Technologically and linguistically adventurous EFL teacher

CELTA Week Three

Day One

What happens when a CELTA tutor is away?

There’s not much leeway, because you almost always have exactly the number of tutors you need, no more, no less. There’s no time to be sick, and any other absence is a very bad idea, particularly on days when you’re observing teaching practice (TP), when it’s vital to have one tutor per group of trainees.

We were lucky that we have a little bit of slack on the courses in Chiang Mai because of the number of trainers. Today we had demo lessons with no TP because of the level change half-way through the course, so if you have to be down a tutor, it was the best day for it. One was off sick, and another had to go to Bangkok to renew their visa.

Luckily, the one who was ill doesn’t do input, only TP, and we’d already arranged cover for the input sessions for the one in Bangkok. We shared guided lesson planning between the rest of us, and because there were no classes on Friday, we didn’t have feedback, which meant there was time to do this. The major change was having just two demo lessons in the evening, with larger than normal classes: 16 students and 10 trainees in the elementary one, and 11 students and 15 trainees in intermediate with me. We’re also very lucky that we have rooms big enough to hold that many people!

In the end we coped today, but hopefully we’ll be back to full strength tomorrow! Another reason to look after yourself

Day Two

On CELTA courses, I find the most often skipped part of language-related TPs is phonology/pronunciation. Trainees check the meaning of the language, spend ages checking the form (especially if they’ve been let loose on a whiteboard), then skip merrily along to controlled practice, without teaching students how to actually say this beautiful new piece of language they’ve taught them.

Trainees get more guidance in early TPs, and this reduces as they progress through the four weeks. At the start I can remind them repeatedly that they need to cover meaning AND form AND pronunciation, but there comes a time when they have to remember it for themselves. For two of my trainees today, that’ll be after tomorrow’s feedback.

Why do they skip it?

Often, it’s not mentioned in the plan at all, and if it’s not there, then it won’t be in the lesson unless they have a last-minute brainwave and remember it. I therefore encourage trainees to have three separate rows in their plan: one each for ‘focus on meaning’, ‘focus on form’ and ‘focus on pronunciation’, to make sure they remember to cover all three areas.

Sometimes it’s in the plan, but they blank and forget to do it in the lesson.

Still other times, it’s there, but they’ve spent hours on the warmer, the focus on form or something else earlier in the lesson, they notice they’re running out of time, and as pronunciation is clearly the least important part of introducing new language (!), they decide to drop it. Since to hit the Cambridge criteria it’s important for the students to get at least a bit of practice with the new language, this can be a sensible decision mid-TP, but I’d rather they tried to get to the point faster and gave pronunciation it’s due: what’s the point of knowing what a structure looks like if you can’t say it yourself?

No solutions here, just a general complaint…

And while we’re here, I’ll reiterate a point I made in my week two post: why, oh why, aren’t the way that meaning, form and phonology are covered in the lesson three separate criteria rather than being lumped together as one? Assessing the trainees on it as a single area frustrates me, but opinion is divided as to whether you can/should separate them out.

Does anybody know when the criteria were last updated? And when are Cambridge likely to update them again?!

Day Three

Easing off in guided lesson planning isn’t easy – the temptation is always there to help too much. Trainees need the opportunity to make their own mistakes, but they also need the chance to shine without you too.

I find TP6 to be the hardest one to do guided lesson planning for, assuming a total of 8 TPs. In the first four, trainees need support to help them focus when planning, not get carried away with materials or too stressed about introducing new language, including logical stages and not dominating the classroom too much, thereby leaving little room for students to experiment with the language themselves.

In TP5, they’ve normally just moved to a new level, so guidance is about how this will affect their teaching, and how to work with the higher/lower students.

In TP7 and TP8, trainees should be showing us how independent they can be, since they’ll be going out into the real world soon, where they’ll have to work alone. They can still ask us key questions and we’re there in emergencies, but generally they should be seeking the support of their peers rather than us.

But what do you do in TP6? Mostly I just have to try and restrain myself, making sure I’m only asking questions, and encouraging the trainees to think for themselves. Definitely an area I still need to work on…

Day Four

a.k.a. Assessor Day

The assessor’s visit looms around the end of week 3/beginning of week 4 on any CELTA course, and is dreaded by the trainees because they’re petrified about having another person watching their TPs. I have to say that since you already have up to 6 people watching, I’m not sure what difference a 7th one makes, but there you go.

Far from being there to judge the trainees, the assessor’s role is actually to standardise the course and make sure that the CELTA ticks all the correct boxes and everything is running as it should. They check some of the portfolios, particularly (but not exclusively) for borderline candidates where another opinion would be welcomed. They also observe some of the TPs that day and can observe/participate in feedback if it’s on the same day.

Before their visit they get lots of documents to look over, including an overview of the performance, strengths and weaknesses of each trainee. These are the basis for a grading meeting, where the assessor and tutors discuss what candidates need to do to pass/fulfil their potential/avoid failing. Earlier in the day, the assessor meets with the trainees to collect anonymous feedback about how the course is working, and they pass this on to the tutors after the grading meeting. Finally, they make recommendations about what the centre needs to do to maintain standards.

If there’s a tutor in training on the course and the centre is not a training centre, the assessor may stay for an extra day to observe the TinT doing an input session, taking notes in TP and giving feedback, as well as checking their portfolio and offering advice.

All in all, assessment day is long for the tutors, but it’s an important way of making sure that all is as it should be.

Day Five

The joys of CELTA are many.

Watching people who’ve never taught before learn the buzz of being a teacher, knowing that their students have learnt something from them.

Knowing that the more experienced teachers appreciate the opportunity to develop and reflect that the course offers.

Seeing the lightbulb moment when a trainee finally cottons on to something that they haven’t really understood the point of before.

Watching the trainees’ development over the course.

When you see something used successfully in a lesson that you suggested in feedback to another trainee less than two hours before.

Terminology slips in assignments and lesson plans producing new and interesting terms that will never again feature in any ELT literature.

When a new input session you’ve never done before works.

Lesson approaches input session

Finally figuring out how to do something you’ve never been quite sure how to do in your own teaching because one of the trainees has just asked you how to do it, and you’ve got to answer them.

Teaching people to reflect.

Having a TP group who work together like clockwork, so you don’t really need to be in the room because the support network and bond they’ve built up between them does your work for you.

Working with inspiring people and learning their stories.

Sharing my love of teaching.

Playing: with the room, the space, feedback sessions, interaction patterns, normal sized classes (not just 2 or 3 students!), teaching style, new activities, ideas, thoughts…

Lesson approaches input session
Hearing that somebody you’ve trained has got a job and is excited about starting their new life.

Knowing that you’ll be working with a great trainee, and have the chance to help them build on the initial course.

[Warning: don’t read while you’re eating, or if you’re squeamish. Some of it is too much information.]

Start

Back in September 2013, I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, an auto-immune disease I’ll have for the rest of my life.

The Russian gastroenterologist who diagnosed me put me on mesalazine tablets, which I have to take two of every morning and every evening. If I’m lucky and the symptoms die down I may be able to reduce this at some point in the future. I tried last year over a period of three months or so, but had to up the dose again in December.

When I’m in the UK, I can get them on the NHS, although the first doctor I saw only gave them to me under protest, telling me I’d have to be diagnosed in the UK to be able to get them, since a Russian diagnosis wouldn’t be accepted there. Luckily, the doctor I’m now registered with is considerably more reasonable, much more helpful, and didn’t question my diagnosis at all. He just asked if it might be possible to get my Russian medical notes translated into English to add to my records.

When I’m not in the UK, I have to pay for them. I get through a box of 100 tablets in 25 days, and they’re expensive. In Sevastopol, they cost £43 for a box, which then went up to about £65 in March last year. When I bought a box in Canada, along with a box of another tablet I need, they cost £90. I’m very lucky that I can afford to pay for them, as many wouldn’t be able to.

