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

As a CELTA trainer and Director of Studies at a school which mostly hires newly-qualified teachers, it’s now inevitable that at least some of the IATEFL Glasgow 2017 sessions I attended were connected to teacher training.

Staff room, IH Bydgoszcz

Here are my session summaries, along with some tweets at the bottom from sessions I didn’t attend.

Applying differentiation in teacher training (Alastair Douglas)

Alastair says that training teachers is just another form of teaching, and I agree! So we need to differentiate training too. I’m not sure why this hadn’t really occurred to me before, or at least, it had in passing, but I’d never really though about how to put it into practice. When training teachers, we’re giving them a model of how to teach.

Just as your language students look to you to provide ‘correct’ models of English, so too will your trainee teachers be looking for good models of teaching in the way you carry out training.
A Practical Introduction to Teacher Training [affiliate link] by John Hughes

For example, on a CELTA course in Vietnam, they differentiated language awareness sessions for natives/non-natives. With native speakers, they focussed on grammar, and with non-natives, they focussed on lexis (e.g. collocations, ‘natural’ language). Alastair Douglas and his colleague wrote this up in Modern English Teacher 24/3. Non-natives could also help native speakers with their language awareness.

On another course, they were working with both primary and secondary school teachers on different ways of presenting language. Here’s an example of a session plan by Jacqueline Douglas:

A final way of differentiating training which Alastair is still experimenting with is the option of using more detailed lesson plans for final lessons on initial teacher training courses, with a more in-depth focus on learner profiles, stage aims and the rationale for them. This allows stronger candidates to really show off what they know about their students and what they can do in the lesson, and balances the extra attention that weaker candidates tend to get at the end of such courses. This idea was inspired by Chris Ozóg.

Other ideas were:

  • workstations
  • tasks with different levels of scaffolding
  • varying the number of questions to answer
  • different activities in different rooms
  • different guided discovery tasks
  • jigsaw tasks
  • get trainees to decide which materials to use (hard/normal)
  • give trainees the option to prepare more before sessions, e.g. through preparatory questions

There are some problems with differentiation:

  • for trainees:
    • overreach, where trainees try to do something harder than they can manage
    • loss of face (hence grading tasks as hard/normal, not hard/easy)
  • for trainers:
    • more time needed for material preparation
    • difficulties with managing feedback (can be through worksheets, sharing in an information gap)
  • for courses:
    • if there’s a set syllabus (but can work within it)
    • assessment – making sure it applies to everyone

Alastair also found that differentiation wasn’t always necessary if techniques were equally new to all trainees. On a course with more and less experienced teachers where they were analysing lexis, he gave more experienced teachers a longer list of items to analyse. Because the techniques were new, it actually took both groups a similar amount of time to analyse the items. A similar thing happened in a CELTA session on using authentic materials, where he divided teachers into natives and non-natives, expecting non-natives to find it easier to identify language areas to focus on. Again, since the techniques were new to all trainees, differentiation wasn’t necessary.

To differentiate effectively, know your trainees, and you can tailor the courses to what is necessary. The more you can find out about the background of trainees, the better. Be explicit about what you’re doing so they can learn more about how to differentiate in their own teaching too.

This tweet was from a talk about mixed-ability teaching, but is relevant here too:

Analysing and reframing written feedback (Kateryna Protsenko)

The word ‘feedback’ only came into existence with the invention of microphones, and originally meant ‘awful noise’. Touching a hot kettle is an example of negative feedback, because you stop doing it. In positive feedback, action A gets bigger, e.g. in a herd as panic spreads, or when a fire alarm sounds, but it can turn negative if people end up doing something too much.

Trainees say written feedback is what they benefit from the most, but how much do we really think about what we write on it?

The biggest problem she found was that ‘good’ was the word she used most. This doesn’t help trainees to develop at all, and nor does it promote a growth mindset, something Kate had originally learnt about at IATEFL 2016 and on her MA at NILE.

Doing the same kind of analysis on weaker lessons using WordItOut showed she was giving much more useful feedback.

She also did a similar analysis with a colleague’s feedback:

Until they used the word clouds, they didn’t realise what dominated their feedback. As a result of these discoveries, Kate and her colleagues put together a word cloud of suggested words to use in their feedback:

Find out more:

Without putting my feedback through WordItOut (yet!) I’m pretty sure that my feedback will reflect similar patterns to Kate’s. I’m going to save her suggested words and have it open next time I’m writing feedback – hopefully what I write will be a lot more useful to the teacher, regardless of how strong or weak the lesson was!

