Delta Tips 11: Writing a Module 3 Essay – the needs analysis section

This is the eleventh in a series of blog posts I’m doing in response to the number of Delta-related searches that bring visitors to my blog. Each post in this Delta Tips series will deal with a different element of the Delta, based on my experience of doing it (and surviving to tell the tale! ) at Leeds Met

 The module 3 extended specialism essay is a very special beast. If you thought Cambridge were demanding in their criteria for Module 2 LSA’s or perversely picky in how they want you to answer Module 1 exam questions – you’d be right! But, it’s nothing compared to what they demand you fit in to a measly 4500 words for Module 3…

  • For an overview of what’s required and tips for starting out, look at Delta Tips 9
  • For information about writing the first section of the essay – the introduction – look at Delta Tips 10
  • The focus of this post will be the second section – the needs analysis.

Now that you’ve done your secondary research and written your introduction, it’s time to think about your needs analysis section. This is where you focus on a specific group of learners and devise a needs analysis assessment, with the purpose of informing your course design (the focus of the third section of the essay).

There are several things you need to keep in mind when designing your needs analysis tools:

  • what you learnt from your secondary research and the implications this generated.
  • the principles of needs analysis, which should inform the design of your tools.
  • what you want to achieve with each of the tools you choose to use, which will also influence the design and delivery of the tools i.e. exactly what information you want to get.
  • where you can get this information from (the learners themselves, previous teachers, other stakeholders such as parents, management etc.)

Within the part two essay section (a whopping 900 words you have at your disposal here!), certain things need to be covered:

  • a brief profile of the group of learners that you are focusing on for this project. (Just so we are clear, these are the learners you do your needs analysis on!! :-p)
  • a brief description of your chosen needs analysis tools (what did you use? why those particular tools? why not any different tools?). This should include tools for identifying learner profiles/needs (e.g. questionnaires; interviews) and tools for ascertaining their language level/needs (e.g. diagnostic tests)
  • a brief outline of the results your tools generated and how this information helped you identify what you needed to know and what you are going to prioritise when you design your course (as well, of course, as why these priorities and not others)

In doing this, you need, of course, to demonstrate awareness of the theory and principles related to needs analysis. As you will be using diagnostic tests, then principles of testing/assessment come into play here: issues such as practicality, reliability and validity are as important in the needs analysis section as they are to the assessment section (part 4), so start reading up on these now!

Tips for successful completion of section 2:

