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CELTA written assignment: focus on the learner(s)

focus

The purpose of the assignment

The CELTA handbook (5th edition) explains that this assignment allows you to demonstrate that you can:

  • show awareness of how a learner’s/learners’ background(s), previous learning experience and learning preferences affect learning
  • identify the learner’s/learners’ language and/or skills needs
  • correctly use terminology relating to the description of language systems and/or language skills
  • select appropriate material and/or resources to aid the learner’s/learners’ language and/or skills development
  • provide a rationale for using specific activities with a learner/learners
  • find, select and reference information from one or more sources
  • use written language that is clear, accurate and appropriate to the task

That's a lot to cover in 1000 words so you need to be concise and stay focused.  This is not the place to discuss general approaches to teaching.


structure

The structure of the assignment

Most centres choose one of two ways to set this assignment:

  1. You may be asked to focus on a specific learner from one of the teaching practice classes or
  2. You may be asked to focus on the whole of a teaching practice class.

You may even be given a choice.

Whichever assignment you are set, the considerations are the same but, obviously, more depth will be required in 1. than in 2.

This is in the genre of an Information Report and it has three parts:

  • A brief introduction stating the basic information about the learner or the class.  Say what you are doing and who the subject of the investigation is.
  • An area-by-area report giving the data you have gathered, noting strengths, weaknesses and needs as you go along.
  • A set of suggestions identifying:
    • sources for language and/or skills development and, if it's needed, personal support
    • ideas for language and/or skill focused activities
      Link this section carefully to the data you have gathered, explaining why you think the ideas will help.

You can combine the second and third areas if that makes sense to you so two structures are possible:

Either ... ... or ...
structure 1 structure 2

Choose one structure or the other.  Do not mix them up or you'll be incoherent.


gathering

Gathering the data

  1. individualFor an individual student you will probably need:
    1. An example of the learner's writing.  The neatest way to get this is to write a short note to the learner saying who you are, giving a bit of background (age, background, personal details etc.) and asking the learner to respond in like manner.  That way, you get the personal stuff you need and an example of how well they can handle the simple language needed to give some personal data (name, age, occupation etc.).
    2. The extra data you need to collect are:
      • reasons for learning English
      • language learning background
      • student’s opinion of their strengths and weaknesses in English
      • preferred class and activity types
    3. All of this information can be collected by using a simple form and interviewing the student.  Make yourself a grid or table to fill in as you talk to the learner.  Then take it away and work on it, inserting your comments in the third column.  Something like this:
      Question Response Implications and comments
      Why are you learning English? Wants to study in Britain Will need a good IELTS score and strong listening, reading and writing skills
      High instrumental motivation
      What learning of English have you done before?    
      What are you best at?
      Speaking
      Writing
      Reading
      Listening
      Grammar
      Pronunciation
      Vocabulary
         
      What do you like and dislike doing in the classroom?
      Working alone
      Listening to the teacher
      Working in groups
      Working in pairs
      Doing exercises
      Reading
      Listening
      Writing
      Speaking
      Listening to songs
      Playing language games
      Anything else?
         
    4. You can, of course, gather some of this data by designing a questionnaire.  See the guide to needs analysis to get some ideas.  There is an example of a basic needs analysis form here.
    5. Do one of two things:
      • Record the interview and listen to it again, making notes of consistent errors and the learner's communicative effectiveness.  You can provide a tapescript of some important parts of the interview to exemplify the areas you think need work in the assignment.  You will need the person's permission to do this, of course.
      • If recording is not an option, make as many notes as you can on the learner's use of English as you go along.
    6. Learning style.  The new edition of the handbook (the 5th) has removed any explicit reference to learning styles because the theories that underlie such things have been comprehensibly debunked.  The syllabus now contains reference to learning preferences.  However, for reasons which are slightly obscure, some CELTA centres and tutors are wedded to the idea of learning styles.  Many will let you have a copy of something called a VARK questionnaire to give to the subject.  There is, of course, a guide to learning styles on this site but you should treat the area with great scepticism.  See also the article attempting to debunk the whole concept.

  2. groupFor a group of learners you'll need slightly different information-gathering techniques but the structure is exactly the same.
    1. You need to set out some information about the people in the class: ages, occupations, reasons for learning etc.  See the table above.  The only sensible way to do this with a group of people is via a questionnaire needs analysis.  See the guide to needs analysis to get some ideas.  There is an example of a basic needs analysis form here.
    2. You can investigate learning preferences but will have to identify from the data any commonalities in the class rather than details of each learner.  See point f., above.
    3. For the final section of the assignment where you make suggestions, you'll need to be a bit more generalised and identify common aims and needs rather than individual ones.
      One approach is to identify the two weakest and the two strongest students and identify appropriate activities, resources and aims for them.  That should also cover everyone in between.

