This blog describes the foundation Talking Mats course we ran for members of the National Involvement Network. Following the seminars and the work to design a Charter for Involvement ‘Taking Part Talking Mat’ described in a previous blog , 16 people attended our course run over three days with about a month between each session. The participants were 8 NIN members who all had a worker to support them as a learning partner. Their role was to assist with embedding the knowledge gained, and the implementation of the pilot ‘Taking Part Talking Mat’. The learning partners were equal course participants, and expected to complete all course activities e.g. make a video of themselves carrying out a Talking Mat
In adapting the foundation Talking Mats course we learnt lots! Here is a summary of key learning.
- That we had a great group of people who were keen to learn and develop their communication practice to become Talking Mats interviewers, or as we call them in Talking Mats ‘the listener’ ( as they are listening to someone’s views). They appeared to really enjoy the learning experience and were enthusiastic, embracing all tasks including making a video of themselves using Talking Mats with someone in their organisation. In Talking Mats we call the person doing the mat ‘the thinker’.
- That it was really important for us as trainers to focus on key information, not all information so as not to overload
- That movement helped learning. It was good to design activities with some potential for movement so that people were not sitting too long and that they could get up and stretch. For example, on the Talking Mats foundation course there is an activity that thinks about abstract and concrete language. We adapted this by using cut out coloured circles and got participants to think about the language load of a particular concept and place the symbol concept in the relevant circle.
- Teaching the principles of Talking Mats and getting the participants to follow the rules e.g asking open questions, introducing blanks, the check and change stage was relatively easy. What was more problematic was supporting a listener to be flexible and person centred in the way they introduced an concept . Often it is important to give a relevant example to support a thinker’s understanding and our listeners struggled with that. To overcome this, we wrote specific examples on the back of the cards and designed some activities to give time to practice. Repetition of learning was important
- A detailed script helped, including what to say to introduce the Talking Mat
- That you needed to pay particular attention to the quieter members of the group –coffee breaks proved to be a useful time to catch up on their thoughts and feelings
- The role of the learning partner is critical. We were very fortunate in our partners. They were natural enablers and it showed. We relied on partners sharing a set of values, and believing that people with learning disabilities could learn and be a key member of the pilot project.. One person did not complete the project maybe because she felt uncomfortable. It made us realise if we were to do this again we should be explicit about values and the roles of the learning partner from the outset
- That the recording of interviews needs support, and it was key that there were was both a NIN member and a learning partner to enable that to happen
- That our partnership with ARC Scotland was key as they provided individual follow up advice to each of the organisations involved and provided a source of learning reinforcement , observation and support to each of the NIN members and their learning partner. They were also able to feedback to the course organisers about any areas of difficulty that needed further attention and input
- That Talking Mats empowers both the thinker and the listener. It gives a structure to make a conversation flow. The training itself not only gave the NIN members who attended a tool to communicate with others about how they feel, but also seems to have had a positive knock on effect on their confidence and we hope that continues.
We are incredibly proud of our cohort of trained Talking Mats listeners. As part of the project they have been interviewing other service users in their organisations about 2 aspects of the Charter for Involvement –‘independence’ and ‘being involved in their community’ – ( 2 abstract concepts, as the NIN listeners will tell you). Not only has this included more people in service evaluation but has led to making changes that are improving lives.
One woman was no longer being taken to church and she is now going and starting to be part of a local church community
One man who everyone thought was doing really well living on his own expressed a view that he was feeling lonely, He is now being supported to identify if there are enough people interested to start a local group.
The project is still ongoing and the full report will be available from ARC Scotland in 2017.