Important Issues in Teaching Adult Learners: Assessment
If adult literacy instructors are to properly construct an effective educational agenda that will impact the needs of adult learners, the primary instructional focus should be on the learner rather than the content. The learner must have the confidence necessary to become a part of the process, actively participate and even assume responsibility for his or her success. The learner must buy into the educational plan and feel that his or her individual needs and best interests are represented in the plan and that this process is worthy of his or her best efforts.
The instructor must engage the adult learner and respond or adjust to the learner's needs. This requires instructor collaboration with the learner in developing mutual goals and an agreement on content structured in ways that will motivate rather than overwhelm the learner. An ongoing measurement of the learner's progress should include the efforts of both the teacher and the learner. Collaborative and authentic assessments can become tools for both the teacher and the learner, encouraging continuing participation.
The ways that the learners think, process, and store information should become keys for the development of instructional strategies and techniques. Some primary areas of consideration should be learning styles, prior educational experience, basic needs, goals, and forms of periodic assessment.
Personalization or customizing of the educational plan should be a major objective in the planning process. Personalization can also allow for the opportunity to develop needed literacy skills as well as intrapersonal or reflective assessment skills. The adult learner must have a sense of ownership in the process and the responsibility for learning.
One-on-one interviews can be very effective and a tool for personalization. It can be an initiation of personal involvement of the adult learners into the learning process. In order to better address the learning needs of adult learners, it is necessary to first assess past educational experiences and current proficiencies for placement. A pen and paper approach using an informal questionnaire can gather personal information quickly. The questions asked are important.
The initial session should include questions regarding personal history, educational background, grades, strongest and weakest subjects, and future goals. The interview can allow the interviewer the opportunity to scaffold other information questions that could develop from the adult learners' responses. The learner can also be asked to self-assess and self-report, thereby initiating a sense of involvement in the placement process and establish rapport with the instructor.
The interviewer is also afforded the first opportunity to observe linguistic proficiency, social skills, as well as the effectiveness of previous educational experience. The opportunity for other information gathering such as styles assessment, learner preferences, skills checklists, and literacy inventories can be initiated during the first weeks of classes.
Goals can become a vehicle for assessment. Development of goals, formally and informally, is also possible during the initial weeks of classes. It is an impressive experience for the learner to develop a goals contract with the instructor and can be far reaching if followed up by continuous review in the form of instructor-learner conferencing.
Adult learners should be given the opportunity to self-reflect and set goals. The goals should be learner specific such as acquiring better communication skills in English, being able to read and understand work orders, or being able to communicate with customers. Goals can include certain levels of skills along with a specific time perimeter. Goal setting can be an intense personal form of self-reflection that can also act as a catalyst for self-motivation. Goals can be reviewed weekly or monthly with adjustments made when necessary. Achievement of goals is a decided plus for increased motivation and self-esteem.
Assessment for adult learners can be a learning tool. Assessment should be continuous and on-going. It should be a positive and not a negative experience for adult learners. It can take many forms. An instructor/learner journal or diary can include comments regarding progress. An observation or conference duly noted and dated can be a very important form of on-going assessment. A portfolio can be maintained by a learner in which he or she can readily see progress over a period of time. Peer review and assessment of work in portfolios can also be a positive form of assessment.
A sharing of information is a positive form of assessment. Lower level or facts tests are often a detriment to an adult learner. Adult short-term memory loss is a fact-of-life that is often overlooked in adult education. The workplace requires a product or production of effort necessary to create a desired effect. Why can't this same requirement be utilized as a form of assessment in adult education?
Adults may better reflect their acquisition of knowledge through forms of actual production such as projects, reports, presentations, question responses, group panels, role playing, and interviewing. Successful assessment may be a key, important in creating a sense of accomplishment that will positively impact continuation of motivation to learn for the adult learner. Success will ensure that adult learners will come back for more.
The classroom of the adult learner should be reflective of the exigencies of the home and the workplace. It should also be a response to the needs of the learners. The traditional teacher sitting behind the desk and learners in front of the desk waiting passively to be filled with prescribed knowledge places almost total responsibility for learning on the instructor. The adult learner will respond more positively to an interactive or collaborative atmosphere that will reflect his or her real life needs. A personal involvement of the learner will foster the development of necessary literacy skills as well as other important workplace skills such as intrapersonal skills of self-assessment that will better lead to a sense of accomplishment and assumption of responsibility for future learning.
DeHesus-Lopez, P. Authentic Assessment. Texas A&M University, Kingsville, ESOL Project: Teaching Training Module, 1997.
About the Author
Dr. Anne Ensle's educational accomplishments include: Ed.D., Curriculum and Instruction, University of Houston; M.S., Multi-cultural Studies with a specialization in ESL, University of Houston, Clear Lake; B.A., English/Spanish/Sec.Ed., University of Houston; and OBEMLA Bilingual Fellowship 1995-1996. She began working in Adult Literacy as a volunteer ESL teacher for the ELAP/Amnesty Program in 1989. Other accomplishments include: Author/Editor of Critical Issues in Parental Involvement. ERIC Clearinghouse. ED 398 009; Author/Editor of "Teacher's Corner" Bilingual Research Journal 1993-1994; and 1995-1998 ESOL Project, Texas A&M - Kingsville.