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Need help- Corporate classes- adults!

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Joined: 05 May 2009
Posts: 4

PostPosted: Sat Feb 04, 2012 2:31 pm    Post subject: Need help- Corporate classes- adults! Reply with quote

Hi there!

Let me get to the point straight-away. So, here's the deal.Being a qualified ESL teacher I've been teaching part-time at a private company as an Oral English trainer for the employees. And yes, I'm in China. Now, at first the students i.e. adults came across as nothing different from college students. And I have experience teaching at a university. However, the trouble is getting them to actually make an effort to learn the language. Its obvious that its been a while since they spoke any English as they don't get opportunities to interact with anyone in English except a few of the employees who's job profile gives them the chance.
My strategy so far has been to get them to speak during the class using a variety of activities. I teach them an aspect of grammar/ work-related vocabulary and follow it up with an activity. I even throw in a few games time and again.
But it just doesn't seem to be working. The root of the problem is them being absent from class more often than not under the excuse of being busy. To make things worse, they often leave in the middle of the class as they need to attend to their work.( I have to allow them to go).
I talked about this with their manager. But they don't seem to be listening to her either. I've indirectly tried hinting this to her a few times even though its a pain in the gluteus maximus to talk to her every time as I need to use a translator .
To sort things out, I even tried organizing an open seminar with games, plays, performances and prizes to get them to be interested in whatever I'm doing. They were more keen to be the audience than to be the participants which nullified the whole purpose of my intentions.
I would certainly appreciate some guidance here.
Is it their ego/ the fear of losing face/ just pure ignorance? I mean they are all adults and I'm younger than any of them.
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Joined: 26 Oct 2009
Posts: 88

PostPosted: Thu Feb 09, 2012 3:22 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Based on the fact you seem to have made a concerted effort and they still seem reluctant to engage, I have to agree with you--it's face.

But let me ask you:

a) Are they all about the same rank, age, gender?

b) Do you detect any office politics at work that might dampen relationships between them?

c) You mentioned attendance--is it possible that they may have to stay longer to complete any work if they attend your classes?

d) Do you have (good) enough ice-breakers to transition them from work-mode to learning mode? I know--dancing monkey--edutainment but if you can appreciate studying English from their perspective, that's what you often need. Immediately following work is one of the worst possible time to be learning a mentally engaging skill. You may want to start by playing some relaxing instrumental music to one of those motivational powerpoint presentations (beautiful photos)--with the lights turned down as everyone enters and then do a simple team-building, linguistically-simple ice-breaker where they've got to get up on their feet. If you need ideas, start a thread, I'm sure you could get pages of them. This of course requires a level of mutual trust and respect.

e) What were you/they told is the reason they're there? Perhaps a perk to make up for some benefit denied? There may be some lingering employee/management resentment?

f) If as you say, it's a face thing, have you inadvertently contributed to this in any way?

g) Have you done/Were you asked to do a needs analysis?

h) What accountability/expectations/feedback is there on the part of the management; you as the teacher; and the students?

There's an educational concept called 'Zone of Proximal Development'. For keeners, it's broad, but for those aware they have no choice but to 'attend' class, it's narrow--just slightly too easy or slightly too difficult and they 'disattend' or end up in detention. If you've ever been a student in a foreign language class yourself, you know how difficult it can be to maintain attention.
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Joined: 05 May 2009
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PostPosted: Fri Feb 10, 2012 9:17 am    Post subject: Reply with quote


Sorry for the tardiness in reciprocation

Thanks for taking time to reply to my message

Here are the responses to the valid questions that you raised:

a) No, each one of them is from a different department that includes HR, Logisitics, manufacturing, Accounting, etc. And all of them except the interns/trainees are in their 30s, 40s. And yes, I have both the genders in equal proportions.

b) Apart from the usual indifference towards the subordinates I think they seem pretty much like any other bunch of colleagues in a workplace. If there is something going on, I suppose I haven't had the chance to be a witness to it. But I must say they don't really care about the opinion of their Manager- i.e. the person I talked about in my post.

c) I guess not, because when the interns do leave the class they return in a few minutes because they don't want to miss out on the details. However, earlier when I used to give them a break in between the class, they would all leave for at least 20 minutes ( even though the break was supposed to be for 10 mins only) .That's when I started to continue with the class after 10 mins of intermission regardless of them returning or not.

