Amy Blanchard guest posts on my blog again… 🙂
On 11th January 2019 I gave a 30 minute presentation at the International House Academic Managers and Trainers conference called TP Interrupted: The Role of the Trainer in CELTA Teaching Practice. I wanted to share my recent experiments with intervening in TP, clarifying what I mean by intervention; how I’ve been doing it and why. I also discussed potential problems and solutions, and gave my tips on things to consider before trying it yourself. Here’s a summary of what I said.
When I started asking other trainers about intervening in TP the first thing that came up was correcting trainees’ language, or information about language. That is not the focus of this talk, though it certainly is my policy that I don’t let trainees teach incorrect language; it’s not fair on students and it can have a negative impact on the following trainees.
I’ve always worked on courses where I was able to check the language analysis first to anticipate misunderstandings of the target language, so usually any inaccuracies in TP are related to incidental language that comes up. Generally, I will indicate to the trainee that something is wrong, and help them to clarify.
However, what I began experimenting with last year was intervening for different reasons, looking more at classroom management issues like positioning, instructions, pace, speed of speech, board work and even concept checking.
Gestures can be a discreet way of signalling to the trainee that they need to monitor; that an activity could be done in pairs; that they should add a word to the board; reduce speed of speech; pace etc.
Stop and Intervene
Some of the others are difficult to correct with gestures alone, and this was where I started intervening a bit more, actually stopping the class and giving instructions, or asking the trainee questions. Sometimes it’s as simple as reminding them to follow their lesson plan and let students check in pairs, or encouraging them to use a CCQ [concept checking question] they’d prepared.
Here’s a clearer example from TP 2. I was observing a nervous trainee with no teaching experience. She muttered some vague instructions (to ‘have a look at the handout’) to one student at the side of the room and started to distribute handouts. I could see the students looking at each other, confused, and knew this would have a detrimental effect on the rest of the lesson. I asked her to stop, take back the handout, stand in the centre where all students could see her, show the handout and clearly indicate which activity to look at, and tell the class what to do.
I haven’t found that much written about the tutor’s role in TP. The debate about whether to intervene or not gets a couple of lines in Thornbury’s CELTA course trainers’ manual [affiliate link]. He says “it can be argued that learning any new skill is best achieved by collaboration with a more experienced other”.
Something I feel strongly about is that CELTA is a training course and we need to be training, not just testing.
If we want to help our trainees do more, they need support. Could intervention and coaching from the side-lines be the scaffolding trainees need to achieve more?
I’m wondering if giving feedback to trainees can be equated with the feedback we give our students; consider on the spot vs delayed feedback. Could a combination be best practice?
Perhaps intervening in TP makes it more memorable – certainly the look on my trainee’s face when I told her to stop what she was doing showed that it wasn’t an experience she’d forget in a hurry. Importantly, it allows us to give information at the moment the trainee needs it, rather than after an hour or two hours, or even later on some courses. How useful is it to say to someone “two hours ago you stood slightly in the wrong place; try to avoid that next time”.
It’s the difference between show and tell – trainees can clearly see what you mean, and they can see impact on lesson, rather than everything being hypothetical.
It makes the ideas you’ve been talking about in input or feedback sessions more concrete, and you can demonstrate to trainees what you really mean, in their context. Importantly, it offers opportunities for improvement within the lesson.
Correcting my trainee on her instructions near the start of lesson led to better instructions for her next activity. She clearly remembered what I said, went back to the middle of the room, showed the handout and gave clear instructions, addressing the whole class.
But – what did she think of it? In preparation for my talk, I emailed a few trainees from the summer courses and asked for some feedback: Do you remember me intervening in your TP? Please comment on how it made you feel, and why it was/wasn’t effective.
Potential problems (and solutions)
Ambiguous gestures can be confusing and distracting; and my advice here would be agree the signals beforehand. Be aware of how much information you are trying to give, and how overloaded trainees already are. Keep it simple and make sure you reinforce it again in feedback/input etc.
Is it too prescriptive? This is a general worry of mine on the CELTA; I don’t want to impose my teaching style on new teachers. Stick to the basics, focus on classroom management and allow them to follow your instructions in their own style (within reason!)
Trainees may react badly. This is always a danger with giving any type of feedback. A large part of a trainer’s job is being intuitive to the way people react to feedback – if they are not going to react well to this approach, don’t try it.
Things to consider
Manage expectations: (of trainees and students)
If you interrupt with no warning, of course this will freak trainees out. But if they know that it’s a possibility – or even a policy – and they are prepared for it and understand the intention behind it, it will be much less alarming. As for the TP students, there may be some concern that the trainer’s intervention will cause a loss of face in front of the students, so again, it’s important that the students know the situation: that they are trainee teachers on a training course. In my experience, TP students are usually grateful for the intervention!
Personality types: Be sensitive / Ask
As with all feedback, some people take it better than others. I always say a large part of my job is managing people’s egos and giving feedback in the way that’s most acceptable to them and that they’re most receptive to. On the spot feedback is obviously no different. Use your intuition: if they’re clearly having a bad day, it might be better not to. The other option is one we use with our students: ask them how they feel about on the spot correction; if they want it or not.
Again, as with our students, you need to strike the right balance – you obviously don’t want to “correct” everything as it would be demotivating and stop the flow of the lesson.
Discuss interventions in group feedback
It’s vital that all trainees understand why you intervened – this is something that can be elicited in feedback, as well as its impact on the lesson/learners etc.
Written feedback reflects action points
If you intervene to improve a trainees positioning/monitoring/instructions etc. that should still go down as an action point in your written feedback. They need to prove they can do it successfully without intervention in later TPs.
Withdraw support as the course progresses
I intervene less and less (hopefully you find you won’t need to!) – perhaps a little again at the changeover of groups but really nothing by TP5 unless they are trying out a new technique etc.
Questions to discuss
I asked the trainers that came to my talk at the IH AMT conference to discuss two questions, and I’d encourage the same discussion here too:
- What’s your experience with intervention in TP?
- Do you agree with it or feel it should be avoided? Why?
I hope these discussions do continue and I’d love to hear from anyone who has experimented with this approach in TP or who has any questions about it. We’ve discussed this and similar topics on #CELTAchat which happens on Twitter on the first Monday of every month at 7pm UK time. You can find summaries of our chats on the CELTAchat blog.
Amy Blanchard was an Assistant Language Teacher on the JET programme in Japan and completed a voyage with Peace Boat before moving to Spain to work for International House. She has just taken a new job leading the CELTA programme and teaching English for Academic Purposes at a British university. She is particularly fond of whiteboard work.