ICD's Continuum of Foundational Basic Skills


In striving to assist the Local Joint Committees fulfill their responsibility to teach basic skills in all customized classes, the Institute for Career Development (ICD) has developed a continuum of curricular products and processes for delivering first-rate instruction within the cultural context of the mills' learning centers. The continuum is intended to gradually move participants from inactivity and apprehension to steady activity and enthusiasm for learning.

ICD regards ten basic skills as Foundational, meaning that all other skills build upon the array of strategies which individuals develop to handle these ten priorities:

  1. Reading,
  2. Writing,
  3. Computation,
  4. Oral Communication,
  5. Listening,
  6. Learning to Learn,
  7. Motivation,
  8. Creative Thinking,
  9. Problem Solving, and
  10. Information Technology.

Unfortunately, foundational basic skills are not like bicycle-riding skills. They do not automatically kick back in just when you need them. These crucial skills are more like the bikes themselves because people's basic skills can and do get rusty! The good news is that people's basic skills can be brushed up pretty quickly, and if they are used periodically, they will glide rather than wobble.

ICD's mandate directs us to seek innovative methods for facilitating learning. When suitable adult-level products are available on the market, ICD helps locate and customize their use within the Career Development Program. When materials are lacking, ICD creates and validates new systems.

To guide this process, ICD thinks of the various foundational basic skills as existing on a continuum, even though we are well aware that each person's needs and abilities are unique and no ideal pattern fits exactly. Moving along the Foundational basic skills continuum prepares workers for the Portable Employability basic skills which everyone needs to remain marketable as an employee.

The three phases of the continuum/curriculum are described in this paper. The first is called the Entrance Curriculum because it is simply the point at which new participants enter the customized courses each learning center offers. The second phase is the Transition Curriculum, whose purpose is to guide the participant into an appropriate series of customized courses which will interest and advance that person's goals. The final phase of the Foundational basic skills curriculum is known as Independence Curriculum, for its mission is to prepare the worker for solo success in whatever of life's tests he or she selects down the road.

The attached graphs show ICD's notion of how this process works in an idealized sense. Obviously, local implementations of curriculum use the products which best suit the groups and teachers. No one applies this continuum dogmatically without taking the learners' needs and interests into account.

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Phase 1 of the Continuum: Entrance

Phase 1 of the continuum is the entrance portion of the process. Programs try to funnel all workers in to make maximum use of their benefit. As participants begin, they are assessing the program to see what it is like. Participants wonder "How will I do?" And "To what extent will this experience be like high school?" Workers want to feel validated and yet stretched by their educational program.

The CDP has a need to assess the learners in return. How can we best assist each? Which opportunity is the best starting place? Formal tests tend to drive up anxieties, so teachers use observational measures most often.

We avoid assumptions that people should already know basic material. We build curriculum that ensures success without creating a false image that it is for the minimally skilled. One-on-one tutoring is one delivery mechanism. TV 411, which ICD helped to develop, is another.

Curriculum such as TV 411 which is engaging and sophisticated without being threatening works well because it allows individuals to become comfortable while enabling us to get to know learners' strengths. By engaging in a comfortable everyday activity (watching television), participants learn that this Career Development Program retains the positive aspects of high school (such as the support from caring teachers) yet allows people to learn in environments that are generally unattainable within the public school system.

No grades, no tests, no humiliations are found in any phase of the continuum. Instead, teachers build on participants' existing knowledge and strengths to demonstrate that the program is here to help them make and meet their own educational and economic goals. If the Entrance Curriculum is successful, participants will be hooked into moving forward with brushing up their basic skills in a variety of contexts.

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Phase 2 of the Continuum: Transition

Like phase 1, the transitional curriculum focuses on foundational basic skills. As such, the topics revolve around reading, writing, mathematics, listening, oral communication, and the learning process. During this part of the continuum, the CDP continues to supply learners sturdy support from teachers skilled with steel workers, but participants take an increased responsibility for their own learning.

To move to increased independence, participants must practice combining two or more basic skills in intentional strategies that enable understanding of new content in relation to the learner's previous knowledge. The idea that skills are not discrete and independent of the context/content is a new approach for many learners and facilitators, but in moving through the transition curriculum, everyone collaborates to share techniques (strategies) that help us deal with modern information. We continue accumulating as many foundational skills as possible while simultaneously experiencing what it is like to apply multiple skills to one problem.

Types of nontraditional learning environments include reading other steelworkers' stories, personal writing, on-line learning, test taking skills, and other customized tasks and contexts designed to prepare workers for job or life tests ahead.

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Phase 3 of the Continuum: Independence

The independence curriculum leads toward Portable Employability skills which enable participants to obtain good jobs and move on to all other learning environments including college. As such, the topics revolve around critical reading, persuasive writing, strategic mathematics, dynamic communication, and learning to solve problems systematically. How individuals feel about themselves as learners is carefully addressed.

Types of nontraditional learning environments include ICD's Go Figure! CD ROMs and the instructor-led Best Practices Curriculum. ICD also helps the many programs develop and collect many types of curriculums which have both types of basic skills integrated with pretechnical or personal development content. All of these special customized curriculums assist workers with comfortably refocusing on the evolving nature of basic skills in contemporary society.

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Conclusion

ICD's Foundational Basic Skills Continuum exists to help prepare participants for life in general and especially for another type of basic skill, the Portable Employability Basic Skills. The three phases of the flexible curriculum are (1) Entrance, (2) Transition and (3) Independence. Each phase of the continuum includes nontraditional curriculum which helps the participants develop increased independence as learners. What ICD regards as important about a continuum of foundational basic skills is summed up below.

The ICD Continuum IS
The Continuum Is NOT

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