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April 9, 2015 / Thinknology

What’s the Story? (of Think60)

It’s a product and it’s a company.

Think60, LLC is an instructional design and content development company focused on Adult Basic Education. It was founded by Mark Moscowitz and Andrea Woodbury in 2010.

After years of experience working in educational publishing and the non-profit adult literacy field, there were 3 things that we kept hearing over and over…and over.

  1. There was a severe lack of materials for adult students at levels 3-6.
  2. Programs across the board were experiencing student persistence problems.
  3. Programs had long wait lists of students wanting to learn but not enough space, funding, or instructors to accommodate them.

As content and design developers, we wondered if there was anything that could be done in terms of innovative instruction and delivery that would address these issues. In 2010, we set out to find an answer. Think60, the product, was born.

The rules were simple:

Rule 1: Content is king.

Adult learners are adults. There is nothing more important than the instructional materials that are provided to them. They are interested in reading the same types of stories and articles as any other adult. Unfortunately, lower-level materials written and designed for kids are often used with adult students because there is nothing else available. The big reason is that most traditional educational publishers do not focus on creating materials for this segment of the market. Therefore, teachers are left to fend for themselves with no other option than to use materials at the appropriate level even if that means 3rd-grade kids’ books from the local library. Publishers that do produce materials for adults mostly focus on high-school equivalency test prep or college transitions. So, first and foremost, Think60 would focus on the ABE and Pre-HSE adults by creating original content that included relevant, engaging topics, which would get them reading. Then the basic skill instruction would be built around that meaningful context.

Rule 2: Technology scares people! 

Higher-ed and K-12 classrooms have been taking advantage of online instruction for years. Students can work at their own pace, on their own schedule, and revisit lessons if review is needed. While we felt that these same benefits would apply to Adult Ed, and could address persistence and wait list problems, technology scares some people off. Implementing a learning management system or a complex software package is often overwhelming to programs, instructors, and students. So, Think60 would make use of an online delivery model so that students can learn anytime, anywhere, but ditch the overwhelming part. There would be no training or licensing required and there must be a very short learning curve for both teachers and students. A simple, intuitive interface would be required. Students would build essential computer skills while they were learning to read, not before.

Seeing no products in the marketplace that met these 2 seemingly simple criteria, Think60 set out to build one. We began with core reading lessons and skills. Our first lesson passage topics included fictional action/adventure, romance, life skills, as well as non-fiction science, sports, biography, and more. We gathered feedback from programs, teachers, and students using the product, to make sure we were meeting their needs. This set the stage for the expansion of subject areas, functionality, and contextualized learning that exists within Think60 today. And we continue to grow our product, with careful attention to our founding principles and customers’ needs.

So, What’s the Story?

Bottom line – we are student-focused. We are teacher-friendly. We are dedicated to changing the way curriculum and instruction is delivered to Adult Basic Education students so that more students meet their goals.

March 18, 2015 / Thinknology

How Teaching Math in Context Benefits Adult Students: 4 Things to Consider

Which answer is correct?

38 ÷ 4 =

A. 9 R2

B. 9.50

C. 9 1/2

D. 10

If you said A, B, and C, you are correct, since this is a straight computation. But suppose we added a context to this calculation such as:

Mary and three coworkers went out to lunch and decided to split the bill evenly. How much does each person owe? Now that we have a context the best answer is $9.50.

Think about this problem:

Jorge, in human resources, is arranging transportation for 38 employees to the company picnic. He is setting up carpools with no more than four employees in each car. How many cars does he need?

The computation is the same but the context changed. The correct answer is 10; he will need 10 cars to get everyone to the picnic.

Let’s change the context one more time.

Ellen is putting molding around her bedroom. Each piece of molding is 4 feet long. If she needs 38 feet of molding, how many pieces does she need? Since the context is linear measurement, the correct answer is 9.

Often, the biggest problem adult students have with math is reading. As you can see in these examples, a simple computation becomes more difficult when put into the form of a word problem. However, teaching math in context can benefit your adult student because it is presented in a meaningful and relevant setting that will motivate and engage. In addition, familiarity with certain situations will enable the student to tap into life experience and prior knowledge.

Here are 4 things to think about as you create or purchase instructional materials for your math curriculum.

  1. Are new math concepts presented in real-life situations and experiences that are familiar to the student?
  2. Are new concepts presented in the context of what the student already knows?
  3. Does the instruction include problem-solving situations that students can recognize as being important to their current lives?
  4. Does the instruction foster an attitude that says, “I need to learn this”?

Contextual learning has many benefits for your adult students. Please share your experience, ideas, and thoughts on contextual learning in the comments below.

March 12, 2015 / Thinknology

Do Your Instructional Materials Measure Up?

Shaping educational research and methodologies into effective instructional materials for adult students is difficult to do, but not impossible. Here are 5 questions to ask about materials you plan to purchase or create yourself.

