Hello

New for 2018/19, this will be the space where PD North members and some special guest Bloggers will share ideas and experiences. Watch this space and, if you would like to write a Blog for us, on the topic of further / adult community education and skills, please contact us:

Writer Guidelines:

WORD: 300 – 1,000 words. Keep it short and engaging. Something folks can read in their break, on the bus or in the staffroom when they have a spare moment.

STYLE: Flexible. We’re interested in: Voices from the classroom/staffroom. Resource explorations. Reviews of books, blogs and events. Think pieces. Descriptions of PDNorth exchange activity. Critical thoughts.

REFERENCES: If you choose to reference other people’s work, events, videos, resources etc please reference them and give them the kudos they deserve.

Encouraging Learner Autonomy

By Anthony Dunne 

PD (Mersey) Maths

There are many challenges to be faced when delivering GCSE maths in an FE setting. The time constraints, the apathy of some learners repeating a course they deem pointless or worse, a qualification they fear they will never gain. Ask yourself the question, if you garnered these perspectives, what type of learner would you be? I can answer this with confidence through experience; I was that learner. Me and French were never friends. I felt as though it was pointless (why learn French, they learn English don’t they?) and I was terrible at it. Worst of all my teacher thought the best way to combat this was through shouting and creating an atmosphere of fear. For me this was the worst thing to do. I would down tools or even worse, simply miss the lesson entirely. This is where an empathy for learners who say they ‘hate’ maths has grown from; I know what it is like to dread a subject through a mixture of fear of failure and futility.

This led me to the question; how would I have wanted to be taught? Have someone attempt to shout information into me? Or, another way? There is of course no precise other way that will work 100% of the time. If there was, I wouldn’t still be sat in my office typing this article, I would be sipping a beer on a beach enjoying my millions for finding the philosopher’s stone of teaching. However, what I did do this year was a little different to my approach in the past, which resulted in a more engaged cohort and lessons that were more relevant for the learners, namely increasing autonomy for the learners.

I am not a fan of buzz words or clichéd phrases, but increasing a learner’s independence should be the principle value of their time at FE; preparing them for employment or higher education. If I can contribute to this in any way, this will be a transferrable skill of merit. So, what did I actually do? The college I work for split our students into two main cohorts; new enrollers and returners. New enrollers are given two lessons per week lasting 90 minutes each. Returners have one lesson for two hours. To maximise this time, I made it clear as early as possible that learners were in charge of their own maths journey. Journey being the operative word; they knew their starting point, they knew their final destination and they all had the right directions given to them. It was up to them to choose the right path. To aid this, every lesson had a theme. Objectives depended on the area which they wished to focus upon. In conjunction with an assessment given to them every six weeks, a choice of three topics, with ramped difficulty within each subject, was given. It was up to the learner to choose what they believed they needed to work up on, with me facilitating and what their objectives should be by the end of the lesson. As they have set their own target, chosen their own work, this autonomy almost acts as self-motivation and competing against themselves. The learners go from passive to active and differentiate themselves.

Whether this has a significant impact upon their results will be seen in the coming weeks, but for now, attendance was not the problem it has been in the past, subjectively learners commented they preferred this style and believed they gained from each lesson and perhaps most important for the long term, they enjoyed maths. Whilst this can’t be given a grade, perhaps we sometimes lose focus on what should be important for learners.

Summer Reading

by Lou Mycroft (PDNorth Digital Lead & Dancing Princess)

I’m only a year out of teaching in a college and I think it will take a lot longer than that to forget the brief elation then abject exhaustion I used to feel at the end of the academic year. I worked in a specialist college which basically offered community learning, so we ran the year round but there’s still that point at which you can take a breath and head off to the beach, the garden, the airport…wherever.

And before the new academic year starts to loom large, there’s usually a little bit of time for reading. I love a good thriller as much as the next Scandi obsessed person, but I usually have a few ‘work books’ on the go, too, year round. I’m studying in a very roundabout way for an education doctorate and there’s an expectation of this but I’ve come to really love it. I celebrate my ADHD ‘label’ for the energy and creativity it brings to my life, but despite my occasional drift into hyperfocus, I do find it hard to knuckle down to ‘difficult’ reading. The rewards, in terms of my self-belief and professional self-confidence, are immense. I’ve come a long way from the person who used to say to a close colleague, ‘Read this for me and tell me what it says…’!

Here are some guidelines I’ve come to adopt, which might interest you. At the end of the blog is a snapshot of what I’m reading this summer.

