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

This was my first IATEFL since I became a CELTA tutor, so I had a whole new set of talks to discover. Here are the three I went to, all of which made me think about how I approach CELTA tutoring and what an ‘ideal’ course would look like.

Strictly Come CELTA: An analogy and some thoughts on feedback – Jo Gakonga

I’ve found Jo’s CELTA training videos very useful and enjoyed a meal with her and a few other CELTA and Delta trainers at the beginning of the conference, so was looking forward to hearing her speak, and I wasn’t disappointed.

Jo compared the role of CELTA tutors to that of judges on the BBC programme Strictly Come Dancing. Each of them has a distinctive personality and gives feedback in different ways, which reflects our roles as CELTA tutors. She asked us to consider which of the judges we are similar to, and how this may change throughout the course or with different trainees.

She also talked about differentiated grading scales (compared to ‘To Standard’ and ‘Not To Standard’ from Cambridge), and how this can create standardisation issues. On SCD, there is a 10-point scale, but only one of the four judges really grades like this. One of them only really uses a five-point scale, because she never gives lower than 5. In 12 series, one judge has given 113 ’10s’, another 146 and another 35, but they’re all supposed to be grading on the same scale. She used this to encourage us to think about whether differentiated grading is useful or not.

Here are Jo’s slides.

The development of cognitions and beliefs on CELTA courses – Karla Leal Castañeda

I first learnt about the concept of teacher cognitions (what teachers know, believe and think) at the IH DoS conference in January this year. I believe it has a big effect on participants in CELTA courses and how receptive they are to the training they receive. I chose to go to this talk in the hope of finding out more.

In a nutshell, Karla’s research was to investigate what the trainees believed coming on to the course, whether this changed through the course, and how it influenced their performance. She did a combination of interviews and observations with 8 trainees from 3 different courses.

Most of them had unrealistically high expectations of what they might be able to learn on a four-week course, including ‘grammar’, a formula for how to be a good teacher, or a completely new way of approaching teaching. By the end of the course, they recognised that it was impossible to cover all of this within the time constraints, but still found the learning experience to be ‘rich and far from disappointing’. As they said, CELTA can only give them an insight of what teaching is and experience will give them the rest.

They highlighted the importance of planning in their post-lesson reflections, as they realised that problems in the lesson often stemmed from a lack of preparation. Based on negative experiences they had had in lessons, trainees had aspects of teaching they would prefer to avoid after the course, for example, CCQs (concept-checking questions). Despite this, they recognised that they needed to give techniques a fair trial before discarding them categorically, and that a four-week course was not enough time to say that a particular technique would or wouldn’t work.

Coming on to the course, most of the trainees talked about their own previous negative experiences learning languages and expressed that language learning needed to be fun to be effective, with a good rapport between teacher and students. This led to them prioritising fun in their own evaluations of their lessons, often disregarding what the trainer had to say about the lesson in terms of how successful it was if they (the trainees) thought that it wasn’t fun. There was a belief that language teachers need to be different to teachers of other subjects, since language teaching cannot be as teacher-centred as other subjects: interaction is crucial. By the end of the course, classroom management was added to the list of desirable teacher characteristics, in addition to subject knowledge and good rapport with students.

During the courses, there was shift towards a more student-centred approach to teaching. However, trainees stated that when teaching more student-centred lessons they felt less professional, and less ‘teachery’, which echoes my own informal observations of the need for trainees to adopt ‘teacher position‘ to feel like they are being effective and useful to the students. There is a continuous struggle against deeply rooted previously ‘learned’ behaviour, either from their own experience in the classroom or from the ‘apprenticeship of observation‘: what they have learnt from being a student and observing their own teachers.

In the Q&A session at the end, a trainer in the audience highlighted that sometimes we are not very good at managing expectations during the CELTA course, and that perhaps we need to revisit them more often. Another trainer suggested including regular slots in input sessions where you encourage trainees to compare what they have learnt about teaching with their own beliefs about how to teach. This is definitely an area which warrants further research, and one in which I will watch developments with interest.

