Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Understanding Your learners: All things that you can do wrong

Jai and Prachi live in Bangalore with their 2 year and 2 month-old son, Druv. Druv is an active kid. He loves watching Hanuman and Jungle Book. He repeats words as soon as he hears them. He stays at home with his grandparents and parents. They typically converse in their mother tongue. He is the darling of the house. Thinking it is time, the parents start looking for a school for their son. They research the best schools in the area. They visit a few and select one. They approach the faculty for admissions. A faculty member mentions that the kid is a little younger and therefore, the parents will have to meet the headmistress. An appointment is made with the headmistress. The parents and Druv finally meet the headmistress. The headmistress takes a few plastic fruits and asks Druv to name them. Druv gets Apple and Banana right. She then shows him a watermelon. Druv has never seen a watermelon before and therefore, refuses to answer her. She continues to ask him the name of the fruit. Finally, Druv gives in an says "Stop it!" and talks in his own language (child talk). The headmistress says, "Your son does not know English. How will he fit in class?" She asks Druv's mother to ask a few questions in their mother tongue. Druv promptly answers all these questions. The headmistress watched him closely. She then tells the parents that their son may have a speech problem. She says that she has been in this industry for a long time and has seen several 2 year olds. Children of his age should be able to speak a complete sentence. The fact that Druv was unable to do so and was blabbering shows that Druv has a speech problem. She suggests that they take him to a spastic society and get some tests done. She also suggests that they come back with the test results. She mentioned that this school also took in special student and therefore, she can help them. The parents were shocked and quite stunned to react. The parents were later extremely angry and offended. They checked with Druv's pediatrician. She was equally angry. She explained that kids at the age of two connect a few words together and cannot be expected to talk fluently.

VIBGYOR High is the name of this school. This is a real incident. The parents discussed here are people very close to me. Druv is like my very own son. I also have a two year old son. He does not talk in English and cannot talk complete sentences. He only connects two or three words together. So what was my reaction to this? Why am I sharing this here? I am absolutely appalled by the headmistresses behavior. Why?

1. You do not judge kids based on their behavior the very first time you meet them:
Children are different at home and extremely different in front of new people. The headmistress who has seen several 2 year olds should have known this. Before you reach such conclusion, you must spend some time with the child.

In our realm: Do you make rash judgments about your learners based on their behavior the very first time you meet them? There is always more that what meets the eye and it is your duty to understand the complete picture before you describe a learner. Remember how offended the parents were. If you jump to the wrong conclusions about your learners, you are going to offend the company.

2. Stress interviews are not for learners: At home, you may teach your kid names of cars rather than fruits. How can the headmistress expect the kid to name the fruits without understanding what he already knows? Is it a crime for the kid to not know what a watermelon is? She should have made the kid feel comfortable, rather than forcing him to answer. Is a stress interview really necessary for kid?

In our realm: Do you make your learners feel comfortable when asking them questions about their work? Do they feel like they are being 'tested' or judged. There is no doubt that it is exactly was this headmistress was doing. Judging the kid...

3. Do not expect the learner to 'know': Any kids goes to school to learn languages, numbers, shapes, colors, etc. The headmistress had no right expecting the kid to know English and names of fruits.

In our realm: Do you assume that your learners must know certain things? When you meet your learners, you must be free of preconceived notions of how they must behave, they must know, and what they need to learn.

4. Handle learners with kid gloves: The headmistress should have been more sensitive to the parent's feelings. She should have shared her thoughts on the kid's speech in a very tactful and sensitive manner. You cannot just declare such things out loud. If you want the parents to take you seriously and not get offended, you must ensure that you have enough facts and that you consider their feeling before giving them that information. This headmistress was hardly professional. She neither took the time to understand the kid better, nor did she handle the parents well.

In our realm: Do you identify learning gaps after a detailed analysis and backed by research? Or do you general push a list of courses that you think may solve a surface level issues? Be sensitive to your learner's and client's needs. Treat them with care and more importantly, with respect.

Please do not put your kid in VIBGYOR High. If the headmistress is like this, imagine how the staff would be. All children (learners) are different. Each has a different learning curve. Some kids start walking earlier, some starts talking later, and so on. It would be wrong to pass judgments without really understanding them. Someone I know started talking only when he was 5, does this mean he that he had a speech problem? I don't think so. He speaks fine. If headmistresses and teachers don't understand that each child is different, I dread the day when I have to put my son in school! Finally, I really don't understand why schools want to take only the so called 'smart' children. What is great in taking the cream and showing to the world that you get the best grades? Take all children and do the same and that would be truly great! Do we have the option of making just the smart learners take the course? No. This would be crazy! Infact, our focus is on the so called low performers. At this point, I must warn you: When you request your client to share names and numbers of learner who you can talk to, they may give you their best performers. Ensure that this is not the case. You want to talk to all 'types' of learners and not just the management favorites.

My last and final point: During learner analysis, please do not be this headmistress! Acting as she has, you will only damage the learner and the learning. Understanding your learner requires higher EQ. Be human...