Adults Learning Maths
This article was provided by John Barton who is the current chair of NANAMIC
It’s the start of a new academic year (and the start of the football season). As we meet our learners for the first time, it is important that we lay some important foundations. We assess where they are at, establish class management procedures and put in place individual learning plans. But what about the setting of goals?
Goals are very important in a number of sports. Football is an obvious example, but other sports have them too. For a previous generation it was to run a mile in less than 4 minutes (achieved in 1954 by Roger Bannister). For the next generation it was to run 100m in less than 10 seconds (achieved by Bob Hayes in 1963 – though there was a following wind).
But, in addition to this, most involved in sports have goals. Thousands now run in marathons and half-marathons. They may not be able to compete with the professional runners, but most of them set a personal goal.
It is important for our learners to have goals, even if we think they cannot achieve them. The goal helps to set the direction of travel, rather than the learner just ‘playing about’. Sometimes in football, we may wonder if our team has forgotten where the goal is. They pass the ball from one player to another, showing great skill, but moving nearer to their own goal, before passing back to their goalie. It is vital to be aiming at a goal. There are many tactics to be employed to overcome opposition, but the goal is the aim.
Many years ago, when I was managing an IT centre, a prospective learner walked in to ask about enrolling on a course. When asked what she would like to do afterwards, she said, “Teach computers.” It was her goal, although she had never used a computer before. Further discussion revealed that she had attended a ‘special school’ as a child and had no qualifications. I explained that it would be good to develop her literacy and numeracy skills first. She agreed to this and eventually achieved the Level 1 National test in both subjects. I will never forget her joy when she passed the first test. It was the first certificate she had ever received!
So what has this to do with goals? Eventually, this woman realised that she would never be able to become a teacher, so she modified her goal accordingly. However, the goal had set her on a particular path which gave her studies direction. We need to find the goals of our learners and not impose our goals.
Most learners initially say, “To pass the exam,” but further investigation will reveal that many would like to be able to do other things. It may be to be able to work out the best buy for a mobile phone contract or to find out why their tutor doesn’t do the lottery, when it seems like a good idea to them. A good question may be, “What do you want to be able to do at the end of this course which you can’t do now?”
But there will always be those who are reluctant learners. They may have to study mathematics as part of their course or have been told that it is necessary if they are to continue to receive benefits. They may have no goal in mind, because they do not want to be there. As with any learner, we need to try to find something that they want to be able to do. We always learn better when we want to learn. Giving someone a tick list is not going to lead us to their goal. We need to talk with them. Sometimes they will talk with a peer who can give them ideas, but we need to be careful using this route to establish what they want to be able to do. It needs to be their personal goal.
So, the learner has set their goal in discussion with you. It is important to return to this during the programme to review whether it has been completely achieved, partially achieved or whether it needs to be revised or rewritten. What we must not do is not bother with it again.
If you are unsure about the procedures for assessing learners’ numeracy and literacy skills and about setting goals and targets then there is an excellent booklet available called The Good Practice Guide to advise and support you.