Lessons learned: First steps towards reflective teaching in ELT (review)

I bought this book at the IH Barcelona conference in February 2020, in what feels like another life entirely!

Key details

TitleLessons Learned: First Steps towards Reflective Teaching in ELT

Author: Gabriel Díaz Maggioli and Lesley Painter-Farrell

Publisher: Richmond

Year: 2016

Place of publication: Oxford

Affiliate links: (none – the first book I know of that doesn’t seem to be on Amazon!)

Other links: BEBC (You’re supporting a great bookshop if you use this link)

What’s in it?

Here’s the description from the Richmond page (retrieved 23rd August 2020):

Lessons Learned: First Steps towards Reflective Teaching in ELT is a coursebook that introduces aspiring teachers to the main principles and practices associated with reflective teaching in the field of foreign and second language instruction. It can also be used as a reference and resource in professional development programs for more experienced language teachers wishing to update their professional knowledge base.

Written in accessible language.

Departs from comments on teachers’ and students’ needs for language teaching and learning.

There are reflective tasks throughout each chapter to consolidate and personalize information.

Content is clearly introduced and diagrams in mind maps for each unit.

Reflective Journal Tasks, Observation Tasks and Portfolio Tasks at the end of each chapter help to consolidate and keep record of the information learned along the chapter.

Written by well-known and world wide experienced authors from the world of ELT.

Pictures and diagrams in each chapter facilitate understanding and bring information alive.

The 12 main sections of the book are:

  1. Learning about our students
  2. Reflective teaching
  3. Observation: a learning tool
  4. Managing our classrooms
  5. Lesson planning
  6. Organizing language lessons
  7. Understanding and teaching language
  8. Developing literacy skills
  9. Developing oracy skills
  10. Integrating language skills
  11. Assessment and evaluation
  12. Mindful, corrective feedback

There’s also how to use this book, a glossary, a bibliography and a list of online links.

Good points

The structure of the book mirrors the principles it is trying to get across, with lots of opportunities for the reader to reflect on what they have read. This is particularly true of the final two pages of each chapter, where there are tables to complete and portfolio tasks, all of which are designed around the reflective principles described in the book. There’s plenty of space to take notes throughout the book, including wide outside margins.

The order of the chapters is logical and feels different to other books I’ve read aimed at the same target audience: starting with the students, where all of our teaching should begin, introducing reflective principles, applying them to observing other teachers, then moving into our own teaching.

Quotes and references from teachers and students begin each chapter, introducing a range of voices beyond the authors’ and encouraging the reader to consider different perspectives on their teaching. Having said that, the authors’ voices are strong, and they include clear examples from their own personal experiences to back up their points.

The book is generally full of useful tips and examples, such as a teacher’s reflection on their lesson on page 61.

Teaching language skills is covered in an appropriate level of depth for teachers with this level of experience, and is very accessible. I also like the fact that the language section starts with lexis rather than grammar. There is a balanced discussion of different approaches to assessment in chapter 11, and a real focus on assessment for learning (rather than of learning) with practical tips for how to go about it.

Some of the pages/features I particularly liked were (numbers = pages):

  • 159-161: the rationale for telling students the aim of the lesson, and the description of lesson rhythms
  • 175: the idea of lessons which are student-centred but teacher-designed
  • 181-184: the list of techniques for scaffolding learning
  • 184-192: the description of lesson shapes (a new way of thinking about them for me)
  • 242-243: the list of general questions for clarifying use when teaching language
  • 271-275: the comprehensive list of writing activities
  • 384-385: the characteristics of a good test
  • 386-389: practical advice for writing test items

Even as an experienced teacher and trainer, there were new concepts in there for me. One of these was Integrated Performance Assessment (IPA) (p390-391). The idea is to evaluate language skills in an integrated way, as they would occur in real life, rather than as isolated skills.

Areas to improve

It frustrates me when reference books don’t have an index. Although the contents page is very detailed, I have to guess which section to look at if I want to find out about a particular topic and it’s not listed in the section headings.

Occasionally assumptions are made about what the reader might know, with some terminology introduced which isn’t in the glossary. For example, on p180, the terms ‘inductive’ and ‘deductive’ are introduced without being explained, or on p215, ‘Audiolingual Approach’.

One or two assertions are made without being fully referenced:

For example, at a recent conference, a presenter suggested that the optimal number of iterations of a word is nine. (p208)

Who was this presenter? What was the conference? When is ‘recent’? What research did they base this ‘optimal number’ on? Having said that, these woolly sections only happened a couple of times in a 400+ page book, and the book is generally very well researched with appropriate amounts of references to possible further reading.

Both ‘he’ and ‘she’ are used interchangeably throughout the book. Generally this is fine, but when it’s done in a single example lesson plan, it makes it difficult to follow.

Most frustratingly, I found there were a number of typos/proofreading errors. However, while this distracted me when I was reading, it’s not enough to stop this book from being useful.

Apart from the index, all of these issues suggest that the book would have benefitted from one more edit before publication.

General comment

It provides a comprehensive basic introduction to ELT, and clearly exemplifies reflective practice. I feel like it’s mostly aimed at Masters students based in the USA (unsurprising, as the authors both teach/taught on The New School MA TESOL programme), but a lot is relevant to teachers in other areas of ELT as well. This would be a useful book for early career teachers to have a copy of and I think it’s one I’ll come back to.

How to taste wine…in English (guest post)

Back in November 2019 I noticed this tweet from Grace Alchini:

I was intrigued so asked her to write a guest post about what the course involved. (Sorry for the delay Grace!)

Around 5 years ago, after almost 3 decades in ELT and an operation that made me bed-ridden for nearly a month, I decided it was time to start a new hobby or develop a new skill. That is how I joined an Introduction to wine tasting course, together with my husband. We both enjoyed wine and had been impressed by a sommelier who had once run a wine tasting session in a restaurant, showing expertise and the ability to help the client understand wine, and who was opening this course. That was the beginning of a series of around 10 modules of 15 hours each and several wine tasting sessions, which opened the door to a fascinating world in which our senses rule, and culture is present through the explanation of processes, geography, history, gastronomy, and the list goes on.

Aldo, the sommelier, and I became friends, and one evening over dinner he told me about one of his trainees, who spoke good English but had been unable to talk about wine in the United States because he lacked the vocabulary to do it. A few minutes later, we started imagining a course aimed at sommeliers who had to serve foreign clients or work abroad. The project materialized several months later.

The objective was clear: to train these Spanish-speaking professionals to provide their service in English. That meant being able to run a wine tasting session (which involves colour, smell, taste and mouth-feel description), suggest wine and food pairings, and speak about the winemaking process, among other tasks. The course took twelve 3-hour sessions, and each of them addressed a different topic: each of the stages in the wine tasting session, types of wine, the grapevine, the process at the winery, pairing, and service. A TBL approach was used. In the first part of the session, I provided the participants with the vocabulary and language they would need (making use of articles, videos, and infographics on which we worked), and then, there was the task: wine tasting in English, focusing on the topic of the day.

We tasted 3 or 4 different wines every session, and as there were around six participants, everybody could practise in front of an audience every class. The rest of the participants made comments, sharing their own perceptions, and I gave them feedback as regards language use. Aldo was present too, in order to contribute to the session with his experience and knowledge.

Needless to say, it was essential for me to have some knowledge in the field, and those 150 hours of previous training were more than useful. I knew what I had to include in the course, and I understood what the different specific terms referred to as I prepared the sessions (or else I asked my teacher somm). Also, I devoted hours and hours during several months reading specialised books and watching videos to make both my understanding of the subject matter and my vocabulary wider. At the same time, in every single class I became a student too because there was always some new concept to learn from the participants.

If you asked me what type of language is used in a wine tasting session, I would say it is mostly descriptive: adjectives related to colour (hues and depth), nouns that mention countless aromas (evoking fruit, herbs, flowers, spices, wood, leather and even unusual smells like horse sweat or a wet band-aid), a large number of adjectives to describe acidity in wine (zesty, tart, crisp, flabby, just to name a few) and expressions to explain mouth-feel sensations provoked by characteristics like astringency and heat (the presence of alcohol). When dealing with the growth cycle of the grapevine and the winemaking process, as well as the different types of wine, there is a wide range of specific terminology which led, in my case, to learning about the many procedures behind a bottle of wine. Also, there is the need to cover the functional language that is required in the performance of wine service. Last but not least, the creation of metaphor is a vital component of the skills a sommelier needs to develop. Many aspects of wine can be more easily understood when expressed in terms of a person, a painting, a moment of the day or a piece of music.

It was interesting for all of us to see how certain common words in English were a bit different in the world of wine. For example: flavour in general tends to be associated with taste. However, when referring to wine, flavour comprises taste, mouthfeel, and aroma, that is, what is perceived by the taste buds, the rest of the mouth and the nose respectively.

How useful was the course?

