Self-Evaluation of Observed Session #4 (Year 2)

This session took place three weeks into the eight-week course. The learners are still getting to know each-other and coming round to the idea of learning again. Their ages range from mid-20s to mid-fifties although only three of the five attended the session which meant that the average age was late thirties.

The three male learners who attended are very unlike many of the previous groups of learners who attended this course, in a range of ways. One is that they are motivated and want to improve their literacy skills, and are willing to apply themselves to that goal both in class and at home.


One of the learners present is an established Level 1 literacy learner, who is working towards certification at that level, as he has no GCSE to evidence his ability to employers. Another is at a mid-Entry 2 working towards certification at Entry Level 3. He appears to have some form of learning difficulty and also has some disclosed physical disabilities. The third is an ESOL learner who presents a widely divergent range of abilities across speaking, reading, writing and listening. His listening skills are extremely well-developed, but his speaking skills are hesitant and far less developed. His reading abilities are far higher than his writing abilities. This appears to be a fairly classic set of issues arising among ESOL learners who have learned English only by going to work and not by undertaking formal learning.


Throughout the two years of this PGCE course I have struggled with the application of differentiation – this year I have taught far more mixed groups than last year – and they are working toward distinct levels of certification with established targets set-out by Agored Cymru. At best in the last six months of teaching on this scheme, I have overcome my fear of asking learners to complete tasks which are obviously or tangibly different from that of their neighbour. I had always resisted this in the past at the risk of embarrassing learners.


In this session I decided, after some specific feedback from the previous observation, to focus on differentiation when planning my session, by making specific notes to remind myself that even throughout group discussion (which occupies a majority of the morning session each week) it is important to carefully differentiate by asking questions of specific learners to the extent that they are challenges but does not undermine them. Two of the three learners require very specific modes of being engaged in conversation – one required additional time to form his thoughts, and this can be dealt with kindly and with encouragement – he is not usually unable to answer, but he cannot answer quickly. The ESOL learner often requires a re-wording of a question and again, lots of verbal encouragement and facial expressions which allow him to feel comfortable.


The Level 1 learner is hugely capable of analytical and creative thought, and is confident in group activities and discussions, but his spelling is extremely poor. He admits to this freely and is very willing to learn – even to try repeatedly, in front of the others, to spell-out an unknown word.


During the discussion with my tutor after the observed part of the session, we discussed the variation of abilities in the classroom and what approaches I use to differentiate learning. I admitted that having not worked with an ESOL learner before I am still assessing his needs and abilities, and how to respond to these. I particularly focus on homework tasks to form a large part of the required work for each learner, and to give tasks differentiated by ability. The learners are required to do approximately 2-3 hours of self-directed study away from class-time; these tasks frequently take the form of reading comprehension workbooks, with extension tasks (usually writing or grammar-focussed) for the Entry 3 and Level 1 learners. This is fortunate as most learners do complete the work, so I am able to rely on this for more tailored activities and for completing the number of hours of study required per week. 


I am reading a very simple book which takes the mentally and practically challenging concept of differentiation and sets out a series of measures which can be readily used, planned and assessed, to increase variation in the classroom according to ability.


It confirms some of my fears and assumptions about not assigning some learners a “standard” task and then “different” ones for others, but appeals to readers to allow learners to work in pairs more (an ongoing target of mine) and to allow them to choose the small groups they work in, and to form a cycle throughout the day of whole-group and small-group work which allows certain learners to lead and to create and suggest, to conceptualise and enquire – all the while being assessed by the teacher by a varying set of standards or criteria. It refers to this as follows:


“The teacher thinks and plans in terms of “multiple avenues to learning” for varied needs, rather than in terms of “normal” and “different”. The goal for each student is maximum growth from his current “learning positions”. The goal of the teacher is coming to understand more and more about that learning position so that the learning matches learner need.”(2005, p15)


The author helpfully provides a pictorial representation of the cyclical concept of joining the whole-group and alternately freeing learners to work in pairs or small groups. This image has helped to shape my planning as more of a mental map than a series of stages. I have the flexibility in these sessions to remain focussed for longer than planned, on a particular feature of this “map” and to ensure all learners have developed understanding of a concept or have completed a certain learning task, before seeking to move onto the next stage of the journey/process.


