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

Archive for the ‘CELTA tutoring’ Category

Observer guidelines: giving feedback

I just wrote these guidelines for post-observation feedback to supplement an MA assignment and feel like they’re worth sharing. What would you add/remove/change?

The aims of post-observation feedback are to:

  • boost teachers’ confidence.
  • develop teachers’ ability to reflect on their own teaching.
  • help them build on their strengths.
  • identify 2-3 key areas to focus on developing and come up with concrete ideas for how to do this.
  • deal with any questions or concerns the teacher may have.
  • explain, if necessary, any areas of methodology or terminology which may be useful for teachers in examining their future practice.

Effective observation feedback is

Timely / Prompt
The closer in time the feedback is to the observation, the better, as events will be fresher in both of your minds.

Factual and non-evaluative, describing behaviour without judgment
Feedback should clearly establish what, when, where, and how, and avoid commenting on why. It should address the actual lesson based on direct observation, rather than the assumptions and interpretations of the observer, or criticisms of the person (You’re not organized at all, are you?). It also avoids value judgments (The students were engaged in the activity. rather than That was a good activity.)

Specific
Feedback should address specific aspects of the lesson and provide clear examples of what was observed.

Balanced
Both positive and negative aspects of the lesson should be discussed, and always should always be reinforced by specific examples.

Something which can be acted upon
Action points should be based on things which the teacher can do something about, not things over which they have little or not control (e.g. Teachers can make sure late students come in quickly and quietly, but they can’t stop them from being late). Any suggestions for action points should be accompanied by discussion about how to work on these, with ideas preferably coming from the teacher rather than the observer.

A space for learning within a dialogue / Not over-directed
The observer should ask relevant questions to encourage teachers to come to their own conclusions as far as possible, rather than presenting them with the observer’s conclusions (How do you think the lesson went? Why do you think the students took a long time to complete that activity? rather than I thought that lesson was too difficult for the students. They didn’t understand the activity so couldn’t complete it.) If the teacher is talking more, they have the space to formulate and articulate ideas, process thoughts and form new understandings – they are less likely to do this if they are just listening. The more the feedback comes from teacher reflecting on their lesson, the more ownership they have over it, and the more likely they are to be able to act on it. Dialogue also reduces the danger of giving advice without fully identifying the problem.

Caring and respectful
The amount of feedback given should be limited to what the teacher can handle, rather than covering everything the observer would like to say. Equally, don’t be afraid to challenge the teacher to push their thinking. The teacher needs to know that we have their best interests at heart. Remember that the teacher’s nonverbal behaviour can be a clue as to how they feel about the lesson and the feedback, not just what they are saying.

Checked for clarity
You need to make sure that the teacher has understood the feedback you have given, and what they need to do to work on action points. Asking teachers to summarise the feedback at the end of the meeting is an opportunity for the teacher to tell you the positives from the observation as they understand them, plus what the teacher needs to do next, and for you to clarify any confusing points.

Part of a process
Emphasise that you don’t expect teachers to be able to resolve any issues you have noted instantly, and that it may take time to work on them. Request feedback on your feedback too, so that teachers see you as a learning observer and feedback giver and you demonstrate how to successfully receive feedback.

A positive experience, balancing feelings and rationality
For post-observation feedback to be successful, teachers need to trust the observer and feel comfortable receiving feedback from them. They also need to feel ready to receive feedback. If they are already feeling very stressed, anxious, angry, or in any other way negative about the situation, ask them if they would like to rearrange the feedback session for a later date. If you are not sure about how to give feedback in a particular situation, discuss it (confidentially) with somebody else first if you can. Teachers have the right to have an emotional reaction to observation feedback – their feelings should not be discounted. Equally, don’t be afraid to say how things in the lesson made you feel as an observer. Emphasise strengths and improvements made, and encourage confidence and positive thinking as much as possible. Make sure the feedback meeting ends on a positive note.

References

These guidelines are adapted from the following sources, with my own ideas added:

  • Diaz Maggioli, G. (2012) Teaching Language Teachers: Scaffolding Professional Learning. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Education (page 92)
  • Mann, S. and Walsh, S. (2017) Reflective Practice in English Language Teaching. London: Routledge. (page 165 and page 159-160 based on Waring 2013:104-105)
  • White, R. Hockley, A., van der Horst Jansen, J. and Laughner, M. S. (2008) From Teacher to Manager: Managing Language Teaching Organisations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (page 65-66 based on Porter 1982)
  • Wallace, S. and Gravells, J. (2005) Mentoring, 2nd edition. Exeter: Learning Matters. (pages 55, 58, 69, 70, 74).

Stopped teaching? Don’t stop developing!

In April 2019, Rob Howard edited an edition of the free online teachers’ magazine Humanising Language Teaching. He pulled together various members of the Independent Authors and Publishers group to fill an edition of the magazine with articles from across the world of EFL, including teaching, materials writing, and teacher training.

It is a with great pleasure that I introduce this edition of HLT Magazine. As the organizer of the INDEPENDENT AUTHORS & PUBLISHERS, I have the honor of working with some of the biggest names in self-publishing and this like-minded group of individuals has come together for the third year to help spread the word and give new authors and publishers a voice in the everchanging arena of ELT books, training and “socialpreneurs” that will surely make up a big part of the future of ELT.

My own article, Stopped teaching? Don’t stop developing contained a selection of ideas for trainers, managers and materials writers to continue developing their craft. Here’s the opening paragraph:

There is a lot of information out there for teachers who want to continue to develop professionally, and there are a couple of other articles in this magazine about it too. However, there is nowhere near as much information about how to keep developing if you are still involved in language teaching but not in the classroom every day, for example working in academic management, training teachers, or writing materials. Although you can continue to use many of the methods recommended for teachers, such as writing a reflective journal, it can be difficult to know where to find specific resources relevant to these career paths. This article aims to remedy that.

You can see the full contents page here – there’s plenty of good stuff to read in there!

I’m in IA&P because of my books Richer Speaking and ELT Playbook 1/Teacher TrainingClick on the links to find out more and learn how to buy them. Right now, I’m also working with Freeed to find 30 people who will win copies of ELT Playbook 1. The competition closes on September 30th 2019.

ELT Playbook 1 cover

Helping teachers to reflect

Reflection is one of the areas of professional development which I’m most interested in, to the extent that I’ve written two books to try and help teachers and trainers to reflect when they don’t have any face-to-face support where they work. Yesterday we had a 90-minute session with ideas for helping teachers to reflect, as part of the NILE MA Trainer Development course.

Reflection doesn’t work

I’ve tried to get teachers to reflect in my sessions. I’m a bit disappointed with the results. To be honest, I’m not really sure how to get them to think. Help!

Here’s a list of questions I came up with to ask this trainer, supplemented with ideas from my partner in the group:

  • What techniques have you tried so far?
  • When did you use them?/At what point(s) in the sessions?
  • Are your trainees ready to reflect? (both in terms of experience of teaching and of reflection i.e. do they know how to do it?)
  • How do you model reflection for them?
  • You said you were a bit disappointed with the results. What kind of results would you like to see?
  • How much time do you give them for reflection activities?
  • How concrete or abstract is the reflection? i.e. Is it based on concrete events or abstract ideas?
  • How personal is it? Do they have to ‘expose’ their beliefs/their classrooms/their ideas in any way?
  • What kind of questions are you using? i.e. Open? Closed? Leading? Hypothetical?
  • What’s the balance of listening to speaking in the reflective activities?
  • How active is the reflection?
  • How consistent/patient were you with setting up reflection? Did you persevere with it?

What would you add to my list?

Reflection on short courses

We also read an article from English Teaching Professional Issue 55 March 2008 (pp57-59) called ‘Time for reflection‘ by Sue Leather and Radmila Popovic. I’m afraid you’ll need to be a subscriber to read the whole thing. It talks about “the importance of reflection on short training courses and how to structure and support it.” There are two ideas in the article which I particularly like.

The first is timetabling 30-60 minutes into the daily schedule of the course for reflection, either at the end of the day or the beginning of the next day. It should be timetabled as ‘reflection’ and not part of another session.

The other idea is including a notebook as part of the course, which will become the participant’s journal. It will be private unless they choose to share it, and could be used for free writing, and it doesn’t matter if it’s in English or not.

Has anybody tried either of these two ideas? Did they work for your trainees/context?

Helping new teachers survive and thrive – IH World Facebook Live (recording)

Here is a screenshot from the first ever International House World Facebook Live, featuring me and Giuliana Faldetta:

Sandy and Giuliana during facebook live

The topics we covered were:

  • avoiding teacher burnout
  • helping new teachers combat homesickness
  • what to do if a teacher refuses to teach a particular age group, but there is nobody else who can take the class
  • how you can encourage new teachers to engage in CPD
  • what CELTA trainers can do to prepare trainees for the reality of teaching

The recording is available here, though I believe you need a facebook account to watch it. You can also add comments and further questions to the recording.

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on what we discussed, and what else you’d like to know if you are a new teacher or if you work with new teachers.

TP Interrupted: The Role of the Trainer in CELTA Teaching Practice (guest post)

Amy Blanchard guest posts on my blog again… 🙂

On 11th January 2019 I gave a 30 minute presentation at the International House Academic Managers and Trainers conference called TP Interrupted: The Role of the Trainer in CELTA Teaching Practice. I wanted to share my recent experiments with intervening in TP, clarifying what I mean by intervention; how I’ve been doing it and why. I also discussed potential problems and solutions, and gave my tips on things to consider before trying it yourself. Here’s a summary of what I said.

What

When I started asking other trainers about intervening in TP the first thing that came up was correcting trainees’ language, or information about language. That is not the focus of this talk, though it certainly is my policy that I don’t let trainees teach incorrect language; it’s not fair on students and it can have a negative impact on the following trainees.

I’ve always worked on courses where I was able to check the language analysis first to anticipate misunderstandings of the target language, so usually any inaccuracies in TP are related to incidental language that comes up. Generally, I will indicate to the trainee that something is wrong, and help them to clarify.

However, what I began experimenting with last year was intervening for different reasons, looking more at classroom management issues like positioning, instructions, pace, speed of speech, board work and even concept checking.

How

Gestures

Gestures can be a discreet way of signalling to the trainee that they need to monitor; that an activity could be done in pairs; that they should add a word to the board; reduce speed of speech; pace etc.

Stop and Intervene

Some of the others are difficult to correct with gestures alone, and this was where I started intervening a bit more, actually stopping the class and giving instructions, or asking the trainee questions. Sometimes it’s as simple as reminding them to follow their lesson plan and let students check in pairs, or encouraging them to use a CCQ [concept checking question] they’d prepared.

Here’s a clearer example from TP 2. I was observing a nervous trainee with no teaching experience. She muttered some vague instructions (to ‘have a look at the handout’) to one student at the side of the room and started to distribute handouts. I could see the students looking at each other, confused, and knew this would have a detrimental effect on the rest of the lesson. I asked her to stop, take back the handout, stand in the centre where all students could see her, show the handout and clearly indicate which activity to look at, and tell the class what to do.

Why

I haven’t found that much written about the tutor’s role in TP. The debate about whether to intervene or not gets a couple of lines in Thornbury’s CELTA course trainers’ manual [affiliate link]. He says “it can be argued that learning any new skill is best achieved by collaboration with a more experienced other”.

Something I feel strongly about is that CELTA is a training course and we need to be training, not just testing.

If we want to help our trainees do more, they need support. Could intervention and coaching from the side-lines be the scaffolding trainees need to achieve more?

I’m wondering if giving feedback to trainees can be equated with the feedback we give our students; consider on the spot vs delayed feedback. Could a combination be best practice?

Perhaps intervening in TP makes it more memorable – certainly the look on my trainee’s face when I told her to stop what she was doing showed that it wasn’t an experience she’d forget in a hurry. Importantly, it allows us to give information at the moment the trainee needs it, rather than after an hour or two hours, or even later on some courses. How useful is it to say to someone “two hours ago you stood slightly in the wrong place; try to avoid that next time”.

It’s the difference between show and tell – trainees can clearly see what you mean, and they can see impact on lesson, rather than everything being hypothetical.

It makes the ideas you’ve been talking about in input or feedback sessions more concrete, and you can demonstrate to trainees what you really mean, in their context. Importantly, it offers opportunities for improvement within the lesson.

Correcting my trainee on her instructions near the start of lesson led to better instructions for her next activity. She clearly remembered what I said, went back to the middle of the room, showed the handout and gave clear instructions, addressing the whole class.

But – what did she think of it? In preparation for my talk, I emailed a few trainees from the summer courses and asked for some feedback: Do you remember me intervening in your TP? Please comment on how it made you feel, and why it was/wasn’t effective.

I found your interventions positive and effective as I was very green and did need reminding of certain things.

It made me feel more confident after because I know those adjustments in teaching were helping students learn in a more effective way. Getting in-class feedback and recommendations was very helpful to me especially because it was in the moment as opposed to post-lesson.

Potential problems (and solutions)

Ambiguous gestures can be confusing and distracting; and my advice here would be agree the signals beforehand. Be aware of how much information you are trying to give, and how overloaded trainees already are. Keep it simple and make sure you reinforce it again in feedback/input etc.

Is it too prescriptive? This is a general worry of mine on the CELTA; I don’t want to impose my teaching style on new teachers. Stick to the basics, focus on classroom management and allow them to follow your instructions in their own style (within reason!)

Trainees may react badly. This is always a danger with giving any type of feedback. A large part of a trainer’s job is being intuitive to the way people react to feedback – if they are not going to react well to this approach, don’t try it.