In addition to these tablets, and various others that I was on and off like a yo-yo in 2013-2014, I was also told I needed to manage my diet. These were the original conditions:

  • 300g of food every 3 hours, to keep my body working regularly without big peaks and troughs;
  • no raw fruit or vegetables – they all have to be cooked, giving my body less work to do;
  • no milk;
  • no added fat of any kind (oil, butter, margarine etc.) – it can line your intestine, making it harder to absorb food properly;
  • no fried food (following on from the previous point).

This was OK, because as long as I had small portions, I pretty much eat what I wanted. My health improved considerably, and I lost a stone (7kg). When I went back home at Christmas, everyone commented on how healthy I looked, and how ill I’d been before I went away in September.

Escalation

In March 2014, lots of things went wrong, and I got ill again. I had blood in my stool and bad diarrhoea, so I went to the gastroenterologist on Monday. I was given IV injections of hormones for 15 minutes a day for three days, which meant it went away. By the following Monday it was back again. This process repeated itself for three weeks, until the doctor told me she couldn’t do this any more, and prescribed prednisalone tablets for me, and an even stricter diet. That weekend I was very depressed, as my friend and I had real trouble working out what I would actually be able to eat from the list I was given. In the end we settled on:

  • non-fatty meat/fish
  • potatoes
  • rice
  • cooked apples
  • honey
  • red jelly (no citrus)
  • cooked carrots
  • …and not much else.

A week after I started this diet, I went to the UK for a week to see my grandad, go to IATEFL and celebrate my birthday. I was pretty depressed because one of the things I’d been most looking forward to about going to the UK was the food, particularly being able to have cheddar. If it hadn’t been for being with friends at IATEFL, I probably wouldn’t have been brave enough to go to restaurants with my dietary requirements, but I know some very supportive people, and it wasn’t as bad as I’d expected. I was also lucky enough to have arranged to stay in a flat anyway, so was able to cook for myself.

Because of having to plan around when conference talks were, I managed to get into a routine of eating at 7am, 10am, 1pm, 4pm, 7pm and 10pm, something I hadn’t really worked out on the first incarnation of the diet. I didn’t always have the 10pm meal, but I’ve now realised that if I don’t, I wake up starving in the morning, and I’m really tired the next day if I have any less than six 300g meals in a day. 15-20 minutes before I’m due to eat I start to get tired, and by the time it’s 30 minutes past when I’m due to eat, I can’t string a sentence together, I find it difficult to concentrate, and my legs get really heavy if I’m walking. I also tend to yawn a lot because my blood sugar has dropped.

Addition

Looking things up on the net wasn’t much help, as any two diet pages would contradict each other in some way, especially since nobody really knows what causes ulcerative colitis, and everybody has different triggers for flare-ups. Some of these are food-related, but for me, the most common seems to be stress.

A friend is training to be a nutritionist in the UK, and has been very helpful giving me advice. We eventually decided that I was actually on an elimination diet (although I’ve been mistakenly calling it an ‘exclusion diet’ until I just looked it up – no wonder people didn’t understand!), and could gradually add food back in to my diet. Strangely, the Russian doctor said I could still eat bread/wheat, but on my friend’s advice, I decided to cut out gluten too, especially since my mum is a coeliac.

Her advice was to try a very small quantity of something to see if it had any effect, then a larger quantity a little later, then add it in properly. I edited this to a little bit one day, a normal-sized portion two or three days later, then normal-sized portions on a few consecutive days. I wasn’t really sure what effect I was looking for, but everything seemed to be OK.

Nearly a year down the line, this is what I can eat (remember: all fruit and veg has to be cooked, not raw):

  • oats and any form thereof, e.g. oat flour
  • honey
  • coconut
  • rice and any form thereof, e.g. rice flour, rice flakes, rice noodles
  • potato
  • polenta
  • oregano
  • dill
  • parsley
  • pineapple juice (very watered down)
  • non-fatty meat/fish (nothing smoked or salted)
  • red jelly (no citrus)
  • eggs
  • apple
  • apricot
  • spinach
  • carrot
  • pears
  • beetroot
  • peach
  • banana
  • leek
  • squash
  • sweet potato
  • cinnamon
  • ground almond
  • feta
  • plain yoghurt
  • cheddar (I think – still in the process of trying this)
  • some very specific gluten-free products, like Mrs Crimble’s apple rice cakes

If I cook for myself, this makes for a fairly varied diet, and considerably wider than what I started off with in March last year. I cook meals in bulk almost every day, and eat most of them cold, because I don’t particularly enjoy reheated food.

When I go to a restaurants, I always ask for un-marinated meat or fish, with rice or potatoes. I’ve only ever been told that there’s nothing I can eat at all twice, and a few times I’ve been told I can only have one half of that meal – normally just the meat with no rice/potatoes because they’re pre-prepared.

Motivation

Here are some of the reactions I’ve received to my food/diet:

  • “How can you eat that?” [Necessity, and I actually quite like it.]
  • “Why are you eating now?” [I normally tell people about colitis and what it means to me at this point.]
  • “That looks horrible.” [Thanks.]
  • “That’s really boring!” [It’s a good job you don’t have to eat it.]
  • “I could never do that!” [You could, you just haven’t needed to yet.]
  • “I hate eating cold food/dry rice/carrots…” [You don’t have to.]
  • “If you told me I couldn’t eat ______, I wouldn’t survive.” [I’m pretty sure you would.]
  • “Is that all you can eat?” [Yes.]
  • “What about ____? Can you eat that?” [No. That’s why I didn’t mention it.]
  • “What can’t you eat? We can make something without that.” [I’ll tell you what I can eat. If you can’t cook that for me, I can’t eat here.]
  • Adding garnishes to my meals in restaurants because the plate looks really empty. [I either send it back or pick it off if that’s easy to do.]

These are all singularly unhelpful reactions, and it would have been very easy to give up, especially considering the amount of organisation it takes to cook all the time. However, there are some real motivations to stick to the diet:

  • I’m not quite 30, and I’m planning to use my body for a good few years yet.
  • I like the bits of my body where they are: it could lead to me having my colon/large intestine removed or edited.
  • Eating food which doesn’t agree with me has very serious effects, which I’ve only discovered this week.

The last of these is currently the most powerful. On Saturday I went to a café here in Thailand. I don’t speak Thai, and I couldn’t communicate with the waiting staff at all. I should have gone somewhere else, or eaten the food I’d got with me, but I really felt like eating something somebody else had cooked. In the end, I just ordered rice and roast chicken from the menu, knowing it would probably come with other things, but hoping it wouldn’t. When it arrived, it was in a tomato, onion and slightly spicy sauce which I decided to eat anyway. After all, I’d been a good girl for nearly a year. I knew it would probably make me ill, but I thought it would be OK. I decided to follow it up with some coconut ice cream, since if I was going to be ill anyway, I might as well eat all of my potentially ‘dangerous’ things together.
Rice and roast chicken

Two days later it hit me. For the last 36 hours I’ve had very bad diarrhoea and a lot of blood. I’ve started taking the prednisalone tablets I only use during a flare-up. Going to the doctor is pointless, because there is nothing they can do unless it gets worse, in which case I should be heading back to England anyway. I have all of the tablets I need for now, and as the doctor in Canada said (for £110), all they can do is tell me not to get stressed, and to eat as carefully as I already am. I’m now back on a very bland diet until I’m through this flare-up. Needless to say, I won’t be naughty again.

On the plus side, at least I now know what effect I’m looking for when I try new things, although I have no idea which of the things in the sauce caused it.

