Get Ready and Teach: 7 Tips

By: Cheryl Wilson

A good start is critical for teaching and learning. There are many benefits for setting goals to start off a semester of study. What changes are rocking your adult literacy classroom world? Literacy programs provide many services, and helping adult learners with achieving personal goals is one of many tasks. As adults enroll in literacy programs, they seek opportunities to demonstrate that they can learn and succeed. According to ProLiteracy, when adult learners can “read books to their child or open a bank account” (ProLiteracy, 2013 pp. 29-30), and see that goals are achieved, they begin to uncover the driving force that propels them toward their optimal goal.

Have you ever heard that teachers and instructors are models? They are also models of behavior. They demonstrate or model through instruction how to make a plan with a goal to complete the task, even if changes are needed.

Establishing a clear vision for achievement plays a vital role in student motivation for learning. Looking back on some challenges and changes while teaching my adult literacy and out of school youth classes, I set goals for myself and my students to help roll through some pretty turbulent semesters.

George T. Doran (1981) provided us with the acronym SMART. It stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.  Experience has taught me that within an adult literacy classroom, SMART goals are measured one class session at a time. Doran explains that, “it should also be understood that the suggested acronym doesn’t mean that every objective written will have all five criteria” (Doran, pp. 35-36).  So, all lesson plans will not be SMART. Perhaps a lesson may not be attainable for that session due to limited time. Having a goal still provides a guide to follow.

The norm for some adult literacy programming is open enrollment. Open enrollment is a registration process that is ongoing or an extended registration period from the official close of the regular registration period. According to Marga Torrence Mikulecky (2013, p. 1-2), “open enrollment is not a one-size-fits-all policy. It may be voluntary or mandatory at the state or district level.” As a result, each semester brings a new grouping of students that are added to continuing student population. This grouping creates a unique blend and mixture of needs, life-experiences, skill levels, and eagerness for reaching academic goals. This unique setting creates an ongoing need for instructional maintenance for effective outcomes.

The landscape of adult literacy continues to evolve and is now inclusive of disconnected out of school youth (ages 17-24). If you are teaching on the adult level or youth level, the following techniques have worked well for me in both classroom settings.

Prep yourself:

1. Anticipate the length of the academic season and create your action plan for the semester. Some organizations may ask for a class syllabus or curriculum outline. If they do, say GREAT! Ask them for a sample. If an outline is not required, develop one for yourself, include your holidays and professional development times.
2. Plan icebreaker activities. Have fun during the first days. They are a wonderful time for informal assessment of your new blended class.
3. Anticipate changes and challenges. For example, what would you assign students who are on the advanced track?
4. Set big and small goals for the semester. 

Prep your students

1. Provide a list of necessary materials and add your class rules. Keep the rules short.  I suggest at least five. Invite the students to add at least two.
2. Be clear with your expectations.
3. Direct students to additional outside resources for enrichment.


Experience has taught that challenges and changes can be overcome with careful planning.

What challenges or changes do you foresee? How can advance preparation avert anxieties and enhance learning and teaching performance?


Doran, G.T. (1981). “There’s a S.M.A.R.T. Way to Write Management’s Goals and Objective”, Management Review, Vol.70, Issue 11, pp.35-36.
Mikulecky, M. (2013). Open Enrollment is on the Menu-But Can You Order It? Education Commission of the States. Denver, Co. Retrieved from pp. 1-2.
ProLiteracy. (2013). Literacy programs help with achieving personal goals. U.S. Programs Division of ProLiteracy Worldwide. Retrieved from pp. 29-30.
Mini Bio

Cheryl Wilson (, a NYS board certified teacher, has taught literacy to adults and out-of school youth across the five boroughs in New York City. She has provided consultation to community-based organizations (CBOs) on curriculum development and design and has provided professional development training. Cheryl is an international conference workshop presenter and has also presented at city and state conferences on adult literacy.


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