Things to consider

Manage expectations: (of trainees and students)

If you interrupt with no warning, of course this will freak trainees out. But if they know that it’s a possibility – or even a policy – and they are prepared for it and understand the intention behind it, it will be much less alarming. As for the TP students, there may be some concern that the trainer’s intervention will cause a loss of face in front of the students, so again, it’s important that the students know the situation: that they are trainee teachers on a training course. In my experience, TP students are usually grateful for the intervention!

Personality types: Be sensitive / Ask

As with all feedback, some people take it better than others. I always say a large part of my job is managing people’s egos and giving feedback in the way that’s most acceptable to them and that they’re most receptive to. On the spot feedback is obviously no different. Use your intuition: if they’re clearly having a bad day, it might be better not to. The other option is one we use with our students: ask them how they feel about on the spot correction; if they want it or not.

Balance

Again, as with our students, you need to strike the right balance – you obviously don’t want to “correct” everything as it would be demotivating and stop the flow of the lesson.

Discuss interventions in group feedback

It’s vital that all trainees understand why you intervened – this is something that can be elicited in feedback, as well as its impact on the lesson/learners etc.

Written feedback reflects action points

If you intervene to improve a trainees positioning/monitoring/instructions etc. that should still go down as an action point in your written feedback. They need to prove they can do it successfully without intervention in later TPs.

Withdraw support as the course progresses

I intervene less and less (hopefully you find you won’t need to!) – perhaps a little again at the changeover of groups but really nothing by TP5 unless they are trying out a new technique etc.

Questions to discuss

I asked the trainers that came to my talk at the IH AMT conference to discuss two questions, and I’d encourage the same discussion here too:

  1. What’s your experience with intervention in TP?
  2. Do you agree with it or feel it should be avoided? Why?

I hope these discussions do continue and I’d love to hear from anyone who has experimented with this approach in TP or who has any questions about it. We’ve discussed this and similar topics on #CELTAchat which happens on Twitter on the first Monday of every month at 7pm UK time. You can find summaries of our chats on the CELTAchat blog.

Amy Blanchard

Amy Blanchard was an Assistant Language Teacher on the JET programme in Japan and completed a voyage with Peace Boat before moving to Spain to work for International House. She has just taken a new job leading the CELTA programme and teaching English for Academic Purposes at a British university. She is particularly fond of whiteboard work.

Change or die trying: Introducing differentiation on initial teacher training courses (guest post)

Unfortunately I couldn’t attend Karin Krummenacher’s IATEFL 2018 presentation on providing differentiation on initial teacher training courses like the Cambridge CELTA or Trinity CertTESOL. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this kind of course, they generally last four weeks full-time, including workshop-style input sessions, observation of experienced teachers and peers, and (crucially) six or more hours of observed teaching and feedback from tutors. There are as many kinds of four week course as there are tutors, and no two are exactly the same as long as they meet the criteria of Cambridge or Trinity, but one thing that is extremely rare is differentiation for the trainees. Karin has kindly agreed to write up her presentation as a guest post, so we can all find out more about how this might be possible.

To differentiate and challenge our students based on their prior knowledge and current abilities is something we teach our trainees in pre- and in-service teacher training courses. At diploma level it becomes a key criterion and there is tons of literature about it. And then many of us trainers go on and make trainees with outstanding language awareness sit through over half a dozen basic grammar input sessions throughout a 4-week TEFL course in which they will learn close to nothing, most likely receive no differentiated tasks and might be asked not to reply to the next question because we already know they know. I would not be particularly impressed with a trainee handling a strong student in a lesson like this and I get more and more annoyed by us trainers doing it.

And while the reasons are obvious to a degree (that’s the course they signed up for), I don’t think they are good enough to keep doing what we’re doing the way we are doing it. Once upon a time, when the CELTA still had a different name, the groups of trainees were homogenous and what the course taught them was, in a way, revolutionary and useful. Nowadays, trainees identifying as non-native English speakers outnumber trainees that identify as native English speakers on the majority of courses. Our one “strong student” has become half the class by now and we still tell them to only answer when prompted instead of questioning our approach.

Jason Anderson has investigated at length how experienced teachers with MAs in pedagogy take 4-week initial training courses because Trinity Cert TESOL and CELTA have become a global seal of quality. The course is no longer what it used to be and the fact that very often it is still taught the way it was taught in the 1990s makes me picture John Haycraft, who first designed CELTA, rotating in his grave.

“CELTA has to change or die” said Hugh Dellar when I talked to him last year. He’s far from being the only one who’s unimpressed. Since the courses started they have been criticised (see, for example Anderson, Hobbs, Fergusson and Donno [behind ELT Journal paywall] and Borg [behind paywall]) and the voices have become louder and louder. I agree with all the criticism by experts and practitioners when it comes to short initial teacher training courses (ITTCs), but letting them die is not an option for me. It may be because I myself entered the profession that I now consider my career and vocation through an ITTC that I come from a place of great love and admiration for these courses and the educators who train people on them. I believe in the concept, I believe it works and I do not want it to vanish because I think we would miss out on some excellent teachers. Most experts suggest making the courses longer. However, as much as we would all like that, from an economic point of view, this makes little sense to course providers and is not the appeal it has to customers either.

I set out to find a way of differentiating on ITTCs. My colleagues laughed at me.

It’s too difficult, too much admin, too complex.

You’re already working 12 hour days. Do you really want to add to that?

If it could be done, it would have been done.

It may be a late effect of being the only female in a male clique when I was a teenager (strikingly similar to my work environment nowadays, by the way) but dare me and I’ll do it.

At least 13,000 candidates per year take the CELTA or Cert TESOL (based on numbers from Green 2004 and information requested from Trinity). That’s not even considering all the TEFL schools accredited by less rigorous organisations. And all Cambridge Assessment and Trinity College London tell us about these people is whether they identify as native or non-native English speakers. If you are a trainer, you will know that there is so much more to our trainees than that. One of the reasons why I, and many of my colleagues, love the job is that there is no group like any other, no trainee the same as the next. You can divide them by nationality or place of birth but there will be disappointingly few conclusions you can draw from this. In a single group of trainees, you can find so many different people with different motivations to take the course, different backgrounds and different aims. Some people take an ITTC because they want to change their lives, start a new career and plan on doing the diploma two years later. They’re in it for the long run. Others simply need to prove to their parents that the Eurotrip they paid for is not just drinking with people you met in a hostel. Many want to fund their travels before they return to their “real job” back home. Some want to lose their fear of public speaking. The ones that usually end up most disappointed are the English literature majors who want to spark the love for the English language in their students. It’s tough to love a language and make it your job to hear people butcher it 10 hours a day. Trainees have told me they wanted to build up their confidence or are just in it because their boyfriend wanted to do the course. Some see it as a challenge and aren’t planning on teaching a day in their life after the course. More than you would think are experienced teachers that want to go international.

A mixed group of Karin's trainees

So again, why don’t we do with our trainees what we do with our students? That is, a thorough needs analysis. The idea is to do this in two parts:

Part 1: A diagnostic test. Applicants take an online test and you feed their results into Excel. I’ve come up with a formula that will assign sessions based on performance and spit out a tailor made timetable for each trainee. Meaning the ones who answer questions on verb tenses wrong, will be assigned sessions on verb tenses. The ones who answer them right will not. All trainees will still have the same number of input sessions, just not the same ones or necessarily at the same time. Multilingual candidates will be assigned sessions on using L1 in the classroom, so they can do so deliberately and without feeling it is the wrong thing to do. Trainees that aren’t quite confident about their own proficiency will get an English for specific purposes course that really polishes their teacher language and makes them feel more confident while monolingual trainees learn a little bit of a foreign language, so they can empathise with their students. This all means we offer trainees a schedule based on their background and abilities. This is something I’m still trialling, but the diagnostic test may contain tasks such as:

  • Identify the verb tenses in the following sentences
  • Identify the parts of speech (based on a given list) in the following paragraph
  • Match the words with the correct phonemes
  • Mark the word stress in the following words
  • Match the sentences with the grammatical structure (e.g. conditionals, modals for obligation vs. speculation)

Diffentiation graphic - needs analysis on left, timetable icons in the middle (different colours), mid- and end-of-course reflection on right

Part 2: Setting aims. The teaching practice tutor will agree on personal aims with their group of trainees. This means that feedback on teaching practice will be as focused and personalised as possible. The trainer and trainee assess progress in the middle and at the end of the course.

The diagnostic test can be redone as a summative test at the end of the course. Together with the achievements of their personal aims, this will then be the starting point for professional development. This is something really important that in my experience is not done at the moment or not done enough. Partially, this is down to the way ITTCs are sold. The marketing says that you are a teacher and ready to go out in the world after 4 weeks. And people take that at face value. Unfortunately, this is unlikely to change and stands in contrast to the fact that these courses were never meant to provide a standalone solution to teacher training. But what we can do is equip our trainees better and make them more reflective beginner practitioners. They will benefit tremendously from having a better understanding of where they stand and what their strengths and weaknesses are. And to get our marketing teams on board, it is a unique opportunity to advertise our programmes beyond teacher training, like workshops, online courses, diplomas or in-service training.

Finding out what our trainees need is the first step. The obvious question is, how can we give it to them? Not every centre has the capacity to entirely revamp their course and I’m not saying that’s necessary, but I believe we could get a little more creative and offer more differentiated input sessions. That would mean though, that we wave goodbye to input sessions being mainly delivered face-to-face. I have thought of different ideas on how to deliver input and have come up with different puzzle pieces that can be combined as needed.

Jigsaw pieces with these things written on them: Action research, observation tasks, peer teaching, boot camps, flipped inputs, Q and As, online/face2face, specific pre-course tasks

Whether trainees get tailored pre-course tasks, attend very intensive sessions on linguistic systems, such as grammar, in so called boot camps, benefit from Q and A sessions with tutors or teach each other in designated peer teaching slots, whatever works best in your context will be the right thing to start differentiating. This can be a slow addition to the course over several months and does not have to be all at once. Maybe some sessions can be added to the regular timetable, others delivered through online learning. Common needs could be addressed through video summaries. It will depend on the groups’ needs and the resources, tutors and space available. For most centres, a mix will be the right way to go.

In this way, timetables for trainees could become more varied and trainees would get more personalised content that better prepares them for the challenges they will face. It would free up timetables for more interesting content. Instead of teaching basic phonemes, these would be learned independently, and class time can be spent on how to teach phonology to students, the really interesting stuff.

Obviously, there would be some flexibility required from accreditation bodies. The Unknown Foreign Language in its current form could no longer be part of the assessment on Trinity Cert TESOL courses. And while CELTA has a very flexible syllabus, centres would benefit from being encouraged to make more use of it. At the same time, this could be an exclusive opportunity to promote more professionalism in initial teacher training and remind customers that these are in fact level 5 qualifications on the UK Qualifications and Credit Framework and therefore have an academic aspiration.

Overall, the idea is to take our trainees’ backgrounds and goals into consideration more. No matter how small we start, these initial courses need to change or die trying.

About the author

Karin Krummenacher

Karin Krummenacher is a freelance teacher trainer on Trinity Cert and Dip TESOL courses, researcher and international conference speaker. She holds Cambridge Delta and is currently working towards an M.Ed. TESOL, researching the role of ITTCs and their implications for professionalism in the industry. This article is based on her IATEFL talk from April 2018 for which Jason Anderson, Hugh Dellar and Ben Beaumont were invaluable sounding boards. She has recently started blogging at thekarincluster.wordpress.com. Give Karin a shout at karin.krummenacher@gmail.com or on Twitter @thekarincluster.

The trainer’s well-being (#CELTAchat summary)

This is a summary of the #CELTAchat which took place on Monday 7th May 2018. The topic was ‘The trainer’s well-being: what can/should be done to protect the trainer when things get rough?’ You can read the full transcript and find out who the chatters were here. Below you will find some of the challenges which were mentioned for trainers, and possible solutions for them.

Image of the CELTAchat question from above

Institutions should have mechanisms in place to protect tutors from burnout. All trainees are experiencing the course for the first time, and a burnt out trainer can’t help them properly. It’s not necessarily very healthy to do CELTA after CELTA. For example, you could have at least a week off between courses or take a break and teach, though one trainer pointed out that some institutions overdo this and give the trainers too many hours to teach, so they still don’t actually have time to reflect and develop. It’s also really helpful if the centre has a spare tutor available, so you know that it’s possible to take time off sick if you need it without worrying too much. Cathy Bowden asked if we sometimes feel guilty about making a scheduling decision because it’ll make life easier for trainers, but as Fiona Price pointed out even though she thinks about trainee needs first, if something makes trainees’ lives easier, it normally makes everyone’s lives easier. I personally find two input sessions on one day really tiring, even if that means I have a morning/afternoon off at another time in the week, but some trainers prefer this pattern.

Five-week intensive courses can also take some of the pressure off both trainees and trainers, where circumstances allow. This normally works as four days per week, with either Wednesday or Friday off. However, this can be more expensive for potential trainees as they have to pay for accommodation for longer and miss work for an extra week.  They also might not believe just how tough the 4-week course is until it’s too late! Freelance trainers may also find it a challenge to combine 5-week courses with their other work. Another way to help trainers is to not require them to be at the centre for set hours – if they can leave once input sessions are done, or only come in when they’re needed, they can manage their time in the way that works best for them, instead of trying to find work to fill the time that they’re at the centre. Another variation is to have a maximum number of trainees per course which is lower than the six per trainer official maximum, for example maximum 10 trainees rather than 12. This is not so common nowadays though, as it’s often not financially viable. To help trainees, Tom Flaherty says: “On intensive courses, Ss struggle to process overwhelming amount of info provided, though. What about 6-to-9 month part-time course that provides trainee Ts with apprenticeship & time to learn, reflect on & research their teaching, leading to Qualified ELT Status?” Fiona Price pointed out that it is possible to run part-time CELTA courses providing the 120 contract hours over a period of up to a year.

