Scaffolding Professional Conversations in Vocational Education: Strategies for Success

Scaffolding Professional Conversations in Vocational Education Assessments

Recently, I collaborated with vocational educators on designing questions for oral assessments of trades and vocational subjects.

Given the high speaking and listening demands for interactions between assessors and trainees, this work aligned with Step 6 of the Learning Progressions for Adult Literacy.

Technical and specialised vocabulary in the assessments meant that speaking requirements often matched those for reading, which were already high.

Consequently, assessors and training advisors may need to scaffold conversations for apprentices and trainees below Step 5. This can be particularly challenging for those at or below Step 4 and especially for those who are speakers of English as a second language (ESOL).

Although I will return to the ESOL challenges, I want to share some guidelines on scaffolding professional conversations for assessments.

In this context, scaffolding refers to supporting apprentices in understanding and effectively participating in discussions related to their vocational training.

Strategies for Scaffolding Professional Conversations

As an assessor or training advisor, facilitating accessible, engaging, and helpful conversations is critical for supporting apprentices’ skill and knowledge development. Here are some effective strategies you can use to scaffold professional conversations:

  • Break down complex topics: Simplify technical jargon and complex concepts into easily digestible components to help apprentices better understand the subject matter.
  • Use visuals and real-world examples: Incorporating diagrams, visual aids, or real-world examples can help apprentices grasp complex ideas and see the practical relevance of the topics being discussed.
  • Encourage active participation: Foster an interactive conversation by asking open-ended questions, inviting apprentices’ opinions, and providing opportunities for them to ask questions or share experiences.
  • Provide appropriate feedback: Offer constructive feedback on apprentices’ contributions, both in terms of content and communication skills, to help trainees improve their understanding and ability to participate in professional conversations.
  • Use repetition and paraphrasing: Reinforce learning by repeating key points and paraphrasing complex ideas in simpler language to help apprentices grasp the concepts being discussed.
  • Build on prior knowledge: Link new information to apprentices’ existing knowledge and experiences to help them understand and assimilate new concepts.
  • Adjust pacing and language: Adapt the pacing and language of the conversation based on apprentices’ language proficiency and familiarity with the subject matter.
Scaffolding Professional Conversations in Vocational Education: Strategies for Success

Front-loading Vocabulary for Scaffolding Professional Conversations

Front-loading vocabulary, or pre-teaching and checking academic or technical vocabulary, is a crucial strategy for scaffolding professional conversations. This approach ensures that apprentices have a foundational understanding of key terms and concepts before engaging in discussions related to their vocational training. Training advisors can incorporate front-loading vocabulary as part of their scaffolding efforts in the following ways:

  • Introduce key terms in advance: Prior to a conversation or discussion, training advisors can provide apprentices with a list of essential vocabulary words, including definitions and examples of usage in context, to familiarize them with the terminology they will encounter during the conversation.
  • Create visual aids: Flashcards, diagrams, or mind maps can help apprentices understand and remember new vocabulary words. Advisors can share these aids before the conversation and use them as reference materials during the discussion.
  • Use real-world examples: Incorporating real-world examples or case studies that incorporate the new vocabulary can help apprentices better understand the terms and their practical applications.
  • Engage in vocabulary activities: Advisors can facilitate activities such as matching words with their definitions, using the words in sentences, or playing vocabulary games to help apprentices internalize new terminology.
  • Encourage active use of vocabulary: Advisors can encourage apprentices to actively use new vocabulary during professional conversations by asking questions or engaging them in discussions that require the use of key terms.
  • Monitor understanding and provide support: Advisors should be attentive to apprentices’ understanding of new vocabulary throughout the conversation and provide additional explanations, examples, or clarification as needed to ensure comprehension.

Working with ESOL learners

If you work in an industry where you need to assess ESOL learners, please consider the following:

  • A benchmark English assessments like IELTS can help determine apprentices’ suitability for oral assessments.
  • ESOL apprentices’ English skills can develop rapidly if they are supported to work and interact with English speakers.
  • Exploring the working environment of prospective ESOL apprentices and their exposure to and use of English may be a discretionary consideration for determining their suitability for an apprenticeship.

Author: Graeme Smith

Education, technology, design. Also making cool stuff...

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