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Information for WEA Tutors

Section 1: Information to Support Tutors in the classroom

1.1 What is Adult Learning?
1.2 The Environment for Learning: How the Tutor can make an impact
1.3 The role of the tutor
1.4 The first meeting
1.5 Teaching styles
1.6 Teaching methods
1.7 Other Questions
1.8 Types of learner
1.9 At the end of the course

Information for WEA Tutors

Section 1: Information to Support Tutors in the classroom



1.1 What is Adult Learning?

Learning is central to our lives. It is something that happens within us not to us. It is important for the tutor to understand the learning process and how s/he can affect that process.

One useful definition of learning is:

‘A relatively permanent change in behaviour that occurs as a result of practice or experience.’

Bass and Vaughan, 1967

It is clear from all the above statement that an important role of the tutor is to ensure that s/he creates the best possible climate for learning. This climate can be broken down into five important characteristics;

1. People must want to learn
2. The content and process must be relevant and in context
3. Practice of the material or ideas must be integral part
of the learning
4. The translation of ideas by people into their own terms allows ownershipof the learning involved
5. There must be a sense of feeling of creative tension formed in which
people find a variety of ways to develop their learning.

In order to create a good climate the following factors must be taken into consideration:

  • Good physical conditions
  • A climate of respect, acceptance and trust
  • A climate of self-discovery
  • A climate of openness
  • Differences are considered to be good and desirable
  • Individuals have the right to make mistakes
  • The variety of ways people learn is recognised



1.2 The Environment for Learning:
How the Tutor can make an impact

The tutor is therefore responsible for creating a physical and psychological environment, which is conducive to learning. As the combination of factors will vary from group to group the tutor must consider the characteristics of the group. These include:

  • The group’s previous experiences’ of learning
  • The organisations’ attitude to learning
  • The purpose of the course
  • The preferred learning style/s of the participants
  • The group’s understanding of the process of learning
  • The group’s expectations
  • Your experience as tutor
  • The physical needs of the group eg. food, drink, heat and comfort
  • Other needs of the group eg. special educational needs, crèche facilities, special starting and finishing times
  • Accessibility for people with disabilities
  • Equal opportunities
  • Race, gender and age mix of the group

Learning arises when as many conditions as possible are right eg:

WHERE A GOOD LEARNER/TUTOR RELATIONSHIP EXISTS

· From the tutor’s side - enthusiasm, warmth, encouragement, approachability, patience, competence, setting achievable goals, praise, constructive challenge, promoting feelings of success, injecting a little fun, excitement - these all make learning more memorable.
· From the learner’s side - interest in the subject, motivation, enthusiasm, wanting to learn, ability to benefit from constructive feedback, being open-minded, feeling that their own experience is respected and valued, willingness to be challenged.

LEARNING IS OFTEN MORE EFFECTIVE WHEN LEARNERS ARE:

Learning by doing, experiencing, discussing
Learning from experience, life
Learning is pitched at the right level: moving from what is familiar by steps to what is new or unknown
Learning from mistakes

LEARNING IS OFTEN MORE EFFECTIVE WHEN THERE IS:

Reinforcement of new material through revision or recap
Setting of achievable goals and reward for success
Building on what is already known

The Environment and resources are also important factors, and learning can be discouraged where these circumstances do not exist.

  • From the tutor’s side - if s/he bores, intimidates, has a monotone voice, makes the learner feel inadequate, if the teacher does not appear confident, if s/he is overdogmatic and does not value learners contributions, or discriminates or fails to challenge
  • From the learner’s side - if the learner is unwilling to participate, bored, tired or preoccupied, if the learner feels uncomfortable, intimidated, inadequate, overwhelmed by the subject and/or the jargon.


1.3 THE ROLE OF THE TUTOR

It is of some significance that people who teach for the WEA are not described as lecturers but as tutors. There are other educational traditions which rely upon the lecture format but the WEA method is to allow for the experience and opinions of the group members to be drawn out, to be respected, and to be shared.
We know that people learn best when they are active participants rather than passive recipients and the tutor’s role is to stimulate and guide this active learning. This does not mean that there is no place for the teacher to give a detailed exposition of theory or fact in a creative learning class. However it does mean that a tutor is out of place if he or she simply wishes to draw the admiration of the group by delivering a blinding lecture and asserting the authority of their knowledge when questions come forward. Your learners will be adults who, even if they do not have an academic background, have life experiences and views that can contribute to the learning experience of the group. Prepare yourself for this, if you are showing a slide allow for the fact that a learner may notice some item of detail that you had not previously noticed. This is not a challenge to your authority. It is part of the pooling of learning and challenges you to facilitate learner’s learning.

