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

I was disappointed to miss out on Alastair Roy’s IATEFL talk this year, in which he described ways to help introverts in the classroom. Since I couldn’t attend his talk, I asked him to write a guest post for my blog. I’ll let him introduce himself…

All about me

I’d like to start this blog post by telling you a few things about myself. I enjoy going for walks alone with my dog (shout out to Oreo). I like reading books on my balcony. I hate noisy, crowded places like nightclubs. I don’t like to be the centre of attention, especially on my birthday. I like one-on-one conversations and prefer to take a back seat in group conversations. My mobile phone bill rarely exceeds nine euros per month because I prefer WhatsApp to my own voice. I find small talk tedious and, at times, painful. I enjoy eating out with a friend or two, not so much a big group. When the majority are at the beach soaking up the sun each summer, you’ll find me happily lost in a small town in Sweden, Portugal or Romania.

Put all this together and you’ll see that I have a rather introverted personality. Note that I don’t call myself an ‘introvert’, as I believe that introversion and extroversion lie on a spectrum, with each individual’s character falling somewhere on that line. Often when discussing my interest in introversion and its effect on language learning I’m told “but you aren’t introverted!”, or “you’re not shy – you like to talk too much!” It’s very simple: I’m chatty and outgoing if I feel comfortable with you and know you quite well. The great misunderstanding is that introversion is equal to shyness and inability to relate to others, a misconception that Cambridge even allude to in their online dictionary. To me, introversion and extroversion can easily be illustrated by something I encounter on my daily commute:

Two roads

Image taken from Google Street View

…two roads eventually leading to the same destination, each with its own particular set of obstacles. As teachers we need to be aware of where our students are on the introversion-extroversion spectrum and help them make the journey as smooth as possible so they can arrive at their destination.

Identifying introversion in students

I’m often asked after giving sessions on introversion how to identify students who may be more-introverted. I’d love to say it’s easy, but it’s not so easy to pin down.

I first became interested in the effects of introversion in language learning because of four students I had in a Cambridge: First preparation group. What drew my attention to these students was their lack of participation in class, and I automatically jumped to the conclusion that they were struggling with the content of the course. This was just before the Christmas break, so we soon parted ways for a week or two of obscene quantities of food and gifts. During that holiday, which I spent in my childhood home in Scotland with my family, my mum handed me a ‘memory box’ she had kept for me, stuffed to the brim with yellowing pieces of newspaper and other long-forgotten objects. As I made my way through the never-ending collection I happened upon an envelope full of school reports, meticulously kept since 1988 in true Mrs Roy style. What I read made me realise that I had misjudged those four students, and it would lead me change my whole approach to teaching:

  • Alastair is often distracted – or bored – in class.
  • Alastair needs to participate more if he is to succeed.
  • Alastair must learn to work better in a group.

I thought back to all of those classes. Had I been such a bad student? I was no angel, but nor was I so detached from the learning process. Over the course of my festive break I analysed thirteen years of schooling. I had hated raising my hand in class. I had disliked group work because I preferred to navigate my own thought processes. I had written stories with an imagination you couldn’t believe. I had enjoyed practical subjects where I could experiment on my own.

These four students in my class were me.

They were avid readers, forever in the school library. They were conscious of their work and strived for 100%; 99% was not an option. They enjoyed speaking practice with their friends but were filled with terror when I drew names out of a hat at random.

The problem was that my classroom environment wasn’t meeting their needs as learners.

On my return to school, refreshed and carrying an extra two kilos of Christmas joy, I began investigating a bit further and stumbled across some of Susan Cain’s work online. After reading her book in one weekend I decided to adapt a questionnaire she devised and use it in class as a fun activity. I led in with a discussion on introversion and extroversion to find out how familiar the students were with the concepts: they were surprisingly knowledgeable about introversion and how it manifests itself. We then completed the questionnaire (me included), with students writing down their answers on a piece of paper as I dictated the questions. We then compared answers by revisiting the questions and having a chat about the results. Students were able to opt out of answering if they felt uncomfortable, which a few did on some questions. The feedback from this activity confirmed my suspicions that these students were not struggling academically, rather the classroom environment was not conducive to their learning needs.

Creating a more inclusive environment

Reflecting on my own experiences, I began to analyse my classroom practice with a view to making the learning environment more accessible for all. I realised that the language learning environment can be quite exclusive, favouring extroversion over introversion, with this being particularly true with the communicative approach. So I made a list of the factors that had a negative effect on more-introverted students in my classroom, including:

  • lack of quiet time to think and reflect on what they have learned;
  • stressful group situations;
  • fear of speaking out in class – fear of ridicule;
  • classroom layout;
  • the typical teacher ‘worry’ about students who are on their own.

It was time to take action. Not wanting to make sudden changes to classroom procedures that had been established for some time, nor wanting to go too far and risk the exclusion of more-extroverted students, I introduced my new approach gradually.

Lesson Structure

First, and most importantly, I introduced what I like to call ‘the valley’. While this may conjure up images of breathtaking Welsh scenery, it was an important element in classroom activity which meant starting the class with noisier activity, perhaps vocabulary input or a video, followed by a quiet activity, such as reading, in the middle, before finishing with another interactive activity, perhaps speaking.

Valley

Taking this approach means that more-introverted students have the opportunity to work quietly and individually, giving them time to reflect on what they are learning, while more-extroverted students are not denied the opportunity to work in a more interactive way.

Working in groups

I often ask students to produce projects or presentations in groups. However, for someone who is more-introverted this can present a series of challenges: speaking out in front of a group, a heightened sense of ridicule, or simply just not being confident to challenge ideas. A nice way to solve this is to issue roles to each member of the group: the sense of order and clear expectations for every member of the group can go a long way to addressing our fears. Roles can include note-taker, chairperson, spokesperson; I even include a ‘language police’ role where the person monitors the group and ensures they are using the target language as much as possible.

