Pillar 1 Expertise

Pillar 1 Expertise

As an important part of teaching adults, here is a check list you could use from time-to-time to assess questions we always have, like: “How well am I doing?” or “How should I handle this situation?” It could be adapted and adopted for use by program directors, coordinators or employers as an evaluation tool, or may be used as an interview guide when hiring new staff, but it is presented here as a self-evaluation tutoring/teaching tool. I hope it proves useful.

This check list relies on Raymond Wlodkowski’s excellent book Enhancing Adult Motivation to Learn, first published in 1985 and now in its fourth edition.

 1. Expertise

Wlodkowski tell us: “There is no substitute for thoroughly knowing our topic. Nothing beats it. Whatever experience, reading, reviewing or practice it takes, its payoff far outweighs it cost” (1999, p. 28).

He reminds us: “Many adults will have had experiences that far surpass the background of their instructor. As a group, they will have out-traveled, out-parented, out-worked and out-lived many of us as individual instructors” (p. 27).

Following are questions he gives to help us judge for ourselves “whether we know something well enough to be able to instruct others” (p. 28).

Try taking the test…

Self-Evaluation Check List

“Do I myself understand what I am going to teach? Can I explain it to myself in my own words?” (p. 28)

I would add, “Can I explain it in simple terms to someone else?” Then, I would add as advice, “Have you ever then asked that person to say it back? Did they really understand what you said?”

More than once, after having given a lecture to a graduate class, I walked around while they were reading something. I couldn’t help but glance over a few shoulders to see the notes they just took. More times than I want to remember, I was shocked to see that what I had said and what they heard and wrote down were miles apart. I had not been clear enough. I soon learned to use what Wlodkowski calls “confirmation checks,” as is discussed in point number 3: Clarity.

“Do I know what I don’t know? Where the boundaries are of my own knowledge and skill?” (p. 29)

Wlodkowski says, “To be aware of your limits is a very intelligent modesty” (p. 29).

Knowing what we know and do not know is vital. On a personal note, I have learned if you don’t have the expertise needed on some topic, if you don’t know the answer, don’t fake it. Simply say you can find out the answer. Or the learner can find it. Or you can both look into that area together and, depending on your teaching situation, you can both report back if there is a class or group being taught. Wlodkowski talks about adult learners’ rich life experience, but he does not mention how quickly our adult literacy learners can be in picking up and recognizing when someone is faking it. You can lose your credibility fast if you are not authentic and it can be hard to make it up with many of our learners.

“Do I know how to bridge what I am teaching to the world of my learners—their knowledge, experience, interests, and concerns?” (p. 29)

Wlodkowski adds: “Do I know where and how to let what they know, inform what I know?” I like that he adds: “If you do not, your knowledge may be irrelevant or misapplied” (p. 29). I would go on to ask in our teaching: “How open are we to learning from our learners?” This is discussed in point number 4: Empathy.

You are the teacher-as-model. It is helpful to show curiosity, to genuinely listen to your learners and try to relate what they know and say to what you know. Sharing and building knowledge collaboratively is a major part of teaching in our literacy field.