My students love to sit around the communal work table and discuss whatever comes to mind. With careful manipulation I can steer their train of thought onto a topic associated with their required learning. When this has been achieved they will offer their opinions, ideas and suggestions on what method of teaching suits them best. They like a student/learner centred approach, using group discussions and icebreakers, which are helpful for learners of mixed ability. Everyone can take part in these activities, so no one feels inadequate. A democratic management style is ideally suited to this type of teaching.

Most, if not all, of my students agree that practical demonstrations are the best way of reinforcing the spoken word. This tutor centred method of teaching consists of students observing a particular skill being employed to create a desired effect. The demo would be repeated until the students have grasped the technique needed to produce the end result. They would then simulate this learned skill on their own work areas. Question and answer sessions are used to reinforce the learning, both from tutor and student.

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Another big ‘positive’ in the students’ preferred styles is the use of feedback – written and verbal. Most of my students are poor academically, and are not used to their efforts being singled out for special recognition. Almost all of them will become embarrassed at the slightest hint of praise. In some respect praising their work can be detrimental to their future efforts. It is something they are not used to hearing and can upset their rhythm. Why, after years of being in the lowest groups at school, hidden from view you might say, should they suddenly believe that they could do something well?

I have discovered that if we sit around the table and discuss the day’s achievements, singling out one or two students for special appraisal, they will be flustered beyond belief. However, on a one to one basis they will glow with pride, and you can almost see their confidence level rise. Written feedback is just as effective for making the students realise, that they are valued group members.  They will grow in stature on reading the words ‘well done’ or ‘good effort’.

It’s not too hard to understand that a lot of these learners have never experienced the taste of success, so praise must be given frequently, but carefully. If someone’s been in the desert without water for a week, you would not give them half a gallon at once. You would get them used to it slowly. Another point I think relevant to factors, which help or hinder learning in my group, is the behaviour of male students when a female student is present. Certainly in pre-19’s there is an element of teenage ‘angst’. Some of the male students will go out of their way to try and embarrass the female, whilst others will try to impress. This impress or distress type of conduct is usually undertaken by the students who are most likely to have disruptive behaviour patterns. Therefore ground rules must be laid down to combat this threat to the learning environment.

The teaching of a practical skill in a workshop environment has its limitations, noise from other work areas are a constant irritant and can be a barrier to learning. At times speaking in a loud voice is the only means of viable communication. This is a persistent thorn in the side for both student and tutor. Theory work and calculations have to be undertaken in the workshop, so finding a quiet corner is a must. All my students complain about the learning environment, so I make sure that any verbal description/instructions are reinforced with the appropriate handouts.

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