Another key thing to bear in mind is this: is working in groups really the only option for the activity? Could an individual produce something equally as valid in the same amount of time? Let them choose whether they want to work individually, in a pair or in a small group and be flexible. Sometimes the team approach is not the most productive; letting the individual choose how they prefer to approach some tasks can lead to much more affective learning.

Speaking out in front of the class

It would be wrong to say that more-introverted people strongly dislike speaking in group situations, such as in class or in work meetings, with many equating this aversion to the aforementioned ‘shyness’. In reality this is not the case at all. Putting someone who is quite introverted on the spot is extremely stressful – our introversion means that we like to think our ideas through and plan an answer before we open our mouths to speak. Think back to the last class you taught: did you put any students on the spot to answer a question? Or perhaps you asked a question to the whole group and chose someone whose hand shot up into the air? The chances are that you didn’t speak to one of your more introverted students. Some ways you can make group discussion more accessible to more introverted students are:

  • Give a few minutes for students to construct an answer on their own or with a partner before contributing to a group discussion.
  • Allow students to make notes on cards in preparation for discussions – note-taking is a valuable skill to develop.
  • Introduce a ‘question-pause-question-answer’ approach, whereby you ask, wait a few seconds, ask again, and then invite answers. The moment’s pause allows everyone the opportunity to construct an answer.
  • Introduce a ‘pass’ option in quick-fire questioning. Although some students will abuse it at first, I have found that some of my introverted students have been thankful for the opportunity to step back from a question when they are not fully ready to answer. This doesn’t mean that you can’t return to them a few moments later for their input.

Classroom layout

I’ll keep this part simple. Are your students in rows or groups with the teacher’s desk at the front? Move your desk to another part of the room so that students can approach you for support more discreetly. Consider creating a quiet area, if possible, where students can remove themselves from the group during individual activities and ‘recharge their batteries’. Have a mixture of group tables and individual tables and allow students to choose where they want to sit for different activities.

Worrying about ‘lonely’ students

This area is particularly relevant to me as I write this, as just today I had a lovely conversation with a student in the playground of our school. Every day I see him sitting alone on the same chair, swinging his legs and staring off into the distance. Our gut instinct as teachers is to nurture relationships between students; however, sometimes we need to recognise that we shouldn’t force students into being with others at all times during the day. Back to the student today, I asked him how we was, and he told me he was “fine”. A typical answer. I asked him if he wouldn’t prefer playing rather than sitting down during his break, since he’s sitting down all morning in class. And the reply was strikingly honest: “I like being on my own”.

Of course, the teacher in me discreetly checked that he truly did want to be on his own, as opposed to feeling excluded by his peers. But he assured me that he loved his classes and enjoyed being with his friends, but that his breaks were “his time”. Brother, I totally get you.

What could we do? First, try not to jump to conclusions. Try chatting with a student who is on their own and finding out a bit about them: if they are happy being alone then leave them be. Being on our own helps us recharge our batteries and face the next part of our day with renewed energy. Offer a quiet space, for example the library or the classroom, where they can relax during breaks. They will thank you.

Conclusion

“Introvert: someone who is shy, quiet and unable to make friends easily” is how Cambridge describe my personality type. I’m not particularly shy. My family and friends will tell you I’m far from quiet, especially when I get on my soapbox about something I feel strongly about. I don’t find it particularly difficult to make friends when I have things in common with people. But what I don’t enjoy are some of the situations I’ve described in this blog post. Introversion is a unique personality trait that fosters far more positives than negatives, but as education (especially in languages) is subconsciously directed towards the extroverted ideal, many who tend towards introversion don’t have that opportunity to shine as brightly as they should. Us teachers hold the power in our hands to make change this.

To close any workshop I present on this topic, I like to tell people a story that is attributed to Mark Twain that I believe sums up introversion:

Upon arriving at the pearly gates of Heaven, a man asks of Saint Peter, “Sir, I would dearly love to meet the greatest General the world has ever known”.

Saint Peter, smiling, points to a elderly gentleman sitting on a nearby cloud. “Why, there he is, sitting over there!”

“Rubbish!” answers the man, “He is not the greatest General! I knew him on Earth. He was nothing more than a common baker!”

“Ah, but that is where you are wrong,” said Saint Peter. “That man may not have been the greatest General the world has ever known, but if he had been given a chance, he jolly well would have been.”

P.S.

If you’ve made this far, thank you! If you would like to learn a bit more about introversion and its affects on the learning process, I highly recommend you read Susan Cain’s book [affiliate link]. You can also find a very early version of what would become my session at IATEFL 2017 here and and some interviews with me about the topic at the British Council Madrid Conference 2015 and the TESOL Spain Conference 2016. You can also contact me on Twitter if you’d like to ask me anything: @air02.

Alastair Roy

Alastair Roy is Manager of the British Council teaching centre in Villaviciosa de Odón, a stone’s throw from Madrid, Spain. As well as being a regular conference speaker and teacher trainer, he is a Trinity TYLEC tutor. He is currently completing a Master’s degree at Lancaster University while attempting to rebuild his long-abandoned blog, Resourcefl – watch this space!

References

Cain, Susan. (2012) Quiet :the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking New York : Crown Publishers.

Cambridge Dictionary: Entry for ‘introvert’. http://dictionary.cambridge.org/es/diccionario/ingles/introvert?q=introversion Accessed on 16 July 2017.

Other posts about introversion (from Sandy)

If you’re interested in finding out more about helping introverts in the classroom, or if you’re an introvert yourself, Laura Patsko has written a series of posts you might be interested in. Anthony Schmidt has also collated some relevant research.

