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PTLLS Adult Learning: Equality And Diversity

Updated on January 22, 2015

We can list many responsibilities related to the role of a teacher but the most important one is to promote equality and diversity within their group of learners.

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Learners' Needs Assessment

In order to promote equality and diversity, the first thing that a teacher should do is to understand if any of the learners have any special needs that they should be aware of. That’s why before starting a new course, the teacher should go through a very important process known as the learners’ needs assessment. This is a very important step because by assessing the learners’ needs, the teacher can choose the teaching style which is most appropriate to help the learners achieve their objectives. The first step is to make a pre-course assessment of those needs, so the teacher can have a first impression on what to expect and what to plan for the new learners. To do so, the teacher can use numerous tools: they can do that, for example, via enrolment forms and pre-course meetings during the recruiting stage, so they can have a first impression of each learner from the application form and CV to know a bit more about each of their backgrounds, and then get to meet them one by one and get to talk to them to know them a bit better. This is very important, especially in the lifelong learning sector, because at this stage, a teacher can find out the learner’s existing knowledge, their background, their expectations, their motivations and more importantly a teacher can find out if the learners have any disability or any special needs that require adjustments for the course plan. In the case of disabilities, the responsibility of the teacher is to carry out research about that particular disability and find out as much as possible in order to meet the learner’s needs. For example, if a learner has to use a wheelchair, the teacher will make sure the building is accessible or find an alternative solution; in case of dyslexia the teacher will remember to bring hand outs printed on a different colour paper, and so on. Ensuring adequate facilities and equipment are readily available to make easy access without problems, will promote equality and diversity, and this is one of the main responsibilities that a teacher has. When discussing the issue of equality and diversity, Geoffrey Petty, in his Third Edition Teaching Today. A Practical Guide, clearly says:

All students must feel that they are positively and equally valued and accepted, and that their efforts to learn are recognised, and judged without bias. It is not enough that they are tolerated. They must feel that they, and the groups to which they belong (e.g. ethnic, gender, social class or attainment groups) are fully and equally accepted and valued by you, and by the establishment in which you work.

Apart from disabilities though, there are many other needs which are maybe more hidden but that have to be equally addressed by the teacher. This can include literacy and language needs, financial needs, and so on. In each case the responsibility of the teacher is always to analyse the need and understand what impact this will have on the learning process and what can they do as a teacher to meet these needs in the course plan.

Ann Gravells on Identifying Needs

Planning a course for a diverse group of learners

After the initial assessment though, the teacher has numerous responsibilities during the different stages of the course, but in each stage they should keep promoting equality and diversity and make sure that each learner feels comfortable and accepted in that environment. The next step is to start planning the course by filling out a sessions plan, preparing hand outs and/or booklets and defining the teaching style in which to adopt. All these activities will consider the learners’ needs that the teacher has just found out about. During this stage a teacher should keep in mind that, especially in the lifelong learning sector, the learners may have different backgrounds: some of them may have high education degrees, some of them may have had bad experiences at school so that they didn’t progress to further education, some of them may already have some knowledge in the field that they are going to learn about and some of them may already have practical experience because they are already working in that sector. The role of the teacher is to consider how diverse this environment can be and try to value and encourage each learner to contribute, in his own way, to the growth of the group. Having a new group of learners, the first step toward the start of the course, is for a teacher to carry out an induction; this is a good way for the learners to introduce themselves and talk about their background. In this way, not only do they get to know each other, but the teacher gets to know them better and can identify which people are the most confident and which people may be a little more shy and in need of more encouragement. As Geoffrey Petty says in his Third Edition Teaching Today. A Practical Guide:

Many teachers assume that if they set the same learning activities for the whole class, and give help to anyone who asks for it, they will provide equal opportunities. This is not the case. Shy students need more help than they ask for, and the vociferous less. Every student deserves his or her fair share of your effort, but because students have different needs you will find that you must treat them differently.

So this means that, the teacher has also got the responsibility to assess which learners may need more support and give them more attention. Promoting equality and diversity within a group of learners, doesn’t mean they should treat everybody in the same way, but it calls for a teacher to understand each learner’s needs and adapt the teaching style to the group, sometimes to the single person, if this is possible, so that everybody can have the same tools and the same chance to learn, achieve their objectives and pass the course. So, for example, if a learner appears to be very confident, it’s fair that the teacher can try to challenge them a bit more, or in the opposite case, if a learner appears to be very shy and not very confident, the teacher should try to address their need to be valued in the classroom environment and receive some positive feedback to gain more confidence. The teacher also has the responsibility to prevent any kind of bullying behaviour within the group so that everybody can feel comfortable and no different from anybody else. An important step towards this is to establish the ‘ground rules’ according to the group needs and to the common sense of behaviour. This can be something very simple and as basic as ‘no swearing, no bullying behaviour, arriving on time’. With this approach the teacher will promote the reciprocal respect within the group and between the teacher and the group, so that everybody remembers that the first rule is to accept and respect each other. Sometimes, in the lifelong learning sector, a teacher may find some resistance from some of the learners, that’s because each learner has had different experiences and, as an adult, some of them may not like to have somebody to tell them what to do and how to behave; so it is definitely important for the teacher to assess which learner has the need to be valued during this step. The teacher should then remember to always ask for opinions and try to establish rules that are commonly agreed so that nobody can feel left out from this process. Then the teacher will have to go through the process of assessing the group learning. At this stage the teacher can assess the learners in many ways: they can ask open questions, make them write essays, prepare tests, prepare group activities and so on. The important thing at this stage is for the teacher to remember the principal of equality and diversity, so they should give the learners challenges that they can actually achieve in order to have an equal learning growth within the group. The teacher should also remember to give adequate support to the learners who most need it, maybe organising some tutorial lessons on a one to one basis. It’s important, at this stage, to try and give the learners confidence in their own abilities and try to solve any issue they may have during the learning process. It’s important also to create a diverse scheme of assessment: some learners can be very good writers and some other can find it more difficult, some learners can have difficulties talking in front of many people and so on. That’s why it’s important for a teacher to give the learners the chance to express themselves in a way that they can give their best, so they can self assess their improvements as well and gain confidence in their abilities.

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