How much do you teach a learner? What do you teach them? How do you go about it? (And some more questions I can never find the answers to).


I’m really interested in other people’s views on this. I’ve had a bit of a long-standing debate with colleagues about how much, and what to teach learners. This isn’t something that I feel isn’t really covered in teacher training, and I always wonder about what everyone else is doing.

Back to the embarrassment factor, my justification for this post is ‘how do you know if what you’re doing is good practice if you’re not part of a college and never ask anyone?’. So here, I’m asking.

Some people think that students should get ‘workbooks’ to complete, which in turn becomes their portfolio. Others, like me, can’t 100% grasp how that’s addressing learner’s needs. I’ve seen, for example, differentiated E2-L1 capital letters worksheets and sometimes don’t see where they fit as resources. Coming from an ESOL background, I can’t see how the lessons are ‘set up’ for the worksheets I view online. You’ll struggle to find an Adult Literacy SOW and lesson plans online. Everything is worksheet-based with little connection.

The problem with teaching the same topic but differentiated for me is that learner attendance is so sporadic, I find it impossible to keep up with where they’re at. For example, week 1, I’ve got 4 learners and we’re doing capital letters at various levels. The next week I can have 3 new learners and 1 of last week’s so the lesson I’d planned goes out the window. Does anyone have a good way of keeping up with who needs to do what. This literally drives me into anxiety.

Is it better to have 5 learners who have completed set E1 portfolios with maybe 1 or 2 individual goals not necessarily linked to an accredited outcome? That way, I suppose you know exactly where everyone is up to, especially if you’ll see that learner the next term, or if you get a learner who has studied literacy elsewhere you’d know exactly what they’d covered. Another benefit would be with a mixed-level roll on/roll off, you could pre-plan activities, and if it so happens that 2 learners come to class that day and are on the same activity, great, they can work together. The downside is no ‘presentation’ or limited group activities as everyone is working on their own thing.

Or is it better to do an IA, DA and ILP and treat each learner as complete individuals, choosing the accredited units they need, at the different levels they need? That way learners will progress in the areas they most require? You’d know where each learner is up to, but if they go onto further literacy it may be difficult for the tutor to catch up on their starting point? Also, it could be easier to plan for on a mixed-level roll on/roll off programme as everything has been written with each learner in mind. The down side? It’s time consuming. In my opinion, less time consuming than trying to have topics, differentiating and trying for each lesson being stand alone. At least with the individual approach, you can build on learner’s previous knowledge.

I feel more effort across the sector should be put into explaining to learners that their literacy learning is not confined to a 12 week course. Partially due to unit-based qualifications, learners are used to seeing their learning outcomes being broken down into reasonably simple steps in other subject areas. These relatively simple outcomes suddenly become more difficult in literacy, and even more difficult to explain to a manager who isn’t a skills specialist. Learners go from, for example Level 2 Developing Plastering Techniques (Open Awards) ‘describe the uses of a range of plasterers’ hand tools’ as opposed to Level 2 Developing Punctuation and Grammar Skills (Open Awards) ‘Identify, explain and use capital letters appropriately in all contexts’. To meet the first criteria, learners could memorise 8 plasterer’s hand tools and complete a worksheet with bullet points for the name/use. The level of knowledge required for learners to know what the uses of capital letters are, how to physically write them, highlight them in a text maybe, explain why they have been used, and to use them themselves in a variety of contexts (at level 2, by maybe writing a report or writing an essay and the skills required to do this) is different. It just is.

Most learners I have come across don’t realise that learning literacy is a lifelong process and something they need to keep coming back to if they really want to improve. With some learners I work with, this just isn’t one of their priorities, yet it is so important to ‘fit in’ to the society we live in.

What does everyone else do?

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