My Level 1 students (16 – 45 years) received their first assignment feedback and grade (Resubmission or Pass) for their course. The majority of students in the class did not pass their assignment on their first attempt. A number of individuals embraced the feedback they were given, and stated that it aided their determination to make the changes required to achieve the grade of a pass. For others however, the ‘no pass’ result upset them emotionally, which then hindered their motivation to continue with their studies.
In previous assignment support sessions (before the hand-in date), many students were finding it a challenge to use both their knowledge and notes from previous sessions. The majority of students struggled to form written narratives for set tasks in their assignment. I had the opportunity during assignment support sessions to support students on a 1:1 basis. It was interesting to listen to different students; the trending comments were ‘I can’t do this! I’m going to fail! I’m dumb’, ‘I don’t know English, I fail every exam, I don’t understand what I write’, ‘I don’t know how to write it, I can’t spell anything right, I might as well just leave this course’. Such negative statements were highly emotive, and were indicating personal struggles; particularly a lack of confidence in their ability, often stemming from previous experiences and of failure within the education system.
It is important to recognise that the Level 1 group have a large spectrum of needs; many have come from disadvantaged backgrounds needing both social and emotional support. Special Educational Needs are very evident; a number of students have dyslexia, one has been recently diagnosed with Autism. As well as, the fact that some students have had poor educational experiences at school. Many students are still working towards obtaining a Functional Skills Qualifications in English and Maths, both of which are vital to enable students to succeed in gaining a qualification in their chosen profession (Learn Direct 2013).
Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Systems Theory (1994) suggests that external influences from different ecosystem layers such as relationships with family members (microsystem), to school experience (mesosystem), impact upon child development, effecting how individuals might view themselves and interact with the world. Whilst some aspects of students learning may be genetically influenced, it is important to acknowledge that past experiences and personal backgrounds may influence how students interact with their learning. Though it is important to recognise the issues outside of individuals, Hill (2005) criticises Bronfenbrenner’s theory as failing to recognise that individuals have their own agency, they create their own identity and make choices for example, who they confide in and gain support from within their ecosystems. Environmental factors are multifaceted and constantly changing, as part of a teacher’s role, it is important not to make definitive judgements and recognise the complexity of factors that affect individuals they teach and sensitively support them to ensure the right conditions for learning.
I felt that the students ultimately needed to be listened to, to be given an opportunity to discuss their feeling and emotions. I am a student lecturer and can appreciate the stress of dealing with assessments; writing assignments and receiving feedback can be challenging, and has the potential to negatively affect the emotions of an individual; both negative and positive emotions can affect judgement (Hargreaves 2000). As a teacher, I know that it is important to encourage students to reflect on their work and their feelings, in a bid to help guide those emotions. As Mortiboy (2012: 9-10) states a teachers who exhibits ‘the personal qualities of genuineness, empathy and acceptance with learners would bring about, by fact alone, change in their learners’; emotional intelligence is a vital quality in a teacher as it can bring change. Goleman’s (1995) ‘emotional intelligence’ theory says that emotion plays a crucial role in performance; a level of skill is needed to identify, assess and assist emotions to develop into thought processes. Goleman identified 5 types of emotional intelligence – self-awareness, self-regulation, internal motivation, empathy and social skills – each type is an emotional intelligence that is learnt. When support was available some students were able to utilise this support in order to achieve a level of comfort, enabling them to attempt to act on the feedback they had been given. Unfortunately, a number of students with poor literacy skills were almost immediately deterred from progressing, as the word processing system highlighted their spelling and grammar errors. Thus, demonstrating that emotions around poor literacy skills are deep rooted in individuals; support using emotional intelligence strategies is limited and a measure that would need to be exercised over a long length of time.