  1. Are your materials designed for adults, not children?

This is the most obvious question but you may be surprised at how many programs use materials designed for kids with their lower-level adult students. I realize that these materials are used because there is nothing else available. But, it’s really insulting for an adult to be reading about clowns and turtles. There are programs out there that are designed for adults, you just have to look.

  1. Is the context relevant to the lives of adult students?

Contextualized learning is very important in teaching adults. The students enter the program to build basic skills in order to obtain a high school equivalency certificate or to improve their employability. So, why not teach the skills in the context of what is relevant to their lives: life, work, health, finances, parenting and so on. The instruction will be a lot more meaningful, engage the student, and contribute to their persistence.

  1. Is your instruction built for the technology adults have?

Many adult students have phones but they don’t have computers or tablets. So, make sure that the technology that delivers the instruction can be easily accessed on any device. A student may begin working on a lesson, for example, on the computer in your classroom and finish it on his or her phone at home. Stay away from clunky, complex, and outdated software programs that have to be installed on your local network. Online is the way to go.I flexible and adaptable

4. Are the materials flexible and adaptable?

Adults have much going on in their lives and may not be able to attend class on a regular schedule. Sometimes work schedules change, kids get sick, or there are transportation problems. So, the instructional materials must be flexible and adaptable in order to accommodate learning when life gets in the way.

  1. Are the materials fresh and engaging?

Here is where instruction delivered online is the way to go. Given all of the information available instantly, content becomes dated very quickly. Online instruction can be updated quickly and easily and even taken down when it becomes outdated or obsolete. If you’re creating your own instruction, consider using one of the available learning management systems but make sure it works on the technology the students have. However, it’s much easier and effective to use a program where everything is already done for you.

Some of thequestions in this blog are based on Francesca Segrè’s excellent article in edSurge she presents ways to develop effective materials for adults. Asking these questions will set you on the road to buying or creating effective and engaging instructional materials for your adult students.

March 4, 2015 / Thinknology

Why There Are So Few Materials for Adult Students

“There are tons of apps and web-based programs that help kids learn to read, but precious few to help low-literacy adults.” So says Francesca Segrè in her excellent article in edSurge. Why are there so few programs for low-literacy adults?

1. Following the Money

For the most part, instructional materials are developed by for-profit, educational publishing companies. While these companies have the expertise to develop quality curriculum, and the budget to produce it, any well-run business will invest in the opportunities where they will get “the most bang for the buck.” Consider these statistics:

In the current school year, there are almost 50 million students attending public school in grades Pre-Kindergarten through Grade 12, with another 5 million attending private school. The projected expenditures for this school year are $619 billion.

Now, contrast those stats with adult education. The most recent National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) report found that there were 30 million low-literacy adults (Below Basic) in the US. The projected grant funding for adult education is $564 million and even if you add in the $1.1 billion in grants for career and technical education, it’s not even close to the K-12 expenditures.

We know that there is a great need in adult education, that increasing the education level of adults has positive effects far beyond the classroom, and yet product lines are being cut, old content is being recycled, and high-profile publishers are moving away from this market.

2. Complexity of Content Development

To be sure, there are major publishers that do produce materials for adult education, but what kind of materials are they producing? To answer this question, let’s divide adult students into four segments, defined by grade level. Literacy (0-2), Adult Basic Education (3-5), Pre-High School Equivalency (6-8), High School Equivalency (9-12).

The educational goal for many adult students is to obtain a high school equivalency certificate, which means passing a high-stakes test. Test prep at any level is quite lucrative and adult education is no different, which is why you see an overabundance of materials designed to prep HSE and Pre-HSE adult students for the GED, HiSET, or TASC. The materials only have to teach test familiarization and the skills required to pass it. They do not need to meet the unique and diverse needs of individual students.

3. A Diverse Audience with Unique Needs

The dearth of materials is found at the Literacy and ABE levels where the bulk of the aforementioned 30 million adults reside. These students are unique and vary widely in age, background, demographics, and other socioeconomic factors. Instructional models that work in a homogeneous fifth grade class, for example, often don’t work with adults. There is a lot of research to support this but developing a program that is flexible enough to successfully address the needs of this diverse group is easier said than done.

Effective materials must respect the adult student’s time and be delivered on the technology the student has available. In addition, the content must be fresh and relevant. Many of the materials out there are outdated or were originally developed for kids.

The solution lies in the emergence of small to medium-sized, innovative companies that have the expertise to develop the right materials and are nimble enough to keep the program fresh and exciting.

Mark Moscowitz, Owner Think60
Mark has 40 years of experience in education and educational publishing developing instructional materials for students at all grade and ability levels.
February 24, 2015 / Thinknology

Invest in the Adult Literacy Education Program (ALE) at $10 million: Sign the Petition

Please sign the petition for the NY state legislature to add $3.7 million for the ALE program – for a total funding of $10 million. The deadline for signing is February 28, 2015.

