how much personalisation is enough?

That’s the question that has been constantly nagging  me laltely. Don’t get me wrong, I am a true advocate of personalising materials for our students, basing the whole activities on their experience and expertise, and asking them for their professional opinions on the matters described in the materials, but recently I’ve been having some doubts: was I overdoing it?

I teach HR English to one of my students. We follow the “English for Human Resources” Express Series Book, which is fine to refer to as a course structure, but not in all parts appropriate for an active professional like my student, unlike for the pre-service trainees. usually a part of a unit would be quite appropriate and good to base a lesson on, and part of it would be OK, but actually just stating the obvious (especially in case of a professional and experienced HR person). In the latter case I would always try to find some alternative ways to teach what’s being taught by that “obvious” text or exercise, to adapt it to make it work for us, or in some difficult (=irrelevan) case I’d just omit that part.

The last time such fit of remaking all the activities, exercises and questions caught me, we were asked to do a whole bunch of activities (including listening, reading, writing and speaking)  based on job descriptions and person specifications. I was having serious doubts if we had to start discussing a topic at all, because I remember her telling me they didn’t use any person specifications as a particular document at all because all the stakeholders were in a position to judge if a candidate was right or wrong for their organisation.

First I decided to skip the person specification part – because why would we discuss it if they didn’t use them?  Then I had second thoughts, because even if they didn’t have an official document, they would still discuss their applicants and use the personality adjectives, which was one of the reasons the person specifications topic appeared in the book. the other reservation I had was that one day she could change her job and start working for a company where they did use person specification, so I didn’t have a right to deprive her of that material. We did the task, with my apologizing warning that as it was a standart thing in many HR departments, and that it was full of useful adjectives and why wouldn’t we take a look at it just in case.

I know such a policy (of following the book? No, it couldn’t be me!)  could sound very boring and not progressive at all. I’ve always chosen personalisation and student’s choice over the book’s contents, but I still feel there could be some benefit of doubt to it. Especially because my student is usually quite willing to discuss the matters far from her own HR situation.

I would even say that the more polarised the things are from each other (like the standard practice to write a rejection letter after an unsuccessful interview and the company’s policy not to write such letters), the more discussion points they offer (there is an opportunity for a student to explain why that’s now used in their company, why it would work for some other companies, comment on the advantages and disadvantes, as well as to tell about the alternative they choose)

Because if something is very far from our student’s circumstances, it’s even better – it’s a fantastic opportunity to see the contrast, to compare the text’s situation against the student’s reality, and possibly to give some advice to the “book people” from the other side. (which, to speak in practical terms, could be arranged as a discussion, a talk show, a writing task, etc).

About Svetlana Urisman

I am an ADOS and an English teacher (and materials writer) in a language school in Moscow. I have been an ADOS and a teacher trainer for a couple of years and a teacher for about 10 years. I am keen to share some ideas and materials I've developed in order to take them further and not to lose them. You are welcome to use any materials represented in this blog, and I will be happy to get your feedback afterwards if you take them to your classroom! ;-)
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