Travel

The hardest thing to deal with while on this diet is long journeys, as I have to take all of my food with me. I can’t guarantee I’ll be able to buy food I can eat on the way and/or that I’ll be able to eat on the plane. This means a lot of calculations. How long is the journey, including transit time and sitting around at airports/stations? How many meals does that mean? What about crossing time zones? Are there any restrictions on taking food into a country? How much space is it going to take up in my hand luggage? What if the journey is delayed in any way?

On the way to/from the States, this meant 7 meals, and I cried on the plane when I couldn’t eat the meals which everyone else was being served. On my return journey, they hadn’t even got the bland meal I’d ordered, so it was lucky I had my own food.

Travelling to Thailand, I needed 8 meals. I’d ordered gluten-free meals on the plane, and although I couldn’t eat everything, I managed to have a couple of hot things from the meal, something which made me inordinately happy. Annoyingly, I have to throw lots of things away, since I can’t eat any of the bread, fruit or salad which comes with these meals as I can’t see the ingredients/they’re not cooked. I’ve discovered gluten-free is normally the best starting point, since I can at least eat some of it. Frustratingly, you can’t order meals for multiple dietary requirements, like gluten-free and dairy-free – you have to choose one or the other. I’m not really sure what gluten-free vegetarians do.

Food plan for journey to Thailand

Food plan for journey to Thailand

Going to the Grand Canyon for a weekend, with train journeys at either end and no stops in places with kitchens, involved 16 meals, although I was lucky to have had a diner recommended to me for breakfast, and also managed to eat in the restaurant in Grand Canyon village. I had three bags with me, most of which were just for food. The trip was worth every second of planning and every gram of weight I carried with me.

The first thing most people mention when I say I’m going to a particular place is the food and the restaurants. Since I went onto this diet, the only local speciality I’ve managed to have was Dungeness crab in San Francisco – it was gorgeous! I have no idea what real Ukrainian/Russian/American/Canadian/Thai food tastes like, since I eat the same kind of food in all of their restaurants.

When I choose accommodation, I have to make sure I have access to a kitchen. Youth hostels are particularly good for this, and I also experimented with airbnb for the first time last month, staying with a lovely family in Greenwich.

One of the most depressing things I do is walk all the way around a shop, sometimes even a medium-sized supermarket, and if I’m lucky, find one thing I can eat. Shopping in a new place takes me at least a couple of hours as I have to read all of the ingredients on things.

The only periods of illness I’ve had since March were 24 hours on arrival in the States, which I think was from the stress of the journey, 3 weeks in December when I was stressed on the very intensive course in Vancouver and didn’t know what was happening with Sevastopol, and now.

But it’s not all bad. Moving around has given me the chance to try lots of different types of food, like rice flakes in Sevastopol, lots of gluten-free things in North America, rice tortillas in Canada (which I became pretty addicted to and now can’t find anywhere else!) and rice flour in Thailand.

The benefits

Living with such a strict diet has actually had a lot of benefits.

I’ve lost 3 stone (21kg) and am the right weight for my height for the first time in my adult life.

I feel much healthier, and my bad knee doesn’t protest as much.

I’m much more aware of what I’m eating, and know the ingredients of pretty much everything I put into my body.

I’ve become a much more creative cook, and experiment a lot more to try to make my diet interesting: it’s amazing how cooking the same combination of ingredients in a different way can make it taste completely different.

I’ve learnt the difference between the taste of herbs – before I just used mixed herbs, or none at all.

I’ve tried things which I didn’t like or had never had before, like beetroot and polenta.

I’ve learnt how to cook some things I’d only ever had in meals made by others before, like squash and sweet potato.

I can now make pancakes, meatballs (though some say they’re not really meatballs because they’re not friend), and different versions of cake (one of which I was told has a similar texture to cookies) without recipes.

I almost always have food with me, so never get hangry.

I know that a large pan of rice and meat is enough for at least two days worth of meals.

I’ve realised how organised I am ;)

I’ve discovered that my friends are a fount of recipes and ideas to make my diet more interesting.

My friends and family have been very supportive and understanding.

I’ve become very quick (I hope!) at explaining colitis and my diet, and people seem to be genuinely interested in trying to understand it. Once they realise I’m not just being awkward, they’re normally very accommodating.

The future

So far, I haven’t needed to be admitted to hospital. I’m hoping that by managing my diet, I’ll be able to avoid that.

People with ulcerative colitis are at increased risk of bowel cancer, so in a few years I’ll have to start having regular colonoscopies to check I’m OK. That means I want to be based in one place by then.

I know somebody else who had to go through an elimination diet as a teenager. It took him about 3 years to get back to eating ‘normally’ with a couple of exceptions. He’s now in his 30s, and is almost always fine. It was great to know there’s a possible end point to the diet, although I know there will probably be some things I’ll never be able to have again.

I’m really looking forward to having my own kitchen again when I arrive in Poland in August, so that I can start experimenting properly again. I miss having an oven here in Thailand!

In my immediate future, it’s midnight here and before I go to bed I have to pack up the food I’ve been cooking while writing this post, so that I can eat tomorrow. I’ve been meaning to write this for a very long time and it’s good to get it out of my system!

The end

I’m very happy to talk about what’s happening to me, because I think it’s important that people know about illnesses like colitis and the related illness of Crohn’s disease, which my uncle has. They are normally invisible, and they can be difficult to talk about because of the embarrassing effects they have on your life. I also think it’s important people know that life doesn’t have to stop if you’re diagnosed with something like this. We’re all very good at getting on with life when it gets difficult.

Ultimately, I know that I am very lucky to know what is wrong with me, to be in a position to get treatment for it, and to be able to continue living my currently pretty amazing life. Long may it continue ;)

Information gap set up reminder

What do you mean, you don’t understand? ;) The face you’re pulling right now is the one which the students will show you if you attempt to set up a ‘complicated’ speaking activity and the instructions go wrong. Information gaps are activities which can work brilliantly if you set them up efficiently, and fall completely flat if you don’t.

Before we go any further, what exactly is an information gap?

An information gap task is a technique in language teaching where students are missing information necessary to complete a task or solve a problem, and must communicate with their classmates to fill in the gaps. It is often used in communicative language teaching and task-based language learning.

Wikipedia

They’re very common in coursebooks, and are often used to practise specific language points at the ‘freer practice’ stage of a lesson, but they can easily be used for fluency practice without a particular grammatical focus too. Boggle’s World ESL has some examples if you’re still a bit confused.

Here’s a simple guide to setting one up, including some potential problems so you can think about whether/how you’ll check instructions.

Step 1: Allocating roles

Tell your students what role they will take in the info gap.Don’t move the students yet! To make the rest of this explanation easier, I’ll say you’re doing one with two sets of information, so roles ‘A’ and ‘B’. A ‘C’ in brackets shows what you would do with an info gap with three sets of information.

Potential problems and possible solutions

The wrong number of students, e.g. an odd number when you need pairs.
Don’t work with the leftover student – you need to be free to monitor and help! Instead, have two As or Bs in one pair, and tell them how to share the work, e.g. take it in turns to ask/answer a question. Think carefully about who your two As/Bs should be to make sure you don’t end up with a strong student doing all the work or a less dominant student with no opportunity to speak because their partner won’t let them get a word in.

Students can’t remember which role you allocated.
Before you go any further, ask them to put up their hands to check they know who they are: “Who’s A? Who’s B?”

Step 2: Preparation time

Before your students speak, they need time to understand the task and work out what they’re going to say. Group As together and Bs together: AAA BBB (CCC) to prepare. For example, for a question and answer task they could work out the questions. For a ‘describe your picture’ type task, they could describe the picture they have to each other. This will give them a chance to rehearse and to ask you for any language they need.

Potential problems and possible solutions

Students start trying to do the actual information gap.
Make it clear that this is preparation time and that e.g. they should only write the questions, not answer them – their partner will do that later.