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At the beginning of my career, I was lucky enough to work with a whole range of dedicated teachers at International House Brno. One of them was Lily-Anne Young, who at that point had been teaching the same proficiency-level group for a couple of years. She worked with the same group for many years, and is therefore always the person I go to when I need help with teaching very high-level students. She has now agreed to write some guest posts for me, which I hope you will find useful. Over to Lily-Anne:

What do you do with students who already have, or don’t need, CAE/CPE but want to keep working on their English? The non-native speaker teachers, translators, business & tech people and many others? The ones who have hit the proficiency plateau?

Having taught a C2 class for 10 consecutive years, with many returning students, this is an area I have dealt with, struggled with and love. It’s demanding, challenging and potentially soul destroying, yet I, and some other people, thrive on this.

Expectations are incredibly high. It’s up to us and the learners to meet those expectations. To do this, it has to be a mutual experience: negotiated content, constant communication, reciprocal feedback, respect and the teacher as a facilitator.

In this introductory post I’m going to share some of the observations I have made over time and consider the implications for both teachers and learners.  In future posts I will share some activities which have proved successful with my students, and make further salient observations.

Who are these amazing people?

O’Maley (Advanced Learners, OUP) [affiliate link] points out that learners at this level are usually:

  • Highly educated
  • Teachers, educators, translators, academics
  • Middle or senior management

Based on my own students, past and present, they:

  • may be suffering from the Proficiency Plateau;
  • are highly motivated;
  • but may be wondering just how they can, usefully, improve their skills;
  • cannot be pigeonholed (as if we would ever consider such a thing);
  • love to challenge the teacher and to show off a bit;
  • all have different areas of language expertise, obsessions and gaps.

The Proficiency Plateau

I am coining this phrase as my own (I hope nobody else has used it). Teachers often talk about the Intermediate Plateau, yet the same situation can be hit at all stages of learning a language and once learners have achieved C1/C2 level it can seem almost impossible to measure progress and achievement.

What does it mean?

It means that you are going to work with students who, as with most learners, have a wide range of interests, from the mundane to the bizarre, but who also have much of the language needed to express complex ideas. This gives us a much wider range of available topics and scope to play with language than we have with lower levels and coursebooks.

It means that they are going to ask you questions you may not know the answer to off the top off your head or can answer but can’t explain. Hence, you need to be able to think on your feet and be willing to admit that you are not an encyclopedia, dictionary or Google.

It means that you have to adapt coursebooks, resource books, find suitable authentic materials and create lessons from them which meet the diverse needs of the learner(s). Which takes us on to:

Materials

There is a dearth of ready-made materials for advanced learners who don’t want to do CAE/CPE/IELTS  (or have it). This is mainly due to a lack of market demand and I believe/hope, based on the fact that my C1 students are getting younger every year, that this may change. (Yes, I am older but the C1 students are still in secondary school – that’s a big change from 10 years ago when my students were 30+).

In the meantime there are published resources which you can use and adapt – after all, we teachers are very skilled at that – and the CAE/CPE books can give you an idea of which language areas you may wish to target in the development of your course.

However the main resource for us has to be authentic materials.  Everybody has their favourites and I have mine, which I will reveal at a later date 🙂

Going beyond language

Push the boat out; above and beyond; the call of duty; hit the nail on the head. These are all wonderful phrases to know but you have to encourage your learners  to use them in appropriate situations, not just parrot them to show off knowledge. Likewise we have to motivate the learners to use their language effectively.  

To do this I work with authentic materials, some of which are provided by them and some by me, then use those materials to create classroom situations in which they can practise both language and skills.

So here is a, not exhaustive, list of some of the skills my learners and I work on together:

  • Humour
  • Sarcasm & irony
  • Criticism & compliments
  • Swearing (be careful with this)
  • Different accents
  • Different Englishes
  • Poetry, nursery rhymes, literature
  • Reading between the lines
  • Presentation skills
  • Marketing/negotiation/persuasive skills
  • Making appropriate choices between synonyms depending on contexts

Thus, I prefer to take the emphasis away from measuring progress and focus on encouraging my students to explore not only language, but also how English has so many variations and to develop skills which they may or may not have when using their own language.

I hope you have enjoyed this post and I have whetted your appetite for more.

Lily-Anne Young

Lily-Anne is a DipTesol qualified teacher with over 15 years experience in teaching in various locations and covering the whole gamut of teaching situations. Working as a freelance teacher trainer and senior teacher, based in Brno, CZ, she has recently decided to try to share some of her knowledge with other professionals via conferences and other peoples’ blogs.

In particular she has an interest on how to work with and help very advanced learners as this is an area she has been working in for a long time and many people find daunting.

In her spare time she plays in an amateur badminton league and tries to understand her Czech speaking boyfriend.

Surviving week one

We’ve just finished week one of our school year. As always, it was a rollercoaster of emotions for everyone involved.

Teachers are nervous because they have no idea what their classes will be like. Those who are brand new are wondering if they’ve made the right decisions: moving to Poland, joining our school, leaving what they know behind, becoming a teacher…

Second-year teachers are feeling more relaxed this time round. They know what to expect, and they can only marvel at how nervous and stressed some of the new teachers are. Then they meet their classes and realise there are still challenges there, and work yet to be done.

The students are no different. They want a good teacher, or a teacher like the one they had last year, or a teacher who’s definitely not like the one they had last. Their first day nerves are just as acute as ours, sometimes more so: they’re doing it all in a foreign language after all, which at least some of us aren’t!

After two or three days, once teachers have met most of their classes, things start to settle down. They realise where the pressure points might be, but it’s no longer a sea of unknowns. Planning is done based on known quantities, or at least more known than a few days previously.

Our Fridays aren’t as busy, with just a few 121s at this point in the year. Everyone can take a bit of time to sort themselves out, plan ahead for next week, or just get out of the building that bit earlier.

Now, on Saturday, everyone can breathe a sigh of relief that they’ve survived week one. They can work out what to do with their weekends, and how much work it will or won’t involve (the answer if they want to stay sane: it won’t!)

