- Program Considerations
- Classroom Strategies
- Levels of ESL Literacy
Learner Needs Assessment
An effective ESL literacy program must meet the needs of the learners and help them thrive in their communities and achieve their goals. Learners can have a very diverse set of needs, and instructors and program administrators must understand the kinds of needs individual learners have in common with each other.
Learner needs are directly linked to their goals, Learner needs assessments should focus on the goals of the learners, which can be grouped into three categories:
Many learners want to learn things that are useful to their everyday lives and help them fully function in Canada:
- Talking with doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals
- Filling in forms
- Finding housing
- Shopping for food, clothing, furniture, etc.
- Negotiating government funding
- Completing banking tasks
- Communicating with children’s schools
Learners with goals for further education often want to transition out of ESL literacy into different educational settings, including:
- Mainstream (non-literacy) ESL classes
- Adult Basic Education
- Adult high school programs
- Apprenticeship and trade training programs
- College career certificate & diploma programs
Learners’ goals will grow or change as they learn and discover more about their new country and the possibilities available to them.
Some learners need to find a job. Other learners had a job before entering full-time ESL literacy classes. Their goal is to keep their job or get a different kind of job. Instructors and coordinators may know about pre-employment programs that help learners obtain employment.
In a learner needs assessment consider:
Who to Ask
The best way to understand the needs of the learners is to talk to them directly. In a learner needs assessment talk to:
- Current learners in the program: These learners will provide valuable information about their current needs and their goals for the future.
- Potential learners: Meet potential learners through referral agencies, open houses, community meetings and focus groups.
- Past learners: They may be able to identify what worked for them, what did not work, and what would have been useful.
- Community agencies, settlement and cultural programs: Many refugee aide, settlement programs and community agencies will be able to discuss the needs of the learners.
- Employers: They may be able to identify learner gaps in essential skills.
- Experienced instructors: They are an important source of information about learner needs.
What to Ask
Questions will differ depending on the program and the level of the learners. Make questions concrete and easy to understand. Questions to consider in a learner needs assessment can include:
- Does anyone help you with reading and writing? Where do they help you?
- What do you want to read/write?
- Why do you want to improve your reading and writing? Why do you want to go to school?
- Do you have a job right now? Do you like your job?
- Do you want a job in the future? What kind of job do you want?
How to Ask
How to ask questions is as important as what to ask. Recognize the level of the learner when asking the questions. Make the questions meaningful to the learner so the learner can express his/her needs. Avoid hypothetical situations, the conditional, or imagining the future.
A needs assessment can include all kinds of aids, such as:
- Photographs or pictures: Use large, easily understood photographs of situations learners might see, such as doctor’s offices, the supermarket, an apartment building, etc.
- Realia: Use actual items that learners may see in everyday life and find difficult, such as utility bills, applications or common government forms.
- An interpreter or a first language assessment: An interpreter can be very helpful in a needs assessment. In some situations, a needs assessment can be conducted in the learner’s first language.
Share results with the learners
- Communicate with learners about the needs you will be addressing in the classroom.
- Use simplified language, provide pictures and visual diagrams and regularly review the learning needs identified to help learners understand how what they are learning relates to their needs. It can be challenging to communicate with learners who have limited oral proficiency or a limited understanding of what is required to achieve their goals.