Working with ‘difficult’ trainees can be very challenging, and trainers don’t tend to get taught how to do this. Instead they have to learn from experience. Angeles Bollas did a presentation at IATEFL 2018 talking about this. It’s a skill which trainers need to reflect on: some trainers are unnecessarily strict and demanding – this can end up causing stress for the other tutor, not just the trainees! It’s not always easy to make feedback wholly developmental, but it’s very important, though some trainees can be uncooperative or potentially disruptive for other trainees.

Anthony Gaughan mentioned that a lot of the day-to-day stress on the course is related to discrete grading of lessons. On Trinity or UK state teacher training individual lessons aren’t graded (or they weren’t in his day!). He asked: “How do you feel before you have to tell a trainee their lesson was not to standard, especially when a) they won’t agree, or b) it will lead to a Stage 3 not to standard, a warning letter, etc.?” – I, for one, hate all of that, though I also know that we need to let trainees know as soon as possible if there’s a problem, and help them to resolve it. As Cathy Bowden said, we have to bite the bullet to maintain the standard of quality, and make sure trainees know they’re in danger of failing.

Anthony also asked about immediate feedback/paperwork return, versus delayed feedback. For me, immediate feedback is OK, as long as I have can return paperwork later, as I rarely get it all finished during TP. A delay for trainees can allow more time to reflect, but also to brood. This link about emotional intelligence and why it matters may help during feedback. Assignments are another area of potential stress. For example, getting all of the assignments marked, especially at the end of week 3 and in week 4, can be quite overwhelming, particularly if there are a lot of resubmissions. Trainers often end up taking them home to get them all done.

It’s important for centres to set expectations during the interview process so that trainees know what they’re getting themselves into. (You might also find the links in the first section of my Useful links for CELTA post useful for this.) Additionally, it’s very useful for trainers to chat and share experiences, through things like #CELTAchat or private messaging. Adi Rajan mentioned that his own levels of stress are directly related to the trainees’ attitudes and behaviours on the course and how well the group works together, and this is something I find too.

Angelos suggested getting feedback from the trainees every Friday, not just during tutorials and at the end of the course. He uses a feedback sheet with prompts, and gives trainees 30 minutes to discuss the prompts and write down ideas/views/opinions. Examples of prompts include:

  • What I liked this week
  • What I didn’t like this week
  • My favourite session was
  • My least favourite session was
  • For next week, I want more of
  • and less of
  • Feedback has been

It’s important they do this as a group, so that if someone is irrational about something, they will figure it out on their own if they see that the rest of the group are OK with it. This also emphasises the fact that teaching is also about team building. Once Angelos has read them, they have a discussion about an action plan for the following week. To fit this in, trainees stay a little longer on that day or have slightly shorter input sessions. This can help maintain a dialogue between trainees and trainers, and nip problems in the bud. These strategies also demonstrate reflection and professional development in action: we’re learning trainers, just like they’re learning teachers (or should be!)

Giovanni Licata asks for informal feedback every week on-site and every other week offsite. He also suggests having a neutral person on site who trainees can speak to, somebody who’s not involved directly with the course, though Fiona Price said that if trainees feel they have to go to a third party, this could suggest a bit of a disconnect. Giovanni emphasised that the third party should be there for trainees to vent to, but not to offer suggestions.

Fiona Price wants to experiment with the reflective cycle in assisted lesson planning, adapted from Gibbs (1988):

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Marisa Constantinides and Giovanni use the six thinking hats in peer observation, rotating the hats in peer feedback. Marisa also recommends the ’smelly foot tribe’ activity from Classroom Dynamics by Jill Hadfield [affiliate link] to help trainees with team-building and collaboration. They have to come up with a group name, logo, slogan, rap, jazz chant etc, over the first 2-3 days of the course. She’s worked with groups like ‘The Dirty Dozen’ and ‘The Elegant Dolphins’ 🙂

As Cathy Bowden and Adi Rajan pointed out, a lot of the chat ended up being about trainee well-being, rather than trainer well-being: ‘Are we too selfless for our own good?’ Fiona said that well-being is all about negotiation, between the centre and trainers, trainers with each other, and trainers and trainees. I think that’s a very good note to end on!

IATEFL 2018: Management, teacher training and development

I started off the IATEFL Brighton 2018 conference at the joint Pre-Conference Event (PCE) run by the Leadership and Management (LAMSIG) and Teacher Development (TDSIG) Special Interest Groups. I have already summarized what I learnt that day, but have included more detailed information from the sessions here, interspersed with ideas from the main conference, hence the combination of topics in the title of this post. This is by far the longest of my IATEFL posts this year, but I couldn’t work out how to separate the streams, so apologies in advance. I hope it’s worth it! 🙂

The #LAMTDSIG PCE was the first time I heard what became one of this year’s conference buzzwords for me: culture. Many speakers mentioned the importance of creating and maintaining a culture of CPD (continuous professional development) within their school.

How can we create a culture of CPD?

The first was Liam Tyrrell, who reminded us that the shared ideas, values and direction that make up the culture of a workplace or team are important. They are what lead to success. Organisational culture is the number one predictor of development outcomes and improved classroom effectiveness, according to Matthew A. Kraft in his 2014 paper with John Papay entitled ‘Can professional environments in schools promote teacher development?

Liam detailed four questions he asked when aiming to change the culture at his school:

  • What does it look like when the culture is changed?
    If you don’t know what you’re aiming for, how do you know the steps you need to take to get there? What is the pathway for teachers and the organisation? Small success will carry your organisation.
  • Who are the silent majority?
    Run down the list of names of people in your staffroom. The ones you come to last, or not at all (!) are the ones you probably need to shine a spotlight on. Find out about their successes and encourage them to share them. By amplifying them, other teachers can learn from them too. (Liam credits this idea to @nikkitau from TESOL France last year.)
  • What options can you give to people?
    The trick is not to have everyone doing the same thing (one size fits all), but to have everyone do SOMETHING!
  • How can you get recruitment right?
    Make sure people you recruit know what kind of culture they’re coming into, and that they’re comfortable with that. A team is a delicate balance, and every person entering or leaving it can change the balance, and with it, the culture. Is it better to recruit NQTs who see what you do as norm? Or experienced teachers who can mentor and drive change? Who will be able to create and sustain change?

(Side note: Clare Magee (see below) mentioned that during their recruitment process, they include a description of key challenges in the job, to ensure teachers know what they might be faced with. She also said that whenever possible, they try to recruit two people at the same time so that they’re going through the processes of joining the school together, and can empathise with each other.)

Finally, Liam emphasised that change takes time, and that half of the stuff you try is probably going to fail. This echoes one of my favourite ever things I’ve heard at an IATEFL conference: you have to kiss a few frogs to find the one that’s for you.

 

I am lucky that I inherited a healthy culture of CPD at the school I currently work for, and ‘all’ I have to do as Director of Studies is maintain and develop it, but if you don’t already have that a CPD culture at your school, Liam’s questions and the ideas below could help you to move towards one.

 

As part of the main conference, Oliver Beaumont and Duncan Jameson also described how to create a culture of CPD, using the metaphor of a garden. You have to create the right conditions if you want things to grow there. They centred it around three key words:

  • Engage: if teachers aren’t engaged, they won’t be interested. Show them how CPD can help them, and how it fits in with the school’s vision. Creating the right environment also helps, for example a classroom with posters from previous CPD sessions. Carve out time where CPD is a priority: if you value it, teachers will too.
  • Energise: give autonomy and ownership, and encourage collaboration.
  • Empower: ensure there is meaningful action to follow the session, so they can put what they have learnt into action immediately. If you include feedback and coaching in the sessions, a lot more of what they have learnt will stick.

Lizzie Pinard summarised the talk in more detail here.

Creating a welcoming culture

Patrick Huang described a transgender candidate’s experience of a CELTA course, with important points for the inclusion of all candidates who might be part of potentially vulnerable populations, and regarding culture changes which may need to take place to allow this. He noticed that there might be something different with this particular candidate due to the combination of a typically male first name and female second name – the example he gave was ‘Robin Jane’. Because of this, he asked the candidate to speak to him about their experience and to share what could have improved it. The main things Patrick learned were:

Safety should be key. Candidates should not be forced to disclose whether they are transgender/non-binary. For example, on the entry form, have an option for ‘Other’ in gender, not just male/female. Forcing candidates to select from a closed list of options could also have legal applications on a form if they have to sign something saying they did not knowingly give false information.

A pre-course meeting could include the question ‘Anything else you would like to tell me about yourself?’ rather than anything more direct, like ‘I notice that you…’ Again, this means candidates are not forced to disclose if they are not comfortable doing so.

Toilet facilities should be available for everyone. Consider converting an existing bathroom by changing the signing, for example to ‘Toilets for everyone’.

Pronouns should be used as indicated by the candidate. (If this is something you’d like to find out more about, I would highly recommend the BBC Word of Mouth episode ‘Language and gender identity’.)

For relationships and safety, consider introducing a code of conduct. Discuss these things with staff and candidates, preferably before you have transgender students on your course, so that they are aware of how they can help candidates feel safe. Make sure that this policy is adapted to the needs of individual candidates. There should be buy-in from the community, with the option to opt out if they really can’t cope with the situation.

Teacher-centred CPD

Another buzzword I noticed was bottom-up, with many of the speakers I saw talking about the need to move away from CPD which is imposed on teachers by management from above, and instead to create the structures for teachers to be able to work more independently on areas which they want to prioritise. As a couple of people said, ‘one size fits all’ fits noone.

As part of the #LAMTDSIG PCE, Clare Magee and Fiona Wiebusch from Australia talked about a very successful initiative which some of their teachers started, without prompting from management. They set up a Google Plus space to share 2-minute videos of ideas which make their jobs faster, better, or easier. Other people can comment on the videos too, and it often starts face-to-face discussions too. If teachers still have access after they leave the school, I think this could serve as a kind of institutional memory, and an alumni-type space, which they could still participate in if they choose too. This is probably my favourite idea from the whole conference. Once it was started, the institution ran some CPD sessions on how to create videos and how to interact politely on the platform, both in response to teacher requests.

Other ideas that Fiona and Clare described were:

  • #pdfest, one-day events organised by teachers for teachers to share their practice
  • #meetelt, Pecha Kucha events in pubs
  • #auselt, a Twitter hashtag for discussions (similar to #eltchat)
  • Pineapple charts to organise peer observation
  • A regular newsletter emailed to teachers across their organisations’ various sites
  • The Raise Your Voice choir

They suggested that it might be time to move away from the concept of change, and towards that of evolution and revolution. Hamel and Zanini (2014) say anyone can initiate change, recruit confederates, get involved and launch experiments. It’s not the leader’s job to do the process, but to build the platform. Fiona and Clare also said that in order to get all of these things working, managers should:

Give teachers time and money, and get out of the way!

 

I agree with this sentiment up to a point, but I believe that quite a lot of new teachers probably need a base level of knowledge about the teaching profession and about CPD opportunities before they can organise and run this kind of thing themselves. Most of the teachers at our school are in their first or second year of teaching. I have tried to provide the second-years with more space to direct their own development, but it has been challenging to work out and provide the amount of support that they really need to do this. It’s all well and good saying that they can develop however they want to, but if they aren’t aware of the possibilities and opportunities, it can become very directionless. This is where I think they next idea might help.

 

Josh Round and Andy Gaskins talked about Personalised Development Groups (PDGs), an idea Josh introduced in his school 3 years ago, and in Andy’s a year ago, and which has now gone through several successful cycles. Research which backs up their approach includes the Sutton Trust 2014 report on what makes great teaching. That and other reports show that effective CPD leads to great teaching, so it’s important to get the programme you offer right.

Teachers chose a first-choice or second-choice pathway, which enables them to be put into groups of 6-8 people. These pathways enable classroom-based, collaborative professional development, based on the choices of the participants, rather than the more top-down programmes traditionally offered by schools. They were based on areas that teachers had requested, or where they often needed more support. The school wanted a balance between structure and support, and autonomy.

Of course, PDGs aren’t perfect! Initially, they underestimated how long it might take teachers to come up with research questions, so they started to suggest examples within each pathway. It took time to put the scheme into place: change always takes time to be effective. There can also be problems with some members of groups not fully contributing, absence or sickness, and lack of structure – these are all problems I’ve found with a similar scheme I’ve tried to set up at my school.

Josh and Andy encourage teachers to be transparent with their students about what they’re doing – students seem to really engage with the teachers’ research. At the end of the cycle, there are feedback presentations which have become inspirational to other teachers at the school.

Lizzie Pinard summarised the talk in more detail here.

 

At the #LAMTDSIG event, Ed Russell described using the idea of PDGs at his school, once he’d got over the idea that he needed to ‘do some managing’, a feeling I’ve had occasionally too! As part of this, he created a new screensaver for staffroom computers to remind teachers about the stages of the PDGs. Generally, Ed wanted to make what happened in the classroom as visible as possible so that his teachers could share their practice and learn as much as possible from each other. He said it has led to greater discussion in the staffroom, and more of a feeling of cooperation between teachers. I was pleased that he mentioned using my post of ideas for alternatives to the Friday afternoon seminar as inspiration – always good to know! Ed’s school also used ‘cooperative development’, with one teacher talking for 15 minutes while another actively listened to them, then switching roles. Another change they made was in their use of language, talking about ‘my puzzle’ rather than ‘my problem’. Ed has shared some of the resources he uses on Google Drive.

