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Moving Grad Students Forward as Readers, Writers, and Thinkers: A Top Ten List

By Janice Ewing

My career path has led from secondary English teacher to elementary school reading specialist and literacy coach to my current position as a graduate-level instructor for teachers in a reading specialist certification program. Over the past few years, I’ve become increasingly interested in the needs of adult learners. Here is my top ten list of necessary elements that need to be in place for grad students to move forward. Top ten lists tend to be presented in reverse order, but I decided to start with my number one priority and go from there.

  1. A safe environment: to me this means intentionally modeling and facilitating a community of learners who exhibit mutual respect and empathy.
  2. Active listening: as the instructor, I have to remind myself to do more listening than talking. This is how I get to know my students, this is how they get to know each other, and there is much research to support the idea that whoever is doing the talking (or reading or writing) is doing the learning.
  3. Co-learner stance: When I position myself as a co-learner in the classroom, then we are all learners and all teachers. I’m also modeling the concept of life-long learning.
  4. Differentiation and choice: We encourage teachers to differentiate for their students and extol the virtues of choice, but these very factors are often absent from adult professional learning situations. Grad students, as well as teachers in other professional learning situations, have differing needs and interests related to the topic under discussion.
  5. Balance of theory and practice: Teachers in grad classes need to understand the theories that support instructional practices, but they also need to transfer that learning to practical application.
  6. Ongoing feedback: No one wants to finish a project and find out that they were on the wrong track, or omitted required features. Feedback in progress is much more helpful and likely to result in improvement, and models best practice in the classroom.
  7. Openness to uncertainty: Teachers taking classes sometimes have the erroneous idea that they will now learn the “right way” to teach reading or writing so that all their students will be successful. If only…
  8. Stretching beyond comfort zone: If there is a safe environment in place (see no. 1), teachers are more likely to try something new — maybe in their area of inquiry, mode of presentation, or application in the classroom.
  9. Time for reflection: We have to be mindful of not engaging in the same rush towards coverage that classroom teachers often fall victim to or are mandated into. Time to process learning should be non-negotiable.
  10. Learning from what didn’t work: When we share vignettes of lessons or strategies that didn’t work, we open the door for others to do the same. Much learning comes from debriefing our less than glorious moments.

Please share your thoughts about the needs of adult learners, from your perspective as teacher, learner, or both.


Janice Ewing is a Co-director for PAWLP and an adjunct professor for Cabrini. She enjoys reading, organizing PAWLP events, writing poetry, and spending time with her family and friends.

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