Dare to share! Should trainees share their TP feedback? (Rebecca Brown)

Asking trainees the kind/format of feedback they want seems like a great idea! Why don’t I do this?!

One trainee said ‘The more feedback, the more you can improve’. Trainees said they often reread feedback more than twice. Oral and written feedback were considered equally important, but trainer feedback was considered more important than peer feedback.

Sharing feedback is something I’ve suggested with TP groups who have gelled well, and some groups do it without prompting. I often ask candidates if they mind me sharing aspects of their plan, materials, or feedback with other trainees during oral feedback, telling them exactly what and why I want to share it – nobody has yet said no, and some trainees have told me how much it has helped to see exactly what it is they should be aiming for. I’ve never done a survey of this kind though, probably because I’ve always been a ‘guest’ tutor – maybe one day if/when I regularly work for the same centre, I’ll experiment more in this way!

Getting teachers to act on teaching practice feedback (Tracy Yu)

Tracy did a survey with her trainees and found that over 70% of her trainees spent less than one hour reading their written feedback throughout the whole course. She wondered how to get them to apply the feedback more to future TPs. She also asked them what they would like to do if they could have an extra 30 minutes with their tutors: the main answer was to get 30 minutes of feedback and advice on their lesson plan before they taught, including reminders before the next lesson of what was discussed after the previous lesson.

Since then she has started to do the following:

  • Use Review – Reproduce – Retain to counter the effects of the Curve of Forgetting. Trainees review what they have learnt from feedback, and reproduce it in a different form (I think), helping them to remember their feedback better.

She also reminded us to ABD: Always Be Demonstrating! Don’t just preach to the trainees, show them how you want them to teach and how to respond to feedback.

Tracy says that we should be doing less feeding back and more feeding forwards, leading to the next TP, rather than looking back. A lot of training centres don’t give feedback on the plan before the TP, even though tutors think it would help. Time is an issue though.

One of the most frustrating things for me as a tutor is trainees who seem to have the same issues over a number of TPs, and who don’t seem to be reading their feedback at all, since it normally contains suggestions for how they can counter these problems! I like the idea of feeding forward, but I’m still not quite sure how to go about it.

The three talks above were all part of a forum on TP feedback. Here are some of the points from the Q&A afterwards:

  • One trainer suggests them starting written self-reflection immediately after lesson, pausing for oral feedback, then going back to finish it later.
  • A recent Delta trainee questions how easy it is for trainees to reflect effectively immediately after a TP, when you’re still in the heat of the moment.

Tracy works for the TEFL Training Institute, which has a blog and produces podcasts.

Easing the pain of language analysis in initial training (Bill Harris)

‘LA’ can mean language knowledge, language analysis, linguistic competence or language awareness. Different qualifications use different descriptors for the ‘language’ component:

  • CELTA groups language analysis and awareness, including strategies for assessment
  • Trinity defines it as just language awareness (I believe – I wasn’t keeping up well at this point!)

Bill did a survey with 72 trainers and 51 ex-trainees, asking 6 questions related to LA on courses. These included ideas about confidence with language before/after TP, books that are recommended on courses, whether is LA compulsory, and a few more I didn’t get!

Swan is the book most courses recommend, followed by Scrivener, and Parrott [affiliate links]. More trainers recommend Parrott, but trainees don’t buy it. A Twitter discussion after the conference showed that this is partly because it is very expensive to buy in Asia – I’m not sure how many of Bill’s respondents were based in that part of the world. My personal favourite from this list is Scrivener for trainees, especially because a lot of schools have a reference copy of Swan, which I believe is best used as a final resort if you can’t find the answer you need elsewhere! I think Parrott is useful, but Scrivener more closely reflects classroom practice.

Trainers comment that trainees get better at LA sheets in response to feedback. (see also ‘Desert island descriptors’ below)

Most native speaker trainees were petrified of LA before the course.

(Sorry, but I can’t read it any better now on a larger computer – you’ll have to ask Bill for it!) He has tried workshops where they do poster presentations on different areas of LA.

