Technologically and linguistically adventurous EFL teacher

Last summer I had the immense pleasure of meeting and working with M, a nine year old from St. Petersburg who spends her summers in Sevastopol. I decided to blog about her classes because I found it very difficult to find information about how to teach a 121 class with a young learner who was almost completely blind, and hoped my posts would help others. Teaching M required me to approach lessons in a completely different way and the result on my blog was the Rethinking the Visual series. If you’d like more background I’d recommend reading them first.

This year I was back in Sevastopol for four weeks to do a CELTA course, and I was very happy when, on my first day at school, M and her mum came in to see if she could have classes for the summer. They’d just arrived in the city and didn’t realise I was there, so there was lots of hugs and laughter :)

The first lesson we had was based around a present I’d bought her just one week before at the Casa Battló in Barcelona, without knowing if I’d see her or not.

This is the only picture I can find of the gift – a braille picture of the house. I was so excited when I saw it and bought it instantly because I’ve never seen anything like it before (please let me know if you have and where I can get others!) M really enjoyed exploring it, and we revised some house vocabulary. Using the palm of her hand I showed her where Spain is in relation to Crimea and where Barcelona is in Spain. We also talked about Gaudi.

Over the next four weeks I had eight one-hour lessons with M, and I was very happy to see how much difference another year of school has made to her reading and writing abilities. Last year she vaguely knew the letters in braille, and I needed to refer to my list often to confirm which dots she needed to make some of the letters. She can now read braille pretty fluently, and write it confidently. We wrote down new vocabulary in every lesson, which is a big difference from last year, and she could still remember where Barcelona is and who Gaudi was at the end of the month.

The main problem she still has is that of all children her age (and many adults too!): spelling. Whenever M wrote down new words I always tried to elicit the spelling from her, and she had about an 80% hit rate. During one lesson she asked me about how to know if a word is spelt with ‘c’ or ‘k’. It happened to be the first lesson when I was being observed by A, the teacher who has taken over from me for the rest of the summer. Between us we came up with sets of words to help M remember some spelling rules. I thought we’d come up with most of the c/k rules during that hour, but kept coming across more exceptions or ‘groups’ during the rest of the month – the rules are so much more complicated than you can come up with off the top of your head!

M’s school had lent her two books for the summer, Mary Poppins, and another of short 1-2 page texts accompanied by exercises on topics such as dinosaurs and Tutankhamun. Some of our lessons were spent reading the short texts, with M spelling out any words she didn’t know. We would then take the exercises and answer them orally, and I would try to expand her world knowledge wherever I could. After reading a text about the jungle, she was particularly excited to discover I’d lived in one for four months and asked me lots of questions about the experience. I used her hand again to introduce her to Borneo.

Most of the texts were accompanied by a project, although I don’t think they were designed with visually impaired students in mind. Her school wanted her to do one of these projects as part of her summer homework, but it was difficult for her parents to help her because they don’t speak English. M chose a project about dinosaurs. In it, she needed to find out about different dinosaurs and put together fact files about them. The problem is that she still doesn’t know how to use a computer, so the only ways she can do research are if she is lucky enough to be in a braille library (do such things exist? I assume they must somewhere!) or if someone else does it for and tells her about it, which is what we did. I went on to a dinosaur site and tried to give her as much autonomy as possible by getting her to choose the ones she wanted to find out about and tell me exactly what she wanted to know – I tried to work as a search engine rather than doing the work for her. The project also said that she should draw or find pictures of the dinosaurs, but we ran out of time to do that, so I hope her parents will be able to help her with that.

M really wanted to find a girl in the UK to chat with. She’s ten now and was looking for someone of a similar age. I have a thirteen-year-old cousin so have put them in touch. They’ve sent each other a couple of voice messages. M was very excited by the exchange and is looking forward to having a proper Skype chat with my cousin. If you know a ten-year-old girl with a B1 or higher level of English who’d like to chat with M, let me know and I can try to put them in touch.

The biggest challenge with the lessons this year was that they were at school rather than at her house. In the third lesson, when we were in our third different classroom, I gave her a tour of the school, showing her where all of the rooms and doors were so she could find her own way around and had a better idea of the size of the rooms and school. It was interesting for me to see how being in a different environment affected her confidence initially, and how much more comfortable she obviously felt once she knew the layout of the school.