  3. aimDescribing learning aims can be professionally done if you apply some terminology.
    Needs can overlap so some will fall into one or more categories.  Here's a brief outline:
    1. The student is studying English for no obvious purpose at the moment.  He or she may need the language in the future for some purpose but at the moment that is not clear.  The student may also need the language as part of a general education, for access to English-language websites and for travel and tourism.
      This student needs General English (a GE learner).
    2. This student need English to settle and integrate in an English-speaking culture for an indefinite time.
      This student needs English as a Second or Other Language (an ESOL learner)
    3. This student needs English for business and commercial purposes either because his/her professional setting demands it or because he/she is intending to study Business and/or Management.
      This student needs Business English (a BE learner).
    4. This student intends to study in an English-medium institution such as a university or college.
      This student needs English for Academic Purposes (an EAP learner).
    5. This student needs English for a narrow area of concern such as access to written scientific texts, to work in a particular occupation such as the hospitality industry, air traffic control, the merchant marine, the transport industry etc.
      This student needs English for a Specific Purpose (an ESP learner).
    6. All of the above can be subdivided into a bewildering range of acronyms including, e.g., EGOP (English for General Occupational Purposes), EGPP (English for General Professional Purposes), ELF (English as a Lingua-Franca, for communication between non-native speakers of English worldwide), English in the Workplace (EiW), English for Professional Purposes (EPP) and so on.

  4. effortDescribing motivation can also be better done if you use a bit of technical terminology.
    Be aware that these categories overlap and few learners fall neatly into one type.  Most will fall into two or more with various mixes.
    1. "I want to learn English to fit into an English-speaking culture and work and socialise."
      This student has Integrative Motivation (to integrate into a cultural milieu).
    2. "I want to learn English to use the language in business meetings / to study a subject at university."
      This student has Instrumental Motivation (using the language as a tool to do other things).
    3. "I love the language and enjoy learning it and speaking it."
      This student has Intrinsic Motivation (the pressure to learn comes from within).
    4. "I have been told to learn English by my employer / parents / sponsor."
      This student has Extrinsic Motivation (the pressure to learn comes from outside).

Be careful not to be too dogmatic here.  People are complicated and their motivations are often obscure, even to themselves, so try to avoid statements such as
This learner is extrinsically motivated.
Prefer, instead, something a bit more careful such as:
From the data supplied in the short questionnaire, it seems that this learners is aware of the need to learn enough English to be able to function in the workplace but is also keen to access English-speaking websites and understand something of the cultures of English-speaking societies.  She has, therefore, a mix of instrumental and integrative motivation and needs English as a tool as well as for cultural access.

There is a guide to motivation on this site but you do not need all the detail now.  If you would like a simpler guide to motivation which still gives more data than here, there is one in the TKT course materials (new window or tab).


suggestions

Making your suggestions

Obviously, the suggestions you make will be determined by what you have discovered about the learner(s).

  1. Make sure everything you say here has a rationale:
    1. Why do you suggest it?
    2. What's its target?
    3. How will it help?
  2. Include both ideas for activities and ideas for materials to use and topics to focus on.
  3. Identify both language structure and skills needs.
    For example,
    From the data summarised in point xxx above, I would argue that a priority for this learner / these learners is to enhance his / her / their reading skills because they / he / she identify it as a weakness and this is supported by my observations.  Good reading skills are needed for study in the UK and the majority of these EAP students / this EAP student will be going on to university in the next few months.  Therefore, I suggest using xxxx in class and starting a reading club using xxxx books and resources.  The student(s) will also benefit from a specific focus on both reading for gist and reading intensively so I suggest the following activities will be helpful...
    or
    Another area of weakness I have identified in point yyyy above is the student's(s') lack of vocabulary . Therefore, I suggest a specific focus on general academic vocabulary including using yyyy as a resource and spending at least one lesson per day focusing on common academic collocations (such as reasonable to argue, arising from the data, developing the point further etc.)
    The class / student will also benefit from work on cohesive devices such as
    therefore, firstly, finally, because, furthermore etc. as his / her / their writing shows that they avoid or misuse these structures in general (see appendix 2, and the comments in point z).

end

Conclusion

Do not repeat yourself here.  It's not necessary and you don't have enough words to play with.
What you do need to do here is identify the main facts and the most important suggestions.  In other words, prioritise.



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