The natural CELTA – a farewell to language? – Joanna Stansfield and Emma Meade-Flynn

This was the final talk I went to at IATEFL this year, and was a great note to finish on as it inspired me to consider a completely different approach to putting together a CELTA course by rethinking it from the ground up, rather than basing it on more traditional structures.

Joanna and Emma wanted to remove as much of the stress from the CELTA course as they could and make sure that their trainees were as prepared for real-world teaching as possible. To do this, they decided to get rid of language instruction from the timetable, since this is the most stressful area for most trainees.

Temporary bookshelf (binders and a pile of grammar books)

Image taken from ELTpics by Mary Sousa, under a Creative Commons 3.0 license

They also tried to integrate the course as much as possible, so everything fed into the teaching trainees would do and nothing felt like extra work, since many trainees find it difficult to prioritise when juggling assignments and TP (lessons). They still had to meet the criteria set by Cambridge though, and demonstrate that their trainees could be effective language teachers. To do this, they changed the course in the following ways:

  • Replacing language analysis sheets with task analysis, focussing on the specific activities that trainees were planning to use. Different sheets were used for receptive and productive tasks. This had many effects on the trainees, for example realising that lexis is important for listening tasks. Trainees also created more meaningful productive tasks as a result.
  • Basing the language skills assignment around task analysis sheets which had been used in previous TPs, with trainees reflecting on what problems the students had with the language and re-planning the lesson in light of this. This is instead of the over-analysis and the added stress of a more traditional assignment, which can create an atomised view of language. It can also mean trainees over-explain to students because they try to give them all of the knowledge they have instead of just what is relevant.
  • Teaching a model lesson at the beginning of the course in the same way and using the same materials that they expected their trainees to use, then incorporating more explicit reflection on the model lesson throughout the first week of input, unpacking the techniques used in it. Trainees were noticeably better at lesson cohesion after this.
  • Adding a 20-minute slot at the end of TP where trainees could speak to students about what happened in the lesson without trainers in the room. This was recorded, and fed in to the Focus on the Learner assignment. Trainees were more aware of their students as people and of their needs, and better able to understand their accents. There was also higher student retention because of this, and this reflects the real world, since student retention is something we all need to be aware of.
  • Encouraging trainees to note questions they wanted to ask the students and their co-teachers while observing.
  • Learning more about students meant TP points weren’t needed after week one, as lessons were based around student needs, although a course book was still used.
  • Changing the layout of the lesson plan, including a column for self-evaluation. Before seeing trainer comments, trainees had to fill in a stage-by-stage reflection, rather than only reflecting on the lesson in general.
  • Integrating assignment 3 with trainees designing materials they would then go on to use (I think – my tweets aren’t very clear at this point!)

They got very positive feedback from their trainees on this course. They developed their language awareness naturally, in a similar way to how teachers do in the real world, and language became much less scary as a result. They also realised how important lexis was and were much better at teaching it because they had built up a good rapport with the students through the 20-minute conversations. Students weren’t afraid to ask how new lexis should be used. Trainees were also much more self-critical and reflective as a result.

This is definitely a course structure I would like to find out more about, and I think it will influence my own course design when I finally put together a CELTA course myself as a Main Course Tutor (I’m an Assistant Course Tutor at the moment).

