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Powerful Listening
A Practitioner Research Project
on Story and Difference in Adult Literacy


What we did

At our meetings, we deliberately tried to create a different sense of space and time.  We opened and closed our meetings with movement and gratitude to mark the space and time together as valuable.  We created plans for activities that would draw on different parts of ourselves, enable creativity to help our thinking and feeling, and give us time for our own thoughts.  We tried to use our space and time as a container for important listening and learning.

We reflected on moments of discomfort which occur in the context of social differences.  We talked about such moments, attempting to avoid judgment, and found that we could learn a lot about ourselves as practitioners.   

The story bundle activity was one of the activities that helped us to access other layers of feeling and thinking, helping us come to new understandings of our work.  This activity involves a table of assorted objects.  Participants approach the table with a question or thought held loosely in mind.  They pick up the object which they gravitate to, rather than thinking logically about which object will let them explain something to the others present.

We made accordion books, which open in different ways revealing other panels and images.  We tore pictures from magazines, some of us working more with colours, others with images or textures.  The hidden and revealed aspect of this book suited the multi-layered way we were talking about ourselves and our identities as literacy workers.

At some meetings, after someone told a story, we wrote on post-it notes which we gave to the speaker, rather than interrupt the feeling of having been heard by speaking.  Sometimes one of the group members took away the post-it notes, typed them up, and emailed them to each of us.  This allowed us to return powerfully to our stories, away from the group in privacy.

We gave workshops at the WE LEARN conference in New York City, at a conference on research-in-practice at Centennial College in Toronto, the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto, and at the annual meeting of the Canadian Association for Studies in Adult Education at the University of British Columbia.  At these workshops, we tried to create the same kind of space for listening and telling that we created in the research sessions.  In several of the workshops, we used the story bundle activity, and also hung key words and phrases from the project from the ceiling to help create an environment for reflection about aspects of listening across difference that we were exploring.