Step 3: Information gap

Your students should now be ready to do the task. Regroup them AB(C) AB(C) AB(C). When they’re sitting in the right places, tell them exactly what they need to do. Something like this:

A, you ask your questions. B, you answer them. Then B, you ask, and A, you answer.

or

A, tell B one thing in your picture. B, tell A if it’s the same or different to your picture. If it’s different, circle it. Then B, tell A one thing in your picture. Find 8 differences between your pictures. Don’t look at the other picture.

Potential problems and possible solutions

Students speak their own language.
This is natural if the task is too difficult for them. They may not have had enough preparation time, so you could give them more. Encourage them to speak English, and tell them you realise that English might be slower, but they need practice to help them get faster!

They look at each other’s paper/sheet/picture etc.
When giving your instructions, check carefully that students know they’re not allowed to look. You can also seat them back to back:

Back to back

or in two rows facing each other with a large gap between. Bear in mind that this may create noise issues, although that can encourage quieter students to speak more loudly to make themselves heard, and helps students to get practice with phrases like “Can you say that again please?”

Students forget to write the answers/circle the differences etc.
Check that they know what to do, and monitor during the activity so that you can remind them if you need to.

Step 4: Checking the answers

If students should now have all of the same information on their paper, they can compare their sheets side by side to spot differences/mistakes/missing information etc.

Otherwise, it’s good to return students to their original AAA BBB (CCC) groups to share the things they found out.

Step 5: Feedback

Don’t forget this stage! You need two parts:

  • Feedback on content: This can be as simple as ‘Did you find all of the differences?’ or ‘Did you both get all of the information right?’, followed by further checking of the problem areas.
  • Feedback on language: While you were monitoring, you were (hopefully!) taking notes of some of the language students were using successfully and any problems they may have had. Choose a few of these to focus on, and make sure you praise the good language too.

If I’ve done my job right, the image at the top should now make perfect sense :) I made it off the cuff during a CELTA input session when the trainees asked me how to do this, and I thought it might be useful for others too. I hope it works!

Or at least an attempt at paragraph blogging (I find it hard to stop writing, so maybe this will help!) The idea was proposed by Ann Loseva and Kate @springcait.

Today two different trainees on my current CELTA course mentioned that they didn’t want to ask for help because they felt like they might be bothering people. This is a feeling I often used to have, but I’m hoping I’ve got over now.*

What I’ve realised is that most of the time when you ask somebody something, they’ll say yes.

Need help? Ask: you’ll get it.

Stuck at home and bored? Invite somebody to do something with you: they’ll do it.

Nobody to spend your birthday with? Tell your friends: someone will be free.

What’s the worst that can happen? They might say no.

And if they do? At least you tried.

We’re normally a lot more worried about bothering other people than they are about being bothered.

Of course, it’s a two-way street. You have to be prepared to say yes when other people bother you. After all, you never know where it might take you.

Me in a fighter plane on the USS Midway

When travelling alone, you don’t get photos like this without bothering other people!

* I still have trouble getting started on a new social life when I move somewhere new, but four months of CELTAs and moving round a lot have (hopefully!) made me a bit more proactive. We’ll see what happens when I move to Poland!

Day One

I could have sworn I’d done an input session on functions before, but I can’t find it anywhere on my computer, so it must have been a figment of my imagination. The system I’ve developed for creating a new input session is:

  1. If I can’t make an educated guess, check what areas need to be covered in the session, especially if I know it can have different interpretations, e.g. ‘Phonology 1′ could be sounds and the phonemic chart, or a general introduction to phonology.
  2. Find all the documents I think might be relevant/interesting and put them all in a dedicated folder on my computer/lay them out on my desk. For example, for this session I found the IH Chiang Mai folder for the functional language session, went through all the activities and laid out the ones I thought I could use on my desk. I also looked at the handful of related documents I have on my computer, all of which I’ve inherited from various other tutors.
  3. On a piece of scrap paper, come up with a rough running order for the session, including timing. Today that consisted of writing a list of the documents, crossing out duplicates, linking ones that could be combined, numbering them in order, and adding times.
  4. Type out a running order, underlining the materials I need as I go along. Number the file ‘0’ so it always appears at the top of the folder and is easy to find.
  5. Create/adapt/type up/resave any documents I need for the session, numbering them in the order they’re needed.
  6. Print.
  7. Do session.
  8. Scribble notes all over the printed running order.
  9. Try to remember to do something with said notes, if I can find time.

I’ve got much better at timing my inputs now too, working on the basis that if I think it’ll take 5 minutes, it’ll probably take 10; if 10 minutes, 15; and so on. By adding 5 minutes to everything, I seem to get it roughly right, although I still need to drop an activity every now and again, or just give things as reading rather than dealing with them in the session.

The whole process took about 3 hours, plus printing off yesterday’s feedback and eating, which took me up to 2 minutes before the session was due to start. It’s true that tasks expand to fill the time allotted to them!

I was watching a different TP group and a different set of students (still elementary) tonight, and there were some timing issues. Two of the three trainees went 7/8 minutes over their 45 minute slot, making the whole lesson 15 minutes longer than it should have been. That prompted me to finally get round to blogging about timing, something I’ve been meaning to do for ages. Thanks guys, but please don’t do it again!

Day Two

Two days into week two, and illness has struck. Three trainees had to go home today for various reasons and lots of others looked pretty tired all day.

In general, the trainees haven’t had enough sleep, and they’re feeling stressed out and under pressure, no matter how much we try to reassure them and calm them down. I’ve reminded a few of them individually about looking after themselves, but today decided to give the whole group a bit of a pep talk. It went something like this:

I know that some of you are tired and feeling a bit sick, and that the stress and pressure of the course don’t help, but you need to look after yourselves. The CELTA might seem very important right now, but your health is more important. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep, and that you take at least a few hours for yourself at the weekend, preferably half or even a full day. It might seem like you’re wasting time, but it’s a false economy to work all the time because you’ll regret it later. You’ll exhaust yourself and/or make yourself ill, and nobody is at their best when that happens. I’d rather see an adequately-planned lesson and you’re still alive, than a perfectly-planned lesson but you’re half dead.

I didn’t do CELTA full-time; I did it part-time, but when I did Delta, also part-time, I was working for about 20 hours every weekend on top of my full-time job. I started in September and took the whole of December off sick from work, then triggered a condition I’ll have the rest of my life, which is the reason you see me eating all the time. I don’t want any of you to make yourselves ill, because it’s not worth it.

Remember that work expands to fill the time you have available. If you say you’re going to go to bed at 11pm, stick to it, because you’ll be much more productive for it, rather than saying that you’ll work until you’re done. That way you’ll end up being up until three in the morning. The same is true at the weekend. Give yourself a specific amount of time to do each thing, and be strict. You’ll get a lot more done that way, rather than just starting blankly at a computer screen waiting for inspiration to strike.

Take breaks while you’re working too. Stand up, stretch, give your eyes a bit of a rest. You can download apps to help you. If you have a Mac, TimeOut blocks out your screen every 30 minutes, and I’m sure there are similar things for Windows.

Sometimes the mum just comes out in me. ;)

It was nice that one of the trainees noticed that my input was much smoother today – she asked me whether I’d done it before. It’s the fourth outing for that one, and you can really tell!

Day Three

‘Not to standard’ lessons are never easy to give. On my part, at least, there is a lot of soul-searching and questioning, and so far I’ve never given this grade without checking carefully with other tutors on my course to make sure I’ve made the right decision and have justified it clearly and accurately. Every lesson is graded against a set of criteria from Cambridge, and I have to use it objectively, no matter how difficult that may  be at times. I know how much work goes into every lesson, and I know how much of a disappointment it is when it doesn’t turn out the way you planned. (Two of my four Delta lessons were below standard due to weak planning, and I put a lot of hours into each!)