The diagram below is not prescriptive but is a firm conceptual foundation which I believe promotes this feeling of motion and activity and natural flow which must be allowed for even more so when learners are returning to a classroom environment and will not be accustomed to rigid time-structures throughout their day. (2005, p6)

Stages 1-4 of this process were employed in the written plan for the observed session, and I would assert that for the most part they have been included in each of my observed sessions to-date. My next challenge will be to begin to plan more frequently for stages 5-8. I used presentations as an assessment method with a group of Level 1 learners several weeks ago and they completed the task enthusiastically and to a high standard. The nature of the learners on this course is consistently such that their confidence is often extremely low and they find the notion of a one-to-one mock job interview with myself a very daunting prospect. I had therefore not attempted stages 7 and 8 (above) previously as I had made assumptions about my learners and their willingness to take-part in such tasks as presenting facts or findings to the rest of their group. I saw the benefits of this type of activity, especially as it marked a summative assessment of the learning which had taken place across a 6.5 hour session and had been prepared for in gradual stages. I will certainly be using this type of task again in future, as it can incorporate the needs of a variety of learners and builds confidence across the whole group, regardless of ability.


I believe that this current cohort would benefit from such a task. They worked well together in this session and are clearly earning one another’s trust and are positive in their expectations of me and of the session. Since each are so willing to work hard to move on from their “learning position”, it will be helpful to give them pair/group projects throughout the day-long sessions and entrust them with presenting findings/creations/written work to each-other.

How to Finish This Course:
Make a To-Do List
Set-Aside Tuesday and Wednesday
Regardez vous! Three of six done on day 1 of 2…promising, non?!

How to Finish This Course:

Make a To-Do List

Set-Aside Tuesday and Wednesday

Regardez vous! Three of six done on day 1 of 2…promising, non?!


(Assignment) Reflective Journal #5 - Review of the Year

At the start of this year we were asked to state the values/principles that form our PPTs - Personal Practical Theories - of Teaching and Learning. They are relevant to my current teaching context and help to identify some of my personal values influencing my professional practice. They were written in note-form and it is very interesting to look back upon this “inventory” and see how these principles have been lived-out / developed / strengthened in the last eight months.


"Valuing people’s prior knowledge, skills and experience"

While delivering Skills for Work (intensive literacy programme for adults) I have worked with many skilled learners who have training and experience in very valuable roles eg bricklayer, gardener, plasterer, but whose literacy skills are now preventing them from accessing work, as all areas of life become more formalised and bureaucratic. Many of these learners distanced themselves from me as the “teacher” who they assumed was “looking down” on them and thought they were stupid. I have worked hard to overcome these emotional and social barriers, by valuing what they know, by relating tasks to their areas of interest, and by giving them time and opportunity to show their expertise in front of a group. This has been MASSIVELY inspired by Paolo Friere whose book Pedagogy of the Oppressed illustrates a broken system of learning as one in which the teacher is like a banker who holds all the deposits of money, and controls all currency that is of any value. He says that as educators of adults we must make our interaction as equal and as reciprocal as possible, as most learners will have access to some form of socially-valuable currency, eg bricklaying, speaking Welsh, etc. I have seen very real fruits of this shift and will not be looking back from this any time soon!


"Everyone is able/capable of learning"

I acquired this as a basic opinion at school – amazing headmaster – it’s so innate to me at this stage that I can’t tell how much it informs my practice – I recognise in myself that endless hopefulness about everyone is a recipe for burn-out, so it needs to be channelled to developing specific skills in individual learners.


"Increasing independence in job-seeking”

This year I have encountered a much broader variety of learners some with little or no reading skills. Their ability to function as independent job-seekers was therefore not my primary concern, as it had been last year with E3 – L2 learners. Beginner readers have absorbed my planning time and resource creativity, as I explore what works for who, and start all over again with each new beginner reader. This has been an absolute joy and such a fascinating, steep learning curve for me. The emotional aspect of learning (theirs and mine) has come to the fore and my assumptions about adult learners hugely challenged. As above – I have met with my own and certain learners’ limitations and been left to wonder whether everyone can Learner to read late in life, or whether they may have “missed” their their critical learning periods in life.


"Value the process and not the destination”

In my current role I am solely responsible for leading learners to gain a certificate at a level higher than their original literacy assessment. I’m not responsible for them getting a job or not – I believe I have grown in maturity in this area as this time last year I found myself worrying about later outcomes and development, when those cannot be my concern.


