A Needs Assessment of 2013 – Josette LeBlanc
As language teachers, when you see the term “needs assessment” you might think of taking the time to learn more about your learners’ language needs. Kathleen Graves (2000) defines needs assessment as,
“…a systematic and ongoing process of gathering information about students’ needs and preferences, interpreting the information, and then making course decisions based on the interpretation in order to meet the needs.”
I’d like to propose a different type of needs assessment. It is more celebratory and reflective, than it is systematic and ongoing. This assessment involves looking back on your year and considering what universal needs you and your learners have fulfilled. My thought is that by doing this needs assessment, you might step into 2014’s classrooms with a bit more joy and gratitude in your heart. After having written this list of 13 met needs in 2013, I know that’s how I’m moving into the new year.
At the beginning of each semester of our teacher-training program, we always ask the teachers why they signed up for our course. The majority of them say it’s because they need a break. They need time away from all the demands of being an English teacher in Korea. They need time to remember what it means to be a teacher. They also need time to work on their English skills. In some cases, they just need time to remember who the are. As you read on, I think you’ll see how these teachers had their need for rejuvenation fulfilled.
In relation to remembering who they are, one of the teachers this semester shared her thoughts in one of her course reflections:
“I think, through this course, I can find different “myself” instead of “teacher myself.” (…) It may sound a little too much, but I think I am getting to know who I am and what I am capable of. Without this course and various activities, I could never know I can make the fancy storybook (see below). (…) Once again, I feel very lucky to have an opportunity to join this teachers’ training course.”
As you can imagine, reading this brought me great joy.
This picture represents the culmination of 6 weeks of collaborative work done to create the storybook you see the teacher holding up on the right. This is a picture of them telling their story during the book release party. In addition to this group, five other teams not only shared their own storybooks, but also their sense of accomplishment.
Most teachers start off feeling worried about having to do practice teaching in front of their peers. They have to plan and teach lessons where their colleagues become their students. However, once the lesson is finally underway, it seems like all those worries melt away: it’s time to play! Let’s learn how to cook! What fun!
I usually give the teachers homework: read an article of your choosing, and report back by giving me your thoughts on parts of the reading that struck you. After a few weeks of this, one brave teacher told me she didn’t understand why she had to do homework she wasn’t interested in. I completely understood. I’ve always questioned homework, but kept up with it probably mostly due to old held beliefs. The next week I asked them to tell me what type of after class studies they would like to do. They had the choice to do what they wanted, or do nothing at all. I was impressed. Everyone chose tasks that met their unique needs and that also fit their schedule. I’ll definitely be trying this again.
An important part of the writing curriculum that I’ve created for this program is the peer review component. When I first introduced it four years ago, I was apprehensive because I wasn’t sure how the teachers would feel about me taking a backseat. Anyone who grew up in the Korean education system is used to the teacher being front and center. However, each semester I ask the teachers how they feel about the peer review process. This year, the answer was the same: they said they got the support they needed to write the story/essay they really wanted. This is why peer reviews are still in the curriculum. My apprehension is subsiding.
It’s no secret that most Korean teachers of English use a form of the grammar translation method to teach their students. There are many reasons for this. However, these teachers also know it’s not the best way to help their students learn how to use the language. During our course they experience being learners and teachers. They get to feel what their students must feel, and they also have the chance to teach lessons based on methods beyond grammar translation. Our program is a place for experimentation and as a result, a lot of growth happens.
Can you see how this need has been fulfilled so far? J
Confidence is one of the most important needs that I aim to fulfill during this course. Teachers often come with very low-self confidence and with deep-rooted beliefs that their English isn’t good enough. I can only imagine how hard it is to feel this way when you have to stand in front of class of 35 students everyday. Although they may not leave the course feeling 100%, through all the experiences I described above, I know the teachers who have left and are leaving this program are little more confident about their language and teaching skills.
10 & 11 Grieving and celebration
Before the end of last semester, my colleague had a fabulous idea to help the teachers look back the course and also look forward on how it would influence them. Thinking of what we had learned and experienced, we wrote a hope we had for ourselves, and attached it to a balloon filled with helium. Then we all headed outdoors. On the count of three, we let go of our balloons, letting our hopes find their own destination. Although we were celebrating our time together, and all the learning that we had done, there definitely was some grief. During this time we balanced our honor for grief and celebration.
Each teacher comes to the program from different schools in the area, alone and perhaps unsure. But when the program ends, they leave connected to a group that holds great friendship and knowledge. They leave with memories of negotiations, compromise, reconciliations, experimentations, listening, laughter, and sharing. They leave with a community of learning.
I had to stop myself at 13. The needs assessment produced more results, but I’ll just have to save those for 2014. What about you? How long is your list? No matter how long it is, may it bring you joy. And may the new year bring you and your students great fulfillment.
Graves, Kathleen. Designing Language Courses: A Guide for Teachers. Boston: Thomson Heinle, 2000.
Connect Josette and other iTDi Associates, Mentors, and Faculty by joining iTDi Community. Sign Up For A Free iTDi Account to create your profile and get immediate access to our social forums and trial lessons from our English For Teachers and Teacher Development courses.