The language of CPD

Ania Kolbuszewska extended the idea of the importance of language, a particular problem in her large school in Switzerland, a country where people are only prepared to take a risk if they are 100% sure of the outcome! She described her attempts to be more aware of the intercultural aspects of her job, something she had never been trained in. As she said, there is a lot of intercultural training available for students and businesspeople, but nothing specifically for managers in language schools, where we are very often working with people from other cultures who may have different expectations to our own.

In Ania’s experience, her teachers generally felt that institutions benefit from professional development, but teachers don’t really, especially if they’re not being paid for it. For some Swiss people, the status of teachers is like that of actors working as waiters until something better comes along. For others, CPD is a checklist for managers, and not something personal.

Cultural diversity in her school provides an additional problem: not everyone in her team speaks English and not everyone speaks German. She described the problems created by the fact that the term ‘CPD’ in English doesn’t have a direct equivalent in German or French, the two other languages she works with. The translations do not cover the same range of concepts, and are much more connected to training than development. Sending out emails in three languages meant that teachers who spoke more than one might compare the different versions and read into them meanings which weren’t intended. Ania therefore decided to use ‘CPD’ across all languages at the school, as well as replacing ‘workshops’ with ‘labs’, a more universal term which encompasses the idea of experimentation, not just learning. She also renamed all of the types of observation she wanted to use to make them as widely and easily understood as a possible.

The language you teach dictates the way that you teach it.

By making sure that the key terms being used were clearly defined and understood in the same way across the organisation, it has started to contribute to culture change. While Ania acknowledges that this process is top-down, she emphasises that this is to minimise problems with understanding the key concepts, in order to create the conditions for more bottom-up development further down the line.

Another change in their organisation is to have cross-language teams. Previously there were separate heads of French, German and English, but now teams are mixed. Echoing what Liam Tyrrell said (see above), these changes are a slow process, but they are gradually moving towards the CPD culture her school wants to have.

Action research

The cooperative development at Ed Russell’s school mirrors the first talk I went to in the main conference, which looked at how to help teachers come up with appropriate questions for their own action research. Paula Rebolledo and Richard Smith demonstrated a dialogue approach with a mentor to help teacher researchers come up with specific questions. When you’re listening to the potential researcher, you can guide them towards questions by noticing when they say ‘I think…’, ‘I guess…’, ‘I assume…’ For example, if they say ‘I think they enjoy it.’ ask questions like ‘What evidence do you have of that?’ If they have none, that could be one of their questions. It’s important that the listener doesn’t come up with answers, but pushes towards questions.

Potential researchers who don’t have a dialogue partner could use question frames like these:

When checking if the questions researchers come up with are suitable, you can use the slightly rephrased version of SMART:

  • Study-oriented (oriented towards the study of the situation rather than action on it)
  • Measurable
  • Accurate
  • Realistic
  • Topic-focused

If action research is something you’d like to explore further, there is a free publication written by Paula and Richard available on the British Council website: A Handbook for Exploratory Action Research. It includes everything (as far as I know!) that was covered in the talk, along with a lot more. You might also be interested in ELT Research in Action, a free ebook edited by Jessica Mackay, Marilisa Birello and Daniel Xerri, published by IATEFL in April 2018.

Supporting new teachers

A cooperative practice of a different kind is mentoring, which Alistair Roy covered in his presentation. After 12 roles in 12 years at private language schools, Alistair has had one mentor. He’s had 26 ‘mentees’, including 7 at one time (as he said, how can you mentor people properly like that?!) When asked whether they’d ever had a mentor, I think less than a quarter of the 100+ people in the room put their hand up to say yes, not including me.

When Alistair asked colleagues for help with how to mentor, he was just given checklists, so he started to talk to teachers about what they want from mentoring. He pointed out the amount of questions that we have on the first day of a new job, and how this is multiplied on your first ever day as a teacher, when you’re on your own in the classroom for the first time. He described the story of one new teacher who was given a checklist of things they should know soon after joining the school, and returned it with more than half of the items marked ‘I don’t know’, even though he knew they’d been given that information. This is something I’ve also wondered about in our intensive induction week model (anyone got any other ideas?!)

The whole situation was very different in his first year as a teacher at a UK state school, where he was given a mentor and an effective and useful process:

Alastair found that a lot of teachers seemed to want mentors in a similar position to them, rather than people with a lot more experience. They wanted people who could empathise with them and remember what it was like to be in their position. Josh Round also mentioned something similar at his school, where they have a buddy system for new teachers, with each being assigned a buddy who has been at the school for a little longer than them.

After 5 years, 91% of teachers who have a good mentor stay in the profession. Only 71% without a mentor do. (Institute for Educational Science) So what can managers do to support mentors? Invest money and time, support mentor and mentee, and understand what it’s like to be in their positions.

Lizzie Pinard summarised the talk in more detail here.

CPD for teacher trainers

Of course, it’s not just teachers who need to develop their practice: trainers do too. This was another theme that I noticed: the desire for more systematic training for trainers.

 

Teti Dragas talked about interviews she had done with teacher trainers to find out their stories, covering how they got into training in the first place and how they have subsequently developed. Her main findings were that trainers developed through building up experience, reflecting on critical incidents, working with and talking to colleagues, and attending events like IATEFL. There was little, if any, formal training for them. Another key way that trainers improved was by listening to their trainees, especially when there was resistance to their ideas. This prompted them to think about why that resistance existed, and how to counter it. Mentoring new trainers also helped. What are important qualities of trainers according to Teti’s interviewees? Knowledge, experience, empathy, reflection and open-mindedness. You also need to give trainees time to change their practice. We also need to keep up-to-date with changes in our field, so that we can give trainees the best possible information during their courses.

If you’d like to contribute to Teti’s research, here are her questions.

 

Jo Gakonga’s presentation was based around the idea that trainers need feedback on their feedback, but that most of us never get it. To get around this, we can audio record ourselves, transcribe a minute or two of the feedback, and reflect on what we hear ourselves say and do. The presentation is available as a mini-course on her ELT Training website, and it’s something you can use for professional development within your organisations. We used the course during Jo’s talk, and I would definitely recommend it. I’m hoping to record myself giving feedback at some point before the end of this school year, having just missed our final round of observations. Jo also mentioned the article ‘RP or ‘RIP’: A critical perspective on reflective practice’, written by Steve Mann and Steve Walsh, which I plan to read at some point.

Trinity and Cambridge

Finally, here are two representatives of the main pre-service training certificates for the private language school market.

 

Ben Beaumont’s talk about the effect of washback on teacher training doesn’t really lend itself to being summarised in a paragraph. However, he did share these Trinity materials designed to help teachers improve their assessment literacy. Each video comes with a worksheet, so they could be used as part of a wider professional development programme.

 

Clare Harrison described extensive research Cambridge has done to find out what changes people want to see in the CELTA course, and what changes have already happened. You can watch the full talk here.

They noticed that the percentage of L1 and L2 speakers of English taking the course is now roughly 50/50, compared to 75/25 in 2005. There are also more and more teachers with experience taking this course, which was designed for pre-service teachers. The ICELT, which was designed for experienced teachers, has a much lower take-up. The young learner extension course and CELTYL both had such low take-up that they have ceased to exist, but there is a huge demand for YL to be added to the course, as well as other types of teaching such as 121 or ESP. As Clare said, these are probably beyond the boundaries of a course designed to last for only four weeks and to train inexperienced people to teach adults, but CELTA seems to dominate the market so much that other courses can’t get a foot in the door. Other requests were connected to the syllabus, such as having a greater focus on digital, but as Clare pointed out, this is entirely dependent on the centre, and she reminded trainers to go back to the criteria regularly to check that their course is fulfilling the needs of trainees. Fiona Price has screenshots of some of the changes in criteria on her blog. There are changes in how CELTA is being delivered too: quite a few courses now embed CELTA in an undergraduate or postgraduate programme, for example. After the talk, Clare asked people for any other ideas they may have. Audience members suggested ideas like a post-CELTA module that could provide an extra qualification (Jason Anderson said this), or post-CELTA or –Delta mentors, perhaps with the option of uploading videos of your lessons to be commented on. There was also the suggestion of recertification requirements. I feel like my ELT Playbook series could address some of these needs, so please do take a look at it if you’re interested!

Find out more

Katherine Martinkevich has short summaries of quite a few of these sessions, plus a few others which I didn’t attend. Gerhard Erasmus summarised the #LAMTDSIG day for the TDSIG blog.

If you’re interested in Teacher Development, you might want to investigate some of the other things TDSIG does. They have an e-bulletin (members only), a podcast and run facebook Live sessions, all of which you can find information about on their website. For managers, you can find out more about the Leadership and Management SIG here. If you’d like to join IATEFL, find out how here.

And if you made it all the way through the nearly 4000 words of this post, well done! 🙂

What are you thinking about?

When I was a full-time teacher, my thoughts went something like this:

  • Why do I have to get up this early?
  • When will I find time to eat?
  • I hope my students are enjoying their lessons.
  • I really hope I’m actually teaching them something!
  • Hmm…that didn’t really work.
  • Oh my god, how could that lesson possibly have gone that badly?
  • This blogging malarkey is fun. I’m learning so much from everyone.
  • I don’t want this year to end because I’ll really miss my students.
  • …and so on.

Now, I’m a Director of Studies, CELTA trainer and materials writer, and my thoughts have (mostly!) moved on.

  • Why can’t I get back to sleep?
  • When will I find time to eat?
  • Where am I going to find the last teacher I need?
  • What teacher development should we offer this year? Is it giving everyone what they need?
  • Will this timetable ever be finished?
  • How can we make sure everyone feels comfortable at school?
  • That was really snappy/short/sharp/angry – apologise now and don’t let it get worse.
  • I wish I had more time in the classroom and to work on my own teaching.
  • I wish I had more time.
  • I really want to work on that CELTA course, but the dates don’t fit.
  • Where will my next CELTA course be? When will I know?
  • How can I encourage people to buy my book?

Richer Speaking cover

  • I’m really excited about this project – I can’t wait to be able to share it!
  • Don’t forget to put in your IATEFL proposal.
  • I need to make sure I still find time to get thoughts out of my head onto my blog.
  • I have too many ideas for my blog and not enough time!
  • Switch your computer off at 9:30. You know you’ll sleep better if you do.
  • Stop it. Look after yourself.
  • …and so on.

What are you thinking?

Observation tasks: ideas and good practice (#CELTAchat summary)

This is a summary of the #CELTAchat which took place on Twitter on 5th June 2017. #CELTAchat happens once a month, and is a chance for trainers to discuss issues connected to running the course. Summaries of previous chats can be found on the CELTAchat blog.

CELTA banner

This chat was based on observation tasks, allowing us to share ideas to help us make the most of these tasks. You can work your way through a full Storify of the chat, or read my summary below.

Amy Blanchard suggested the topic, having seen this tweet from Angelos Bollas:

A definition

Observation tasks are given to trainees to complete while they are watching colleagues teach, mostly fellow CELTA trainees in the examples shared during the chat.

Teaching practice and the associated observations are a key part of the CELTA course. Using tasks to focus observation can benefit trainees. The process of observation also helps trainees to get to know the students more quickly, hopefully making it less daunting when they come to teach them.

Examples of tasks

Lots of possible tasks were shared, some overlapping with others. In no particular order:

  • Give two or three CELTA criteria to each trainee to observe for, though Giovanni Licata suggested that this is more useful in the second half of the course.
  • Diagrams of seating plans for trainees to annotate. Useful for observing T-SS and SS-SS relations and highlighting TTT v STT problems in an objective way. It’s learner-focussed and can show who is engaged and participating (or not!)
  • T-S interaction with seating plan. Looks at eye contact and who speaks, plus where T moves in room.
  • A task focused on recommended staging/features of a skills or systems lesson. For example, it’s good for the trainees to focus on whether there was a purpose for reading or was meaning clarified in systems lessons.
  • Tasks that address lesson frameworks are useful: reading/listening, grammar, vocab along with the seating plan.
  • Get trainees to list stages and what teachers/students are doing when. If they can’t identify the stages, it may mean the teacher wasn’t clear about what they wanted to do!
  • One that works for ALL lessons: make notes on what one student is doing during the lesson in relation to a given task.
  • Observation of SS’ progression throughout lesson important, e.g coherence between tasks and learning thread.
  • How trainees handle unexpected events in the lesson, e.g. dealing with language issues or responding to learner questions.
  • At the IH AMT conference 2017, Danny Norrington-Davis talked about the task of trainees listening to learner output and practising correcting /upgrading language. This encourages them to practise responding to learner needs.
  • A focus on specific points in the lesson, e.g. delivering instructions, or TTT vs STT:
  • Trainee-generated tasks, though in the example below Giovanni believes that it is good for observation tasks to move the attention away from teacher’s action points sometimes:
  • Trainees to observe whilst thinking about their own action points,not those of the person teaching.
  • Depending on local laws and trainee/student wishes, you could also encourage trainees to record themselves or their colleagues, or take photos, e.g. of the whiteboard or classroom set-up.
  • Use teaching logs, by drawing a timeline and following the stages/timing:
  • For lessons towards the end of the course, trainees could draw a cartoon or comic strip of the lesson.

