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Negotiating with learners should begin very early on in a students learning experience. It often starts with initial (or diagnostic assessment) which should take place with the student during a pre-course interview where details can be obtained as to the learners current status and suitability for the course in question. It is a means of assessing a student's ability and needs in a learning environment and can often identify the level of student's functional skills. 'Diagnostic assessment is an evaluation of a learner's skills, knowledge, strengths and areas for development.' (Gravells, 2008:75). Initial assessment gives students an opportunity to divulge any concerns they may have or disabilities that may inhibit them for learning. This will allow the teacher to arrange for any classroom support that the student may require. Once on the course an induction should take place where a profile can be created and the learner introduced to the course content, to the teacher and other learners.
When working with students with learning disabilities it is essential that we assess student's abilities and identify their learning needs very early on in order for us to plan to provide further support in the classroom. 'The concept of differentiated instruction is based on the need for general education teachers to differentiate instruction to meet the needs of diverse learners in the general education class; this includes students with learning disabilities as well as a number of other disabilities '(Bender, 2008:5). This will also allow the teacher to teach in a manner that meets the students learning styles.
Students should also have an Individual Learning Plan or ILP. This plan identifies a student's needs and also recognises the goals and aspirations of the learner and is drawn up by negotiation with the teacher. 'The purpose of an ILP is to help create a well planned 'tailor made' programme of activities for each student that meets their individual needs and aspirations.' (Petty 2004:510). By actively involving students in the outcome of their learning it gives the student ownership and a desire to succeed.
Targets set must be S.M.A.R.T. (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely) and they are necessary for student's to achieve the qualification they are aiming for and gives the student ongoing goals to work towards. However, as teachers it is paramount we must ensure that the goals and targets set are realistic. We must also ensure that we continually assess the student's progress (through formative assessment) and check that they are meeting specific targets. Therefore we can identify if a student needs further support. 'Students with learning disabilities require considerably more structure in their lessons... monitoring student's performance....will enable the student...to see his or her performance in relation to previous efforts.' (Bender, 2002:139).
All students have the right to be educated and in so doing to be treated equally with respect regardless of age, gender, race, belief or ability. This is called Inclusive teaching - recognising, accommodating and meeting the learning needs of all students. Learning must be differentiated to be effective. 'Differentiated instruction is a flexible approach to teaching in which the teacher plans and carries out varied approaches to content, process and product in anticipation of and in response to student differences in readiness, interests and learning needs.' (Tomlinson, 1995:10). It is important to ensure all students are included in all class activities and discussions by way of recognising their individual needs enabling them to reach their goals and feel a sense of achievement. 'Inclusive learning is about recognising that each of your learners is different from other learners in many ways, and should not be excluded from any of your activities within your sessions for any legitimate reason.' (Gravells 2008:21). Inclusive teaching avoids classifying students into stereotypes.
With this in mind it is essential that, as teachers, we have methods we can use to identify individual learner's potential abilities and needs and hence deliver appropriately resourced sessions that will attempt to give all learners an equal chance of success. As mentioned previously it is crucial we identify any learning disabilities early on to ensure identification of learner needs. Such identification methods could include:
initial assessments/assessment days
one to one discussions
Use of some or all of these methods would enable the teacher to gain knowledge of a learner's status and assist in planning an effective course for them taking into account any special equipment/resources needed.
The outcome of these assessments may indicate that some aspects of the learners needs cannot be handled by the tutor. It is important that we are able to recognise and accept that this may indeed be the case. The learners' needs are paramount and there will be internal support available:
disability liaison officers
In addition there are numerous external support agencies for example Drugs- Line, Shelterline, Childline and NHS Direct.
Staff at Monash University in Victoria, Australia have developed a useful strategy for implementing inclusive teaching which includes the following suggestions:
'recognise that students have a range of different learning styles
use a variety of teaching methods and presentation styles to accommodate different learning styles
be prepared to reassess the materials used and adjust the way they are delivered
negotiate directly with students, whenever possible, regarding their requirements
consult with others such as support staff, disability liaison officers and counsellors who can support and advise both students and staff '
Functional skills (historically known as key or basic skills) are core practical skills in English (literacy), Mathematics (numeracy) and Information and Communication Technology (ICT) that young people can develop and apply in different contexts that will enable them to work confidently, effectively and independently in all aspects of life, their communities and work. Individuals possessing these skills are able to progress not only in education but also in the workplace via work related training, problem solving and team working. 'This means they can be transferred to different situations/contexts as well as being used in a learner's particular subject area' Ann Gravells (2008:70). As teachers we must use every opportunity to embed functional skills:
'Embedding .... means that functional skills are taught within the main subject topic in a seamless way' Linda Wilson (2008:45). To be in any way relevant the teaching of functional skills must encourage learners to apply this knowledge to real life scenarios e.g. a numeracy application could be household budgeting. This is summed up on the National Curriculum web site:
'Learners need opportunities to:
apply their skills in plausible contexts or use their skills for real purposes
engage with the world beyond the classroom
integrate learning by linking knowledge within and between the functional areas
spend time planning and developing their work
makes choices and decisions, think creatively and act independently
experience success in real situations as a result of using their skills effectively'
As teachers we need to employ a collective approach to developing functional skills through subjects, links across subjects, common topics and/or themes, timetabled days and/or events. This will involve the efficient use of time, staffing, facilities, resources and equipment.
