October 8: Self-assessment of My Professional Performance in English

Drawing on Moate’s (2011) teacher talk typology and Pilkinton-Pihko’s (2013) criteria for evaluating oral professional communication in English, I will now evaluate my own professional performance in English. It is going to be interesting to see how rich and diverse I am in my roles of Doctoral Student and Lecturer in English. In a dialogue with student feedback and my personal reflections, I will compare how well I did four years ago, as a new teacher, with where I am today. I will start with Pilktinton-Pihko’s criteria and continue with Moate’s typology. Both of these are presented in bullet form.

Criteria for evaluating oral professional communication in English

  • Accessible NNS fluency. When it comes to Accessible NNS fluency, I have developed a great deal during my four years of teaching. As a new teacher, I had a tendency to speak very quickly without pausing, which made it difficult for L2 students to understand and follow along, especially if these students’ English skills were weak. After realizing my beginner mistake and I guess, becoming more confident in my professional role, I have slowed down considerably. I also try to pause, when appropriate and emphasize key vocabulary. Based on student feedback from spring 2018, a large number of my students were very pleased with my “excellent” English skills. Several also stated that I spoke clearly and in a language that they could understand. This was particularly interesting because I never asked the students to evaluate my linguistic skills. Instead, the question in the feedback form was “What are the teacher’s strengths?”. Although I have improved in this area, I still believe there is room for improvement.
  • Perceived Intelligibility. I am not a native speaker but speak with a neutrality that comes across as clear and intelligible. Even though I have spent long periods in the USA, I have a slight British influence when it comes to pronunciation. One of my colleagues from the English Studies once joked that I can always present myself as a transatlantic speaker of English.
  • Accommodation skills. As a new teacher, I found it difficult to vary my language and switch between formal and informal registers of English. Today, I am more confident in my accommodation skills although there is certainly room for improvement.
  • Plurilingualcultural strategies. I believe that I am able to maintain a flow or NNS fluency and am culturally aware. I can accommodate for local “Finnish” concepts in English and always try to be aware of local and pluricultural politeness when the context is international. With this said, I can certainly still improve in this area, as well.
  • Lexicogrammatical appropriateness. I always use a clear language with prepositions and articles. I regularize verbs and use the nominal plurals. If I come across as unintelligible, I usually rephrase and try to find a more exact language (depending on context more formal or informal or just explain something in a different way).
  • Coherence and cohesion/Lecture coherence. When it comes to coherence and cohesion, I aim to use arguments that are well reasoned. I often ask questions to aid communication and to check that the students have understood. Here, nonverbal communication is important, too, for instance, gestures and eye contact also aid dialogue and two-way communication between teacher and students together with students-students. Coherence and cohesion are sections that could be developed. Particularly, well-reasoned arguments are an art form that I will continue to improve. When it comes to lecture coherence, I often use PowerPoints to keep a lecture structured and aid coherence.
  • Content accessibility. This is something I continually work on in my own research: How to explain difficult ideas and concepts in an easy way. Although I can present content that is cognitively challenging in an accessible way with natural pauses, etc., it can be challenging especially if I teach a new course (which is what I do this fall). However, one becomes better with practice. Therefore, practice and preparation are important although sometimes, it may be difficult to find preparation and practice time.
  • Speaker credibility. You have to gain in-depth knowledge and understand a subject before you can offer it to your students. As quite a recent teacher, I always strive to gain more knowledge about what I teach. My grammar is overall good, and I believe, I handle most questions well. If I cannot answer a question or if my answer is lacking during class, I try to look it up and incorporate the answer later. Although I am quite confident, I can always improve my speaker credibility.
  • Listener engagement. I aim to engage my students but sometimes it is difficult to interpret how engaged they actually are. I try to speak with passion and enthusiasm, as well as creating interest in the subject matter.
  • Field-specific terminology. I am able to use correct field-specific terminology but there is always room for more terminology, especially if a course is new. I can understand cross-disciplinary vocabulary, but there are, of course, limitations. For example, since I am not specialized in, for instance, engineering, my professional terminology in this field is limited.

Teacher talk typology

  • Organizational talk. I use organizational talk especially during the first course meeting and during the first minutes of a class to lay out the structure. It is also important when giving out assignments and tasks, I believe.
  • Social talk. I use social talk quite a bit to create a safe environment and lower the threshold between teacher and student.
  • Critical talk. I often ask questions for student engagement, and now I also learned that this is important for critical thinking and the deconstruction of concepts.
  • Expert talk. In-between the critical and social talk, I aim to insert the expert talk.
  • Exploratory talk. The idea with critical talk is perhaps to engage in exploratory talk. By asking follow-up questions and inserting my own understanding, I also hope to engage students in exploratory talk. This can be difficult, depending on the course format or if a group is new, which means sometimes one is successful and other times not, but one can always try to do better next time.
  • Meta talk. I use metatalk, for example, when explaining what we will do today: first, we will…, second, we will… and for assignments.
  • Pedagogic talk. My interpretation of pedagogic talk is switching from formal or academic English to informal English. This is something that I found difficult as a new teacher. Even if I have improved today, I can still improve on pedagogic talk.