Learniing teaching from Wall Street Institute of English
- Wall Street, like McDonald's, relies on a system. They hire qualified
teachers but, to be honest, I don't think they really need qualified
teachers. They mostly need friendly outgoing native-English speakers who
look good in a shirt and tie. Wall Street relies on their teaching system to
do the teaching. I would define the system as the materials, the course, and
various elements to help motivate the student, track the student, and guide
the teacher what to do with the student. It is like a giant computer program
with but with well-dressed flesh and blood avatars, the teachers.
I don't want to demean the teachers of Wall Street. I think they are all
nice people. In fact, that is why they get the job, because they are nice.
They don't get the job because they are TEFL geniuses, have a masters
degree, have experience in course design, etc. The teachers operate as
elements of this big system. It is really the system that is teaching the
students, not the teachers.
It would be great to sit down with the guys who made the system, the wizards
of Wall Street Institute. I'm sure there is a lot of theory and science
behind the system. They have had to make thousands of decisions in designing
it. But alas, all I can relate here is like an outsider looking into a
complex and whirring machine.
So what is the teaching system? It is mostly online backed by a paper
workbook. The online lessons are based on several ongoing stories, sort of
like a soap opera or TV serial. There are elements of boy-girl romantic
undertones, sometimes even with sexual tension, sometimes there are criminal
activities going on, cops trying to catch robbers, and the people are
usually business people so there's business going on. The settings are in
the office, bar, restaurant, home, etc. So they cover all the bases of
business English and general English that way.
The medium is a video that is a sort of cross between a slide show and mp3.
That is, what you see are still photos where some elements of the photos are
pushed across the screen. For example, there may be a background of a bar
and a picture of a man and woman pushed across this background almost like a
high-tech flannel graph. It's like someone cut out a man's picture and cut
out a woman's picture and then wiggles their pictures in front of the
In what I saw, Wall Street does not "teach" vocabulary or grammar in the
online training. Instead they rely on the dialog of their story to present
the language in context. One unit consists of three lessons. Each lesson
takes 1.5 to 2 hours to complete. Here is an example of one lesson. The
video may be an Asian girl fashion designer meeting a clothing manufacturer
customer in a bar. There is business and there is romance going on.
First they will play through the whole story, between 5 to 10 minutes. Then
the program will break this dialog down 3-4 ways for practice. Show some
sentences and have the students add the missing words Have the student put
the sentences in order. Have the student repeat and record some of the
sentences. Have the student repeat the sentences but with some words missing
the student must fill in. Record the student when he repeats the sentence
and play back with the original sentence so the student can compare and hear
how he did.
The student is constantly going over and over and over this same piece of 5
to 10 minute dialog several different ways. It takes one lesson, 1.5 to 2
hours, to teach one piece of dialog. The student will use some of that
language in new sentences and contexts. It doesn't "teach" you new
vocabulary. So if a student cannot catch it from context, he will probably
look it up. My student often asks me about new vocabulary from his Wall
Street lessons. One lesson, based on a short 5-10 minute dialog, will take
1.5 to 2 hours to study.
Each individual answer in the online course is instantly rewarded with a
happy little beep if it is right or an unhappy little beep if it is wrong.
After the exercise is finished, it will take you back through the bits you
got wrong and replay that one little portion of the video for that answer
you got wrong.
My student really liked Wall Street in the beginning. Then he didn't go for
a long time. Now he is picking it up again. He finds some of the stories
interesting and he likes getting a good score but he doesn't think the story
of his current lesson is as interesting as some of the earlier ones.
After finishing the 3 lessons that make up one unit, about 4.5 to 6 hours of
work, he will make an appointment to see the teacher. When he goes for this
appointment called an encounter with the teacher, the teacher will have a
printout of the student's performance from the past, how much time he took
online to do the lessons, did he have any particular problems with any parts
of the lesson, how many encounters he came to, if he came for any Wall
Street English corners, etc, and if there are any issues the teacher should
talk about it with the student.
As I said, the student has just finished 4.5 to 6 hours of online training,
one unit which equals 3 lessons. He is now sitting there with three other
students and the teacher. The teacher, according to the Wall Street routine,
will have some language points to check the student on according to what
unit the student finished. It might be to make sure the student can use some
particular grammar items. The teacher will flip through each student's paper
workbook, give a fast scan to the three writing assignments of the unit and
scribble in some fast corrections. I felt the teacher corrected the student
on some errors with vocabulary that is not commonly used and did not correct
the student on some errors with vocabulary that is commonly used. Then the
teacher goes into some discussion topics with the students.
The system is sort of "idiot-proofed". There is not much the teacher can do
to ruin things. On the teacher's part, no knowledge of language teaching
theory or course design is necessary. In fact, that could get in the way.
Much like a job at McDonald's, the best skill is to show up on time and
follow the routine of the system with a warm heart and big smile on your
face and a tie around your neck. At McDonald's, you don't need to be a great
cook. You just need to follow the routine and the routine makes you cook
well or good enough. At Wall Street, from what I saw, you don't need to be a
great teacher. You just need to follow the routine and the routine makes you
teach well or good enough. The genius is not the guy flipping the hamburgers
at McDonald's and it is not the teacher flipping through the workbook at
Wall Street, it is the people who designed the system.
I will not say that Wall Street is the best way or even a good way. But I
think we can learn from them. It's easy for us to find many things to
criticize about them. Despite what our teaching philosophy is, we can see
that they are doing some interesting things.
They do as David Nunan suggested to me, they use technology to do what
technology can do. They use teachers to do what only teachers can do. And I
believe that the way the system runs, even that teacher time may be more
cosmetic than really pedagogical.
Wall Street keeps careful track of each individual student. Each student has
to work at his own pace.
A lot of teaching we do, in the traditional classrooms of schools, is like
broadcasting knowledge. The teacher is like a beacon transmitting
information out into the classroom. Some students get it. Some students
don't get it. But then the teacher and the class move on. At Wall Street,
the student has to get it before he can move on.
It is a "school-of-one". It is teaching in the cutting edge way that the New
York Times applauds about the School of One in New York. It is flipping the
classroom as the TED Talks applauds in Salman Khan's Khan Academy. Letting
the student learn on his own and practicing what he learned with the
These are interesting trends that will probably become more and more
prevalent in the future. Some Webheads are probably already doing these
things with their students. Some Webheads have probably gone far beyond
these things and doing Teaching 3.0, whatever that is. But all of us would
do well to see what is going on and what we should be doing to be the
teachers the future needs.
- Quoting dk <davekees1@...>:
> Wall Street, like McDonald's, relies on a system.Thanks Dave. I found that VERY interesting. Somewhere along the line
I missed the URL. Perhaps you could not only provide it's home page,
but also some of the pages on it of most interest to this
discussion...if any? Good work.
My quick take: Webheads, rightfully, is keenly interested in the
values each of them bring to the classroom. (Well and good.) My
interest, mostly, is finding ways that "ordinary" native language
English speakers, particularly American, can find good jobs overseas
right after leaving college -- or even before graduation. -- All
things considered, it sounds like Wall Street could fill that gap. Not
"Webheads" perfect, but from what you say, "good enough" (for the
student) and /great/ for a motivated native English speaker who could
learn soooooo much from a couple years abroad...especially if inside a
classroom, especially with students not much younger than he or she.
My two farthings.