"Story/narrative: illustrating reason/objective via narrative = creates a cycle of increased ease/self-value/value of others"

I read about this earlier this year and was instantly intrigued. I felt permissioned and liberated to, in some measure, carry on as I naturally work, without adhering to strict regulation, structure or curricula: “When we put conversation at the centre of education something very important happens. It is the exchanges and the thoughts they provoke that leads us – not some predetermined curriculum or plan. In conversation we, as educators, have to catch the moment where we can say or do something to deepen people’s thinking or to put themselves in touch with their feelings. For the most part, we do not have lesson plans to follow; we respond to situations, to experiences. This is such a succinct summary of my job, much of teaching time for me is spent listening, counselling, laughing, sympathising, engaging and questioning, responding to needs, queries and issues, within boundaries and limits which I maintain in my own head – I have plans but they are not rigid, I have resources but they can be changed, and frequently are. The idea that this can be a legitimate way to teach and learn, has been very freeing for me. I don’t think it permissions me to wander off, I think it ennobles my work and leaves me less worried about the appearance and more focussed on the reality.


My Reading List for Summer 2013:

Blyth, C. (2008). The Art of Conversation. London: John Murray.

Sennett, R. (2012) Together. The rituals, pleasures and politics of cooperation. London: Allen Lane.

Goodson et al (2010), Narrative Learning, Routledge

Zeldin (1999). Conversation: How Talk Can Change Your Life. London: Harvill Press


Self-Evaluation of Observed Session #3 (Year 2)

This observation took place in the first hour of a six-hour session which would mark the final attendance of this particular group of learners. When they began the Skills for Work course eight weeks ago each of the five learners was extremely resistant to the mandatory attendance which had been prescribed by the Job Centre.  Over the long days that they have spent at Agoriad, they have produced a large volume of written work which evidences that four of the five are working at Literacy Level 1, and one is progressing from Entry 2 to Entry Level 3. They have produced CVs, covering letters, job adverts, business adverts and a wide range of opinion-based texts. Each of these have been well-scaffolded appropriately to their respective levels.


The written work that they have produced to-date has been mind-mapped, planned, drafted, proof-read and edited to ensure correct spelling, accurate grammar, and appropriate language. These tasks and writing processes were instrumental in improving each of their spelling, creative and informative writing skills and in developing their awareness of social norms regarding these written texts.


They hugely enjoyed the writing task in Week 4, which had been to plan and create an advert suitable for a local newspaper or shop window, promoting an imaginary small business, for example a gardener or window cleaner. Until today this had been the sole “creative writing” task I had set for them. It is apparent that it was therefore the only creative writing they had undertaken since school, which had ended early and unsuccessfully for four of the five learners in the group. It was followed by various extension tasks which allowed me to assess the full extent of the learning which had taken-place during the writing task. I planned today’s session in-part based on what I had found, namely that the learners’ critical thinking skills had certainly been developed by having to think about job-roles from a variety of perspectives. Each task encouraged them to re-examine things which were already familiar to them, including job-roles and advertising, presentation and business services.


This course asks that Learners attain certification at one learning level higher than their original assessment score; it does not offer much scope for development of critical thinking, reflection or deeper learning. These are facets to learning which I felt empowered to engage the learners with in the final two weeks of the course, having seen their capacity for examination and enquiry develop so evidently in the preceding weeks.


I wanted to create opportunity for the learners to think about an important social issue eg (namely homelessness) but knew from previous discussions that several of the learners have rather negative and strongly-held views about this subject. I wanted to invite them to look again at this topic and to equip themselves with facts before making verbal argument and written creative text. I wanted to provide resources and frameworks in this last session which might awaken them to the differences between facts and opinions, the variations of “fact” which are produced by bias, and the reliability of certain sources of information. Barnett and Hallam summarise this in reference to Marton as “learning occurs when we come to see or understand something in a quantitatively different way”(1999, p143). As Learners they frequently work only from a starting point of their own assumptions and opinions which are often ill-prepared and have no factual backing.


For deeper learning to take place I wanted to invite them to re-examine their views and assumptions in a safe way that would not undermine any belied system or personal conviction but that instead might allow them to empathise and understand the wider factors in the issue at-hand.


I began with a more benign subject area in the morning session, which was local historical landmarks – what did they know about them? How right were their facts? After choosing a postcard each depicting a local landmark, I asked them first to predict what the five more important facts about their landmark might be, on its Wikipedia site.


