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.

My six jobs before becoming a teacher

Lindsay Clandfield on his lovely “Six Things” blog has invited us to think back to six jobs we held before becoming a teacher. Good question! None of the English teachers I know have had a straight career. Something drives us to do this crazy job, opening up to anyone and everyone as we support them on their often frustrating path to becoming proficient in a language forced upon them, often enough, and making sure they like it, too.

What were the six jobs you had before your current job that gave you your work/life skills?

So about me: I’ve always needed money, so there have been far more than six jobs. I’ll skip the IT company I worked at to earn money for college, and the other IT company I worked for when I was considering giving up teaching, and the bit jobs, to tell you about the ones most closely related to what I do today:

  1. Perhaps I was most successful at being a babysitter. I got an early start at 11 and basically owned the neighborhood. My grandfather had carved beautiful wooden puppets that my mother had sewn clothes for, and I’d put on puppet shows with the children. Or we’d go down to the Smithsonian to see the bees. We’d romp and go swimming and play games. No TV on my watch, but we acted out every cartoon character in the book. I told them stories that they’d have to help me finish. So I never really stopped being a babysitter.
  2. When I hit 16 and was able to move on to minimum wage jobs (to support my expensive record-buying habit), I went into catering. First an icecream parlor that served sundaes with a political theme, called The Ice Cream Lobby. Then a deli. I branched out and did weddings on my own. During college I waitressed, the most challenging place being a football clubhouse just south of the border in Switzerland. Excellent prep for teaching, keeping a cool head among fans speaking Swizzerdütsch!
  3. As a teen, I volunteered in France for two summers restoring monuments and sites with ICOMOS/ REMPART. I tell anyone who still has their life ahead of them: You haven’t lived if you haven’t volunteered abroad. I learned how to really learn a language. Obvious connection to teaching English there.
  4. At college I was a research assistant (political science). Very heady. I loved it, but in time became skeptical about the value of academic learning. That kept me from getting yet another degree when I parachuted into EFL. I keep toying with the idea, to open the door to a more established teaching position, but…
  5. After my MA, I became a coordinator/curator of exhibitions and educational programs at various museums. At the German Museum of Hygiene in Dresden I was involved in exhibitions devoted to Odol (a mouthwash) and Darwin and Darwinism, travelling to the US to research history and artifacts connected to genetics, immigration, racism, the Scopes Trial… Later I ran an exhibition project on the experience of migration at an archaeological museum, with an after-school program for teenagers from migrant families, along with community events, from a panel discussion to a street festival. Or: In Konstanz I worked with artist Rune Mields to develop a tour of her paintings depicting the myths of how the world came into being. Marvellous, life-changing years. Being interested in such a wide range of ideas, and learning to use artifacts to relate them, was probably the most valuable source of inspiration for what I do today.
  6. Being bilingual, I’ve worked as a translator and interpreter ever since I came to Germany in 1981. Once, in Berlin in the mid 80s when I was working for the Museum at Checkpoint Charlie, I translated a talk Johan Galtung was giving in English into German and got it all wrong when I paraphrased in English “What he means is…”

Over to you! Now, please, don’t be shy!

Question: What new services do we need?

Last week I was getting a class ready to go to “Seven Days in the Life of Simon Labrosse”, a play being presented by the BeMe Theatre. It’s about a guy who has been unemployed and is trying to break back into the market (and into life, really) by inventing new and intriguing services: “emotional stuntman, ender of sentences, ego flatterer, easer of consciences”. Well, I asked my students to invent services they thought there was a market for and to write job advertisements for them. In this week’s podcast I’ll tell you about their ideas — and I’d love to hear yours! Please add yours in the comments below, or blog about the subject and link this post to your blog.

Ref.:

Was ist das Blogprojekt? Mehr dazu unter Englischlernen mit Anne! islandweeklycover300 Subscribe to the Island Weekly podcast by RSS or in iTunes.

What’s my line?

I have a new job, translating for an upmarket agency two days a week. I wanted to do something for my brain that involves longish trains of thought and very concise formulation, and I think this will be good for me. So Tuesday and Thursday I’m over there. Then, on Mondays I’m writing an online course in Moodle – grammar for university students of English. That will take me through into winter. On Fridays I write for Spotlight. The weekends are unfortunately generally reserved for all the other things I promised people I’d do for them, including preparing compact courses, or extra writing and translations, or getting ready for a conference presentation. Somehow that doesn’t leave much time. But I still have my Wednesdays to be a teacher, currently with four very different courses spread out over the day. So, yes, I still call myself a teacher.

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

Feeling a bit out of sorts with your job or looking for orientation? That’s a good time to do a questionnaire like MTBI, the Myers Briggs Type Indicator. That’s a test HR managers and headhunters love to use. It’s based on C. G. Jung’s analysis of how we make decisions, with its opposite pairs:

  • thinking vs. feeling
  • sensing vs. intuition
  • judging vs. perceiving
  • introversion vs. extroversion

“The original developers of the personality inventory were Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers. They began creating the indicator during World War II, believing that a knowledge of personality preferences would help women who were entering the industrial workforce for the first time identify the sort of war-time jobs where they would be ‘most comfortable and effective’.” (Wikipedia)

The MTBI  sorts you into one of 16 types, described on the Myers & Briggs Foundation site. You can take the test yourself at Human Metrics. If you’re learning English and do the MTBI you’ll find that the vocabulary is really great!

My type? I’m ENFJ, and the blurb says that means I tend to be

“Warm, empathetic, responsive, and responsible. Highly attuned to the emotions, needs, and motivations of others. Find potential in everyone, want to help others fulfill their potential. May act as catalysts for individual and group growth. Loyal, responsive to praise and criticism. Sociable, facilitate others in a group, and provide inspiring leadership.”

Yeah, right, ok, so in that case I guess I’m the born teacher. No position in the power-broker world of top management for me. Yeah. Grin and bear it!  😉

My generation of dummies

I’m an early Generation Xer, born 1961. Like Obama. Neil Howe compares us very unfavorably to the Millennials (those born in the 1980s and 1990s). He calls us “The Dumbest Generation: The Kids are Alright. But Their Parents….” According to Howe, we

“have performed the worst on standardized exams, acquired the fewest educational degrees and been the least attracted to professional careers. (…) prefer sound bites over seminars, video clips over articles, street smarts over lofty diplomas.

Early Xers … arrived too late to enter the most lucrative professions, by now glutted with boomer yuppies. Their only alternative was to pioneer the pragmatic, free-agent, low-credential lifestyle for which Generation X has since become famous…

Angling for promotions in the early 1990s, they got busy with self-help guides (yes, those “For Dummies” books) to learn all the subjects they were never taught the first time around…

Early Xers have certain strengths that many more learned people lack: They’re practical and resilient, they handle risk well, and they know how to improvise when even the experts don’t know the answer. As the global economy craters, they won’t keep leafing through a textbook. They may be a little rough around the edges, but their style usually gets the job done.”