The “Backing soft skills” campaign launched last year by MacDonald’s and Niace (now known as Learning and Work Institute) identifies soft skills and recognises the importance of these in gaining employment: communication and interpersonal skills, teamwork, time and self-management, independent learning, decision-making and initiative-taking, taking responsibility. The campaign highlights that employers place a lot of importance on these skills, but find that employees lack the skills themselves, or don’t mention soft skills on their CV.
The 2015 Ofsted Common Inspection Framework (CIF) introduces a section for the Personal Development, behaviour and welfare of learners. In fact, a whole raft of skills and wider issues which inspectors look for at inspection are embedded throughout the CIF, from Equality and Diversity and Prevent issues to whether learners know how to keep themselves healthy, whether they have the confidence to participate in their local community and whether they understand their rights as citizens and consumers.
In practice, common learning activities that are used all the time in adult education imply the use of a range of skills. Any group or pair work activity is going to need communication skills, teamwork and time management.
Obviously, as a tutor, how you approach the development of wider skills may vary enormously from group to group. Some learners will already be proficient in a range of wider skills whereas others will need more explicit focus and encouragement. Writing the group profile would be a good moment to reflect on the existing wider skills of individuals in your group and to plan activities to support development as relevant. It would be helpful to note the necessary skills on your scheme of work if you’ll need to support learners with a particular skill. Some learners may find it helpful to use soft skills as the basis for their personal outcomes eg improve time-keeping, contribute to group activities etc.
The Ofsted website features examples of good practice in this area, mainly examples of college providers putting on themed events, enterprise and other larger projects. While this might not be feasible for all tutors, it is certainly worth considering what you can do.
My French class have really enjoyed doing display work over the last few years. We have had a group discussion about a topic to focus on (communication skills, decision-making, interpersonal skills). Last year they wanted to look at famous French personalities so they have then worked individually in between class sessions (responsibility, initiative) to research a wide range of notable French-speakers on the internet (IT skills, Equality and diversity).
I gave them several weeks to complete a piece of writing about the person but no additional class-time (independence, time-management) and then I marked a draft of their writing, before they presented a final version with photos (creativity) to be displayed in the classroom.
They really enjoyed this activity, worked well with the feedback I had given them on their language. Because they were working individually I was able to guide them so they were all working on a task that was appropriate yet challenging for their own level. They were also proud to see their work displayed, especially as they then read each others’ work and this prompted more discussion about some of the personalities.
We have also done similar projects on a visit to a town (some write a post-card, some wrote directions, some wrote a dialogue in a café, some wrote an email to the tourist office etc), and on French-speaking authors. I would thoroughly recommend this to other tutors – it took minimal class time and the learners really enjoyed it. If you don’t have a physical display board you could use an app like Padlet, or a simple blog to share learners’ work.
It is useful for ACL providers to collect information on wider outcomes for learners, as it can help secure funding if the provider can say that a certain number of learners have got involved in community projects or improved their health since taking part in learning. A recent Niace report (Capturing the Wider Outcomes of Community Learning, Aug 2015, Helen Plant) highlights that many providers collect this information from what learners say in ILPs, learner surveys, case studies. For me there is a key idea in this report that reflects back to tutors’ practice:
“Collecting evidence of wider outcomes and sharing this with learners has made it possible to demonstrate powerfully to learners the progress that they have made not only directly in learning but also in areas of their wider lives. For example, an FE college respondent describing their targeted work with learners with learning difficulties and disabilities stated:
‘The impact is massive, for the learners involved they feel valued, they are contributing to society positively, they experience the wider community, they learn working skills, communication, social skills, they have practiced skills that are useful commercially, the projects open opportunities.’
A number of other respondents highlighted the positive impact on learners’ self-esteem of making explicit the full extent of what they have gained from taking part in learning.”
In other words, as tutors we know that learners are improving their communication and teamwork skills when they take part in a course. But learners benefit most when this is pointed out to them explicitly. When learners reflect on the skills involved in their learning, it adds to their motivation and self-confidence – this, in itself, will have a positive effect on their self-efficacy and ability to progress.
So, for tutors the message is that it is worth taking time with all learners to reflect on the wider skills involved in their learning, and progress made.
Here is one idea I have seen recently in ACL with a group of learners on an ALDD course involving drama activities:
After we have done the activity the learners are asked to look at the list of soft skills and tick the ones they have used. It helps to get them to think about their strengths and weaknesses in these areas, and to start a discussion about what they should focus on improving next time.
The Outcome Star is a model which is becoming increasingly popular – a visual device like this would be another way to encourage learners to reflect on their own skills and to record progress in confidence.
If learners are working at relatively low levels, it is sometimes self-evident if a learner has achieved the task and it can seem more genuine to give feedback on the soft skills involved rather than the content.
Here are a couple of interesting articles on this topic. Do leave me a comment if you have other examples of successful activities for developing and feeding back on soft skills.
Other interesting articles this month:
Learning styles and associated myths –
Future learn – online CPD opportunities –
Training for Tutors – ILT
This will be an interactive session for tutors to demonstrate and try out some NEW and EASY ideas for using ILT in teaching.
Friday 29 April 2.00pm – 4.30pm
Staffordshire Place 1, Stafford, ST16 2DH
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