This is my response to the reflective task Exploring your context 1 from Sandy Millin’s ELT Playbook 1.
The task – What do you know?
In short, I had to choose a learner or group and brainstorm everything that I know about them, including strengths, weaknesses, motivations, etc.
Part 1 – The group profile
The group overview
I chose to analyse my C2/CPE group, which come together twice a week for a total of three hours. This academic year is the first time this group has been together, however many of the learners have come from within the academy, i.e. progressed from C1 classes. The group is heterogeneous and is made up of five women and three men, all of whom are either working or studying. With regard to the age of the learners, the youngest in the class is seventeen and the oldest is thirty-two. The first few weeks with this class (as with any class), were a little slow, however after the group bonded the lessons have been amazing. The dynamic now is very relaxed yet not in a let’s-not-work manner; everyone is very exam-focused.
Learner occupational and educational backgrounds
In the class, there are two secondary school students (finishing their second year of bachillerato [final year in Spain]), three university students (studies include child education, computer engineering and something else but I can’t remember what it is) and three working professionals (one secondary teacher [bilingual school], another who works in the education sector and one chemical engineer).
English language learning experience
As said previously, many of the learners have come from within the academy – some have been at the academy for a number of years; others have come for the first time this year. That being said, all of the learners have considerable classroom learning experience and some have travelled and lived abroad in English-speaking contexts. I should also mention that a number of the learners speak French in addition to English.
Motivations for learning English
Some of the learners need English for their jobs – they have even said that they are taking this course to further better their chances at career progression. Those who are studying feel that English will benefit their future careers and their chances of getting placed on Erasmus programmes in English-speaking countries. With this in mind, all have said that they enjoy learning English and like the language. We could say, then, that predominantly the motivations are extrinsic, however intrinsic motivation certainly is present as well.
Hobbies and interests
Through various discussion in class, it’s clear to see that the group has quite a wide array of hobbies and interests. Shared interests include music, animals, T.V. shows and sport, while at the individual level learners have hobbies and interests specific to them. For example, one learner is studying a new instrument (ukelele), one learner is very interested in photography (his photos are amazing), and one is very into fitness and often runs half-marathons, etc.
Areas of strength
This is an interesting point to consider because the course is exam-focused and therefore preparing the learners to take the CPE exam (most likely for the coming academic year). So, at the exam level, learners are all very well-equipped language-wise to perform well at the CPE speaking. With regard to the other areas of the exam, the class is not at the required proficiency. That being said, this is their first year studying at C2 level, so this is to be expected.
Now, let’s focus on learning strategies and how they are implemented. Most of the learners have good study routines and constantly revise the work done in class. This study ethic will no doubt benefit them in this course. Also, the class are not afraid to say they don’t understand something or would like to go over something again – another really important strength to consider.
Areas of potential growth
The Writing, Listening and Reading and Use of English papers prove difficult. Perhaps it will be better to break this area down a little further:
- Writing issues: Most learners are aware of the genres of text they need to cover, however when it comes to writing appropriately learners often have difficulties. Further to this, understanding and interpreting the texts in writing part 1 (the essay) is always an issue – they often fail to identify/extract and analyse the main points presented by the writers.
- Listening issues: The content in the listening exam doesn’t normally prove too difficult, however the questions and tasks they need to completely do. I find they often underline haphazardly with no real understanding of why they are underlining (this is the same for most of my advanced learners). Furthermore, they often struggle to put into practice other useful strategies (e.g. paraphrasing answers).
- Reading and Use of English issues: This paper always causes issues in all of my classes, however with this specific group, the reading questions prove to be most difficult. Also, the use of English, especially sentence transformation exercises, prove to be extremely difficult.
Overall, these areas of difficulty could be found in any number of CPE or exam-focused classes. In terms of what I personally will try to help them with is developing an awareness of useful strategies to implement in the exam and encouraging them to experiment with these in class (often they are hesitant to try something new).
Activities that work well with this group
The first term is always a little bit of trial and error, however I have found that this group responds well to pair and group activities, e.g. completing a reading activity together. They also enjoy the revision activities that I use in class (back2theboard, language lottery, etc.). With regard to technology, they enjoy watching videos such as TED (we have a weekly listening log where they have to listen to a TED talk) and playing games such as Kahoot (although only to a certain degree).
Reasons for success
I find that you can generally tell which learners will be a little bit more successful than others simply by their study ethic or their enthusiasm in class; the majority of learners in this group have a great study ethic and are very enthusiastic in class (thankfully – otherwise it would be a very dry class!). For these reasons, I believe that, if they all stick with the course, they will be able to achieve their goal of completing the CPE within the next two years.
Part 2 – Reflection
Completing this group profile took me back to both Module 2 and 3 from Delta, in which you need to complete a group profile (Module 3 also requires an in-depth needs analysis). The great thing about this was that I was able to use a lot of the resources and knowledge garnered from these modules to complete this task.
Why did you choose this group?
Well, there are a number of reasons. One, they are one of my favourite groups to teach. Two, the course content is very difficult and so having an understanding of the group’s strengths and weakness is always a good idea. And three, because there are a number of new learners in this group, so I wanted to make sure I knew as much as possible about them so that next term’s content can be as well-informed as possible.
How did you collect the information?
Most of the information in this task I already had ‘on file’. At the start of the year, I had my learners email me with a description of themselves and some information about their English learning history. And, I was able to recall a lot from conversations had in class. This being said, I did send out a short questionnaire to the group as I didn’t have the answers to all the questions for everyone.
What else would you like to find out? How will you achieve this?
I feel I know a fair amount of detail with this class, however I would still like to know a little more about each of the learner’s individual study habits and time that they can devote to studying outside the classroom. During the last week of term, I always conduct interviews with all my learners so I will get this information from them then.
How does finding out about your learners influence your teaching?
I think that if a teacher were to simply teach without taking into consideration any of the learners’ actual wants and/or needs (as seen by the learner) then the class would one, be extremely dry, and two, very unsuccessful. Also, I’m not sure how it could be enjoyable for the teacher?! So, basically, if we want our learners to be motivated, enjoy the class and, hopefully, be successful, then our best chances at doing this are taking into consideration their wants and needs and not simply following a prescribed coursebook or syllabus (the syllabus should be informed by learners’ needs in the first place!).
Part 3 – Notes
Who would benefit from this task?
In short, everyone. I don’t think there is a teacher in this industry that would find it difficult to benefit from this task. Collecting data on learners’ needs and wants should be something done at the start (if not before) every course/term/year.
Is this task suitable for those teachers doing Delta (or other diploma-level courses)?
100 %. If you’re wondering what it’s like to do a full in-depth analysis of your learners, then this is a good ‘starter’. It will highlight some of the more important points and give you some idea about what areas will need more time than others. If you are looking for some further reading on this, try:
- Nunan, D. (1988). Syllabus Design. Oxford: Oxford University Press
- Graves, K. (2000). Designing language courses: A guide for teachers. Boston: Heinle & Heinle.
How could you build on this?
The first thing would be to continue with the tasks in Sandy’s ELT Playbook, which I intend to do. However, if you don’t have the book and are looking for other ideas, some of these might appeal to you:
- Try to design a set of lessons based on your learners’ needs and wants
- Evaluate how well your current syllabus meets your learners’ need and wants
- Try to include differentiation in the classroom based on your findings
- If you haven’t got all of the information that you wanted, go a find it! Conduct more interviews, get learners to create and complete surveys (all this could be done in class as part of a lesson)
Hopefully this reflection gives you some ideas or at least motivates you to think about your own teaching context. I’ll hopefully have the next reflective task up very soon!