Learning is…

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I’ve tried this activity before, and it more than fell on it’s rear end. I am pleased to say, and encourage you to, try something twice.

Once I had spoken to my group in session 1 (a few weeks ago now) about what they wanted to learn, and ironed out my plans to develop group goals, I introduced this activity again.

1. Learners picked a picture that represented learning to them.

2. They discussed this before being given a skeleton worksheet.

3. The learners wrote with varying complexity.

4. They fed their ideas back and agree to make a group poem, which will be published in the next edition of our magazine.

Enjoy! Learning is interesting and fun

Group work, and activating prior knowledge and its impact

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In my first session this term, I had two E2 consolidating/emerging to E3 learners. It has always been apparent, but I was in a position to try something new, so I have been working on developing some group aims and objectives.

I started term by asking learners if they had anything they would like to learn as a group. I often find with literacy learners that they either give a blanket statement like ‘improve reading’ or decide they don’t want to do anything as a group because they don’t like to. I started to wonder. How much of the latter is actually true?

Unusually, I decided to go against my group and ask tell them about something I wanted to try and the reasons behind it. I told them I wanted to develop some group goals because I feel that there are benefits to group work they haven’t been open to exploring before.

I asked them what they thought the benefits were. One response was ‘there’s not!’. Another response was ‘well we’ve all got different things to educate ourselves about so what’s the point?’ This was the exact attitude that I wanted to diminish. I’ve been thinking that learners in homelessness services get treated solely as individuals to the extent that it sometimes changes their expectations of classes and inhibits opportunities for development. I started to question their responses and pose some hypothetical situations such as ‘what if I was busy and you were sitting waiting for me to finish with someone else? What could you do?’ eventually this elicited that they could ask someone else because they might also have the skills. One learner even suggested that this could be a better than asking a tutor sometimes.

I also threw a couple of suggestions in such as ‘when do you think team work would be useful outside of the classroom?’ They all agreed in their futures if they find employment, then this would be a beneficial skill to have.

Whilst I agree that learning in literacy especially should be predominately learner-led, it also highlight to me that often our adult literacy learners aren’t aware of things they don’t know yet. So it is up to my confidence to try to introduce them. I have lost count of the times when I’ve felt their motivation is low and linked this mainly with their unawareness of pre-study skills, including group work. We have open access classes, and sometimes I’ve tried not to scare learners off. Sometimes, I now see this has not been particularly helpful to their progress.

It has been easy in the past to steer clear of group work because most of the times I have done it, it’s gone horribly wrong. Either one learner wasn’t happy with the content, couldn’t agree with their peers, or just plainly didn’t see the point in the activities. The only thing that’s changed is my ‘pitch’ to the class as to why I think it’s important to develop speaking and listening skills and group work, and stick to my guns. So far (touch wood!), so good.

I started with the idea of group reading for pleasure. The learners didn’t seem so impressed at first.

I started with some photocopies of the front cover and elicited what the cover told them about the story. Immediately, they said the boy on the front looked like a ‘loveable rogue’ and they felt they identified with him on some level. Learners offered their stories of being children and being naughty, but being admirable with their cheekiness.

They discussed some questions then we went onto reading. Each learner took it in turns to read aloud. With lots of encouragement from me to signal when they’d had enough, and asked the group openly who would like to read next. I was amazed when they were offering to read aloud and relieve their peers from duty. As the chapter unfolded, and we stopped to think about what was happening and I concept checked to assess how much they were concentrating on decoding/barking v following the story. A few more activities were introduced, checking comprehension.

Learners fed back that it was easier to read as a group as sometimes you were reading, sometimes you were having a break, following the story, but concentrating more on listening. At the end of the session the feedback was amazing. One learner divulged that that was the first time in her life that she’d read a chapter of a book.

I’ve also been trying to do a warmer at the start of each session. I’ve been trying to relate them to the sessions, although a few have had, as the learners fed back, tedious links. The purpose of a few were to encourage the learners to talk to each other about their experiences, choices, develop listening skills and respect turn taking. They also served the purpose of highlighting any interests they might have had which I could use for future, and as most have involved some sort of sentence starter, as a way for me to see more examples of their writing other than a project. I think the activities have been working well, but what I need to do is stipulate what I am looking for more clearly than I have done.

Sometimes learners aren’t open to ideas. Sometimes, I think we’ve got to tell them why we think something is important, why we want to try it, and do it anyway.

Reflection on 2 first day warmers

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Looking back at my PGDE, I realised at how useful reflection is, and whilst we may do it in our heads, there is a benefit to writing it all down. Sometimes, I still fall into the trap. Mine is more showing consequences of not reflecting and the reasons why I didn’t at the time. Because I am nervous in my lessons, I have found that I have an unfortunate ability to talk too much and not give clear instructions sometimes. I have opted for the plan, implement, reflect process as I understand it! As Scrivener (1994, p.25) points out when he first started teaching ‘I found it hard to worry about the ‘bigger’ questions until I had gained at least some initial confidence in the basic mechanics of running activities and working with students’, which I have also found sometimes, even after a few years of being out in the big bad world of teaching on your own.

