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Recognising and dealing effectively
with student goals and aspirations
by Katie Evans & Seth Atkin
- 2

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 met.

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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