Delta Conversations: Claire

This is part of a series of posts showing you all the different ways you can approach the Cambridge Delta. They are designed to help you find out more about the course and what it involves, as well as helping you to choose the right way to do it for you, your lifestyle and the time you have available. If you’ve done the Delta (or any other similar higher-level teaching course, including a Masters), and you’d like to join in, let me know by leaving me a comment or contacting me via Twitter @sandymillin.

Claire Parsons started out in EFL in 2012 as a British Council Language Assistant in Chile. After a year, she decided she liked teaching, and took her CELTA in Strasbourg in 2014. She has since worked in Vietnam, Poland, the UK, Israel and Spain. She is currently based at IH San Sebastián in Spain, where she passed the IHCYLT in 2018, and the Delta in January 2021. She’s interested in teacher training and materials writing. When she’s not teaching, she can be found cooking, reading, hiking or knitting. 

Claire Parsons

How did you do your Delta? How did you arrange the modules?

I did my Delta part-time, through the Distance Delta for all 3 modules. I worked in the same school for the duration of my Delta. I started in 2018, and decided to do Module 1 first, to “ease” myself into the swing of things – I took a prep course starting in September, and took the exam in December. I started Module 3 in the following March, and completed it by June. I started Module 2 in September 2019, and the plan was to have everything done and dusted by April 2020… but you can guess what got in the way! I ended up deferring Module 2 until a later session because of COVID, and eventually completed Module 2 in October 2020, before the country went into partial lockdown (again). 

Why did you choose to do it that way?

In practical terms, it would have been difficult for me to get time off from my current job to do an intensive course. I had several friends and co-workers who had taken the Delta through the Distance Delta and they were really happy with the support they received. I also liked the idea that I could study and work at the same time, and not have to commit to an intensive course somewhere else (as full-time courses aren’t on offer where I am currently based). I also spoke to friends who DID take the intensive format, and I honestly think if I’d done it that way, I wouldn’t have lived to tell the tale! 

What do you think you gained from doing the Delta?

Loads! I remember my DoS in San Sebastián saying that her Delta comes in useful every day, and I have to agree. I feel like I got much better at evaluating what makes a lesson effective, and I think it opened my eyes to how many different ways there are to teach something. The Professional Development Assignment I completed over the course of Module 2 was probably the most enjoyable part for me, because I liked taking the time to really think about what I needed to work on to become a better teacher. I think it helped me think more critically about what my strengths are and exploit them, and what my weaknesses are to try and address them. It’s also come in useful as my school put me in charge of putting together assessment materials for some of our Young Learner levels, which meant that I could put my Module 3 knowledge (which focused on YLs) to good use. Not a day goes by where I don’t use something I learnt from the Delta. 

What were the downsides of the method you chose?

It took over my life for the best part of 2 years, and at times it felt like there wasn’t a day that went by where I wasn’t reading, meeting a deadline, tweaking a lesson plan, and so on. It was quite a lonely experience at times because there wasn’t anyone else at my school taking Module 2 at the same time as me. Although plenty of senior staff and other teachers in my school have taken the Delta, it’s very different when there’s no-one going through the same things as you at the same time! I think I was disciplined enough to stick to the deadlines set, and to do enough reading and research without being prodded and reminded, but this is definitely something you should be brutally honest with yourself about: if you’re not so good at organising your own time, maybe this method isn’t the best way forward for you. 

What were the benefits of the method you chose?

Financially, it worked out well because I was earning my normal salary while I studied. It meant I also spared myself the stress of finding short-term accommodation in a new city! I also felt comfortable with the profile of students I was teaching, so I didn’t feel under pressure to get to know a new learning culture in a short space of time. Spreading the Delta over a year or two meant that I could experiment a lot more, and take my time to try out things I was reading about! I was really grateful for the Module 2 orientation course in London. There were only 4 of us, and our tutor was amazing, so I feel like we all received an incredible amount of support over the 2 weeks we were there. I got MUCH better at managing my planning time: because I was working a busy timetable throughout the courses, I had to really learn to prioritise and plan effectively. This has been a really important takeaway since finishing the Delta, as now I realise that I can plan effectively without agonising for far too long on a lesson plan!   

What tips would you give other people doing the Delta?

