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Need Assessment

Teaching English is not as difficult as we think. To continue my previous posting about twelve principles that teacher should know, I cite an article from some authors, and the following article was written by Vella Jane in 2002. Based on the previous posting(read), the first one is Need Assessment. Do you know what is need assessment’s mean here? Let’s go to the article... 
Doing an adequate needs assessment is both standard practice and a basic principle of adult learning, which honors the fact that while people may register for the same program they all come with different experience and expectations. No two people perceive the world in the same way. That’s a standard axiom of quantum thinking. How can we discover what the group really needs to learn, what they already know, what aspects of the course that we have designed really fit their situations? Listening to learners’ wants and needs helps shape a program that has immediate usefulness to adults. The dialogue begins long before the course starts.
Thomas Hutchinson (1978) of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, offers a useful question for needs assessment: Who needs what as defined by whom? This WWW question—who as needers, what as needs, whom as definers—reveals the political issues involved in preparing a course for adult learners. Who are, indeed, the decision makers of this course? Is it the teacher? Is it the learners? The answer, using quantum thinking, allows for both voices to be heard: adult learners must take responsibility to explain their context; the teacher must take responsibility to contact learners in every way possible, see them at work if possible, and be clear about what she can offer them. I cannot teach what I do not know. I have the issues and knowledge sets that I want to teach them. Adult learners, however, can name what they see needs to be taught, as well. They will vote with their feet if the course does not meet their needs. They will simply walk out. As their teacher, I need to discover what they already know and what they think they need or want to know. How do I hold these opposites, listen to these learners and their managers or their clients and to my own agenda, and then design a course that meets their needs? This listening effort is what we call a learning needs and resources assessment. It is both a practice and a principle of adult learning. Paulo Freire (1972) refers to it as thematic analysis, a way of listening to the themes of a group.
Themes are issues that are vital to people. When adult learners are bored or indifferent, it means their themes have been neglected in the design of the course. Motivation is magically enhanced, however, when we teach them about their own themes. People are naturally excited to learn anything that helps them understand their own themes, their own lives. Myles Horton, founder of the Highlander School in Tennessee, discovered how well the police in that state understood this principle in the 1930s. As a young man he was arrested and indicted for “having gone to the miners, listened to them and then having gone back and taught them what you heard” (Adams, 1975, p. 33). In fact Horton was indicted for having done a needs assessment. “Listening to them” is the operative phrase here. How do we listen to adult learners, before we design a course for them, so that their themes are heard and respected? Today, we can use e-mail, faxes, and telephone conversations, we can use a small focus group to review the plan of a course or workshop or training, or we can do a survey. A well-distributed sample of even 10 percent of the group can give you important information for your design. The appendix offers numerous suggestions for ways of doing needs assessment. Wheatley speaks of the advantage to dialogue and needs assessment of actually seeing people at work. “However you do it, discovering what is meaningful to a person, group or organization is your first essential task” (1999, p.149). Their themes are then visible and tangible. We can hear such themes by inviting them to de scribe situations they face, by asking for critical incidents in their work, by having a potluck supper where we can meet students with their spouses and partners in a relaxed atmosphere. I have used such events prior to each graduate course I taught at the School of Public Health at University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. It is always a revelation for me to discover the surprising and exciting background of graduate students. I also spend five minutes on the phone with each student, calling each one from the list of those registered for the course. I discover things in such phone calls that help inform the course design.
Remember that needs assessment does not form the course; it informs it. It is my duty as professor to determine what can be learned in the given time frame of a course; it is also my duty to begin the learning dialogue before the course begins. My colleague, Dr. Paula Berardinelli, who was doing training in time management skills with a group of secretaries at a major industry, sent a number of them the draft program for the training a month before the event. She indicated that she would be calling them for a ten-minute conversation on a specified day. When she spoke with them, one by one, she heard a similar set of themes about their work. She also heard, over and over, how delighted they were by her call. They cited many incidents she could use in the training, as stories for analysis or case study material for reflection.
Fatuma if I had not used Hutchinson’s WWW principle: who needs what as defined by whom.

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