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

CELTA Week Two

Day One

I could have sworn I’d done an input session on functions before, but I can’t find it anywhere on my computer, so it must have been a figment of my imagination. The system I’ve developed for creating a new input session is:

  1. If I can’t make an educated guess, check what areas need to be covered in the session, especially if I know it can have different interpretations, e.g. ‘Phonology 1’ could be sounds and the phonemic chart, or a general introduction to phonology.
  2. Find all the documents I think might be relevant/interesting and put them all in a dedicated folder on my computer/lay them out on my desk. For example, for this session I found the centre’s folder for the functional language session, went through all the activities and laid out the ones I thought I could use on my desk. I also looked at the handful of related documents I have on my computer, all of which I’ve inherited from various other tutors.
  3. On a piece of scrap paper, come up with a rough running order for the session, including timing. Today that consisted of writing a list of the documents, crossing out duplicates, linking ones that could be combined, numbering them in order, and adding times.
  4. Type out a running order, underlining the materials I need as I go along. Number the file ‘0’ so it always appears at the top of the folder and is easy to find.
  5. Create/adapt/type up/resave any documents I need for the session, numbering them in the order they’re needed.
  6. Print.
  7. Do session.
  8. Scribble notes all over the printed running order.
  9. Try to remember to do something with said notes, if I can find time.

I’ve got much better at timing my inputs now too, working on the basis that if I think it’ll take 5 minutes, it’ll probably take 10; if 10 minutes, 15; and so on. By adding 5 minutes to everything, I seem to get it roughly right, although I still need to drop an activity every now and again, or just give things as reading rather than dealing with them in the session.

The whole process took about 3 hours, plus printing off yesterday’s feedback and eating, which took me up to 2 minutes before the session was due to start. It’s true that tasks expand to fill the time allotted to them!

I was watching a different TP group and a different set of students (still elementary) tonight, and there were some timing issues. Two of the three trainees went 7/8 minutes over their 45 minute slot, making the whole lesson 15 minutes longer than it should have been. That prompted me to finally get round to blogging about timing, something I’ve been meaning to do for ages. Thanks guys, but please don’t do it again!

Day Two

Two days into week two, and illness has struck. Three trainees had to go home today for various reasons and lots of others looked pretty tired all day.

In general, the trainees haven’t had enough sleep, and they’re feeling stressed out and under pressure, no matter how much we try to reassure them and calm them down. This is not unusual for a CELTA course, due to its intensive nature. I’ve reminded a few of them individually about looking after themselves, but today decided to give the whole group a bit of a pep talk. It went something like this:

I know that some of you are tired and feeling a bit sick, and that the stress and pressure of the course don’t help, but you need to look after yourselves. The CELTA might seem very important right now, but your health is more important. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep, and that you take at least a few hours for yourself at the weekend, preferably half or even a full day. It might seem like you’re wasting time, but it’s a false economy to work all the time because you’ll regret it later. You’ll exhaust yourself and/or make yourself ill, and nobody is at their best when that happens. I’d rather see an adequately-planned lesson and you’re still alive, than a perfectly-planned lesson but you’re half dead.

I didn’t do CELTA full-time; I did it part-time, but when I did Delta, also part-time, I was working for about 20 hours every weekend on top of my full-time job. I started in September and took the whole of December off sick from work, then triggered a condition I’ll have the rest of my life, which is the reason you see me eating all the time. I don’t want any of you to make yourselves ill, because it’s not worth it.

Remember that work expands to fill the time you have available. If you say you’re going to go to bed at 11pm, stick to it, because you’ll be much more productive for it, rather than saying that you’ll work until you’re done. That way you’ll end up being up until three in the morning. The same is true at the weekend. Give yourself a specific amount of time to do each thing, and be strict. You’ll get a lot more done that way, rather than just starting blankly at a computer screen waiting for inspiration to strike.

Take breaks while you’re working too. Stand up, stretch, give your eyes a bit of a rest. You can download apps to help you. If you have a Mac, TimeOut blocks out your screen every 30 minutes, and I’m sure there are similar things for Windows.

Sometimes the mum just comes out in me. 😉

It was nice that one of the trainees noticed that my input was much smoother today – she asked me whether I’d done it before. It’s the fourth outing for that one, and you can really tell!