If this isn’t enough for you, John Hughes has a lot of ideas for observation tasks on his blog.

Considerations

As you progress through the course, try to make observation tasks relevant to the areas trainees most need to improve in. This can be tricky at the start, when you don’t know as much about their needs. You can also directly link observation tasks to input sessions (note to self: maybe each input session could end with a possible observation task?)

How do we address potentially waning motivation amongst trainees to observe and feedback? They have to observe a lot.

  • Using a variety of targeted observation tasks can help here.
  • It’s important to emphasise the fact that opportunities to observe colleagues when working full-time can be minimal.
  • Get them observing trainees in other TP groups to mix things up a bit.
  • You could do an observation without a written task, like the graphs or cartoons above.

Refer to observation tasks in your feedback, and encourage them to refer to them in peer feedback. This helps trainees to see connections between what they’ve observed and tutor and peer feedback.

Some trainers encourage trainees to copy peer observation notes for their colleagues. It can be useful for the reflective assignment.

My two cents

Since I only managed to join at the end, I thought it would be a good idea to write the summary and catch up on what I missed. In the process, it’s occurred to me that I’m not brilliant at setting observation tasks consistently, or on following up on them in feedback. My next CELTA course starts on Monday 10th July, so I think I’ll make this a focus to help me improve my training, having worked on making my feedback clearer in the last few courses. I’m looking forward to taking part in more #CELTAchats in the future!

IATEFL Glasgow 2017: Teacher training

As a CELTA trainer and Director of Studies at a school which mostly hires newly-qualified teachers, it’s now inevitable that at least some of the IATEFL Glasgow 2017 sessions I attended were connected to teacher training.

Staff room, IH Bydgoszcz

Here are my session summaries, along with some tweets at the bottom from sessions I didn’t attend.

Applying differentiation in teacher training (Alastair Douglas)

Alastair says that training teachers is just another form of teaching, and I agree! So we need to differentiate training too. I’m not sure why this hadn’t really occurred to me before, or at least, it had in passing, but I’d never really though about how to put it into practice. When training teachers, we’re giving them a model of how to teach.

Just as your language students look to you to provide ‘correct’ models of English, so too will your trainee teachers be looking for good models of teaching in the way you carry out training.
A Practical Introduction to Teacher Training [affiliate link] by John Hughes

For example, on a CELTA course in Vietnam, they differentiated language awareness sessions for natives/non-natives. With native speakers, they focussed on grammar, and with non-natives, they focussed on lexis (e.g. collocations, ‘natural’ language). Alastair Douglas and his colleague wrote this up in Modern English Teacher 24/3. Non-natives could also help native speakers with their language awareness.

On another course, they were working with both primary and secondary school teachers on different ways of presenting language. Here’s an example of a session plan by Jacqueline Douglas:

A final way of differentiating training which Alastair is still experimenting with is the option of using more detailed lesson plans for final lessons on initial teacher training courses, with a more in-depth focus on learner profiles, stage aims and the rationale for them. This allows stronger candidates to really show off what they know about their students and what they can do in the lesson, and balances the extra attention that weaker candidates tend to get at the end of such courses. This idea was inspired by Chris Ozóg.

Other ideas were:

  • workstations
  • tasks with different levels of scaffolding
  • varying the number of questions to answer
  • different activities in different rooms
  • different guided discovery tasks
  • jigsaw tasks
  • get trainees to decide which materials to use (hard/normal)
  • give trainees the option to prepare more before sessions, e.g. through preparatory questions

There are some problems with differentiation:

  • for trainees:
    • overreach, where trainees try to do something harder than they can manage
    • loss of face (hence grading tasks as hard/normal, not hard/easy)
  • for trainers:
    • more time needed for material preparation
    • difficulties with managing feedback (can be through worksheets, sharing in an information gap)
  • for courses:
    • if there’s a set syllabus (but can work within it)
    • assessment – making sure it applies to everyone

Alastair also found that differentiation wasn’t always necessary if techniques were equally new to all trainees. On a course with more and less experienced teachers where they were analysing lexis, he gave more experienced teachers a longer list of items to analyse. Because the techniques were new, it actually took both groups a similar amount of time to analyse the items. A similar thing happened in a CELTA session on using authentic materials, where he divided teachers into natives and non-natives, expecting non-natives to find it easier to identify language areas to focus on. Again, since the techniques were new to all trainees, differentiation wasn’t necessary.

To differentiate effectively, know your trainees, and you can tailor the courses to what is necessary. The more you can find out about the background of trainees, the better. Be explicit about what you’re doing so they can learn more about how to differentiate in their own teaching too.

This tweet was from a talk about mixed-ability teaching, but is relevant here too:

Analysing and reframing written feedback (Kateryna Protsenko)

The word ‘feedback’ only came into existence with the invention of microphones, and originally meant ‘awful noise’. Touching a hot kettle is an example of negative feedback, because you stop doing it. In positive feedback, action A gets bigger, e.g. in a herd as panic spreads, or when a fire alarm sounds, but it can turn negative if people end up doing something too much.

Trainees say written feedback is what they benefit from the most, but how much do we really think about what we write on it?

The biggest problem she found was that ‘good’ was the word she used most. This doesn’t help trainees to develop at all, and nor does it promote a growth mindset, something Kate had originally learnt about at IATEFL 2016 and on her MA at NILE.

Doing the same kind of analysis on weaker lessons using WordItOut showed she was giving much more useful feedback.

She also did a similar analysis with a colleague’s feedback:

Until they used the word clouds, they didn’t realise what dominated their feedback. As a result of these discoveries, Kate and her colleagues put together a word cloud of suggested words to use in their feedback:

Find out more:

Without putting my feedback through WordItOut (yet!) I’m pretty sure that my feedback will reflect similar patterns to Kate’s. I’m going to save her suggested words and have it open next time I’m writing feedback – hopefully what I write will be a lot more useful to the teacher, regardless of how strong or weak the lesson was!

Dare to share! Should trainees share their TP feedback? (Rebecca Brown)

Asking trainees the kind/format of feedback they want seems like a great idea! Why don’t I do this?!

One trainee said ‘The more feedback, the more you can improve’. Trainees said they often reread feedback more than twice. Oral and written feedback were considered equally important, but trainer feedback was considered more important than peer feedback.

Sharing feedback is something I’ve suggested with TP groups who have gelled well, and some groups do it without prompting. I often ask candidates if they mind me sharing aspects of their plan, materials, or feedback with other trainees during oral feedback, telling them exactly what and why I want to share it – nobody has yet said no, and some trainees have told me how much it has helped to see exactly what it is they should be aiming for. I’ve never done a survey of this kind though, probably because I’ve always been a ‘guest’ tutor – maybe one day if/when I regularly work for the same centre, I’ll experiment more in this way!

Getting teachers to act on teaching practice feedback (Tracy Yu)

Tracy did a survey with her trainees and found that over 70% of her trainees spent less than one hour reading their written feedback throughout the whole course. She wondered how to get them to apply the feedback more to future TPs. She also asked them what they would like to do if they could have an extra 30 minutes with their tutors: the main answer was to get 30 minutes of feedback and advice on their lesson plan before they taught, including reminders before the next lesson of what was discussed after the previous lesson.

Since then she has started to do the following:

  • Use Review – Reproduce – Retain to counter the effects of the Curve of Forgetting. Trainees review what they have learnt from feedback, and reproduce it in a different form (I think), helping them to remember their feedback better.

She also reminded us to ABD: Always Be Demonstrating! Don’t just preach to the trainees, show them how you want them to teach and how to respond to feedback.

Tracy says that we should be doing less feeding back and more feeding forwards, leading to the next TP, rather than looking back. A lot of training centres don’t give feedback on the plan before the TP, even though tutors think it would help. Time is an issue though.

One of the most frustrating things for me as a tutor is trainees who seem to have the same issues over a number of TPs, and who don’t seem to be reading their feedback at all, since it normally contains suggestions for how they can counter these problems! I like the idea of feeding forward, but I’m still not quite sure how to go about it.

The three talks above were all part of a forum on TP feedback. Here are some of the points from the Q&A afterwards:

  • One trainer suggests them starting written self-reflection immediately after lesson, pausing for oral feedback, then going back to finish it later.
  • A recent Delta trainee questions how easy it is for trainees to reflect effectively immediately after a TP, when you’re still in the heat of the moment.

Tracy works for the TEFL Training Institute, which has a blog and produces podcasts.

Easing the pain of language analysis in initial training (Bill Harris)

‘LA’ can mean language knowledge, language analysis, linguistic competence or language awareness. Different qualifications use different descriptors for the ‘language’ component:

  • CELTA groups language analysis and awareness, including strategies for assessment
  • Trinity defines it as just language awareness (I believe – I wasn’t keeping up well at this point!)

Bill did a survey with 72 trainers and 51 ex-trainees, asking 6 questions related to LA on courses. These included ideas about confidence with language before/after TP, books that are recommended on courses, whether is LA compulsory, and a few more I didn’t get!

Swan is the book most courses recommend, followed by Scrivener, and Parrott [affiliate links]. More trainers recommend Parrott, but trainees don’t buy it. A Twitter discussion after the conference showed that this is partly because it is very expensive to buy in Asia – I’m not sure how many of Bill’s respondents were based in that part of the world. My personal favourite from this list is Scrivener for trainees, especially because a lot of schools have a reference copy of Swan, which I believe is best used as a final resort if you can’t find the answer you need elsewhere! I think Parrott is useful, but Scrivener more closely reflects classroom practice.

Trainers comment that trainees get better at LA sheets in response to feedback. (see also ‘Desert island descriptors’ below)

Most native speaker trainees were petrified of LA before the course.

(Sorry, but I can’t read it any better now on a larger computer – you’ll have to ask Bill for it!) He has tried workshops where they do poster presentations on different areas of LA.

Bill believes the Language Related Tasks assignment should reflect Language Analysis as closely as possible. When putting together the LRT, some tutors put language in context (which helps trainees to understand it), others decontextualise it (so trainees practise creating contexts for language).

Bill Harris’s final word on Easing the pain of LA: hit them with as many support mechanisms as you can!

Desert island descriptors: where do our values lie? (Simon Marshall)

Simon has been teaching CELTA for 35 years’ and has trained in 22 countries, and is very positive towards the course, but he still has questions about the way it has developed over time. There are 42 descriptors in the CELTA 5 booklet, and a candidate is supposed to achieve all of them in 4 weeks.

He wanted to know which CELTA criteria trainers tended to consider more important than others, as many of us (me included) feel that the criteria are not all created equal. His survey asked us to choose the ‘most important’ descriptors from each section, and many trainers said it was hard to choose, as it depends on the stage of the course. Despite that, he came up with clear findings:

Part of Simon Marshall’s aim was to see how important language teaching really was on a language teaching course – both related descriptors appear here, which reassured him (and me!)

If the 5 descriptors on the graph were like the Premier League, it would have an influence on how courses are run, and which sessions were included. Rapport was one of the key descriptors identified, but it rarely appears on courses as a session: we seem to know what it is, but it’s hard to pinpoint: we know it when we see it. Being more independent is part of what we’re grading trainees on (see page 14), but there’s no specific descriptor for it now, although there used to be.

Out of 85 respondents, nobody chose the ‘writing’ descriptor, or any of the following, as the most important:

Simon Marshall emphasises that this seems bizarre in terms of value and confusing in terms of achievement. He reiterates that he’s not anti-descriptor in general. For me, some of the wording is confusing/unclear, and I really think they need to be updated, especially to reflect the fact that trainers know that some criteria are more important than others, but they’re all displayed equally to trainees.

To supplement his research, Simon asked a school he used to send trainees on to about how they were doing. The manager said they were good in lots of ways, but knew nothing about language. When reflecting on observations he had done, Simon noticed that:

  • CELTA graduates:
    • used a lead in/warmer, checked instructions, included lots of activity types, and plenty of social engagement…
    • but when he observed them teaching language, they could do it a bit, but they didn’t look as if they felt comfortable…
    • and when they did activities, there wasn’t much afterwards in terms of error correction, feedback, or building on language.
  • Non-native non-CELTA graduates:
    • used no warmer and lots of instructions
    • were ‘language-obsessed’ – L1 translations were possible, they could answer students’ questions, less communication
  • Watching a German CELTA graduate:
    • she hit the ball out of the park!
    • a range of activities…
    • but she also knew the language well, and could answer the students’ questions.

The same graduate wasn’t allowed to teach above B2 in one school because she was a non-native  – she was ecstatic for the opportunity when she moved schools. As Simon said, this is very wrong.

When Simon did his course in the 1970s, 7 of his 9 TPs were language-focussed, and he got a lot better at language over the course (echoing what Bill Harris said above about trainers noticing trainees improving their LA). Now, CELTA assessment criteria state  that weak lessons at the beginning of the course won’t be held against you. You can get through the course with only two language lessons, one of which is often early in the course. So if you only have one language focussed lessons that actually counts, how can you actually improve?

As Simon highlights, skills lessons are largely laid out for you in books, so perhaps we should shift our focus, and therefore also prioritise the descriptors more clearly. Echoing Bill, Simons says LA could also be described as language affinity, language aptitude, language affection? Do they like language? Do they show any impression of being comfortable with it? Language awareness also includes being ‘on the prowl’ for language that comes up in the lesson. We’ve got to make them technicians.

