"The means is dialogue, the end is learning, the purpose is peace." ~ Founder Dr. Jane Vella

Tips to Help Organize Workbooks and Written Documents for People Living with Dementia

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by Elaine Wiersma, Kathy Hickman and Jeanette Romkema

In an education event juggling work books, lots of paper, and other written documents is a challenge for any learner (and teacher!). When the learners are people living with dementia trying to find the right piece of paper or spot on a page can interfere with learning, cause undue stress and impact safety. Here are a few tips to keep things organized and help people living with dementia (and other learners) in finding what they need in their workbooks and written documents.

 

  1. Colour code sections of the workbook. Each week should be printed on a different colour of paper.

 

  1. Use colour within the workbook to help direct people. For example, “follow along with the paragraph in the green box.”

 

  1. Ensure that dividers are used in-between weeks or sessions. 

 

  1. Use symbols or pictures for specific places on a page so people can easily be directed there (e.g., a mouth for discussion questions, a book for reading, a question mark for brainstorming, etc.). Include a legend in the beginning of the workbook to explain all symbols used.

 

  1. Number the pages for easy reference in large font size.

 

  1. Number specific activities or tasks. For example, “Follow along with the paragraph at 2.1”.

 

  1. Print on one side of the page only to minimize confusion. Put holes on both sides of the paper if people want to put pages facing each other in their binders. 

 

  1. Make sure everyone is on the correct page at the beginning of the session. This will assist people to move forward together. 

 

  1. Offer to assist people if they require it. 

 

  1. Minimize the amount of “extra” papers and handouts. Try to keep everything within the workbook where it’s being worked on.

 

  1. Ensure the printing is large enough for people to read. Font size 11 is usually too small – font size 14 is often a better choice.

 

  1. If people are uncomfortable with writing down ideas for brainstorming, ensure that the facilitators take the flip charts away, type it up for people, and give it back to them the following week (with a 3-hole punch). When it is given back to participants, facilitators can assist people to put these notes into their binders or folders in the proper place. 

 

  1. Minimize how much information and how many words you have on any given page. Keep it simple, clear and easy to follow.

 

  1. Use a binder so pages are easy to turn and stay organized. If you only have a few pages, ensure all pages are stapled together – one staple in the top left-hand corner is fine.

 

Elaine Wiersma is an Associate Professor, Centre for Education and Research on Aging & Health at Lakehead University ewiersma@lakeheadu.ca;

Kathy Hickman is Knowledge Mobilization Lead at Alzheimer Knowledge Exchange and Education Manager at Alzheimer Society of Ontario khickman@alzheimeront.org;

Jeanette Romkema is Senior Consultant, Partner and President of Global Learning Partners jeanette@globallearningpartners.com.

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10 Tips for Groups Where Language May Be a Challenge

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by Kathy Hickman, Jeanette Romkema and Elaine Wiersma

From time to time we work with a group where language is a challenge (e.g. dementia, low-literacy, different languages of origin). It is important to understand learners’ language abilities (expression and comprehension) when planning for an education event. During the learning needs and resources assessment (LNRA) process, find out what you can about learners’ comfort and abilities related to reading and writing. Then carefully and intentionally design your event. Here are a few things to keep in mind when language may be a challenge.

  1. Use visuals. Where possible use visual aids to teach the new content or to make a point i.e. video clip, role play, pictures, cartoons, etc. When you need/ want to share words visually, support them with a visual representation as well. In general, limit written text.

 

  1. Offer choice. Adult learners will choose wisely according to their needs and comfort level. For this reason, when you offer choice about how to do an activity (drawing or writing) or receive information (follow along in the brochure or with the drawings), adults will engage in a way that is most helpful for them. Be sure to create safety (“it’s okay to do it different”) and give reminders about the options for a task. Remember that too much choice can also be overwhelming for learners living with dementia.

 

  1. Use props. Whether as a metaphor or a concrete example of what you are explaining to a group, demo objects can be helpful in learning or understanding a complex or new concept or skill. The key is to find props that communicate clearly and simply. You can also SHOW rather than, or perhaps as well as, TELL to explain a new concept or skill.

 

  1. Engage learners by DOING. The best way to learn something is to do something with new content to test, challenge and/or practice it. If you ensure that this activity does not involve much writing OR that there are options for how to do the task, learners will be successful regardless of language abilities.

