Thursday, 19 March 2015

Goal setting for learning management in adult ESL Literacy


Goal setting is an important step towards developing positive self-efficacy beliefs and the ability to self-motivate and self-direct learning. For goals to work, they need to be realistic, attainable and timely. Clearly, adult ESL Literacy learners will need a substantial support in setting and expressing their language learning goals. In this post, I’d like to share with you a few ideas that I have tried in the classroom to facilitate the goal setting process.

According to Rebecca L. Oxford (1990), learners without goals are like boats without rudders; they do not know where they are going, so they might never get there. In the classroom, some goal-setting activities should be done in the beginning following the initial needs assessment, while others may be implemented throughout the term. I find that embedding goal setting into instructional cycle - although it may take time and effort on behalf of both the learner and the instructor - pays high dividends overall. 

I usually start with the needs assessment activities in order to identify a skill that learners would like to focus on and a topic of interest. It may seem that the easiest of all would be to find out about a topic of interest. However, in my experience, learners are often confused because they think that all the topics are important, and therefore may not be able to decide on one. The challenge is that adult ESL Literacy learners will most likely lack the ability to identify, prioritize, or express their own language learning needs. We should not expect our learners to be proficient at identifying their needs. Our role as teachers is to provide consistent opportunities for learners to gradually build their ability to identify, prioritize, and focus on their language learning needs. It may not happen at the first try, and may take a lot longer than just one class, but with consistency in approach and focus on the learner, each time the needs assessments will be more meaningful and accurate.


Next step is to identify an area for improvement. For this, I have developed a simple tool which I like to call a "Glossary of Skills". I start with eliciting the language skills, then we fill in the spaces provided and choose one skill that we would like to focus on. This way, from the get-go, I know both the topic and the skill that the learner is interested in, and will be able to use this information to support my learners in setting their learning goals. 







Following the needs assessment, when the topic of interest has been identified, I make a small list of possible goals that are achievable, short-term, and relevant to the learner’s level of literacy and language proficiency. You can see two examples below:






Based on the instructor-made list of goals, learners will have to identify one goal to start. This choice will depend on different factors such as individual priorities in terms of the language skills, interest, and ability to understand what is required in this exercise. I try encourage learners to make the best use of their learning resources, for example, refer back to their glossary of skills and check the skill that they want to improve, then identify it on the suggested list of goals, see if they want to develop this particular ability, or may wish to do something else. I’d like to emphasize that when learners get to the stage where they need to interact with the handout, it is very important that they are already equipped with the vocabulary that will allow them to comprehend the information on it. Once the goal has been chosen, it is a good idea to work with the learner’s calendar, check today’s date, record the date, and identify a date in the future that will serve as a deadline for the proposed goal. Having a deadline makes the process more exciting and adds to the dynamics of learning. I would suggest revisiting the goal let’s say in a week, to see whether it has been achieved, choose a new one, or practice some more if there is a need.


What I like most about revisiting goals is that if it is done consistently, regularly, and at appropriate time intervals it becomes a tool to actively engage learners into the lesson/module/program planning. "My Learning Goal" template can be used to assist learners in keeping a record of what has been achieved so far, and whether the deadlines have been met. I’d like to draw your attention to the “Next steps”. It has been invaluable in creating a space for the dialogue between the teacher and the learner regarding what’s next on the learning agenda. If the goal has been achieved, we could ask guiding questions to identify or clarify what the learner wants to achieve next, write a few ideas in the space provided and plan for communication tasks, learning activities, games, role-plays, dialogues ACCORDINGLY to address NEW goals of the learner.  This way, there is certain CONTINUITY in the learning process, the goal setting is embedded in the ongoing lesson planning, and the curriculum as a whole is driven by the emerging needs of the learners.



                  In order to enhance and consolidate the goal setting skills it is important to connect the dots between the learning in the classroom and the real life. Talk to the students, see what their life concerns are at the moment, try to see whether there any needs other than communication that require immediate attention, encourage them to use the techniques learned in class in appropriate  real life situations. Always follow up on learners' accomplishments, cheer them up when necessary, celebrate with them, and encourage them to set a new goal.















Sunday, 15 February 2015

Self-efficacy in the Adult ESL Literacy classroom: my teaching puzzle!


As an Adult ESL Literacy instructor, I have noticed that our learners are often reluctant to get promoted to the next level and try to postpone that promotion for as long as possible. I have looked into the theory of self-efficacy to better understand this issue. In this post, I’d like to share some of my findings with you.


Self-efficacy is a key part of the social cognitive theory, which hypothesizes that human achievement depends on the reciprocal influences between our actions (e.g., task performance), personal factors (e.g., our thoughts and beliefs about our ability to perform on a certain task) and the environment (e.g., the classroom) (Schunk, 2010: 160). People ‘form beliefs about what they can do’ and anticipate the likely consequences of their actions (Bandura, 1991: 248). These beliefs are responsible for our desire to proceed with a certain endeavor (Ibid., 257) and may have a self-enhancing or self-debilitating influence. 

 In learning, self-efficacy is not the only influence on learner success; other important factors are the ability, knowledge, skills, and attitude (Schunk, 1996: 5). However, the individual sense of self-efficacy is still of substance since it motivates the learner to improve (Ibid.). According to Albert Bandura (2010: 119), ‘personal accomplishments require not only skills but self-beliefs of efficacy to use them well’. When learning occurs, both skills and self-efficacy are changing. Learners’ beliefs in self-efficacy enhance when learners are able to perceive the progress that they make in class (Schunk, 1996: 6). However, the majority of the adult ESL learners without previous formal education develop their reading and writing skills slowly, and their incremental progress may not always be obvious to them. Consequently, not being able to appraise their progress, learners gradually become less self-efficacious and demotivated.



