Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Helping Learners have a Voice

- Helene Smit -

At the beginning of 2006, a very exciting programme was launch-ed at the Hoërskool Zwartberg initiated by Penny Alder. Together with teachers at the school, a need had been identified to enhance the thinking and communication skills of learners who would soon leave school and have to function as independent adults. The traditional curriculum helps learners to improve their language capacity, but there are not necessarily enough resources available for additional processes which may help learners. Penny’s idea was to gather volunteers from the town, who would be willing to give their time and energy to provide an opportunity for learners to have facilitated conversations in which they could develop their skills.

The Grade 11 class was chosen for the first round of the project. The class was divided into 10 different groups, and each group had a group of three facilitators allocated to it. The facilitators took turns to spend a period a week with the class. Learners discussed a variety of topics ranging from Valentine's Day, relationships, to more difficult social problems such as teenage pregnancy, drugs, racism and HIV.

The idea behind these conversation classes was to assist learners to develop their own thinking about the issues that confront them in their daily lives and explore the complexity through facilitated conversations. Some of the issues are light-hearted, and some are tricky and even difficult to talk about.

The learners themselves choose what they want to talk about, and the facilitators facilitate the discussion, but they do not tell learners what to think. In this way, learners are able to develop their own thought processes and to debate different viewpoints amongst themselves. The most important thing is to help learners to develop the capacity to think for themselves and be able to stand up for what they believe.

The project is now in its second year, and although we have made some changes based on the learning of what worked well and what didn’t last year, the process is essentially the same. The volunteers were trained in facilitation skills, and have to manage processes such as the group dynamics, who participates, and how the learners listen to one another and respond. The facilitators have the task of helping the learners’ develop their ability to critically think through all the various aspects that affect a particular area and be able to express their feelings and views to one another in constructive ways.

Kobus Snyman and the teaching team have been very supportive of the project and have commented that they have noticed an increase in the confidence and communication capacity of learners who have been part of the conversation classes.

There are currently 15 dedicated volunteers and many of them have commented how much they themselves have learnt through the project. Thank you to them for their time and commitment.

If anyone else is interested in becoming involved in the project, you are invited to contact me in my capacity as project leader on (023) 5411 063. All Prince Alberters are welcome and we will provide the necessary training.

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