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How do you assess learners' needs and interests?

Hello colleagues, Many of us are wrapping up our spring classes and looking forward to the summer term. Whenever a new class begins, my goal is always to assess learners' needs and interests. I'm wondering what types of needs assessments teachers have found effective for different levels of learners.

Thanks for sharing your ideas, strategies, resources, and tools here in our community. This kind of professional sharing is what makes LINCS so great! smiley

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition CoP

Comments

Glenda Rose's picture

Hi Susan,

In addition to the required goal-setting activities, I try to find out a little bit more about my beginning literacy ESL students when we are working on the alphabet / introductions the first week.  What I typically do have them create their portfolios for the semester.   I model writing Last Name, First Name (having already taught and practiced names).  Then I pass out folders for their portfolios.  I ask them to write Last Name, First Name on the tab.  

Then they will decorate their folders with their favorite X.  For example, "My favorite food is ___________."   I let them draw or cut out pictures to put on the folder.  They will put a minimum of three favorites on their folder (color, food, city, car, activity/hobby, etc.)  For most students, the "my favorite is" sentence stem is not a problem even at the lowest level.  They catch on very quickly with a few teacher examples.  They then introduce themselves and share their folders, using the "my favorite is" stem. 

For the last part of this activity, I have them practice "What's your last name?  How do you spell that?"  (We've already practiced this with the alphabet and introductions.)  They line up in alphabetical order according to their last names.  Then they pass me the folders from the back of the line forward, each person adding their folder on the top of the stack.  If the folders reach me in alphabetical order, we're done.  But, they've usually made at least one mistake.  So I randomly pass out the folders and then they have to find the owner of the folder they have ("Excuse me.  Are you Marta?").  And finally, they line up again and pass their folders forward.  Usually, they'll be in the right order this time, but if not, I repeat the process.  If they're still wrong on the third try, I'll fix it and explain the error.

Students really seem to enjoy this activity, they start speaking early on, and I have the folders in alphabetical order.  With any luck, they stay that way as students take them out to add to them and then return them to the portfolio box.

The "favorites" part of the activity is where I find out a little more about their interests and goals.  It comes up naturally as we show interest in what they are interested in.  With low communication skills in English, it's a great start to being able to tailor my class toward what interests them.

Thanks,
Glenda

finnmiller's picture

Hi Glenda, Thanks for sharing these great activities for getting acquainted and discovering learners' interests. You've piqued my curiosity about the portfolios. How do you use these portfolios then going forward?

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition CoP

Glenda Rose's picture

Hi Susan,

I ask students to select one item that represents their best work at the end of the week.  Usually, it's a writing piece, but sometimes it's a quiz or a project.  I use the portfolios at the points where students start to feel like they are not learning.  We go back and see how far they've come.  It's a great motivator.  For the higher levels, when I had a multilevel class, it also included things like career interest surveys, skills inventories, resumes, sample cover letters, etc.  For that level, it was important for them to have something in hand to help them toward their college and career training goals.

I'd like to move toward digital portfolios so I can include audio and video recordings, but I haven't found that digital portfolios work very well at the low literacy ESL level.  It usually takes me 3 to 4 months to get them up to speed on basic digital skills before I could even consider it, and by then they are used to the paper portfolios.  But maybe I'll try with my class next year. 

Peace,

Glenda

Kathy_Tracey's picture

This is a great conversation. Glenda, than you for sharing the portfolio example. I think it takes us beyond this initial goal setting and interest survey and demonstrates a practical application.

Students have varied interests that can be used to draw the into a classroom. To echo Susan's question, what other methods do we use to gather information about our students and then, more importantly, what do we do with this information?

Sincerely,
Kathy Tracey

Lisa Brickman's picture

My adult students love to talk about cooking and sharing recipes. Once a male student told me about a local grocery store that sold a particular type of fish.  All of a sudden people were talking back and forth about this fish (I don't remember its name) and how much they enjoy it as well as comparing how they prepare it.  I sat down and watched the conversation grow and most everyone joined the conversation.  

finnmiller's picture

Hi Lisa and all, These spontaneous conversations can be wonderful. This week in class, one of the questions for conversation was "What is your dream for the future?" This topic generated a great deal of meaningful discussion, laughter and community building among a new group of students. I even learned what a Bugatti is. cool

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition CoP

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