Facilitating Writing

I looked back at that last post, as I usually do, a couple of hours after the fact. (I don't know about you, but I have to let time pass before I proof read for typos and missing words.) What struck me was the obvious question: why hadn't I facilitated writing?

After all, I've had managers and assistant managers and facilitators and trainers and co-workers and researchers and workshop presenters and advocates and authors tell me often enough that my job is, in part, to facilitate writing.

The best answer I can give is - I don't know.

Maybe I structured class wrong, making it too easy for people to duck into math work. Although, I actually feel like I spent an unusual amount of time helping people with grammar. In fact, one of my learnings this year was that it was useful to sit beside someone with the Language Arts - Writing section of the big blue S-V GED book, and share which answer I thought was correct and why.

(In case you don't know, the exercises look like this - )

(This follows, roughly, the format of one of the five GED tests.)

Whiteboard explanations, convoluted rules, asking "does that sound right?" and a shrugging of the shoulders were my previous four, ineffective strategies. Now, I sit beside them, we talk about rules and styles, we each make a guess (I out loud, they to themselves, so that it's less test-ish), and then we check the answer.

As well, I spent a lot of time helping people write the classic five paragraph essay.

And yet. And yet.

Maybe there's not enough "group" in my class? Maybe there wasn't enough project?

I ask that because forever ago (in the summer of 2006) I facilitated a 10 week learning group for adults reading at a lower level. Here's part of how I wrote up that experience:

In the first of our planned 10 classes, learners made decisions about content. They said they wished to read each night, both silently and aloud as a group. They asked for opportunity to write, to work on punctuation, and to strengthen their spelling skills. They wanted to become more independent on computers. They also asked to learn about the library itself. Finally, it was decided to work toward publishing something in writing by the end of the 10 weeks.

Mount Everest was a central theme. The class looked for books about Everest and related topics in the library. They followed news stories about earthquakes along the same fault-lines that created Everest. This sparked discussion of tectonic plates, the continents and the Earth's core, which, in turn, led to class work with maps and an atlas. The class talked, read and wrote about gravity and air pressure, about the gaseous content of the atmosphere and how their brains and bodies use oxygen. They addressed some of the math behind how mountains are measured, and talked about altitude and what "sea-level" means.

One night, a learner wrote out ways in which climbing Mount Everest and being an adult learner were alike. She noted that both activities require a plan. As she and the facilitator talked about this, others stopped writing. The facilitator asked if he was being too loud. No, the other learners said, we're just thinking about our plans. That changed the topic of the night, and also led the class to adopt Everest as the theme for this final writing project, Journey.

Now, this was a closed project (10 classes only) and very nearly a closed group. Still... why couldn't I facilitate project work, say, a month at a time with my GED class?

The answer to that, I suppose - and I'm sorry this sounds weasel-like - is that not all my GED class learners are mentally prepared to make a group decision about content. In fact, they often have trouble with the question, "What do you want to learn today?" or even "Are you sure you want to be here?" Instead, they have what I think of as a schoolish frame of mind.

For some, the class is where they've been sent by their worker or their mother - maybe with some extra incentive like money or free childcare. These guys look at projects or learning topics as things the teacher assigns (even when the teacher makes you pick your own) and you do a little or not at all until break time.

Then there are the "no nonsense" guys who just want their GED. Their plan is to memorize exactly what - and only what - they have to know, and then they keep taking practice tests until they pass often enough to gamble on going to write the GED.

Now... I see that I've managed to blame the learners again for my failure to facilitate writing. I didn't mean to do that: I'm okay starting with the assumption that it really was my failure.

I just can't decide, right now, on what I could have done differently.

Maybe tomorrow I'll get an idea.

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