Using Talking Mats in a Higher Education Career Guidance Setting

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One of the many ‘non-traditional’ uses of Talking Mats has been the work that has been undertaken with university students (both undergraduate & post graduate) at the University of Stirling. Since 2008, staff in the Career Development Centre at the University have been trained to use Talking Mats as a tool to help students to articulate their career thinking and planning.
We have established from our research and trialling of a range of topic cards that students respond well to the process. While the majority of the students we work with have no speech or language difficulties, the process of TM enables students to articulate their thoughts and to feel more at ease to raise particular issues. It can be very hard for students to talk openly about financial worries, academic issues, or career anxiety. TM gives a platform for this to be done in a non-threatening way and quickly allows the Careers Adviser to see where the student is ‘at’ in their thinking. This then allows the adviser to work more efficiently & effectively to support the student to develop their career plans /strategy.
Staff feedback would indicate that they enjoy working with TM in both one to one and group settings with students. There are many perceived advantages to using TM but one of the main ones is that it can make better use of the time available and that it can be a good way to see quickly where the key issues are that need to be addressed. TM also fits well with current Career Guidance Theory, allowing the student to narrate the ‘story’ and arrive at their own solutions to the ‘problem’ under discussion.
There are of course some students who do have additional learning needs and TM is again an ideal tool. In particular, students with dyslexia and dyspraxia comment positively that the visual aspect of the cards allows them to process the information and structure their thinking in a clearer way that just talking to a careers adviser can.
International students who sometimes have poor English language skills respond well to using TM as it allows us to get a clearer picture of the students thinking than sometimes is the case from a more ‘traditional’ discussion
Action Planning and Goal setting are a big part of the Career Management process and TM is a really useful tool to ‘kick-start’ this process for students. The visual impact is powerful and enables students to see clearly what they are considering and the cards allow the students to physically move the cards to help them to decide how to move forward in their thinking and planning. Students consistently comment that they appreciated the opportunity to see clearly the issues that they are considering and allow them to move forward.

Many thanks to Elaine Watson, Careers Adviser, University of Stirling and one of our accredited trainers for this stimulating description of how she is implementingTalking Mats

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