Dara Davenport – Tertiary Teaching Excellence Teaching Profile
Teaching profile from Dara Davenport (Adult Literacy Tutor, Waitakere Adult Literacy Incorporated) – Award for Sustained Excellence in tertiary teaching 2012.
Naku te rourou
Nau te rourou
Ka kii te kete
With your basket
And my basket
Our basket will be full
I came to tutoring ‘by mistake’, unless of course you believe in destiny. A small advertisement in 1992 changed my life course and adult literacy became my vocation.
I believe literacy is a fundamental right and am passionate in doing what I can to enable others to develop their skills to improve aspects of their lives that will facilitate more opportunities and choices.
In my early years of tutoring I was lucky enough to work alongside passionate, enquiring tutors who modelled ‘good practice’. I have developed my ‘kete’ of teaching and literacy strategies through regular professional development, observing others in practice, self-reflection and from the students themselves.
I have worked with two distinct groups. Firstly, tutoring adult literacy learners in community, workplace, Maori, Pasifika, Whanau, and Deaf contexts. These learners have left school with no qualifications and their learning experiences have generally been negative. They commonly come due to a crisis or some other pivotal factor in their lives and are usually vulnerable and reluctant learners. Secondly, I work in the recruitment, training, support and management of adult literacy tutors.
In addition to tutoring I have developed a workplace-specific initial assessment for a major construction company, provided advice on wording of medication pamphlets for a District Health Board, developed resources and training programmes for delivery of learner licence and had various roles on governance committees.
Standing behind it all
Tino Rangatiratanga is inextricably tied in to literacy. My ultimate goal is to see learners gain self-belief and literacy skills sufficient to make more choices and to pursue their dreams.
I have come to learn that the relationship between the ‘tutor’ and the ‘learner’ is central to effective learning. I intentionally sit around the table alongside learners rather than at the front of the room, to reflect my belief that I bring my expertise with regard to literacy and facilitate the understanding already within the group rather than being the ‘font of all knowledge’.
It is important to me that learners are able to share their beliefs, their self-doubt, their philosophies, their opinions, values and life experiences, reflect on these and become open to new and different thoughts and beliefs. To enable this to happen, learners need to experience a feeling of security. When a learner starts to feel a sense of whanaungatanga they are more likely to take risks, attempt new things and venture out of their comfort zones.
I get to know each learner, consider their emotional, physical, mental and spiritual well-being, find out what they want to learn, use meaningful and authentic resources and acknowledge what the learner already knows and brings with them.
What’s the curriculum?
The needs of life.
Paulo Freire states that learners do not come as empty vessels waiting to be filled by the tutor’s knowledge, but come with a wide variety of experiences and knowledge that new knowledge can be built from. No learner is illiterate. My starting point with each and every learner is using their knowledge, interests and current skill base.
I’ve come to realise that by getting to know the learners and by really listening, I will often uncover their most important goals. Individualised learning plans provide clarity around why they are doing and what they are doing. I assist learners to determine how they learn best by having them reflect on their past learning experiences. From this we create a list of how they expect and want the group to function to best suit their learning needs. This acknowledges the importance of the role they play in their own learning. Learners see they influence their learning environment and that their voice has power.
Working in partnership we develop the content of the learning. Every learning programme is personalised and flexible throughout to specifically match learners’ ever changing needs. I interweave literacy strategies and skills, stress the connections between these and make clear links to each learner’s goals.
Cambourne and Turbill (1990) argue that data generated from multiple sources using tutor observations and judgements are just as trustworthy and ‘scientific’ as those generated by what have been called ‘measurement-based’ approaches to assessment.
I consider assessment a collaborative and reflective process, rather than something ‘I do’ to the learner. Agreed upon or pre-established checklists, demonstration of a skill, observing a learner teach another learner, playing a game, student reflection, continua and portfolios are assessment methods I use to ensure assessment is meaningful to the learner’s individual contexts.
In line with funding demands, recent years have seen the introduction of the Tertiary Education Commission Literacy and Numeracy for Adults Assessment Tool. I believe assessment of feelings and confidence is equally as important as literacy/numeracy progress made. Some funding bodies see these as ‘soft outcomes’ but those of us working at the coalface know that without growth in these areas, learners with underlying anxieties are unlikely to put themselves into situations that might produce ‘failure’.
Beginner Readers are not Beginner Thinkers
To ensure the learner is motivated to return for the next learning session is as important to their learning journey as the personal goals set. Clear learning outcomes are shared with learners and activities are do-able, meaningful and enjoyable. Additionally I have no hesitation to move from the prepared lesson plan to take advantage of a ‘teachable moment’.
Learners are given the opportunity to analyse their assumptions and explore alternative ways of thinking, to become aware of how their assumptions have come about and to reconsider these in light of new information.
I am conscious of setting a co-operative climate for learning. Activities for pairs, small group, whole group and individual work, vary the learning dynamics. This provides opportunities for learners to make sense of problems, practise new strategies and reinforce learning. ‘State changes’ help to keep learners engaged and mentally present.
Literacy is made up of unseen processes so explicit instruction is critical. I use ‘think alouds’ or take learners through the process and discuss those skills I activate at each step.
Pausing long enough to allow the formulation of answers to open questions is vital. One of the hardest things to overcome as a tutor is the temptation to automatically supply an answer.
By programming evaluation into every session I can immediately adjust to better meet the needs of the learners. Continua (written and physical), smiley faces (happy, neutral, sad), tick boxes and notes of discussion are amongst methods used.
I have come to learn that there is always more to learn, that I can never stop and say, “I know all there is to know about this”; that there is always something out there to improve my knowledge base and to improve my practice.
My greatest learning, however, has come from the literacy learners themselves. They have shared their lives and their hearts. They have shared strategies that have worked and I have been privileged to be able to take these, add them to my ‘kete’ and share them with others.
Peer and student comments
Dara opened doors for me. She made things interesting and changed the mood by playing games that still had the thing in them I needed to learn. She got to know me and knew how to encourage me to come back. Real brilliant.
……impressed by Dara’s thorough and conscientious preparation, by her ability to establish rapport with trainees and by the flexibility she demonstrated in training delivery …… Dara’s trainees have been extremely well prepared to become effective adult literacy tutors. Dara consistently rates at the top of the scale on all indicators of an effective trainer
Jodi Maniapoto, Manager – Learning & Qualifications, Literacy Aotearoa, 2012
Dara uses experiences from her own life, often with humour. Her empathy allows trust to build quickly and provides an environment where learners feel safe and respected. This is further reinforced by Dara’s constant focus on the learner’s abilities and successes, not their short-comings.
Dara’s bubbly and friendly personality makes her easy to approach. I like the way she works with us on our own individual level, ensuring all our needs are met and we are working at our own ability to increase our education. She is an excellent listener, support person and motivator.
When students are asked why they want Dara as their tutor they say “she understands how I tick”, “she makes it easy to understand something”, “she’s good fun, I learn a lot from her” and “she knows her stuff”, “we laugh lots”.
Bernadette Jacobs, Student Coordinator, 2012
Dara has a great sense of humour and is not afraid to say if she doesn’t know something. When she is leading a group of students or tutors, she brings the subject alive.