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Focus On Basics

Volume 5, Issue B ::: October 2001

The Theoretical Basis of TV411

Both the design of TV411 materials and the pedagogy of the facilitated group reflect several beliefs about adult learning. Adults learn best when they are actively involved in learning, engaged in making meaning, or constructing new knowledge, based on their prior knowledge and experience. This constructivist approach is based  on students' active participation in problem solving and critical thinking regarding a learning activity that they find relevant and engaging. They construct knowledge by testing ideas and approaches based on their prior knowledge and experience, applying these to a new situation, and integrating the knowledge gained with pre-existing concepts. The teacher is a facilitator or coach in the constructivist learning process (Denver School of Education web site). TV411 segments feature  adult learners, authors, songwriters, sports stars, and celebrities  who model the process of constructing knowledge as they solve problems or make meaning through books, songs, and other written media For example, in one math segment, the Dallas Cowboys draw on the viewer's knowledge of football to build an understanding of percentages.

Research shows that metacognition, or the ability to reflect on, adapt, and manage one's own learning, is associated with successful learners (Paris & Pareki, 1993). Without thinking about how they learn, adults cannot direct their own learning, or participate in the active way that constructivist approaches advocate. Metacognition also involves affective motivational beliefs, self-referenced ideas about will as well as skill  (Paris & Pareki, 1993).  Adults in TV411's target audience - who already have at least partially learned reading, writing, and  math skills - need to develop a metacognitive awareness about their own learning so that they can direct it in the ways that matter to them and work for them. In a Milestones segment, adult learner Sheila Green talks about how she managed her own learning to qualify for a travel agent training course she wanted to take. She demonstrates how she set aside a time and place at home to study, putting her five small children to bed earlier than usual so that she could concentrate.  She shows how she used context clues to read hard words, took notes on what she read to improve her comprehension, and began reading articles of interest to her in the newspaper every day on her way to work to become a more fluent reader.

TV411 materials address the affective dimension of learning, in ways that support both motivation for learning and metacognitive awareness. The series includes stories of adult learners who share their learning strategies and learning journeys. The voices of adult learners who have acquired literacy and numeracy as adults serve three critical functions for viewers: 1) they inspire others to feel that they too can succeed at learning as adults,  2) they position adult learners as authorities on their own learning, and 3) they demonstrate learning strategies and pathways that others can try. In Capehart's group, the candid and sensitive expression of emotion by adult learners in the Milestones segments encouraged some participants to express deep feelings about their own education and their lives. They began to see that literacy was not only about helping them to use language better, but also about freeing themselves by using language to release emotions that stood in the way of learning. 

Finally, TV411 looks to social theories of learning to place literacy and numeracy acquisition in a  wider framework. Adults learn  most of what they know outside  the classroom. Only five to eight percent of the adults estimated to need literacy instruction ever enter  a program (Pugsley et al., quoted  in Quigley, 1997: 193). Therefore,  it is critical to understand what happens in the other places where they do learn. 

The theory of communities of practice, which emerges from the work of Wenger (1998) and Wenger and Lave (1991) on apprenticeships in diverse cultural settings, is a way of applying constructivist theory to how adults learn to become part  of social groups. Communities of practice are social settings in which adults construct identities and move from the role of novice to master as they learn the practices of the group. Examples include members of a trade, such as midwives or tailors; members of formal or informal associations, such as Alcoholics Anonymous or new mothers who meet at the playground and compare child rearing notes and strategies; or church, community, or ethnic groups. Fingeret and Drennon look at the process of how adults become members of the literate community, and begin to increase and deepen the literacy practices in which they engage (1997). Reder and Green (1985) looked at how literacy and numeracy might be learned outside the classroom, in  the context of informal networks. Because TV411 hopes to reach those who are not in classes, in addition to supporting classroom learning, this research helps us think about how that might happen in the homes and communities of adult learners. In TV411, folks learn in stores, at ball games, at home with their families, and in other everyday settings.

Updated 7/27/07 :: Copyright © 2005 NCSALL