d) This is one area that has been giving me a hard time ever since I started. I always try to bring in an ice-breaker at the start of an activity. But what happens is half of them are late for it and they are not keen on getting up ( i.e. more physically exerting tasks- like moving to a different chair-[ its true].. sigh). But I don't think THAT IS the problem.
However, I love your idea of playing sooting music with lights turned down and beautiful imagery.

e) I think they just attend my class because the manager told them to do so. I am certain there are no perks involved because if it was the case then my classes wouldn't have lasted this long. Motivating them is a lot tougher than I thought it would be.

f) I hope not. As far as I know, I always try to avoid embarrassing them or hurting their ego-one reason for that being I'm younger than most of them.

g) I actually did conduct a needs analysis at the beginning of the class but most of those students have stopped attending the classes. I could in fact just do a new one again. Should I go for it?

h) Their expectations of me( & my teaching) was the first thing I clarified before commencing the classes but the responsibility on their part seems to have been totally ignored. I try to give them my feedback and ask for theirs as frequently as I can.

I get your concept of them being more enthusiastic about it if they are taught something that they can easily relate to. You are absolutely correct in your assessment of them "disengaging" from my teaching. I comprehend exactly what you are trying to say here. To be honest, I am at a loss of ideas here.
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Joined: 26 Oct 2009
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PostPosted: Fri Feb 10, 2012 4:36 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I've been teaching for 10 yrs and mostly to kids. The private schools I've taught in mostly scrapped their adult programs. They failed to understand the adult language-learning market (here) in China and perhaps elsewhere in Asia.

I don't envy your position, it's a bit like being a public school teacher in Canada. Even being a 'great teacher' these days isn't good enough. No, you've got to be outstanding to find it rewarding rather than just stress-inducing. That's why I dropped out of my B.Ed program a year ago.

Keep the bottom line in mind: enjoyment! I'd argue learning is not synonmous with studying--that it's actually an unconscious activity. That's why you've got to get them to the point where they forget why they're there. Not an easy task, given the mix of students (levels?), learning styles, etc.

I once developed a set of multiple choice questions based on the party game A Question of Scruples in which teams speculate on how a chosen student in the class would behave in a dilemna. If they're up to conditional grammar, PM me with your email address and I'll email you the set of questions I've prepared.
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Joined: 26 Oct 2009
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PostPosted: Fri Feb 10, 2012 4:43 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I posted what I consider, quite a thorough set of Teacher Evaluation questions on the Student Forum. You're welcome to use it--if you like, I can translate it in Chinese for you as I plan to use it myself in the next little while. Search for my posts there and you'll find it. I was hoping to get a sense from students how they feel about their teacher but it seems, ironically, more teachers post (ads) there than students.
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Sally Olsen

Joined: 08 Apr 2004
Posts: 1322
Location: Canada,France, Brazil, Japan, Mongolia, Greenland, Canada, Mongolia, Ethiopia next

PostPosted: Fri Feb 10, 2012 5:04 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

We are often living in the future, imaging how it will be in the class, partly because we have to prepare, partly because you are nervous and want to do your best and partly because it is nice to think that you can help people. But it rarely works out like you planned it or pictured it probably because you were unrealistic in what you pictured.
People have complete lives outside of the hour or two that you take them n class. So many things are more important than what you are teaching them. Unless they have something hanging over their heads like a deadline or have to pass the class for a promotion or just to keep their jobs (which never makes for good motivation, just grudging compliance), they won't put much effort into your class.
I used to take that one or two hours and make it as nice and as fun and as informative as I could, and try to draw out of them other problems or joys they were having in their lives to see if they could solve or express them in English. Often a third space is a place where you can get a look at something from a different point of view and it is valuable.
Make a third space for them to come to relax, have fun, be accepted, be safe and you will be accomplishing something. Of course, it helps if they learn a little English and you need to emphasize how they are progressing so they will know too.
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PostPosted: Sat Feb 11, 2012 12:26 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Sally's right. I still plan but rarely do things turn out exactly as predicted.

One thing I forgot to ask is their level(s). A significantly mixed class would explain the attendance. Not much you can do about that.

I'm a strong advocate of task-based learning. As I'd recently written on my 'Interchange Users' thread (see link below), I've been using dialogue translation practice with beginners. Even though they struggle with it, they've told me it's useful. Not only does it revise language through speaking practice, it demonstrates other ways of using such language can while providing direct performance feedback in a non-threatening way.

All too often students are overwhelmed with new language before they have time to master it. Their receptive (and forgotten) language grows exponentially compared to their expressive language. I stopped studying Chinese when that happened to me--nothing to do with my motivation.
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