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Key skills: making a difference
Key skills: making a difference

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2.4.1 Keeping a Skills File

As you work on your skills development, you are likely to find that you'll need several skill files so that you can keep a helpful frequent record or log of your learning. In this course such a record is called a Skills File. Building up a Skills File as you go along will help you identify the skills you are using and how you are applying them to different tasks. You can also include your own reflective comments on how you think your work is progressing. The activities associated with each key skill are designed to provide you with opportunities to develop, apply and reflect on your learning systematically in the context of your studies or work activities. Recording your responses to the activities and ideas in your Skills File provides a record of your development.

A Skills File can be used to bring together different types of records, including:

  • Examples of your work: you might include notes, drafts, or material that has been assessed or reviewed during your course or work programme. How you select items for your File depends on what you want to demonstrate. Alongside your examples you should include notes explaining why they have been selected.

  • Feedback from others about your work: you might include comments from a tutor, or from other students or colleagues. You should also include your own responses to the feedback, and notes about what actions you intend to take.

  • Reflections on your development: reflection is the process by which you think about your learning; how you tackled it, how effective your approach was, what you found easy, or difficult, and why.

  • Evaluation of your approach: here you can record your successes and failures, how you decided what was or was not a success, and what learning and skills you can take forward and apply to your next course or project.

A Skills File need not be an elaborate affair. It might be notes from your diary or jottings on odd bits of paper in a loose-leaf file alongside the relevant key skills sections, Bookmarks and Skills Sheets. As you work through your course, you can add your own notes on planning, monitoring, and preparing for your course assessment. You can include tutors’ comments on your previous assignments, or your line manager's comments on your work to date, your responses to these comments and notes about what you are going to do about them. Building up a Skills File like this helps you to keep focused on your plans and your goals, and to develop an understanding about how you are learning as well as what you are learning. One student has commented:

Now I'm actually [planning my work] I feel a number of things have changed. I think more carefully about what I'm doing. I've started to keep a learning diary – I don't use it every time I study but I tend to use it when I'm looking at my key skills work to record progress. I try to stand back from what I'm doing and be critical about my work – for this I use the diary and the bookmarks to help me check on what I need to do and I go back to my stage 1 plan [Developing a strategy].

So what sort of activities might you include in your Skills File? The following table suggests some tasks and questions to think about if you are working towards an assessment, or planning your skills development over a longer period of time.

Using the three-stage framework to help structure a block of work or assignment
Developing a strategy
Course- or work-related tasksSkills-related tasks
What work needs to be done over the block or period of study as a whole?What key skills are needed for the work?
How will I organise my work over this period?What skills gaps have been identified in feedback on my previous assignments and work activities?
How will I tackle the learning tasks?How will I use the key skills in the assignment or block of work?
How does the work link with what I already know?Do I need to spend time working on improving my existing skills or developing new ones? Modify my original plan to build in the time required.
What does the assignment or project require me to do?Where will I find out about the skills I need?
When must the assignment or project be completed?Use the Bookmarks to identify the skills standard I need to aim for, and the knowledge I need to achieve the standard.
Draw up a schedule for completion of the assignment, or block of work. Do I have any other commitments that I must build into my schedule?What skills resources can I use to learn about specific techniques, or to develop and improve my skills?
Do I need to carry out any research to achieve my goals? Do I need to look things up in previous work or other sources or references?
How will I gain access to any reference material or information that I need?
Do I need to collect any data? How will I do this?
Where can I get feedback on my progress? Who can I ask for feed back and comments?
Monitoring progress
Course- or work-related tasks Skills-related tasks
Working through the text and activities, and preparing an assignment.Keep a check on my progress against the criteria set out in the Bookmarks.
Sending in an assignment or progress report with a self-assessment form requesting feedback.Deciding what feedback might help perhaps by email or telephone.
Working through the detail of the project or task proposals and preparing a progress report.Contacting my tutor to seek feedback.
Using the Internet, databases and library to check facts and ideas.Keep a log of study time for a week or two to try and identify patterns.
Using the assignment or project criteria to help me self-assess my work.Attend a skills workshop.
Using the different resources, such as audio, video, CD-ROM and computer conferencing.Think about how I use different resources and discuss this with other students or colleagues.
Attending a tutorial, day school or training session.Note how I use my skills and whether I adapt them for particular pieces of work.
Getting an assignment back or progress report from my tutor or line manager and thinking about the feedback comments.Use feedback from others, e.g. tutor or mentor to help me identify areas for improvement.
Writing an essay, completing experimental work, sorting out and checking solutions to problems.Keep a record of what I am learning and how I am learning to help me recognise my progress and reflect on my performance.
Organising my study or workload to cope with an unexpected emergency.
Putting my key skills into practice.
Evaluating my strategy
Course- or work-related tasks Skills-related tasks
Selecting the most effective method to present my work.Use the feedback from tutors, colleagues and supervisors and my own assessment to identify aspects of my learning that went well and areas where I feel less confident.
Thinking about how I studied the course materials or tackled the project and completed the work.Reflect on how I applied my key skills. Was my strategy appropriate and effective?
How have I been learning? What methods and resources have I used? Have they been effective for me?What else do I need to do to help make my learning effective and continue to improve my key skills?
Checking and assessing my completed assignment or project report before submitting it.What are my priorities for skills development now?
Using the key skills Bookmarks to check standard of performance.
Getting my work back, reading my tutor's comments and thinking about what I am going to do about them.
Reviewing and reflecting on my assignment: what I did, how I did it and how well I got on.