Plan

I decided to use a warmer activity that we had done in one of our lessons with our tutor Karen, mainly because I found it enjoyable, and I saw the benefit that this activity was to take lots of pictures to elicit how the students feel about learning literacy. I had a quiet class of 3, with one ESOL E1 learner who had been unexpectedly rough sleeping for a few weeks (when he has previously come to class, he has been eager, although not accurate), a L1 learner who won’t write and a L1 learner who is arguably consolidating E3 but has recently passed an E3 Functional Skills qualification. Then the learners were to move on to an activity where they complete sentence starters ‘Learning is…/I like to learn…/learn best when…’ One learner picked a picture of an eye test, reporting that learning literacy is ‘knowing your ABCs and then trying to make sense of the bigger picture. Impressed, I asked my ESOL learner why he chose a picture. He said he chose a picture of the docks because he likes Liverpool. The other learner refused to pick a picture or get involved. This happens every now and again, and I usually set a productive writing task using their lives as a stimulus. Usually, these are the learners who have little intention of coming back to class and can be disruptive to the rest of the group (edit: I was feeling frustrated this day. The learners I work with often aren’t in a position where literacy is the highest priority and I have a high drop-out rate). Last week I had a list of questions, with the subject omitted, had the students fold the paper in 3 to hide the questions and write their name on the sheet before passing it to their left. They then continued to write their name in the next question. They then had to open it up, guess what the answer to the questions were, then go and ask other students what their answers would have been.

Learning is…

Warmer – What’s xyz ‘s favourite colour

Implement

I noticed because of the lack of focus my learners had as a group, it was difficult to elicit discussion about their pictures and also after they’d finished writing their sentences. The learners were not interested in each other, or the activity at all. I noticed that my instructions may not have been clear as they students seemed to be confused about what they had to do and also seemed bored of having to write their name ten times. This stage seemed to drag on a little too. The students asked each other questions to find out if they were right or not. The activity ended up successful in the class, but left me wondering the purpose as it seemed difficult from start to finish.

Reflect

In the first warmer:

1. I could have changed the activity when I knew the learners I had. Saying that though, I don’t regret doing the activity as to encourage group dynamics in future, changing activities to non-discussion ones probably isn’t the best idea if I actually want them to develop their speaking and listening skills.

2. Appropriateness: I knew before I undertook the activity that the learners aren’t familiar with working with each other. I knew the ESOL learner might find it difficult, but thought with explanation it would be ok. I didn’t anticipate a learner being completely disinterested and under the influence of alcohol.

3. I need to discuss with the drop in service the tyoe of learner that is appropriate. It is difficult though as I do not want to exclude any learner from participating. Sometimes because they are not in the right frame of mind for a session, and lack their own motivation, it has a serious impact of the progress made in the session which is always difficult to manage.

With the second warmer, on reflection I could see a number of problems:

1. Give students clearer instructions, INCLUDING PURPOSE: by setting up the activity better/simplifying it/writing instructions on the board ‘pass to your left’.

2. Clarification/classroom management: Ensure that students know what they have to do next by asking a student to tell me before letting them get on with the activity, make sure everyone is listening to the explanation.

3. Appropriateness: The students knew each other better than I thought, so choose activities carefully. Maybe a simpler warmer would be more appropriate. I can also see that what I found enjoyable when I’ve done the activity before, students may not!

4. Time management: If clearer instructions are given, the activity would not have lasted so long. I could also introduce a time limit for the learners to complete the activity in.

Plan & implement

In different activities in the following lessons, I had planned to write down and give clearer instructions to students. I asked a learner to tell me what they had to do before letting them continue with an activity. I had alas decided that dependant on the activity, I would choose either to give, or not to give time limits, depending on the purpose. For warmers, I need to continue to introduce time limits. I spoke to the drop in and discussed the referrals up to the class that they make. I am hopeful this will be taken forward, however I am still not comfortable where the whether a learner is allowed to participate line lies. We have our code of conduct (below) however we are also operating on an outreach basis and also have to comply with the venue’s rules. In this particular drop-in, it is for rough sleepers. Whilst it isn’t a wet drop-in, many clients may be under the influence, suffer from mental health problems, health problems and are waiting to see the nurse (the same night as my class) rough sleep, are hungry, disengaged, and have one or more than one of these challenges. It is easy to see why the environment and their situation in general may not be conducive to learning. This doesn’t make me want to try less, but be more assertive and confident in my teaching.

