Job interview

For the Trinity assessed lesson, my class did job interviews. I can warmly recommend the topic to other teachers who have to do a Trinity diploma or DELTA assessed lesson, especially if your class is as motivated as ours was, and job interviews are in fact on their agenda. It obviously helps to choose a topic your students really do want to talk about. The main content should be authentic and matter to your learners, yet be packaged playfully, so noone gets bogged down in their own immediate agenda. Thank you, dear class, for being so wonderful and lovely!!

B1 MAÑANAS

This was the third lesson in a series on job applications. The group started by thinking about the exact definition of 12 given words that you can use to describe your strengths (and weaknesses). Since some of them are similar in Spanish, and others are very different and can easily be confused, the class spent quite some time exploring their meanings, and applying them to themselves.

  • supportive… means I am helpful when there are problems. — de apoyo!
  • friendly… means I am nice and helpful. — amistoso!
  • focused… means I am very clear about what I am doing.  — centrado!
  • flexible… means I can make changes as needed. — flexible
  • creative… means I have many ideas.  — creativo
  • organized… means I plan very carefully.  — organizado
  • responsible… means I do the right thing. — responsable
  • careful… means I think about what I am doing so I don’t do anything wrong.  — cuidadoso
  • technical… means I understand technology.  — tecnico
  • experienced… means that I have done something a lot.  — exprimentado!
  • reliable… means that I will do what you expect.  — fiable!
  • successful… means things are going very well for me. — exitoso!

One of the most important things I learned in the assessed teaching practice, through somewhat painful trial and error and very helpful feedback from Mark McKinnon, was to break down new content into individual stages. So, for example, I didn’t have the learners focus on the spoken words until they had worked out the meaning in groups. I didn’t ask them to tell or read me the answers, because that would have meant having them say the words, and I would have either let their pronunciation errors pass, or would have had to correct them, distracting everyone from the area we were focussing on. Only after everyone had the correct words and definitions lined up did we begin to work on pronunciation.

I only took this approach after having done a simlar exercise differently in a disasterous earlier lesson, where I’d had them do a gap fill and then read off answers, which lead to discussions about meaning and pronunciation drills all mixed up with questions about where we were on the page, creating a huge mess of an activity which completely tore apart a lesson which on paper had looked balanced and promising. So: these details are important!

This was fascinating to me. I learn very differently than many of my students.  I tend to set up tasks based on my natural inclination to synthesize information very quickly rather than processing it analytically, and prefer short general explanations that don’t break things down over the more extensive and particular explanations that many learners prefer, but which I find positively irritating when I am subjected to them. So following my own preferences over the years means I haven’t been giving learners with a less global/ more particular and less synthesizing/more analytical approach quite the information they needed to do their tasks well. Realizing this blind spot in my knowledge of learning preferences and exploring similar issues goes far beyond just being sure to cater to visual or kinesthetic learners. This broader approach to self-reflection on language learning styles was introduced to me by Patricia Franco using Rebecca Oxford’s Strategy Inventory for Language Learning, and it has made me turn my teaching inside out. The Strategy Inventory makes a lot of sense to me as a reflective tool and I hope to incorporate it consciously into my new courses. I’ve found a very extensive learner questionnaire by Oxford, Cohen and Chi that can be used as is to jump-start a deiscussion with learners, and help profile their preferences from the very beginning of a course: Learning Style Survey.

In a second step we did a very short review of question forms. I had anticipated that this would not work well, as this was a mixed level class with a variety of different approaches to studying grammar, so I declared this a sub-aim to the communicative aim, and wrote that I wasn’t aiming for accuracy, but for fluency. The question sorting part went well, but question formulation was something that only the more advanced learners could do on their own, and in fact a number of them did do it while the others were still working on the sorting activity. So when time ran out, I decided to drop the formulation activity and go straight to the role play. If I had to do it again, I’d declare the formulation part to be a flexible addition for the advanced learners to do on their own, and leave it at that.

The stronger learners supported the weaker ones throughout this course, which Patricia and I encouraged and relied on. The communicative activity that got the participants to speak English extensively and try out the new words and use the questions was the interview itself. I had prepared a cheat sheet with questions for them to pick and choose from, and they did really well, and interviewed away.  This setup for role play is something I learned from Heather Lyle. As for the seating arrangements, I had the learners move their chairs and sit in two formal rows facing each other, so they actually had to move physically into the role, which I think makes all the difference in getting into the mindset. After round one they switched partners and played the other role, balancing out the communicative heart of the lesson.

I had prepared a presentation anticipating a few areas I thought they’d have problems with, some of which did come up, so I could project those selected slides onto the board and we could work around the gaps and spaces to add emergent language. This is low tech, just a Powerpoint and a normal whiteboard. An IWB would be a cooler solution. In any case the projected images were a better solution than writing up all of the language that came up on the board, especially with these very visual learners. 60 minutes are such a short timespan to work with, and just understanding them when they were speaking and noting down emergent language was a challenge, let alone analyzing it and getting it onto the board in a comprehensible and didactically valuable way. It was more feasible to select and preempt areas they’d had trouble with just the lesson before, things I just knew would come up. Predicting errors and language problems in teaching learners whose L1 I don’t speak was really the hardest part of the entire course for me.  German learners I can teach on the spot, but not Catalan and Spanish speakers. GIven how lovely I found the country, I’ve decided that learning Spanish is definitely on my agenda!