Looking forward to the year ahead!

I hope that in this year to come you make mistakes. Becuase if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world - you're doing something.

P.S. Fiona Mauchline has recently written a set of very useful tips to help you survive your first year of teaching, or to remind you of things you may have forgotten if you’re a bit further down the road.

Who am I writing for?

Following my post asking who my readers are, and posts by Michael Griffin and Tyson Seburn in which they discussed students reading their blogs, I thought I would continue my introspective streak and say a little about who I think I’m writing for.

Mike and Tyson both asked a set of questions which I’ll start off by answering:

  • Do you think about students potentially reading what you write?
    Yes. In fact, I assume that they will, and have written some posts specifically for them, like Useful FCE websites. I also have a whole separate blog, sadly neglected, which was designed for students, and I often refer them to the Quizlet and podcasts posts there.
    As a CELTA trainer, I actively encourage trainees to read posts that were written with them in mind, not least Useful links for CELTA. I always assume that my reading can be read by anyone, and therefore try to keep things anonymous or not include them if I think they might cause problems at some point down the line.
  • Would your writing be different if you were sure students would never read it?
    I don’t think so, because I would still assume that somebody who reads it might know my students, even if they weren’t my students themselves.
  • Have your students ever talked about your blog with you?
    One or two students have asked me about it, and I told my new group about it in a letter I wrote them today, though I just said I have a blog, not what the actual link is.
    A trainee once came up to me in getting to know you session at the beginning of CELTA, and jokingly said ‘I wanted to meet you quickly, because I wanted to know what someone who tortures people spiritually is like.’ She was referring to a post I’d written a couple of weeks before.
  • Have you ever heard of a teacher getting in hot water with a student based on what they wrote on a blog?
    No, though I’m sure those stories must be out there.
  • Do you have guidelines for yourself or from your institutions about what you can and should write about on blogs or elsewhere?
    There are no institutional guidelines (if there were, I would probably have been involved in writing them!) I have one personal guideline though: Only write things about other people that you wouldn’t mind people writing about you. It’s a variant of ‘do as you would be done by’.
  • Does it bring credibility to you as their instructor? (My additional question)
    I don’t know, though I think it does show them that I care about my profession and put extra time into it beyond work.

So who do I think I’m writing for then? The things I write about are probably aimed at the following groups of people:

  • Other teachers.
  • CELTA trainees and trainers.
  • Delta trainees.
  • Students (occasionally).
  • People wondering about living/moving abroad.
  • People with ulcerative colitis and other chronic health conditions.
  • People who are interested in my life, what I’m up to, and the thoughts in my head 🙂
  • Myself, especially for catharsis.

I tend to write posts as they pop into my head, if I have time, though some sit in my head for a long time before they make it onto the blog. Having said that, I currently have 88 titles in my drafts, which I may or may not return to one day! It’s therefore pot luck as to which of those audiences I’m writing for when I hit publish, depending on what I’m interested in/worrying about on any given day. This particularly post was mostly written to Tyson and Mike to answer their questions, but also for myself to work out my answers are. The rest of you can take it or leave it 😉

Writing is the most fun you can have by yourself. - Terry Pratchett

A gratuitous quote from TP, just because I need a picture to go with this post 🙂

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.

James studied French and Spanish at university before teaching in Spain for four years, during which time he completed the Delta. In 2016 he moved to Riga, Latvia to work at International House, where he is currently an ADOS. He blogs at  https://jamesegerton.wordpress.com/.

James Egerton

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

I hopped around a bit: 1-3-2.

I first heard about Delta when attending an informal meeting of teachers from several different academies in May 2014 in Albacete, Spain, with the aim of training each other for the Module 1 exam in Madrid that December. We dished out several books each to look at over summer and did a couple of seminars together that September, but once the full whirlwind of term came through again it was clear our regular meetings and study sessions just weren’t going to happen, and the group somewhat evaporated.

So down to just a colleague and me, we studied with a range of resources:

  • Delta Module 1 Quizlet deck for the terminology
  • Several excellent blogs – Sandy’s [thanks!] and Lizzie Pinard’s in particular.
  • Past papers and combing through the corresponding Examination Reports for improvements.

We took the Module 1 exam in December 2014. Following the exam, we sat down with the head of teacher training at IH Madrid to get more information on how to go about taking the remaining two Modules, and I completed the Module 3 essay between January and March 2015 as a distance learner with IH Madrid. This involved regular e-mail contact, including draft edits, and only one train trip up to the capital to borrow some books I needed and speak to my supervisor face-to-face. Finally, I did Module 2 at an intensive course at IH London in July and August 2015. It was a sustained attack on the brain for 6 weeks, but that’s how it had to be (see next question)!

Why did you choose to do it that way?

In a word, practicalities.

Albacete is a small city, with the nearest Delta centre a couple of hours away in Madrid, so physically attending a course regularly just wasn’t compatible with the work schedule I had. Nor did I want to stop working full time to take the qualification, although I had to extend my summer break a little to squeeze in 6 weeks for the intensive Module 2. It was also important for me to get it done as soon as possible, as once I’ve started something I prefer to ride the wave of momentum until finishing, and 1-3-2 was the quickest route available.

What do you think you gained from doing the Delta?

Without overstating it, it was truly a fork in the road for me. Overall, the Delta marked the point that I stopped looking at being in ELT as a short-time teaching job (year to year then see how I feel each summer) and started considering it more as a career with the possibility to develop.