Day Three

‘Not to standard’ lessons are never easy to give. On my part, at least, there is a lot of soul-searching and questioning, but ultimately you have to follow the criteria. So far I’ve never given this grade without discussing the lesson and checking carefully with other tutors on my course to make sure I’ve made the right decision and have justified it clearly and accurately. Every lesson is graded against a set of criteria from Cambridge, and I have to use it objectively, no matter how difficult that may  be at times. I know how much work goes into every lesson, and I know how much of a disappointment it is when it doesn’t turn out the way you planned. (Two of my four Delta lessons were below standard due to weak planning, and I put a lot of hours into each!)

Giving feedback on these lessons is also not easy, but thanks to my co-tutor in Vancouver, I’ve found one way to do it which seems to work. Divide the board into as many columns as there were trainees teaching that day (2? 3?). Then create the following rows: name, main aim, (secondary aim – optional), stages. Give the group time to complete the table. The teacher whose column it is can’t contribute to that one, but can to any of the others, e.g. if A was teaching, they can’t write in column A, but can (and should!) in B and C. (By the way, this isn’t the only time I use this method of feedback, but it’s particularly effective for these lessons.)

Using this method today made it very clear that the ‘not to standard’ lesson was that way because teacher A wasn’t clear about the aims of their lesson and lacked the necessary level of detail in their planning to successfully introduce the grammar point they were trying to teach, partly since they didn’t really understand the grammar themselves. It also affected the pace of the lesson as there were long pauses while the teacher tried to work out what should happen next. Their peers didn’t identify language as one of the aims at all, and struggled to come up with the stages of the lesson. It also boosted the confidence of teacher B, as they believed that their lesson was ‘a disaster’, but their peers could reconstruct it very easily, were clear about the aims and could see how the students had benefitted from it.

Teacher A took this feedback very well, and asked lots of questions about how to improve, especially since this was their second ‘not to standard’ on the course, out of three lessons so far. Today their first tutor and I have given them a series of steps to take to help them use their time and plan more effectively, since they tend to spend a very long time on creating excellent materials, at the expense of really knowing how to use them in class. The audio recording produced for this lesson was a case in point – it was written by the trainee, recorded by them and a friend, and even had a phone ringing at the beginning to make it sound more authentic!

The way teacher A took their feedback is in stark contrast to a trainee I had on a previous course, possibly due to the way I gave feedback. I think this was before I learnt about the stages/aims method, although I’m not 100% sure – my memory is a bit hazy on this. I tried to introduce it as gently as possible, since the trainee had been struggling with the course in general as it was very different to the ‘chalk and talk’ style they were experienced in delivering in their home country. On being told that it was ‘below standard’ for that stage of the course, the trainee asked if the grade could be changed. I said it couldn’t, and started to explain why with reference to the Cambridge criteria (although I thought the points had already been made clear during the preceding few minutes of feedback). The trainee stormed out of the room and slammed the door at this point. This was a shock to me and the rest of their TP group, and I wasn’t really sure how to react. In the end, I did the only thing I could, which was to apologise and move on to the final trainee’s feedback.

It’s a little ironic that the same trainee has chosen today to post two comments on my blog, which I don’t plan to approve due to the lack of context, but will share here for the sake of completeness and to avoid being accused of censorship. I hope doing it this way will also protect the identity of the trainee in question:

Sandy is extremely rude to her students. She enjoys student’s failure. She hates to see students performing well. How could such a vicious one be a teacher?
She tortured me spiritually in 28 days.

And about 5 hours later on a different post:

Sandy Millin wants her students to worship her. If you don’t, then she steps on you. She is too proud of her being born in the UK. She feels superior than any student. It’s her personality that she treats her students with the attitude of being unfair. If you lick her ass, she will give you an A, otherwise, a C.
These blogs help others to teach, it’s useful. But can Sandy learn a lesson that teaching is to promote students, not to kill us. I got a very subjective judgement from her. Why does she work so hard? She wants to be worshiped only for she can speak some English, which everyone can.

You can’t render your rude judgement on me. I will appeal and appeal till I get the justice.

I’m very sorry that this is how I came across to this student. My aim during the course, and I think that of any self-respecting tutor, is to build on the trainees’ strengths and to support them to become the best teachers they can be within the confines of a four-week course, and hopefully instil in them the desire to keep reflecting and developing once they’ve finished the course. In case you were wondering, this trainee did pass the course, although it was a weak pass, as they continued to struggle through the course. If they’d failed, I might understand the feeling behind these comments a little more.

