Needs analysis in teaching


Any teacher needs to analyze the needs of a student. Needs analysis involves doing some kind of activity with a learner in order to find out what their learning needs are: reasons for learning English, learning goals, learner’s expectations (some students want more traditional lessons, others might prefer more speaking practice).

A good needs analysis will contribute to successful course planning. Moreover, it is quite crucial to involve the students in this process, thus encourage them to think about own learning and taking responsibility for that, it is a part of building learner awareness and autonomy.

What should teachers include in needs analysis?

Let’s look at the situation below and find out.

Maria is speaking with a friend about her English lessons

Tanya: So, how are your lessons?
Maria: You know, not bad. I still learn a lot of things; I mean a lot of new words. We also do many exercises to improve my grammar.
Tanya: However, you do not seem to be happy, do you?
Maria: That is right to the point. I do not understand why. The teacher is doing what I asked her to do. She is teaching me new words, she is correcting my mistakes. She explains grammar rules very well.
Tanya: Then why aren’t you happy?
Maria: I get bored, and I often force myself to go to the lesson.
Tanya: Maybe, you should talk to a teacher and ask her to change something in the lesson.
Maria: I think I will.

Later on the same day. In the lesson

Teacher: Maria, you seem to be bored today.
Maria: Well, I would like to ask you to change something in the lesson. I think I am losing motivation.
Teacher: But this is what you told me to do. You told me to improve your vocabulary and grammar. And I am doing it.
Maria: Yes, you are right. It is not your fault. But I do not know why I am not motivated to study any more.
Teacher: But you should remember that you need this because you want a promotion in your office. So if you want to get promoted, you should level up your English.
Maria: You are right.

What happens later

Maria does not want to go to English lessons any more. The teacher decides that Maria is not a responsible person and does not really need any career advancement.

What really happened

Maria is a young and ambitious employee, trying hard to get promoted. She works hard enough in her company to be noticed by the boss to get the chance. She gets really tired, and when she comes to the English lesson, she does not have enough energy to study.

The teacher is a professional. As a responsible person, she does what Maria has asked her to do: she teaches her grammar and new words. Since school, Maria was told that if you want to know English you should have good vocabulary and grammar skills. Until now, she still believes in that.

What mistakes did the teacher make?

She did not analyze Maria’s needs. Maria thinks that she knows what she should do. However, in many cases, the students get trapped in their stereotypes, and they think they know what and how they should study the language. The real needs the student has should be analyzed continuously as they may not even understand what they actually need.

So teachers should always ask why students need to study the language and in what situations they will be using the language. That might happen that a student needs to write emails at work so the teacher should concentrate on practicing writing skills. If a student needs to attend meetings and make presentations to colleagues in English, a teacher might opt for concentrating and mastering student’s listening and speaking skills.

In Maria’s situation, she got very tired at work; she did her work very well and with a sense of responsibility. She got overwhelmed at work. So, when she came to her English lessons, she did not have enough emotional and mental resources to study. She needed more fun. But at the same time, she wanted her lesson to be productive. The teacher did just the opposite. She put a lot of seriousness in her lessons, and that started to frighten Maria. This is an actual problem.

We want to be productive and professional. We aim to teach the language. However, we usually forget the fact that we cannot be productive if we do not understand the needs of a student. Interestingly, sometimes the students themselves do not fully understand what and how they need to learn the language.

Tips that might help you to understand the needs of a student

  1. During the lesson always keep an eye on the signals (usually not consciously) sent by a student (gestures, mimics, posture, eye contact). The signals are more intuitive and genuine than the words. They will tell you more about the feelings of a student.
  2. After teaching something new, ask them where and how they will use it in their life.
  3. Try to understand what type of learners they are (visual, audio, kinesthetic, analytical, etc.) Each type of learners has their prefered way of learning a language. Of course, it does not mean that you are going to use only the text and pictures for a visual learner, or only listening tracks for an audio learner, but their preferred way of studying is usually the most effective.
  4. Mark those activities when the student gets most enthusiastic.

And remember to understand the needs of a student the most important thing is not what the student learns but how the student learns and a big why?

As soon as you understand how a student learns you can teach them anything they need.

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