As I mentioned before, in each session participants put the language of wine tasting into practice, and in the last classes, when they had already dealt with the different steps and contents of a wine tasting session, they showed they were confident enough to do their job in English and communicated their passion for wine clearly and effectively. Furthermore, what has been a true discovery, at least for most of the participants, is the fact that doing their job in English is not just a matter of using a dictionary and translating. Words in any language may express perceptions, and these vary from culture to culture. Therefore, many participants could experience new ways of understanding and interpreting wine, which enriched their profession. Mine was definitely enriched too.

Grace Alchini is a freelance teacher of English, business communication and ESP trainer, and conference speaker based in Mexico. She has over 34 years ‘experience working at universities and providing in-company training. For the last couple of years, she has mainly focused on preparing pre-service graduate students, trainees and employees for the workplace.

ELT awards

What is the function of awards within a profession?

I’ve just asked Google that question expecting to find some kind of philosophical discussion on the topic. Instead I found links to all kinds of different awards schemes across a range of professions: engineering, medicine, project management, human resources, safety professionals, supply chain professionals, recognition professionals, and yes, even education.

The closest thing to an answer I could find came from the Wikipedia ‘award‘ entry, on page 3 of my search:

An award, sometimes called a distinction, is something given to a recipient as a token of recognition of excellence in a certain field.

Taken from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Award on 21st August 2020

According to the references, this is a combination of definitions from the Oxford and Cambridge dictionary definitions.

I tried a new search: Why do awards exist?

That got me what I was looking for. Buried in amongst all kinds of discussions of film and TV awards ceremonies are a few interesting posts, starting with How important are awards anyway?:

We all apply with the same goal in our mind – to win. If we lose (and it has happened), we get irritated. Maybe we say: ”Heh, what do they know.” But then we try to figure out why we lost. We try to learn from each new contest, and we try to figure out how to be better.

Move on to page 2 of the search, and you get Awards: why you want them and how to get them. I’m not sure what an ‘Extension program’ is either, but there are some interesting quotes in there, like these:

Awards are the most conventionally accepted method for proving to others that your work is necessary, complete, and effective.

On the surface, applying for awards may seem self-serving, or even pretentious. Winning awards, however, does much more than bring attention to you as an individual. Documented proof that programs are of the highest caliber facilitates recruitment of external support and resources for future programs (Bradley, Driscoll, & Bardon, 2012). Administration, funding agencies, local governments, and even potential future employers acknowledge the value of peer recognition. Agencies with funding and in-kind resources tend to divert their efforts toward projects with the greatest potential for success. They often base decisions about who might be qualified to accomplish a task on prior successes of individuals or agencies under consideration.

How To Go After Awards And Recognition (And Win) and why it matters is from Forbes:

After all, if there’s one thing that can make us as women squirm uncomfortably, it’s nominating ourselves for awards and public recognition. Some may not be drawn to the competitive rivalry of a contest. For others, they may erroneously see themselves as not-strong-enough a candidate to apply in the first place. And yet, the effects of not self nominating can be far reaching.

Putting our distaste for self-promotion aside—awards, funds and recognition are a form of currency. In the world we live in, they matter. They are bargaining chips! They can help you demand a higher fee as an entrepreneur, reinforce your request for a higher corporate salary to your employer, and provide external validation of how you measure up against your peers.

Decide today, right now, that you are a worthy applicant for that interesting award, publishable article, or conference presentation. Then go for it.

Going after, and winning, awards makes you more appealing to employers and clients, yes. But it can greatly help you materially, and perhaps most underemphasized, it can permanently lift your confidence. […] By applying for recognition, you too will learn a lifelong skill – how to identify and speak about your value…and how to bet on yourself.

The last article I’ll quote from is The benefits of awards — even if you don’t win, which is full of lots of useful ideas and tips:

But recognition aside, merely applying for awards or seeking to be nominated also brings a multitude of career benefits. Putting together an award application can help you reflect on your skills and career progress. It may push you to become more competitive by filling gaps in your CV and increasing your visibility. Seeking out senior colleagues who will cheer for you can help you build a strong support base for the future. Competing for awards also creates an opportunity to receive useful feedback about your work and how you are perceived from those who nominated you or awards committees, Gomez notes.

Studying the award criteria and looking at past winners may help you get a sense of what you want to strive for and identify skill gaps. Trying to fill these gaps will not only increase your chances of getting the award, but also put you in a stronger position for your future career planning and progression, Maguire says.

Current awards in ELT

Philip Kerr recently wrote about Current Trends in ELT, including mentioning the British Council ELTons awards for innovations in English Language Teaching. This is one of the quotes which prompted this post:

You could be forgiven for wondering what is especially innovative about many of the ELTon award-winners, or indeed, why neophilia actually matters at all. The problem, in a relatively limited world like language teaching, is that only so much innovation is either possible or desirable.

The ELTons are one of only three awards schemes I can think of within ELT. The other two are both related to balance and representation at conferences. The Fair List was set up by Tessa Woodward to encourage gender balance at UK ELT events. Eve: Equal Voices in ELT recognises events for parity in gender, highly proficient speakers (not just native English speakers), and how representative they are of their local teaching community.

The ELTons has a glitzy awards ceremony (not this year of course!), with various categories recognising innovation and a lifetime achievement award. The Fair List has an awards ceremony at IATEFL each year (again, not this year). EVE has a calendar which they will include events in which meet the parity requirements, and award a badge recipients can display. All of them are useful for highlighting achievements of the ELT industry, and I think The Fair List and EVE have gone some way to starting discussions about and encouraging change within conference line-ups. Just being shortlisted for an ELTon can increase the profile of a project and (presumably) increase sales/buy-in/author profiles.

(Please let me know if you think I’ve missed any from this list.*)

Accreditation and inspection schemes, such as those from British Council, EAQUALS, AQUEDUTO (online training) and IH inspections for affiliated schools also fulfil some of the functions mentioned in the quotes above: they require data gathering, identify gaps and encourage applicants to fulfil them to meet requirements. The resultant badges that those who pass the inspection can display are a sign of professional recognition/recognition by the profession, though there’s no official awards ceremony for any of them.

Applying to present at conferences also prompts reflection and can lead to increased professional recognition too, and is open to individuals, thereby meeting some of the requirements mentioned in the first part of this post.

What’s my point?

I’m not really sure…this blogpost is more about thinking out loud than an actual point!

To my knowledge, the awards schemes which currently exist in ELT focus on innovation, lifetime achievement, and conference line-ups.*

Accreditation schemes are aimed at organisations.

Maybe there’s room for something else, awards which are more wide-ranging. Something which demonstrates the range and scope of our profession. Something which individuals can apply for, not just organisations. Something which can throw a spotlight on more than just the big names and recognise those unsung members of our profession who work away diligently year in, year out.

What could we recognise?

Here are some possible award categories:

  • Teacher
  • Trainer
  • Manager
  • Materials writer
  • Support/Administrative staff
  • Course
  • Course provider (school/educational organisation)
  • Employer
  • Methodology book/materials
  • Training course/event (including conferences)
  • Teaching association
  • Social media group/account

I’m sure there are many more I haven’t thought of!

How could it work? What are the problems?

Allow time for nominations. For example, nominations include 5 reasons why that nominee should receive the award, and what makes them unique/different compared to other possible nominees.
How long? Who nominates (the potential winner or a third party)? What needs to be included in a nomination? How are the nominations submitted? What about GDPR?

Anonymise the nominations. Remove any identifying features.
Who gets that job?! How long would it take?

Have a panel for each award, or one for all of the awards. Each panel member creates a long list of four nominations who they think should receive the award.
Who would be on the panel? How do you remove bias and ensure representation within the panels? How long would that process take? Who would pay for the time or would it have to be voluntary? 

Combine the separate long lists into a master long list. Each panel member individually comes up with their own shortlist of three nominees who they think should receive the award with reasons.
As with the previous point.

The panel meets to discuss the shortlists and negotiate who should be the award winner. One person from the panel is selected to check the votes and make a note of the eventual winner.
How long do you allow for this? How do you de-anonymise the nominations and ensure the winner remains a secret?

Run an awards ceremony. Glitz! Glamour! Awards!
Who pays for it? Who presents the awards?

Will it ever happen?

Unlikely!* Somebody would need to pay for it, and within ELT that normally means publishers sponsoring the event. Somebody would need to organise it, and that requires a lot of time.

But still, it’s interesting to think about.

What impact could an awards ceremony that’s more wide-ranging have on the profession? Would it make it feel more like a profession? Would it lead to any changes, as The Fair List and EVE already seem to have done? What do you think?

*Search first, write later (!)

I got to the end of this post and did a Google search for ELT awards. It looks like some of my questions are answered by these awards and my post is a little more pointless than it was before, but I’m not going to rewrite it now! Here’s what I found:

There are ELT Excellence Awards in Greece – it costs quite a lot to apply. Presumably that covers some of the costs I mentioned above, and public schools get one free entry each, but that still rules out individuals applying. It covers a wide range of areas, including a few I hadn’t thought of.

