Preparing students for the modern world of work can be challenging; it's constantly adapting and changing which can be hard to keep track of. Today's post is a Q&A on the teaching of employability skills and the essential skills and qualities students need to thrive in the 21st century. Dr. Ken Beatty offers insights to answer common questions and help you improve your language teaching skills.
1. How can we make students see the value of employability skills when they prioritize traditional language skills? Any tips to bridge this gap?
My advice is to push the issue back to the students by putting them in groups and asking each group to identify a different job/career that involves people working with others. Then ask "What would happen if this job was competitive instead of collaborative?" You may have to re-explain the concepts, but let students write a little story about a situation in which the workers suddenly all turn competitive.
For example, It was chaos in the women's soccer/football game. All the members of the blue team suddenly became competitive. Each one still wanted to win, but each decided that she would shoot a ball into the other team's net. This included the goalie, who ran up to the front of the field and purposely shoved and tripped members of her team ….
Or for more traditional jobs, In the middle of the operation the nurse pushed the doctor out of the way and picked up the instrument. The patient also wasn’t completely asleep, and he tried to do the operation himself, then …
It's all absurd, of course, but it can lead into other tasks asking students why collaboration is so important in each job. Then, turning it back to language, what kinds of language does each profession require to collaborate? For soccer/football players, this includes shouted requests and commands: Pass the ball to me! Shoot! as well as hand and body gestures. Similarly, doctors require professional jargon: Pass me the scalpel, please. Rather than Give me the pointy knife thing!
2. Considering all the impact of tech, is there a clear future for employability for teachers?
One hundred years ago, in 1923, Thomas Edison predicted that motion pictures would replace teachers and books. Since then, similar predictions have been made for radio, TV and computers. It hasn't happened, and one of the reasons is that we crave the human touch in our teaching and learning. I recently read. "When it comes to getting knowledge to stick, there may be no substitute for human relationships. … I've been to former students' weddings and baby showers and funerals of their parents," says Millard, the high school English teacher in Michigan. "I've hugged my students. I've high-fived my students. I've cried with my students. A computer will never do that. Ever, ever.”(Waxman, 2023, para. 21-22)
But, that doesn’t mean teachers should stop learning about new technologies. We need to keep finding ways for them to help us and our language learners in the classroom. It can seem overwhelming, though, which is why I recommend shifting responsibility to students: “Do any of you know about ChatGPT? Yes? How do you think you could use it to help you learn?”
3. How can we deal with collaboration in a competitive world?
Although the world is in many ways competitive, there are countless examples of how students will do better by collaborating. Most of our students today won't be working in environments where they are competing against their co-workers. Instead, they'll be in teams and need critical thinking and negotiation skills to help them do so.
One way forward is to ensure that your classroom features more collaborative activities. Get students working in pairs and groups on all their assignments, but also create a buddy system so students always have someone else to ask for help. For example, if they're having to read a text and come across difficulties, it's often easier for them to text or call a friend than to wait until the next class. After a few collaborative activities, discuss collaboration versus competition with students and ask them which they prefer. Also, ask them for examples of what their friends and family members do regarding collaborating and competing.
As always, it's better to lead students to understand a new idea than to tell them.
If you want to learn more, make sure to check out Ken's webinar here. If you'd like to learn more about teaching future skills to students check out 21st-century skills and the English language classroom.