I did get to go to her house one day though, for pancakes and home-made cake with her family. We explored their garden, full of home-grown fruit and veg, and played with her two little sisters, the older of whom was trying to teach me Russian by pointing at a picture of a unicorn and saying the word repeatedly until I said it back to her :) She was also singing ‘Let it go’ when we arrived, but only knew that line. Films and songs are certainly powerful – she’s four!

I’ve really enjoyed teaching M again this summer. I have no idea when I’ll be back in Sevastopol, or if I’ll be in Saint Petersburg at some point, so I’m not sure if or when I’ll see M again. I really hope I do because she is one of the fastest learners I’ve ever met. She’s already B1 (intermediate) in English, and has just started learning Spanish. I’m sure she’ll be an interpreter one day. I’ll watch her progress with great interest, and I hope I’ll get to teach her again at some point.

I’m very proud to be one of the TeachingEnglish associates, a group of wonderful English teachers from around the world. Each month a series of topics is posted on the blogs section of the British Council TeachingEnglish site, which everyone is invited to write about, including you! Here are the topics for July 2015, and anyone is welcome to join in. If you haven’t tried blogging before, why not give it a go? To inspire you, the associates offer their takes on the topics.

My contribution for July is a collection of zero prep activities from other people’s blogs, plus one recommended book. They should help you if you’re doing a last-minute cover class. Katherine Bilsborough has also written on the same topic.

Idea and light bulb on blackboard

If you do choose to join in, why not share the link here so that others can read your posts?

Sevastopol moments

The views from Dasha’s house, Lisa’s flat, Tanya’s flat

Views of Sevastopol

Returning to Chersones and Silver Strings

Chersones Greek temple and Silver Strings waterfall

Seeing Foros from a different angle

Foros church

Going to Livadia for the first time

Livadia Palace

The beaches of Balaklava, Pobedi and Fiolent

Silver beach and Diana's Grotto beach

Panorama

Panorama building and bits of the Crimean War painting inside

A tour of Crimea, from Karadag along the coast back to Sevastopol

Karadag, Koktebel, Mayak and the mountains of Crimea

The north side with Daria

Fort on the North Side of Sevastopol Bay

Time with Olga and Andrey

Crumble (kramBOL) with Olga, Lisa and her sons

Games with Sasha and Tony

Long chats with Anna

Dinner with Tanya and Lena

Unexpected meetings on day one, leading to lessons with M again

Visiting M and her family for pancakes, unicorns and dinosaurs

A beach barbecue with Ira and friends

Campfire on Inger beach, near Balaklava

Seeing how children have grown and finding out about ones to come

Happy smiling faces at the end of CELTA

Being reunited with all of my things

Getting back into Russian

Knowing how everything works

Observing the changes

Feeling like I’ve never left

Leaving

Hoping to return

I’m very proud to be one of the TeachingEnglish associates, a group of wonderful English teachers from around the world. Each month a series of topics is posted on the ‘blogs‘ section of the British Council TeachingEnglish site, which everyone is invited to write about, including you!

My contribution for June is about accent and identity, looking at my feelings about my own accents.

Group of students with speech bubbles.How do you feel about your accent? Do you think it’s influenced by your identity?

 

I spent July back in Sevastopol after nearly a year away. So what changes have there been? And do people still believe they made the right choice at the referendum and they are better off in Russia?

The most striking change for me was how busy the city is now. There are a lot more people and traffic jams are much more common. At least half of the number plates are Russian, and they come from a wide variety of regions. When I first arrived in Sevastopol I think the population was about 500,000. On this trip, I was told that it’s grown to about one million, although nobody is really sure. A lot of the difference in numbers is due to refugees from Donetsk and other parts of Eastern Ukraine. It was also the peak of the holiday season when I was there. Flights from Simferopol airport are constantly booked up, with people arriving from all over Russia, plus other former Soviet states like Kazakhstan. This means it’s now very difficult to find accommodation in the city and the price of rent has risen considerably.

The rest of the changes I found out about were less obvious.

There now seems to be some recognition in the outside world that Crimea is no longer part of Ukraine, although not yet that it is part of Russia. When I visited Skyscanner to book a flight, Crimea was listed as a separate place in the country list. I found it interesting that it was listed in Roman characters on the Ukrainian list, rather than in Cyrillic, and wonder what prompted that decision.

