Recognising and dealing
with student goals and aspirations
by Katie Evans & Seth Atkin
Take the ESOL assessment scenario as a
case in point. If your prospective learner seems to be struggling
to understand the basic questions you ask them when assessing
their speaking skills, then it is very easy to immediately
assume that this learner needs everyday English; traveling
on the bus, going to the supermarket, because they have not
been able to respond very well to your (quite simple) questions
in the initial assessment setting. You will complete that
learner's initial assessment record and immediately place
them in your Entry 1 class and move on to the next learner.
However, the initial assessment or initial interview
for a course needs to be seen as the very beginning of the
whole learning process, whatever the course may be, and that
learner need cannot be judged or guessed at in this one, usually
brief meeting between tutor and prospective learner. It takes
time to really get to know your learners, and this first meeting
may create a situation where you are going to gain anything
but a true picture of your prospective learner and their needs.
It may be, for example, that the learner is not very forthcoming
in responding to your questions during the initial interview
or assessment. In an ESOL setting obviously language can be
the barrier to communication, but it may be other issues as
well which also apply to any learner accessing any course.
It may be that they are not familiar with an initial assessment
or recruitment process, and fell very uncomfortable in that
environment. The actual room that the assessment or interview
is taking place in may be intimidating or unfamiliar for the
learner. They may not be comfortable completing forms or exercises.
Also, in most instances, the tutor is sitting on the opposite
side of the desk, and learners can feel that they are being
watched or intimidated as they complete forms or exercises,
which can be very off-putting and will thus affect their performance.
Alternatively, you may find yourself assessing or interviewing
a very confident, outgoing learner who is able to take the
interview or assessment in their stride. It is still as easy
to assume the needs of these learners and it is all too easy
to make the assumption that those with higher level English
skills, for example, must want to apply for a higher education
course eventually, so they will be placed in the IELTS class.
However, the reality may be that they need to improve their
English to be able to apply for a café job in Slovakia,
but because of a tutor's assumptions that is missed. If, during
a course interview a learner is giving details of their education
background for example, it is all too easy for the tutor to
begin guessing at why they then want to be studying on this
particular course and what they want to achieve from it.
There are, therefore, other issues which arise during an initial
assessment or interview that can have an impact on how learners
do actually perform during that session, and which do not
allow the learner to reveal their true abilities or needs
to the tutor. However, this one session often determines which
level class the learner is to be placed in, what sort of learning
programme will be devised for them, what particular areas
of work they will need to look at over the course in order
for them to achieve what the tutor thinks they need to achieve.
Learners' needs and aspirations cannot truly be recognized
in one assessment or interview session. The interview or assessment
of course does need to happen; there has to be a starting
point in the learning process and this is a necessary thing.
However, it cannot be the only opportunity within the learning
process for tutors to find out about their learners' needs.
Rather, this session is just the very beginning of a large
and comprehensive learning process, and learners' true aspirations
and needs will be revealed as that process progresses. And
this is what the tutor should be aware of: their learners
could turn out to be completely different characters to the
ones they met in that initial assessment or interview stage.
Learners' true skills and aspirations can be revealed through
class work, homework, tutorial sessions, tests or examinations
which will then allow the tutor to identify learners' true
needs and aspirations, and ensure they are met during the
course of study, so then if a learner is able to take a job
in a café in Slovakia with sufficient English language
skills, then their true aspirations have been realised and
There are many different activities that play
a vital role in the overall learning process. In order to
identify learners' needs fully there has to be more than just
an initial assessment or interview. Individual learning plans
are one part of the make-up of the learning process, and allow
the learner to record in more detail both their short and
long-term learning aspirations and gives the tutor the chance
to gain a greater insight into the immediate and long-term
goals of their learner. These immediate and long-term goals
are intrinsically linked, as the immediate learning process
is key to achieving longer-term aspirations and being able
to function effectively in the wider, global context. This
is the stage where a tutor may realise that the assumptions
they made about their learner's needs when they first met
them were not a true reflection of their learner.
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