 

  1. Use language that is familiar to the group. As a general rule of thumb, everyday language is more easily understood compared to academic or professional language.  Listen to the words used by learners when you speak with them as part of your assessment process and during the course. Check with others within the community or others who are familiar with this group about what language is most appropriate and is most likely to be understood. Make sure that this language is reflected in your design and facilitation. This will not only aid the learning but also shows respect for the learners.

 

  1. Reading aloud. By asking for volunteers to read instructions aloud and at times reading aloud yourself, ALL learners will have the chance to know what is expected of them. This increases safety for learners that have difficulty reading because they know they will not have to read in order to participate in the group.

 

  1. Be clear and simple. You may think that this goes without saying, but all too often professionals get caught up in jargon or the complexities of their field. Teach as if you are having a casual conversation – keep it down to earth.

 

  1. Use stories. Story is a powerful thing for all human beings. When written text is a challenge to read or understand, oral text is often helpful. Stories are personal and often come from or touch the heart – this is why they are so powerful.

 

  1. Use role play. It is a form of storytelling, but can also help learners experience how it must feel to be in a particular role. Get learners to act out a role they are not normally in to gain empathy and new insights into another person’s reality. It is critical that this is done with safety (e.g. in small groups or pairs, with those who would like to volunteer or use a demonstration role play with facilitators).

 

  1. Ask learners to retell or summarize. We sometimes assume a nodding head means understanding. This is not always true. You can help learning and assist in the personalizing of new concepts when you ask learners to retell or summarize their understanding of what has been presented or explained. This can be done with a partner or small group, with a question attached to discuss together. Frame this so that learner safety is ensured (e.g. no wrong answers, affirm, and respectfully clarify as needed).

 

Kathy Hickman is Knowledge Mobilization Lead at Alzheimer Knowledge Exchange and Education Manager at Alzheimer Society of Ontario khickman@alzheimeront.org;

Jeanette Romkema is Senior Consultant, Partner and President of Global Learning Partners jeanette@globallearningpartners.com;

Elaine Wiersma is an Associate Professor, Centre for Education and Research on Aging & Health at Lakehead University ewiersma@lakeheadu.ca.

 

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Ways to Support Change When Language or Memory Is a Challenge

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by Kathy Hickman, Jeanette Romkema and Elaine Wiersma

When language or memory is a challenge for learners we need to find other ways to support a learner’s learning and plan for transfer. Here are a few ideas to consider.

  1. Take a photo of the learner with his commitment. This visual cue can serve as a reminder and help the person to self-manage, despite challenges they may experience.

For example:  Post the photo of the learner with the reminder on the front door, to tell someone they are leaving.

 

  1. Agree on a schedule for checking in. Having a care partner, learning partner, friend or family member to support a learner’s learning and action plans can be extremely helpful. Together they should decide how often to meet, what will be helpful to do in that time, and how they will remind themselves of this plan.

For example:  Every morning at 9am we will review the day, and you will tell me what support you think you may need for that day.

 

  1. Select a metaphor. A simple metaphor can encapsulate complex thinking or plans if it is carefully chosen. Let learners take time to select one that works, draw it or use an object to remind themselves, and place it somewhere they will often see it.

For example:  A boiling kettle of water = When I keep all myfeelings in I will steam up and boil over. I need to communicate my feelings as they arise.

                                                                                        

  1. Ask someone to write a letter for the learner. The learner may wish to share his/her plan(s) with family members or friends, or wish to share tips for supporting them. To do this a letter, email or text may be helpful. Offer support to write this if the learner would like.

For example:  I have decided that I want to go for a walk every day. Please give me a call each morning to remind me. If I’m having a bad day, maybe you could come with me or encourage me to ask my friend Bill.

 

  1. Create a magnet or sign for fridge or wall. Ask learners to select words that will carry the most meaning for them and offer a variety of materials for creating this trigger.

For example:  Provide colourful paper, markers, pre-cut letters or stencils. Including pictures (drawn, cut from magazines or print out graphics) can also be helpful.

 

  1. Create an audio recording. If the technology (e.g. handheld tape or digital recorders, Smartphone) is available and the learner is comfortable using it, make an audio recording of their plans. Label and file recordings in a meaningful way for easy access later. It may be useful for the learner to let a family member or friend know about the recordings so they can remind the person where to find it.

 

  1. Implement a reminder system. Support the learner to implement a reminder system that works for them. Some may prefer to use a notebook or pocket calendar while others prefer electronic devices such as a smartphone. Have the learner decide what s/he wants to be reminded of, which words will be most significant and when s/he wants to be reminded.

