The education sector is one of the most important departments and sections in any society. This is based on the fact that all the literate members of the society have to pass through the education system, whether formal or informal. As an Educator it is therefore very important to understand all the pertinent characteristics of the group of learners that one is going to deal with; understanding these characteristics is an important component because it helps the educator to develop a system that is suited to ensure that the characteristics of the learners are utilized to the maximum so as to make maximum use of their strengths and weaknesses. In this paper the learning environment will be assessed in relation to young learners in the lower grades.
Characteristics of Learners
It is important for the educators to understand the characteristics of the learners as this will help them to understand the gifts, talents as well as the weaknesses of these learners and help them to develop in the best way possible. Different learners have different combinations of the learning characteristics and this affects their rates of learning (Gubbins, et al., 2002). It is therefore important to understand the characteristics of learners that affect their performance in relation to the following:
Prior experience- the speed with which a learner learns and acquires a new skill is dependent on whether the learner had experienced any movement related to the skill previously. Any previous interaction with activities related to the skill being taught will enable the learner to acquire this skill relatively fast as opposed to a learner with no previous experience. However previous experience impacts on the transfer of the learning of skills in a variable manner; different learners will gain from the previous experience in varying degrees. The drawing of skills and knowledge applicable is especially important in the practical fields such as games and sports and it is especially important for young learners who are known to have such a good memory of the things that they have encountered in the past (Gubbins, et al., 2002).
Confidence- the ability to acquire self-belief in the ability of one to perform and utilize the skills that are being taught is based very much in one’s confidence. It is important to note that confidence levels vary greatly among the learners, confidence can be a naturally acquired characteristic but it can also be instilled in the learners with time although this is a function of the teaching methods and the attitude of the teachers and those that the learners interact with in the process of learning. As the complexity of the skills being taught increases, so also do the confidence levels of the learners acquiring the knowledge and skills. Therefore it is important to clearly plan the teaching of these skills according to the complexity so as to ensure that it is progressive; if learners are taught the complex skills first, they will experience frequent failure and their confidence levels will drop. Confidence is an important foundation for the acquisition of knowledge and future skills.
Heredity- these are genetic characteristics that are acquired and inherited from the parents; one important fact to note here is that the genetic characteristics are unchangeable and therefore the degree to which this limits the learning process is really great. The degree to which the limits that are set by the hereditary characteristics will be reached is determined by the learning environment (Gubbins, et al., 2002). The speed with which the learners acquire skills especially those related to the physical activities will be determined to a large extent by the hereditary characteristics that the learners have acquired from their parents. This is because the performance based on physical nature the learners is very much a function of the functioning of the body muscles which in most of the cases in inherited. However the ability to learn is different from the successful application of the learnt technique; one may have the attributes to perform a given physical activity but they may not have the willingness to acquire and utilize these skills.
Ability- simply defined, this is the ease with which an individual does a given routine. It varies from one individual to the other and it is a function of the learning, processing and implementation of the acquired skills (Drissol, 2000). It is influenced by factors such as perception, reaction time and intelligence whose combination differs in the individual learners and thus the need to understand the ability of the different learners.
Personality- this is defined by one’s behavior and its development is influenced by the social interactions among the learners and also outside the learning environment. The learning environments are also key to the development of the required personality for the learning and acquisition of the necessary skills. Therefore the personality is very important for the learning process and it is important for the learners to have the required positive attitude so as to be able to instill the necessary positive learning attitude in them.
Design of an Instruction and Assessment guide
The educator is given the task of designing an instruction guide that will ensure that the learners will acquire the necessary knowledge and skills in the best way possible. Some of the important factors that determine the design and implementation of the learning design is the understanding of cognition and learning. The educator needs to identify and assess all the individual learners based on their individual characteristics as discussed above (Drisoll, 2000).
