Learning to Interview Builds a Range of Communication Skills
There’s nothing quite like the look on a student’s face after they’ve completed an interview with a subject matter expert. Teenagers get a sense of success, relevance, and agency in the world when such a dialogue is conducted properly—with preparation and practice—and when done well.
Interviewing needs students to pay attention, concentrate, think quickly on their feet, and respond appropriately to what the other person has to say to be successful. To prepare for an interview, students must identify what they don’t know about the subject matter (a metacognitive talent) and learn as much as they can about the interview subject matter; otherwise, the interview will be awkward. Real-life is being replicated, with genuine consequences if students are unprepared, and with real rewards, if they perform well. This represents the heart of project-based learning.
Listening and making a sincere effort to understand where the other person is coming from is also an exercise in empathy and learning how to connect with someone else. All of these life skills will aid students in their preparation for college and careers, and interviewing is an excellent way to address high school ELA and NGSS standards around communication, evaluating pertinent information, pulling important quotes, and emphasizing salient points, as well as ISTE and media literacy standards of digital production and multimedia presentations, among other things.
The interview is a key component of the PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs (SRL) program, which I founded ten years ago to empower teenagers through the production of video stories about important issues in their lives and communities. The interview is a core component of the SRL program, which I founded to empower teenagers through the production of video stories on important issues in their lives and communities. SRL is present in 150 schools in 46 states, and more than 15,000 students have made videos that have been broadcast and distributed on digital platforms by public media.
A remote interview with an epidemiologist working on Covid-19 was performed in April 2020, and the following is an example of what was discussed. Take note of the questions asked by the student interviewer and his or her demeanor during the interview.
Students in SRL are taught by NewsHour youth media producers and journalists from local PBS stations, but there are exercises that teachers may use to replicate this type of coaching in any high school classroom, including their own.
PRACTICE GENERAL INTERVIEW SKILLS
Before guiding students through the process of developing effective interview questions, ensure that they are familiar with the fundamentals of interviewing. Put them in groups of three so they can get some practice with interviewing techniques. Two students role-play an interview while a third, the evaluator, provides guidance and comments on the criteria listed below as they improve their interviewing skills.
They should put into practice the following abilities:
Prepare a list of questions, keeping in mind that they are not required to ask every one of them.
Maintain good eye contact with them, including glancing up if they look down to examine their list of questions again.
When someone’s response prompts them to think of a question they didn’t anticipate, they should ask follow-up questions.
To encourage the interview subject to speak for a long period, write open-ended questions that include the five Ws: who, what, where, when, and why (plus how).
However, an interview is more than just a chat, so make it clear to students that they must maintain control over the pace of the exchange. Alternatively, if they feel the discussion is headed towards a topic they do not want to explore, they can switch things up by asking a different question from the list or by switching topics entirely. To practice asking the subject to restate an answer if it runs on too long or appears nonsensical, the interviewer student can ask the subject to repeat themselves.
EXPLORING THE ART OF ASKING QUESTIONS
is a journey through the mind of a chess player.
One of SRL’s most popular activities is a lesson plan on how to ask questions, which includes a list of the Common Core requirements that were covered in the session. A scenario with a fictitious reporter and source is presented, and the three-student protocol—interviewer, subject, and evaluator—described above is explained using the situation.
Encourage students to consider how refining their questions can result in more intriguing responses being provided. Mike Conrad, an SRL teacher at Royal Oak High School in Michigan, has developed a useful exercise for this purpose. He guides students through the process of delving a little further to come up with better questions, which includes:
Do you eat pizza regularly?
Do you eat pizza regularly? Why?
What’s your favorite type of pizza to eat?
Please share the name of your favorite pizza or pizza place with me.
As well as writing and asking questions, students should practice using sentence starters such as “Tell me…”, “Describe…,” “Please explain…,” and “Help me comprehend…”
REV UP THE FEEDBACK
Reverse engineering questions are a wonderfully interesting and engaging technique to give students practice creating better questions while also providing them with valuable practice. In 2010, photographer Brandon Stanton wanted to convey the lives of 10,000 random people as part of his project, Humans of New York, which began in 2011. Stanton approaches strangers on the street, takes their photographs, and conducts a conversation with them. The photographer shares each photograph alongside an excerpt from the interview in which the subject describes something meaningful from their life. My favorite reverse-engineering activity comes from Iowa English teacher Sarah Brown Wessling, who invites her students to read a blog post and try to figure out: What question did Stanton ask to get that particular story?
To assist students in recording high-quality video, REV UP THE FEEDBACK SRL has materials available. The teacher or students’ peers can provide “warm” and “cool” feedback on the questions and communication style of students who record simple phone videos of their interviews in the classroom and share them with the class. Warm feedback is affirming and recognizes a person’s abilities. Cool feedback provides comments and suggestions to assist the student in reflecting on and improving their performance.
Receiving feedback is an important life skill, but it may be difficult—after all, who wants to be told that they did something wrong? At SRL, we refer to the feedback sandwich as follows: strength, criticism, and strength again (or warm, cool, warm in the model above). Give specific, constructive feedback on something the student did well (e.g., “excellent eye contact” or “you asked a fantastic follow-up question”) and then offer particular, constructive feedback on something the student did poorly. Finally, offer words of encouragement and good praise for your efforts or your creativity.
TRY A VIRTUAL INTERVIEW
With school districts shifting to distance learning over the past few weeks, the SRL team developed an educational curriculum called Making Sense of the Coronavirus Through Storytelling and Media Making. In addition, we’ve heard from educators who say that specialists of all kinds are often receptive to spending time chatting with students now that most are working from home, so encourage your pupils to pursue their interests.
The following is an interview with Trina Moore, a journalism instructor at Rouse High School in Leander, Texas, who told SRL that “renowned people” are extremely ready to speak with high school kids. One of her pupils will perform a Zoom interview with Damon Lindelof, the Emmy-winning producer of the television series The Watchmen, The Leftovers, and Lost, next week, according to her.
According to Moore, “encourage students to look beyond the confines of their school for interview opportunities… Some so many specialists are willing to offer their knowledge.” “All that is required is that they are asked.”
SRL producer Eli Kintisch developed a guide on recording interviews, as well as a webinar that provided step-by-step instructions, to assist students in recording these conversations. We think that knowing how to conduct interviews will be the type of beneficial finding that students can take with them into post-pandemic life after the epidemic.