An introduction to the PROOF method
Updated: Nov 8, 2020
I have been observing lectures and classes taught by university professors and language teachers for over 20 years, and in that time I’ve come to various conclusions about the best ways to communicate content to learners in the classroom. Over the years, I have turned those conclusions into a method for helping professors and teachers in their daily work: the PROOF method. This blog is intended as an introduction to this innovative method of coaching designed to work on improving the client’s language and communication.
First of all, the acronym: PROOF stands for Performance, Rehearsal, Observation, Organization and Feedback, which constitute the five pillars of the method. Note that they are in no particular order, but are all required for the method to work effectively.
Performance: A key concept to understand if we want to improve our communication is that any spoken interaction constitutes a performance. Like actors on the stage, we are performing when we engage in any oral interaction. This has huge consequences for how we prepare any communication.
Rehearsal: And just as actors perform, they must first rehearse. Note that rehearsal is not the same as practice… can you think of the differences?
Observation: In order to help clients improve their communication, the coach needs to first observe them in action.
Organization: Rehearsal and subsequent performance would not be possible without organizing the content of what we want to communicate.
Feedback: The coach’s feedback on the client’s performance is paramount in identifying which areas to work on to improve communication.
Here is an overview of how I use the method with my coaching clients in a typical session:
1. I observe the client in a real-life or simulated communicative situation. This will entail taking notes on all elements that enhance or interfere with communication of the message: from language issues (divided into pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar… what do you think is their order of importance? Why?) to the impression made on the listener. Clearly, this can become quite personal for the client, which is why one-to-one coaching allows for more sensitive areas to be addressed, while group coaching will focus more on generic issues. Note that this stage may involve me interrupting the client during their communication to suggest an improvement or not, depending on our pre-established aims.
2. I will give my client feedback, which will both praise their strengths and offer constructive ideas to work on any weaknesses. This feedback is extremely detailed and based on exactly what clients have said/how they have performed during the real-life or simulated communicative situation. It is a very interactive process, with the client fully immersed in it: learning new language, trying out challenging new sounds or other phonological aspects of language, asking questions, confirming or rejecting hypotheses about language, creating new ones…
3. Together, the coach and client will design rehearsal sentences to work on those precise elements that have emerged from the observation and feedback process. How this is done is key to the success of the process.
The language coach must have an extensive knowledge of language, language learning, and communication strategies and tools, to name just a few aspects, as these will form the basis of what the client takes away to help them do the work inherent in improving their communication. In other words, the main work is done by the client outside the session, and sessions are used to collect material for the client to work on and discuss the best ways for them to do this.
As I mentioned at the beginning, this blog was just to provide a taste of my PROOF method of language coaching to give you an idea as to how it works, given that it constitutes a new approach to communicating in a second language that most will not be familiar with. I hope it’s been of interest.