The section on ‘Teaching Styles’ (below) will provide you with pointers on how to achieve this active learning, but there is another important aspect to your role as tutor that must be pointed out here. As a tutor you will act as a link between the learners and the rest of the WEA’s operations, and it is important that you convey to them a sense of the spirit of the WEA. From the beginning of the course learners must know they are undertaking a WEA course, and the level they are studying at.

Introducing an accredited course to learners can be explained using simple vocabulary. It is best if you reserve the terms “learning outcome” and “ assessment criteria” until the course has progressed to a later stage. You may want to replace these formal terms with – “what you will be doing “ and “how you will be doing it”.

Near the end of the course the question of follow-up courses should be raised. What sort of course do you think they should follow? Are there other courses needed in the curriculum area? You will have a key role in nurturing learner progression and it is vital that you should do so by encouraging discussion and providing a link between your learners and the Branch or the Development Officer. Any investment of time or effort on your part in building a good relationship with your class will be well rewarded.



1.4 THE FIRST MEETING

The first meeting of the course is the cause of some anxiety, not only for you but also for the learners. This is inevitable as you are all entering into relationships that are undetermined. To a large degree the success of your course will depend upon how well you lay the foundation at the first meeting. Here then are some tips that should prove useful:

  • Make sure to arrive at least fifteen minutes early. It will help set a standard of punctuality and allow you to welcome the learners individually and informally as they arrive.
  • Arrange the seating to ensure it is conducive to your subject area. It helps if people are able to see each other as they speak so a circular formation is ideal. Remember that if you are re-arranging the seating plan in the room you will have to spend time at the end putting it back as you found it. Enlist the help of the learners to do this.
  • Ask the learners to introduce themselves. Remember that this is not just for your benefit, and that it should be done in such a way that the learners are introducing themselves to each other.
  • Introduce yourself to the group say something of your background, and why you were initially drawn to the subject you are teaching. Invite learners to say why they have been attracted to the course.
  • Present your course. Briefly clarify the accreditation process and explain how you hope to proceed. Identify how much time you intend to give to straight exposition, group discussion, practical work, etc. You can then invite comment and take suggestions. Do not expect too much response at this stage as most adults will feel some degree of inhibition about stating their opinions at the first session.
  • Make a start on the course. It is important that learners should feel at the end of the first night that they have actually engaged with the subject and come away with a clearer understanding of it. Prepare a short ‘taster’ introduction, choosing a topic and an approach which will hook their interest.
  • Find out if the practical arrangements for the course suit everyone. It may be that if the class finished five minutes earlier it would please some learners who have to make a bus connection or catch a lift. Circumstances such as children’s school holidays or train timetables can have a large bearing on the life of a group. Many practical difficulties can be overcome if they are foreseen and if you adjust your arrangements to allow for them.
  • At the end of the first meeting you would hope to have formed a type of “contract” with the learners. Together you have agreed to learn together. The success of your course will now depend, not upon your “performance” but upon how well both you and the learners fulfil the agreement you have made.


1.5 TEACHNG STYLES

Although there are many wrong ways to teach adults there is no single right way. Circumstances, course content, the size of the class and the commitment of its learners are among the many factors which combine to determine what approach is the most suitable. Much has been written on the teaching of adults and a short list of recommended reading is included at the end of this booklet. Without trying to summarise the literature on the subject, here is a quick guide to teaching styles and the suitability of each style to WEA provision.


(a) The Lecture
If a straight exposition of factual material is required then the lecture is the most obvious and straightforward vehicle. Remember however that while it presents the simplest option for the tutor it presents many barriers to learning. Some of these were pointed out earlier when it was stressed that learners must be active contributors to the learning process. The lecture should not necessarily militate against this but other factors must be taken into account. Firstly, if you have a lot of factual information you want to get across, does it have to be presented as a lecture or could it be given in a handout? Secondly, remember that most people cannot maintain concentration for more than about fifteen minutes at a time, therefore your lecture should be broken into segments to allow for this. Thirdly, ask yourself does the lecture need to be given at the start of the class or could you incorporate it later on? While talking, it is best to maintain eye contact as much as possible as it holds the attention of your audience. It will also act as a good indicator of how successfully you are communicating. Once you spot that glazed look, you’ll know it’s time to stop!

(b) Working in a Group

The drawbacks of the lecture format have been stressed. Equally menacing however is the uninformed and unstructured discussion. It would be foolish to imagine that allowing the group to take on discussion is somehow the easy option for the tutor; on the contrary it requires great skill and tact. The principal dangers are:

  • If there has been an inadequate input of information, and if the discussion is undirected, it can quickly degenerate into the assertion of opinions and the telling of anecdotes.
  • Unstructured discussion can easily become dominated by the pet ideas of vociferous individuals.
  • It may stray completely off the subject and even if it is lively or interesting it can be failing in its main aim if it is not providing a structured learning experience. Socialising should be a by-product of the course but as the tutor your primary focus should be on the educational process.