Although the three stages in this framework are presented in a linear way – moving neatly from developing a strategy to monitoring progress and finally evaluating the strategy and presenting the outcomes, and completing each step before addressing the next – using and developing skills rarely follow this ideal pattern. It is more realistic to think of the stages as having a number of components: things that need to be attended to, but not necessarily one after the other, and with not all components necessarily being addressed every time. Think of the framework as being both open and flexible. You may find that you are moving backwards as well as forwards through the components, or find yourself working on more than one component at once.

Using a structure such as this is a bit like learning to drive a car. To begin with everything – steering, accelerating, braking, changing gear and so on – is a conscious effort. The pleasure of driving only starts when such actions become automatic and you stop worrying about the separate processes involved. Similarly, this structured approach to learning and developing skills will soon become a part of how you work, and you will not have to think about the different stages. Keep in mind, however, that there is more than one way to learn. The approach used here to help you develop and practise your key skills is just one way of working. You are likely to use other approaches as you learn different things and you may come across a variety of approaches in your course, in workshops or tutorial activities with other students, or within career and professional development schemes at work.

Learning and managing your learning is considered so important that there is a key skill – ‘Improving own learning and performance’ – that describes the different stages in detail. This key skill is different from the others because improving your own learning and performance is not a separate option that you can choose to concentrate on or not – it is the web that supports all the other key skills. The sections on communication, information technology, information literacy, application of number, problem solving, and working with others all guide you through the stages of developing a strategy, monitoring performance and presenting and evaluating your work in the relevant areas. The theme of improving your own learning and performance, however, runs through each section and underpins all your key skills work in this course.

There are a number of general points that are worth noting here:

  • You need to be able to develop, apply and adapt your skills. Reading about it is not enough. You learn most when you have to apply your skill in a real context.

  • Use your course activities and assessments or project work to help you to practise and apply your skills. Submitting an assignment or piece of work to your tutor or line manager at work gives you an opportunity to ask for feedback on particular skills.

  • Plan carefully to avoid overloading yourself. Decide which key skills work you need to give priority to early on in your course and which can be left until a later date. Ask for feedback, keep a check on your progress and review your plans as you are studying.

  • Let your tutor know what you are planning to do. You can offer your own self-assessment of your skills or ask for specific feedback to give you the information you need.

  • At work, use your colleagues and line manager to help you identify those aspects you need to work on and ways to achieve your goals.

  • Take time to think about which key skills you want to work on. Combining the key skill of ‘Improving own learning and performance’ with a specific skill area such as IT or communication is a good place to start. This dual approach keeps you focused on how you are learning and improving while gathering solid evidence about your specific skills.

  • If you are aiming to complete specific key skills, you should allow at least 3–4 months to plan, monitor and evaluate your work.

  • You can use examples of your work outside your courses to demonstrate your capabilities. If you decide to have your work fomally assessed, check that your work meets the relevant standards.