Monday, 8 June 2015

In-Conference Professional Development - PANSIG

Back-pedalling a couple of weeks to tell you about a very exciting afternoon I enjoyed (though working very hard) in Kobe at the recent JALT PANSIG Conference held there.

It has often struck me how many of 'my' (Cambridge) Speaking Examiners attend the various workshops & conferences I sometimes manage to get to - without being surprised; they are operating in our natural recruiting zone and showing an interest in professional development. Ideally then, make it an extra-worthwhile weekend for everyone and have something tangible to take home.

So what did we do? Prior to the Conference, announced that there would be an opportunity for teachers to attend a full speaking examiner training workshop, with a discount if attending the Conference already - or a discount to attend the rest of the day at the Conference if signing up for the training. Good deal either way!

We received very positive interest and had the session fully booked in no time at all; online pre-training meant we could start at speed with everyone on the same job really a matter of fine-tuning interpretations of instructions and delivery of materials. You would have thought that reading out a few questions from a script would be easy. Usually, it would be, and you do not have to be an experienced teacher to be able to do that. However, add in the pressure of two (sometimes) three nervous/expectant/shy/chatty/non-native speakers hanging on your every word, plus the need to give each a 'fair' turn, plus manage the timing of the tasks, plus pay attention to responses and body language, plus remember what to do next? Not so easy. And with Conference providing us with a roomful of dummy candidates to actually practice on in real time, a lot of pressure. Speaking Examiners have to rise to the challenge and appreciate the necessity of delivering a standard test each & every time. For me, this impacts on the test-takers perception of the test more than anything else they do on test day. They will not remember the questions, but they will remember how they felt in the speaking test.

Job satisfaction for me in examiner training comes with recruits managing to control the above calmly.

Which is at odds with the expectations of recruits, who want to know 'what the scores are' from the start! When we do eventually get to the assessment phase, recruits get excited to see the actual criteria, and then there's a good deal of head scratching as few have assessed with benchmarked criteria before - and very few with 'Can Do' in mind. Invariably recruits begin by noticing 'mistakes', 'errors', and 'can't do', and picking on accents they are not familiar with etc. It takes 'a few goes' looking at different samples of speaking for the group to come around - and it needs to be the group, in the same scoring ballpark, for the lesson to have sunk in. And this is where teachers can stretch their experienced legs and share/discuss/argue/negotiate around interpretation of the criteria v what they saw/heard - and explain all of that couched (only) in the terms written down in front of them. Bye bye 'funny accent' and 'can't do the present perfect simple' etc!

And then the satisfaction of 'nailing' scores when final marks are collected, and the reassurance that there is a lot more support hereon in for all our successful new SEs - in this case 14 people catching the train home glowing with a very real sense of achievement from their weekend to reflect on & put into practice. Well done the PANSIG Cadre!

Need to thanks a couple of people for pushing this unique initiative through - an idea I have had in mind for a couple of years, but needed implementers like Jon Dujmovich and Mark Brierley. Overall, I should thank the PANSIG organisers for seeing the win-win, Tim Pritchard for his 'can do' attitude, and the volunteers who were thrust into practice speaking tests. This event would not have happened without the support of Cambridge English Language Assessment in Japan, specifically Tomoe Aoyama.