Does anybody have any other suggestions on how to give feedback on ‘not to standard’ lessons, so that I can try to avoid a repeat of the situation with the latter trainee?

Day Four

There are four assignments on any CELTA course. Although each centre has slightly different variations on them, they are all designed to cover the following areas:

  • Focus on the learner: finding out about either one learner from your TP group in depth, or a little about all of the learners in the class, or both (depends on the centre), and providing materials to deal with two (normally) of their specified language problems, specifically related to grammar, vocabulary or pronunciation;
  • Language awareness: analysis of items of grammar, vocabulary and functions to prove that you can use reference materials to find out information about language, and break it down sufficiently to be able to deal with it in class;
  • Skills task: creating tasks based on a piece of authentic material, normally two receptive tasks and one productive;
  • Lessons from the classroom: reflection on your strengths and weaknesses as a teacher based on observations of you and other teachers during the course, and an action plan for how to continue your development.

Candidates are allowed to resubmit each assignment once if it doesn’t meet the criteria the first time, and they receive clear feedback on what they need to work on.

Today we were looking at the language awareness assignment, which tends to be the one with the highest rates of resubmission because so many people find it hard to break language down sufficiently to be able to teach it. In my experience, those who have learnt English as a second language are normally OK with this area, but may still have trouble with detailing how to check the language, whether it be with CCQs or otherwise.

Language awareness is a particular problem for native speakers, and is one of the reasons why I don’t think CELTA should necessarily be seen as the benchmark for employment that it can be in some countries/schools, since it needs to be backed up with a knowledge of how the language works. That’s not to say that people with CELTA shouldn’t get a job, just that if you’re teacher (often a non-native) with a good command of the language and no CELTA, you shouldn’t automatically lose out just because somebody else has a CELTA.

The areas trainees really ought to find out about before the course are:

  • the difference between parts of speech (noun, verb, preposition etc);
  • the names and forms of the basic pedagogical tenses in English;
  • the main functions of each of these tenses.

Of course, that’s only a tiny slice of the English language, but it’s a good grounding to start off with. It’ll be a bit of a confidence booster once the course has started.

Here are a couple of useful books [both affiliate links, so I’ll make a few pennies if you buy them through here]:

  • Grammar for English Language Teachers by Martin Parrott – designed with teachers in mind, it includes possible problems students might have, and tasks for you to do to help you understand the language better;
  • Teaching English Grammar by Jim Scrivener – very easy to find your way around, including possible timelines, ways of checking the concepts, and contexts to introduce each language point in.

There are more links to help you build your language awareness in the ‘Before the Course‘ section of Useful Links for CELTA.

Assignments are one of the places where being a CELTA tutor can feel pretty stressful, since there’s normally a very quick turn-around, and you mark them in any spare moment you have. That’s been at home on all of my previous courses, but this time I decided that work will be at work, even if it means going in early, and home will be for me, including getting some of the posts written which I’ve been meaning to do for ages! As a result, I’m feeling a lot more relaxed on this course. I hope it continues!

Day Five

We’re half-way through the course, so today the trainees planned their lesson focuses (foci?) for the next two weeks, aiming for two skills and two language lessons each to cover the remaining four TPs.

The tutors also had a relatively light day, doing feedback on yesterday’s classes and preparing for and administering Stage 2 tutorials, a 15-minute or so individual meeting with each trainee updating them on their progress on the course so far, dealing with any questions the trainee raises, and telling them what they need to do to meet their potential. It’s based on a list of criteria which the trainees mark themselves against, then the tutor assesses them too, a comment by the trainee and a comment by the tutor, making sure everyone is on the same page and that there won’t be any nasty surprises later in the course (at least, that’s the plan!)

Other progress reports done during the course are a brief one at the end of Stage 1/week 1 and a Stage 3 tutorial at the end of week 3 if the trainee is not performing as expected. They can also request informal tutorials.

I have to say that I find some of the criteria a bit odd/unnecessary, the main one being 2f: The candidate shows an awareness of register. I’m not really sure why this is given it’s own criteria when analysing form, meaning and phonology is a single criterion, as is teaching those three things – many trainees are really good in one or two of those areas, but not necessarily in all three. Another odd Cambridge thing is that the first group of criteria on the list (connected to planning) are all numbered 4, followed by 1, 2, 3, 5. A strange way of counting!