Code of conduct

• Participate in classes and have a positive attitude towards learning
• Treat everyone with equal respect, courtesy and consideration
• Under no circumstance to display racist or sexist behaviour or language
• To respect the learning environment and share resources
• To respect confidentiality in a group setting
• Under no circumstances to possess or be under the influence of alcohol or drugs
• Under no circumstances to engage in any illegal or offensive activity
• Under no circumstances to display abusive or aggressive behaviour towards anyone

Reflect

By writing down my instructions and staging them better, I have found this has helped the students understand what they have to do better and the lesson flowed better. By learners repeating what they had to do, it helped me to see whether I needed to step in or take a step back and let them get on with it. Time management was improved and I found it a useful tool to ask students how long they needed as it helped me to get to know the students and their capabilities a little better, improving my formative assessment too. I have also found a quote that I like. It’s a little wordy but when I started writing this post, I was worried whether I have actually improved on anything but this showed me that it becomes easier to find and analyse practice. This is taken from Scrivener (1994, p.19). It comes at the end of a chapter reviewing potential problems and reads, ‘These are the kind of problems we all have. You’ll find yourself doing these things – so notice yourself doing them and note the ways in which they do or don’t seem to ‘prevent’ learning. But also accept that this is part of the natural process of your own learning and development. As your awareness and confidence grow you’ll find that you not only become more able to recognise such problems in your own teaching, but that you can also start to find effective alternative options that can enable rather than hinder learning’. I can completely relate to this quote as I feel swamped relatively often. I suppose it’s the same as when learners’ filters are up, they find it difficult to see the wood for the trees. I feel the same sometimes, but will try to reflect more and liaise with colleagues more regularly with peers.

References

Scrivener, J. (1994) Learning Teaching. Heninmann:Oxford

Reading for pleasure in an adult literacy classroom, and oral reading fluency

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Burton (2007, p.11) poses the questions, ‘It has been suggested that reading aloud is an activity that is hardly ever done by adults. Is this true? Take a minute to think about occasions when you, or other you know, have read something aloud’.

From observing other classes, through to volunteering in literacy sessions for a year, and eventually teaching literacy myself, I noticed that I, along with the other situations I had been in, had always ‘avoided’ reading activities with adult literacy learners to some extent. Of course we covered reading in sessions, however the start of my literacy class saw comprehension type activities and naturally dismissed reading for pleasure, or anything with wasn’t directly productive, or have focus on productive skills at least.

As time has gone on, I have encouraged my learners to take a more active part in reading for pleasure, and after picking up on bits of research here and there, decided to introduce it to my class more formally.

On the face of it, my classes are ‘literacy’ as opposed to ‘reading’.

In one study, ‘silent reading was the ‘activity’ that happened most often, corresponding with the large amounts of time learners spent working alone. ‘Active’ reading tuition…took up less that half of the class time/’ Burton, (2007, p.5). Burton, (2007, p.7) looks at ‘useful approaches mentioned in research which don’t seem to be used in the adult literacy classroom as often as might be expected’, with one of the main reasons for this lack being target-focused classes, leaving the tutor less willing to ‘take risks’.

Although my classes are target driven to some extent, I have some flexibility and say in how they are run. Our aim is to provide qualifications for learners, so as long as my choices have this in mind, we’re able to go ahead with most plans.

It took a long time to develop my literacy class, and although I now only have 3 regular learners, with one who focuses on qualification outcomes, they are 3 more than I’ve had for a long time, and the group is stable enough for me to try new things.

I had started to deliver a phonics-based programme with another learner 121, and had seen his levels of confidence increase significantly, as well as my pride in him. I started to think about how I could replicate this with ‘more advanced’ literacy learners (i.e. E1+).

Burton (2007, p.7) continues by suggesting that ‘practice in this, rather than just being a meaningless ‘exercise’, has been shown to assist reading comprehension and improve confidence’. Burton (2007) suggests a number of strategies to help reading, including oral reading fluency.

With this in mind, I started to consider how I could work oral reading fluency into my sessions, whilst still aiming for qualifications with learners. I decided to take a few Oxford Bookworms originally intended for ESOL learners, to my class one night. I told my learners I would like to try to focus on reading skills this term, and there were a few grumbles around the room. We talked this through for a few minutes (I got the hint the second time someone asked me if they could go out for a smoke), and they said they didn’t mind which book they read. The next week we started by using the suggested activities in the back of the book.

I found that analysing the back page, thinking about what it made us this about, seeing if we had any questions, discussing whether they think they’d like to read it or not, and repeating the process with the front cover was beneficial for the learners’ engagement. I was worried one might not want to read a book, but persevered and made it silently compulsory. The reaction to which I was really surprised at; there wasn’t one.

At the beginning of the term, learners expressed that they wanted to work individually, however agreed that with reading activities, this was a good option as a group. We decided to split the session into individual work, with about 30 minutes of group reading, either at the beginning, or at the end. They ‘let’ me set activities, discussion points, pair work, worksheets etc, and to my amazement, we worked through two books in a term.

The only downfall, was that I chose a book at approximately Entry 2-3, which was not challenging enough for one learner. I could choose some titles at a higher level, and pair him with a volunteer, although this might be equally disruptive for both ‘groups’. Another option could be to choose a slightly more challenging book, and set differentiated activities for the higher level learners, where they can choose to either read silently and complete activities, or join in and complete activities as homework.

I plan to use more oral fluency techniques in the classroom as I found my group were happier (observation of their behaviour, not empirical evidence!), they were supportive of each other, they listened better, they shared their ideas and seemed to engaged in the texts better. It was a pure pleasure to see them modelling my praise of them reading on each other, and it even felt like it made my praise for learners  a little redundant at one point, them favouring their peers’ support.