A Coaching Model Created by Sherry Fang
(Teaching Coach, Blended Coach, TAIPEI)
Why is coaching needed for language learners?
Language learning is a very personal journey that everyone has to go through. When we were little, learning a language was a subconscious effort and often seem so much easier. However, adults learn differently and require different skills. This often involves past learning experiences that can be good or bad, and a personal set of time frames and other obligations. Adults simply learn better when the motivation is clear and the learning goals are set by themselves. This also includes the methods of achieving personal goals and who hold them accountable. Someone needs to make sure the learners are achieving their goals with a strong will and who better do that than a coach. As coaches often say, everything eventually comes down to life coaching. This is true for language learning.
Motivation plays a significant role in language learning, if not the most important factor for most students. After all, it is what leads them to language learning. There are many different forms of motivation for adult learners. For individual clients, they usually have immediate need of the language for the performance of their job and their income. For corporate clients, the companies’ performance and revenue of the company are the main motivations to hire instructors for their staff. Whether it is for the company or for individual goals, the motivation for learning a language is always relevant to their lives. The motivation not only sets clients’ momentum of learning and it also changes the learning process, method of instruction from the teacher, and the outcome of the lessons.
Hurdles from the past and their effects on the learning process
In Asia, language learning at school is treated as a subject. Students learn from various aspects of the composition of the language such as reading, writing, speaking, and listening. Grammar is definitely one of the most important components of the class as well as vocabulary and pronunciation. Many different methodologies are used but teachers evaluate the results with tests that have quantifiable results. Students then evaluate what they have learned according to the test scores. However, this can certainly create many issues when it comes to the learning process. With less than a satisfactory score, students can feel disappointed and are turned off from the task itself. They lose confidence in proceeding learning the subject but was forced to do it anyway. Consequently, it is important for coaches to help the clients to resolve and uncover past fear that may hinder clients learning motivation and progress.
How blended coaching and teaching can help
As mentioned, different learners have their own personal journeys of language learning, different motives, different hurdles in the past, and combined with their busy lifestyles and responsibilities. Coaches can act as a supportive role to foster the learning process and together with the learner. Help the learner to adjust any learning habit or redefines goals when needed. At the same time, a coach can also be a supportive instructor sharing knowledge with the students. The blending of coaching and teaching can be simultaneous, however, I have developed a process and methodology for the language learning task and it has served many of my clients and students in the past.
The process of language coaching I have developed is U.S.E.E. (Uncover the need, Set the action plans, Education, and Execution). This model has been applied to my adult language learners. I am focusing on English learning but this can be applied to any language learning process. The U and S phases require coaching and are the most important steps for developing an effective lesson plan. The Education and Execution stages are interconnected as I would adjust the lesson plan if needed throughout. Each phase will be further discussed in the paper below. I will also describe a case to exemplify the modal.
Uncover the need
Most of the language learners will begin by stating that they wish to become fluent by the end of the term. However, through years of teaching experience, everyone defines fluency very differently. Uncovering what the learners actually need from the teaching and coaching experience is the first and the most important step. There are several aspects of motivation that needs to be uncovered. Career goals, language learning behavior past or present, and personal learning habit are all important to explore at this phase. This section mainly encourages coaches to help the clients to explore beyond current thinking and help them to come up with more ideas on how to move forward with their career path.
This is the initial stage of this process and it requires a lot of coaching questions and probing from the coach. It is crucial to understand the client’s current job position and the tasks that need to be performed on a daily basis. This may seem like a simple interview process but understand the daily tasks in detail is really important. The position of the job often doesn’t entail what he/she does every day. It is also easy for people to neglect the small things they do every day but it is often the things that tend to affect their career the most.
Questions at this stage would look like the following:
- What is your position at work?
- What do you do every day at work? Please walk me through your day?
- What are your favorite things to do at work? Why?
- What are your least favorite things to do at work? Why?
- What makes you proud at work?
- What’s the company culture like?
- What would be an ideal workday for you?
