Strategies for Building Healthy Relationship Skills Among Couples Affected by Incarceration. Adapting Language and Examples


In addition to adapting course content, instructors asserted that it was sometimes important to adapt the language used to deliver it.  Several mentioned the need to accommodate participants with limited literacy by using simple, concrete language and by not presuming that all participants could read all course material independently.  The Texas grantee noted that its curriculum was developed for learners at a fourth-grade level, but that some participants nevertheless struggled with understanding the materials.  Staff at several sites underscored the importance of gauging participants comprehension and slowing down or backing up as needed.

[The curriculum script] suggests a time out. Thats a joke to a guy in prison.  Instead, I tell them to take a step back and exhale, which means to not be aggressive and to calm your body.  [I tell them] to keep from clicking, which is a term they understand.

A number of grantees (those in Texas, California, Indiana, New York, Tennessee, and Ohio) drew on the expertise of incarcerated or formerly incarcerated staff or volunteers to help address the need for language and examples relevant to incarcerated men and their partners.  In addition, instructors at most sites adjusted language to make it less formal and to include colloquial words and phrases that resonated more with participants.

Interviewees also discussed the use of cultural references and examples that were relevant to incarcerated men and their partners.  According to staff, some of the references in their curricula were based on life experiences to which participants had difficulty relating:

I cant sit here and tell this guy to imagine being in a park with birds flying and flowers around, which is what the curriculum wants, because these guys are hard and when theyre here they dont want to become prey.

Yet, interviewees from various sites suggested that participants related to specific examples with more interest and greater comprehension than when presented with abstract concepts or principles.  Instructors observed that appropriate, concrete examples were very important in helping participants to grasp the key content of their curricula.

Making Course Content Real: Providing Tailored Examples
Instructors met the need for accessible, relevant examples in several ways:
  • constructing what-if scenarios to encourage participants to generate their own examples of ways to apply the principles covered in a given class session;
  • sharing instructors personal experiences with parenting, relationship, or reentry-related challenges; and
  • incorporating participants real-life experiences into the curriculum. For example, one site (the grantee in New York) obtained permission to use family correspondence from former participants as examples in a module on mens and womens communication styles.

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