Do the Delta because you WANT to be a better teacher. I think that people sometimes believe the Delta is the next logical step in an EFL career, but I think that’s only really true if you’re willing to put your teaching under a microscope and actively decide you want to make it better. Check if there’s an academic library in your school or city. Although the Distance Delta provides access to a lot of articles and reading materials, it’s helpful to have access to other books that are recommended on the reading lists. Make sure you have a decent break before you start Module 2. I had just done a 6-week summer school and went straight into the orientation course in London, then straight back to my normal job! I was exhausted before I’d really even started. Don’t try to re-invent the wheel in your LSAs. Tutors aren’t interested in how fancy your lesson is if you haven’t met your aims! Although there’s SO MUCH literature available, try to resist the temptation to read every single chapter/book that you hear mentioned during the course. Be selective with what you read, and ask your tutors for advice if you’re stuck.  

Technology tools for teaching beginners online

I’m a huge fan of Quizlet and use it in almost every lesson (here’s how), but recently I’ve been experimenting with a few other authoring tools (ones where you can make your own content) with my 10-12 year old beginners. I find that once they know how to use the tool this is the easiest way to create student-centred activities, because they don’t need my help to generate new prompts or to keep the activity going, and a lot of the tools are fairly intuitive so they don’t need too much explanation to understand how to use them. The ultimate sign of a good technology tool with this age group is when they ask to continue playing – how often do you hear your young/teen students ask for more drilling? Or more spelling practice? Or more time to speak to their partners? With these tools they do!

Wheel Decide allows you to create spinning wheels with text. I made one with a set of sentences based on Project 1 Unit 3. Each sentence had one, two, or three words inside * *. The students had to write their own version of the sentence in a Google Doc changing the words in the stars. For example, they see My monster has got *three arms*. and they change it to My monster has got two wings.

Wheel Decide spinning wheel with 12 sentences on it

Class Tools has a huge range of different adaptable templates. I used the Vortex template to create a categorisation game where students decided if verb phrases went with I/you/we/they or he/she/it, to help them get exposure to the third person -s endings. If you want to create your own, make sure you type the link somewhere else and check it opens before you close your beautiful creation because otherwise you probably won’t be able to get it back!

Flippity has a range of templates based on Google spreadsheets which are easy to adapt. The randomiser creates a kind of slot machine. I used something simliar to this as a prompt for drilling daily routine with times in a more student-centred way, but the randomiser tool is much easier to use – go to Flippity for a demo and full instructions.

I know I’m late to the Wordwall party, but I’ve definitely arrived now! I’ve found lots of resources which created by other teachers based on the book I’m using (see the list below). My favourite game is another categorisation one, based on daily routine phrases. It was originally made as a ‘group sort’ task, similar to the vortex above, but you have the option of making it into ‘whack a mole’ which I think is potentially more memorable. Students have to hit the moles which are ‘have’ and avoid the ones which are ‘go’. Each level has more moles. I haven’t actually tried this with my students yet, but I’m sure they’ll like it.

Here is a (view-only) full list of all of the online resources I’ve found or created to use with OUP’s Project 1 4th edition book. If you have suggestions for other specific resources for this book which I could add or simple authoring tools I should try with my students, please leave them in the comments below. I’ll be teaching this group until June 2021, so the list will continue to evolve between now and then.

TEFL Commute: Women

To mark International Women’s Day, it was a great pleasure for me to co-host an episode of The TEFL Commute Podcast with Ceri Jones.

In this episode, we celebrate International Women’s Day with a takeover by Sandy Millin and Ceri Jones. They look at the history of the day, talk about their experiences as women in ELT, reflect on representation in ELT, and maintain the TEFL Commute tradition by having not one, but two quizzes!

Here are links to a few of the things we mentioned during the episode:

Thanks to James, Shaun and Lindsay for handing over a whole episode to us – I hope you like what we did with it!

All change!

I came to International House Bydgoszcz in September 2015, having been Director of Studies in a very different, much smaller school (IH Sevastopol) for a year, followed by a freelance CELTA trainer for a year. When I came to Poland, I thought I might stay for 5 years. It’s now my 6th year, and my last.

I’ve learnt so much from the job and the people I’ve worked with, but now it’s time to move on and let somebody else take their turn. I’m very happy to say that my colleague will take over from me as the next DOS, and I wish her the best of luck with the position, in what is one of the best schools I’ve ever had the privilege to be in contact with.

As for me, I’ll be moving into the world of freelancing from October 2021. I’m aiming for a combination of teacher training (CELTA and non-CELTA), materials writing, and perhaps also some teaching and consultancy work. If you have a project you think I might be a good fit for, please do get in touch. I also plan to continue my work on the ELT Playbook series, so watch this space for announcements of new titles or subscribe to the blog or facebook page. I’m excited about taking the next step, and look forward to continuing to share what I learn with you.

The first photo of me in Bydgoszcz, August 2015