In order to make sure that your group work is productive, here are some tips you might follow:

1) Firstly give some consideration to the size of your group. If it is too large to allow everyone present a chance to work together, then you might consider breaking it into smaller groups. Most learners will speak in a group of four or five people, whereas shy people tend to be intimidated above that number. Another advantage of small group work is that each group may come up with different ways of doing things, where as a large group tends to become a large group of individuals.
2) Plan your session. Do not rely on the hope that the group can function with individuals contributing when so moved. You are the tutor and it is your responsibility to structure the session. Decide in advance what you hope to achieve in the session. Identify the issues clearly for the learners. Prepare questions that will provoke the class into using their imagination and working out ideas for themselves.
3) Consider all points made by learners. An apparently silly question or irrelevant contribution may seem perfectly sensible to the person making it. It may also indicate a misunderstanding arising from your teaching.
4) Don’t rush into awkward silences. The moment before the first question may seem interminable to you but quite short to learners trying to formulate a line of questioning. If after some time there is no response try a technique like recapitulating the main points, or playing devil’s advocate against some position.





1.6 TEACHING METHODS

In selecting appropriate training methods, there are various factors that need to be considered. The tutor must have a clear understanding of the choices involved, the appropriateness of the participants, time of day, course objectives, space and time, to name but a few. This section outlines the most common methods used with a brief description of each of them.

There are a few simple rules to bear in mind when choosing training methodology that are common to all methods and worth keeping in mind.

  • In selecting the method the tutor should be clear about his/her aims and objectives; what you want to achieve and how you will go about achieving it.
  • The tutor should be clear as to the instructions, questions, materials and processes that s/he will need to use with each method.
  • The tutor should note and have available any special equipment required.

Teaching methods can be classified as follows:

PRESENTATION - emphasis is placed on the tutor imparting or showing the participants facts, skills or attitudes.

INTERACTION - tutor and participants (or participants without tutor intervention) examine, discuss, facts, skills or attitudes, work cooperatively and learn from each other.

SEARCH - emphasis is upon the participant’s own inquiry and investigation of facts, skills and attitudes.


Methods

1. LECTURE - usually a straight talk
- can be illustrated
- may be recorded on tape, film, or in a book
- may be factual or inspirational

2. LESSON - ‘chalk and talk’ (may involve 3 & 14)
- involves the logical development of ideas/arguments

3. DEMONSTRATION - may involve role-play and simulation (see 11 & 12 below)
- can be verbal or non-verbal

4. DRAMATIC PRESENTATION - by tutor/s
(to be distinguished by role-play)

5. DISCUSSION - tutor-led or group-led
- structured or unstructured
- group or plenary
- each group requires space

6. BUZZ GROUP - small groups of 3 or 4 convened in situ for a brief time to
consider a topic

7. FISH BOWL - a small group discussion observed by another (probably larger) group which does not participate in the discussion
The process is then discussed by the group as a whole & repeated with roles reversed

8. BRAINSTORMING - A list of ideas on a given topic is collected by the leader without modification from the group

9. EXPERT PANEL - Input by a group of people with expert subject knowledge

10. FORUM - all contribute at will

11. ROLE PLAY - The examination of a topic or problem through discussion,
participants are then assigned roles within which they act

12. SIMULATION - The creation of a situation where the real thing for some reason is not accessible

13. GAMES - An extended simulation usually involving role playing with
the addition of objectives, rules, rewards or scores

14. SOCRATIC TECHNIQUE - Questions and answer process, designed to stimulate thought and move logically from old to new knowledge or
skill

15. PRACTICE - often involves 12,16,17 & 18
- carrying out a task
- learning by doing

16. PROBLEM SOLVING - A familiar technique in a maths class, but also useful for human relations and other skills training

17. CASE STUDY - A written account of a situation, often in detail, which poses a problem susceptible to solution by a variety of courses of
action. Its purpose is to stimulate discussion and perhaps
decision making

18. INDIVIDUAL OR - Possibly involving action
GROUP PROJECTS - may extend over a long period of time

19. MIND MAP - similar to brainstorming
- subject with issue ‘roads’ off it and possible solutions off
original ‘roads’
- then stickers or marks are made specifying the most
important/ priority issues





1.7 Other Questions

The lecture and using the group as your resource are two separate but complementary forms of WEA teaching. Your course however may require different or additional methods so we will touch briefly on some common questions.

1.7.1 What resources are available?
Although the resources available will differ from centre to centre it is safe to generalise to the extent of saying that the WEA has very few resources. If your course is of a practical nature then check in advance with the Development Officer as to what facilities are available and what additional resources you may require. Practical courses will tend to present difficulties of one sort or another and it is advisable to think ahead and discuss your requirements with venue staff or your Development Officer in advance.

