The Many Faces of Participatory Adult Education
In my career as a teacher and an academic, I have often found myself confused about the labels used to describe methods and approaches to classroom practices or more general aspects of education. More often than not, hearing a new label also makes me worry that I have missed out on some new knowledge I could have been using to make my work better. Where did this educational idea come from? Is it well founded? How do I find out about it? When I try to learn more, I sometimes discover it is based on an academic theory that has applications in the classroom. For example, in the teaching of second languages, there is the psychological theory of comprehensible input (Krashen, 1982), which suggests that second-language acquisition happens best when learners are exposed to examples of the language at just above the level of difficulty the students already control. Some other labels relate more to procedures and content of classroom teaching, such as the audiolingual method of second-language teaching (Fries, 1945), or even the organization of programs, such as immersion in a second language. I generally find there are descriptions and explanations for such labels so that I can learn their parameters and applications, get a sense of where they begin and end, and judge (often after trying them out) whether they might help in my situation. However, there are other labels I have encountered that seem to emanate out of a (set of) core principle(s) but that do not seem to have boundaries and
are not as easy to define. They seem to be applied to a lot of situations, but the principle that ties them together is so elusive that I cannot always tell what these situations have in common. It appears I have to learn about these kinds of concepts experientially. For me, participatory practices has been one such label.