Learners are not a different species. In many ways they know more than their teachers. Listen to your students and react accordingly. Don’t guess, or think you already know: let them show you what they need. Ask, don’t tell. Revise your teaching plans accordingly. Time spent socialising is good learning time. Have group meals where everyone brings food to share (sometimes without prior warning).
Look for people who are struggling and match them with the ones who aren’t. Use mild competition to spark interest. Use games to encourage people to practice new skills. Look for what people can do, and find ways to utilise those skills. Get the noisy ones to do physical work. Ask for volunteers to do the ‘housekeeping’ tasks. Don’t over-reach yourself: be honest; don’t try to pretend to know things you aren’t sure of. Direct people to places they can find better answers. Pace yourself.
Always know what you are aiming for. Help people to set realistic targets and find ways to help them recognise and celebrate their achievements. Make sure everyone has something to celebrate. Try to create something useful, with a real ‘market’ or audience. Make music. Volunteer your group labour. Give away your surplus.
Provide opportunities for people to reflect on their learning and how they can apply it. Start the session by asking what they remember from last time. Ask for ideas as to how to do things better. What were the main likes and dislikes? What questions were raised? Develop your listening skills. Read between the lines. Don’t take offence.
Don’t buy or hire stuff you can borrow. Get people to bring things with them. Use second-hand materials rather than have everything sparkling and new. Visit car boot sales and second-hand shops. Create your own resources – or better still, get learners to help make them. Help learners to prepare and teach some of the sessions.
In teaching, most waste is wasted time. Avoid having people waiting for you, for the next instruction, the next Powerpoint slide, for the rest of the group. Give information sheets so that people don’t use time and paper taking notes – unless they want to. Pare down your inputs to the absolute minimum and let people get on with learning. Use real situations, not invented ones based on reality (like most text books and exam questions). Ask people what their problems are and use those instead. Or share one of your own. A game counts as a real situation. Don’t spend time in a session doing things they can do at home. Give homework. Use both sides of the paper.
Give people tools and let them work out how to use them, rather than specific information (that may not even be relevant to their case). It’s not about how much you cram into each session, but it is about what each learner takes away.
Make sure what you teach is relevant. Don’t just assume it’s OK because it’s how/what you learned. Keep looking at the ‘big picture’ rather than getting people lost in examples. Use individual talents to contribute to the group rather than cause friction. Make sure everyone can see/hear your teaching. Record sessions in case someone has to miss one.
Don’t rush people to the ‘answer’. Avoid having ‘right’ answers in the first place – look for open questions and examples. Use spaced repetition to reinforce ideas. Use games to facilitate application of new skills. Give people space to think things out for themselves. Stop talking.
As above: the group know more than you, they just don’t realise it yet. Assume they can do bigger and better things than you ever will. Value each person and help them to discover their talents. Nobody is ordinary. Make space for them to shine. Let them win.
Listen to the weird questions and see where they take you. Try different (unexpected, unconventional) ways to get the message across. Be ready to change. Set the example. Explore the ‘edges’ of the group –their interests and prior learning. Where does the group interface with others? How can they spread the message? Develop networks.
The proof that learning is happening is the changes it produces. Memories, experiences, skills and new knowledge change people. Help them to be prepared to see things differently, and to notice their own changes. Support them in what is a scary process.
The hardest things for a teacher to do are: Ask, don’t tell. Pace yourself. Don’t take offence. Help learners to prepare and teach some of the sessions. Nobody is ordinary. Pare down your inputs to the absolute minimum. Stop talking. And remember: Certificates are for administrative purposes only.