Conversations followed around the nature of Wikipedia, who writes it, etc. The learners had previously never thought about the veracity of the facts found on Wikipedia. Some of the Learners have attended a variety of FE courses in the past, none with a great deal of focus on written work or research. Hence none had ever been told that Wikipedia cannot be trusted as a reliable source of information.


I have myself read several blog articles and journal entries promoting the use of Wikipedia as a tool for developing critical thinking, as one says, it is precisely the way in which Wikipedia is edited which means it “could be used for teaching about knowledge construction, historiography, bias, and other important social studies ideas” (Kissling, 2011) as it opens up so many areas to discussion which are not merely an issue for social studies students but for all learners, all internet uses and indeed all readers.


After discussing the site’s premise as a publically-updated and maintained site, learners set-about finding the top five facts about their chosen landmark on the site, with a much greater awareness of concepts such as bias, factual inaccuracy and reliability. They were then asked to find three of their facts on a different website, so that they had two sources to support the accuracy of the facts.  They went on to create posters (again, this had not been asked of them for a very many years) and they applied themselves to the task extremely well, each presenting them to the group which was a huge achievement for most of them.


Later in the day the Learners took part in a discussion around poverty and homelessness. I asked for their ideas about how and why people become homeless, who they think this problem can affect and what can be done to prevent or mitigate it.


This was a very difficult phase in the process for them as it is highly likely that they have never been encouraged to engage with this subject with any kind of empathy or maturity. It is the kind of subject usually tackled during a poetry module of English GCSE or in Sociology or RS at school. These learners while young did not have those opportunities during their school years and have not engaged with them on any kind of deeper-thinking level as adults. I knew that it was something of a risk but I wanted to challenge some of their prejudices and was encouraged to hear at least two of them contribute to the discussion with comments such as “it could happen to any of us” and “it doesn’t take being stupid or lazy to end up homeless, just one or two bad choices”.


I asked the learners to use a selection of sites online to find some basic facts about homelessness – who is affects, how many people are affected, what is being done to support homeless people etc. I left it a broad open challenge, asking them to be guided by which aspects of homelessness intrigued or interested them the most. This gave them time to explore online resources and to skim-read, identifying which pages were useful and which were not. They were building on their understanding of bias and accuracy from the morning session, observing which sites appeared reputable and trustworthy and which did not.


They later went on to plan and draft a piece of imaginative writing which asked them to create a character who became homeless and narrate the story from the first-person perspective. This was hugely challenging for them but they completed it across the board with enthusiasm and determination. Eight weeks ago none of them were in a position to shift their frame of mind and their angle on life to that of another (abstract) person. This is a significant progress which is evidenced by the work they have produced and equally by their change in willingness and attitude. The learners I meet in future who have not undertaken any formal English exams in the past but are now working towards Level 1 which is a GCSE equivalent certificate, will be undertaking this day of study. It has broadened the horizons of these Learners and has challenged their certainties without undermining their personal confidence or belief systems. This is a very difficult boundary to tread but because I had worked so closely with them over the last 7 weeks aI felt that I could trust in them to complete the tasks to the best of their ability and I am delighted to confirm that they did. 


Clearly, we need to raise awareness and better educate the public!


Clearly, we need to raise awareness and better educate the public!


This form of words echoes those of Lawrence Stenhouse (1975) who produced one of the best-known explorations of a process model of curriculum theory and practice. He defined curriculum tentatively: ‘A curriculum is an attempt to communicate the essential principles and features of an educational proposal in such a form that it is open to critical scrutiny and capable of effective translation into practice’. He suggests that a curriculum is rather like a recipe in cookery.

