Technologically and linguistically adventurous EFL teacher, trainer, writer and manager

This is part of a series of posts showing you all the different ways you can approach the Cambridge Delta. They are designed to help you find out more about the course and what it involves, as well as helping you to choose the right way to do it for you, your lifestyle and the time you have available. If you’ve done the Delta (or any other similar higher-level teaching course, including a Masters), and you’d like to join in, let me know by leaving me a comment or contacting me via Twitter @sandymillin.

James Pengelley is a teacher at the British Council in Hong Kong. He tweets @hairychef, swims in the pool and bakes at home in his kitchen. He was on the same Distance Delta course as me, if you’d like to compare notes.

James Pengelley

How did you do your Delta? How did you arrange the modules?

I completed the Distance Delta programme (Integrated).  This basically entails attending a 2-week face-to-face orientation at your nearest centre (usually a British Council), and then completing modules 1, 2 and 3 at the same time over about 9 months.  The first two LSA’s [observed lessons – Module 2] are very close together, and then the last two are a bit more spaced out, with the written exam [Module 1] coming at the end before submission of your module 3 thesis [the extended assignment in which you put together a course proposal].

Why did you choose to do it that way?

Where I was working, the only choice I had was the Distance programme.  I had been thinking about doing the Delta for a few years, and realised I was at the low-end of teaching experience I thought would be needed to succeed (5 years ± was my estimate after speaking to lots of people and trainers, even though Cambridge recommend 2 years minimum), but given I was working as a Senior Teacher and thought it would both a) be good timing and b) improve my chances of getting a job that would provide financial support to fly me back home to Australia 🙂 I decided to go for it.

What do you think you gained from doing the Delta?

Aside from a nagging sense of paranoia whenever I walk into an observation…?  No, I’m only joking… Actually I have just completed a TYLEC [Trinity Young Learners Extension course, currently being piloted by British Council] and to be honest, I am almost certain no observation, assessed or otherwise will EVER phase me again since the Delta.

Above all, I feel significantly more confident in the decisions I make as a teacher.  I feel I am also better able to guide and support colleagues who have questions and I have really been able to pursue my own interests in classroom research.

What were the downsides of the method you chose?

There were many:

  • The Distance Integrated Programme does not offer any standardised face-to-face instruction throughout the course.  All input is either self-directed (independent reading) or via disappointingly sub-par PDF documents that are made available for each section of the course.  These are often insufficient on their own, contain errors, or are poorly formatted.
  • The tutors were, on the whole, extremely helpful.  I did feel, however, there was a significant need to standardise the way tutors were giving feedback. The way the DD programme is structured, it is normal for candidates to submit a draft of an LSA, for example, and then receive feedback from one tutor. When candidates receive feedback, they continue working (or in some cases, totally re-working) what they have done, and then submit the final draft, which is marked by a different online tutor. I found, from discussing experiences with several DD candidates who were in the same city and course as I was, that the second round of feedback (and the final mark) was often in stark contrast to what was suggested by the first tutor in the first draft. In one case, this actually involved a candidate having to totally rework their final LSA (which, if you don’t know, is the LSA that candidates are required to work on independently, with minimal tutor input and determines a huge part of your overall mark for module 2) with only 5 days notice, having worked on a draft for 4 weeks.
  • There was a lack on resources allocated to the course.  Candidates were not given access to journals (there were a limited number of articles made available on the website, but these were not enough to complete the course to any appropriate standard), and I felt quite strongly about this. A large theme that runs through the Delta is “tailoring your classes to the needs and contexts you teach in”. However, there was no attempt made to provide instruction via contemporary digital technologies (think of the possibilities: virtual classrooms, chatrooms, etc) other than a limited selection of videoed lessons and the chat forum for each group. The issue of lack of journal access was raised with the Course Co-Ordinator and as of the end of the course, the DD response was that they had financial approval to grant journal access to future candidates. However, there is a copyright issue in granting access to so many people online. This issue may take some time to resolve, though its resolution is currently in the works
  • I feel, above all, the main let-down of the course is the lack of face-to-face training.  From speaking to other colleagues who did their Deltas in a face-to-face setting, they often use words like “inspirational” or “extremely motivating” to describe their experiences.  I think with some fine-tuning, and provision of more appropriately interactive online learning platforms, or at the very least significant provision of quality model lessons (with discussion/focus questions to follow up), the course would be greatly improved.