Giving feedback on these lessons is also not easy, but thanks to my co-tutor in Vancouver, I’ve found one way to do it which seems to work. Divide the board into as many columns as there were trainees teaching that day (2? 3?). Then create the following rows: name, main aim, (secondary aim – optional), stages. Give the group time to complete the table. The teacher whose column it is can’t contribute to that one, but can to any of the others, e.g. if A was teaching, they can’t write in column A, but can (and should!) in B and C. (By the way, this isn’t the only time I use this method of feedback, but it’s particularly effective for these lessons.)

Using this method today made it very clear that the ‘not to standard’ lesson was that way because teacher A wasn’t clear about the aims of their lesson and lacked the necessary level of detail in their planning to successfully introduce the grammar point they were trying to teach, partly since they didn’t really understand the grammar themselves. It also affected the pace of the lesson as there were long pauses while the teacher tried to work out what should happen next. Their peers didn’t identify language as one of the aims at all, and struggled to come up with the stages of the lesson. It also boosted the confidence of teacher B, as they believed that their lesson was ‘a disaster’, but their peers could reconstruct it very easily, were clear about the aims and could see how the students had benefitted from it.

Teacher A took this feedback very well, and asked lots of questions about how to improve, especially since this was their second ‘not to standard’ on the course, out of three lessons so far. Today their first tutor and I have given them a series of steps to take to help them use their time and plan more effectively, since they tend to spend a very long time on creating excellent materials, at the expense of really knowing how to use them in class. The audio recording produced for this lesson was a case in point – it was written by the trainee, recorded by them and a friend, and even had a phone ringing at the beginning to make it sound more authentic!

The way teacher A took their feedback is in stark contrast to a trainee I had on a previous course, possibly due to the way I gave feedback. I think this was before I learnt about the stages/aims method, although I’m not 100% sure – my memory is a bit hazy on this. I tried to introduce it as gently as possible, since the trainee had been struggling with the course in general as it was very different to the ‘chalk and talk’ style they were experienced in delivering in their home country. On being told that it was ‘below standard’ for that stage of the course, the trainee asked if the grade could be changed. I said it couldn’t, and started to explain why (although I thought the points had already been made clear during the preceding few minutes of feedback). The trainee stormed out of the room and slammed the door at this point. This was a shock to me and the rest of their TP group, and I wasn’t really sure how to react. In the end, I did the only thing I could, which was to apologise and move on to the final trainee’s feedback.

It’s a little ironic that the same trainee has chosen today to post two comments on my blog, which I don’t plan to approve due to the lack of context, but will share here for the sake of completeness and to avoid being accused of censorship. I hope doing it this way will also protect the identity of the trainee in question:

Sandy is extremely rude to her students. She enjoys student’s failure. She hates to see students performing well. How could such a vicious one be a teacher?
She tortured me spiritually in 28 days.

And about 5 hours later on a different post:

Sandy Millin wants her students to worship her. If you don’t, then she steps on you. She is too proud of her being born in the UK. She feels superior than any student. It’s her personality that she treats her students with the attitude of being unfair. If you lick her ass, she will give you an A, otherwise, a C.
These blogs help others to teach, it’s useful. But can Sandy learn a lesson that teaching is to promote students, not to kill us. I got a very subjective judgement from her. Why does she work so hard? She wants to be worshiped only for she can speak some English, which everyone can.

You can’t render your rude judgement on me. I will appeal and appeal till I get the justice.

I’m very sorry that this is how I came across to this student. I have to admit that at this point in the course, it’s possible that I was very tired and I’m pretty sure I was ill too. I may therefore have had a lower level of patience/tolerance (?) than normal, but I tried very hard not to let this show. My aim during the course, and I think that of any self-respecting tutor, is to build on the trainees’ strengths and to support them to become the best teachers they can be within the confines of a four-week course, and hopefully instil in them the desire to keep reflecting and developing once they’ve finished the course. In case you were wondering, this trainee did pass the course, although it was a weak pass, as they continued to struggle through the course. If they’d failed, I might understand the feeling behind these comments a little more.

Does anybody have any other suggestions on how to give feedback on ‘not to standard’ lessons, so that I can try to avoid a repeat of the situation with the latter trainee?

Day Four

There are four assignments on any CELTA course. Although each centre has slightly different variations on them, they are all designed to cover the following areas:

  • Focus on the learner: finding out about either one learner from your TP group in depth, or a little about all of the learners in the class, or both (depends on the centre), and providing materials to deal with two (normally) of their specified language problems, specifically related to grammar, vocabulary or pronunciation;
  • Language awareness: analysis of items of grammar, vocabulary and functions to prove that you can use reference materials to find out information about language, and break it down sufficiently to be able to deal with it in class;
  • Skills task: creating tasks based on a piece of authentic material, normally two receptive tasks and one productive;
  • Lessons from the classroom: reflection on your strengths and weaknesses as a teacher based on observations of you and other teachers during the course, and an action plan for how to continue your development.

Candidates are allowed to resubmit each assignment once if it doesn’t meet the criteria the first time, and they receive clear feedback on what they need to work on.

Today we were looking at the language awareness assignment, which tends to be the one with the highest rates of resubmission because so many people find it hard to break language down sufficiently to be able to teach it. In my experience, those who have learnt English as a second language are normally OK with this area, but may still have trouble with detailing how to check the language, whether it be with CCQs or otherwise.

Language awareness is a particular problem for native speakers, and is one of the reasons why I don’t think CELTA should necessarily be seen as the benchmark for employment that it can be in some countries/schools, since it needs to be backed up with a knowledge of how the language works. That’s not to say that people with CELTA shouldn’t get a job, just that if you’re teacher (often a non-native) with a good command of the language and no CELTA, you shouldn’t automatically lose out just because somebody else has a CELTA.

The areas trainees really ought to find out about before the course are:

  • the difference between parts of speech (noun, verb, preposition etc);
  • the names and forms of the basic pedagogical tenses in English;
  • the main functions of each of these tenses.

Of course, that’s only a tiny slice of the English language, but it’s a good grounding to start off with. It’ll be a bit of a confidence booster once the course has started.

Here are a couple of useful books [both affiliate links, so I’ll make a few pennies if you buy them through here]:

  • Grammar for English Language Teachers by Martin Parrott – designed with teachers in mind, it includes possible problems students might have, and tasks for you to do to help you understand the language better;
  • Teaching English Grammar by Jim Scrivener – very easy to find your way around, including possible timelines, ways of checking the concepts, and contexts to introduce each language point in.

Another possible help would be a language awareness course, such as the one offered by IH.

Assignments are one of the places where being a CELTA tutor can feel pretty stressful, since there’s normally a very quick turn-around, and you’re trying to mark them in any spare moment you have. That’s been at home on all of my previous courses, but this time I decided that work will be at work, even if it means going in early, and home will be for me, including getting some of the posts written which I’ve been meaning to do for ages! As a result, I’m feeling a lot more relaxed on this course. I hope it continues!

Day Five

We’re half-way through the course, so today the trainees planned their lesson focuses (foci?) for the next two weeks, aiming for two skills and two language lessons each to cover the remaining four TPs.

The tutors also had a relatively light day, doing feedback on yesterday’s classes and preparing for and administering Stage 2 tutorials, a 15-minute or so individual meeting with each trainee updating them on their progress on the course so far, dealing with any questions the trainee raises, and telling them what they need to do to meet their potential. It’s based on a list of criteria which the trainees mark themselves against, then the tutor assesses them too, a comment by the trainee and a comment by the tutor, making sure everyone is on the same page and that there won’t be any nasty surprises later in the course (at least, that’s the plan!)

