Saturday, 9 April 2011

Professional development in Osaka - Jim's other job

 If this is Saturday, we must be in Osaka!

I was delighted to be back in examiner training mode - it has been a while. New materials for 2011 to master - some late nights before I legged it to Indonesia last week - and a new city/venue to create a 'cell' in. Hopefully, not sleepers for long.

Discussing assessment - stand your ground
Welcome aboard UK Plus Osaka. Although things came together very last minute, I felt the teachers here handled the challenge very gracefully and professionally...two qualities the job rather demands! Thank you Tony and your staff for getting stuck in. MN, thank you for applying yourself to FCE and CAE - I know you were expecting KET & PET (me too).

It is always reassuring to venture into a school which identifies itself as British - map on the wall, a London bus picture somewhere, proper (Yeah, proper!) exam info and prep classes scheduled. A graded readers programme obvious, and even pictures of the school owner putting his own carpet down. Oh Joy! A fellow traveller!

Peer practice - take it seriously
Now, this won't sound like rocket science, but today I switched the running order of training modules. I have been annoyed that no matter how keen participants are, imagining oneself in the examinee role quickly leads to a breakdown in purpose. I've done it myself - glib, obtuse or daft answers make the trainee interlocutor's job impossible. Usually a colleague or respected peer, it is very hard not to join in with the tension relieving joke or interruption, aside, observation. The interlocutor needs to have a 'clean run' through the script. Using students as practice candidates at this initial stage for my money is unfair on all - reading a script and managing materials, time, assessment, interaction all off the cuff? On top of that, feedback from a hovering observer? No. Not workable.

I was surprised that this had not been suggested before though - after all, ESOL has been the market leader in assessment since whenever, right?! By tackling assessment first (which everyone always assumes is the 'bigger' or more professionally demanding aspect of the examiner's job) we get the serious hats on early. Everyone can impress the crap out of their peers with lofty discourse critiques, isolating grammatical nuances, announcing their experience with particular nationalities' pronunciation etc. Thank you for sharing, everyone! Now, let's look at the assessment criteria and see where everything you just said can be found...Oh dear.

Justify your assessment - refer criteria
Playing field, abracadabra, level. We are looking at "Can do" rather than "Can not". Nowhere will examiners find reference to accents, grammatical shopping lists or body language critiques. In no more than two sentences, assessors have the tools required to accurately 'nail' candidates performances within a mark. Examiners worldwide use the same criteria, watch the same candidate performances, and are required to come to the same conclusions. Like it, or lump it. The bottom line, is "Cambridge ESOL said so" (with apologies to Stone Cold Steve Austin!)

Clearly, watching a variety of examiners deliver the rubric to the letter, on time, neutrally, and professionally is a benefit. Trainees will have taken in the fact that regardless of the materials used, abilities of the candidates, distractions, personal preferences, each speaking test took approximately the same amount of time, each candidate had an equal opportunity and their was no horseplay. Part two of training = replicate that.

When you have no idea of the tone you are supposed to be presenting, I think it is awfully hard for even experienced teachers to switch into examiner role. As teachers, our natural default setting is "help". As assessors, it is perhaps counter-intuitive to focus on candidates abilities rather than the faults they may or may not demonstrate.

In context here in Japan, candidates do not get credit for "being ambitious" - rather, assessment tends to focus on any loss of control or inaccuracies. Net result = lame, middle of the road and 'safe' performances. Getting this single point across to my speaking test examiners is crucial. As soon as we can focus on ambition, development, familiar vs abstract, clarity to the untrained listener eg my mum...we are getting there.

Lady and gentlemen...Osaka is GO    : - )

Enhanced by Zemanta