationships and f2f student contact in the center of our e-learning education together!

To learn more, come join in this synergy of collaboration at the next FLC conference session entitled “Florida Adult & Technical Distance Education Consortium: Making F2F Classes for Online Students a Reality” at 10am on Friday, May 11th,!

SB Idea and Financial Literacy

Hello, my name is Adriana Alvarez and I am currently serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA member for S.B. Idea, Inc (SBI). SBI is a non-profit organization that runs family literacy academies in Palm Beach County, Florida with a mission to: “empower families academically and economically for self-sufficiency”.  April is not only Volunteer Month but also Financial Literacy Month and as a part of my yearlong service, I am implementing a financial literacy component into the family literacy curriculum.

Although I have no skills training with financial literacy, my parents instilled in me the importance of good financial habits, and how developing good financial habits can lead you to achieve various goals in your life, such as owning a home. Financial literacy is so important to the economic success of a family. I consider achieving the goal of implementing a financial literacy component as the most important of my VISTA commitments. In order to achieve this, I have helped SBI partner up with many useful resources in the community. SBI welcomed VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistant) representative and Senior Tax Consultant for the IRS, Shanana Bartolomei, into our academies to give a workshop on the importance of filing your taxes and how to get them filed for free.

SBI also partnered with PNC Bank, who is sending representatives to do a variety of workshops with our adult students as well as their children. PNC Bank currently runs a program titled “S” is for Savings”, in which PNC has partnered with Sesame Street to develop a child-friendly program in order to get children thinking about good financial habits, and to also get parents more involved in developing good financial habits with their children. I will be working closely with PNC representative from our local Lantana and Jog Branch to continue giving workshops on useful topics such as “How to get out of Debt”.

By the end of the school year I will assist our program mentor in giving an in-service workshop to our current teaching staff on how to implement financial literacy into their already existing curriculum. This will ensure that financial literacy becomes a staple in the learning achieved at the SBI family literacy academies.

As I have been experiencing this journey, I have found three easy and useful things everyone should consider when developing good financial habits:

1) Pay Yourself First. Having a savings account or an emergency fund can always help with life’s bumpy roads.
2) Know The Difference Between Needs And Wants. Understanding and accepting this difference makes developing good financial habits easier
3) The Power of Interest. Most financial institutions will stress the power of interest both negatively, when your paying interest on debt, and positively, when your earning money for doing nothing.

Bringing the Best of Classroom-Based Learning to Online Learning (and Vice Versa)!

Could you imagine an adult education classroom where students are just given worksheet after worksheet or book after book to read on their own?  How dry and boring would that be, and, more importantly, how quickly would those classrooms be empty because students leave due to sheer boredom?  Now imagine the exact opposite of that first situation: a fun, interactive, visually-stimulating classroom where all three types of learning styles are accommodated and everyone’s engaged.  Doesn’t that sound a million (or more) times better?

What sometimes is assumed (and we all know what happens when you assume) is that an online class can’t or won’t have the same components as a successful, engaging, and fun face-to-face class.  But yet, nothing can be further from the truth!  By incorporating varying technologies, you can absolutely do virtually all of the amazing things online that you do in a classroom!  Want to have small group activities so you can target certain learners needing certain skills?  Yup – you can do that online!  Want to have large group instruction so you can get the most “bang for the buck?”  Yes – you can do that too!  What about student study groups or peer tutoring sessions?  Oh, that can certainly be accomplished!  How about having guest speakers talk to your students about how the things they’re studying in class pertain to “real life” beyond the GED test?  That’s easy to accomplish!  And the list goes on & on…experiments or lab studies, field trips, games, videos, etc!

So what does it all boil down to when everything is said & done?  Innovation, technology, and the willingness to try something new and different would be my answer.

Do you want to know more?  Well, I can’t give away all of my “secrets” now, but if you come to the FLC conference and attend the session called “Florida Adult & Technical Distance Education Consortium: Making F2F Classes for Online Students a Reality” at 10am on Friday, May 11th, you’ll learn more!