There was a short talk at the end of the Module 2 course in London on how we continue our professional development with a Delta certificate tucked under one arm, and I went about several of the mentioned possibilities (not all necessarily require Delta, though!):

  1. Academic management – I went back to Albacete to work as a Director of Studies for our small two-centre academy in 2015-16, then started applying for jobs in the new year with the Delta sitting on my CV, which opens a lot more doors. I got a job as Senior Teacher at International House Riga, and am just starting my second year here, this time as Assistant Director of Studies. Working at IH has in turn opened many more doors, but that’s a story for another day.
  2. Reflecting on and starting my own blog on ELT (Sandy’s blog was actually the example given)
    Post-Delta M2 advice
  3. Teacher training – This started in-house, and thanks to the Delta I got fast-tracked and have recently qualified as a IHCYLT [IH Certificate in Teaching Young Learners and Teenagers] course tutor. I’d eventually like to become a CELTA trainer when the opportunity arises.
  4. Joining IATEFL and connecting with colleagues from around the world.

What were the downsides of the method you chose?

It was hectic at times! Studying Module 1 alongside work was a relatively gentle introduction; doing Module 3 alongside work meant plenty of early mornings, late evenings and studying at weekends; Module 2 was the knockout punch just at a time of year when I needed a break.

What were the benefits of the method you chose?

It was over in a total of 10 months. This meant that I didn’t have time to forget much, and the definitions and technicalities from Module 1 came in very handy for Modules 3 and 2. I was also able to earn and learn simultaneously (except for Module 2), so although my head took a pummelling, my bank account stayed in the black.

What tips would you give other people doing the Delta?

Research all the options. There are so many ways to do it, find the one that best fits you. [Delta conversations can help you by describing lots of different ways.]

Don’t expect it to be fun. It’s useful, challenging, interesting at times, but ‘fun’ isn’t an adjective I’d ever use.

Do it with others if possible. My colleague and I really helped each other out preparing for Module 1 – good to have someone to check things over with, do study sessions and provide a bit of healthy competition (she got a Merit, I just passed!)

Climb the mountain in sections. Plan ahead, sure, but focus on your next tasks. I saw many people get overwhelmed at the enormity of the task, which either resulted in meltdowns or worse, dropping out. ‘By the end of the day I will have…’ is more than enough, especially during any intensive courses.

Be organised. The previous point just won’t work if not.

Be resilient. The Module 1 exam might not go so well first time, your teaching techniques might be pulled apart in Module 2, your essay draft might need a complete reconstruction in Module 3. There are plenty of speed humps; the key is to keep going!

If you have any further questions, feel free to get in touch at james.egerton@tiscali.co.uk.

All the best!

An accidental discovery

When I was looking through my diaries yesterday to write my post about starting different teaching jobs, I opened a diary at random and came across a folded handout:

Speaking games handout

What was so confusing was that it was from 16th June 2005, so two years before I started CELTA, and I had no memory of it at all. At that point I was coming to the end of my first year at Durham University, and it was just after our exam period had finished.

When I opened it up, it said:

Thank you for helping us out today! We hope that your participation will be fun and helpful to the students. This worksheet will give you some background information and ideas for activities to help the students with their speaking on Saturday.

The exam

The students are sitting the Cambridge KET exam. The oral paper lasts about twelve minutes. [The exam was then described.]

Today’s Exercise

To prepare for the test, it is important that they gain confidence in speaking to and understanding people they have never met before, perhaps with accents to which they are not accustomed. It is also important for them to have practice with the exam tasks in a ‘real’ situation outside the classroom. […]

We will start by dividing the students into groups with an even number of volunteers in each group. You can then take your group into another classroom or area where you can do a number of icebreaker games, followed by some more formal conversation practice, for about 90 minutes. Then we would like you to take your groups into Durham to give them practice in making questions and finding and relaying information as they will in section 2 of the exam.

Overleaf are a number of activity ideas for you to try. You don’t have to do them all, and you can use your own judgement about which activities will work, and if you have your own ideas please feel free to try them.

Most importantly – have fun!

On reading my diary entry, it turned out that this was for Japanese students who studied at Teikyo University’s Durham campus.

I really like this way of helping the students to meet people outside their campus, and to make exam practice more realistic for them. It’s also a great example of how you can show non-teachers what to do to help them to interact with and assist learners, without it being too much of a strain for either of them.

Sadly I didn’t write anything about how I felt about participating, but I’m assuming it wasn’t that traumatic or dramatic as it had completely disappeared from my memory. I wonder if there are any other teaching connections hidden in my diaries? 🙂

Delta conversations: Yuliya

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.

Yuliya Speroff is originally from Russia and has lived in several countries including the UK, New Zealand and, most recently, Turkey, where she spent three years teaching English and coordinating the work of the Curriculum Design and Materials Development office at an Intensive English Program at a private university in Kayseri. Yuliya has been teaching English for over 10 years, including two years as Director of Studies at a language school. Yuliya attained her CELTA in New Zealand in 2012 and her DELTA in 2017. Currently, Yuliya is working as a freelance ESL and Russian teacher and lives in Franklin, Tennessee.  Yuliya’s research interests include developing effective materials and using technology in the classroom. She has a blog with ELT ideas, resources and tips (including for the Delta) at https://yuliyasperoffblog.wordpress.com/

Yuliya Speroff

How did you do your Delta?

I did Module 1 and Module 3 (in that order) online with ITI Istanbul and Module 2 was a blended course with AVO Bell in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Why did you choose to do it that way?

I was working full-time teaching English at an intensive English program at a university and there were no Module 2 courses (or indeed, any DELTA courses other than online ones) where I was living at the time so I went with the online option for Module 1 and 3. In addition, I needed a course that I could fit around my schedule.

As far as the next step Module 2, the course that AVO Bell offered was a bit shorter than other courses out there. Due to the fact some coursework was done long-distance prior to the beginning of the face-to-face portion of the course (namely, EPA and LSA1), the course itself was only 5 weeks long. Since I was limited in how much time off work I could take, that decided it for me.

What do you think you gained from doing the Delta?

SO MUCH!