The phonology bit, focussing on word stress, went fine. They had learned the notation using capital letters with Patricia the day before, and they had given us feedback that they actually really liked any and all drilling we did.  In hindsight, I should have added some work on /aɪ/ to the mix for “reliable” /rɪˈlaɪəb(ə)l/, which Spanish speakers have a great deal of trouble with.

Just to clarify: This is certainly not the way I have normally taught. I’d have poopooed this degree of scaffolding as “spoonfeeding”. Patricia and I had very interesting conversations about other kinds of lessons and learner training with analytical and deep end components that may be more effective in paving the way for greater learner autonomy over the duration of a course and in the long run. Still, I see staging in increments, followed by the communicative heart, as a very valuable teaching model because it redirects my attention towards what the learners can process on their own in a single lesson. That’s in fact very much a part of what I wanted to learn in this course. So I’ll be experimenting with it in “real life”.

Materials:
Handout: Job interviews
Job interview roleplay
Presentation job interviews

Documentation:
Teaching practice documentation is required for each assessed lesson.

Communicative aim

A communicative aim in a Trinity assessed class is not the same thing as a communicative aim in real life. In real life, we might communicate with each other to get something off our chest, or to check each other out, to find areas we share interests in or perhaps just to shoot the breeze before we get down to business, without actually “communicating towards an outcome”. Yet that latter, very narrow definition of communication is what we have learned forms the heart of the lesson.

The rationale is that language learners need a concrete reason to use English, so we have to design a task for them to do that. I’m feeling the pressure, as the class I teach can communicate most easily using Spanish (though they’re multilingual in that some have Catalan as their mother tongue). And they use it too much in class. As we design our lessons, we have to include one main communicative activity that aims for a believable and concrete outcome in some way related to what the learners need to apply outside class. In that activity they have to be using language that we have defined as our lesson aims, and have taught and had them practice in that particular lesson. There has to be evidence for their intake. But it feels audiolingual and behavioristic, actually.

We can’t simulate real life transactions in class, so there’s always an element of something being forced, which is why I tend to avoid communicative didactics in this narrow sense. I do lots of information gap activities, sure, as well as authentic communication and simulations, but I’m just not too keen on roleplay. Yet now I have to play the communicative EFL game, or I’ll fail the teaching part of this exam.

For Friday the students have requested talking about the weather. I can have them describe all sorts of weather moving up towards the heart of the lesson (I might use paintings, and have them describe the weather there and then. I’ll also have them describe the weather on a beautiful day on their last vacation, and on a bad-weather day they remember very clearly.) But it’s not enough. So I’ve been kicking around a few lesson ideas:

I’d thought of having them “call a friend” in advance of a weekend trip, and ask them about the weather there, and then pack their suitcase accordingly. In the classroom setup, that would amount to pairwork, with one person being “it” and drawing a card containing information about a place, and having to formulate a brief weather report on the current weather, and then the other person recounting what they’ll put in their suitcase. But that feels like a lesson out of a 1970s or ’80s coursebook, and reminds me of the teaching I had to do at Wall Street Institute. I burned out after six months.

A second slightly feverish idea I had was having them solve a murder mystery based on forensic evidence influenced by the weather, which would certainly be working toward an outcome, but would not exactly be very applicable. Plus, I just can’t fit in my MD in forensics before Friday. Did I mention “feverish”?

Another way to solve this might be to set the scene where they’re going on a last minute holiday, and they have to make up their mind at the airport based on the current weather report (which they research and report separately). This scenario would have the added advantage of putting them under time pressure (which is important in any fluency activity). Perhaps I could actually stand them in line and give them the “weather report” info as they stand there in line, and then call them “to the ticket counter” when they’re “up”.

I can think of so many nice activities that are not communicative:
Labelling pictures
doing a personal weather report (the weather mirrors my state of mind)
a gapped dictation describing the weather to set the scene
a sorting task differentiating between excerpts from a travel guide and a personal description of the weather right now
I’d like to film them doing a weather report, but there are 22 of them, and 60 minutes is incredibly short. And when do we have time to watch the film?

Anyway, I can’t just have them talk about the weather the way we normally do, with the aim of using the language later to break the ice and tune in to each other in a real encounter. Weather is a wonderful metaphor for feelings, and right now mine are stormy.

PS: Mike from our course has summarized the formula: “The ppp with a communicative approach worked. Remember ‘activities that are truly communicative, according to Morrow (in Johnson and Morrow 1981) have three features: information gaps, choice, and feedback.’
Three activities with correction error slots is all we have time for.”