- What would be a worst-case scenario at work?
At this point, the clients would have opened up and given the coach a clear understanding of what type of company, industry, and job look like. Also, we would have known the likes and dislikes of the client at work and the personality of the client. I will ask further questions to solidify the goal of the language learning process.
- What is the current project you are working on?
- What is the timeline?
- What would make it a successful project?
- How would you measure the success of the project?
- What is your long term career goal?
- How do you imagine you will be or will be doing in five years?
According to the 2019 ICF Core Competency Model, the coach should “partner with the clients to define or reconfirm measures of success for what the client wants to accomplish in the coaching engagement or individual session” (International Coach Federation, 2019). After asking the questions above, the coach will thoroughly understand what is the most urgent language skills to establish, the timeline and the key result the client demand from the process. Next, the coach and the client will explore the client’s personal traits and personal habits to better understand the client’s personality and communication style. In addition, the coach can demonstrate respect for the client’s unique styles of learning and talents (ICF Core Competency).
- How do others describe you?
- How do you describe yourself?
- What do you like to do to recharge?
- What makes you feel most at home?
Lastly, at the uncovered stage, we will look at learning behavior. This is to allow the coach to better understand clients learning habits, learning methods, learning successes in the past, and failures that may trigger learning blocks. The coach will know how to design the lesson plan so that it will create the ultimate motivation from the client and how to help the client to move past any difficulty along the way. This also allows the coach to evoke awareness by asking questions that make clients notice what is working to enhance the learning process (ICF).
- What is your favorite way to learn?
- How do you learn that benefit you from the past?
- Describe an incident that learning makes you happy and passionate.
- What is your least favorite way to learn?
- Do you have any memory of English learning? What was it like?
- Describe an incident that learning makes you feel drained and tired.
As an instructor, he or she will be able to assess the language ability of the client throughout the coaching conversation. The instructor can also determine what language lessons the clients required to complement their skillsets.
Set the action plans
At the phase, the coach and the client will combine and distill the answers we discussed in the Uncover stage and come up with a very specific action plan. To facilitate learning, the coach would partner with the clients to design goals, actions, and accountability measures that foster the learning (ICF). This includes the clients:
- Skillsets, core competencies
- New language required to complement the skillsets and competencies mentioned above.
- The time frame for the process
- Lesson plan(s)
- Tasks that can be done at home
By this time, the client will have a customized learning plan laid out that will ultimately help him/her to have a career and personal advancement. The goals will be set based on the client’s needs and realistic time frame as well as his/her preferred learning style.
The education portion of the model involves the actual lessons. This is designed so that any instructor can use the lesson plan produced previously and instruct accordingly. This gives any instructors with or without coaching training to better understand the client’s needs and teach effectively and efficiently. The phase also needs to coincide with the execution stage. In this phase, the coach/ instructor needs to constantly challenge the client to evoke more awareness as well as helps them to identify the results of learning from the action steps they set up beforehand (ICF).
Education and execution need to occur simultaneously. The instructor /coach needs to ensure the application of the learned language is at its optimum stage. This is where the instructor can tweak and change the lessons in order to suit their clients’ needs. The ICF Core Competency also recommends that the coach adjusts the approach in response to the clients’ needs. More specifically, the coach and the coachee can appoint a specific task that allows both parties to determine the effectiveness of the lessons from the action plans. This can come in various forms. I will provide an example in the case study section of the paper.
The coach needs to revisit the action plans set by the students after a few lessons of the learning process. For working adult students, the goals and direction of their career often change the short term and long term so it is important for coaches to stay flexible for the client during the learning process. Revisiting the needs and action plans may help to allow the teaching lessons to meet students’ needs and further facilitate the execution of the learning at work or in life. Last but not least, celebrating the client’s progress and successes is equally important as supporting the clients through the learning process (ICF).
After years of teaching, I notice that traditional language teaching doesn’t guarantee positive learning results for adult students. I also see students struggle to find time and classes that actually facilitate their needs. Time is the most valuable commodity for working professional and this methodology of language learning provides the most efficiency of the process as well as the most precise learning result.