The Pearson English Global Teacher Award gives five winners the chance to attend the IATEFL or TESOL conference all expenses paid. It looks like it really does recognise individual teachers. I can’t find information about how to apply, but I think you probably apply yourself, doing the job of encouraging teachers to identify and speak about their value, as described above.

Oh, and there’s this post from David Deubelbeiss about teacher of the year/best teacher awards and how they’re a pet peeve of his, providing a useful balance to points above. You should definitely read that too.

Choose-your-own workshop – noticing progress

The idea

Sometimes a chat over dinner can be a wonderful catalyst. A couple of weeks after IATEFL 2019 I went for dinner with a colleague. We discussed all kinds of things, and one of the things that came out of the discussion was a plan for a different kind of workshop, one where the teachers chose the topic. 

This plan was inspired by sessions I attended during IATEFL, and my reading for the NILE MA trainer development module. It’s a general format which could be applied to any workshop. Each section should last about 15 minutes.

  • What you (want to) know: In groups, teachers brainstorm what they know about the topic and write the questions they have about it. You can do a quick survey of how confident the teachers feel about the topic. You can prepare prompts to help the teachers direct their thinking if you want to.
  • Investigation: Teachers find out more about the topic using whatever resources they choose from whatever you have available. If you don’t have much, you could use my diigo links as a starting point. This step could take longer if you want it too. Emphasise that there won’t be time to look at every resource – they should pick and choose one or two things to read/watch/listen to.
  • Sharing: Back in their original groups, teachers share what they’ve learnt. They add to the brainstorms, discuss whether their questions were answered, and think about what other questions they might have.
  • Forward planning: Teachers decide how they can apply what they’ve learnt in the session to their own teaching. 
  • (Brief) Feedback: Get feedback from teachers on how the session went and how confident they feel about the topic now.

Noticing progress

On discussion with the teachers, we chose the topic of noticing progress for this experimental workshop. These are the slides I used:

The letters on the slides (A-E) refer to the five areas on slide 2 to help teachers choose which resources to investigate during step 2 of the session.

Teacher feedback on the workshop

These comments are shared with permission.

Positives:

(my reflection) Preparation before the session meant that I was free to monitor, answer questions and feed in extra information during the workshop.

I enjoyed this session and being able to share ideas with others and find out what they learnt as it gives me ideas which I didn’t think of. Charting ideas on paper as a team works well and is encouraging and confidence boosting. I would like to do another session like this.

I like that I can go back to the powerpoint afterwards and check out what my group members have told me about. It’s nice to have a lot of options (choice). I would like to do workshops in this style again.

Good balance of self research and group feedback. Self-driven= more natural and less ‘forced’.

Can go at our own pace and do what interests us.

I really liked how personalised it was and practical. I think this type of session helps people know what’s out there. I’d definitely do this again – thank you very much!

I liked the freedom to look at what I wanted and it was nice being in groups with people who were interested in different things. Can we do something like this again please?

Time to research independently. It was good to have a range of media (video, reading etc) for different preferences.

Own pace and autonomous.

Autonomy, could learn what I wanted, not dictated to. Discussion at end was good in groups.

Good staging, reading time, multiple sources and discussions.

I liked how there was more time for personal reading (being an introvert).

Time to digest before talking. Could explore what interests me/will be useful for my students. More like this please.

I liked the staging and found it very logical and useful. I think I would’ve liked more time alone to read/watch/get the input but appreciated that this was quiet and independent this week. I would like to do workshops in this style again.

Could focus on an area I was interested in.

Freedom to research what you’re interested in and what you need. Good stages to gain information from others and share ideas/knowledge. An interesting workshop – would be great to do again!

I enjoyed having quiet time to read and learn about things. I also liked not having things thrown at me. Timing was adequate. We should now go and explore on our own. I think more time would have resulted in us just sticking to one particular topic, instead we want to look at as many different things as possible. Please let’s do this again!

Generally like the format.

Areas to improve:

(my reflection) The session worked really well, but the slides took a long time to compile. If I ran it again, I’d include a lot fewer resources to choose from, not least because it would take less time to put together! On the other hand, this workshop can be reused again in the future as is with no preparation at all.

People need to be able to speak/discuss what they want to e.g. one classroom is for silent investigation and another classroom is for teachers to discuss with each others. [Note: during the investigation stage I asked teachers not to discuss anything as some teachers present struggle to concentrate when reading with noise in the background. I told them they’d be able to discuss everything later.]

The titles and summaries on each slide could have been clearer e.g. a summary such as ‘This page has lots of ideas for…’

Hard to find a specific direction.

Timing was OK, although not really enough time to explore properly/in enough detail.

I think the initial brainstorm could be a bit shorter.

There were too many options (things to look at/explore) – not enough time for detail.

Would be good to have a follow-up session of what we’ve tried and how it went. Have several rooms with ‘noise levels’ so those that want to discuss and research at the same time can – more sharing will happen if we can talk.

Very broad – a lot of information to sift through.

Put the stages of the workshop on the board too please.

Would be good to have a bit more time in the research stage.

Maybe too many points to discuss? 3 might work better than 5. 

As you can see, the workshop went down well, but as always, there’s room for improvement 🙂 

Metaphors to help new teachers

As teachers, we care about our students. We want to do the best for them. This is important and admirable, but it can also create a lot of pressure, especially for new teachers.

GB v Turkey table tennis

When we first pick up a tennis racquet, we don’t expect to be able to win an Olympic medal.

When we first sit down at a piano and put our fingers to the keys, we don’t expect to be able to play Chopin.

But when we first walk into a classroom, we expect to be able to teach perfect lessons.

Just like playing a musical instrument or a sport, teaching is a skill which takes time to develop. Don’t expect to win a medal or play Chopin without practice, and don’t expect to teach perfect lessons.

Perfect lessons don’t exist. That’s why I still love this job – because there’s always something new to learn.

Three panel cartoon: the first shows a person surrounded by speech bubbles, all but one positive. 2. Person eating, all positive comments a little faded out, negative comment still clear. 3. Negative comment clear, all others almost completely faded out. Person in bed.

When our students make a mistake with their English, especially if they’re beginners, we don’t tell them they’re bad students and shouldn’t be in the classroom. We don’t point out all of the problems with their language. Instead we choose one or two areas and give them feedback to help them develop. We also praise their strengths and build their confidence in their abilities.

When we make a mistake as a teacher, especially a new teacher, we often tell ourselves that we’re bad teachers and have no place in the classroom. We dwell on the problems with our lessons. We beat ourselves up about what went wrong. We forget to notice the things that went well and what we’ve improved, which probably far outweigh any problems there were.

This is not fair to us or our students.

Bydgoszcz warehouses

Learning a language is like building a house. We need to lay the foundations and build it up brick by brick. If we build it too quickly or without having proper foundations, the house will fall down. And although we can build it alone, it’s much faster when we get help from other people who are supportive and can share their experience. 

Learning to teach is the same. Let yourself be a beginner. Notice your strengths and be proud of your progress. Notice where you need to put the next brick. Give yourself time to build the foundations, and ask for help whenever you need it.

Make the most of your old computer
ELTpics image by @mscro1

When you’re using the internet, if you’re trying to download a big file it slows everything down. If you have too many things open, it can crash. There isn’t enough bandwidth.

We all have a finite amount of attention, which I call mental bandwidth. When we’re teaching, we need to pay attention to a lot of things: what’s next in our plan, how to make the technology do what we want it to do, how to answer the question a student just asked us, the fact that we forgot to have a snack before the lesson and are starving…and how stressed and overwhelmed we’re feeling right now.

As we build up experience, some of these things become automatic. We know how to set up the next activity, we’re confident with the technology and have a back-up plan if it doesn’t work, we’ve heard that question five times before and don’t need to think about the answer, we remembered to have a snack…and we’re so much calmer and less stressed in general now. We no longer have to think about these things, releasing mental bandwidth for us to pay attention to other areas, and particularly to be fully present in the classroom and pay attention to the students. This doesn’t happen on day one. It takes time.

Clocks photo mosaic

Give yourself that time.

Embrace the learning.

Enjoy it.

Be kind to yourself.

Good luck.

(And if you need help, here’s a similar CELTA-specific post, here’s a guest post by a CELTA trainee who initially struggled with confidence on the course, here’s a list of useful links for CELTA, here’s a short presentation about building confidence as a teacher, and here’s a short task to help you think about what you say to yourself about your teaching.)

A follow-up workshop after observations

I’ve just found some old notes from a workshop we ran at our school after a round of lesson observations where we saw every teacher, and thought it might provide a useful model for somebody somewhere.