Other progress reports done during the course are a brief one at the end of Stage 1/week 1 and a Stage 3 tutorial at the end of week 3 if the trainee is not performing as expected. They can also request informal tutorials.

I have to say that I find some of the criteria a bit odd/unnecessary, the main one being 2f: The candidate shows an awareness of register. I’m not really sure why this is given it’s own criteria when analysing form, meaning and phonology is a single criterion, as is teaching those three things – many trainees are really good in one or two of those areas, but not necessarily in all three. Another odd Cambridge thing is that the first group of criteria on the list (connected to planning) are all numbered 4, followed by 1, 2, 3, 5. A strange way of counting!

There was no TP tonight, so I took advantage of the early finish to have a peaceful evening bike ride. Here are a three of the beautiful views I saw:

Wat Pha Sukaram

Wat Pha Sukaram

Rice paddy at sunset The mountain near Chiang Mai and Wat Pha Sukaram

My new favourite podcast

About a month ago (when I first started writing this, nearly 8 months ago now!) I was browsing iTunes podcasts and came across The History of English podcast. It’s presented by Kevin Stroud, a lawyer from the United States. It’s designed to be a complete history of the English language, going right back to the Indo-European roots of the language.

History of English podcast

Kevin has a very clear presenting style and is always well prepared, with clear links running through the whole series. The episodes are 30-60 minutes, and vary in length depending on what the presenter decides to include, from linguistics to historical detail. I like the fact that he doesn’t have a fixed length for each episode, as with other podcasts that can mean missing things out or cramming things in. They’re just as long as they need to be, although some people might find them a bit repetitive at times. I think the repetition helps though because Kevin doesn’t assume you remember past episodes, or that you’ve listened to them all.

I’ve learnt a lot of European history from the podcast, including things I vaguely knew about before but didn’t really know what they were, for example the Punic Wars.

I find the etymology Kevin discusses particularly interesting, including the history of the names of various countries which I’d often wondered about. The episode that I thought was most fascinating was about the history of the letter ‘C”, which has helped me with my Russian too as it explained the ‘funny’ order of the alphabet. I regularly have ‘aha’ moments while listening.

I would highly recommend it to anyone with even a passing interest in history or linguistics, which I imagine includes a lot of readers of this blog!

[I’m not sure why it took me 7 months to publish this, since it’s been ready all this time…but better late than never!]

I often see trainees who spend hours and hours producing beautiful materials, then have so little detail in their plan that they end up teaching a pretty poor lesson, sometimes even below standard. Another problem with organising planning time is failing to complete the language analysis sheet, normally a required part of planning from TP3 (teaching practice) onwards.

One trainee on my current course was having particular trouble with approaching their planning, so today we came up with this step-by-step approach to prioritising when doing lesson planning for CELTA:

  1. Write your main and secondary/subsidiary aims.
    If you don’t know this, the rest of the lesson is very hard to put together!
  2. Complete the (relevant) language analysis sheet.
    For many trainees, this is left to the end, and becomes a big scary thing that is just there to be put off and/or rushed at the end. By getting it out of the way right at the start, you know what you’re dealing with. The LA is designed to help you feel more confident in the lesson, and be able to deal with whatever the students throw at you related to those particular language points. It’s also the grounding for the language focus in your lesson, as it helps you to find out what you need to cover. Do include any CCQs you plan to use, because there’s nothing worse than writing ‘ask CCQs’ on your language analysis, then in the lesson wondering how on earth to phrase them! This is the best time to think about them, not in the middle of TP!

    Sometimes the language analysis can be a bit like this

  3. Based on the aims of your lesson, decide what kind of lesson it is, and check what the main stages of that type of lesson should be.
    For example, if you’re teaching vocabulary, will it be text-based? Situational? Test-teach-test? Does the lesson include speaking skills? What are the stages of a speaking lesson? etc Don’t write procedure at this point, just the stage names.
  4. Decide which of the stages is the most important, and should therefore account for the longest activity(ies) in your lesson.
    In a writing lesson, this would be the writing stage, for example.
  5. Allocate the remaining time you have available to the rest of the stages you listed at step 3.
    If you’re teaching elementary and you need help, see here. You might still find some useful tips there if you’re teaching other levels.
  6. Now you know how long you have for each stage, it’s time to add the procedural detail.
    Exactly what will you do at each stage? How will you set up the activities? How will you give feedback? Do you need a peer check? And will you realistically be able to do all of this in the time you allocated to that stage during step 5? Can you make it more efficient? If you’ve allocated too much time, do you need to rethink step 5? And do you really, really have time to do that amazing activity you’ve just read about and really want to have a go at, even though it doesn’t really help you achieve your aims? Is there anything else you need to remind yourself to do?
    As a tutor, I’ve noticed that until it’s second nature, if it’s not in the plan, it’s not in the lesson, so if you want to do it, write it down. It’s not a 100% guarantee, but you’re more likely to manage it if it’s in the plan!
  7. Fill in the rest of the planning document, e.g. assumptions, anticipated problems/solutions, materials etc.
    By now, you should have a fairly good idea of what to write for all of these, since you’ve had plenty of time to think the lesson through.
  8. Finally, the fun bit! Prepare your materials.
    Now that you’ve completed all of the important paperwork you need to do, you know how long you have left to be able to dedicate to creating/adapting/cutting up those all important materials. Go nuts!

If you’re anything like me, your mind goes blank when you look at a computer screen (oddly enough, not when blogging, but I digress!) and you think much better with paper. I’d therefore recommended plotting out steps 1-5 roughly on paper before you go anywhere near the computer, and possibly 6 too if it helps.

The following four steps are optional extras, to be added if you have time to do them, or a particular problem with these areas:

  • Script your instructions.
    A great tip I got from my main course tutor in Sevastopol was to aim for instructions of three sentences of three words each. While this can sometimes be impossible, it helps you to avoid long embedded sentences of the “What I’d like you to do now is I’d like you to…” variety. Use imperatives. Something like: “Read this. Answer the questions. Work alone.” accompanied by pointing at the handout is good. It might sound harsh because there are no politeness markers in there, but it’s efficient and to the point.
  • Script ICQs.
    Seeing ‘Ask ICQs’ in a lesson plan without them being followed by said ICQs is one of my personal bugbears. As with CCQs in the language analysis, if you’re going to use them, script them. Make sure they only deal with potential problem areas, as otherwise they may well confuse the students more than if you hadn’t asked them. And remember that doing a clear example/demonstration can often negate the need for ICQs, and sometimes instructions too!
  • Create a skeleton plan of your lesson.
    If you get overwhelmed by looking at your complete plan during TP, this can be a useful way to give yourself a reminder without having to spend hours working out where you’re up to while the students are staring at you. A skeleton plan is a brief outline of the stages of the lesson, perhaps with one or two useful reminders.
  • Rehearse the lesson.
    If confidence is a problem, going through your plan one more time before the lesson, either alone or with someone else, can really help you to feel more confident, and more sure about what’s coming next.

This was a system I came up with off the top of my head today, so I’d be interested to hear whether it works for you. And trainers, do you use anything similar?

I’m very proud to be one of the TeachingEnglish associates, a group of wonderful English teachers from around the world. Each month a series of topics is posted on the ‘blogs‘ section of the British Council TeachingEnglish site, which everyone is invited to write about, including you! Here are the topics for February 2015, and anyone is welcome to join in. If you haven’t tried blogging before, why not give it a go? To inspire you, the associates offer their takes on the topics.

My contribution for February is about teaching pronunciation to advanced students.

My students hard at work on the pronunciation activity

Click here to read it: ‘Advanced Pronunciation’. It’s based on an activity I’ve used successfully with a few classes, and there are some general tips too.

If you do choose to join in, why not share the link here so that others can read your posts?

