Guest post by Fred Garnett
In my teaching practice, mostly with socially-excluded kids attempting to get some qualifications in college, I developed a number of techniques for showing them how to be successful on their own terms. College is classically a context in which an andragogic approach works best, where you negotiate with your students to find an agreed learning path. In the department where I worked, at Lewisham College in London, we had developed a universal entry test, followed by an interview, which everyone took. We had found this process to be a better predictor of success that their school results, which usually just measured their dissatisfaction with an education system, which was designed to fail them. We then offered to the prospective student what seemed to be appropriate courses and subjects on which they might be successful.
However, over time, I developed a technique that I now call brokering that was much more about negotiating with the learner in the learning context of the subject that they had chosen. I had started teaching in the USA and one of the aspects of teaching there which I particularly loved was that for any subject that you taught you developed your own syllabus. It went through a quality assurance process so that the University approved what you taught, but you had designed the learning. When I started teaching in England I took it for granted that you would write your own syllabus. Consequently I was soon on all the course committees and before long had written a unit on the social impact of Information Technology, still my favourite course of all the many that I taught.
Writing the syllabus and developing the schedule of delivery along with the work to be completed meant that I was, in effect, building the framework of what I was teaching. Consequently I really understood what the boundaries were and so could better broker between the formal requirements of the education system and the personal desires of my learners; I had found that all these ‘failing’ students wanted to learn.