To further explain the U.S.E.E. process, I will use one of my clients to illustrate the process and results of the model. I will preserve the client’s anonymity and refer to her as “Cathy”.
Cathy had been taking numerous English lessons for years. She said it is difficult to find a group class that suits her needs and her level. At the same time, she found that while one on one lessons seem to help, she felt like something was missing and she wasn’t getting exactly what she needed. I proceeded with the U.S.E.E. learning model.
After asking questions in regards to her career, we were surprised that the skillsets and core competencies of Cathy were very different from what she imagined. At first, she was certain that her job position is “executive secretary” to the CEO. This led her to believe that note-taking and translation of English documents were her main tasks. However, after she described her job tasks in detail, we realized that instead of a secretary, she is, in fact, a financial controller of the company. The key goal of her job was to be a leader and coordinator for all financial and auditing related projects. It was apparent that her core competency was facilitating and coordinating.
She also described that holding meetings with the representatives from different subsidiaries (Japan, United States, and Germany) of the company put enormous pressure on her. In particular, she found communicating issues and concerns regarding financial statements to different representatives made her feel self-conscious about her language ability. Throughout several coaching discussions, she realized that it was not her language proficiency that affects the understanding of the message with other partners. It was her fear of embarrassment and silence during the conversation that negatively affected the communication process. We concluded that we will actively stay away from saying “I am sorry” during the conversation.
We also gathered that her immediate goal is to successfully complete an internal audit meeting in the United States which required her to facilitate the meeting and communicated an all-important list of tasks with ten representatives from Japan, the United States, and Germany. She was in charge of gathering all required supporting documents for the audit and consolidated statements from different subsidiaries. In the long term, she would like to revamp the financial reporting system of the company.
In terms of personal traits, I learned that while others often described her as shy, she considered herself as introverts. Therefore, she has excellent observation skill and preferred indirect way of communication. She likes to recharge at home on the weekend and requires social rest after a week-long of working and socializing with others. She enjoys reading and quiet activities after work. Therefore, she decided that reading books such as “Quiet” by Susan Cain and “The Introvert Entrepreneur” by Beth Buelow would be excellent extra readings during downtime.
In terms of learning behavior, she enjoys a teacher who has soothing voices and has a calm demeanor. She feels more at ease to learn at her own pace and prefer to do it at home. She has a positive relationship with language learning as she is fluent in Japanese, Mandarin, and English. She likes exposing herself to different cultures.
Set action plans
- Skillsets – Ability to coordination, leadership, facilitation, communication
- New language required to complement the skill sets mentioned above.
- Facilitation language for meetings on-site and off-site
- The time frame for the process – 1~2 weeks
- Lesson plan(s)
Language for meetings
- Pointing out issues
- Agreeing/ disagreeing
- Asking for clarification
- Tasks that can be done at home
- Read “The Introvert Entrepreneur” by Beth Buelow
- Read “Quiet” by Susan Cain
She found the leadership role difficult but she excels at coordinating various subsidiaries for different projects. She is quite soft-spoken and introverted which makes her more observant. This gave me an insight as to what kind of language we needed to focus on in order to develop the lesson plan.
Education and Execution
Based on the given time frame and her preferred learning style, we scheduled 5 lessons online, 1 hour each to help her to achieve her short term goal. In the first 10 minutes of each lesson, I made sure that she fully understood and agreed with the lessons given. I also asked if anything needed to be altered and refined. At the same time, she found that reading books helped her to shape her leadership style. During her trip abroad, I checked in on her to see if everything is going smoothly and to see if she needed any assistance.
Overall, her trip was a success and it brought her more opportunities within the company. She was able to connect with many partners and associates during the business trip and gain more presence at work. The content of the lessons was applied during the overall trip. She would like to continue the work of reaching the long term goal of developing an in house financial accounting system. It will be a different consultation and teaching session using U.S.E.E. in the future.