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Group Evaluations that Support and Clarify Professional Practices and Soft Skills for Students

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By Kevin Stoda, Salalah College of Technology, Oman

Here was one of the headlines of this year: "World's youth fear jobless future:  The Middle East is worst hit with 25.5 percent unemployment among young men and 39.4 percent for young women." With recognition of these needs for employment in the Arab world, I seek to assist peoples in the Middle East to become more employable in the coming years. I have worked in the region since 1999.

Because there have sometimes been discrepancies between the training offered at the tertiary levels and the present (& future) needs of the labour market, many students, teachers and educational institutions are interested in both teaching soft-skills and applying various business & industrial (professional) practices in the classroom (Watts, 1998; Hissey , 2000 ; Noll & Wilkin, 2002; ODEP, 2010) . Interestingly, (1) by introducing a variety of professional practices, including soft skills, and (2) by providing opportunities to reflect on those behaviours used in  simulations and group activities, students often quickly understand what behaviours are expected and needed to succeed both academically and in the world of work.  One important way to ensure this progress is through the development of appropriate group-work evaluation rubrics--i.e. rubrics which support the goal of helping students integrate themselves as individuals in a successful group, office, or team.  These evaluation practices support students and society well in terms of both improving individual achievement in the academic- and professional worlds.


INTRODUCTION

Much has been written about the needs of Omani students to individually self-evaluate their own individual performances in the classroom.  The hope has been that an important classroom- and lifelong-learning skills will be achieved. (Klenowski, 1995; Sullivan et. al. 1998; Rolheiser & Ross, 2012 ).  For example, in our college's foundation program, both level 1 and level 2 students evaluate their work each week in what we call a "study skills class". However, until now, these same students on our campus have not been evaluated regularly in terms of their achievements in group work activities [1] --nor have these students been asked to  reflecting much about their performances in groups in informal ways.   With this paper, I encourage all schools in Oman to employ feedback and evaluations which enable and encourage students to work as an asset on a variety of teams (with a variety of peers from different tribes or cultures) in  a variety of contexts.  This will empower our student graduates with extremely marketable soft skills when they leave our programs in the future.

This paper posits that group work activities, i.e. which are regularly followed by supportive evaluation rubrics and student-teacher reflection,  can help students and teachers  focus on important soft skills, such as a variety of (a) communicative skills, (b) problem-solving skills, (c) team-work skills, (d) information management, (e) professionalism, and (f) various leadership practices. It is clear that such rubrics can and do support progress (continuous) assessments.  That is, their employment in classrooms and for projects outside of the class will improve time-on-tasks efforts for both groups and individuals.  Moreover, these practices will enable students to improve their efforts and overall-success in (and out of) the classroom in a variety of repeated activities over time. 

 In the following sections of this paper, (1) I will share my own background in undertaking group activities and evaluations as an educator or language trainer, and (2) I will present and discuss a variety of  evaluation options for groups, which highlight or reinforce particular groups of soft-skills needed for more-and-more successful group (and individual) efforts in the classroom and in the workplace.

Why Self-Evaluate?

According to the Nebraska Department of Training (NDT), "[i]n order to become lifelong learners, students need to learn the importance of self-evaluation. They can do this by filling out self-evaluation forms, journalizing, taking tests, writing revisions of work, asking questions, and through discussions. When students evaluate themselves, they are assessing what they know, do not know, and what they would like to know. They begin to recognize their own strengths and weaknesses. They become more familiar with their own beliefs, and possibly their misconceptions. After they self-evaluate they will be able to set goals that they feel they can attain with the new knowledge they have about themselves."

When I first entered the teaching profession, I was primarily interested in working in the social sciences with high schools students.  I desired to empower students to be more active socially in their societies, i.e. in terms of improving their workplaces, NGOs, and government organizations. However, over the subsequent two-and-half decades, I have come to primarily work teaching foreign languages in a dozen different countries. During these years, I have often tried to integrate my social science training into my curricular developments in foreign language education.  I have done so because I found early-on that social science topics and social-studies-inspired activities, such as conducting surveys and debating, were motivating for many students.  This was true for native speakers and for  and social studies for many L2 learners.

As part of the continuing assessment movement of the early 1990s, I chose to adapt (See Rubric 1 below) for my second language students in Japan a rubric for group work evaluations which had originally been created by social science teachers in California to promote social-, group-, and individual classroom behaviours.  The three key criteria for evaluation are (a) cooperation ability, (b) communication ability, (c) ability to thoroughly complete task(s).  The particular rubric, Group Discussions & Problem Solving, is designed for groups of 3 to 6 students but works best with groups of 5 students.

Rubric 1: Group Discussions & Problem Solving

Note :   1 is low score, 5 is high score

Cooperation

5    All members of the group participate in an outstanding manner throughout the activity.

4    Most of the members of the group participate most of the time in the discussion and in achieving a solution.

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http://eslkevin.wordpress.com/2009/07/09/3-big-paradigms-hol

KEVIN STODA-has been blessed to have either traveled in or worked in nearly 100 countries on five continents over the past two and a half decades.--He sees himself as a peace educator and have been-- a promoter of good economic and social development--making-him an enemy of my homelands humongous DEFENSE SPENDING and its focus on using weapons to try and solve global (more...)
 

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In test-driven educational settings, like in Japan... by Kevin Anthony Stoda on Monday, Apr 30, 2012 at 3:28:47 AM