You will be supporting organizations such as Literacy New York (LNY). LNY provides training and technical assistance to a diverse network of volunteer-based literacy organizations.

LNY is one of the most innovative and forward-thinking adult literacy leaders in New York. This is demonstrated by their decision to expand their proven “Intake to Outcomes” tutor training methodology by delivering it online and making it available to all of their network’s affiliates, free of charge.

Nothing like this has ever been done before!

To develop a proprietary learning management system that delivers training for tutors online, LNY collaborated with Think60. The LNY tutor training that is delivered in a face-to-face environment was carefully edited and adapted by Think60 for online learning. The web-based curriculum can be continually improved, expanded, and updated since it is not bound by the constraints of traditional tutor training.

The goal of the “Intake to Outcomes” online training is to ensure that all tutors are receiving the same training across the network. This will improve the instruction adult learners receive, thus enhancing learning and help the tutors and affiliates comply with LNY’s rigorous academic standards. The management tools in the system allow LNY to monitor the training across the network and to supply assistance, as needed.

The collaboration combined Think60’s experience in developing instructional materials delivered through technology with LNY’s in-depth knowledge and long history in providing training and assistance to their affiliate network and the adult learners they serve.

Please ask the NY state legislature to support this and other critical Adult Literacy programs.

Mark Moscowitz, Owner Think60

Mark has 40 years of experience in education and educational publishing developing instructional materials for students at all grade and ability levels.

February 23, 2012 / Thinknology

Adult Learners and Prior Knowledge

Tapping into prior knowledge of adult learners is a key element in adult learning. In Can You Read the Minds of Your Learners?, Connie Malamed cites  a book by James E. Zull called The Art of the Changing the Brain. He presents the following ideas:

  • Prior knowledge is based on each person’s life experiences.
  • Prior knowledge is persistent and is not easily swept away simply because an expert or instructor says something else is true. In this situation, an existing schema can hinder learning new information.
  • Prior knowledge is always the beginning of new knowledge; new knowledge builds on existing knowledge.
  • In order to communicate with someone, you need to find a common language based on prior knowledge.

With adult learners there is a great deal of prior knowledge to tap into and build on. Triggering it is the key to successful student engagement. The first step is to make sure the materials you use have articles or stories that are of interest to adults. Nothing is worse than having an adult learner read a boring or mundane article or story written for kids.

The second step is setting the stage for your students’ reading. Initiate a discussion about what the student is about to read. For example, if the students are about to read an article about credit scores, ask questions about their experience with credit and if they were ever turned down for a loan. If they don’t have direct experience, ask about the experiences of relatives or friends. This will build familiarity with the lesson topic and help to build reading comprehension.

The most effective instructional materials for adult learners find a way to trigger prior knowledge. That is why we felt it was essential that Think60 lessons include a section called Before Reading. Here students are asked about their life experiences related to the article or story they are about to read. In the writing activities that come after the reading, they are asked to think about their initial responses and build on them for new insights.

How do you tap into your adult student’s life experience and existing knowledge about various subjects? Let us know.

February 10, 2012 / Thinknology

Think60: Cool and Unusual Content

Last week, I attended the Texas Association for Literacy and Adult Education (TALAE) Conference in San Antonio. The conference was an ideal setting for interacting with and soliciting feedback from adult educators about Think60, our new online reading program for adult learners. We encourage feedback on all aspects of the program from content to navigation to instructional design. This way we keep our product, especially the topics of the reading lessons, fresh and timely.

“Cool and Unusual Content” is more than just a tag line; it is a new and exciting way to build a product. It describes how we at Think60 approach lesson development, and no one has the finger on the pulse of the adult learner more than the teacher or program director. From educators, we are able to find out today’s topics  that interest their students. More importantly, educators can provide insight into the topics that they believe are relevant to their students’ daily lives. These include reading passages related to workplace, financial, and health literacy, not to mention an exciting adventure story or romance.

Since Think60 is not constrained by the structure of a book, we can add lessons continually to the already extensive Lesson Library. Why is this important? Because students are no longer saddled with reading passages written for kids or articles that were written 20 years ago.

By spending several days at the TALAE conference  talking to teachers and program directors, I gained a better understanding of the students whom adult educators serve in Texas. This will be translated into new reading lessons that will certainly resonate with the adult learners everywhere.

A special thanks to Mary Helen Martinez, Olga M. Escamilla, and their entire staff for running a fabulous conference and making us feel welcome as a first-time exhibitor. See you next year in Austin!

We are looking forward to attending more conferences throughout the spring and meeting adult educators. You can find a list of conferences Think60 will be attending on our website. We hope to meet you.