I want to talk about 3 groups of students I have dealt with recently.
1) The first is an adult education class learning how to use the word
processing program "Word".
Generally in my experience I try to make my students see that we are working as a team, that we share a common objective e.g. their progression in understanding and using a software product. With the idea of a common goal is borne the concept of a "mission", a journey with a purpose. Getting over to the new students that in order for me to help them on their journey I have to understand their needs makes the issue of assessment a far less frightening experience. Assessment is a component of MISSION SUCCESS! There is NO passing or failing!
The group to whom I am teaching the CLAIT course is on a mission with a specific goal. The other two groups are vaguer theirs is getting to grips with a particular dimension of IT. On the first session on the "Word" course I asked students why they had chosen to do the course. One person just wanted to know more about using a computer, another already used Word at work but wanted to further her knowledge and another woman wanted to work as a secretary and saw the course as a step in the right direction.
My CLAIT group has already completed an IBT1 course and from this I was able to deduce that they would most likely be of a certain standard. Their last tutor had had to leave the course in such a manner that they felt they'd been abandoned. I had no course notes or lesson plans to refer to so I had to look through their previous portfolios and syllabus books. Whilst this isn't an entirely accurate system of assessment it did give me an idea of what the students had accomplished so far.
In IT, it is the practical application of operational knowledge that
tends to show literacy in computer skills. It is generally more appropriate
to assess people's ability through hands on situations rather than theory.
Most processes of learning IT lend themselves to a block by block hierarchical
system. Therefore it is very likely that a person who doesn't know how
to do one aspect of computing is also very unlikely to know how to do
another more advanced one, this makes assessing where a person is on the
learning curve reasonably easy to determine.
Barriers to learning
Using the list of barriers to l referred to in the appendix of this document the main ones I have come across in terms of my own three groups of students are:
Fear of failing - Nearly all the students said they feared failing
My way of dealing with barriers
Lack of confidence - For those students who seem lacking in confidence I am careful to not pretend to them that they are better than they really are. Instead I try to foster a feeling of trust between us where they believe what I am saying. Confidence after all is less about ability and more a case of lack of trust in ones ability to see ones self clearly.
Wrong level - Whether a student stays on the course rather depends on the extent of the mismatch. Some students may appreciate the opportunity to revise and practice what they already have covered whereas other may not. Contrariwise it may be possible to either simplify or add to the course on offer in order to help meet the students needs. I tend to ask my students if there are any particular areas they want to know. I either say it's in the course already, or if it's not then I let them know if I am able to deal with it later. Establishing limitations to what's on offer is also part of the process of assessing learners needs because how a student reacts to boundaries can be very telling of what relationship they are likely veer towards with the tutor.
Special needs - With regards sight and hearing problems there are a number
of practical changes that may help. Firstly repositioning someone may
help with seeing or hearing what's going on. Also computer displays can
be enlarged, as can text size. Some people with partial hearing or the
ability to lip read may find being looked at helps when the tutor is speaking.
One of the most important things to do if one has a special needs student
is to ask them what might help, trying to presume what will be of benefit
rarely helps because one's imagination can not compete with the complexities
Environment - Keeping an eye on the classroom environment is essential. Keeping in mind factors from outside the classroom is also important. During my first ever session with homeless students I found a couple hanging around at the end. Without thinking I said "Haven't you got homes to go to?" whether they noticed this faux-pa was beside the point because for a moment I had spoken without thinking and consequently put at risk my learners needs. If I had upset them it's possible they would not have returned.
Financial - It's very easy to presume one's students can afford to do things such as visiting a film, or museum, or buying a magazine or book, but many can't and would be humiliated if they had to tell the tutor they were so poor. When developing a course structure it's wise to consider the likely wealth of the students before insisting on costly additions.
Ability to practice away from the class - Because many of my homeless students do not have a computer to practice on I consider it extremely important that they get hands on experience in the classroom. With other students I may offer homework, but this would not be appropriate for my homeless students.
As with all relationships, through the process of learning about each other we learn that each person has needs which may require a compromise from ourselves if the relationship is to continue. At times though the needs of one person may be at the expense of another. When this happens the relationship tends to be severed. How far one goes in adapting to the needs of learners ultimately comes down to the effect of dealing with those needs has on the tutor and rest of the class. Where possible in an ideal world most of the learners needs would be met but in reality a fine balance exists between the tutor, the student, the rest of the class, the college and other supporting bodies' needs. Part of the skill of the tutor is balancing out these needs as fairly and realistically as possible.
List of Barriers
Fear of failure
Special Needs (includes anything from impairments to eye sight, physical
disabilities and access problems, learning and behavioural difficulties.)