1.7.2 Will learners undertake work between sessions?
For learners to obtain maximum benefits from your course, it is necessary for them to undertake work between sessions. An accredited course is based on a notional 30 hours – 20 hours class contact and 10 hours home study. Remember, however, that the spectre of school homework re-appearing in adult life will frighten away many. Be very sure when you are making your ‘contract’ with the group at the beginning of the course that you are not pushing anyone too hard. Make sure that the person who cannot undertake the work will not feel excluded from the group or you will very quickly lose them.

Think carefully about the work that is set. Writing holds a terror for many people which doesn’t mean they should not be encouraged to attempt it, but that you must explain what is required carefully. It is only useful to recommend reading if multiple texts or handouts can be supplied. If a cohesive group has formed, some home tasks may be undertaken collectively or in small groups. It is good if learners can be convinced that research and writing are not the exclusive province of professionals and academics. WEA groups in N. Ireland have written, produced and published booklets on local history as well as books of poems and short stories.

1.7.3 What if I notice that a learner isn’t able to read or write very well?
This is an extremely important issue. All tutors in the WEA must be aware that there may be learners in their classes who are experiencing literacy/numeracy difficulties. A basic level of literacy is required to undertake any unit within the Creative Learning curriculum. Whilst alternative methods ie. I.T., tutor assessment, observation reports, photographic and audio-cassette evidence, can be used to assist a learner, tutors will be expected to be aware of learner needs. Contact your Development Officer if you identify this problem in any of your learners. You can then discuss which approach to take to facilitate this learner, in terms of gathering evidence of their learning. Many of our courses are practically based and require only labelling in order to organise a portfolio. It is viable for the tutor to undertake this task for a learner who has literacy needs. An additional course of action, if the learner is agreeable, is to direct him or her to the Educational Guidance Service for Adults (02890 244274). Closer to home, the WEA also operates a basic skills curriculum. The courses on offer provide learning opportunities in literacy, numeracy, and information technology. There are a number of ways in which we can assist those learners who lack essential skills.



 

1.8 TYPES OF LEARNER

Who comes to WEA classes? The answer is that “all human life is there” and if you are about to take your first WEA class prepare yourself for the wonderful individuality of human nature! What the people coming to your course will share, is a degree of interest in your subject, and a willingness to join with others to study it. Such motivation and sense of common interest are not present in all forms of education, subsequently WEA courses are a rewarding experience for tutor and learners alike.

You must remember however that your skills as a group leader will be tested by the different personalities, attitudes, values, and habits which the various individuals bring to the group. It will be your task to ensure that discussion is not dominated by overbearing personalities, that the hesitant and the shy are encouraged to speak, and that a spirit of tolerance and mutual respect is fostered in the group.

If the atmosphere of the class is threatened by a loud and belligerent individual, you must take action to stop this happening. You will be assisted in this by the other learners, and remember that they also are responsible for safe guarding the democracy of the group. A word from you to the difficult learner such as “let me stop you there and see what other people think” will create the opening required for others to get the discussion back on course. With shy learners you may have to try a different tack. A friendly and informal talk after the class will help to discover whether thy feel intimidated by the group and need some encouragement to speak, or whether they are actually getting full benefit from the course and simply prefer to stay silent.

It is important to remember that your learning group is also a group of individuals. Each of your learners will have their own unique characteristics.



 

1.9 AT THE END OF THE COURSE

Completing the
paperwork

At the conclusion of your course, please don’t forget to return your claim form, class register, and learner evaluation forms as soon as possible. An early return of these documents will help us to process your payments as quickly as we can.

Further Training
The WEA regularly runs training programmes for its tutors. These take a variety of forms. For new tutors there is an induction programme which provides an introduction to WEA teaching and accreditation procedures. For those with experience in WEA teaching there are day schools and seminars at which tutors can exchange experiences and learn more of the techniques of adult teaching. Specialist training is also provided for tutors in particular areas of work. The WEA’s Development Officer will make you aware of tutor training opportunities.

When a Course Fails
Not all courses that are advertised attract sufficient learners to form a group, and not all groups that begin a course see it through to the end. It is in the nature of WEA provision to run courses that are experimental but we do not organise courses unless there is sufficient reason for putting the course on offer. If you as a tutor wish to share your knowledge of a subject then it is a disappointing and isolating experience to discover that not many people wish to share it with you. Before you become too despondent however remember that some others thought it a good idea in the first place. Go back to them and discuss why it failed to attract people. Was it advertised wrongly? Might it have more appeal in another area? Could it be re-titled and offered again?

… and finally
It’s not all problems! We have emphasised some points in order to help remove any barriers that might block you from what should be an exciting, enjoyable and rewarding experience. To co-operate with others, using your skills and knowledge to help them develop theirs, to learn from them as well as teaching makes the WEA tutor’s work stimulating and deeply satisfying.


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