There was no TP tonight, so I took advantage of the early finish to have a peaceful evening bike ride. Here are a three of the beautiful views I saw:

Wat Pha Sukaram

Wat Pha Sukaram

Rice paddy at sunset The mountain near Chiang Mai and Wat Pha Sukaram

(The other posts are here: week oneweek three, week four)

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Comments on: "CELTA Week Two" (16)

  1. Fantastic stuff! Just wanted to add my #1 suggested grammar resource book for trainees: ‘Keys to Teaching English Grammar: A Practical Guide’ by Keith Folse. Really, really great.

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  2. Do not beat yourself up about how one trainee of the many you have worked with has reacted to you. To my mind what they have said says more about theme selves than you. They obviously do not take it well if they are not getting positive feedback. You will sometimes get people who will react in a way that surprises you, it is not your fault no matter how tired you are you are always professional. Walk away from that person and focus on the multitude of people who give you positive feedback.

    I am glad that you are using you bad experience and not looking after yourself in the past as a positive learning point for your trainees. Thank you for the back handed compliment – we are both good at saying the right thing but not necessarily doing it.

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  3. Giving feedback on a ‘not to standard’ lesson is always difficult. Standing up and teaching is very exposing for most people, and it’s only human nature to feel defensive. And for some people feeling defensive will lead to their really attacking you for what you have said. It hasn’t happened to me very often, but it has happened.
    I’m quite sure that you would have been very sensitive, but sometimes it doesn’t matter how sensitively you handle the feedback, they will still think that you’re gunning for them.

    Some pointers that have helped me (which may well be obvious, but you did ask!) : Try not to make it about the person, so instead of saying ‘you didn’t explain that clearly’, phrase it in a more neutral way, talking about what the students were doing, rather than about what the teacher was doing, ‘the students looked confused at that point’. Remember, and maybe even remind them, that they are paying you to help them develop as a teacher, and that you are doing your very best to help them. You are advising on what they need to do to pass the course (and, in your opinion be a more effective teacher), but that ultimately it’s their choice if they want to take that advice on board. This can sometimes help to get them out of projecting their over-critical parent (or whoever) onto you!

    Take it slow (sometimes impossible with CELTA constraints) and listen to what they’re saying, and notice how you are feeling. Are you starting to feel defensive as well? If so, remind yourself that you’re just offering advice etc. and don’t get pulled in to the drama. Remind yourself of things you like about this person (or if that’s impossible, remember that they might really be feeling awful) and try and keep your tone warm and friendly.

    All these things can help, but some people’s nerve endings are just very exposed and the CELTA course is very stressful and makes people feel very vulnerable. If people are willing or able to just ride it, it can be transformative, but it’s too much for some, and as the trainer you will get it in the neck. Just knowing that can help though, as you see it’s generally not about you at all.

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  4. Hey there, very honest insightful and well-written posts all over the blog. I might add two things to what Rachel wrote; the first is just an extension of what was said about being neutral. It is OK to use ‘You’ for the good things that happen in the lesson e.g. you drilled the sentences in a natural manner; conversely, it helps to distance things by not using ‘You’ for things that didn’t go so well by using more abstract nouns e.g the drilling model was somewhat disconnected/ the highlighting of stress was inaccurate in places; the practice task wasn’t set up very clearly and that is why some students asked for extra help understanding.’ I second Rachel’s advice about focussing on students’ reactions. If the lesson is being taught by a trainee who tends to want to be defensive, I usually become more detailed in my notes, noting down reactions of individual students or language produced by students to ‘make the case’ for the lesson getting the grade it did. There are different types of defensiveness: (i) the trainee really thinks it was a good lesson – and you need to point out how it didn’t work (ii) the trainee knows it wasn’t very successful but defends it strenuously anyway (iii) the trainee doesn’t really know if it was good or not, but defends it anyway – and usually trainees get defensive (a) to bolster their own confidence or (b) perhaps because they think it will influence the grade – both well-intentioned motives.

    Sometimes the trainee measures all the effort they put into a lesson and cannot face the fact that a lot of effort could lead to a such a poor result. Thus, praising the effort (whatever measure of effort there was) can help to make trainees feel that their work is appreciated.

    Last thought, you might consider making the oral feedback to a ‘below standard lesson’ slightly more positive than the written comments seeing as the former are ‘in public’ and so will encourage face-saving tactics from the trainee, while written comments are more private and where you can be a bit more direct.

