Learning you can set your clock by

27th March 2009 at 00:00
The first professional qualification for specialist literacy and numeracy tutors is up and running

We begin by thinking of a number between one and 10. Any number. Then, through the same series of straightforward sums, we all end up with the same number as the answer.

"It's a good ice-breaker, especially with young adult learners who will often want to challenge you," says Alan Ritchie, an adult literacies tutor and curriculum quality leader at Forth Valley College.

"They might not believe you and will want to check the other numbers, maybe every number from one to 10. It's fun, and you've already got them started," he says.

Mr Ritchie is exploring different ways of engaging in the teaching of adult literacies with tutors from across Scotland who have recently embarked on their Teaching Qualification Adult Literacies (TQAL), the first professional qualification for specialist literacy and numeracy practitioners in the country.

We are looking at time and how confusing the concept can be for numeracy learners: how to read a clock; how to convey the differences between "past" and "to" the hour; the different challenges of 12- and 24-hour clocks - and the different coping strategies people will use who cannot "tell the time".

What underlies the tutorial - and the generic approach of the TQAL qualification - is that literacies education must relate directly to the lives people live.

"It's about what and why they want to learn, about the specifics that interest them," says Mr Ritchie.

"It may be to know exactly what time the bus is; to understand the football results and league tables; to calculate what that cut-price offer actually means; how to place a bet properly; or to know when a favourite TV soap is repeated."

This is the second year of the pilot qualification designed and delivered by Forth Valley College in conjunction with the universities of Dundee, Aberdeen and Strathclyde.

Last year, Mr Ritchie took the TQAL. This year, he is tutoring and mentoring on it. "I took the course as a way to develop my own professionalism, and the fact that I've returned as a tutor on it, speaks for itself," he says. "It gave me more confidence, made me more informed, more versatile and innovative, and more connected; and now it informs my everyday work."

Some 60 practitioners took the qualification last year, and another 60 have just begun the second pilot this month.

Blended learning is integral, with online resources ranging from tutorials on a virtual learning environment to wikis and blogs. There are face-to-face sessions and observations: students observing practice tutors; shared peer observation; and practice tutor and academic tutor observing student tutor.

Participants are required to have at least two years' experience working in the field of adult literacy before signing up. In Mr Ritchie's case, he was tutor organiser for the WEA (Workers' Educational Association) in Falkirk, working with young adults.

He is now teaching adult learners at Forth Valley while delivering TQAL sessions to groups of 25 practitioners and mentoring three of them. "One of the great things about the TQAL is that you choose your own journey. You have to choose your subject for an active assessment, something that interests you professionally. I chose the perceived confidence of young adult literacies learners," he says.

All research undertaken by the participants is shared online to enhance skills and knowledge, and to encourage everyone involved to explore different strategies and techniques.

"There are a lot of adult literacy tutors who teach in isolation," says Kathleen Marjoribanks, depute head of access and progression at the college, who has been part of the team developing the initiative since it began in 2005.

"Now, because of the innovative way we teach the programme, the tutors on the TQAL course can learn, share experiences and research online. So they are no longer isolated."

This is an obvious advantage, given that the participants live and work in every corner of the country from Dumfries to the Western Isles; and their own tutoring environments range widely from colleges and community settings to prisons and a secure hospital.

But the sharing of knowledge and experience also has the equally important aim of building a research community to test the social practices approach to literacies in Scotland.

"What we find with our own literacy learners at FVC is that people want to learn for a specific purpose and it's often life events which trigger the desire," says Mrs Marjoribanks. "We also recognise that many have poor experiences of school or have chaotic or dysfunctional backgrounds. It's a complex picture, and the more we understand the underlying factors, the better equipped we'll be to help learners take control of their own lives through their learning."

The programme is delivered at two levels: SCQF Level 8 (Diploma in Higher Education) and Level 9 BAPD (Bachelor of Arts in Professional Development), with practice tutors given the opportunity to undertake a Practice Tutor Award and gain 30 M (Master) Level credits at SCQF level 11.

Funded through Learning Connections, the Scottish Government's intention is to develop the pilot to become a national standard.


Think of a number between 1 and 10. Add 1. Double the result. Add 3. Subtract 4. Add 5. Half the result. Add 6. Subtract 7. Add 8. Subtract 9. Subtract the number you first thought of.

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