I started by summarising all of the positive points which came out of the observations – I think it was probably the third and final round of observations for the year. This was the list:

  • Clear effort and planning that had gone into the lessons
  • Huge progress through the year
  • Demonstrating an obvious response to feedback we had given
  • Points and routines used more consistently in young learner and teen classes
  • Anticipating problems and being able to deal with them efficiently
  • Varying lessons effectively
  • Demonstrating ideas the observers could steal (one of my favourite things about observing!)
  • Teachers knew their students and there were no surprises with students having trouble with what happened in the lessons
  • Teachers were challenging themselves, not just coasting with their teaching
  • Experimenting with ideas from workshops

We then had about 30-40 minutes left. Each member of the senior team was in charge of an area of development we’d noticed when observing. The four areas were:

  • Feedback
  • Getting attention and monitoring
  • Brain breaks/stirrers and settlers
  • The aim of activities/where is the learning happening

The teachers were free to spend as much or as little time as they wanted with each of us, to visit all of us or stay focussed on one area, to move around as they pleased and to participate as much or as little as they wanted to (side conversations were fine!). This gave the teachers autonomy within the session.

The final area on the list was mine. If I remember rightly I had a few of the course books we used at the school. Teachers chose a book, opened it at random, and had to decide what the aim of given activities/pages in the book were. They also had to decide what help or support they perhaps needed to add to make sure that learning would definitely happen if they used that activity. This was designed to help them think more deeply about what they could and should use from the course book, how it might or might not help the students, and what scaffolding they might need to provide.

What happens at your school after observations to build on observation feedback?

A blogpost of blogposts

I use Feedly as a blog reader to collate posts from the blogs I follow. I love the simplicity of the format, and being able to see at a glance what is waiting for me to read. I generally look at it for a few minutes each day, sharing posts that I think would be useful for others on social media and bookmarking them for future reference using Diigo.

Since I started reading posts on my phone this workflow has become a little more convoluted, and I often end up emailing myself things to bookmark for later as it’s not as convenient to bookmark from my phone. This post is a collection of many of those posts as I clear out my email folder, and could serve as a good starting point if you’re looking for blogs to follow. They show a cross-section of what I read, and demonstrate just how varied the ELT blogosphere is.

On a side note, if you’ve considering starting a blog but think ‘Nobody will care what I write’, remember that there’s room for all kinds of teachers and writers, and your voice is interesting too. You never know what will click for somebody else when they read what you write. The blog is also there as notes for yourself later – I’m often surprised when I come across posts from my archive!

Happy reading!

A robot lying on a lilo, with text below

Health and wellbeing

Lizzie Pinard summarised an IATEFL webinar on Mental health, resilience and COVID-19, adding her own experiences too. Lizzie also recommends Rachael Robert’s webinar on avoiding burnout for ELT professionals, and shares how she has been managing her workspace and mindset while working from home. I’ve been doing inbox zero for about two months now, as recommended by Rachael in a talk I went to in January, and it’s made me feel so much better!

If mental health is important to you (and it should be!) here’s my list of Useful links on Mental Health in ELT.

Activities for very young learners and young learners

Chris Roland’s ETprofessional article on Managing online fun is full of activities and classroom management tips for working with young learners online.

Anka Zapart talks about the benefits of online classes with very young learners, many of which are applicable to young learners too. She shares a useful site with online games with VYLs and YLs, and introduced me to colourful semantics as way of extending language production for children. She also has a very clear framework for choosing craft activities which would and wouldn’t work for a VYL/YL classroom, and this example of a very reusable caterpillar craft.

Pete Clements has a lesson plan for young learners (and older ones too!) which combines all kinds of different areas: environmental awareness, drawing, used to, modals of advice…all based on a single student-generated set of materials.

Activities for teens and adults

Making excuses is a game to practice making requests and making excuses, including both online and offline variations, from Mike Astbury’s incredibly practical blog.

Jade Blue talks about the benefits of drawing to learn language, including a range of simple activities that should help students to remember vocabulary and grammar structures, and process texts they read and listen to. She also shares ideas for exploiting authentic materials, both for intensive and extensive use.

Ken Wilson has started to post English language teaching songs he and colleagues wrote and recorded in the 70s and 80s. They still seem very relevant now and could still promote a lot of discussion. The first three are What would you do? (second conditional), It makes me mad (environmental problems) and Looking forward to the day (phrasal verbs / the environment).

Rachel Tsateri shares 10 simple and practical pronunciation activities (useful for listening too).

Leo Selivan has a lesson plan based on the Coldplay and Chainsmokers song Something just like this. David Petrie using sound effects as the basis for a review of narrative tenses.

Julie Moore has written ten posts with vocabulary activities based around coronavocab. The last one has examples of phrases which learners might need to describe how coronavirus has changed their lives.

James Taylor has a lesson plan about helping students to set useful goals for their language learning. If you’re interested in making and breaking habits, you might like James Egerton’s 11 lessons from The Power of Habit (not an activity, but relevant!)

Alex Case has hundreds of resources on his blog, for example these ones demonstrating small talk using specific language points.

Hana Ticha has an activity for promoting positive group dynamics called the one who.

Cristina Cabal has eight different activities based around the topic of travel.

Online teaching

Marc Jones suggests ideas for and asks for help with speaking assessments online when your students just won’t speak.

Matthew Noble is writing a teaching diary of his fully online blended Moodle/Zoom courses, with lots of interesting insights and learning shared. Here’s the post from week two (on building group dynamics) and week five (on making sure your computer will work properly and encouraging students to have good online etiquette).

Rachel Tsateri shows how to exploit Google Jamboard as an online whiteboard, including vocabulary revision, brainstorming, and sentence structure activities.

Naomi Epstein describes the journey she went on when trying to add glossaries to reading texts for her students, and the problems she encountered when she was on a computer but they were on a phone.

John Hughes shares three ways you can exploit Zoom’s recording feature in lessons.

Teacher training

Zhenya Polosatova has been sharing a series of trainer conversations. This interview with Rasha Halat was fascinating. I also liked this parachute metaphor from a conversation with Ron Bradley.

In my trainings I like to use the example of the students taking a class on how to fold a parachute that will be used the next day to jump out of an airplane. The students tell me “It was a wonderful class—the teacher explained and showed how to fold the chute step by step. Then the camera moves to the students and they are taking notes—very engaged in the lecture. They all pass the written test. The question is, will they now be able to successfully fold their parachutes in a way that they will have a successful jump? What would you suggest that the teacher did differently? I have always loved Michael Jerald’s (my SIT TESOL Cert trainer) question(s), “What did they learn and how do you know they learned it?” Now we are talking about skills, not knowledge—and effective communication is a skill. The parachute teacher had no way of knowing that they would be successful, even though they had aced the written test. So, whether or not face-to-face or by way of video, the nature of student engagement is the most important issue. It needs to be observed!

Zhenya also wrote about a reflective activity called Four suitcases, which could be particularly useful for anyone feeling down about the current state of the world and their place in it.

Jim Fuller has recently completed the Cambridge Train the Trainer course. His weekly posts about the course were good reminders of what I did on my NILE MA Trainer Development course last summer, including this one on exploratory talk and observation and this one on course design and developing as a trainer.

You might also want to explore my Useful links for teacher training and consider purchasing ELT Playbook Teacher Training. 🙂

Materials writing

Pete Clements offers advice on finding work as a writer, including various smaller publishers you probably haven’t heard of.

Julie Moore talks about reviewing in ELT publishing, something which helped me get my foot in the door for occasional work with some of the big publishers.

Distractions can make the writing process much longer than it needs to be. Rachael Roberts offers tips on how to deal with them on the IATEFL Materials Writing Special Interest Group (MAWSIG) blog.

John Hughes has a comprehensive selection of tips on materials writing on his blog, for example this checklist for writing worksheets or these tips on writing scripts for audio recordings. Explore the blog for lots more.

Professional development

Chris R from What they don’t teach you on the CELTA suggests a range of techniques to help you teach more student-centred lessons. Stephen J has written an accessible beginner’s guide to task-based learning and describes one way he worked with learners to make the most of a coursebook he was using, rather than mechanically moving from one page to the next. Charlie E shares ideas for recording and recycling emergent language which pops up during a lesson, including an online variant.

In a guest post on the same blog, Kip Webster talks about the importance of explicitly teaching directness and indirectness, particularly for maintaining group dynamics, and taking advantage of ‘teachable moments’ during lessons. In another guest post, Miranda Crowhurst shares an excellent range of tips for using social media to advance your teaching career. (As you can see, it’s a blog well worth following!)

If you’re thinking about alternative approaches to lesson planning post-CELTA, Pete Clements talks about the steps he went through when moving towards materials-light teaching. This reflects my experience too.

Monika Bigaj-Kisala reviews Scott Thornbury’s Uncovering Grammar, which helped her to change her relationship with grammar in the classroom.

Pete Clements reflects on the differences between an MA, PGCEi or DipTESOL, all of which he’s done. He also hosted a guest post from Michael Walker on the benefits of student and teacher reflection journals, particularly how it worked as an avenue for him to get regular feedback from his students which influenced future lessons.

Russ Mayne shares 5 non-evidence-based teaching tips, all of which I agree with.

Helen Chapman answers the questions Should I teach in English in Morocco? in this very comprehensive post (not necessarily professional development, but doesn’t fit anywhere else!) You might also be interested in a similar but less comprehensive post I wrote about why Central Europe should be on your list of dream TEFL destinations.

