Soft skills and the social graces, as I call them, are very important to our school. We are always working and incorporating soft skills and social graces into the lessons. Every day I never fail to mention something about manners, and proper attire. I may, on any given day, discuss speaking to groups, working as a team, or practicing listening skills. We discuss parenting skills and computer proficiencies such as keyboarding, word processing and spreadsheet creation. I encourage them to practice on the computer to become familiar with its possibilities.
Lifelong learning and the love of learning are illustrated in current events discussions, and in magazine articles I tear out and show them. John Steinbeck is an author that I like to present. We had recently watched the movie Of Mice and Men. We discussed his writing style, his biography, and how popular he was in his generation. Coincidentally, I found Steinbeck’s original obituary which had been cut out of a newspaper and stuck in a library book. So, I made copies for all the students. A month or so later, a student had taken the practice test for the GED. He returned and exclaimed, “Ms. Chamberlin! Ms. Chamberlin! There was a passage on the test written by John Steinbeck!”
He was all excited and, of course, I was excited because I believe he was able to connect to what he already knew. He probably understood the passage better and most likely scored stronger on that section of the test because he was already familiar with John Steinbeck.
Another student brought in an article to share about Somalia. A couple of weeks before, I had shown a documentary about that country. We had discussed what happened in Mogadishu, Somalia during President Clinton’s administration, and what the conditions are in that country now. The student spotted an article, and I would bet my last dollar he never would have read it if we hadn’t had the discussion.
Still another student brought in an article about a daughter of the Titanic casualty. He said, “I never would have noticed this, if we hadn’t been talking about it last week.”
Sometimes they can’t read, but they will bring in an article because they saw a picture that gave them the clue it was related to what we had discussed.
I bring up current events once or twice a week. We talk about, and make a chart on, “What do you know that’s going on in the world, the country, the state, the city?” They are very weak in paying attention, and need to keep up so they are not like Rip Van Winkle when they are released. And I tell them that. It teaches them government, civics, geography, science, and critical thinking skills. And it creates good essay topics for them to practice their writing.
Janice M. Chamberlin, a licensed prison educator in Indiana, is the author of Locked Up With Success. In her book, Ms. Chamberlin shares stories not only of the challenges she has faced, but also the triumphs she has seen in the prison classroom setting. She has successfully developed a system that can unlock potential even in the highest risk students. The full paperback or digital version can be purchased at .