Skyscanner Crimea

Skyscanner Crimea English

Sanctions have not had as much of an effect on commerce as I expected, as you can still buy many ‘Western’ products, like Mars bars, Bonaqua water, Laughing Cow and mascarpone. However, the majority of these are actually produced in former Soviet states, which is why they have slipped through the net.

They have affected my friends in other ways though. Those who have opted for a Russian international passport* can no longer get a Shengen visa, meaning they cannot easily travel to or work in Europe. The only way to get around this is if the address your passport is registered to is outside Crimea, for example in Moscow or Saint Petersburg. It used to be possible to get Shengen visas without leaving Crimea, but this is no longer possible.

Even if you have a Ukrainian international passport, you still need to have a Russian local passport to meet the requirements of daily life in Crimea as far as I know. If you cross the land border from Crimea to Ukraine and the Ukrainian border guards find that you have a Russian passport, they can fine you heavily (about £500 if I remember rightly), remove the passport and destroy it. This means that most people now travel via mainland Russia rather than crossing the land border (though it is still used). That adds another layer of complication for those with Ukrainian passports, since they require a Russian entry visa to come back into Crimea. This is only valid for 90 days. I’m not really sure what happens if they overstay that period.

While we’re on this topic, the only area in which people said it was better being in Ukraine was the bureaucracy. Although it was long-winded, Russian systems tend to be even more complicated. There is also the added problem that Crimean officials are still trying to get their heads around the Russian systems, and don’t always know how they are expected to do things in their new country.

One positive change I noticed was that money seems to be flowing more freely than when I left in August last year. At that time, one or two cash machines were starting to work, but it was still largely a cash economy. From what I could tell, most cash machines seem to be functioning normally now, and card machines in shops are also back in use. There is now a Russian 10 rouble coin featuring Sevastopol, and another featuring the Swallow’s Nest in Yalta.

2014-Russia-Crimea-Sevastopol-10-ruble-coins

Having said that, not all of the money from the Russian government is making it to where it should. One person told me that Sevastopol was given $5 million to repair the roads in the city centre ready for the 9th May Victory Day celebrations, but there was no evidence of any repair when I was there in July. Apparently the money ‘disappeared’.

Overall, everyone I asked said that they still believe they made the right decision in the referendum to leave Ukraine and join Russia. However, some of the optimism has worn off a little, as their high expectations have not been met. While there have been some improvements in their lives, there is still a long way to go before life becomes free and easy again.

*In Russian, the word ‘passport’ is used to describe both the local/national identity document and the one used to travel internationally, hence the distinction here.

I was very happy to be asked to write a guest post on the ETpedia blog. John Hughes’ book has been very useful to me on CELTA courses recently, and I would highly recommend getting yourself a copy. If you use this link, I’ll get a few pennies too.

ETpedia cover

My guest post was 10 tips to help you become a teacher trainer. What tips would you add?

The latest IH Journal is now available, featuring the Developing Teachers column by yours truly. This time the topic is whether the Delta is really worth it, answering a question I’ve been asked many times.

The journal features articles by IH staff from around the world, covering topics as diverse as IH Madrid’s class book competition for young learners, a potted history of the English language and even an article in Russian about equivalents of English language teaching terminology. The contents page is here, and the whole journal is here. You can also read past issues of the journal.

IH Journal issue 37 front cover

 

Rhythm of a CELTA

This post is aimed at new CELTA trainers, especially those about to start their training (thanks to Amy for inspiring it!) If that’s not you, the jargon probably won’t make sense and the post isn’t really relevant :)

One of the most challenging things I found as a new CELTA tutor was knowing how to manage my time on the courses, so I thought it might be useful to share the main things you have to think about each week. The questions below are based on my diary of to-do lists for the past year, something I’ve found incredibly useful to keep me sane! Of course, the rhythm may differ from centre to centre, but it could serve as a starting point. (This is also a reminder to me in case I have a gap between courses!)