It can be criticized on nutritional or gastronomic grounds - does it nourish the students and does it taste good? - and it can be criticized on the grounds of practicality - we can’t get hold of six dozen larks’ tongues and the grocer can’t find any ground unicorn horn! A curriculum, like the recipe for a dish, is first imagined as a possibility, then the subject of experiment. The recipe offered publicly is in a sense a report on the experiment. Similarly, a curriculum should be grounded in practice. It is an attempt to describe the work observed in classrooms that it is adequately communicated to teachers and others. Finally, within limits, a recipe can varied according to taste. So can a curriculum. (Stenhouse 1975: 4-5)
Stenhouse shifted the ground a little bit here. He was not saying that curriculum is the process, but rather the means by which the experience of attempting to put an educational proposal into practice is made available. The reason why he did this, I suspect, is that otherwise there is a danger of widening the meaning of the term so much that it embraces almost everything and hence means very little. For example, in a discussion of the so-called ‘youth work curriculum’ (Newman & Ingram 1989), the following definition was taken as a starting point: ‘those processes which enhance or, if they go wrong, inhibit a person’s learning’. This was then developed and a curriculum became: ‘an organic process by which learning is offered, accepted and internalized’ (Newman & Ingram 1989: 1). The problem with this sort of definition, as Robin Barrow (1984) points out, is that what this does is to widen the meaning of the term to such an extent that it just about becomes interchangeable with ‘education’ itself. More specifically, if curriculum is process then the word curriculum is redundant because process would do very nicely! The simple equation of curriculum with process is a very slap-happy basis on which to proceed.



Self-Evaluation of Observed Session #2 (Year 2)


This session took place during the second of eight weeks’ attendance by a new group of learners. Four learners attended, one of whom had been attending for several weeks before the others, having been part of an earlier group which had now finished. This is due to the “rolling referral” process in-place on this particular scheme. The three comparatively new learners had met only once before, the previous week, although two of them are brothers and so obviously know each other well.


The challenging behaviour aspect of classroom management is an ongoing issue for this scheme and its attendees, who are mandated onto the course by the Job Centre; failure to attend or to comply with tasks given would result in withdrawal of benefit payments. I have written in other reflections regarding the challenges of extrinsic rather than intrinsic motivation being the determining factor in attendance.

In this group and particularly in this session, I found that the Learner’s motivation (particularly with regard to the two young brothers) was lacking energy or focus. As I become more acquainted with them  and their previous learning experiences, I sense that they seem to display an attitude of expectancy, where if any work is completed it will largely be because someone has done it for them. They are very capable and are working towards a Level 1 Literacy Award.


I have recently undertaken some wider reading around the psychological impact of the culture of expectation within a classroom environment. It is suggested by some that the level of the teacher’s expectation of a learner’s capacity / ability will dictate the outcomes of that learner. This is a huge responsibility, if true. There are two factors which are tangibly at work in this particular group, as far as expectation is concerned.

The first is that these learners, and a majority of those I have taught / am teaching on this particular course, either left school early or completed school without gaining GCSEs. Their own expectations of what they can achieve are minimal, at best. Many of them were in exclusion units or SEN units, where the support ratio was higher and where the bar was set comparatively low in terms of what they were expected to achieve. They seem to look over their shoulders assuming they will see a Learner Support Assistant – every time they ask me how to spell a particular word, they are horrified at the notion of looking it up in a dictionary, or sounding-out the word in an effort to decipher it for themselves. This has, in part, come about due to an over-reliance on support and a failure to develop as independent, mature learners.


Biggs observes in his essay on Self-Fulfilling Prophesy that “The abiding fascination of SFP is the notion that social actors are caught in a web of their own making; they reify social reality, failing to realize that they are responsible for creating it.” I am anxious that these young men come to realise that their lives, including their learning, their literacy and their career goals, are much more within their own control than they realise. They think (and speak, and act) as though the society around them has already assigned them to a limited category in which they can only ever do manual work and will never really engage with anything beyond the familiar world of family and friends. This is the image of their futures which they depict and appear simultaneously happy and angry about.


The second factor is a failure to develop as learners by making mistakes and learning from them. It is possible that as these learners formed part of the “naughty” group when at school, they did not engage with the learning process, let alone consider any analysis of their own learning styles or personal progress. A great deal of deep learning takes place by creating, asking, observing, trying, re-trying. I suspect that these individuals were frequently robbed of the opportunity to try, or to fail, to be encouraged and to then try again, but were rather given work to do which enabled only their lower-order thinking skills.


A recent viewing of a TED Talk by a high-school teacher, Diana Laufenberg, highlights the need to for this asking, trying and re-trying process to be open to all learners ““Ask [students] to go to places, to see things for themselves, to actually experience the learning, to play, to inquire…Failure is instructional in the process”. She insists that as Learners no longer need teachers to simply give them information (since the advent of the internet) that we must be engaging them with a different kind of learning process, built around enquiry and multiple attempts at creating, with room for failure. When failure occurs, it must be met with a culture which embraces it and learns directly from it.