It is generally well known that having low-level literacy skills is also associated with a limited vocabulary base. Low-level literacy skills in this area are impeding a number of students’ ability to convey ideas, particularly in a written form, as it is more challenging to find the words needed from memory (Hall et al 2014). ‘Spelling is a learnt skill’ and draws on ‘phonological knowledge, orthographic knowledge, morphological knowledge, etymological knowledge, and visual knowledge’ (Andoniou 2014:145). Students have three basic needs according to the Self-Determination Theory (SDT); to relate to others, to feel competent and autonomous (Ryan and Deci 2000; Hornstra et al 2015). Low-level literacy skills impair any feeling of being autonomous and competent in the process of writing. A written assignment that can meet all the assessment criteria may not be possible for numerous students. Hence, it is imperative that strategies are put in place to enable students to develop their literacy. Furthermore, for the basic needs of SDT to be met, the learning environment needs to be humanistic (Ryan and Niemiec 2009), which fosters the emotional intelligence (Mortiboy 2012).
I can empathise with this class and their personal struggles. As one of their teachers, I really want to make a difference. I strive to help their learning and their ability to address assessment criteria effectively to ensure that they are capable of passing the assessment. In my role as a trainee teacher, I am unable to influence how assessments are performed. Students may be able to satisfy assessment criteria by voicing their ideas on video, having a professional conversation or employing in a practical activity. Alternative modes of assessment may be useful in accessing what a student actually knows. The greatest factor hindering students is the writing process as they struggle to express what they know, particularly in a narrative genre that is of suitable quality to meet the given criteria.
A common feature that emerges during assignment support sessions and when marking student work, is that Level 1 students rely on copying and pasting extracts of information they have found online. Blocks of copied text emerge in their assignment, used as an alternative to their own words. The students when questioned comment ‘they say it better than me’. I have witnessed students’ continuously switching back and forth between screens; from their word processing document to an array of Googled websites. Even though the class had been given advice, as well as a dedicated lesson on the topic of Plagiarism, the behaviour of copying and pasting still exists. A student who may lack confidence in their literacy skills, may well be enticed to use the evidence from a website. It may appear as an effective method of fulfilling assessment criteria, but the students need to develop a greater understanding of how to use sources without employing plagiarism. The lack of confidence some students have in that literacy skills is a barrier to learning and achievement. Removing such barriers is difficult. Teachers need to devise creative approaches to tackle this issue. Possible strategies I could use are:
Read and Write Technology
Read and write technology is a tangible resource which may help me extend my provision to enable students who lack confidence in their literacy skills or have a learning difficultly, to help them to express themselves more readily. Swanson and Hsieh (2009) have proven that individuals with Dyslexia have problems with spelling and reading. Written assessments are a favoured assessment method in education, unfortunately, spelling and grammatical errors do impact on marking and can result in a lower grade (Farmer et al 2002). Top et al (2013) advocate that learners’ with learning difficulties should be entitled to text-processing software.
- Text help Read and Write technology will highlight and read aloud from word documents. Alternatively, some versions of text help have voice recognition technology that will transcribe what has been spoken.
- Dragon Naturally Speaking Dictaphones follows a similar principle, using voice recognition technology to transcribe speech. This enables learners’ to convey their understanding, without spelling hindering the meaning of what they are trying to say. I have noticed that some of my students tend to avoid words they cannot spell; this may be a tool to enable them to use their full lexicon range and possibly develop it by incorporating new vocabulary they have learnt in class.
- Coloured keyboard letters may allow individuals to visually recognise the letters written on the keyboard more clearly, enabling them to spell a word with greater ease.
Break down assignments into manageable chucks
Writing is a highly complex activity (Adoniou 2013); bringing together ideas and learnt information from class sessions. The writing needs to be coherent and have a meaningful context whilst also suitably fitting assessment criteria. I appreciate how writing for assessment is challenging, and how this can create emotional anxiety as students seek to meet these expectations in a bid to achieve certain grades.