Diversify. A few years ago I realised I was only reading books by middle-class white people; most of them men. Of course, there’s a whole argument that ‘the canon’ was established at a time when only white men got published (have a look at Kay Sidebottom’s occasional blog Seeking Lost Women to find out how central Helen Parkhurst was to the work we think of as John Dewey’s). Things are different now, and there are some excitingly diverse writers out there. If you’ve a passion for teaching and you’ve not yet found bell hooks, you’ll love her!

Read two or three books at once, a chapter a day in rotation. Yes it takes ages to finish them all, but what happens is that you draw unexpected connections between them. I got this idea from Peter Shukie, one of the most creative and erudite educators I know. It also means I take time to reflect and process what I’m reading.

Mix up your media. ‘Reading’ doesn’t just mean books or journals. Watch a Ted Talk on YouTube or rest your eyes completely with a podcast. I love the Philosophy Bites series. You can even play them in the car on long journeys if the kids are asleep and you fancy a change from Peppa Pig.

Make notes. Whilst I’ll read a thriller on Kindle, or listen via the Audible app, I love a proper book when it comes to stuff I don’t find so easy to absorb. I use a nice set of coloured pens (really helps me focus) and I’ve learned to be quite sparing with what I highlight. I write notes in the margins too, and I always date when I got the book – and where. It’s lovely to pick it up again and remember being on a beach in Norfolk, or wherever.

Read with others. This doesn’t have to be a formal book club (though it could be). You could start a Twitter thread, or set up a googledoc or Padlet where a few of you could make notes and get into a dialogue. I always see deeper meaning diffracted through others’ perspectives.

Above all, enjoy it. It took me years to get into a reading mindset (apart from those Scandi thrillers) and it’s brought a new dimension to my life and work. I definitely tune more into the world around me and I have loads more new ideas. It makes me feel good about myself, to challenge and refine my thinking. It’s food for the soul.

Have a lovely rest, and I’ll look forward to hearing what you’re reading – please do tag me in on Twitter @PDNorth1720 I’m always up for hearing about great new thrillers too!

What’s in the pile for me this summer:

Unlocking the ESOL Mindset

Delivering a workshop at a national conference

by Colette Butterworth & Sue Primrose

This year the NATECLA (National Association for Teaching English and Other Community Languages to Adults) conference was held in Birmingham.  This national, annual conference is a huge event that is held specifically for ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) practitioners.  This year there was a variety of workshops, a resources exhibition and an Ascentis Teachmeet.

Sue Primrose and I delivered a workshop called “Unlocking the ESOL mindset”.  This workshop looked at how to develop a learner’s mindset so that they can learn more effectively as they gain a better understanding of their own thinking and develop strategies to tackle internal and external barriers. Practical and interactive exercises were demonstrated to show how structured and deeper questioning in the ESOL classroom can guide learners to become more reflective and autonomous thus taking ownership of their progress.

Having never presented at or even attended a national CPD conference, we were unsure what to expect.  Would we buckle at the knees and freeze?  All these thoughts were flying through my mind so in a state of nervous excitement I began the seminar.  Fortuitously, we had provided 30 packs because instead of the 18 delegates we were expecting, there were instead, 29 attendees.

We came up with some ideas for our students to think in a more creative way to enable them to become more independent in their learning.  For a warmer exercise, we started with a competition.  The prize was a big bag of fruit to keep the winning delegate energised for the weekend.  The warmer allows the teachers to work out the students’ starting points and the barriers to their learning.  This then allows the teachers to encourage the students with barriers to become responsible for their own learning and think about how they can manage their time. We then moved on to a Padlet which included creative thinking exercises and reading images using ‘wh’ questions and ‘What if…’ questions.  The main part of the seminar was to deconstruct the goals of each student to allow them to think about what they want to achieve and how and when they are going to go about achieving it.  It allows the students to take personal responsibility for the work they do throughout the year to achieve their goals.  Some teachers were unsure how to apply the techniques. This was particularly at lower levels, where the students’ command of English is weaker. However, we were able to offer advice about questioning techniques and showing the value of students taking responsibility for their own learning. The sooner this is done the better!

The seminar was thought-provoking and it gave the delegates some ideas of how to encourage more independent study skills with their students. The feedback we received from NATECLA was tremendous.  Delivering at a conference and sharing ideas was a great experience.  We can all learn by sharing resources and ideas through conferences, teachmeets, blogging and Twitter.  I think these are all worthy ways to bring good practice together. We hope to present again next year and look forward to seeing more innovative teachers delivering at future conferences.