The Study Circle Pilot Project offered a study circle for adult students with tutors and adult students in upgrading. We wanted to provide the students with an opportunity to take another step in the development of their literacy skills and their self concept as learners. We also wanted to interest them in exercising their civic responsibility by voting in the municipal election. Here is the process we followed to present this study circle.
We met with an experienced tutor, the facilitator (a tutor who had taken our facilitator training), and the principal of the adult upgrading program. Their response to the idea was positive and they helped design the program and promoted it to prospective participants.
We chose "Who's Running This Country Anyhow?" as the title.
The needs of our target group caused us to take care to:
- Use plain language.
- Try to make the participants feel comfortable.
- Invite the tutors to accompany their students.
- Invite a teacher to accompany the upgrading students.
- Select a neutral, non-threatening location.
- Choose a facilitator who understands low level readers.
- Entice them with cookies!
We wrote a letter/flyer explaining what we had in mind. It outlined briefly what the topic would be, the roles of the tutors and the students, the dates, times and location of the meetings and the facilitator's name. This letter suggested that the tutors and upgrading teachers talk about the proposed study circle with their students and get back to us. This letter was given to tutors at a meeting with their literacy project coordinator and handed to the upgrading teachers with a little pep talk.
Follow up on this letter required a lot of contact by telephone and in person.
We invited two candidates to give a short presentation explaining what their jobs would be if they were elected, why they want to be elected, why we should vote for them and what kinds of questions voters should ask candidates.
We also invited a returning officer who is a tutor. He agreed to explain the voting procedure, to show us how to fill out a ballot and any other papers voters would encounter.
We borrowed the video of the recording of O Canada for the celebration of CANADA 125 to play at the beginning of the first meeting and at the end of the second meeting. This is a beautiful version of our national anthem, guaranteed to make everyone feel patriotic and in a hurry to get out there and cast their ballot!
We had the information package prepared in time for the tutors and teachers to go over it with their students at least one time before the study circle. This package contained:
- the agenda
- the abridged version of What is a Study Circle?
- a short list of the prominent issues
- the questions, "What are your concerns?" and "What do you think Town Council or the Municipal District Council should be doing about these things?"
- a copy of the newspaper page listing the candidates for all positions and their remarks about the issues
- a flyer for the public forum to be held during the week between our meetings
- a simple evaluation form
The study circle met twice prior to the election which was enough time to cover the topic and was a manageable evening time commitment for the students.
The questions to address were:
- What are the issues as seen by the candidates?
- What are the issues as you see them?
- What are your concerns?
- Who are the candidates?
- Where do they stand on your issues?
- Where and how do you vote?
- Why bother?
With adequate preparation and thoughtful facilitation, we found that the study circle process works very well for low level readers.