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Learniing teaching from Wall Street Institute of English

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  • dk
    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
    Message 1 of 2 , Sep 7, 2011
      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.

      Dave Kees
    • JohnHibbs
      ... 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
      Message 2 of 2 , Sep 8, 2011
        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.
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