 Albert Bandura (2010: 135) states that we are the product of our own environment and the beliefs about our capabilities affect the course of our lives. Learners with high self-efficacy are likely to visualize scenarios of success (Ibid., 118) and therefore are excited to learn new skills, accomplish new tasks, or get promoted to the next level, whereas learners with low self-efficacy tend to anticipate failure for themselves and naturally try to avoid situations which they think may reveal their shortcomings (Ibid.). It seems that my ‘promotion reluctant learners’ choose to paly safe and stay in their current class in order to minimize the risk of exposing their learning difficulties in an unfamiliar situation. 


Unfortunately, it is often a choice made at the expense of the advancement in the learner’s language skills and competencies (Ibid., 120). In this regard my concern is that adult Literacy learners with low self-efficacy beliefs are most likely not to pursue the opportunities that present themselves ‘because they judge they lack the capabilities’ (Ibid., 130). One of my learners has been complaining of his current job due to heavy lifting. Knowing him as a responsible individual and an experienced driver, I was convinced that with a little help from our employment team he would find a better job. Initially, the learner expressed a great interest in meeting with the employment counselor, however, after discussing the openings he returned to class in distress. The learner told me that he did not want a driving job since he was afraid of not being able to read the pick-up and drop-off addresses. In other words, this learner anticipated failure due to his poor reading skills. The case described above illustrates a situation in which I perceived my learner as capable for the task, whereas he did not believe in his success and attributed his failure to his reading difficulties.




There are at least three apparent sources of information that influence learners’ self-efficacy beliefs in the classroom environment: teacher’s feedback (Bandura, 2010: 123), social comparisons with other learners (Ibid., 122), and self-observation (Bandura, 1991: 251). It is important to know that all the sources under certain conditions can either enhance or undermine one’s perception of self-efficacy. In the area such as adult literacy it is difficult for learners to perceive how much they are improving and therefore the teacher will have a significant role in setting the conditions to enable learners to appraise their self-efficacy more or less accurately. (To be continued...)


I believe that PBLA (Portfolio Based Language Assessment) offers rich environment for the language instructors to embed the buildup of the self-efficacy beliefs in their instructional design 'day by day and minute by minute'. I have put together a cheat sheet for myself, a strategy that I have been using to integrate the development of the self-efficacy beliefs in my classroom:


Self-efficacy beliefs

Sources of information
Conditions for success
Classroom ideas
Teacher feedback  
     §  Establishing a continuing dialogue with the learner
     §  Clearly identifying a new skill or competence achieved
     §  Focusing on the change in the ability
     §  Providing self-comparison of progress and personal accomplishments based on prior personal goals
     §  Action oriented

- Engage the learner in a dialogue regarding his or her achievements (What is the most important achievement for you? What achievement are you most proud of? Why?)
- Scaffold setting realistic, proximal, and moderately difficult learning goals
- Facilitate self-evaluation based on the established goals
- Discuss how competencies developed in the classroom are relevant in the real life of the learner
- Provide regular summary of the learner achievements in class to share with the family members in a comprehensible format/language
Self-observation
    §  Systematic
    §  Close in time
    §  Clear evidence of the progress
- A systematic review of the artifacts in the learner portfolio (individually, with a partner, with the instructor)
- Maintain individual learning logs on the work in class
Observing others (vicarious learning)
    §  Providing models that learners can relate to academically and personally
    §  Observing learners who are slightly above in skills (in the zone of proximal development)
    §  Supplement teacher modeling with peer modeling to provide more meaningful and reliable observation experience
    §  Observing solely highly proficient individuals may be either meaningless or may undermine learner’s self-efficacy beliefs
- Use learning partners to provide effective modeling (performing a task or think aloud process)
- Interclass activities with learners from a higher level
- Invite guest speakers from the higher level to share success stories and ease the anxiety
- Recruit class volunteers from higher levels (ESL learners themselves)

For those of you who would like to learn more, please see the list of literature on the topic below:

Bandura, A. (1991) Social cognitive theory of self-regulation. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes. 50. p. 248-287.

Bandura, A. (2002) Social cognitive theory in cultural context. Applied Psychology: An International Review. 51 (2). p. 269-290.

Bandura, A. (2010) Perceived self-efficacy in cognitive development and functioning. Educational Psychologist. 28 (2). p. 117-148.

Bow Valley College (2010) Learning for LIFE: an ESL Literacy handbook. [Online] Calgary: BVC. Available from https://esl-literacy.com/handbook
[Accessed: 12/14/2014].

Mruk, C.J. (2006) Self-esteem research, theory, and practice: toward a positive psychology of self-esteem. New York: Springer, 3rd Ed.

Schunk, D. H. (1996) Self-efficacy for learning and performance. [Online] ERIC Institute of Education Sciences. Available from http://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED394663 [Accessed: 01/08/2015].

Schunk, D. H. (2010) Self-efficacy for reading and writing: influence of modeling, goal setting, and self-evaluation. Reading and Writing Quarterly: Overcoming Learning Difficulties. 19:2. p. 159-172.

Stajkovik, A.D. and Luthans, F. (1998) Social cognitive theory and self-efficacy: going beyond traditional motivational and behavioral approaches. Organizational Dynamics. Spring. p. 62-74.