Before the course

  • Do you have the trainee profiles?
  • Are you familiar with the templates for giving lesson feedback? Will you type or handwrite your feedback? (Tip if you’ll type them: create a template so you can’t accidentally save over anybody’s feedback!)
  • Do you know the timetable for the first week, particularly which input sessions you’ll be doing?
  • How long do you have to prepare feedback? When do trainees need to hand in their self-evaluations after lessons?
  • Have you familiarised yourself with the assignments, particularly any which will be set in week one?
  • What materials will you be using? Do you need to prepare TP points? In how much depth?
  • Do the trainees need specific observation tasks for TP? Or will they be encouraged to write whatever notes they choose? Or a combination of the two?
  • Will you be with the same group of students throughout the four weeks (e.g. always elementary) or will you change throughout the course (e.g. weeks 1/4 with one group, 2/3 with the other)?
  • When do the trainees change tutors?
  • How much of the course is paper-based? Does the centre use methods to share information/files, like Dropbox or Google Drive? Is this only between tutors, or do the trainees have access to it too?

If you’re freelancing, there are a few additional questions:

  • Do you know how to get to the school? How long will it take?
  • Is there a chance to go into the school before the course starts? This is a good opportunity to ask about things like photocopier codes, wifi, and printer access, as well as which rooms be used during the course and what resources are available for trainees.
  • Will your transport be paid for (both international and local)?
  • What is the accommodation like?
  • Where is the nearest supermarket? When will you have time to cook? (!)
  • Do you need travel/health insurance?
  • What about visas? Who’s responsible for them? How long do they take to get?

Week one

  • Are there any assignments to be set this week? Who will do it?
  • Stage 1 tutorials: When do you need to write them by? Do you need to meet any of the trainees?
  • Which input sessions do you need to prepare for week one?
  • Which ones do you need to start thinking about for week two, especially if you’ve never done them before?
  • When do the trainees start handing in plans and language analyses (straight away, or do they wait for specific input sessions first)? What is the deadline for them each day? What time do you have to mark them by? Do you need to give any feedback on them to the trainees before they teach?
  • Are you changing levels/trainee groups? How does the handover work? (e.g. When is assisted lesson planning? How will you arrange this with your co-tutor(s)?)
  • Do you need to write TP points for week two? Does the level of depth change?

Week two

  • Are there any assignments to be set this week? Who will do it?
  • Are any assignments due this week? When do you need to mark them by? What time do you have available to mark them in? When are resubmissions due in?
  • Stage 2 tutorials: When do you need to write them by? What time do you have available to do this? Is there a specific format at your centre? When will you meet the trainees?
  • Does anybody need a warning letter? What’s the procedure at your centre for this?
  • Which input sessions do you need to prepare for week two?
  • Which ones do you need to start thinking about for week three?
  • Are you changing levels/trainee groups? How does the handover work?
  • Do you need to write TP points for week three? Does the level of depth change?

Week three

  • Are there any assignments to be set this week? Who will do it?
  • Are any assignments due this week? When do you need to mark them by? What time do you have available to mark them in? When are resubmissions due in?
  • Does anybody need a stage 3 tutorial?
  • Does anybody need a warning letter? What’s the procedure at your centre for this?
  • Which input sessions do you need to prepare for week three?
  • Which ones do you need to start thinking about for week four?
  • Are you changing levels/trainee groups?
  • Do you need to write TP points for week four? Does the level of depth change?
  • When is the assessor coming? Factor in time to meet them (you’re unlikely to have time for much else that day, e.g. writing assignments)
  • When do you need to complete the information about trainees for the assessor? What format does it need to be in? What time do you have available to do this in?

Week four

  • Are there any assignments to be set this week? Who will do it?
  • Are any assignments due this week? When do you need to mark them by? What time do you have available to mark them in? When are resubmissions due in?
  • Which input sessions do you need to prepare for week four?
  • Is the assessor coming this week? (see above!)
  • When do you need to write final reports by? What time do you have available to do this? What format does it need to be in? Who needs the reports (e.g. main tutor, receptionists etc)? (If you’re a freelancer, do you need to sign them? When?)
  • Is there anybody who needs the final page of their CELTA 5 completed (e.g. because they’ve had a warning letter earlier on the course)?
  • When and where is the post-CELTA party? Are you invited? Do you want to go? ;)
The places you can go with a CELTA (a woman and a man looking at a world map)

The places you can go with a CELTA (my photo)

Is there anything I’ve forgotten?

Postscript

I know people look on my blog for some tips about training as a CELTA tutor, and it’s something I’m planning to write about, but haven’t got round to yet. One day… In the meantime, you might also be interested in my diary of a course I did in February 2015: week oneweek two, week three, week four.

I just looked at the IH YouTube channel and found my face looking back at me :) I’d forgotten that I was asked to talk about my experience of doing the IH COLT course while I was at the IH DoS Conference in January.