Questioning our practice

Philip Kerr’s posts are always thought-provoking. Mindfulness for beginners questions the strength of research behind the attention mindfulness is now receiving in education.

Russ Mayne asks should we use translation software, especially questioning its role in EAP contexts, and how we might need to update our teaching and assessment criteria to assess the inevitable student use of this ever-improving tool. He also writes about retraction in ELT and shares examples of research which has been retracted. (This BBC Inside Science episode has an interview with Stuart Ritchie which I would also recommend.)

Classrooms and coronavirus

David Petrie talks about how he helped his exam students prepare for doing speaking exams in masks.

Alex Case shares ideas for coronavirus changes for EFL classes. While this might be tongue-in-cheek, I’m sure some of them aren’t that far from things we might be seeing in our classrooms/schools over the next couple of years!

You might also be interested in my post on social distancing in the ELT classroom.

What have you been reading recently? What currently active blogs have I missed here?

Online CELTA week 4: rounding up

On Monday 6th July 2020 I started training on my first ever fully online CELTA course on Zoom. On the same day, Stephanie Wilbur also started online CELTA training for the first time, but on a different course. We’ve decided to compare our experiences. The post below covers week four, the final week. Here’s week one, week two and week three.

What were the highlights of this week?

SM: As always in week 4, it was great to see so much of last week’s hard work paying off. The lessons were much better contextualised, and practice had a much clearer communicative focus, with trainees commenting in self-evaluations and feedback on the fact that lessons seemed to flow better and students were more engaged. Although this is something we discuss earlier in the course, it’s normally not until week 4 that trainees have the mental space to really think about this in their planning, and that some of them manage to conquer high levels of teacher talk and teacher-centredness. This was my favourite comment (quoted with permission):

The student focus really paid off and it was incredibly gratifying to see them figuring out problems with each other – I know they learned something from me and that’s an amazing feeling! (Terri Barker)

Language clarification was much stronger, timing tightened up with more realistic planning, and the pace of lessons improved and became more varied. It’s also great to see their teacher personalities develop as their confidence increases.

In input, I ran the YL and teen session using a project-based approach which worked even better than I’d hoped. I divided the trainees into six groups, two each for each age group (VYL, YL and teen) based on a Google Form I’d sent asking them about experience they had with each age group. I supplemented their knowledge with a list of resources for each age group, then set this task:

(Image of Tom Cruise from Mission Impossible, with the following text:) Your mission, should you choose to accept it… For your age group, answer the following questions: What are the characteristics of this age group? What can they do? What can’t they do? What kind of activities work well with them? What doesn’t work? What can go wrong in the lessons? What can you do to prevent/resolve these issues? What sources did you use to gather this information? Summarise what you learn in a method of your choice (document? slides? pictures?) in the folder. Be prepared to tell others about it. You have 45 minutes.

The presentations and documents they produced were full of great ideas. They then had fifteen minutes in new groups of three to share what they’d compiled, five minutes per person. When we came back together I told them this was project-based learning, and in the follow-up email I told them how to set up successful projects. I’ll definitely try input like this again, not least because they did all the work during the session!

Lessons from the classroom (assignment 4) is my favourite assignment, because trainees use this to reflect on their progress over the course and think about how they’ll continue to progress. It’s a fascinating insight into what they feel they’ve gained from the course, and the areas that they want to focus on after they’ve finished. I also like it because most people pass it first time, so there’s a lot less marking 🙂

SW:  I’ve watched so much development over the course and especially this week, watching them crack things that they had trouble with. The resistance that some trainees show in week 3 disappears in week 4 as they adjust to the higher level and expectations of the second half of the course. They can reset their priorities as the result of even short conversations as trainees realise what’s important. One example this week was rushing through lessons to get to the end, versus changing their planning to fit everything in more successfully. Once trainees made that switch, their lessons were so much more successful.

Everybody had good final lessons. It was fantastic watching one trainee who lacked confidence in her abilities make improvements in the final two weeks – she was a different teacher when she came out of her shell, with great rapport and better teacher presence.

How did trainees work with language during this part of the course?

SM: I continued to emphasise the fact that the bulk of lessons should be based around practice rather than teacher presentations, and there were almost none of this kind of presentation this week. Trainees commented that students know the rules but can’t apply them, making it easier for me to highlight the importance of feedback after practice activities, and clarifying why an answer/piece of language is right or wrong, not just what the ‘correct’ answer/piece of language might be.

SW: In the second half of the course, we did a lot more task-based learning. In my demo lesson at the start of week three, I showed trainees how to record emergent language and exploit it in the lesson. This meant they were working with emergent language a lot more in the second half of the course.

What teaching tips did you give teachers this week?

SM: As we had quite small groups of students and were often waiting to get extra students at the start of the lessons, I agreed with the teachers that I would start timing the lessons when they gave a signal, rather than starting automatically when there were two students. This gave them a chance to chat to the students a little before the lessons, rather than only interacting as part of the lesson itself.

In Zoom, you can click the three little dots at the bottom of the participants list and select ‘Play enter/exit chime’ or update your settings to make this the default for all meetings. This helps you to notice when somebody joins or drops out of the meeting, without having to double-check the list.

When you’re sharing documents, you can make them quite small on your screen and still have other things open to work on. For example, have the PowerPoint slides in one corner, the videos underneath and a document to the side to type into. Then share only the PowerPoint rather than the whole screen.

I reminded the trainees that videos and microphones don’t always need to be on, and encouraged them to switch off when reading things in input, and to suggest it to the students during reading and listening tasks during lessons. This makes a difference to the dynamic in the lesson as it gives students some space to process what they’re seeing/hearing.

I also continued to encourage trainees to really think about when to share their screen and when not to. All of my group successfully managed to run some activities without any slides, including much greater use of the chatbox, mini whiteboards/pieces of paper (especially for pronunciation features), and even just speaking (which we often seem to forget!)

SW: gyazo.com is a screen sharing piece of software – you take a screen shot and get a link which you can share instantly. This helped the students who couldn’t take screen shots.

It’s important to think about formatting – not everybody has access to Microsoft. We need to consider that students might not be able to or know how to open things we send them. We recommended pdfs and screen shots throughout our course.

What did you tell trainees about the next steps?

SM: In the jobs session, we talked about the fact that the market is currently very competitive. In another year, CELTA graduates might find a job quite quickly, but now there are a lot of experienced teachers who are also looking for work. Not getting offered an interview isn’t necessarily about trainees not being suitable, but more about the fact that it feels like much more of an employer’s market at the moment as there are so many teachers looking for work. It’s important to persevere and not give up.

SW: At the end of every CELTA course we talk about what life after the course is like. It’s harder right now to prepare trainees for the world after the course as we don’t know what it will look like, and what opportunities and problems they might have. Throughout the course I did a lot of work telling them about the difference between the online and the face-to-face classroom. This week I did the CPD session and the job session, talking about how to get support in post-CELTA jobs, but there’s so much more uncertainty than before. We don’t know how trainees will get support if the only work they can find is teaching fully online as freelancers and they never have the support of a staffroom.

Within a couple of years of working full-time in the past, you’d know grammar and understand it yourself if you were getting support. But now we don’t know how the first two years will shape up if schools are thinking about being online more than supporting the teachers with that? New teachers need to prompt senior teachers to keep sharing ideas in an online school.

How did you end the course?

SM: After their final TPs, I always ask peers to reflect on how each teacher has improved over the four weeks of the course. This time, I added a row to the Google Docs they’ve completed in peer feedback each day, asking them to identify what they’ve learnt from watching that teacher. The positive, supportive comments were fantastic 🙂

Throughout Friday I had a few opportunities for individual chats with trainees in my TP group, and heard some lovely messages about what they’d gained from the course and from getting feedback during observations.

Friday night at the end of a CELTA is normally my favourite part of the whole course. We tend to go out for a meal, and that’s when I really feel like I get to know the trainees, because they’re no longer worried about passing the course is being assessed. It provides some kind of closure. We had a final 30-minute session after their unassessed TP finished, with the main course tutor setting us a couple of ‘treasure hunt’ tasks. We had to find a piece of headgear, then a timepiece, in each case describing what it was and why we’d picked it. This was a fun bit of movement for the final session. We then shared memories in the chatbox, and we’d taken a group photo/screenshot in the morning. After all the trainees left, I spent a couple of minutes chatting to my colleagues, but I have to say it felt like a bit of an anti-climax when I closed Zoom at 6pm. I took myself out for food and spent the evening with friends, but it wasn’t the same. That’s the one thing I’ve really missed with doing the online course.

SW: After we finished the admin, we took a group photo and chatted for a bit, including sharing memories and ideas. The trainees planned a virtual wine and cheese party together. There was some closure, but I feel like we needed some kind of closing activity. It felt strange ending the course because it felt somewhat sudden. Some of the trainees sent me a message after we finished, which was really lovely.

