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Personalising learning

January 30, 2007

Hello again,

Personalised Learning is the latest buzz phrase in UK state education. It seems obvious when you think about it. Each learner’s needs are specific and schools face a challenge in reconciling an individual’s needs with those of the group.

Since few EL students can afford one-to-one teaching, it is advisable to...

...combine effective group classes with personal learning programmes. I would say that this needs to be approached in two ways.

Make it clear to students that group learning is valuable. Groups allow peer interaction, communicative activities and supply elements that motivate, whether through cooperation or competition. It is important that students don’t feel that group learning is less useful than attention to their individual needs. Quite apart from the opportunities for more activities in language learning, groups aid social and cultural skills to develop too. Barbara Gross Davis of Berkeley University reports that: “Researchers report that, regardless of the subject matter, students working in small groups tend to learn more of what is taught and retain it longer than when the same content is presented in other instructional formats. Students who work in collaborative groups also appear more satisfied with their classes. (Sources: Beckman, 1990; Chickering and Gamson, 1991; Collier, 1980; Cooper and Associates, 1990; Goodsell, Maher, Tinto, and Associates, 1992; Johnson and Johnson, 1989; Johnson, Johnson, and Smith, 1991; Kohn, 1986; McKeachie, Pintrich, Lin, and Smith, 1986; Slavin, 1980, 1983; Whitman, 1988)”.

The group work should be geared towards tasks and activities that require interaction to help the group cohere and bond.

However, it is also true that each individual will have a personal reason for learning English. Some may wish to study in an English-speaking country or work abroad, others may be dealing with English in an international setting. Others may be involved with tourism and some may simply enjoy learning foreign languages: whatever the reason, the personal needs have to be addressed.

One way to handle this complex situation is to devote part of the teaching week to self-study. For continuity, a daily slot is a good idea. For this to work the schools needs a good resource bank covering a full range of ESP topics. At the beginning of term students can be helped to identify their learning priorities. You could present them with a questionnaire, a checklist or ask them to draw a circle and divide it into segments prioritising their needs.

They will need induction on how to use the self-access materials, find appropriate exercises and monitor their progress. Once the class is working in this way, the teacher can circulate spending time with individuals to help them work out a learning plan, answer queries and offer support.

This could be further supported by weekly sub-divisions of the class into tutor groups of those students sharing similar interests.

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  1. fouad haidar-ahmad Says:

    Dear Dr. Hall,
    I did what you said about prioritizing the training needs by the beginning of the term with my teachers 3 months ago, and I found out that their needs could never be sorted out which means that studying the needs for ESl/ EFL teachers or students may help you as analyst in terms of awareness but will not actually help a trainer in devising a plan for training. Consequently, a trainer or a teacher may depend in planning for training on his or her experience. What is your opinion on this matter?

    Best regards,

  1. Brenda Townsend Hall Says:

    I am not sure what you mean by "their needs could never be sorted out". See my next post in which I will deal with a model for helping students define their needs and their action plan.

    Thank you for your comment.

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