Selecting the Theme Unit
Once the group (or individual) has identified several potential theme topics, the instructor must then select a meaningful theme that will best meet the needs of his particular learners. Dirkx & Prenger (1997) offer the following ideas for instructors to proceed in this next phase of integrated theme-based instruction:
Planning the Unit of Study
An Instructor’s Overview Planner is provided in Appendix C and a sample organizational form for theme-based planning is provided in this chapter. This form provides a guide for integrating communication strands (reading, writing, speaking and listening) to achieve Content and Generic Skills.
There are several sections on the planning form. The following notes describe and provide suggestions for each section.
Life Experience: Write a short episode of an experience that your learners share. This narrative will serve to keep you focused on your learners’ stories.
Learner Contexts: Identify several components of your learners’ experiences that provide the framework for the unit that you are planning. Find out what circumstances and interests shape your learners (i.e. spousal relationships, low-fat diet, low-cost cooking, controlling addictions, finding employment, parental skills, etc.). Let these contexts inform you about the theme topic.
Theme Topic: Ensure that the process of selecting the theme is by some form of consensus.
Acknowledging the Aboriginal Perspective:The following reflective questions may guide you in coming to know if you have incorporated inclusive perspectives.
Inclusive Practices: Identify the accommodations that you will make for learners who may have diverse cultural backgrounds or who have physical disabilities, learning difficulties, English as a second language/second dialect needs, attention issues, or any other consideration that you can make to meet the needs of all learners.
Being inclusive also refers to how you intend to deal with issues of power and control. Remember, being inclusive in the adult learning environment is being responsive to the ways in which traditional teaching has silenced certain groups of learners. Because a primary goal of inclusive teaching is to equalize power between instructors and learners, issues related to power and control are the most complex. Acknowledging and discussing these issues can be the first step in addressing them. Some suggestions to guide your instructional practice and your learners’ development include the following:
Intercultural communication skills involve inclusive practices that support the learning process within multicultural environments. Knowing learner needs and characteristics will help you to create an equitable climate, where differences are addressed, and adjustments are made to suit the needs of each individual. One way to assess the communication needs and characteristics of learners within a multicultural classroom is to create a profile of each student, based on the following six factors: valuing, thinking, speaking, listening, gesturing, and observing. These six factors are related to basic human interaction and intercultural communication.
Shortly after meeting the learners, instructors give learners questions based on the six factors. Learners answer questions individually, and the instructor is then able to create a profile for the needs of that learner. However, not all learners may have an awareness level or prior knowledge that allows them to express their ideas about the six factors, and all learners will be at different levels of awareness. It is important to use vocabulary that is suitable for the level of the learners, and perhaps even conduct mini-lessons on problem solving approaches, differing types of communication (both verbal and non-verbal), etc. Examples of key questions follow:
Valuing – What do I value most? What does my culture value most? (e.g. religion, family, education, health, etc.)
Thinking – What problem-solving approaches and thinking patterns do I prefer to use? Are these approaches and patterns within our cultures the same? (e.g. critical thinking, linear/divergent thinking, logical preferences, right brain/left brain preferences, internal/external motivation tendencies, etc.)
Speaking – Do we use the same patterns of verbal communication? Do I understand the other languages spoken? (e.g. frequency, duration, and types of speech; formal, informal; extended, brief; etc.)
Listening – Are our listening patterns and behaviours the same? Are the listening patterns and behaviours of our cultures the same? (e.g. frequency, duration, active/passive approaches, etc.)
Gesturing – Are our gestures or non-verbal expressions of feeling and meaning the same? Do our various gestures have the same meaning within each culture? (e.g. facial expressions, body positions, eye/head/finger/hand/arm/leg/foot motions, etc.)
Observing – Do I closely observe the happenings within my immediate environment? Are the patterns of observation the same within our cultures? (e.g. sites, people, objects, colours, shapes, relationships, movements, etc.)
Instructors should share the results of the profiles with the group of learners in an anonymous way. Awareness of the differences in communication styles and cultural communication behaviours will help you and your learners to embrace and work with the differences, rather than working against the differences. Successful intercultural communication occurs with the observance of the following learner behaviours: willing involvement and active participation, enthusiasm and interest, and openness to discovery and learning.
(Source: Ricard, V.B. (1991). How effective intercultural communication skills can support learning. Adult Learning, 2 (5), 13-14.)
Level Three Communications Generic/Content Skills:Review PART THREE of this curriculum to see the interconnection between Generic Skills, Learning Outcomes, and Content Skills. In this section, choose the skills that can best be achieved within the frame of the chosen theme. Choose skills from each strand: writing, reading, speaking, and listening.
Multidisciplinary Considerations:Take a holistic glance at your unit and consider developing ideas, concepts, and thinking related to other subject areas. Can you provide opportunities for learners to investigate knowledge that is traditionally reserved for another class, such as science, math, social sciences, or life/work studies?
Learning Activities & Instructional Methods:Encourage learner participation in choosing a variety of relevant learning activities. Sample learner-centred instructional methods are provided in the next section.
Assessment Possibilities: Assessment should be considered at the unit planning stage. Be open to allowing learners to demonstrate their skills in relevant ways. Consider assessment tools that can give credit to learners who show that they are engaged in the learning process as well as demonstrating an end product. One theme unit, therefore, should utilise a variety of formative assessment practices. See PART FIVE: AUTHENTIC ASSESSMENT.