21 February 2007

Jack Welch and the language classroom

...well, OK, it's not really Jack Welch talking about English teaching but it is adapting a couple of his ideas.

A couple of Jack Welch's ideas that he expounds in his best-selling book, "Winning", are how he uses every opportunity to appraise the people working for him and how he regularly fires the bottom 5% performers.

In my spoken English class I am using almost every exchange with students to help evaluate their English. I'm not waiting for the end of term exam or even quizzes. Especially after a pair or group work activity I like to call on a few students to tell us what they talked about, what decision they made about the situation in the activity, what answer they have to the questions they were to talk about. When they speak I may ask them a couple more questions and then I will give them a score which is recorded in my computer and averaged with other scores and indicators.

In this way I can get a pretty good idea which students are doing well in my class and which ones are not doing so well. When you have classes of 40-50 students there are always a few very naughty students sitting in the back of the class and a few very smiley and bright ones sitting in the front of the class. Both of these types of students distract you from the more unobtrusive majority, many of whom are rather quite although often with good English skills. Only by systematically checking all of the students can we find these students before giving them an exam.

This leads us to the next point...

Another practice of that Welch follows is firing the bottom 5% performers. The employees that are doing the least in the company get fired as a regular practice. Well, as teachers we usually can't fire our students. But we can make a point of identifying exactly who the bottom performers are and trying to develop a plan to help them whether it's extra training, extra homework, extra encouragement or whatever.

In every class there are students who are doing well and students who are doing poorly and many in between. Unlike something like a writing class or four-skills class there may be less evidence of exactly how the students are doing. The speaking class students are not turning in homework and usually no quizzes. What some teachers do is to just teach, teach, teach and give an oral exam at the end of term.

My suggestion is that teachers should use as many opportunities as possible to assess the students, formative evaluation. I have realized that in the past I let many of these assessment opportunities slip by. I now make full use of them.

As far as face goes, we must understand the significance of face in Asian society, respect that and take it into consideration in all that we do. But face saving is not a goal unto itself. There may be instances when we are unable to preserve face and do what our jobs require at the same time. If a student is struggling in the classroom we must try to help them. Of course, we'll do everything we can to help him save face but his grades, his success in school and his success in life are not measured soley by the amount of face he retains. In fact, there are certain situations when it is better to lose face.

Concerning borrowing a page from Jack Welch, a captain of capitalistic-commerce, I believe he knows a lot about organization. I despise some of the snaky things Welch has done. If he is responsible for even half these things he should be tried as a war criminal.[1] I despise his attitude that business is more important than family.[2]

But that does not mean he cannot have good advice that can help us. After all, you or a friend of yours probably enjoy some of Hitler's good ideas, right?[3]

[1] http://www.cleanupge.org/gemisdeeds.html
[2] http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/7305761/site/newsweek/
[3] http://ask.yahoo.com/20050308.html

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