If I run an online course again, I’d like to put more thought into a closing activity, for example doing something social online together with the trainees at the end of the course. I think this should create a better sense of the ending of the course.

What do you think 100% online trainees will need support with when they go into a physical classroom?

SM: As somebody who employs a lot of post-CELTA trainees, I need the fact that trainees were on a fully online course on the report so I know what training to give.

The main areas I think trainees will need support with are:

  • teacher presence in a physical classroom
  • monitoring when everybody is talking at once
  • using the space in the room
  • including movement in the lessons (though this is also true online!)
  • teaching using paper/physical coursebooks e.g. pointing to the exercise on the page while giving instructions
  • choosing when and when not to use the whiteboard

SW: CELTA graduates will need support with realising that the physical classroom is not that different to the online classroom. They’re going to feel different sitting in front of a group of people, or standing up with people in front of them, but this is a confidence issue rather than a problem. They could observe a group from the back of a room to see what’s the same or different. Identify what’s the same in a physical classroom, for example breakout rooms is the same as moving chairs to set up pair work. The videos they’ve seen are mostly in physical classrooms, but real-life observation could be useful.

Monitoring and pair work are different, but once CELTA graduates see it in action and do it themselves a couple of times they’ll feel much more confident. The skills are the same – instead of ‘turn off your camera’, they have to sit there and not interrupt. It’s a modified version of what they’ve already done.

Board use could be an area to work on, but people use PowerPoint in the physical classroom too. Planning a PowerPoint means they’ve thought about their board work before the lesson and how to lay everything out. Another important area is different ways of doing feedback, especially if they’ve only taught quite small groups online.

What should we consider when training online? What do we need support with as trainers?

SM: Trainers still need support and training in learning how to use the platform successfully so they can pass on this knowledge to their trainees. In input, if trainers don’t know techniques, they can’t demonstrate them to trainees. I feel like although there has been a little support, trainers have mostly been expected to figure it out for themselves, and are only one step ahead of their trainees in some cases. On the flip side, this has forced us all to be creative and I believe it has injected a level of excitement into courses which might have been run in a very similar way for a long time.

As time goes on, we need to remember to describe and exemplify the parts of our online teaching which have become natural and second nature, in the same way as we would in a physical classroom. This is particularly important online as trainees can’t see what we’re doing, whereas they might be able to pick things up from just watching us in an offline classroom – we need to comment on this to make it clearer to them.

Many people are feeling screen fatigue, especially this summer. I think it’s hard to get students who will commit to the lessons (though this can be true offline too!) Perhaps somebody could create a central database where students can sign up and trainers can tell them about courses. (Sorry that this won’t be me!)

SW: We need to remember that it’s not really that different. CELTA online is not a whole different course – there are so many similarities to the offline version. We’re still doing the same things as trainers. We still want trainees to do the same things. We need to keep looking at what matches up between online and offline. Technology can be an issue for some trainees and trainers, but it’s definitely something that can be learnt. Both Sandy and I have watched trainees over the past month who’d never used PowerPoint or other technology before the course, and are using the technology in a way that doesn’t stop them from demonstrating they are perfectly good teachers at the end of the course.

Because the course is online, we can market it to trainees and TP students anywhere, not just in the town or city where the course is based, but also (for example) people in villages who might not have known about courses before.

If we use a model of combined synchronous and asynchronous provision, the idea that you have to show huge amounts of learning into a crammed four-week course while you put your life on hold and (often) move to a new place no longer holds true. That idea can make the course seem impossible to some people, but an online or blended CELTA makes it feel more possible. Flipping the course completely could allow more time for feedback, if trainers have time to create the input to prepare such a course.

Time management is another area where trainers might need support. Everything takes longer in input, as it does in lesson. What are our priorities? How can we tighten our sessions up? How can we make them more efficient?

When will you run your next course?

SM: I only do one CELTA course a year, so I won’t be doing another one until at least next summer. At present it’s impossible to say if that will be online or face-to-face, and what kind of protective measures we will need by then. Right now I’ve got a few weeks holiday, then it’s back into my other life as a Director of Studies and working out what our school will look like from September.

SW: I’m going into a face-to-face course next week. I’d thought of everything except for passing things around between trainees, then asked myself ‘What if it’s paperless?’ Now I’ve done a course online I realise that a paperless course is possible. We’ll have an online portfolio, an online CELTA 5, and have handouts on a shared drive or email them to trainees. It’s easier for assessors too because they don’t have to chase things up – everything is more easily available for them. Trainees can email handouts to students the day before and students need to bring a computer/tablet for the lesson. If they need a pen, they have to take it from a pre-set box at the door, then return it to a different box. Pens will be sanitised before and after the lessons. We did this for IELTS exams I’ve been running, so I know it works. With all of these innovations, we don’t need to pass this things around, and thereby reduce the risk of infection. We’ll also be wearing masks throughout and using face shields.

How do you feel about online CELTA now?

SM: It’s definitely here to stay. The course was just as vigorous, just as useful, and just as successful as the fully face-to-face version I’m used to, and I’d be happy to employ graduates of fully online courses (not something I would have said in March). I think that the future is probably a blended course, with 3 hours of face-to-face TP and 3 hours online (I seem to remember reading that there’s a centre which is already doing this, but can’t remember where), with a mix of input online and offline.

SW: I wasn’t convinced about online CELTAs at the start, but now I’m a convert. We’re doing the same thing and the criteria are still relevant. I made sure to let what’s important in the face-to-face classroom guide my messages about what’s important in the online classroom, especially monitoring. I feel strongly that we should be monitoring and grouping in similar ways to the offline environment. You allow students to be in pairs and groups online for the same reasons as you do offline, and you don’t sit in breakout rooms all the time hovering over them, just as you wouldn’t stand over students in the classroom. I’m coming away from the course feeling like we’re sending a solid group of teachers out into the world.

That seems like the perfect note to end this mini-series on. Thanks very much to Stephanie for agreeing to meet me each Saturday to compare notes. It’s been fascinating learning about how everything is the same same, but different when running an online CELTA. I’ll be interested to see how teacher training continues to develop and evolve as the world settles into new patterns over the next few years, and to what extent the online CELTA model is part of that.

Online CELTA: the trainee perspective (guest post – Nadia)

Nadia Ghauri was one of the trainees on the online CELTA course I’ve just worked on. She’s one of two trainees who’s agreed to write about her experience (Yawen’s post appeared yesterday). I think you’ll agree that this post is useful for anybody doing the CELTA in the future, whether online or off! Thanks Nadia!

Make no mistake, doing the CELTA course ‘online’ did not make it any less ‘intense’! In fact, that will eternally remain one of the defining features of this course. Initially, when I was notified that the course would be moving online, I was a little hesitant. I was looking forward to meeting people ‘in real life’ and the physical classroom experience. I quickly came to realise, however, that it was becoming increasingly important to develop my skills in a virtual environment. No one can predict what the world will look like at the other end of the pandemic, including the world of EFL teaching. I realised it was important to be as open-minded as possible to adapting and learning about how I can do things from my own home. What’s more, the ‘virtual’ teaching skills and knowledge that I am now equipped with are, of course, transferrable to physical workspaces. The spectrum of lifelong communicative, organisational and planning skills will be useful for any career path that I pursue.

 

One of my biggest tips for doing the online CELTA is to keep organised and arrange your notes every evening. The CELTA trainee guide that is emailed before the course suggests 12 headings for notes. I naively thought this was a bit much…only to find myself adding ‘Assignments’ and subfolders too! Although I had a physical folder I did not use it much and just shoved in a few odd papers. Bookmarking also becomes your new best friend. Back your computer’s files onto a cloud or a memory stick as this avoids any scares when technology decides to mess with you. Having named folders from the get-go made it a lot easier to sift through my notes when doing assignments and uploading documents to the Cambridge ‘moodle’. It also means that when I start teaching and want to get hold of a useful resource, it will be easier to navigate through the abundant materials that the trainers generously shared with us.

Secondly, a huge tip is recognise that the virtual CELTA is both a personal and shared learning curve! You’re meant to be making mistakes from start to finish. I remember in week 3 when I switched to teaching the Upper Intermediate group I suddenly felt that the progress I had built up in the first two weeks had come crashing down. In fact, this was an integral part of my personal growth which also helped other trainees to learn about what sorts of things they should do or avoid. There’s also the notorious technical issues to which we have to adapt. I had my fair share of breakout room backfires but as a result I’m a lot more confident in using them and think they’re essential for group learning! The change in both students and TP tutor halfway through stretched me in new and different ways that further enriched my learning experience. It was also more reflective of real-life teaching because it’s inevitable that at some point you will teach different levels, have to work with new staff and adapt to different kinds of problems. Being exposed to different teaching methods and feedback styles widens our understanding of ourselves, each other and the demands of teaching. Spoiler alert – in week 4 there is no magical moment where everyone’s lessons culminate in perfection (though I did find all 5 of my fellow trainees’ final lessons marvellous). However, it was amazing to look back and see just how much progress we had made in less than a month! The CELTA course gives you the firm foundations for teaching English, but it for us to decide how we build upon these! Learning to teach is an experiential process that I don’t think ever ends. The trainers are there to help you and now I realise that sometimes when they pushed us, it was because they wanted to get the best out of us! I was so grateful for the time and support my trainers gave me, especially when I emailed them at some rather unholy hours!