*or…

Tips I give my CELTA trainees, which kind of work, sometimes.

I’m now on my fourth CELTA course since September, and on all of them I’ve worked with the elementary students only (that will change next Monday when I’ll finally be with intermediate). Trainees are constantly asking me how to work out the timing on their lesson plans, and I’ve had plenty of opportunities to try to calculate some formulae to give them at least approximate guidance. Since I was always pretty rubbish at timing my lessons before I became a tutor, and haven’t had chance to see if I’ve improved yet, these notes are to help me in the future too!

This is what I’ve come up with so far (remember, this is with elementary students):

Starting the lesson

Make a note of the time you start, and calculate what time you should finish. Do this during the first activity before you forget. If it helps, write it vertically at the side of the board as a reminder. You’re less likely to erase it if it’s vertical than horizontal. To make doubly sure, draw a box around it. Enlist your TP groups’ help with timing, and ask somebody to give you a 5-minute warning if you think it’ll help.

Hampton Court Palace clock (24 hours on one face)

Hopefully the clock you use won’t be quite this complicated (my image)

Lead in

This shouldn’t be longer than 10 minutes in a 45-minute lesson, preferably closer to 5. Allocate a couple of minutes for greeting the students and setting the initial task, a couple of minutes for them to speak in pairs or small groups, then one minute for quick feedback. You should be setting the context/getting students into the topic here, not having a full-blown discussion.

Instructions

Always allocate 1-2 minutes for giving instructions and activity set-up, especially if you need to move the students/furniture.

Speaking

Students generally need about 1 minute per question, possibly each if they’re working in pairs/groups. Remember that at elementary they are probably translating the question into their language, coming up with the answer, then translating it back into English, no matter how much you might want them to operate in English only. That takes time!

For speaking tasks which required extended production, not just one or two sentences, you needed to allocate preparation (‘ideas’) time too, say 5 minutes give or take, depending on the task and the amount of support they get in the way you set it up.

Students also need practice time before performing in front of the whole class (‘language time’), when they can ask you for help. Again, depending on the way you set it up, this is going to be about five minutes.

Writing

As with speaking, students need both ‘ideas time’ and ‘language time’, though here the language time is when they’re actually producing their writing. Whether they’re working alone or in pairs, 10 minutes is probably about right in a 45-minute lesson, although again, this depends on the length of the text you want them to produce, and how much input you’ve given them before they write. Another way to work it out is to time yourself doing the piece of writing, then multiply that time by three or four.

Before students write, you need to allocate time to focussing on useful language from the text which the students can steal for their own writing. Set aside 5 minutes for this, maybe longer depending on how many things you want to highlight.

Reading

Reading for gist should be quick. That’s why it’s for gist – it’s to get an idea of the general topic and structure of the text, to prepare you for more detailed reading later. Set a time limit, probably 1 or 2 minutes depending on the length of the text, and stick to it. Don’t let the students keep reading after this – if necessary, get them to turn over their paper/close their books. Remember that you still need a peer check after this, which again should only be about 30 seconds, because if your gist task is appropriate it will only be a couple of relatively easy questions which don’t require long answers.

On the other hand, more detailed reading takes time, especially if students aren’t confident. I’d recommend 3-4 minutes for your average detail/specific information task, depending on how much the students need to reread/write. Again, don’t forget to allocate time for the peer check!

Listening

You don’t have so much control over time in a listening lesson, because the length of the audio determines it to some extent. That mean’s that when you’re preparing, you need to check how long the recording is! Work out how many times you’re going to play it, including the initial/gist activity, and (probably) one more repetitions than you expect, so that you can focus on any problem areas that come up during the lesson. You may also need to consider the time it’ll take to set up the tech, although hopefully you’ve done this before the class starts.

As always, don’t forget to factor in peer checks, perhaps between listenings as well as at the end of each stage, as this particularly helps weaker learners.

Presenting language

This is the major time sink in most lessons I’ve observed, especially if the teacher decides on a board-centred presentation. It’s hard not to keep talking when everyone is looking at you, and verbal diarrhoea eats time!

Two tips:

  1. Avoid long board-centred presentations if at all possible. How can you hand it over to the students?
  2. If you do have to do one, allocate about 15 minutes. They never seem to take less time than that! And in a 45-minute lesson, remember that’s a third of your time.Remember to allocate time for meaning AND form AND pronunciation. Again, do you have to be the centre of attention, or can you break it up somehow?

That’s not to say that T-centred presentations are a complete no-no, but make sure you’ve planned them thoroughly, and you know when to stop talking!

If you’ve managed to make it SS-centred, follow the tips in ‘language practice’ below.

Drilling

This depends on how quickly your students pick up new forms, how big the class is, how many pieces of language there are and how long each item you’re trying to teach them is, but it should be at least five minutes. Shorter than that and there probably isn’t enough repetition in there. Consider breaking it up a bit by getting students to repeat things to each other in pairs or small groups after the whole class stage and monitoring for problems. This takes the focus off you for a few seconds, and adds a bit of variety.

Language practice

Again, this depends on the type of activity students are doing and on how good your teaching was. If they still don’t really get the language, then this will all take longer. These are tips for controlled practice activities, based on the most common ones I see. For freer practice, see ‘speaking’/’writing’ above.

  • Matching: about 15 seconds per item.
  • Gapfill with words there: about 15-30 seconds per item, depending on the number of words.
  • Gapfill with no words (open cloze – students have to think of the words themselves): about 30-45 seconds per item.
  • Writing/rewriting sentences: about one minute per item.

Feedback

Reminder number one: feedback shouldn’t take longer than the activity you’re feeding back on, unless there are major problems for some reason.

Reminder number two: writing things on the board takes time. If you’re doing it, make sure you have a good reason why, and that it’s not just for the sake of having something to do. If the students are doing it, is everyone involved? What are the other students doing? Are they just watching? (It can be a good way of keeping fast finishers occupied, as long as they don’t end up doing it all the time.)

I’m not sure there’s a particular rule on the length of feedback, but it should make students feel like it wasn’t a waste of their time doing the activity, and it should round off the activity enough that students are ready to move on. Here are some approximate amounts:

  • Speaking/Writing: Allocate time for both ‘feedback on content’ and ‘feedback on language’, probably about 3-5 minutes for each, depending on how you set it up.
  • Reading/Listening/Controlled practice activities: 2-3 minutes, including dealing with any problems, unless students need to see the written form of the answers (especially for full sentences) in which case you may want to get them to write things on the board, which will take longer. To make it shorter, have the answers ready to show/give them.

Peer checks should be factored in before open-/whole-class feedback, probably 1-3 minutes depending on the length of the task and the difficulty students have had with it. Monitor carefully during peer checks so that you can make your feedback more efficient (read, faster).

In general

I’ve found that planning in nice round 5-minute units is generally the way to go. They normally balance out across the lesson. If I try to do odd 3/6/8-minute times, they always end up being 5/10-minute ones anyway! That means that in a 45-minute lesson, you have nine 5-minute units to play with. Use them wisely. :)

Planning your lessons

Remember that tasks fill the time allotted to them. A good night’s sleep is more important than a perfect lesson! If you don’t believe me, here’s a CELTA candidate’s (short!) take on it.

If you’d like some more tips about timing, Jonny Ingham might be able to help.

I hope these tips work for you, and if anyone has any others, please do share them. I know trainees will appreciate them!

CELTA Week One

Day One

Information overload, getting your head around so many different things, asking loads of questions, trying to get all the right documents, getting to know everyone…and that was just me!

This is my:

  • fifth CELTA course
  • fifth centre
  • fifth country
  • fifth MCT (main course tutor)
  • fifth set of documents
  • fifth approach to giving TP points (the guidance trainees get for their teaching practice =observed lessons)
  • fifth variation on assignments
  • fifth procedure for doing feedback
  • and probably many other fifths…

It’s a good job I’m flexible, adaptable, and settle in quickly :) I’m looking forward to staying in one place for the next four CELTAs though, if all goes to plan.