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  5. Helen Strong said:

    Hi Sandy,

    Rachael and Declan have given some good advice for dealing with NTS lessons and I would also add that the peer observation tasks greatly help here. If the task is well thought out and pertinent to the lessons being taught that day, then often they do the job of getting to the bottom of what went wrong, so that you simply need to confirm that the feedback that that trainee’s peers are giving is correct. So my immediate advice to you would be to take a look at your peer observation tasks in more detail and tweak them if need be.

    However, my main reason for responding is to sympathise with you about the tutor-bashing you’ve experienced so early on in your CELTA tutoring career. It’s never pleasant to read that type of thing being written about you but hats off to you for posting it on your blog here. I received similarly unpleasant accusations from a fail candidate recently, but these accusations were put in an appeal letter to Cambridge. Apparently I was neither helpful nor friendly, nor did I show this candidate how to write a lesson plan and to top it off, I didn’t like the candidate’s chosen profession or the fact that this person was a non-native speaker. Unfortunately, I had to sit down and draft a response to all these accusations for Cambridge, which meant reliving the unpleasantness all over again. Thankfully, Cambridge upheld our recommended grade.

    On a lighter note, I have a tip for you to avoid trainees going over their allotted time. Tell trainees in advance that in TP, when it’s time for their lesson to begin, they should stand up and walk slowly towards the front of the class. This gives the candidate who is currently teaching enough time to say something like “Sorry, that’s all we’ve got time for today. Please finish the rest for homework. I’d like to hand over to [Trainee X] now” or words to that effect. A sort of gentle nudge off stage, so to speak. I’ve been using this method for some time now and I find it very effective (as do the trainees). My TPs have never run over time since I introduced it.

    Hope that helps and keep up the good work, Sandy!

    Helen

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    • Thanks a lot for those tips Helen, especially the one about timing.
      Sorry that you had to deal with such unpleasantness, and I’m glad to hear it was all resolved in the end. This is why the paper trail is so important.
      Sandy

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      • Helen Strong said:

        It is indeed, Sandy. I learned a hell of a lot about the importance of the paper trail from that experience!

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  6. sarahelizabethadams@gmail.com said:

    Hi Sandy,

    I’ve paged through your CELTA posts every few weeks since January when I first found your blog during my training up as a CELTA TinT. I’m really grateful to you for posting these because I often feel so alone as a trainer and wonder if what I’m experiencing is “normal.” I particularly appreciate that you posted about the trainee with the below standard lesson and their rash response — recently had a similar incident myself where the trainee’s perception of and reaction to my feedback was radically different than how I had hoped it would be viewed. Thanks for your good reminder that we’re inevitably going to encounter these kinds of misunderstandings due to the intensive nature of the course, and I think your approach of being humble is exactly the one I’ll opt for in my situation!

    Thanks again for sharing your thoughts and wisdom here, Sandy!

    Sarah

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    • Hi Sarah,
      Thank you for the message and I’m glad the posts have helped you. I’m on the last day of a part-time course at the moment, and it’s good to be able to look back and see how my feedback style has developed over time. It’s all a learning process, and we’re all part of it.
      Good luck with your future courses!
      Sandy

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  7. James Smart said:

    With regards to the criteria, my understanding is that some only need to be filled out if the course is taking place in a multi-lingual environment – otherwise you needn’t bother with register, and 1.a)b)and c) which are all about taking cultural background into consideration and whatnot.

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    • I think it’s still useful to fill in the cultural background one – for example, on this course in Thailand we had trainees from lots of different countries, and some of them were way too loud or pointed too aggressively, both of which are not normal in Thai culture.

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  8. Zach Pinson said:

    I’m a couple years late to this post, but wanted to share my thoughts on handling NTS lessons as well. I always make sure to have a few minutes of one-to-one time with a trainee after a NTS lesson. After oral feedback, when I hand the written feedback to each candidate, I’ll discreetly tell the person who got a NTS to read the feedback and then come talk to me. The conversation can go one of a few ways: this is my chance to (1) reassure them they haven’t failed the course and can still do well if they improve; (2) recap each area of concern, so I know they understand what the key problems were; (3) help them develop actionable steps to improve the next lesson. For example, I might help them write out ICQs for an activity if this was a problem, or help them figure out how they could better spend their time during planning. In my experience, this conversation usually takes less than 5 min and helps get trainees back on track after a bad grade.

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