What were the benefits of the method you chose?

Don’t get me wrong, I think the DD programme has huge potential, but in its present conception, it is an outdated and wilted product. It has, no doubt, facilitated the up-skilling of thousands of teachers in areas where face-to-face training is not an option, like me.

For those candidates who were motivated, the extended time frame of the DD programme allows you to fully explore and investigate areas of interest in your own teaching and assimilate concepts effectively. To be honest, I have no idea how people survive the 2-month intensive courses!

We were also able to work full time and study, and did not have to sacrifice our income stream in order to study, which was a bonus.

How much time did you spend per week on the course?

I was lucky in that my working hours were quite flexible during the course.  I estimate that on average I spent about 20 hours a week minimum. At peak times it was possibly in the region of 5-6 hours a day (in the lead up to LSA deadlines and pre-exam).  However, I know many many people who passed the course doing less than this.

What tips would you give other people doing the Delta?

My top tips would be:

  • Think very carefully about your preferred method of delivery.  Do you need constant pressure and face-to-face guidance to stay on task?  Do you have the time to complete the course over a longer period of time?  Do you have access to resources to do sufficient reading and investigation? Do you have access to peers and colleagues who are interested in and able to support you and act as sounding boards for your ideas? [If you need help deciding, you can read more of the Delta conversations to find out what options are available.]
  • If there are only 3 books you buy…
    Methodology in Language Teaching (Richards & Renandya)
    Beyond the Sentence (Thornbury)
    The Language Teaching Matrix (Richards)
    [affiliate links – Sandy will get a little bit of money if you buy after clicking here]
  • However you do the course, think long-term: try to think about how you will use your knowledge and ALL the work you’ve done once the course is finished.  For example, I turned one of my LSA assignments into an article for the IH Journal, part of my module 2 classroom research into a successful scholarship application for IATEFL 2014, and I have delivered a number of INSETT and training sessions based on my Delta assignments. I found some of the most rewarding results from doing the course happened after I got my certificates!

In retrospect…

I’m not sure I would do anything differently. I dearly wish I had had the freedom to attend a face-to-face course, though these are not offered widely outside Europe.  In a perfect world, I’d have take some time off and gone to the UK, but that clearly wasn’t going to happen. I am especially glad I did my Delta and didn’t opt to pursue an MA, because of the huge emphasis on practical classroom application of theory in the Delta. I wouldn’t, however, recommend the Distance programme (if that isn’t painfully obvious from what I have said above) until the major issues in delivery of content have been addressed.

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Comments on: "Delta conversations: James" (7)

  1. I want to benifit from this. I’m a teacher, who is an ever learner. Happy to learn and teach as a language teacher.

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  2. Can I do this course online?

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    • Hi Nour,
      You can find out all the information you need about the Distance Delta here: http://thedistancedelta.com/ It’s moderated online, but you need three things offline:
      – someone who can act as your local tutor for the first three observed lessons in Module 2
      – an independent assessor for your fourth observed lesson in Module 2
      – a place to take the Module 1 exam
      Hope that helps,
      Sandy

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  3. […] was on the same Distance Delta orientation course as me, with James doing the same online course, if you’d like to compare […]

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  4. I’m interested in the comment about having around 5 years of teaching experience before embarking on the DELTA. I have a little more than 2 years experience, and was thinking about doing the DELTA next year – would I be better to wait a couple of years?

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    • I think it really depends on what kind of experience you’ve got and how much work you’re willing to put in. If you have a bit more experience, you have more ideas to draw on for your essays in Module 2, but on the other hand you may also have more bad habits which you need to get rid of! There’s also the question of why you’ve decided to do your Delta and whether you’re in a particular rush. You could have a go at one of the modules (probably Module 1), then wait a while to do the others if you feel like you need to, or go ahead if you don’t. There’s no limit on how long you can take to do the three modules as far as I know. Good luck!
      Sandy

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      • Thanks Sandy! No, I’m not in any particular rush. I’m really just thinking about doing the DELTA at some point to further my own development. You’ve certainly given me some options to think about – thanks again.

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