The Learners in this group are capable of working at Level 1 in terms of their working knowledge of punctuation, paragraphs etc. The challenge before them is to knowingly engage with the process of developing their higher-order thinking skills, which are an implicit part of literacy. The higher-order skills in Bloom’s taxonomy will ask that the Learners progress from stating the function of a covering letter to an employer, through to completing a template of such a letter, and later to planning, drafting and composing a letter with no support. This may progress further to responding as an employer to a letter, against a set of criteria for the job, which would involve analysis, evaluation, critique and appraisal. The summary in Weyers’ book Teaching the FE Curriculum in which he examines Bloom, the SOLO taxonomy and “conversational learning” as described by Laurillard and Atherton, is an extremely helpful guide in this quest for the development of  higher order skills:


“Classroom activities need to encourage students to engage with the information and take an active role in their learning. If we want students to synthesize concepts and link them together, then we should consider assessment activities which encourage that behaviour…Laurillard’s conversational is the process of negotiation between the teacher and the student  which transforms the learners’ understanding of a topic. (p40)


I perceive that the school environment demanded very little of these Learners save for their attendance and good behaviour. Their current mode of learning betrays much about how they were taught in the past, and what was expected of them. They appear horrified when I ask them to engage in any form of meaningful conversation about their previous work or learning experiences, their life outside of the classroom, as they do not expect that their prior knowledge has any relevance to this course. My insistence that everything around us is relevant to our literacy is met with not merely a blank face but a resistance, showing me that they have not been invited to engage with any great amount of deep learning before, where conversation evokes equality in the classroom, where learning can be negotiated or where their creative, problem-solving, life-skills may be brought into their literacy learning.


In the observed session the Learners engaged well with me for the hour of my tutor’s attendance.  They completed the tasks, and by the end of the six-hour session had produced sound examples of compound sentences within a cover letter template. However they would not be able yet to produce such a letter to the required standard without any assistance at all.


The reading and exploration detailed above has lead me to believe that these Learners must be shown methods of engaging with the learning process, and that the focus must be on their development as mature, independent learners. At Level 1 Agored demands that the work being submitted must have been produced without support. I must therefore work more creatively to remove the scaffolding while I am so accustomed to providing for Entry 2 and 3 Learners, earlier in the process for these Learners.


I plan to now work with Learners to draw-up personalised action plans which will enable them to engage with their own progression. I will also introduce a creative writing element into the process of learning how to write a good covering letter (such as perhaps a letter of complaint etc) which is similar to but not the exact assessed piece, this may create an opportunity to make mistakes, be guided to a more appropriate word, phrase, structure etc, before going on to produce the assessed work. 


TED Talk: Diana Laufenberg - How to Learn? From Mistakes….


(Assignment) Reflective Journal #4 -

Identify a significant success/development you have encountered during your teaching practice. What advice/support/guidance did you seek to help you achieve this?introduction of alphabet cards

I have recently worked with two pre-Entry literacy learners and experienced first-hand the process of beginning to teach an adult to read. It has been a hugely encouraging and informative time for me as a learner and as a professional, during which I have discovered the limitations of my patience and my imagination. On a personal level it has been joyous (in the end!) and deeply gratifying. One of these two learners has now completed the course and I will be referring primarily to the progress that he in particular has made.

In the third, fourth and fifth weeks, of the eight-week course, I made three significant changes to the approach and resources I was using, which I believe helped hugely. They were as follows:

 1. Introduction of Alphabet cards.

Each of the Pre-Entry and Entry 1 Learners (three people in total) were given two laminated copies of this card, measuring approximately 3.5 inches square. One copy would be kept in their folders in class and one they could take home. From the first minute they clung to them with such an intensity that I was saddened that I had not used them from the first day. Each of these three Learners knew the alphabet in capital letters only, and found reading lower-case and writing lower-case letters very difficult. The association between “A” and “a” simply did not exist, let alone the connection between A, a and the “a” used in the font on the alphabet cards. They were also unable to remember the order of the alphabet. Using alphabetical order is not a criteria of this course for the Pre-Entry Award, but it is a criteria for the Learner working from Entry 1 towards an Award at Entry 2.


This particular card is extremely helpful for several key reasons. It shows the alphabet in chunks of four or maximum five letters per line, making these chunks easier to remember. As fluent readers and spellers, many adults will still mentally run-through the order of a certain section of the alphabet, ”L - M - N - O - P” for example, without having to return and start from A, to remind themselves of whether M or N comes first. Remembering the order of the alphabet has been a life-time struggle for these three Learners and I was hopeful that this card would make the task less overwhelming by presenting the alphabet in chunks. I think that it has helped, but in the long-term, I cannot tell.