In conclusion, maybe our CELTA mission should be: to train language teachers who can teach language! (Though the course can’t all be about grammar!) I think this would be a much more useful mission for a lot of our trainees, although we’d have to think carefully about how to differentiate to cater for both native and non-native trainees. I certainly agree that the criteria drastically need to be updated or at least ranked in some way – come on Cambridge!

Tweets from other sessions

As an adaptation of the Desert Island Discs format:

Tweets from ‘Addressing the apprenticeship of observation: ideas for pre-service training’ by Joanna Stansfield (International House London) & Karla Leal Castaneda (Freelance):

From Teti Dragas’ session on using bespoke video observations as part of teacher training:

Jacqueline Douglas talked about using CELTA criteria on written feedback forms:

Things I learnt in Torun today

Today I had the pleasure of attending the annual International House Torun Teacher Training Day, which consisted of pizza, twenty small workshops divided into four slots of five sessions each, a break with more pizza and some yummy Torun gingerbread, a walk to a local hotel, a plenary with Adrian Underhill, and a Q&A session with various experts, of which I am now apparently one 😉

Torun

Here are some of the things I learnt:

  • Growth mindset should be influencing the feedback I give students and trainees, by focussing on effort and process/strategy, rather than natural talent and results. James Egerton gave us examples like ‘You concentrated hard on my last comments, so well done.’
  • Yet‘ is really important in feedback, as it implies that something is achievable. Consider: ‘You haven’t learnt much Russian.’ and ‘You haven’t learnt much Russian yet.’ It turns out that even Sesame Street know the power of ‘yet’!
  • The reason the sentences ‘They just don’t have a language learning brain.’ and ‘You must be really good at learning languages.’ annoy me so much is probably because they imply a fixed mindset, whereas even before I had a term for it, I always believed that anyone can do anything with some degree of success if they have the motivation and put in the time.
  • I think it could be a very good idea to have a CELTA input session on mindsets very early in the course. I wonder what influence that would have on trainees’ ability to accept feedback?
  • It doesn’t matter how many times I see Kylie Malinowska do the elephant story, it’s still enjoyable, and I still can’t keep up! I discovered that it comes from Drama with Children [affiliate link] by Sarah Phillips.
  • There are at least 15 things you can do after doing a dictation when students have put the paper on their heads to draw the picture you describe. Before today I only ever got them to describe it to each other. Though the only one I can remember without asking Kylie for the slide is battleships!
  • Using MadLibs with children is actually incredibly useful, as it encourages them to solve problems and notice when language doesn’t fit, but also appeals to their love of the ridiculous. I’d always thought they were a bit pointless before!
  • You can bring language from a student’s family and friends into lessons through things like doing surveys, doing project work, writing biographies, sharing photographs or doing show and tell. Dave Cleary explained that even if students do these in L1 at home, they’ll bring them to class in L2, and they’ll have a real reason to use the language.
  • A great activity for playing with language is to take a photo of a famous person the students know, and get them to finish sentences like ‘He’d look really great/silly with…[earrings, a long ponytail, etc.]
  • Telling students the story behind an idiom, whether real or made up, can help them to remember the correct wording, and maybe also the context where you’re most likely to use it, according to Chris McKie.
  • There is a Hungarian idiom meaning something like ‘Let’s see what happens’ which translates as ‘The monkey will now jump in the water’.
  • Adrian Underhill may have been talking about the pronunciation chart for a long time, but he still considers it to be outside the mainstream of ELT.
  • He’s incredibly passionate about it, and it’s very entertaining and engaging to be taught to understand the chart by him. I knew bits and pieces about how it fit together and how to teach it before, but I now understand it in a lot more depth.
  • All pronunciation can be boiled down to four core muscle ‘buttons’: lips (spread and back or rounded and forward), tongue (forward or back), jaw (up or down) and voice (on or off). This helped me to understand how I produce some sounds in English in more depth, and even one in French that I managed to learn but had never been consciously aware of how to produce!
  • If he was a cheese, Adrian would be some form of blue cheese – he went into a lot more depth about this, and I’m glad I didn’t have to answer that question!

Thanks to Glenn Standish and the IH Torun team for organising such an enjoyable day. Lots of ideas to think about, as always!

Two years as a CELTA tutor

Having written a post about my first year as a full-time DoS a few days ago, it occurred to me that this time two years ago I was training up as a CELTA tutor, and that it would be interesting to write a similar post about that journey. Then I realised I’d kind of already done that by reflecting on a year of CELTA 🙂 It turns out I’d already mentioned a few things that being a CELTA tutor has taught me, but here are some that I missed:

  • The mix of personalities in a TP group (the group of up to 6 teachers who observe each other and work together in teaching practice – real lessons) can make a real difference to how you need to work with them, and tutors need to learn to read this, as well as how to support the individuals and encourage them to work together as a group.
  • A lot of trees are sacrificed during a CELTA course, and many of these end up in trainees’ folders, which are often a good three or four inches (7-10cm!) thick by the end of the course.  Input session notes should therefore be as concise and easy to navigate as possible, and trainees should be encouraged (or sometimes told how!) to file them in a logical order. Sometimes it’s amazing to see how challenging organising a set of handouts can be for some people!
  • There may be a lot of right ways to do things as a teacher, but the amount of information overload on a CELTA course means that for some trainees it’s often better to give them only one option, walk them through it step-by-step, and let them see the results, before offering them other options later if they have the mental processing space with everything else they’re being asked to take in. Otherwise it can get too overwhelming. Simplify.
  • Whenever possible, showing concrete examples of things you’re suggesting is much easier for trainees to take in than abstract talk. This particularly seems to apply to requesting a more detailed lesson plan: showing trainees what to aim for tends to result in much more solid planning, and in turn, much more confidently delivered and useful lessons.
  • The CELTA is as much of a learning experience for the tutors as it is for the trainees. Through reflection and experience, we can become better tutors, but we also learn a lot from our trainees, who bring so much life experience to courses. For example, on the course I’ve just finished I learnt about daily life in South Africa, something I knew very little about before.

I’ve only done two courses over the last year, one part-time in Warsaw and one full-time in Milan.

View from the Duomo terraces

View from the Duomo terraces, Milan

I’ve also worked with a lot of teachers who are either fresh off CELTA or in their second year after the course, including doing formal observations. This has really shown the importance of the caveat (which should appear) on CELTA certificates that the candidate can ‘teach with support’. Although it seems to be forgotten sometimes, CELTA is an initial training course, and those who are newly-qualified continue to need support and development, particularly for the first year or two of their careers when they are building on what they have learnt. I’m lucky to work at a school which gives me the time and space to be able to really support our teachers in this way. An interviewer expressed surprise that one of our teachers only got a CELTA Pass when asking me for a reference for her, because she was so confident after her two years with us that the interviewer thought she must have got at least a Pass B, if not an A 🙂

The combination of these factors, plus having a bit more time to ‘play’ when preparing sessions, and often having 45- or 60-minute input sessions instead of the more standard 75 also meant that for the course in Milan I tried to make my input sessions more streamlined (as well as working on my feedback) and my handouts more useful both during and after the course. I always email them to trainees as well as giving them a paper copy, as I know that a huge binder is not normally a priority in your luggage if you’re moving around from place to place! I’m hoping to share more about how I design my input sessions in a future post.

In the meantime, here’s to another few years of learning and training 🙂

Thoughts on giving feedback to teachers

As both a CELTA trainer and a Director of Studies, a key part of my job is giving feedback to teachers after observations. I was prompted to write this post after listening to Jo Gakonga, a fellow CELTA trainer, talk about feedback on the TEFLology podcast, and looking at her new teacher feedback site. One of the things she said was that after our initial training as managers or tutors, we are normally left to our own devices with feedback, something which I’ve often wondered about. It’s useful to reflect on how we’re giving feedback, and I’d really like to develop this area of my practice more. Here’s a bit about where I am now…

I’ve just finished working on a CELTA at International House Milan, where I had two main development goals for myself as a tutor. I tried to revamp many of my input sessions to make them more practical and to make the handouts more useful and less overwhelming, and I also worked to improve both my written and oral feedback, again to be more practical and less overwhelming.

I have previously been told that sometimes my feedback can come across as negative, and that it’s not always clear whether a lesson has been successful or not. I also catch myself taking over feedback sometimes, and not allowing trainees the time or space for their own reflection or to give each other feedback. Timing can be a problem too. On the CELTA course, you can’t really afford to spend more than 15 minutes on oral feedback for each trainee, as there are other things which need to be fitted in to the day. The positive response I got from trainees at the end of the Milan course in response to changes I’ve made means I think (hope!) I’m heading in the right direction.

We had 45-60 minutes for feedback after each TP (teaching practice). By the end of the course, we were breaking it down into 15-20 minutes of peer feedback, with trainees working in pairs for five minutes at a time to give individual feedback to each of the three teachers from that day’s TP, with the person who taught reflecting on their lesson first. I then summarised the feedback and added my own for another 10-15 minutes, and answered any questions they had about the lessons. This was based on three positives and three areas to work on for each trainee, and I tried to make sure that they were given equal weight. The last section of the feedback involved taking an area I felt the trainees needed to work on and doing some mini input, either demonstrating something like how to give instructions to pre-intermediate students or drawing their attention to the good work of their fellow trainees, for example by analysing a successful lesson plan to show what they might be aiming for themselves. Where possible, I also referred back to handouts from input sessions to strengthen the link between input and TP. This seemed to work, and is a structure I’d like to use again.

Other feedback activities I’ve used successfully are:

  • a ‘kiss’ and a ‘kick’ (thanks for teaching me this Olga!): trainees share one positive thing from the lesson, and one thing the teacher should work on. This is done as a whole group, and everybody should share different things. The person who taught should speak first.
  • board-based feedback: divide the board into +/- sections for each trainee. The group should fill the board with as many things as they noticed from the lessons as possible, which then form the basis for discussion. The teacher can’t write on their own section.

Another thing I’ve been trying to do is make the links between the skill of teaching and that of learning a foreign language as explicit as possible. Reflection on teaching should be balanced between positives and negatives, in the same way that you wouldn’t let a student continue to think that they are the best/worst student ever. During input sessions, I highlighted things that trainees could steal and take into their own lessons, like how to set up particular activities, and also made clear what areas of my own teaching I’m working on, such as giving instructions, and when they were and weren’t successful, to exemplify the nature of being a reflective teacher. Although it’s often quite natural, trainees also shouldn’t beat themselves up for not taking previous feedback or new information from input sessions on board instantly, just like it’s not possible for students to use the present perfect without any problems as soon as they’ve learnt it. One mantra during our feedback sessions was that CELTA tutors are looking for ‘progress, not perfection’.

If you’re a trainer or manager, do you have any other feedback techniques you can share? And as someone who’s being observed, what do you want the observer to do/say in feedback?

Torre Velasca, home of IH Milan, as seen from the roof of the Duomo

Torre Velasca, home of IH Milan

Reflections on a year of CELTA training

For the last year I’ve been CELTA training around the world. Here is a collection of random thoughts about what the CELTA does and doesn’t do, and what being a trainer has taught me.

What the CELTA does

Improves the confidence of trainees
Even those who are particularly shy at the beginning of the course are able to stand in front of a group after a few lessons and project confidence, even if they’re still worried!

Shows them some ways of staging a lesson logically
Though of course the list is not exhaustive, it is a good grounding and can help them plan their own lessons later, whether or not they choose/have to use a course book. Simple things like giving students an activity to do before reading/listening, rather than saying “Read this’, then springing questions on them afterwards, or important steps like providing feedback after activities, may seem obvious to a seasoned pro, but they rarely are to a complete beginner.

Encourages trainees to think in depth about planning a lesson and setting up activities
The lessons which fall flat are normally the ones which have had the least amount of thought dedicated to them. One or two of those and the trainees soon realise that they really need to think through what they’re planning to do more carefully.

Makes them think about the instructions are going to give and the way that they talk to a class
I sometimes take for granted how easy it is for me to grade my language for different levels of student, and forget that it takes real effort when you’re a new teacher. The key area which this normally affects is instruction giving and activity set-up, often requiring careful planning.

Starts to make trainees adapt materials so that they are more suitable for their learners
Although this only done to a limited extent on many courses, stronger trainees show they can adapt to learners’ needs by changing the topic of a text or updating it to make it more relevant to the present day. The ‘Focus on the learner’ assignment also encourages trainees to think about learner needs and finding or adapting materials to meet them.

Makes them analyse language so that they are ready to teach it
Teaching grammar is seen as a big scary thing by most trainees, and language analysis is actively avoided by some and misunderstood by others. The same is true of vocabulary lessons, but to a lesser extent. However, once they’ve observed or taught a language lesson they normally see the value of analysing language carefully before teaching it, and this process also encourages them to start using reference materials to help them.

Gives them the basics of theory for them to build on later
A 120-hour course can never cover everything, and doesn’t claim to either. Instead, trainees are offered an overview of teaching, with ideas about how to further their professional development in one or more sessions in the final week of the course. This grounding in theory is a good basis to build on and the reflection built into the course is designed to encourage them to reflect on this theory and to begin to question it.

Gives them a collection of activities to draw on when they go into the classroom
My friend once told me her German teacher used to suggest the only way to become a good language speaker is ‘Vorsprung durch Diebstahl’ (progress through theft – a play on Audi’s ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’). I think the same is true of any skill you learn, teaching among them. By ‘stealing’ from teachers observed during the course and used in input sessions, trainees have a good bank of ideas to vary their lessons when they first start teaching, and find their teaching style (because let’s face it, that’s what new teachers are doing way more than adapting to their learners!)