My third tip is to take time out! When doing a virtual course there is an extra strain on us because we are sat in front of a screen hours on end. I found a number of great yoga videos on YouTube for stretching out afterwards. I also avoided screen-time as much as possible in my precious free time. CELTA also floods you with a lot of information day in day out. Our brains need time to process this, so try and get a decent night’s sleep! (Admittedly, I started having CELTA-themed dreams week 2 onwards!) On the weekends I would meet up with friends, go for a run or cycle just so that that I could have a bit of a breather physically and mentally. It’s also a great idea to have a WhatsApp group with fellow trainees. As we weren’t all physically in the same place, it was a lot harder to socialise compared to normal or know how others were finding the course. At the start in particular, I couldn’t tell if it was just me or not who was feeling quite overwhelmed with the workload. Reaching out to others and having a small chat with them beyond the training hours is a good way to build up a super support system and to boost morale!

One of the biggest things I have enjoyed is the opportunity to have met and worked with trainees and learners living across the globe be it Peru, Poland, Kyrgyzstan or Hong Kong! Meeting all sorts of wonderful people is definitely one of the biggest perks of doing the course. You may even be lucky enough to get 18 people across 3 different time zones singing happy birthday to you (at least we can blame bandwidth for it being a little off-key…!) Overall, the online CELTA has been an invaluable experience and I am excited to see where it takes me and my fellow trainees.

Nadia has recently finished her BA in languages. Fuelled by tea, she loves trying out new foods, meeting people and discovering new places, preferably all at the same time!

If you’re one of my other CELTA trainees reading this, let me know if you want to write too!

Online CELTA: the trainee perspective (guest post – Yawen)

Yawen Jin was one of the trainees on the online CELTA course I’ve just worked on. She’s one of two trainees who’s agreed to write about her experience (Nadia’s post will appear tomorrow). I think you’ll agree that this post is useful for anybody doing the CELTA in the future, whether online or off! Thanks Yawen!

My experience

I heard before I started CELTA that I could only sleep three hours a day on average during the four weeks. Therefore, I felt very complicated feelings. I signed up and tried to pass the interview because I had great expectations for CELTA, but at the same time, I was afraid that I would not survive. A friend even told me that on the first day of her face-to-face CELTA course last year, one of her classmates left the class crying because of stress and never went on with the class. Maybe what she said was exaggerated, but after experiencing it, I also felt that the course intensity, homework and lesson preparation content were quite a lot. However, in the end, I did it, and the rest of my classmates also did it. It has been proven that if you attend classes well, participate in discussions, help each other, complete tasks on time and do what trainers suggest you do, you can and you will survive. So, there is nothing to worry about. There will be nothing to lose by taking this course, and there will be a lot of growth for each of trainee.

Now, let’s talk about my experience over the last four weeks. The first two days of the first week I didn’t feel a lot of pressure. I used to feel anxious in order not to feel too much pressure. Therefore, I rechecked my schedule, reviewed the input lessons, confirmed what I had to do, and right after I had done these three steps, i.e. I made a detailed plan, and then the pressure came on me. It took me a long time to prepare for one lesson, often up to eight hours to make a high-quality PowerPoint and write a lesson plan. It was often necessary for me to stay up until three in the morning, sleep for about five hours, and continue on with a full day of classes. Besides, there were one or two assignments (four in total) to be written every week, and the first weekend I had no rest at all. Even when I was sleeping, the dream was about how to prepare for the class and there were fragments of the input classes.

At the beginning of second week, I felt my mental and physical state was very bad, so I asked two classmates to talk about it. Because there was no private communication before, I didn’t know what other students were like and how they felt about the course. But after the communication, I found that everyone was happy to help each other, such as sending me the methods and websites to relieve mental stress and improve sleep quality. In fact, I found my classmates who looked very energetic had to work very late as well, but they had been working very hard. I felt that even though we were attending classes online, we were all in a group rather than a single person. Then I became more and more accustomed to CELTA’s rhythm, and the time for class preparation was reduced. After each teaching practice, the trainer and other trainees need to give comments on each class. Often the evaluation contained a lot of affirmation and encouragement, and also included objective suggestions. In this process, everyone had more confidence. For example, in the beginning many of us felt that they have little strengths, and lots of weaknesses, but after some time we thought we actually had some advantages. For me, when I was in the third TP, I suddenly released myself and no longer felt nervous. Others commented that they found the strength of my personal charm and self-confidence. This is due to my every effort and every encouragement and recognition from my lovely trainer and trainees in the team. (Another important point is that I learned a lot of useful information and skills from the daily input lessons, and then used them in my own TP, which often produced some good responses.)

By the third week, each group had to change a trainer. The new trainer of our group is a very energetic person who loves education and is willing to discuss and solve problems. (The owner of this blog, Sandy :p) Her requirements were more strict than the previous trainer, which made our workload heavier. And in my observation of her classes, I could say that student-centered teaching method achieved the best degree in my opinion. That is to let the students learn by themselves or let students help each other to learn then achieve the learning outcome. When I was learning educational theory in the uni, I knew the benefits of such a teaching concept and thought I could do it if I wanted to. But after the first two weeks of TP, I tried to spend more student-time each time, thinking that I did quite well, and it seemed that STT might not be added any more. But her demo lesson made me stop being self-satisfied and feel that there was so much to improve. For the first TP in the third week, I agonized for three days but still didn’t reduce the TTT much. Then I communicate with her for a while, she found out I give yourself too much pressure, so she gave me some advice on her experience and her, and told me she had also frets about how to reduce TTT in the past and every step grows through experience. The most important point is that this course values the growth of each trainee, so do not be too anxious.

Therefore, I tried to prepare for the class with a relaxed mood. Although it took a lot of time to increase STT, I made great progress. It should be mentioned that after the members of our group gradually got used to the new trainer, everyone’s growth was remarkable, that is, the so-called strict teacher produced brilliant students. And as the team members got more familiar with each other, everyone was supporting each other and cheering each other on. Although the first half of the third week seemed to be harder than the first week, the rest of the one and a half week were very happy. It is no exaggeration to say that up to the last stage, I felt sad for the end of the course, because this praiseworthy experience, the good atmosphere of mutual support and the fact that I enjoyed every day of lesson preparation and teaching, they made me feel happy and fulfilled.

There are a lot of details to remember these four weeks. First of all, the three trainers were very patient and supportive, and they encouraged trainees to deal with the problem actively and they shared a lot of resources. They all have different teaching styles, and we can learn different teaching methods from their courses. It should be mentioned that in these four weeks they were offering help and support to each trainee. Secondly, even if trainees are from different countries, different cultures and different languages, we always cheer each other on. We were happy to share our own stories, sometimes also talked about our own country’s culture, future plans and interesting views. It’s an amazing experience and I’m sure everyone learned a different kind of wisdom. For example, I feel the power of others to believe in their dreams, and also found different life attitudes. It was all fun and gave me courage. Thirdly, it’s important to believe in yourself. At the beginning of the course, it is necessary to adapt to the pace, but after the initial adaptation period, everything will become more interesting. As long as you can find the fun, it won’t be as difficult as you thought. In the end, you will be glad to have taken such a valuable course. I do love CELTA and the people I met in it.

Tips

  1. Do exactly what trainers say

The trainers are experienced teachers, you can discuss questions with them (because there is no standard answer for some questions). But in the general direction, especially the suggestions for improvement must be followed (just my suggestion). This will definitely help you progress faster and more efficiently.

  1. Manage your time and materials

You need to be clear about your goals and plans for each week to help save time. You also need to organize your documents every day, whether it’s printed or in a folder on your computer. It’s important to keep your documents in order!

  1. Prepare the materials you need

I bought books that might be useful (including Teaching English Pronunciation, Grammar for English Language Teachers and Learning Teaching) before the course started. In this way, I won’t be in a hurry when I need materials (in fact, I don’t need to buy any books myself. The trainer has distributed the resources we needed, but I like reading paper books). Prepare white board, white paper and notebook at the same time.

  1. Watch your diet and sleep

When you’re in a high-intensity class, not eating well only makes your body feel more uncomfortable, and you don’t get as little sleep as the rumored average of three hours. The time required to write each assignment is not ten hours, but three to six hours is enough if you concentrate (and even less if you are a native English speaker).

  1. Find some help and don’t be alone

People under high pressure tend to be mentally fragile. If only a person silently thinking and suffering, will only make themselves more painful. Communicating with other trainees will help you solve problems, maybe help you with practical problems like preparing for class, or maybe relieve pressure. People will meet different difficulties, and it’s helpful to try to ask for help. Me, in particular, had planned to learn and digest the stress on my own from the beginning, so I felt extremely anxious. But it’s much better to talk to someone.

