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close this bookEnglish for Specific Purposes (ESP): Teaching English for Specific Purposes (Peace Corps, 1986, 110 p.)
close this folderChapter Two: Analyzing needs
View the documentPurpose of the Needs Assessment
View the documentThe Needs Assessment Process
View the documentWhat to Look for

The Needs Assessment Process

The process of needs assessment requires interviews and interactions with three sources of information at your institution: the administrators, the content-area instructors, and the students themselves.

1. Program administrators should be interviewed soon after your arrival at your site. It is important that you integrate yourself into the new institution; introducing yourself to the administration will give you the opportunity to find out what is expected from you as a new member of the teaching staff, and for you to let them know what the goals of the Peace Corps program and your course are in the context of broader host country goals.

Ask the administrators about the institution's grading and examination requirements. These requirements may put some constraints on the program you develop. In many countries standard examinations are developed by the government or educational institutions. If you are required to give such an exam at the end of your course, your teaching must take this into account. Even if you do not agree with the emphasis on or focus of the examinations, your students will be dissatisfied if your program ignores material which is necessary for their success within the institution.

Ask about facilities and equipment which are available to you as a language teacher. Find out if the institution has any funds available for you to acquire materials or equipment. Finally, ask to be introduced to the subject matter instructors in the area of ESP that you will teach (instructors in computer science, for example, if you will be teaching English for computer science students).

2. Content-area instructors are valuable resources for the ESP teacher. In the ESP course is English for Accounting, for example, the instructors in the accounting department of the institution should become close working partners with the ESP instructor to share information about the students' needs for English and the ways students will use the English they are learning. Ask the instructors for samples of English-language materials used in subject-matter teaching: textbooks, research articles, and, if possible, class handouts and sample exercises. It may be useful for you to look at copies of old exams and materials which students used in secondary schools, if they are available. These can be adapted and used in the ESP class to reinforce what is taught in the content-area classes. Ask the subject-matter teacher to show you any equipment and laboratory facilities used by the students. Spend some time in the laboratory to determine first-hand the kinds of interactions that are important to the students in their acquisition of English.

3. Student interviews will help you in the final purpose of the needs assessment -- assessing the learners' current level of understanding of spoken English. An assessment of the students' ability to comprehend English is done at this time for your benefit as a teacher, not to test the students' language skills. It is a necessary step in preparing you to meet and interact with the class in a way that they will be able to understand. You need to know what the general level of comprehension of spoken English is among the students in order to prepare your initial presentations to them. It is not necessary that you thoroughly assess your students' level of competence in English before the course begins, but interviewing a few students before the first class meeting will guide your preparations. Talking informally with students about their interests and experiences in language learning will give you an idea of how much you will need to modify your speech initially so that it is understood by the group. See Chapter Six, Program Management and Evaluation, for tips on how you can modify your speech to achieve comprehensibility. Students can also give you information about what they perceive as their needs for English.

These student interviews should not be seen as formal or "testing" situations, but rather as opportunities for informal assessment of individual students which will help you to understand how much of your spoken English the students will comprehend. The students interviews are also useful, particularly in unstructured or informal instructional settings, for you to find out what the students perceive as their needs for English. Your interview questions can probe in depth on this topic. Keep in mind that it is the listening comprehension ability of your students, and not their speaking ability that you are interested in at this point. Assessment of students' other language skills, such as reading and writing, may be accomplished as the course gets under way. See Chapter Three, Developing Language Skills, and Chapter Five: Materials Selection and Development.