 

  1. Encourage the person to use his or her camera to record memory triggers and print out the picture(s), or use the camera to photograph the steps of doing some action.

 

  1. Ask the person to draw the steps they want to take. There are many ways to record ideas and plans besides writing them down. Using numbers, pictures, colours, symbols and size to communicate can be just as effective. Offer support if the person would like help to represent their ideas.

 

Kathy Hickman is Knowledge Mobilization Lead at Alzheimer Knowledge Exchange and Education Manager at Alzheimer Society of Ontario khickman@alzheimeront.org;

Jeanette Romkema is Senior Consultant, Partner and President of Global Learning Partners jeanette@globallearningpartners.com;

Elaine Wiersma is an Associate Professor, Centre for Education and Research on Aging & Health at Lakehead University ewiersma@lakeheadu.ca.

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5 Tips for Working With Small Groups

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Dialogue Education™ can work with any group size,  but may look different depending on how big or small your group is. Here are a few things to keep in mind when working with small groups.

  1. Continue to use smaller groups or pairs. Avoid the temptation to have all dialogue happen within the full group no matter how small. Learners may still feel reluctant to be the first to share with the whole group even when the group is small. If the group is quite small try splitting the group in two or using pairs for initial discussions and then hearing a sample as a whole group.
  2. Be prepared. Plan ahead if you know or suspect that the group may be small. Make sure that your “How” or your design will work with a small number of people. Adapt any tasks that rely on a larger number of learners.
  3. Use Energizers. Without the buzz of dialogue that comes with a large group it can be easy in a small group for the tone to become more subdued. Inject energy through music,  change,  movement and humour.
  4. Ensure all voices have space. In a small group,  strong personalities may become more overpowering and impact the safety of the group. Refer to the “10 Types of Learners” for strategies to respond to various learner personalities. Be sure to continue to invite,  not expect,  participation in group dialogue so that learners don’t feel pressured to speak up.
  5. Make it Safe. Small groups can tend to feel more intimate. This can be a great atmosphere for learning – if safety is adequately established. Be sure to create group guidelines together,  use a warm-up,  keep it relevant but light at the beginning,  and don’t get too personal too soon.

What tips do you have for working effectively in small groups? Share them below in the comments section. And if you missed it,  check out last week's post,  5 Tips for Working in Large Groups.

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5 Tips for Working in Large Groups

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Dialogue Education can work with any group size,  but may look different depending on how big or small your group is. Here are a few things to keep in mind when working with large groups.
  1. Match the WHERE with the WHO. When you know you have a large group coming to an event it is critical to find a space to allow everyone to sit and move around comfortably,  which enables you to easily work in groups. The learning environment has a direct impact on what types of tasks you can execute and how. If you have no control of the space,  limit the number of people. If you have no control of either,  find ways to have groups move to other nearby spaces for various tasks or portions of tasks.
  2. Sample. When work,  debate,  and engagement with new content has happened in groups,  there is no need to share everything again in the large group. The learning has already happened;  the time in the large group can be used to hear a summary of the work,  OR general observations about what happened,  OR pressing questions. This can be done by quantifying the responses (e.g. “Let’s hear one idea from each small group”) or hearing a few examples of what was discussed (e.g. “We’ll hear a few of your strategies”). Long periods of time talking in the large group can de-energize,  give select (often articulate and powerful) people time to talk, and exclude many voices.
  3. Use individual or reflective work. In addition to small group work,  time to work independently can help learners to individualize the learning by analyzing how it fits within their context and planning how they will use what they are learning. It can be helpful to follow up individual work by hearing a sample from the group.
  4. Ensure safety. Many learners do not feel comfortable sharing within a large group setting,  unless safety is well established. When facilitating dialogue or sampling within the large group,  invite participation but don’t require it (those who want to speak up will),  give lots of affirmation to those who do contribute without taking anything away from those who don’t,  have opportunities for learners to share in small groups or pairs before sharing in the large group and begin with open questions that invite dialogue about topics familiar to the learners.
  5. Use more pair,  trio and small group activities. The best way to raise all voices,  engage everyone at the same time,  and make all learners feel included is by using pair,  trio or small group work. Learning happens when new content is challenged,  debated and used. Reducing the size of a group by dividing it up is a great way to do this. It is also very energizing!

What has been helpful for you in working with large groups?

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