IH Chiang Mai

There are worse places to spend the next four months…

15 trainees, 3 TP groups/classes, 2 levels (elementary and intermediate), with another CELTA running parallel with 10 more trainees, meaning 5 tutors in total, plus a tutor-in-training. Lots of people to learn from, and you end up sharing some of the work, which makes things easier.

The 45-minute demo lesson I did tonight went fairly well, as did my Russian lesson in input [note to self: really must learn how to say ‘stand up’ and ‘sit down’ in Russian!], although I forgot to set time limits for a few tasks that really needed them, so I dropped a task and still went five minutes over. My instructions have improved a lot since I became a CELTA tutor, but I shouldn’t repeat them so much. I also need to make sure that I anticipate problems with vocabulary a bit more carefully when doing a reading text. Timing and instructions were problems identified by my tutor when I was doing CELTA, and I still haven’t managed to sort them out!

Day Two

The joys of using a coursebook you don’t really like for TP (no, I’m not going to tell you which one):

  • when referring to it in an input session on receptive skills, I struggled to find a decent reading text which the trainees could use to plan a sample lesson (most of the ‘reading’ texts in the book were isolated sentences or glorified gapfills);
  • students don’t really need to understand any of the language to answer many questions in the book; they just need to be able to recognise that what they’ve read/heard is identical to what’s in the question;
  • there’s a lot of work that needs to be done, especially in the first week, to help the trainees to be able to use it.

Luckily, I don’t have to write the TP points for it, as my co-tutors have done that. Another plus side is that it’s good practice for the trainees in adapting materials.

The three trainees who taught today all survived their first lesson, and the students seemed to enjoy it. They may even have learnt something! For most trainees, the most important thing about TP1 is getting through the lesson, especially if they’ve never taught before. It’s a scary thing to stand up in front of a bunch of strangers, one of whom is assessing you, and 2-5 of whom are making notes on your every move, and try to behave like this is an everyday occurrence and you are confident and competent in every why, while at the same time a million things are going through your mind, the most important of which is “What the hell am I meant to be doing now?” Well done, guys!

Day Three

Generally on a CELTA course you share input with one other trainer. There are two input sessions a day on most days of the course, each lasting 75-90 minutes depending on the centre/timetable, meaning one each. This week, though, there’s a special arrangement here, where one trainer gets two linked inputs one day, and the other gets two linked ones on day four. Today was my ‘day off’. Why, oh why, did I therefore nearly fail to plan either of my inputs for tomorrow today, given I had all this extra free time?! I wish I knew the answer to that. I ended up managing to do one of them this evening after TP as I unexpectedly had an extra 45 minutes at school, but now I need to go in extra early tomorrow at the start of what is already a long day to put together the other one. Grrr. Must learn from this in future and get to school earlier, as it seems I can’t work well at home at the moment. Normally I’m less productive at school, but here it seems the opposite is true.

On the plus side, because we only have 5 trainees in each TP group, we have a ‘free’ teaching slot every other day, meaning we get to finish 45 minutes earlier, which is nice :) The two who taught today also survived!

Typical TP1 problems I’ve seen (and ones which I’m still guilty of at times!):

  • over-explaining activities, rather than just demonstrating them;
  • echoing all the students’ answers;
  • random words all over the whiteboard.

Amazing things I’ve seen in these TP1s:

  • getting to know the students really quickly;
  • showing real interest in what they’re saying, and treating them as human beings, rather than as learning machines present only for you to teach at;
  • real teacher presence and confidence in front of the class from all five trainees;
  • dealing with materials that didn’t fill the 45-minute slot as trainees expected by filling the time effectively and usefully.

Day Four

Today was a bit of a killer.

The day started with me having to plan the session I didn’t get round to yesterday, then teaching two sessions based on somebody else’s materials because I hadn’t found the time to put together my own for the second session. I had stuff for the first one already, but no time to put together a linked lesson planning session, and there are materials at the school and ready to go for it, so I couldn’t really say no! I’m not a fan of working from other people’s materials as is, and I struggled a bit with the lesson plan in the text-based presentation because I hadn’t internalised it as much as I thought I had, but I managed to survive in the end, and I think both inputs went relatively well.

Because TP finishes so late (20:15), we have delayed feedback the following day. Trainees can sleep on their self evaluation, instead of having to write it immediately after their lesson when it’s difficult to be objective, and the trainer has a bit more time to finish off their feedback too, which is useful for me while I figure out how the documents work here. My favourite comment today was when one trainee described how pleased she was they’d all survived TP1, and that they felt like a family already :) We’ll see if they still think that in three weeks’ time!

TP rounds off the day, and after two inputs in the morning, I was really flagging. At some points I was having trouble keeping my eyes open, but a biscuit between watching the second and third trainees helped me to stay focussed.

When I got home I realised my unusual tiredness today, despite a good night’s sleep, wasn’t just because of the long day. Instead, it was because I’d only had five (small) meals on day three, rather than my usual six, because of the times I ate at. Due to the vagaries of my diet, I have to eat 300g every three hours, and I should avoid snacking as much as possible. I try very hard to look after my health now, and I don’t normally miss a meal. The last time I did it was quite a while ago, and I’d forgotten the effect it has on me. I won’t be doing it again any time soon!

Day Five

As with most of my work, my favourite thing about CELTA is the mix of people I meet. Before the course starts, we put together a document with basic information about the trainees, mostly limited to their prior experience, any languages they speak (for the foreign language lesson) and their age, so we can have a fairly even spread of age/gender/experience between the TP groups. I like to look at it again at the end of week one to see whether the dynamics I expected before the course have played out, and whether there is any other information I can draw on now that I’ve spent a week with the trainees.

There are a lot of people on this course with prior teaching experience. That means that sometimes they know more about things than I do, particularly if they’ve specialised in certain areas. Today I did an input session on phonology to introduce the phonemic chart, and one of the trainees was very helpful when it came to coming up with examples for certain kinds of sound which I had forgotten to prepare, like a glottal stop to show the epiglottis at work.

CELTA is designed for people with no experience whatsoever, so if you do have some, it can both help and hinder you. Sometimes there are bad habits that you need to break, like spending too much time at the board, or treating your adult students like children. That’s not to say that complete newbies don’t do the same too! Sometimes trainees have already done a lot of professional development and self-reflection before the course, and they are aware of the areas they need to work on. They are also already comfortable in front of a class, which can’t be underestimated.

For completely fresh teachers, there are also two types: those who panic when all those staring eyes look at them for the first time; and those who are complete naturals and seem like they were born to teach. Luckily, we don’t seem to have any of the former type on this course.

Regardless of the level of experience, the most common complaint on CELTA is about the workload, and this is compounded in week one by a few other feelings:

  • Information overload;
  • Why does planning take so long? Will I ever get faster at it?
  • How many things do I have to think about?!
  • When can I sleep? No, no sleep. Can’t sleep. Must work.

To anyone considering CELTA, I would always recommend making sure you have at least half a day off a week and that you get a semi-decent night’s sleep every night. Your lesson plan may be perfect, but if you can’t stay awake to teach the lesson, there’s a problem, and you won’t take anything in in input either!

To the trainers, especially if you’re in your first few courses, leave the work at work! If you have to take it home, keep at least one day a week for yourself. For the first time, I’ve managed to not really do any work at home on this course, as I’ve been able to prep my input sessions at school. I’ll also be taking the whole weekend off.

I’ve just sent this to my trainees to round off the week (always my first port of call when wanting to cheer people up or give them a 5-minute break):

Well done for surviving week one!

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