Insights from research and practice
Margaret Herrington introduces a new collection of seminal papers from RaPAL. Future editions of reflect will include short 'tasters' chosen from this collection.
Insights from research and practice, published by RaPAL, is intended for educators in adult literacy, numeracy and ESOL. It draws together key insights from researchers, practitioners and students, both in Britain and overseas, who have published their ideas in the journal of the Research and Practice in Adult Literacy (RaPAL) network between 1986 and 2004.
It is a timely publication because many new practitioners are entering this field following the government's Skills for Life initiative in England and Wales. New challenges have been set in terms of a core curriculum, standards, national tests, targets, graduate teacher training standards and qualifications, materials development, and research and development programmes. We want to distil for practitioners the central philosophical, political and pedagogical insights that can be seen in the work of RaPAL over a 20-year period. Insights from research and practice link past experience to the present policy context.
Why is this so important?
There are three main reasons.
- First, literacy, numeracy and ESOL are highly charged in political, economic and cultural terms, and very different models of literacy and numeracy are constructed and employed in research, policy and practice contexts. Practitioners, as professional educators, must be able to put into context - theoretically and politically - any new policies they are asked to implement, both for their own sake and that of their students. They must be able to draw on past experience if they are to be aware of their own position in the new policy context.
- The second reason for this compilation concerns the pedagogical legacy from the recent past. Many new practitioners say 'We know what you want us to teach, but how do we actually teach this curriculum?'. It is important for practitioners to be able to draw on the wealth of ideas and reflections of colleagues in the history of practice.
- Third, researchers and practitioners in this field have effectively developed a new body of knowledge about adult literacy. Some of this huge outpouring of investigative energy is reflected in the RaPAL network. Members - researchers, students, tutors, managers - have asked important questions about the nature of research itself and about how practitioners and students could be involved in this. It is important for new staff to draw on this experience, reviewing the processes and outcomes, if they are to see the value of, and feel confident about, building research into their practice.
In forthcoming issues of reflect we will be publishing a series of short 'taster' papers about the themes explored in the book; these will be designed specifically for use within teacher training courses. They are expected to include topics such as building confidence, students and tutors, the literacy/ESOL interface, adult learning contexts, asking the useful questions and dyslexia.
It has never been more important for tutors to articulate (and sometimes defend) the nature of their practice and the knowledge and values that underpin it. In highlighting key aspects of the work of RaPAL members, we offer examples of literacy, numeracy and ESOL staff doing just this.