The biggest thing for me is probably both the bigger picture and the detailed understanding of SLA (second language acquisition) I gained – that is, what it takes to learn a language and how we, as teachers, can help our students do that. I definitely feel I am better equipped to help my students choose the best strategies for learning and understand why things happen in a certain way. For example, when students ask me why it’s so hard to understand native speakers, rather than give a vague answer, I can now tell them about connected speech and how it affects pronunciation and what some strategies are for coping with that. Writing longer assignments and lesson plans for Module 2 and 3 definitely helped me improve my research and academic writing skills and, as a result, get better at writing conference proposals and presentations. Teaching all those observed lessons and writing post-lesson evaluations taught me about the value of reflection and self-evaluation and that regardless of how long you`ve been teaching there’s always room for improvement.

Is there a word limit for this? Because I have more!

DELTA gave me the confidence to teach Russian (my native language) as a foreign language. As native speakers of English can attest, teaching your own native language isn’t always easy, but I realized that everything I learned about methodology, designing courses and planning lessons in ELT can be readily applied to teaching another foreign language, namely Russian. In addition, most importantly, doing DELTA helped me get into teacher training and that is something I have been interested in for a long time.

What were the downsides of the method you chose?

There weren’t really any downsides as such but doing Module 1 online was my first such experience and it took me a few weeks to get used to the layout and the features of the LMS (ITI uses Moodle). Even though there were lots of ‘what to do first’ sort of guidelines, in the beginning I still felt like I didn’t know what I was doing and that took some getting used to.

What were the benefits of the method you chose?

After reading about DELTA I thought Module 1 would be the most logical place to start since preparing for the exam requires you to read up on so many areas in ELT and it did work out that way. I feel that all that background reading and answering exam questions, especially the ones about the purpose for textbook tasks and the assumptions underlying the design of the tasks set me up really well for designing my own course in Module 3 and writing detailed lesson plans in Module 2. Doing an online course helped me do things in my own time, although having deadlines also kept me on task. One great thing about the course that ITI Istanbul offers is that when the time comes to register for the exam, should you decide that you are not quite ready yet, you can enroll in the next online course free of charge – and that is exactly what I did when I realized I needed more time to prepare.

As for Module 2, I feel like doing some of the course work and background reading before the intensive part of the course really helped me feel like I was slightly ahead of the deadlines and removed some of the time pressure.

What tips would you give other people doing the Delta?

I actually wrote a blog post on DELTA tips and on Module 1 specifically but here are a few tips:

  • Do your background reading BEFORE the course, regardless of whether you are doing Module 1, 2 or 3. There is a lot of recommended reading and I feel like it takes a few times of reading the same information in different sources before everything truly sinks in and the overall picture forms in your head. Also, the more you read, the easier it will be for you in the following modules to go back to the books you read to look for specific information.
  • Similarly, for Modules 2 and 3, start thinking of your specialty/LSA and EPA (experimental practice assignment) topics early on so that you can start gathering materials and ideas even before the course starts and start taking notes and making bookmarks!

In retrospect, what would you have done differently?

I actually did get a do-over when I enrolled for the spring Module 1 course, realized I should have started reading about the exam and doing the background reading much much earlier so I started reading and re-enrolled in the course the following autumn.

How much time per week would you estimate you needed to spend working on the Delta in the format you chose?

Online Module 1 and 3: Probably 5-6 hours. I did the majority of the more ‘productive’ work over the weekend – e.g. actually sitting down to write assignments or lesson plans or doing practice exams, and during the week I did some reading in the evenings or studied with index cards.

Blended Module 2: The online part was similar to the above, and the face-to-face part was non-stop studying. I did take some walks in the evenings and had a few outings with fellow DELTA-ers, but I didn’t get to see that much of Sofia, which I regret. A funny detail – during one of the nights out we found a Delta Blues Bar! DELTA blues! Naturally, we proceeded to take dozens of photos and tell everyone what a coincidence it was but, nobody but us was very impressed.

Delta Blues Bar

Yesterday we finished induction week for our teachers, including nine new to school, and five who are completely new to teaching. This, and Tyson Seburn’s recent post ‘Frosh me‘, made me think back to when I was just starting out. Depending on how strictly you define it, I could select a few different points to focus on.

I’ve been keeping a diary since I was 17, and now that I have my own flat, I’ve recently been reunited with my boxes of diaries again for the first time in many years. Writing this post was the perfect excuse to have a look back through some of them.

Malaysia

My first ever lesson was working with children in the jungle in Borneo. I got incredibly homesick while working there, and filled multiple notebooks in the 8 weeks I was in the village. If I could go back and do it again, I would spend a lot more time talking to the people in the village and getting to know them better. Instead I stayed in my room, wrote in my diary and cried a lot for most of the first three weeks. This wasn’t helped by us having absolutely no contact with the outside world, not even letters unless somebody was driving out to the local town which was 3 hours away – we got letters once in that time.

We had a couple of chances to observe classes before we started teaching. One of my main memories is watching a middle-aged male teacher use his knuckle to hit a little girl behind her ear when she couldn’t answer his questions. In my diary it says:

[B]’s english lesson was dire and he was amazed that the children didn’t understand – he hadn’t ever prepared his lesson!

I don’t seem to have mentioned the corporal punishment in my diary (not sure why) – it was the first time I’d ever seen anything like that, and it really shocked me. About seven weeks after that, my final two lessons with the two girls he taught and two others who joined them later made me cry because it was the first time I really knew that somebody had learnt something because I’d taught it to them. The memory still brings tears to my eyes.