- Highlight key words prior to writing an assignment, to ensure the key words of the written assessment stand out, are clear at first glance
- Ensure the meaning of the key words are understood and not misinterpreted by mind-mapping the meaning of the words
- Write a structured plan Level 1 assignments are usually broken up into three tasks, working on one task at a time to avoid confusion of task aims. Labelling what information needs to go in which section using short hand notes, post-it notes, bullet pointed ideas in a methodical order. My students’ are all different, which demands that the methods used to help structure work would need to be tailored to the individual needs.
(Greasley 2011, Top et al 2013)
Add an emphasis on Embedding English in class sessions
Embedding English into Further Education is already a requirement set by the Department of Education (2015). As Sharrock (2016:8) describes, embedding is the process of developing English, Mathematics and ICT skills within the teaching vocational subjects, to develop ‘confidence, competence and motivation’. By incorporating English and making it relevant to vocational learning, learners get to practice skills in a meaningful context. I have employed various methods to help embed English, for example:
- Glossary boards the teacher records key words on a whiteboard/flip paper throughout the session to allow students to write, reinforce and revisit words
- Match up cards word and definitions; to help reinforce the meaning of important work-related words
- Crosswords and Word searches to confirm the structure of important words
- Group Spelling when an individual asks how to spell a word, it may be useful to get all students’ to focus on the word, either how it is spelt or think of synonyms and words with similar meaning.
All of these ideas are useful, but need to be used carefully to ensure that embedding English is ‘natural’ part of the lesson, not a shoehorned exercise.
Adoniou, M. (2014) What should teachers know about spelling? Literacy. 48 (3). Pp 144-154
Bronfenbrenner, U. (1994) Ecological models of human development. In, International Encyclopedia of Education. Volume 3. 2nd Edition. Oxford: Elsevier. Pp. 1643- 1647
Department for Education (2015) Increasing provision in English and maths in FE colleges [Online] Available from: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/increasing-provision-in-english-and-mathematics-through-planning [Accessed 5th March 2017]
Farmer, M., Riddick, B.,and Sterling, C. (2002). Dyslexia and inclusion, assessment and support in higher education. Philadelphia, PA: Whurr Publishers.
Greasley, P. (2011) Doing essays and assignments: essential tips for students. London: SAGE
Hall, R., Greenberg, D., Laures-Gore, J., & Pae, H. K. (2014). The relationship between expressive vocabulary knowledge and reading skills for adult struggling readers. Journal of Research in Reading, 37, 87–100.
Hill, J. (2005). Work-family facilitation and conflict, working fathers and mothers, work-family stressors and support. Journal of Family Issues 26(6), Pp. 793-819.
Hornstra, L., Mansfield, C., van der Veen, I., Peetsma, T. and Volman, M. (2015) Motivational teacher strategies: the role of beliefs and contextual factors. Learning Environment Resources. 18. 363-392
Learning Direct (2013) A Guide to Functional Skills. [Online] Available from: http://www.learndirect.com/business/news-events/press-releases/2013-3/march-2013/a-guide-to-functional-skills/ [Accessed 11th March 2017]
Loftus, T. (2009) Supporting Student’s with Dyslexia. Practical guidelines for institutions of further and higher education. AHEAD Educational Press. [Online] Available from: https://www.ahead.ie/userfiles/files/shop/pay/DyslexiaHandbook.pdf [Accessed 5th March 2017]
Mortiboys, A. (2012) A step by step guide for higher education and further education professionals. 2nd Edition. London: Routledge
Ryan, R. M., and Deci, E. L. (2000). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations: Classic definitions and new directions. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 25, 54–67.
Ryan, R.M. and Niemiec, C.P. (2009) Self-determination theory in schools of education. Theory and Research Education. 7 (2). Pp. 263-272
Swanson, L., and Hsieh, C.J. (2009). Reading disabilities in adults: A selective meta-analysis of the Literature. Review of Educational Research, 79, 1362–1390.