Gives trainees the opportunity to observe about 36 hours of classes
When else do you get the chance to observe so intensively, outside of the Delta or something similar? On the CELTA course, trainees are required to observe six hours of experienced teachers’ classes and approximately 30 hours of their peers’ lessons. I often think that this is actually where most of the learning on a CELTA takes place, with the input sessions just providing the language to talk about teaching, and a few of the ideas to steal. Until you’ve seen it put into action and noticed what does and doesn’t work, nothing really sinks in.

Shows them whether they really want to teach or not
Not to be underestimated! By exposing trainees to the classroom and making them teach, instead of just concentrating on theory, the CELTA helps trainees to realise whether the classroom is really the right place for them.

What the CELTA doesn’t do

Show them how to placement test students
The main question I’ve been asked by trainees towards the end of the course or soon after it’s finished is something along the lines of ‘X has asked me to organise some classes for them. Do you know a placement test I can give the student(s) to find out their level(s) and decide which materials to use?’ Thus far, I don’t, so if anyone else can recommend something free, online and fairly reliable, I would be very grateful.

Show trainees how to teach materials-light or materials free
While there are some CELTA courses which focus on this, they are few and far between. I’m not sure what else to say about this as I don’t want to ignite a whole new debate – it’s just a fact.

Tell the trainees everything they ever needed to know about teaching
As I said above, a 120-hour course could never hope to do this. Doing a CELTA is not the be-all and end-all, and does not negate the need for continuing professional development. It is an initial teacher training course and should be treated as such. It frustrates me when a CELTA can trump somebody without a CELTA and relevant experience. If there is no follow-up training or development, it’s worth is diminished. I suspect this is particularly so for trainees who had prior experience before the CELTA, as they may well slip back into old habits (although feel free to prove me wrong!)

What being a CELTA trainer has taught me

How to give clear, concise instructions
And about time too! This is something I’ve always struggled with, and it turns out that watching lots of trainees get it wrong, offering tips on how to do it better, and reflecting on it constantly throughout the year have finally sorted out this problem. I even discovered that I highlighted it as an issue in my own end of CELTA reflection, a document I’d completely forgotten about until I was training as a tutor last August!

How to time lessons more accurately
As with instructions, this is a long-time issue of mine. Again, offering guidance to others on how to do it has really helped me, and I’m much better at prioritising to achieve my aims, something which seems more key in the intensive CELTA input sessions of a four-week course, than it ever did on a seemingly ‘never-ending’ language learning journey (!) I even came up with some formulae after my trainees kept asking for them.

No two CELTA courses are ever the same
While there are the inevitable differences brought on by location and trainees, I didn’t realise that each CELTA course is put together by the Main Course Tutor and others working at the same centre if relevant. It is the result of experience and is constantly tweaked, so each course I worked on this year had slightly different documentation and assignments that were set up in different ways, as well as timetables that we organised very differently from one place to the next. Having said that, all of the courses are judged on the same criteria, covering the same basic set of input sessions, and with the same requirements for teaching and observation. The assessor’s visit on each course and annual Cambridge standardisation ensure that wherever you get your CELTA, it has the same value.

I’m ready for some stability
For anybody coming to this fresh or who has got a bit lost in my adventures of the last year (I don’t blame you – I can’t believe them myself!), this is where I’ve been:

Apart from in Thailand where I had the luxury of nine weeks, I spent four weeks in each place, living in a range of accommodation including apartments, a residential hotel and lodging with two different couples. I improved my packing skills, and felt like I was living out of a suitcase. In between, I was at home for up to a month, ‘camping out’ at my aunt’s house, then off again. I’m really looking forward to my next adventure, when I’ll be moving to Poland to start a new job, and hopefully staying for at least a couple of years, enough time to build up a bit of a (social) life there! I also can’t wait to have my own kitchen again 😉

Map of the places I've visited in 2014-2015

Click the map to see where I’ve travelled this year, including photos

I love my job
Well, I knew that already. But a year of sharing it with other people, and helping them to enter the wonderful world of EFL teaching has reaffirmed it again and again. I have no regrets whatsoever about the career path I have chosen, and I know that I have been incredibly lucky to have the year I have just experienced, despite commenting on the lack of stability above. The people I have met and the places I have been will stay with me forever, and I hope it won’t be the last time I work with these inspiring people or visit these amazing places. Now, on to the next adventure!

10 tips to help you become a teacher trainer

I was very happy to be asked to write a guest post on the ETpedia blog. John Hughes’ book has been very useful to me on CELTA courses recently, and I would highly recommend getting yourself a copy. If you use this link, I’ll get a few pennies too.

ETpedia cover

My guest post was 10 tips to help you become a teacher trainer. What tips would you add?

Rhythm of a CELTA

This post is aimed at new CELTA trainers, especially those about to start their training (thanks to Amy for inspiring it!) If that’s not you, the jargon probably won’t make sense and the post isn’t really relevant 🙂

One of the most challenging things I found as a new CELTA tutor was knowing how to manage my time on the courses, so I thought it might be useful to share the main things you have to think about each week. The questions below are based on my diary of to-do lists for the past year, something I’ve found incredibly useful to keep me sane! Of course, the rhythm may differ from centre to centre, but it could serve as a starting point. (This is also a reminder to me in case I have a gap between courses!)

Before the course

  • Do you have the trainee profiles?
  • Are you familiar with the templates for giving lesson feedback? Will you type or handwrite your feedback? (Tip if you’ll type them: create a template so you can’t accidentally save over anybody’s feedback!)
  • Do you know the timetable for the first week, particularly which input sessions you’ll be doing?
  • How long do you have to prepare feedback? When do trainees need to hand in their self-evaluations after lessons?
  • Have you familiarised yourself with the assignments, particularly any which will be set in week one?
  • What materials will you be using? Do you need to prepare TP points? In how much depth?
  • Do the trainees need specific observation tasks for TP? Or will they be encouraged to write whatever notes they choose? Or a combination of the two?
  • Will you be with the same group of students throughout the four weeks (e.g. always elementary) or will you change throughout the course (e.g. weeks 1/4 with one group, 2/3 with the other)?
  • When do the trainees change tutors?
  • How much of the course is paper-based? Does the centre use methods to share information/files, like Dropbox or Google Drive? Is this only between tutors, or do the trainees have access to it too?

If you’re freelancing, there are a few additional questions:

  • Do you know how to get to the school? How long will it take?
  • Is there a chance to go into the school before the course starts? This is a good opportunity to ask about things like photocopier codes, wifi, and printer access, as well as which rooms be used during the course and what resources are available for trainees.
  • Will your transport be paid for (both international and local)?
  • What is the accommodation like?
  • Where is the nearest supermarket? When will you have time to cook? (!)
  • Do you need travel/health insurance?
  • What about visas? Who’s responsible for them? How long do they take to get?

Week one

  • Are there any assignments to be set this week? Who will do it?
  • Stage 1 tutorials: When do you need to write them by? Do you need to meet any of the trainees?
  • Which input sessions do you need to prepare for week one?
  • Which ones do you need to start thinking about for week two, especially if you’ve never done them before?
  • When do the trainees start handing in plans and language analyses (straight away, or do they wait for specific input sessions first)? What is the deadline for them each day? What time do you have to mark them by? Do you need to give any feedback on them to the trainees before they teach?
  • Are you changing levels/trainee groups? How does the handover work? (e.g. When is assisted lesson planning? How will you arrange this with your co-tutor(s)?)
  • Do you need to write TP points for week two? Does the level of depth change?

Week two

  • Are there any assignments to be set this week? Who will do it?
  • Are any assignments due this week? When do you need to mark them by? What time do you have available to mark them in? When are resubmissions due in?
  • Stage 2 tutorials: When do you need to write them by? What time do you have available to do this? Is there a specific format at your centre? When will you meet the trainees?
  • Does anybody need a warning letter? What’s the procedure at your centre for this?
  • Which input sessions do you need to prepare for week two?
  • Which ones do you need to start thinking about for week three?
  • Are you changing levels/trainee groups? How does the handover work?
  • Do you need to write TP points for week three? Does the level of depth change?

Week three

  • Are there any assignments to be set this week? Who will do it?
  • Are any assignments due this week? When do you need to mark them by? What time do you have available to mark them in? When are resubmissions due in?
  • Does anybody need a stage 3 tutorial?
  • Does anybody need a warning letter? What’s the procedure at your centre for this?
  • Which input sessions do you need to prepare for week three?
  • Which ones do you need to start thinking about for week four?
  • Are you changing levels/trainee groups?
  • Do you need to write TP points for week four? Does the level of depth change?
  • When is the assessor coming? Factor in time to meet them (you’re unlikely to have time for much else that day, e.g. writing assignments)
  • When do you need to complete the information about trainees for the assessor? What format does it need to be in? What time do you have available to do this in?

Week four

  • Are there any assignments to be set this week? Who will do it?
  • Are any assignments due this week? When do you need to mark them by? What time do you have available to mark them in? When are resubmissions due in?
  • Which input sessions do you need to prepare for week four?
  • Is the assessor coming this week? (see above!)
  • When do you need to write final reports by? What time do you have available to do this? What format does it need to be in? Who needs the reports (e.g. main tutor, receptionists etc)? (If you’re a freelancer, do you need to sign them? When?)
  • Is there anybody who needs the final page of their CELTA 5 completed (e.g. because they’ve had a warning letter earlier on the course)?
  • When and where is the post-CELTA party? Are you invited? Do you want to go? 😉
The places you can go with a CELTA (a woman and a man looking at a world map)

The places you can go with a CELTA (my photo)

Is there anything I’ve forgotten?

Postscript

I know people look on my blog for some tips about training as a CELTA tutor, and it’s something I’m planning to write about, but haven’t got round to yet. One day… In the meantime, you might also be interested in my diary of a course I did in February 2015: week oneweek two, week three, week four.

IATEFL Manchester 2015: CELTA

This was my first IATEFL since I became a CELTA tutor, so I had a whole new set of talks to discover. Here are the three I went to, all of which made me think about how I approach CELTA tutoring and what an ‘ideal’ course would look like.

Strictly Come CELTA: An analogy and some thoughts on feedback – Jo Gakonga

I’ve found Jo’s CELTA training videos very useful and enjoyed a meal with her and a few other CELTA and Delta trainers at the beginning of the conference, so was looking forward to hearing her speak, and I wasn’t disappointed.

Jo compared the role of CELTA tutors to that of judges on the BBC programme Strictly Come Dancing. Each of them has a distinctive personality and gives feedback in different ways, which reflects our roles as CELTA tutors. She asked us to consider which of the judges we are similar to, and how this may change throughout the course or with different trainees.

She also talked about differentiated grading scales (compared to ‘To Standard’ and ‘Not To Standard’ from Cambridge), and how this can create standardisation issues. On SCD, there is a 10-point scale, but only one of the four judges really grades like this. One of them only really uses a five-point scale, because she never gives lower than 5. In 12 series, one judge has given 113 ’10s’, another 146 and another 35, but they’re all supposed to be grading on the same scale. She used this to encourage us to think about whether differentiated grading is useful or not.

Here are Jo’s slides.

The development of cognitions and beliefs on CELTA courses – Karla Leal Castañeda

I first learnt about the concept of teacher cognitions (what teachers know, believe and think) at the IH DoS conference in January this year. I believe it has a big effect on participants in CELTA courses and how receptive they are to the training they receive. I chose to go to this talk in the hope of finding out more.

In a nutshell, Karla’s research was to investigate what the trainees believed coming on to the course, whether this changed through the course, and how it influenced their performance. She did a combination of interviews and observations with 8 trainees from 3 different courses.

Most of them had unrealistically high expectations of what they might be able to learn on a four-week course, including ‘grammar’, a formula for how to be a good teacher, or a completely new way of approaching teaching. By the end of the course, they recognised that it was impossible to cover all of this within the time constraints, but still found the learning experience to be ‘rich and far from disappointing’. As they said, CELTA can only give them an insight of what teaching is and experience will give them the rest.

They highlighted the importance of planning in their post-lesson reflections, as they realised that problems in the lesson often stemmed from a lack of preparation. Based on negative experiences they had had in lessons, trainees had aspects of teaching they would prefer to avoid after the course, for example, CCQs (concept-checking questions). Despite this, they recognised that they needed to give techniques a fair trial before discarding them categorically, and that a four-week course was not enough time to say that a particular technique would or wouldn’t work.

Coming on to the course, most of the trainees talked about their own previous negative experiences learning languages and expressed that language learning needed to be fun to be effective, with a good rapport between teacher and students. This led to them prioritising fun in their own evaluations of their lessons, often disregarding what the trainer had to say about the lesson in terms of how successful it was if they (the trainees) thought that it wasn’t fun. There was a belief that language teachers need to be different to teachers of other subjects, since language teaching cannot be as teacher-centred as other subjects: interaction is crucial. By the end of the course, classroom management was added to the list of desirable teacher characteristics, in addition to subject knowledge and good rapport with students.

During the courses, there was shift towards a more student-centred approach to teaching. However, trainees stated that when teaching more student-centred lessons they felt less professional, and less ‘teachery’, which echoes my own informal observations of the need for trainees to adopt ‘teacher position‘ to feel like they are being effective and useful to the students. There is a continuous struggle against deeply rooted previously ‘learned’ behaviour, either from their own experience in the classroom or from the ‘apprenticeship of observation‘: what they have learnt from being a student and observing their own teachers.