Paraguay

Starting out in Paraguay during my year abroad from uni, I decided to take a photo of myself before my ‘first ever lesson’. I suspected I would be doing this for a while 😉

Me before my first lesson in the Anglo

There’s some form of getting-to-know-you activity on the board behind me – no idea what. To the right of the board is something students asked me about pretty quickly. I assumed it was just another pretty picture, like the other posters in the classroom. A couple of months later I found out it was actually Adrian Underhill’s phonemic chart! Unfortunately the diary I wrote about this lesson in was in a bag which was stolen a few months later. What I do remember is that the class was 6:50-7:50 in the morning, and there were only three of us teaching at that time. It was a lovely group of students, ostensibly preparing for FCE, but probably about two levels lower if I were to placement test them today!

CELTA

My first day of CELTA was almost 10 years ago – I started it on 17th October 2007.

And so it starts…

I walked to Elvet for our first CELTA class. There are 8 of us: me, […]. We played some introduction games, then did some admin, including receiving our files. We met the students for about half an hour in a very noisy room (!), then discussed which groups we thought they should be in.

I don’t remember any of that! This is when I’m really glad that I write my diary 🙂

My first teaching practice was a week later, and I was first up:

The students didn’t arrive until 6:30, so I started about 6:35. There were 7 Japanese girls who came together, 2 Chinese women, a Ukrainian, a Yemeni woman, a Polish woman, and 2 Polish men called Przcemek! I had the first slot, doing the ‘small difference’ – everyone’s name on the board, on person goes out of the room, 2 swap places. […] Afterwards we had feedback – no major problems – and divided up our roles within the group.

I don’t remember that activity either, and don’t think I’ve ever done it since. It seems like it could be fun with low-level groups, especially with kids. These were pre-intermediate adults. I also know that it’s Przemek, not Przcemek now 🙂

Summer school

My CELTA was part-time during my final year of university, so that I would be ready to teach full time once I left. I had my graduation ceremony in Durham on Thursday, mum and I drove down south via Wolverhampton to drop off my things on Friday, induction for summer school started on Saturday, and our first lessons were on Monday. It was quite hectic, and I was a bit scared of teaching teenagers.

This was when I discovered just how small the EFL world can be. I had applied for jobs with IH at four different schools, which I had to put in priority order. I had no idea, so just picked at random. 1st was a school in a relatively small city in Poland (not Bydgoszcz!) that ran a young learners course, which I thought might be useful. 2nd was Brno, because it was still a small-ish city. 3rd was a capital city, and 4th was Odessa, purely because it was by the sea! On arrival at summer school, I discovered that two of my colleagues had worked at the Polish school previously and didn’t really like the town, so I wasn’t that disappointed when the school said they had all the teachers they needed. Two of my other colleagues were Czech, and from Brno. Everything they said about the city made me desperate to go there, so when I had my interview a week into summer school, I was really hoping to be successful. Thankfully I was, and I still have a very soft spot in my heart for the city – everything they told me was true!

Brno

Brno Cathedral

Brno Cathedral on my first morning in the city

This is where I really feel like I started out – all of the other places feel like pre-cursors. This was a full-time, nine-month contract in a professional school. I was made to feel welcome as soon as I arrived, and still am every time I go back.

This morning I was up and ready pretty quickly. Mum and I got to Stansted at 11, had a drink, then did my check-in. They didn’t weigh my hand luggage so I added in my extra books. We had lunch at O’Neills. I went through security at 12:50, luckily very quickly as I had just realised boarding should have closed at 13:10 – not that they started letting us on until 13:15 – and after I’d run too! :s Apart from that, the flight was uneventful and we landed 5 mins early.

As we flew in, the main thing that struck me was how many trees and wooded areas there are around the city – might even get me walking more! [It didn’t much!] SV, the school director, met me at the apart [sic!] and drove me to my new home. A flat (13) in a red block in the Vinohrady area of the city – think the street is Mutenicka. She gave me a map of the city and showed me where the school and flat and how to travel between them.

[Note – I’m disappointed in the level of my English here – must have been tired!]

The next day:

I left at 8:15 to walk into Brno – it took 55 mins – a bit too long to be a regular occurence! I found the school, wandered around the city, found the cathedral & then went shopping at Tesco – very confusing as it had 4 floors & you had to pay separately on each :s I went back to school and was introduced to I and E in the office, P & Magdalena? [It wasn’t!] I went for lunch with P, & she then took me to Vodafone to buy a SIM card. I couldn’t work out where to get the tram from so got it from the first stop outside the centre, then had to get off as roadworks meant it was going an unusual route. I tried out my Czech, but had to rely on the pointing rather than the answer.

I’m so pleased I wrote about it in this much detail (though you might not be!) It brings back my feelings of disorientation, and the little things that I found so challenging. That was the first time I’d been to a country where I wasn’t already at least intermediate level in the language, so it was a huge challenge for me when I’d been used to at least being able to get my basic message across. It really motivated me to try and learn more Czech as soon as I could!

Induction started a couple of days later. This is what I wrote at the end of my diary entry for that day:

I’m now exhausted and have information overload!

Our Brno induction was just three days, and in Bydgoszcz our teachers have a week. I feel for them 🙂 On Thursday (two days ago as I write this) I gave the teachers their timetables, having run around like crazy for most of the day to get them finished. The session immediately before they get their timetables is an activity swapshop which everyone contributes to, which was inspired by my first week at IH Brno. Most of the teachers new to the school seemed pretty nervous when they came to see me, whereas the returners were very calm. Here’s what happened when I got my timetable in Brno:

The afternoon started with the other half of the swapshop, then a meeting with other teachers doing the same intensive courses. [Students had 3 hours a day, Monday to Friday, with a different teacher each day] I”ll be doing KET on Monday afternoon, which means they’ll be absolute beginners (!), followed by FCE on Tuesday morning. We then had to wait for ages to get our timetables. I replied to stuff on facebook, hung around for a bit, went to get a holepunch [all the important things!], then ended up having a manic hour between 5 & 6 when I got my timetable, went to the copy shop to get copies of my passport photo, went to the transport shop with D to get my travel pass and got my books from the office. It sounds simple, but in reality involved climbing 2 flights of stairs about 10 times, coupled with a lot of manic stress. I got it all in the end through, as well as my local health insurance card.

