Reading Coaches not only know the theory and methods for teaching reading to Deaf learners, they are also equipped with the skills to train and coach teachers. Teachers need to be confident in applying the skills they have learned, they are the pioneers for this method in their country. In this series we highlight the prerequisites and supporting strategies within the project that are pivotal to its success.
This being a pilot project means that our trainings are constantly being developed and adapted. As trainers and developers we rely strongly on feedback from the participants; what works? Are we going to fast? Too slow? Are we missing steps?
In order to gather this type of feedback we needed an atmosphere that made it clear to all participants that if something was unclear/didn’t make much sense (yet)/or needed repeating didn’t mean home work for participants, but for the trainers/developers. This is generally true, but experience shows that participants are often reluctant to share what they do not know yet or have not understood because they associate this with failure on their side, which is often linked to shame.
This attitude of only speaking up if you know the correct answer, and not if you need more instruction or help is one that we see in classrooms as well. However, as trainers and teachers, knowing what our students need is a great gift, it allows us to provide the support our learners need.
That is why it is crucial to share our vision on learning: “making mistakes is part of the learning process”
Viewing learning as a journey through the Learning Pit is a very instrumental tool for this.
The Learning Pit is designed by James Nottingham and it explains how we all learn. We would all like learning to be linear, we don’t know something, we work at something, and then we do know it. Unfortunately that is not reality, everyone who has ever made a serious attempt at learning a new language, sport, or musical instrument can testify to this. Learning can be frustrating, and during our learning process we are often met by self-defeating thoughts such as “I’ll never get this” “this is so confusing and hard” “I’m giving up, because it is too complicated”. Being able to recognize that this is part of your learning process, that confusions and not seeing how you will learn this new skill is part of actually learning that new skills helps you to pull through.
Making mistakes, and failure are part of learning, we are not defined by how hard we fail, but only by our ability to get back up and try again.
Being able to reflect on your own learning, seeing where you are in James Nottingham’s Learning Pit, and recognizing that you are ‘wobbling ’ allows you to keep going, because you know that this is it; you are learning, wobbling is learning! It also helps with understanding your own learners, and how you can support them.
During our trainings discussing the Learning Pit with teachers has shown to be very effective. At trainings we shared with the group whenever we had fallen into the pit, the times we thought we had understood something, and how disappointed we felt when we realized we hadn’t. We shared stories of learning new languages, cultural learning moments, insecurities, mistakes we made, and failure. For example that time when I couldn’t remember the correct response to greeting in Kiswahili, or how I tried to write an interesting story for young children and how -however hard I tried- Ben and his Hen was just a long and boring story, with no chance of ever motivating a child to read more. While we as trainers model our own struggles it becomes easier for participants to open up and give us feedback: “I still don’t get what you mean by linguistic comprehension” and “you told us that we are not supposed to ask questions to our students yet, aren’t we spoon-feeding them the lessons?” allowing us to provide nuances, explain again, do another exercise, and ultimately make sure that we reach our workshop goals.
The connection with their own classroom is evident. Children asking for clarification or making mistakes are not ‘stupid’ or ‘failing’ they are learning and they provide you as a teacher with pivotal feedback on your own teaching, which allows you to make changes like offer extra help, or switch up you exercises or methods. For teachers to reflect on their own learning helps them understand their learners better, and helps to guide them through the learning pit, recognizing that learning new skills are hard, but with the confidence that the learner can climb out to achieve comprehension and mastery.
1 Moving through the pit, back and forth, aka learning.
Within our Reading Project we have the pleasure of working with over 50 teachers, from 8 different schools, in 2 countries. Furthermore we work with tutors and lecturers who participate in our training to become Reading Coaches.