The National Forum for Adult Literacy Tutors 2015

Mary Walsh O’Shea, Adult Literacy Coordinator New Ross/Bunclody, WWETB

With a theme name, reading and writing strategies for teaching, the day started out with the three speakers giving some relevant information.  Maxine Burton, the first speaker presented findings on effective teaching strategies in adult literacy provision in England.  One of the main points here for me was the importance of using a variety of approaches when delivering adult literacy. In recent years, there has been a lot of talk and endorsement among practitioners of the social practice approach and how it allows for education providers to make connections with what learners are doing with literacy outside the classroom.  Maxine’s findings proved that the functional skills approach still plays a role in teaching and learning.

The next speaker, Angela Cahill, Resource Person, Louth and Meath ETB spoke about the use of phonics and how effective it is as a teaching method.  I have met so many learners over the years that have recognised the name of a letter but are unsure of the sound of that letter. This lack of phonemic awareness can inhibit their ability to make out the sound of a word and ultimately prevent recognition of the word. Sometimes learners will tell you that they never knew letters had names and sounds.  I do believe phonics has a role to play for beginner readers but the challenge of sourcing adult based phonic materials puts a constraint on this.

Reading aloud practices as described by Samantha Duncan concurred with my own view that it can allow a learner to engage with words on a sound and comprehension basis. Samantha was asked how this ties into the social practice model if learners do not need to read out loud within their own life. I think it is more about seeing it as a strategy to begin or improve reading. The main link between all speakers today clearly demonstrated to me that the most effective teaching strategy needs to embrace a multifaceted approach.

My morning workshop ‘Reading and writing in the classroom for Levels 1 – 3 created an array of ideas for sourcing material.  Many of the materials discussed were web based and I was amazed to hear that some tutors do not have access to technology in their centres.  Catherine, our facilitator explained to us how a simple shopping receipt could be used to develop reading and writing from Levels 1 to 3. The opportunity at these kind of events to talk with other tutors about the where, what, why and how of resources consistently delivers new ideas and imparts information which can only benefit the teaching and learning environment.

The afternoon workshop I attended ‘Moving on: Writing for students at levels 3 and 4’ attracted me because I wanted ideas to help learners develop their writing.  While the title of the workshop specifically mentions Levels 3 and 4, the discussions became mainly about developing writing whether formal, informal or creative at any level.  Levels within the accreditation framework have specific learning outcomes which provide learners with learning opportunities but we must not forget to keep creativity alive within this.

At the end of the day, I became aware that both of my workshop choices were linked to accreditation levels as accreditation has become a very important aspect of our provision. It is concerned with results, but today has highlighted for me, it also needs to be about the how.  The how takes into account the teaching strategies we engage in to create a stimulating environment that influences the results but also engages the learner to build a partnership with learning.