Bill believes the Language Related Tasks assignment should reflect Language Analysis as closely as possible. When putting together the LRT, some tutors put language in context (which helps trainees to understand it), others decontextualise it (so trainees practise creating contexts for language).

Bill Harris’s final word on Easing the pain of LA: hit them with as many support mechanisms as you can!

Desert island descriptors: where do our values lie? (Simon Marshall)

Simon has been teaching CELTA for 35 years’ and has trained in 22 countries, and is very positive towards the course, but he still has questions about the way it has developed over time. There are 42 descriptors in the CELTA 5 booklet, and a candidate is supposed to achieve all of them in 4 weeks.

He wanted to know which CELTA criteria trainers tended to consider more important than others, as many of us (me included) feel that the criteria are not all created equal. His survey asked us to choose the ‘most important’ descriptors from each section, and many trainers said it was hard to choose, as it depends on the stage of the course. Despite that, he came up with clear findings:

Part of Simon Marshall’s aim was to see how important language teaching really was on a language teaching course – both related descriptors appear here, which reassured him (and me!)

If the 5 descriptors on the graph were like the Premier League, it would have an influence on how courses are run, and which sessions were included. Rapport was one of the key descriptors identified, but it rarely appears on courses as a session: we seem to know what it is, but it’s hard to pinpoint: we know it when we see it. Being more independent is part of what we’re grading trainees on (see page 14), but there’s no specific descriptor for it now, although there used to be.

Out of 85 respondents, nobody chose the ‘writing’ descriptor, or any of the following, as the most important:

Simon Marshall emphasises that this seems bizarre in terms of value and confusing in terms of achievement. He reiterates that he’s not anti-descriptor in general. For me, some of the wording is confusing/unclear, and I really think they need to be updated, especially to reflect the fact that trainers know that some criteria are more important than others, but they’re all displayed equally to trainees.

To supplement his research, Simon asked a school he used to send trainees on to about how they were doing. The manager said they were good in lots of ways, but knew nothing about language. When reflecting on observations he had done, Simon noticed that:

  • CELTA graduates:
    • used a lead in/warmer, checked instructions, included lots of activity types, and plenty of social engagement…
    • but when he observed them teaching language, they could do it a bit, but they didn’t look as if they felt comfortable…
    • and when they did activities, there wasn’t much afterwards in terms of error correction, feedback, or building on language.
  • Non-native non-CELTA graduates:
    • used no warmer and lots of instructions
    • were ‘language-obsessed’ – L1 translations were possible, they could answer students’ questions, less communication
  • Watching a German CELTA graduate:
    • she hit the ball out of the park!
    • a range of activities…
    • but she also knew the language well, and could answer the students’ questions.

The same graduate wasn’t allowed to teach above B2 in one school because she was a non-native  – she was ecstatic for the opportunity when she moved schools. As Simon said, this is very wrong.

When Simon did his course in the 1970s, 7 of his 9 TPs were language-focussed, and he got a lot better at language over the course (echoing what Bill Harris said above about trainers noticing trainees improving their LA). Now, CELTA assessment criteria state  that weak lessons at the beginning of the course won’t be held against you. You can get through the course with only two language lessons, one of which is often early in the course. So if you only have one language focussed lessons that actually counts, how can you actually improve?

As Simon highlights, skills lessons are largely laid out for you in books, so perhaps we should shift our focus, and therefore also prioritise the descriptors more clearly. Echoing Bill, Simons says LA could also be described as language affinity, language aptitude, language affection? Do they like language? Do they show any impression of being comfortable with it? Language awareness also includes being ‘on the prowl’ for language that comes up in the lesson. We’ve got to make them technicians.

In conclusion, maybe our CELTA mission should be: to train language teachers who can teach language! (Though the course can’t all be about grammar!) I think this would be a much more useful mission for a lot of our trainees, although we’d have to think carefully about how to differentiate to cater for both native and non-native trainees. I certainly agree that the criteria drastically need to be updated or at least ranked in some way – come on Cambridge!

Tweets from other sessions

As an adaptation of the Desert Island Discs format:

Tweets from ‘Addressing the apprenticeship of observation: ideas for pre-service training’ by Joanna Stansfield (International House London) & Karla Leal Castaneda (Freelance):

From Teti Dragas’ session on using bespoke video observations as part of teacher training:

Jacqueline Douglas talked about using CELTA criteria on written feedback forms:

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