Getting ready for week two of our term and to make this course as
successful as possible, I was reflecting on how the first week went and how to move forward with my four groups. It’s taken me many years of experience, completing the Cambridge Delta and lots of PD to come to the firm belief that one of the key factors to achieve a successful course with my students is to analyse their needs thoroughly at the beginning of the course.
For many years, ‘analysing my students’ needs’ meant no more than handing out a form with a few standard questions which I felt fulfilled the purpose. With time, I learned that more than just knowing what they wanted to learn, I needed to try and learn about my students as people rather than just asking them to tick a few boxes. In the past year, this has had a tremendous impact on my students’ learning but also on my relationship with them.
One of the first things I stopped doing was distribute a form to analyse their needs. To me, that type of form works well for feedback but not as a diagnostic tool. Students come to class as curious about their teacher as they are about each other. For that reason, I try to make the encounter as personal as possible which establishes the classroom as a comfortable and friendly environment. We usually introduce ourselves and I encourage them to ask as many questions as possible. This is done orally to enable me to assess their speaking. I usually scribble away codes and signs which only I can decipher, but which will form a large chunk of the data I’ll be using to decide what to teach and how to teach it. Many students have come to me and commented that they really enjoyed this type of introduction as they were nervous on their first day. Some might argue that this could be torture for introvert students, and while this is a fair point, when students take turn, the more introvert ones get time to prepare what they will say and also receive help in the form of questions and prompts. Lots of smiles can also go a long way in building their confidence!
Once this is done, I usually have a mingling , pair or group task prepared. Pitched at the students’ level, the task usually necessitates they collect information for a piece or writing they’ll need to produce in the last 30 minutes of the class. The writing is usually about another student which ensures they focus during the task. Added to that, I ensure the students know I will be collecting their writing at the end of the class.
By the end of this first lesson, I walk away with notes on my students’ speaking and a piece of writing which make up a far more thorough needs analysis than any form could have produced. Moreover, I walk away having established a connection with 18 adults who came to class, keen, nervous, apprehensive, excited, ready, and with their own expectations which I may have missed if I’d dived straight into teaching what the syllabus lists as their needs. The exchange that happens during the initial two hours of every course is what sparks the light that shapes our mutual experience together.
In today’s growing ELT industry, clinging to what makes us educators rather than operators of a system, is what gives me the renewed drive I need every term to keep enjoying what I do and sharing a special learning experience time and time again.