I’m Yawen Jin. I have been teaching young learner English in an educational institution for two years. I then completed a master’s degree in Education Studies at the University of York, followed by CELTA in July 2020. In the future, I will continue to engage in the English teaching industry that I love.

If you’re one of my other CELTA trainees reading this, let me know if you want to write too!

Dyslexia Bytes – Q&A with Martin Bloomfield

I first met Martin Bloomfield when I was a trainer on summer courses at York Associates. I’ve seen him in action doing presentations and running an incredibly engaging guided tour of York, and can spend hours talking to him 🙂 I’ve been watching his Dyslexia Bytes community grow over the past few years, and am very happy that Martin agreed to share the story of the site with you here.

What is your own experience with dyslexia and how has it affected your teaching?

In a way, being dyslexic made me want to become a teacher! As an unrecognised dyslexic, I’d had so many horrible experiences at school that affected me so negatively as a child (and therefore into adulthood) that one of my reasons for going into education was to retrospectively somehow “right those wrongs”! I didn’t want others to suffer in the same way that I’d done.

I found school life completely dis-spiriting. Childhood is supposed to be the best time of your life and my overwhelming memories of school (where I spent most of my childhood) are miserable, suffocating, demeaning, humiliating, terrifying, and genuinely heartbreaking. No child should have to go through that. And my memories aren’t unique – you ask just about any dyslexic person, and they’ll tell you the same. Education has to change.

But there were other ways it affected me as a teacher – when I was working as a Business English teacher in Germany, I noticed that a lot of intelligent students I came into contact with hadn’t been doing very well in their lessons, and I recognised my own dyslexia signs in them… so I taught them appropriately to how I wish I’d been taught, and their results went up! This led to the school asking me to give some dyslexia awareness workshops to the other teachers, and that was really the start of my deeper engagement with the subject – twenty years ago. It gave me a very student-centred perspective, always keeping in my heart the sensitivity that not “getting something” when learning is an emotional and psychological issue, at least as much as it is a learning issue.

How widespread is dyslexia?

Did you know different countries define dyslexia differently, and even some countries – such as those with a federal state system – have different official definitions within their own boundaries? And then, within these definitions, different organisations around the world apply different measurements to dyslexia.

This is important because these two facts lead to vastly different understandings of dyslexia, vastly different figures for how many dyslexic people there are in the world (Turkey puts it at 0.05% of the population; while Nigeria puts it at 33% of the population), and hence vastly different national, governmental, and social approaches to dyslexia. If we took those two extremes in global terms, for instance, we’d have to conclude that somewhere between 3,750,000 people and 2,497,500,000 people have dyslexia worldwide. This would equate to a difference in estimates of 2,493,750,000 – nearly two and a half billion people – more or less the combined populations of China and India! And with such differing views of what dyslexia is, there follow different approaches to the law, to funding, to education, to social programmes, to awareness raising, and to workplace accommodations.

Dyslexia does not “belong” to the Anglo-American world; yet almost all research and perspectives are focused on the Anglosphere, and carry with them Anglo-American “white” cultural biases and preconceptions. This risks marginalising BAME dyslexics, and the different impacts dyslexia has on cultures whose language is non-alphabetic, or whose cultures involve interactions which will be differently affected by dyslexia.

What is Dyslexia Bytes and how did it start?

Dyslexia Bytes is an online “one-stop shop” to show an international, intercultural perspective on what dyslexia is. It acts as an information resource about dyslexia facts and statistics, helping people understand what executive function difficulties dyslexic people have, what benefits research shows dyslexic thinking to have, and how educators, businesses, and law-makers can understand dyslexia from a variety of viewpoints.

It began life as a way of bringing together people from around Europe who had attended my SEN (dyslexia, autism, ADHD) workshops and training courses to allow them to exchange experiences once they got “back to work”. There’s a Facebook Dyslexia Bytes group open to anyone who wants to join, that can act as a space for such discussions! It quickly developed into a dyslexia awareness resource website, with key tips on understanding dyslexia, weekly video releases (also available on a YouTube channel) to inspire conversations, and even a Twitter presence!

Martin has worked in the field of intercultural ethics and dyslexia awareness for twenty years, speaking in front of the British Government, the British Swiss Chambers of Commerce, departments of International Trade, and international conferences worldwide. He holds visiting lecturer positions at universities in Britain, Germany, France, Russia, and Switzerland, trains teachers from around the European Union, and is currently authoring a chapter for a major publication on Innovative Teaching for Early Years Education.

He was a top three finalist in the Bank of England Innovation in Enterprise awards, initiated and presented the UK’s annual Dyslexia In Business award, is a finalist in the 2020 British Council Innovation in ELT awards, and sits on various international advisory committees for inclusion and neurodiversity. Currently driving pan-European projects to provide a consistent and interculturally-acceptable measuring tool for dyslexia assessment across the EU, and to provide free online Special Educational Needs training to schools around the continent, Martin runs the Dyslexia Bytes project, and is also completing his PhD at the University of York, England.

If you’re interested in learning more about dyslexia, I would definitely recommended exploring Dyslexia Bytes for yourself. Two other useful resources I’ve regularly used are ‘Special Educational Needs’ by Marie Delaney and Jon Hird’s website. You might also be interested in the IATEFL Inclusive Practices and Special Educational Needs Special Interest Group (IP&SEN SIG).

Professional Development beyond CELTA (guest post)

When a Twitter account called What they don’t teach you on CELTA started to pop up on my stream I was intrigued. Looking at their tweets, it seemed they were trying to fill the gap in post-CELTA development that I’m hoping ELT Playbook 1 also helps with. This is one of my main areas of interest for all the reasons Chris Russell describes below, so I was very pleased when he agreed to share the story behind the site and the Twitter account with us. Thanks Chris!

As for many of us, lockdown has been a strange time for me. Along with some colleagues, I’ve spent most of it furloughed and with a desire to do something productive with all that time on my hands. Fortunately, my colleague Stephen, an experienced teacher, teacher trainer and examiner, identified a problem waiting to be solved.

He got a few of us together on Zoom and asked us to think back to our early days of teaching, and all those moments we cringe at: the overly-ambitious lesson plan; the activities that fell flat; the grammar explanations that confused more than helped. CELTA and equivalents are great courses, but there’s only so much that’s possible within the confines of a month-long course. They should be one of the first steps on a journey in learning to teach, but for many it seems that their professional development doesn’t progress much after it.

As we thought of those moments, we wondered if there was a way of others finding a kind of shortcut. Especially those not lucky enough to work in a school with a supportive manager and opportunities for professional development. For teachers who have some experience, but aren’t ready to be thinking about doing a Delta or Master’s yet. We toyed with a couple of names, but ultimately settled on What they don’t teach you on the CELTA.

The name is a little tongue-in-cheek, and not intended as a criticism of CELTA per se, but an acknowledgment of its limitations. It can’t teach you everything. Cambridge are quite open about this: it falls under the ‘foundation to developing’ stage of their teaching framework, rather than ‘proficient’ or ‘expert’. We also noted the number of job opportunities that simply require a CELTA-qualified candidate, without asking for relevant experience or offering sufficient support to newly-qualified teachers, perpetuating the myth that CELTA is the final destination, rather than a first step, in ELT.

So, with our combined experience as teachers, teacher trainers, DoSes and language learners, we got writing, trying to help others benefit from our experience. We thought about what we wish someone had told us in our first years in the classroom, from the websites we now can’t imagine living without to knowing how to deal with classroom cliques. We’ve also thought about the things we do in class now, almost as second nature, like correcting students effectively and dealing with being observed. We don’t intend to imply that none of what we discuss is actually covered on any CELTA courses! However, expecting trainees to retain all that knowledge from such an intensive course doesn’t seem realistic, and so we hope some reinforcement will prove useful.

We know there are lots of other resources out there, but we don’t feel there are enough aimed at this audience – likely time-poor (planning and teaching 25 hours is a very tough ask at first!) and in need of a bit of guidance. The industry churns out lots of CELTA graduates, but how many really last in ELT? I’ve seen some have an initial unfulfilling year and never return – could some more support and development have helped them have a better time and retained them? Those staffroom tears and breakdowns that I’m sure many of us have seen really shouldn’t be the norm. I’ve also seen plenty of teachers with many years of experience, but whose teaching ability seems to have stagnated early, doing a disservice to their students and perhaps limiting their job satisfaction.

A blog certainly won’t solve all those issues but we hope to provide some help as well as to start a conversation around this issue within the industry. If nothing else, writing it has helped us reflect on our journeys within ELT and been a mixture of interesting and cathartic, emphasising the good that can come out of blogging and reflection – another important tool in professional development!

Chris Russell is a CELTA- and Delta-qualified English language teacher who has been working in ELT for 8 years in the UK, Spain and Poland. He recently took on the role of school director at Alba English in Edinburgh. He blogs with some colleagues at https://notoncelta.com and tweets at @ChrisRussellELT.