Sunday, 25 September 2011

Professional English teachers in Okayama = ESOL examiners

If it’s Sunday, this must be Okayama? And it isn’t raining?

I am extremely grateful that Malcolm and JP176 put me up NOT in the Tokyu Inn; and that I could travel up yesterday and relax last night rather take the overnight sleeper (fun, but not preceding a serious day’s work!). Observant readers may recall that my last visit included a night in casualty?

I wanted to get to know my examiners better; and they are mine, no matter which Centre they are affiliated to, if I do the training. Their bad habits (heaven forbid) are mine; their interpretations of the Gospel according to ESOL are coached in “but Jim said…” It really annoys me when people forget my name – indicates examiners are likely to forget to use candidate’s names appropriately. First impressions count for a lot, don’t they?

Paul, Tom, Jim, Zack, Malcolm, Simon in Ruoen Thai
So, last night I found myself in the very good company of examiners known, and an English home-brewer I need to get to know, in a superb Thai restaurant “Ruoen Thai”. I love good Thai food, and this was a love affair. Why can’t I combine coriander, basil & squid like that? This a group of people I would happily want to meet up with for a pint more than once a year…

Last minute arrangements had left the make up of this morning’s YLE development meeting hanging until 8pm last night; this afternoon’s contingent only finalised during lunch. At least that meant examiners were demonstrating a desire to stay on the books?

I was delighted to meet Reiko again, who has been working so hard to promote the exams  hereabouts for JP176, a lovely person who has a lot to offer the organisation. I have the sneaking suspicion HG might be the best kept teaching secret west of Osaka. Joan again showed she has actually sat down and read the materials and was the go-to girl with the rude awakening of a revamped quiz.

In the morning we tackled various aspects of YLE examining, departing from the usual video/material log-jam to have a look at managing problems, controlling timing, avoiding obvious (but easily fallen into) man-traps. I like this format, as once examiners have set out their fierce criticism of performances on view, they really do not have anywhere to hide when the same criteria have to be applied to their own participation. Likewise this afternoon, looking at adult levels we took a hard look at the interlocutor’s role and in particular timing (with a pair of candidates we have previously studied to assess in detail…) I was privately delighted that this apparently ‘easy; just watch” exercise produced wildly different answers. “Pay attention: watch the clock!” Likewise, the ‘now give me a score for performance – you’ve got 10 seconds’ produced gasps of protest but…on the job, that’s what you have to be doing. Want to wander off for a coffee half way through? Keep going…
A new distraction!

I impressed on my examiners today the need to consider, and make arrangements for, the unexpected, the unusual, and the uncooked arrangements. Acts of God cannot be mitigated for, but good examiners (all of mine) are expected to be able to think and respond on their toes without dropping the ball. Under pressure, manage a group of three. You have a deaf candidate; deliver the listening test with your colleague (how can you examine the speaking test at whatever level if you are not familiar with other papers at this level?) twice through, without messing up, so that you can be lip-read. Brainstorm what could possibly go wrong if you were asked to examine a Braille-based speaking test? Work out a ‘to do’ list, come that day.

Okayama team: Malcolm, Tom,Joan, Billy, Paul, with  Jim
As unusual as it is to enjoy a fabulous Thai salad in Japan, I hope my Western Nippon team got more than they bargained for out of today’s re-scripted professional development workshop. My intention is that our ESOL examiners are adding ‘can do’ strings to their bows and taking fresh ideas into their classrooms tomorrow morning, and hopefully influencing their peers in turn with good practice, positive analysis of candidate/examiner (as teacher with another ‘hat’ on) performance.

Thank you, Malcolm, for having me over this weekend. Thank you dedicated examiners for your (glorious) day stuck in doors. Looking forward to applying YOUR monitoring template to YOUR performances soon!
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