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Chaucer gives all of us a tale to tell

"How's it going at the day centre?" a colleague asks in the staff room.

"Fine. We are just about to start on Chaucer". In her expression I read two questions. One: is this woman a genius? Or two: has she gone too far?

In basic skills there is a danger of getting bogged down in a utilitarian approach. I believe in education as enrichment and widening horizons and I'm not ashamed of being ambitious for my students, but this is a pre-entry level class at the day centre, for adults who have learning difficulties.

Some also have memory problems and physical disabilities. I do not plan to read the Prologue to them - the world of medieval pilgrims is too distant from their lives - but Chaucer's tale begins down the pub and I know they can relate to that.

They have seen our local cathedral, even if only from the outside, and they know what it is there for.

My baseline is that, like Chaucer's characters, everyone has a tale to tell, and perhaps I can use the Canterbury Tales as a catalyst to get it out of them. The National Research and Development Centre has evidence that learners progress better when basic skills are embedded in a practical context and of course I'm not the only one working on storytelling. Five Learning and Skills Councils in the North West have been working with collaborators including Niace, the national organisation for adult learning, and the BBC over the past two years, to help learners prepare and record stories for possible broadcast on local radio.

This project, called Tell Us Your Story, has already won awards for both the project and for an individual participant. The centre is using the national Skills for Life Conferences this month to launch a new writing event called Voices on the Page.

Basic skills learners at all levels are invited to contribute pieces written by them, scribed for them, or written collaboratively with the learning group, just as long as it is in their own words.

The NRDC will set up an online story bank, publish a collection in 2007 and hold an awards ceremony for regional winners.

Meanwhile, how did my project go? Some of the students found it hard to put together anything at all, but their friends and support assistants all helped provide leads, so that in the end everyone contributed. Their stories have been word-processed and put together, with photos of the authors, in a volume of Tales from the Centre. I might send this in for the competition or we might just present it to the centre manager. Either way, the students have something to be proud of. We have worked together and I have got to know them a little better.

Gill Moore The writer is a basic skills lecturer Entry forms for Voices on the Page: download at, email or phone 020 7612 6476. Closing date is March 1, 2007.

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