Cognition states that the thoughts that are developed by human beings are influenced by the environment that is surrounding them. The perception of human beings, conception of ideas and their activities all develop together. The use of cognition enables the learners to be able to transfer the skills, knowledge and attitudes to various settings; they also develop the ability to regulate, control as well as maintain their own learning. In this regard therefore, it is important to understand the cognitive processes that govern learning and to use this knowledge in developing theories that will help to design learning tasks, environment and assessment system that will be most effective for the learners. The creation of a design for instruction and assessment based on learning and cognition is based on the following key concepts and principles:
There is a need to create a flexible learning environment that will enable the acquisition of complex learning skills. This will involve monitoring the learners during the learning process and monitoring how they progress so as to be able to discover how they acquire skills and knowledge. This will enable the educator to adapt the learning content and instruction methods to the current needs of the learners. The aspects of the environment that should be focused on so as to create a flexible learning environment include activation of any prior knowledge, the learning tasks to be carried out, and the means of assessment as well as the loop for adaptation to the learning conditions.
The choice of knowledge activation strategies should be carefully carried out and should include the use of activities such as mobilization of the learners and learning materials, taking the perspectives of the learners as well as giving the learners the opportunity to express themselves. All of this should be done so as to facilitate the acquisition of knowledge and skills to strengthen the acquisition of the cognitive skills that may be deemed to be complex. The learning content and instruction should also be carefully chosen as a function of the knowledge or skills to enable the acquisition of complex cognitive skills. Finally assessments and tests should be used as learning instruments to enable to determine the knowledge acquisition process; the results of the assessments should be evaluated and the necessary adjustments made to the sequences of instructions so as to give the control of the learning process to the learner (Drisoll, 2000).
Developing expertise in the classroom
To ensure that the students become experts in the subjects that are taught, it is important for the educator to carefully assess all the characteristics of the learners so as to develop a strategy that can be successfully applied in the classroom to enable the students to gain the required expertise (Drisoll, 2000). The development of expertise would be best considered by considering there important factors that are important in the development of expertise. These factors are knowledge acquisition, strategic processing as well as the interaction of these factors in the three stages of domain learning that include acclimation, competence and proficiency.
It is important to consider the kind of knowledge that is imparted to the learners and how this knowledge impacts on the learning process as well as the kind of knowledge to be imparted in the three stages of domain learning. It is important to understand the fact that the components of knowledge, strategic processing as well as the interest adopt in different styles as the individual learners move from the stages of acclimation to competence and finally to becoming experts in their fields Gubbins, et al., 2002). In the acclimation stage, the learners have limited and fragmented knowledge on the subject matter, therefore their ability to differentiate the accurate and inaccurate relevant information to the subject matter is hindered. The learning models for this stage should therefore be based on the situational experiences as well as focusing on the performance enhancement.
Competence involves a great transformation and changes in both quantitative and qualitative bases of knowledge for the individual. Therefore the adopted strategies should be aimed at helping the learners to successfully adopt these changes. Knowledge and strategy changes at this stage should be based on the ability by the learners to develop personal knowledge on skill acquisition and reduce their reliance on the environment. The final translation from competence to expertise involves the acquisition of a large volume of knowledge and therefore the learners need to comprehend all the problems in the subject matter very well. Therefore the strategies to be used at this stage are high and include instilling in the individuals the ability to process the information being sought as well as enhancing the interest of the learners to ensure high levels of engagement are maintained at all times (Drisoll, 2000).
Guidelines for assessing student’s performance
The success of the laid down strategies can only be determined through carefully assessing the performance of the students. This can be done in the following ways, (UTDC, 2004):
- The performance assessment should be based on the defined tasks and not on undefined impressions on the nature of student’s contribution in the class as the variables that are not well controlled and monitored in this process are many.
- The criteria for assessing the students should be well specified and made available to the students so that they can be able to use them in an active manner.
- The students should be given an opportunity to learn the skills that are to be assessed.
- The educators should possess the necessary skills and this should be reflected during the assessment.
- The assessment should be fair and there should be no discrimination based on gender, disability or culture.
- The criteria should be consistently applied and the assessors should be trained.
The assessment should be aimed at quality development; therefore it is important for the assessor to identify the qualities to be developed beforehand. The qualities should be practical in application and the criteria for the assessment of the development of these qualities should be well stipulated in an assessment guide (UTDC, 2004).
The process of learning is dynamic and it is influenced by many factors, therefore, the educators need to identify the characteristics of the learners and develop strategies as well as learning environments that can enable them to meet the challenges of the learners. It is also important to develop learning strategies that will enable the learning to be applied to all the learners. Of equal importance is the assessment of the performance of the students which should be fair and should give an indication of the success of the applied strategies.