Here’s my 3-minute testimonial about the course.

If you’re interested in doing it too, you can find out more information on the IH Online Teacher Training Institute. The courses are available to anyone, and there’s a discount for IH teachers. I hope you find it useful!

ih logo

The short answer is: I have no idea, particularly since reading all the things written on various blogs over the last month or so, triggered by Geoff Jordan’s talk at the Innovate ELT conference.

I started writing a very rambling comment on his post about materials banks, and decided that I’d share it as a post instead as I’m not really sure what I’m trying to say with it, it’s late, and I don’t want to add such a rambling contribution with no clear point to such an in-depth discussion. Instead I’m posting it here, since I’m allowed to ramble on my own blog! Can anyone enlighten me on what I think?!

Coursebooks

Image taken by Sue Annan, from the ELTpics collection and shared under a Creative Commons 3.0 licence

“[In one of the comments] Patrick said: “I’ve discussed this a lot with learners and they seem generally to agree that working with language that has emerged in their daily lives is more useful and more engaging than studying something simply because that’s what’s next in the coursebook.”

This is exactly how I was studying Russian. I told my teacher what experiences I’d had with Russian in the time since my previous lesson, and she gave me words and phrases I could use next time round. However, I was living in the country so had plenty of opportunities to experiment with the language, I’m very motivated, I’m an experienced language learner and teacher and like to think I know a fair amount about how I learn (in terms of what works for me), it was mostly mediated through English, the class was 121, and my teacher was good at coming up with things on the spot. When I didn’t have anything I wanted to cover, I’d tell her which bit of grammar I wanted her to show me so that I could start to notice it if I came across it. I was at A2-ish level by the end of a year, having already had Czech to build on. I’d learnt Czech by following a coursebook at my own speed, then having classes from my second year, mostly based on continuing the same coursebook, with some ad hoc lessons based on my immediate needs. It wasn’t as fast, but it did help me to know what I could study next, especially for a language with not many materials out there. If any of the conditions for my Russian classes hadn’t been fulfilled, I doubt it would have been anywhere near as useful for me, but I have to say I learnt it 3 times as fast as I did Czech as I got to the same level in a third of the time (I did a lot more self-study too though!)

I wish I could have lessons like that with all of my students, but when I was teaching last year my students had almost no exposure to English in their daily lives unless they actively sought out things on the Internet – it was hard to get ‘real’ books, films, etc in English where I was living. When they came to class with something different, we always looked at that rather than coursebook, and we often went off on tangents. They’d bought coursebooks though and in some of the bigger groups it was a unifying factor, with me adapting, extending and rejecting bits as I thought necessary.

I also showed them ways of extending their learning outside the classroom through the use of tools like Quizlet, offering them pre-vetted sets of vocabulary (vetted for accuracy, level of challenge, appropriacy etc.) which they could choose from, and shared my experience of learning languages to attempt to encourage them to try different methods out. Despite repeatedly demonstrating and encouraging them to use these techniques, they pretty much all defaulted back to lists of translations, with the occasional outlier of a student who actually tried to e.g. record vocabulary with a picture/English definition/collocations etc. When I tried to find out what they were interested in or what they wanted to study, I had the same experience as one of the commenters above, with them telling me I was the teacher and should decide. I’m not attempting to argue that the coursebook was the best answer in this situation, just describing my experience.

I’m still not really sure I could put together a personalised syllabus that would be very detailed at the beginning of a course if I didn’t already know a lot about a group of learners – this is the main area where I struggle, since if I’m not using a course book, I tend to work on a lesson-by-lesson basis. That’s fine if it’s low stakes, but as soon as you factor in exams or anything else high stakes, it puts a lot of added pressure on the teacher. I did once try to teach an intensive FCE course without a book by selecting materials from a range of places, but the students complained about the randomness of it and we ended up using an exam prep book instead. I think putting together a syllabus is a challenging skill, and not something I’ve ever found/had effective training in. I’ve never really found a readable, accessible guide to putting one together either (the ones I’ve seen have been pretty dry and I’ve never found them very helpful).

I guess I’m saying that although I know that coursebooks aren’t necessarily the best way, I’ve found them a useful support structure as a teacher, and I have learnt from them as a student, even though I know that it’s not been the fastest way for me to learn.”

Tag Cloud

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,213 other followers