Within my teaching of Business Administration I would seek to embed functional skills in all topics covered.
Examples as to how I would achieve this in literacy would be getting learners to:
take part in discussions
read and understand a wide range of texts
identify points and how they are presented
write documents to communicate information in a suitable format
listen to information
Examples as to how I would achieve this in numeracy would be getting learners to:
understand and calculate proportions
collect data (possibly using ICT)
identify mathematical techniques to solve problems
interpreting the solutions to those problems
Examples as to how I would achieve this in ICT would be getting learners to:
enter and format information in various applications
use of support tools to check on spelling, grammar etc.
use of applications to create tables, graphs and displays
access ICT based information and search and select various criteria
The world of business and hence the subject Business Administration is particularly conducive to exposing learners to the necessity to embrace these core skills as in any business scenario a knowledge and ability to use them is vital.
Clear and effective communication is a complex two-way process involving the mutual exchange of information and ideas that can be written, verbal and non-verbal and includes delivering and receiving information which involves listening, observation and sensitivity and can be between teacher and student or student and student. Communication is a crucial cornerstone in any learning environment and can be applied directly to the teaching of Business Administration where communication is key.
Often taking many forms we can split communication into 2 types, verbal and non-verbal. Verbal communication can be classed as of or concerned with words and is basically talking either face to face where we would be concerned with sound, words, speaking and language. Verbal communication can also be on
the telephone where we would additionally be concerned about pitch and tone. For the purposes of this definition verbal communication is also in written form i.e. letter, e-mail, text etc.
Non-verbal communication can be classed as communication through sending and receiving wordless messages, examples are:
signing (British sign language)
touching (Haptics) e.g. handshake
In a study conducted in 1967 Albert Mehrabian summed up the impact we have on others through verbal and non-verbal communication and his research is represented on the following chart:
From the chart we can see that according to Mehrabian only 7% of the content of messages that we receive are the words actually spoken. The majority of the content is received via body language and tone of voice.
The 7-38-55% rule is often misquoted as Mehrabian found that it only applies when a communicator is talking about their feelings or attitudes and in no other circumstances.
Another theorist, David Berlo, published his model of communication in 1960. His model represents a behavioural approach to understanding communication. Berlo considers context and purpose and notes that we communicate to influence affect with intent and charges the speaker to be aware of purpose and delivery to efficiently get meaning across. He approaches communication as a process, a dynamic series of events that is constantly changing. Shifting, without beginning or end.
The model is divided into elements: a source, a message, a channel, a receiver and the message needs to be encoded then decoded. A diagrammatic representation is as follows:
In addition to students, tutors will communicate with a whole host of people from differing quarters including colleagues, parents, awarding bodies, other professional bodies, OFSTED inspectors etc.
This is an opportune point to mention probably the most underestimated communication skill which is listening. It was Epictetus, the Greek philosopher who said 'nature gave us one tongue and two ears so we could hear twice as a much as we speak'. Therefore it seems sensible that we, as teachers, should take on board some guidelines to being a good listener:
maintain eye contact
listen to the words
allow the speaker to finish
repeat what you thought you heard
watch your body language (remember Mehrabian's 55%)
In the opening paragraph it was mentioned that communication was a 'two-way' process. This is not always easy to achieve as various barriers can hinder this process. The list of potential barriers is endless but amongst others are:
background and bias past experiences can alter the message
jargon especially subject related
noise equipment or environmental
environmental factors e.g. bright lights
vocabulary most teachers will have a larger vocabulary
than that of their students
stress stress can alter perception
unapproachable teacher students may develop a reluctance to talk
Teachers need to identify barriers (possibly at the initial assessment) and help students overcome them although on an ongoing basis barriers can crop up at any time and as such we would need to adapt our material to suit students individual barrier problems taking into account their learning styles.