It also shows precisely where each letter should “sit” in relation to the line on which it is written - the middle dotted-line is especially important; these three Learners were each beginning to write using lower-case for the first time, without really knowing the proportions of each letter in relation to its surrounding letters, to its upper-case equivalent, or the line on which is it written. This card sets-out exactly what size each letter should be, and the ideal form of how each should be written. It simply gave them confidence that if I wrote a word on the board in upper-case, and asked them to write it down in lower-case, they could do so independently, which left them immediately feeling more assured and less afraid to try.

2. Minimise use of visual aids/prompts -

When examining short CVC words such as “bus, bag, bin”, or a series of rhyming words such as “ran, can, man”, it became evident that sound-symbol relationships were not being formed in the Learners’ minds. They have such extensive vocabulary and knowledge of life / work that they invariably rely on their existing knowledge and make educated guesses, (particularly when any images or visual prompts have be used). while avoiding looking at the letters/words at all. It is very tempting as a teacher to use colourful resources, and to explore ESOL resources especially when teaching Pre-Entry Learners, but these often rely heavily on pictures  - the distinction with literacy Learners being that they already know the word, and its meaning, how to use it in a sentence etc, but do not necessarily know what it looks like or how to recognise or write it. This is a difficult transition, as resources can appear rather bland and dull - something which I attempted to address with idea #3..

3. Introduction of scrabble tiles to spell-out words

This empowered the learners as they are so much more familiar with capital (upper-case) letters and found that being able to construct words using the tiles was a physical, kinaesthetic act which brought them more of a reward than copying words in their own hand-writing. The simple difference between the response they showed if I pointed out that perhaps they had written two letters the wrong way round, and me saying that they had placed two scrabble tiles the wrong way round, was tangible. It is much easier and more immediately rewarding to simply switch the order of two tiles than to erase letters and write them again. We also used newspaper headlines to locate three-letter CVC words which they found extremely enjoyable - both of these contexts of reading and observing letters and words are much more “grown-up” due simply to their contexts, than copying or looking at a board. They felt mature, empowered and that they belonged in the worlds of adults’ word-games and newspapers.

With regard to the physicality of letters, I have recently inquired of the remaining beginner reader whether she may be interested in using plasticine to form letters into words and she has agreed. We will begin this next week - it is an approach used by Davis practitioners with dyslexic Learners who struggle to recall the meanings of certain abstract words such as “the”, “if” etc as it gives these words a physicality of which they often find it easier to retain a photo-memory. These tangible representations of letters and words seem to transform their flat, alien letters into a living experience and I will certainly be using these methods again in the future.

Returning to the particular Learner I referred to at the outset, I would summarise his concluding week of attendance as the hours in which the penny dropped.

In the penultimate session (learners attended twice a week) we looked at an article about an accident on a farm in which a boy had been killed by being kicked in the head by a cow. I had highlighted three key sentences which contained only short words and advised learners we were going to read this story. They stared at me blankly as if to ask “has she forgotten we can’t read?” but we proceeded. I assured them that we would only be reading the sentences which had been highlighted on the page and not the entire article. 

I asked them to write-out the headline using the scrabble tiles. The headline was written on the page in a mixture (as appropriate) of lower-and upper-case letters. Obviously scrabble tiles only show letters in upper-case, so there was some translation work in process, they used their cards to check that they were using the right letters.

We talked for some time about what the headline might say: “Teen Dies in Farm Accident”. Each word was examined for its letters, and possible meaning. Each learner practiced saying every word. They had already formed a connection between themselves and these words by spelling them out using the tiles. and by switching the letters from lower to upper-case, but their comprehension of the words had not yet formed. At least five minutes was spent decoding each word. Then the sentence emerged, and its meaning. I then asked a series of questions “Who might want to read this article?”, “Which newspapers might you see this in? Would it be found in a city newspaper, or a countryside one? Would you want to read this story? Why? What is the purpose of a headline?”.

Both learners were engaging with the subject and story - what did they think the story would tell us? They predicted the story - how might the boy have been killed? This process gave them a feeling of competence - that their knowledge of life and the world around them has relevance in the context of learning to read - that they are not beginning from nothing. I hope that I have instilled this in them and in the culture of the classroom throughout the whole time of their attendance on the course,  but I saw their reciprocation of these values and appreciation of them most particularly during this task.

