Saturday, January 14, 2012

Oral Presentation Rubric - Teaching kids to interview in 4th grade

Exhibit A
In 4th grade, my son brought home a scorecard for his oral presentation.  He was 9 years old yet the grading categories could have come straight from a "How to Interview" book (see Exhibit A).  The first category listed at the top , "Preparedness" may seem an obvious one for school assignments but it is stunning how often grown ups ignore this essential point for their own job interviews.  Recently, a 40 year old General Manager candidate of mine was declined after his first interview for being unprepared.  He told the interviewer that he had not even seen the homepage of the company yet!

Oral presentations are not unusual and most kids get started with them as early as kindergarten when they bring in their latest toy and get to "show and tell" in front of the rest of the class.  However, what amazed me about this particular assignment was how relevant it was to my son's future.  Sure it is nice to be able to name all the state capitals and maybe it helps to develop basic memorization skills but is it really worth the time and energy involved?  Many times I think that the tests and evaluations in grade school are created just so that there is an easy way to figure out the grades at the end of the semester.  As a college professor myself, I know it is a lot easier for me to give my class a quiz with right or wrong answers than it is to grade an essay or try to put a number on class participation.  Now take a look at the grading guidelines on Exhibit A, level 4 for the category Enthusiasm for example. "Facial expressions and body language generate a strong interest and enthusiasm about the topic in others."  In the case of the 4th grade report, the topic here is a book review but let's replace that with an interview where the topic is your child and his or her application to a job.  If your son or daughter can generate a strong interest in the topic with an interviewer through their facial expressions and body language they will increase their chances of getting the offer dramatically.

A big challenge for kids in school is getting themselves motivated to learn something they see as useless.  OK, let's see a show of hands from all those parents out there who use trigonometry in their lives on a daily basis?  Anyone?  I remember asking teachers (more than once), "When am I ever going to use this?"  The typical refrain was that I probably would never use it since I would end up getting a low-paying, unskilled job if I did not study harder.  Perhaps this works on some kids but I don't recall feeling any more enthusiastic about the class than before I asked.  Maybe what my teachers could have said (specifically related to trigonometry) was that most employers want new grads with "problem solving" skills.  Trigonometry helps to develop those skills and doing well in the class will help me get a job.

As parents, we cannot delegate the education of our children entirely to their teachers nor can we assume that they will be able to explain the benefits of learning in a practical sense.  Follow along with your kid's studies and whether it is an Oral Presentation or Trigonometry, explain to them how it will help them in the future.  Talk about how you actually use the skills that they are learning on a daily basis at work like problem solving, communication and team work.

I like these guidelines so much I am thinking of adapting them into my own "Interview Rubric" to hand out to candidates. Maybe I will give a copy to my clients and suggest they use it for evaluations in interviews as well!

Monday, January 9, 2012

How a hula hoop got my daughter a job

This Christmas, my 3 year old daughter received the present she has been asking for all year, her very own hula hoop.  It is a fancy affair and comes in 6 sections so that it can be re-sized for smaller kids.  With great anticipation she pranced to the center of the room. Hoop at the ready, with a quick glance around to make sure we were all paying attention, she whipped it around her waist while wiggling her body in all directions.  The hoop dropped almost immediately to the ground.  For a few seconds there was silence, then the crying began, "I can't do it!" she said and came rushing over to Mommy.
My wife and I were not terribly surprised since in our 40s neither of us can spin the hoop for more than a few rotations ourselves.  My wife explained to our distraught daughter that with anything new, it takes time and effort to become good at it.  "You just need to practice more." she said.  With that brilliant parental advice in hand she returned to the center of the floor and proceeded to spin and drop the hula hoop over and over again.  The rest of us, my wife, I and my son returned to our own projects like getting another cinnamon roll or refilling our coffee.

About 20 minutes later we were called back to observe her progress.  She had been practicing constantly and without any guidance from us (since we don't really know how to teach hula hooping anyway) she had achieved the form and speed necessary to keep the hoop going.  We could see from the look on her face how proud she was of her accomplishment.

Fantastic!  good for her, but how does this help her get a job?  Well, unless she is trying out for Cirque du Soleil or planning to be an Olympic gymnast the hooping is probably not going to be valuable on her resume.  However, following a brief parenting/praising error on my part when I called her a "hula hoop genius", my wife and I were able to focus on some of the aspects of the experience we hope she takes with her through her life.  We praised her for her persistence.  Telling how great she was for continuing to pick up the hoop and spin it again and again even when she was not able to do it well.  We pointed out that through her "dedicated" practice she became better at it. We told her that she was super for working so hard on her own to learn how to do the hula hoop.

If our three year old develops any one of the traits above thanks to the hula hoop, it will be great for both her career and her life.  Persistence, never giving up?  What employer would not love to see that kind of attitude.  Knowing that if she practices hard enough she can learn something new is a tremendous confidence builder.  Life, school and jobs are full of challenges and we are all confronted with new situations on a regular basis.  Feeling that since she mastered the hula hoop she can do anything would be a wonderful takeaway.  And finally, as she was left to figure out the problem of form and technique all on her own, and did it! Self-confidence, problem-solving, a belief in her own abilities and potential.

Of the 5 traits identified in "The world's most attractive employers and what they look for in our kids", communication, maturity, confidence, problem-solving and team work, it is pretty amazing that the humble hula hoop can contribute to two of them, confidence and problem-solving. Maybe we should all take a spin?