Review: Resources for Popular Education

A Check Your Head volunteer, Lyon Lin, recently finished an annotated bibliography of a number of Popular Education resources. Here are his reviews of two online resources: Seeds for Change and Rhizome

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1) Facilitating Workshops. n.d. Web. 25 July. 2012 <http://www.seedsforchange.org.uk/free/facilitatingworkshops>

Seeds for Change is a UK co-op organisation that specializes in providing guides for workshops that they openly distribute on their website. Though the one linked to here may not seem to necessarily relate to Popular Education, the core principles of facilitate, not teach and active learning echo the pedagogy. This document, available for download, is Seeds for Change’s long version of their guide on workshop facilitation. It’s quite comprehensive and it generally covers everything from the preparation to evaluation and more. The illustrations that they use are very simple, for learning they used a pyramid to demonstrate how our long-term memory performs better through active learning. Learning experiences are part of a three-part cycle that is comprised of generalising, experience, and reflection. Working on all three parts and not solely on the experience process strengthens learning. Any workshop concern you can think of based on those ideas is addressed: from building inclusiveness, group safety, prodding under active participants, even how to deal with latecomers or negative feedback. It’s a great introduction to anyone who has little or no experience facilitating or anybody who has never participated in a workshop. The guide is generalised to be as useful as possible and it is also written to be as clear and topically inclusive as possible. At the end, it also offers some web links and books for further reading. For those who aren’t new to this, the guide could be quite mundane and it won’t address workshop specific concerns. Content is ultimately mostly composed of the interpersonal skills needed to run a workshop, something some people might do intuitively without instruction. I recommend these sections especially: the introductory parts about facilitation and learning and active listening, summarising, and asking questions under Facilitation Skills.

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2) Resources. n.d. Web 29 August. 2012 <http://rhizome.coop/resources>

Rhizome is another UK co-op organisation that specializes in providing guides for workshops that are openly distributed through their website. Their documents are much shorter than Seeds for Change and are presented in small chunks. Thematically, the material is quite similar to Seeds for Change’s workshop facilitation guide but more closely examines key concepts that are common to these manuals. Their compendium of materials are simple, easy to read and are primarily written for beginners – browse their site to see which resources are most applicable to you. In a sense the facilitation resources at Rhizome aren’t as comprehensive as the main facilitation guide on Seeds for Change, but they are shorter, more detailed, and essentially does more with less. I found Rhizome’s content, some of which I describe below, clearer, more precise, and more instructive than Seeds for Change.

Recommended Resources: (many more topics are available online)

Click to download

Active Listening: Details how Active Listening is crucial to how discussions turn out, and presents a strategy called Framing which can be used to reflect on what is being said and how to emphatically clarify it for the group.

Facilitation Tools: Informal & formal tools are explained on the first page, informal being the importance of verbal and nonverbal interpersonal communication and formal being the toolkit activities and aspects such as the group agreement. On the second page, popular workshop activities are shown as part of the facilitator’s “toolkit”, common activities such as ice breakers or the spectrum line are presented.

Facilitating Difficult Behaviour: A one page help sheet about what to do when someone or a few people become difficult to work with. Taking action and addressing their concerns with the appropriate tools (framing for example) is noted. Ignoring them or reprimanding them might not achieve the best result.

Facilitating Group Agreements: A one page look at why and when to use group agreements, why not to use them, what their difference is from rules, and some tips on how to create one.

Splitting into small groups: Looks at the dynamics of what groups can achieve with differing sizes or similar or differing views. Multiple different strategies for splitting people up are tabled nicely for the reader.

The Kolb learning cycle: Concise explanation of psychologist’s David Kolb’s learning cycle, something very contrary to the orthodoxy of the “banking” model of education. It doesn’t go into much detail about what is academically proven about this but the cycle is key to how workshops are structured.

Dale’s cone of experience: A simple pyramid illustration of the theory that concrete learning is memorable learning. This is presented in more detail here than at Seeds for Change.

Visual, Auditory, and Tactile learning styles: A straightforward guide as every other one. Pay heed to what it says about what those styles mean in a workshop, what learning needs may need to be met.

So all in all, I recommend reading all of those guides. It’s no longer than the single facilitator’s guide on Seeds for Change – at least it doesn’t feel that way. Rhizome’s resources are all quick and easy to read, very simple and straightforward.

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