I find it odd that I wrote far more about the manic hour than about my timetable. I guess I had no real idea what any of the classes meant for me, apart from the absolute beginners, which I was clearly a bit worried about. I had remembered the waiting, but not the ensuing crazy hour or two. Hopefully it wasn’t quite the same for our teachers – maybe they’ll tell me if they read this 😉 I also had no idea that the swapshop I remember so well from Brno had also been almost immediately before we got our timetables – there’s a funny kind of symmetry.

The second weekend involved another learning curve:

After lunch I put some washing on, which took ages as we [my flatmate and I] couldn’t work the machine. I planned FCE, interspersed with monitoring the washing. It eventually turned out that the machine wouldn’t spin, so my clothes are stuck in it. There was a burning rubber smell, and I have a nasty feeling the fan belt might have broken. I phoned S, not expected her to be able to do anything, and she hasn’t replied yet.

Neither of us had ever encountered a top-loading washing machine before, and we had no idea you were supposed to lock the drum before switching on the machine. The result: it did half a spin, tipped all my clothes out, got stuck, and tried to continue. That was a valuable life lesson as I’ve lived with many similar machines since! 🙂

My first class was with a 121 student. I was driven out to the car showroom he owned, about 20 minutes from the centre. For the whole journey, I remember wondering why this 50-something successful businessmen should listen to me, 23, fresh out of uni, and just embarking on this career. I didn’t mention any of those feelings in my diary though, only that:

He needs a lot of work on accuracy when speaking, but is generally a pretty good communicator.

He ended up being one of my favourite students, and I taught him for three years. 🙂

In sum

It’s been fascinating looking back at my old diaries and seeing what I did and didn’t choose to write about. There are lots of little life lessons scattered in just these few incidents, some of which I’d remembered when and where I learnt them, others that I’d completely forgotten.

What do you remember about your first day(s)?

Who are you people?!

Joanna Malefaki’s blog My ELT Rambles is one I enjoy reading, because her voice is so strong – I always feel like she’s chatting to me, even though we’ve never actually met.

Today she wrote a post about meeting the readers of her blog, and how strange it can be to realise that all those things you probably mostly wrote for yourself, and possibly a few people you know, have actually been read by other people who you’ve never met. In it, she said:

Well, I guess I feel strange and happy at the same time. Happy that I can help someone, strange cause, boy oh boy, do I ramble!! I guess bigger bloggers are used to it, but I am not. That’s why I am writing about it today. Does meeting someone who has read what I say, change the way I blog? Nope!! Still gonna ramble!!!

This completely echoes my own feelings. I’m lucky to have met quite a few of the readers of this blog face-to-face, and it never fails to make me squirm in embarrassment inside, while at the same time making me feel satisfied that my writing has been able to interest and help other people. When I started the blog I never dreamed that it would go as far as it has – I just imagined it as a kind of professional portfolio to help me when I was applying for jobs. Having ‘the’ put in front of my name feels very weird when somebody says ‘Oh, you’re THE Sandy Millin’, which has now happened a few times. But I can’t deny I enjoy my little corner of fame 😉

One of the things that feels particularly strange is that I think I can probably only identify maybe 100-200 (at a push!) of the people who subscribe to and read this blog, so I’d really like to know a bit more about the rest of you. It can seem a little unbalanced at times 😉 If you’re feeling brave, why not say hello in the comments and tell me a bit about you. I’m not sure if or how it will influence my writing, but it’d be nice to know more about who’s reading it!

Thank you.

I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I've ended up where I needed to be. Douglas Adams

Questions

As an experienced language learner, I know that it’s important for me to speak as much as possible in order to improve my language. That can be easier said than done though (no pun intended).

Since I came back to Poland after a few weeks away this summer, I’ve noticed I’m much more confident when speaking Polish. There’s been a real difference in my interactions, which I think marks a step change in my progress. Reading Scott Thornbury’s recent post W is for (language learning in) the Wild, I finally realised what this difference is: questions.

Let me explain.

In my first year in Poland, I went through somewhat of a silent period. Having previously learnt Czech and Russian really helped my understanding of Polish, since they are all Slavic languages. However, it meant that whenever I spoke, it was some kind of weird mix of all three languages, and people often struggled to understand me. Without realising what was happening, I mostly stopped trying to interact, and would switch to English whenever I knew it was possible.

Last summer, I went for a weekend away with organised by my flamenco teacher in Bydgoszcz. At least half of the people on the trip couldn’t speak English, but they were curious about why I was there, and wanted to share their own experiences of English and/or the UK – many of them have family who live there. They were also very patient with me, and supported my efforts to communicate.

A few fellow flamenco learners in the beautiful surroundings of Gzin

A couple of weeks after that I moved into my new flat, and shared it for six weeks with the previous owners, who didn’t speak English. I’ve written previously about that experience of immersion and how much it helped my confidence.

Despite these positive experiences, I still felt like I could only make statements, or follow where my conversation partner led.

Now I’ve realised that I’ve started to be able to instigate conversations too, because I’ve begun to experiment with asking questions. I’m still not hugely confident with the grammar of questions, and mostly stick to question words and rising intonation, but I now feel like I can steer what’s happening or fill lulls in the conversation when my conversation partner has run out of things to ask. It also now feels rather less like the Spanish inquisition.

What particularly made me think in Scott’s post was the fact that the Japanese hitchhiker he describes had been prompted to use a particular list of questions by his English teacher. Maybe I should come up with a list of Polish questions that I can use in a variety of situations, to help improve my confidence and make it easier to start conversations.

Have you ever done anything like that with your students? What kind of questions would you include on the list?

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