  • Be concise: (Yeah, yeah – same old, same old, but worth repeating!! It doesn’t get any easier as the project progresses!) You have to cover a lot of ground in 900 words, so redraft and cut words down, think about how you can say things super-succinctly!
  • Be clear about how the principles of needs analysis have influenced the design of your tools: If you list a bunch of principles and then briefly mention your off-the-shelf placement test, you won’t be demonstrating awareness/understanding of the principles, only ability to regurgitate information…
  • Read about testing: Andrew Hughes Testing for Language Teachers is a good, clear read for getting the basics down. As mentioned above, principles of testing are very relevant. But look also at articles written specifically about needs analysis and diagnostic testing, as these will cover other related issues (See the bibliography at the end of this post for examples).
  • Read PAGE 72 of the handbook! Then read it again and make sure it went in. Why? Because it has your all-important guiding questions and advice. Worth re-reading both before you start and during and then after to check back and see if  you have done more-or-less what they require. Probably initially you won’t have! Don’t despair, it’s normal, just keep redrafting (both tools before you use them and the write up) – you’ll get there.
  • Show off: Yes, the whole terminology issue applies throughout the assignment – use the terms, reference the terms.  Just a reminder, like! (See my post about the introduction for more information about this! – Bullet point 6 under “Tips for doing this successfully”: Use and reference appropriate terminology)
  • Really think about what it is you are trying to find out with your tools: It isn’t practical to test every single thing under the sun, is it? No. So what are you going to test? Why? How will the information you gain from testing this help you design your course? The same questions go for your questionnaires/interviews – how will finding out this information help you? Whether you find and adapt a test or create one from scratch, be very clear about why you are including each question and what you hope to gain from it.
  • Look at examples and then get creative: In Jim Scrivener’s Learning Teaching, for example, you can find an sample needs analysis questionnaire. There are also examples in Kathleen Graves’ Designing Language Courses. Look at them, both in terms of content and layout. Imagine a student completing one and handing it back to you. How would that information help you? What information would still be missing? How could you get that missing information? When you’ve thought carefully about that, design your tools.  Remember that your answers should be influenced by what you’ve learnt, and the implications you’ve identified, through combining your secondary research with your experience in section one of the essay. When you’ve designed your tools, pilot them. (Get a colleague to complete the questionnaire/tests etc. and see if they find your questions clear!)
  • Analyse and evaluate don’t just describe: You will give your learners the questionnaire or interview them, you will give them diagnostic tests. How did you try to ensure that the results were as reliable as possible and would generate as useful information as possible? Whatever tools you use will have pros and cons – that’s ok: nothing is perfect. BUT make sure you show awareness of this. Why are your tools the best compromise in your circumstances?
  • Make clear links: How did you get from your implications in section one to your tools in section two, to the priorities you have identified from your results? One thing should lead clearly to another:
  1. You may want to refer back to the implications you laid out in section one.
  2. You may want to refer back to your results or to your appendices (where you will put an example of all the tests/questionnaires etc that you used and evidence that you have synthesised the information e.g.charts, tables etc.) when you identify priorities.
  3. This doesn’t need to take a lot of word count: putting A1 in brackets i.e. [statement e.g.”The majority wish to improve their employment situation and integrate socially – their priorities in doing this course”] (A1.vi [Appendix 1, part vi – which in this case was a chart showing reasons for learning English])  is a concise way of cross-referencing.
  • Spell it out! Use sub-headings. And I mean very specific subheadings. I know I already said this in the post about the introduction but it bears repeating. Really make it easy for the examiner to know that you have included everything that you are supposed to. You could, for sure, very cleverly weave everything in together in one body of writing, but then the examiner has to hunt out everything they are looking for. I would say, therefore, don’t bother. Keep it simple. Sub-headings all the way. It helps you keep track of what requisite information you have included and helps the examiner find it. It also makes it clearer for you to see if you have missed something. So, for example, if those are your implications for course design, label them as such. Bullet points are good too. Bullet point your implications and it becomes very clear where one implication ends and the next begins. Examiners like very clear.
  • Remember the importance of context: To an extent, a tool isn’t good or bad in itself – how effective or not it is depends on the context you are teaching in. A given test could be ideal for an exam prep class diagnostic but useless for a general English class diagnostic. A detailed test focusing on only one skill may be great if that skill is implicated as being a priority in your secondary research/implications but hopeless if your course needs a more general focus or a specific focus on a completely different skill. Equally, a questionnaire may suit one group of learners and generate really useful information in that context but produce irrelevant, unhelpful information in another. This is why you don’t just use an off-the-shelf tool without thinking it through and adapting it to meet your requirements first.
  • Don’t make things too complicated: Don’t use any tools for the sake of using them, don’t write reams about principles, that you then proceed to completely ignore in the design of your tools. Identify key principles, apply them to your tools. Demonstrate that you have done this by making it very explicit in your 900 words how you have used the principles to help you make the tools as effective as you could in your context.
  • (This may sound silly but) use colour! It doesn’t take (very) long and makes it easier on the eyes. I’m talking about headings, sub-headings, references to appendices/other essay sections. (Colour is also very useful in the course design section when you do your course map – but more on that later…) NB I don’t mean turn your piece of writing into a rainbow, but if you make all headings/sub-headings/references to appendices or other essay sections/bullet points a colour, e.g. navy blue, rather than black, they stand out better. This really hammers it home to Mr/Ms Examiner that you have, in fact, included what you are supposed to include and cross-referenced it…
  • Don’t forget to include the following: marking schemes for your diagnostic tools – these go in your appendices. Sample completed questionnaires and diagnostic tests as well as some evidence of synthesising/analysing the data. Colourful pie charts and bar graphs are handy for this. Tabulating information and your analysis of it may also be useful. (Exactly what you choose to do with it will depend on the nature of the information, your purpose in seeking it and the evidence you believe it offers.)
  • Remember your project should be comprehensible to a colleague – use this to your advantage: Get a colleague to have a look at your needs analysis section and your tools, to see if your section 2 makes sense to them. (It’s easy, when you spend so long staring at/working on a piece of work, to know *exactly* what you mean, where everything is and precisely how it connects. To an outsider, however, it may be a mystery. Of course, if it is a mystery to your colleague, it may also be somewhat mysterious to the examiner. This is generally not a good thing…! Also, if you can, write a section (and get your feedback, redraft etc etc) and then put it aside for a while. When you come back to it fresh, you may read through it and think, “huh? what on earth did I mean by that?” – in this case, you may want to make a few changes too…

Some useful sources relevant to the needs analysis section:

Davies, A. (2006) What do learners really want from their EFL course? in ELTJ Vol 60/1. Accessed: 22nd September 2012.

Cotterall, Sara.(2000) Promoting learner autonomy through the curriculum: principles for designing language courses. In ELTJ vol 54/2. Oxford University Press, Oxford. Accessed: October 11 2012.

Graves, K.(2000) Defining the Context in Designing Language Courses Newbury House Teacher Development. Heinle and Heinle.

Hughes, A. (2003) Testing for Language Teachers. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge.

Nunan, D. (1997) Getting Started with Learner-Centred Teaching in English Teaching Professional issue four. Pavillion. Accessed: 15, October, 2012.

Perrin, G (2009) Diagnostic Procedures in Language Learning MET vol 18 no 4. Pavillion. Accessed: 14 October 2012.

Seedhouse, P (1995) Needs Analysis and the General English Classroom  in ELTJ vol 49. Accessed: September 22, 2012.

 ***But remember***: New stuff is being written all the time; I’ve used some stuff that I haven’t listed – this is a selected list of references: This list is far from exhaustive!!! So use your search tools (see previous Module 3 posts) to find other books/articles too. Also, if you do get hold of sources from the above list, look at their reference lists (at the end of the article/book) and do the treasure hunt thing: Run your eye over the list, looking at dates and titles, think “hmm this recent and looks interesting, or this was referred to a lot in the book/article, so it might be worth a look” etc. and try to source them through your centre library. 

To see tips for the course design  section: click here.

If you think I am wrong in anything I’ve said or that I’ve missed anything useful from this section, then please comment and I will add whatever is missing to this post!  

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9 thoughts on “Delta Tips 11: Writing a Module 3 Essay – the needs analysis section

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  8. Hi Lizzie,

    First of all thank you, thank you, thank you! I am so grateful for your blog in general, but especially these Delta tips. Currently designing my DTs for Part 2 of Module 3.

    Your tips are indispensable and I always direct people towards your blog for so many things, but especially Delta.

    I just wanted to point out that in the body of your blog it says that ‘Testing for Language Teachers’ is by Andrew Hughes, but his first name is Arthur. Caused me a little confusion. But I may just be being pedantic and confusable.

    Thanks again. You’ve helped me immensely.

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