While reading the first highlighted sentence, in the article itself, it emerged that the boy was killed on a dairy farm. I asked them how this information added to their impressions of what the story might be about - the Learner in question (who was attending for his final week) answered that the boy may have been kicked by a cow. That can happen, he told me, and went on to regale us with some tales of people he knew who had experienced this. I informed him that he was right. The boy was kicked in the head by a cow. 

The second sentence which i had highlighted in the story contained more or less the exact words which the learner had just used - in the next few minutes, I asked them both to decode each word of the sentence with me - before too long, he read out the sentence - “the boy was kicked in the head by a cow” as he followed the tip of my finger across the page. He read it again. The other learner stared at him in amazement. I made a strange sort of shrieking sound. He looked up at me and gave me a lopsided grin, blushed and looked down at the page, then back up at me, before reading it again.  

it was, without any exaggeration, one of the most exciting things I have ever seen.

We finished the story. I let them go home and returned home myself that day, grinning. not from any sense of achievement, more of wonder. And expectation. This was shattered  the following morning when he returned to the classroom and I expected to see a glowing, changed man. instead he was grumpy and fretful. I think that emotionally he was feeling rather lost at the prospect of this being his final day, and daunted at the hours ahead - what if I now asked too much of him? So he had clammed himself shut and refused for the first couple of hours to really engage with me at all. He yelled at me and told me I hadn’t written a new CV for him. “You promised”, he said, “and you haven’t done it.”

An abject lesson in “one day at a time” thinking. I had leapt ahead and imagined myself, figuratively speaking, sending him home that day with a copy of War and Peace, off to fill out an Electoral Roll form, sign up for an FE course and subscribe to the Economist.

He just wanted his CV. and for life to go back to normal. I had become a pest on his periphery - this wretched woman, asking too much, him as a result finding meaning suddenly in these symbols all around himself, no longer able to simply watch TV, and listen to the news - that rolling screen of words, itching across the bottom of the TV screen now an irritation - what does it say? After forty years of happily being able to ignore it…. He was ready to resume his old life, disturbed somehow by what had happened the previous day.

In the final hour of the session, I chose to dig-in and reconnect with him. I told him he would definitely finish today if we completed a short listening task. i advised him and the female learner that i was going to read-out a train station announcement. “It’s going to tell you some information,” i explained, “about a delayed train to Bristol.” “i don’t know where Bristol is” he jumped in. “That’s ok”, I said, “It’s not really about knowing things already, its just about listening and seeing if you can spot the answer to some questions I’ll ask afterwards.”

The sheets in front them had the numbers 1 to 10 down the left-hand side, followed by three possible answers on each line. I read out the three-sentence announcement. It was about a delayed 2.30 train to Bristol, which was running 45 minutes late. It said that passengers could alternatively take a bus which was waiting outside the station. After reading it out again, I asked question one: “How late is the train?”. They could see “10 mins, 30 mins, 45 mins” on the first line of their sheets. He knew that the answer was 45 minutes, so he said 45, was the answer. Neither knew the word “mins” so we discussed that for a while.

The second question was “How else could passengers get to Bristol?” The options on their sheets were “by car, by bus, by taxi”. They studied the options carefully. He then turned and pointed at the answer on the sheet. “It’s that one”, he told me “Bus. They could go by bus “. I said “That’s right, how did you know?” and he shrugged, saying “It ends with “s”, and you can hear an “s” at the end of “bus”. It’s the only one on there that ends with “s” so it has to be that one. Plus it starts with “b”, like “bus”.



Plus, you know…One day at a time..




Charles Leadbeater TED Talk - Education Innovation in the Slums

“The famous experiments with Pavlov’s dog tell us that when a stimulus, such as a sound, is experienced prior to a desired goal, such as food, the brain learns to associate the sound with the expected consequence, which leads to the conditional response….The trial-and-error learning process that enables associative learning is now the basis of neural network models that successfully model phenomena such as learning to recognise different images, or to distinguish phonemes. This has clear relevance to education in the early years of of learning basic skills…..It is possible that associative models of learning could give us a better understanding of how to help learners with a learning process that is not automatic for them.” Teaching as a Design Science - Diana Laurillard (Oxford, Routledge, 2012) - page 46
← Older entries Page 1 of 8