The advantages of having a materials designer for a husband? :-)
Today I finished putting together some ESL learning materials for Mrs. Raven, who still strives valiantly to improve her English any chance she gets. She's taking a course at a local institute and seems happy enough with the way things are going except for two things:
(A): She's a busy mum and can only attend part-time; and this means it always seems to take forever for her to finish a level (actually, her 'level' seems to fluctuate up and down and across from one term to the next)
(B): She studies dilligently at home, but has no real idea what outcomes she's supposed to be working towards, or whether in fact anything she does independently at home can 'count' towards official criteria in her course
Talking around with our wider network of migrant friends and spouses, the situation above appears to be very common. The perception seems to be one of confusion, being constantly in the dark about their learning and levelling, and feeling frustrated about a wealth of learning and experience outside the classroom not being formally recognised.
Before I go any further, I want to point out that classroom teachers can only do so much, and that 'much' gets divided and subdivided in myriad ways as part of the challenge of teaching multiple groups (of often shifting and sliding enrolments) in institutional settings under increasing levels of paperwork bombardment. The fact that many migrants (based on cultural habits or just plain shyness) don't ask questions or remind teachers of their needs doesn't help all that much either.
However, what's interesting about the above situation is the fact that, in Australia, ESL is usually handled as a formal training package with various courses adhering to the Australian Quality Training Framework (AQTF). Two very important elements in the AQTF are the notions of competence and recognition of prior learning (RPL). While there are guidelines for nominal learning hours, these aren't stipulated as having to occur in a formal classroom environment. In other words: learners have a right to be evaluated based on overall competence, and this evaluation has to cater to potential learning that has happened in a range of different contexts - not just 'at school'.
Looking at Mrs. Raven's situation, she has a bit of an advantage when it comes to her ESL 'training': a husband who is (1) a grizzled veteran ESL teacher, (2) an experienced materials designer, and (3) web-wily enough to track down all the official documents outlining levels, modules, elements, performance criteria and evidence requirements applicable to the course she's enrolled in.
So basically, I can design learning activities for her to do at home. When I do so, I somehow find it instinctive to document training package information in the learning materials I design for her. Things like official course level, module summary, element and performance criteria details. You can see what I mean in the example material below:
I do the same for my VCAL Literacy course materials for upper high school students in a TAFE context as well.
This is part of my conditioning in working in Australia's VET system where documentation and evidence are extremely important and a crucial strategy in supporting educational 'brand quality' (to help differentiate the Real McCoy providers from the dodgy ones, I guess).
Beyond that, I think the provision of succinct but clear and informative course and learning outcome details is just part of treating our adult learners like, well - adults.
When adult learners enroll in a course, in many cases they're making a monetary and time investment, and they generally appreciate seeing all of the things they need to achieve and have ongoing notifications of how what they're doing from one day to the next fits into the overall scheme of things and progressively builds towards recognition of achievement.
One of the clearest ways of doing this, in my opinion, is to document these details on the actual learning materials and alongside things like syllabuses and learning schedules (whether in advance for pre-planned courses or on an ongoing basis for more emergent approaches). I think this is part of showing a teacher's organisational skills, professionalism and philosophy that this teaching/learning gig is a shared endeavour between two responsible adults.
So here are my two questions for you...
1. Should ESL course providers make more of an effort to formally recognise -- provided, of course, there is sufficient quality evidence -- learning and competence in the language that is demonstrated outside the bounds of the classroom, whether fully self-directed or with the assistance of family members and friends?
2. Do you think it is a good idea to feature some of the official 'small print' involved with course objectives on actual learning materials for students? Is this recognising their adult maturity and our willingness to be accountable for what we teach, or does it just unnecessarily clutter things up for everyone concerned?
I think my own opinion comes through fairly clearly here, but I'm intrigued to hear yours.