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Comments on: "IATEFL Manchester 2015: CELTA" (9)

  1. Great ideas especially in the third talk you attended which you wrote up in more detail as well. Thanks very much Sandy – much appreciated

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  2. I found this very interesting, with one week left to go of my own CELTA course (*sob sob*!)
    We certainly have two very different characters as our CELTA tutors, and they both have their good points of course!
    My favourite idea from all three talks is this:
    Adding a 20-minute slot at the end of TP where trainees could speak to students about what happened in the lesson without trainers in the room.
    As we swapped levels at the end of Week 2, we gave every member of our class a little feedback sheet which said ‘Three things I like about your teaching are XXX’ and ‘One thing which would make you a better teacher is X’ and the learners did one for every trainee – it was so nice to receive lovely comments from our class, but they were only very brief so constant communication with the students would have been very interesting indeed!
    Thanks for typing these up…you’re making me more and more determined to attend IATEFL next year (is it expensive?!)
    Rachel 🙂

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    • Hi Rachel,
      I agree that talking to the students is one of the most interesting/useful ideas – it can be difficult to fit in though because of the length of the lessons. How long are your TPs?
      I’m pretty sure you’ll get some kind of discount for being a new teacher – can’t remember if that’s on conference attendance or membership, but being a member makes the conference cheaper anyway. It’s about £150 – can’t remember exactly – if you book in advance, and I’m 100% sure you’d enjoy it! You can also apply for scholarships, although there are a lot of applicants and not many scholarships. I’m happy to help if I can.
      Good luck with the final week!
      Sandy

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      • Hi Sandy, thanks for your reply 🙂
        Our TPs are 40 minutes (except two, weirdly, which are an hour) so there isn’t much time to keep learners hanging around after sitting through 2 or 3 intense lessons where we’re trying to get through a fair old amount of material. I just thought it was so nice when we did get feedback from them; a real morale boost 🙂
        As for IATEFL, perhaps I’ll tweet them and find out for myself 🙂 I have a friend in Manchester so it might not cost me the earth to go, in that case. And I might get to bump into some old Routledge authors, and some lovely online faces in real life – that must be the weirdest thing about transferring this wonderful online ELT world into real life!
        Thanks so much for your offer of help though, I’ll let you know how it goes! And now for more pre-Week 4 reading…have been told I might get a higher grade if I can check instructions with ICQs, correct more appropriately and control my nervous TTT – fingers crossed!
        Thanks again,
        Rachel

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        • It’ll be in Birmingham next year, and it’ll be the 50th anniversary, so even more unmissable than usual! And meeting online people face-to-face is one of the best parts of the whole thing.
          You’ll be able to get the Early Career membership, which is two years for the price of one: http://www.iatefl.org/join/introduction
          Good luck with the final TPs, and with TTT remember SSS – script it, say it, shut up!
          Sandy

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          • Oh wow, 50 years! I am very tempted… Birmingham is much closer to my home home this time as well 🙂
            I am going to join and see what it’s all about – thanks very much!
            I am also going to my first ELTABB event on Thursday to meet other English teachers around Berlin and to hear Nicola Meldrum speak on ‘the pedagogy of presence’ – sounds interesting:

            http://www.eltabb.com/main/index.php/events/icalrepeat.detail/2015/05/07/98/-/nicola-meldrum-the-pedagogy-of-presence

            TP 7 seemed to go ok; the tip from Angelos to rehearse instructions did actually make a me heaps more confident when giving them. I LOVE your three SSS technique; I am going to spread that around tomorrow 🙂
            Thanks again,
            Rachel

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  3. I feel getting feedback from students is part of the lesson. How do I know what to do next if I don’t know what the students have learned and how they feel about what I did?

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    • That’s true Glenys. However, are you referring to feedback after particular activities or feedback on your teaching in general? The time constraints on the CELTA course can often make it difficult to get feedback on trainees’ teaching from the students themselves – it’s normally only from their peers and their tutor.
      Sandy

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      • I meant both but I can see having a formal feedback session with students can take up a lot of time in a CELTA training. It can be so useful though.

        Early in my career, a student said to me (in the corridor): “You spend a lot of time preparing activities and games for the class but do you think about us?” I’d naively believed I was a student-centred teacher. Painful though it was to hear, that student’s comment made me completely re-evaluate my pedagogy. If a colleague had said it I might have shrugged it off as them not understanding what I was doing. The student expressed what he felt – there’s no arguing with that.

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