From Research to Practice: an interactive approach
By Katrina Grieve
Over the last few months I have been involved in a project
to help literacy practitioners apply the results of a research project to
their own programs. This has been an interesting process. When I worked in
a community-based literacy program in Toronto, I often shelved project reports,
thinking I would read them later, or kept them in a huge to-read pile. I
was all too often caught up in the day-to-day concerns of running the program,
struggling to keep up with the paperwork, and dreaming of a day when we could
have the time and mental space to do the work we really wanted to do.
A few years ago, I stepped into the role of researcher
and project consultant. I conducted a research project for the Ontario Literacy
Coalition on self-management and self-direction, an area sometimes referred
to as non-academic outcomes outside of Ontario. The research report, Supporting
Learning, Supporting Change, looked at what this area involves and how
it affects learning. It brought together broader research on a social view
of learning with practitioners' experiences of how adults in literacy programs
make progress in their learning and begin to move towards change.
Once the report was written, the questions that worried
us were: "How would we get the results of the research out to literacy practitioners?"
and "How could we make sure it didn't just sit on another shelf?" The Ontario
Literacy Coalition printed a shorter version of the report with highlights
from the research findings and distributed it to all its members. It is also
available on the web site at www.on.literacy.ca. However, we felt this
was not enough to ensure that literacy programs would use it. The OLC applied
for a second phase of the project and received funding from the Ontario Ministry
of Training Colleges and Universities and the National Literacy Secretariat.
The second phase of the OLC project is called Self-Management,
Self-Direction Part 2: From Research to Practice. I am currently delivering
a series of workshops for literacy practitioners in Ontario on how to apply
the results of the research to their own programs. We will offer a total
of six workshops in different regions of Ontario and one online workshop
as part of this project. In addition, the project includes a working group
of five programs that will develop their own approaches to supporting learners' with self-awareness and self-direction.
Rather than creating a tool kit containing a range of
activities, we decided to offer workshops to help practitioners through the
process of understanding the research findings, considering how it relates
to their own program contexts, and exploring possible approaches. We found
through the research that there was not a single best practice in supporting
learners' in building greater self-awareness and self-direction. Rather, there
were many angles from which to approach this area.
Some programs prefer to use a process-oriented approach,
building from a life-skills model of problem solving. Others have found arts-based
approaches to be particularly effective in helping learners' open up to learning.
Many programs have seen the value of hands-on learning opportunities, such
as organizing a community event, volunteering, or redecorating the literacy
program. The workshops place these examples within a broader framework, stressing
the importance of context, meaning and relationships. They encourage programs
to use their imagination and experience to create activities and approaches
that help learners' build self-awareness and engage them in an ongoing process
of action and reflection.
In many cases, workshop participants find that they have
many examples of effective activities and approaches from their own programs.
The workshops are a source of affirmation of their experience, instincts
and knowledge. Practitioners also gain many ideas by sharing these approaches
with each other. In fact, some have said to me that it feels like coming
out of the closet, naming and validating activities that are so crucial to
the learning process, but that have sometimes been challenged as not really
part of literacy teaching. The workshops help us state more clearly, "You can't teach literacy in isolation, you have to work with the whole person."
One of the areas we address in the workshops is the difficult
terrain of assessment. How do you assess an area that is so personal? Are
we in a position to assess learners' ' level of self-awareness, interpersonal
skills or self-direction? Are we placing even more labels on learners' in
this way? How do you know if your program's approach is working? We discuss
these issues within the context of the research findings, examining the dangers
of creating further lists of skills that take us away from a more complex
understanding of learning based on context, meaning and relationships. The
workshop presents a variety of ways to document progress both from the learners' '
and practitioners' perspectives.
While assessment is an important area to consider, we
have to be careful that it does not become an end in itself, limiting the
scope of our imagination. As many practitioners report, it is easy to see
when someone has made significant progress in this area-they participate
more in activities, they interact better with others, their faces light up
and they report changes in their daily lives. The challenge is how to support
those who see learning as something locked away from them. For now, our focus
is on how to support learners' to become more self-aware, gain confidence
in their abilities and take steps towards change.
At the conclusion of this project, the Ontario Literacy
Coalition will publish a guide to support programs through the ongoing process
of planning and improving their own approaches to building self-awareness
and self-direction. This is yet another way we are trying to bridge the gap
between research and practice.
The dialogue created through these workshops, both among
practitioners and between research and practice, has been exciting. I hope
that there will be more such opportunities for practitioners to come together
to interact and engage with relevant research from the literacy field.
For more information on this project, contact Patricia
Brady at the Ontario Literacy Coalition: firstname.lastname@example.org