In the Q&A session at the end, a trainer in the audience highlighted that sometimes we are not very good at managing expectations during the CELTA course, and that perhaps we need to revisit them more often. Another trainer suggested including regular slots in input sessions where you encourage trainees to compare what they have learnt about teaching with their own beliefs about how to teach. This is definitely an area which warrants further research, and one in which I will watch developments with interest.

The natural CELTA – a farewell to language? – Joanna Stansfield and Emma Meade-Flynn

This was the final talk I went to at IATEFL this year, and was a great note to finish on as it inspired me to consider a completely different approach to putting together a CELTA course by rethinking it from the ground up, rather than basing it on more traditional structures.

Joanna and Emma wanted to remove as much of the stress from the CELTA course as they could and make sure that their trainees were as prepared for real-world teaching as possible. To do this, they decided to get rid of language instruction from the timetable, since this is the most stressful area for most trainees.

Temporary bookshelf (binders and a pile of grammar books)

Image taken from ELTpics by Mary Sousa, under a Creative Commons 3.0 license

They also tried to integrate the course as much as possible, so everything fed into the teaching trainees would do and nothing felt like extra work, since many trainees find it difficult to prioritise when juggling assignments and TP (lessons). They still had to meet the criteria set by Cambridge though, and demonstrate that their trainees could be effective language teachers. To do this, they changed the course in the following ways:

  • Replacing language analysis sheets with task analysis, focussing on the specific activities that trainees were planning to use. Different sheets were used for receptive and productive tasks. This had many effects on the trainees, for example realising that lexis is important for listening tasks. Trainees also created more meaningful productive tasks as a result.
  • Basing the language skills assignment around task analysis sheets which had been used in previous TPs, with trainees reflecting on what problems the students had with the language and re-planning the lesson in light of this. This is instead of the over-analysis and the added stress of a more traditional assignment, which can create an atomised view of language. It can also mean trainees over-explain to students because they try to give them all of the knowledge they have instead of just what is relevant.
  • Teaching a model lesson at the beginning of the course in the same way and using the same materials that they expected their trainees to use, then incorporating more explicit reflection on the model lesson throughout the first week of input, unpacking the techniques used in it. Trainees were noticeably better at lesson cohesion after this.
  • Adding a 20-minute slot at the end of TP where trainees could speak to students about what happened in the lesson without trainers in the room. This was recorded, and fed in to the Focus on the Learner assignment. Trainees were more aware of their students as people and of their needs, and better able to understand their accents. There was also higher student retention because of this, and this reflects the real world, since student retention is something we all need to be aware of.
  • Encouraging trainees to note questions they wanted to ask the students and their co-teachers while observing.
  • Learning more about students meant TP points weren’t needed after week one, as lessons were based around student needs, although a course book was still used.
  • Changing the layout of the lesson plan, including a column for self-evaluation. Before seeing trainer comments, trainees had to fill in a stage-by-stage reflection, rather than only reflecting on the lesson in general.
  • Integrating assignment 3 with trainees designing materials they would then go on to use (I think – my tweets aren’t very clear at this point!)

They got very positive feedback from their trainees on this course. They developed their language awareness naturally, in a similar way to how teachers do in the real world, and language became much less scary as a result. They also realised how important lexis was and were much better at teaching it because they had built up a good rapport with the students through the 20-minute conversations. Students weren’t afraid to ask how new lexis should be used. Trainees were also much more self-critical and reflective as a result.

This is definitely a course structure I would like to find out more about, and I think it will influence my own course design when I finally put together a CELTA course myself as a Main Course Tutor (I’m an Assistant Course Tutor at the moment).

CELTA Week Four

Day One

Today was a difficult day.

I had a Stage Three tutorial with a trainee. I watched a very weak lesson by another trainee who I haven’t seen since week one. On top of that, I didn’t feel completely well.

On the plus side, my input session on guided discovery worked really well. Trainees had to come up with their own guided discovery tasks based on an article called Ten Ways to Make Someone SmileThe session was also designed to help them think about how to prepare for TP8, where they can’t use material from the book.

Day Two

When you imagine a teacher, what do you see?

For most people, it’s someone standing at a (white/black?)board, pointing at something written there and talking to (at?) their students. Even if they’re not at the board, they’re generally standing at the front of the room.

Teacher position

Image courtesy of Adam Simpson (who I’m sure isn’t a victim of what I’m about to describe!), taken from ELTpics, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license

I call this ‘teacher position’.

When you’re in ‘teacher position’ for the first time funny things start to happen. These include, but are not limited to, the following:

  1. You talk more, because you feel like you should be explaining things and/or you need to fill the silence.
  2. You talk louder, often louder than is necessary, to make sure all of the students can hear you. Alternatively, you get so quiet that nobody can hear you.
  3. You write all over the board, generally in a pretty haphazard manner, because that’s how students learn, right?
  4. You never sit down, because you can’t be a teacher if you’re sitting down, even if there are less than 5 students in the room.
  5. You become the centre of attention, which either goes to your head or petrifies you.

In the first week of a CELTA course, my aim is to help the trainees feel comfortable in the role of teacher, then to move past this image, and start to realise all of the other things that being a teacher involves.

Over the four-week course, I hope to see the following changes related to each of the points above:

  1. You realise when it’s appropriate to talk and when not. You learn to grade your language so that students can understand you. You lose your fear of silence.
  2. You learn the correct volume to speak at so that students can hear you, but you’re not shouting at them.
  3. The board becomes a tool which is used wisely and well, with only the information that needs to be there, beautifully laid out so that the students can follow it and get some use out of said information.
  4. You vary your position depending on the stage of the lesson, the size of the group, and your role at a given time. You feel comfortable as you move around, and don’t feel you need to maintain ‘teacher position’ throughout.
  5. You realise that it’s all about the students, and that attention should be focussed on them. If you were petrified, you repeat the mantra “I am the teacher. This is my classroom. I have a right to be here and I’m in control of the lesson.” until you believe it.

This week we returned to the TP groups we had during week one, and it’s been great to see how much some of the trainees have improved since I left them. They’ve managed to address most of the areas above. The hardest one to deal with is the first half of 5, but two experiments with guided discovery lessons, one yesterday and one today, show that the trainees are at least attempting to do this. There were mixed levels of success with there, but that’s what experimenting is all about.

They’re the first steps along a long road, but hopefully the techniques we’ve taught them during the course will help them to cope with the rest of the lesson successfully enough that they can concentrate on the students, because they don’t have to think about everything else as it starts to become second nature. We can but hope.

Day Three

TP was eventful, with last-minute changes due to circumstances beyond most people’s control. That’s all I’ll say about it, because I know trainees from the course may read this.

We’re starting to wrap up the course now, with half of the trainees having their final TP tonight, and the other half tomorrow.

I’ve marked most of my assignments, with a handful of outstanding resubmissions still to do.

I’ve only got one input session left, on literacy, a topic I’ve never covered before. I just had a 10-minute break from writing this for a quick look at the materials I have for it. Even though it’s 22:20 now, I can’t stop thinking about what I want to do in the session. Too many ideas, not enough time!

Also still to do: finishing off feedback for my TP group for TP8; update the provisional grades sheet with information about TPs since the assessor’s visit; write reports; relax.

Day Four

More difficult circumstances which I won’t go into, meaning we had to reorganise the timetable for the day. The new version of the timetable worked well, and everything was completed on time.

Day Five

The course finished well after yesterday’s blip 🙂

I was very pleased with my first attempt at a literacy session, thanks to using Wingdings as the language for a mini ‘literacy test’, an idea I stole from a conference talk at IATEFL Glasgow I think. It works nicely for putting everyone in the room on the same footing, and avoids you having to work out who speaks which languages in the group.

Once that was done, it was time for report writing and provisional grades, updating the report sent to the assessor showing the progress of the candidates since their visit, and confirming which grades should be awarded, pending the assessor’s approval.

To finish the evening I had my final two TPs, which were a great note to end the course on. The candidates in question have shown huge progress over the course, with their final lessons being useful to the students and fun too.

Because we were the last people at the school, we got a taxi together for the 20 minute ride into Chiang Mai. About half of the candidates from the two courses were at the final party. It was a fun evening, and as always, my favourite part of the CELTA course 🙂 With the pressure off, it’s a chance to really get to know the candidates, find out more about their history and their future plans, and finish off the course on a high.

The end, for now

I’m very happy that I’ve finally been able to blog about my experience of being a tutor, mostly because this is the first CELTA I’ve done where I’ve managed to avoid working at home! My work-life balance has been much better, and I’m hoping to maintain this on future courses.

I feel like I’ve finally got the hang of managing my time and knowing what I need to do when during the four weeks of the course, and I’ve built up a stock of input sessions which mean I don’t have to spend so much time preparing them.

I’ve enjoyed my first course in Chiang Mai, working with a group of experienced and interesting tutors. I’m looking forward to doing three more in the same place and learning a lot more from them!

(The other posts are here: week oneweek two, week three)

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 very lucky that we have rooms big enough to hold that many people! The lessons were useful for both the trainees and the students, and it was good to demonstrate techniques that can be applied to larger classes.

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.

(The other posts are here: week oneweek twoweek four)

CELTA Week Two

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 centre’s 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. This is not unusual for a CELTA course, due to its intensive nature. 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, but ultimately you have to follow the criteria. So far I’ve never given this grade without discussing the lesson and 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 with reference to the Cambridge criteria (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. 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.

There are more links to help you build your language awareness in the ‘Before the Course‘ section of Useful Links for CELTA.

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 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

(The other posts are here: week oneweek three, week four)

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 completely!

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!

(The other posts are here: week two, week three, week four)

Integrating technology into CELTA

At the IH Director of Studies conference last week Gavin Dudeney did a session about managing technology. In it, he expressed the hope that technology in the classroom will eventually become normalised. As he said, nobody talks about ‘pen-assisted language learning’, so why CALL? He also wants it to become an integral part of teacher training courses, rather than something special or tacked on. He mentioned me as someone who does this and, of course, immediately after the session someone approached me and asked me how, to which I had no ready answer, probably because for me it already is an integral part of my teaching and training!

I started thinking about it, and in conversation with Anthony Gaughan, we decided that we use technology when it’s necessary to solve problems. So here are some of the ways that tech is used when I’m working as a CELTA trainer:

  • For the occasional PowerPoint-based input session (thought I’d better get that out of the way!)
  • To show longer videos for observations and shorter clips as part of input sessions.
  • To help trainees find out about language by demonstrating how a corpus works (I normally use BYU BNC).
  • Getting trainees to take photos of each others’ whiteboards during TP (teaching practice).
  • Trainees also sometimes video/audio record themselves/each other, although we have to get the students’ permission first.
  • To send out relevant extra links to the trainees, particularly to my diigo bookmarks.
  • (On one course) To provide after-hours support via email – this got a bit much for me, so I only did it in emergencies on later courses.
  • (On one course) Experimenting with Edmodo as a way of giving handouts – this got a bit overwhelming for the trainees, although they still have access to it after the course. Hoping to ask them in the future whether they ever look at it.
  • Trainees show images using their own tablets or a projector, rather than printing off endless pictures.
  • Where available, trainees can use the overhead projector (old-school tech!) to display answers/texts etc.
Projector at Beamish Museum

Not quite as old-school as this one though…

  • Teaching trainees how to put images into PowerPoint, instead of spending hours formatting them in Word (not that this frustrates me at all…) – amazed at how many people, especially under 25s, are still petrified of PowerPoint and/or have never opened it in their lives!
  • I also have a 75-minute technology input session which I’m happy to pass on to anybody who needs inspiration – just message me below or on Twitter. A key part of this session is demonstrating how to use Quizlet and another is introducing online professional development, if it hasn’t already been done in another input.

I don’t feel like any of this is particularly revolutionary, but maybe that’s because tech has always been normalised for me. Is there anything else you do?

Update

I’ve just rediscovered this very comprehensive post by Marisa Constantinides showing how she integrates technology into the teacher development courses at CELT Athens – lots of ideas I plan to steal! She’s also written about whether it’s worth integrating technology into CELTA.

You might also be interested in Kateryna Protsenko’s IH Journal article CELTA Gone Techy.

Four CELTAs (OR Excuses for not blogging)

The last five months have been pretty busy. Here’s what I’ve been doing.

(You can click on any of the collages to see larger images.)

28th July-19th August

Train to be a CELTA tutor
The place: Sevastopol, Crimea
The trainees: 9 Russian native speakers; 8 women, 1 man; early 20s-mid 30s
The tutors: two Russians
The assessor: from Moscow
How I got the job: training as a CELTA tutor was one of the reasons I moved to Sevastopol
The accommodation: the flat I’d lived in all year
The evenings: writing a couple of input sessions; meals and evenings at the beach with my co-tutors; relaxing; packing
The weekends: exploring Crimea; packing up my life into boxes ready to move out of my flat and leave Sevastopol for an indeterminate length of time until I get another visa
The lows: basically sitting non-stop for four weeks watching other people do things, at the hottest time of the year in Sevastopol; not knowing when I would be back in Sevastopol
The highs: redoing my CELTA and remembering so much I’d forgotten

Sevastopol

20th August

Return to the UK, via Moscow, where there was a slight blip with my passport because I had a Ukrainian entry stamp, not a Russian one. The supervisor managed to sort it out in ten minutes though.

21st August-13th September

Holiday and catching up with family and friends
Including a week at a caravan with family, and trips to Wolverhampton to sort out some of my stuff, Newcastle, Hadrian’s Wall, Beamish, Sheffield, and a London 2012 reunion on Piccadilly

UK collage

14th September

Mum driving me to Leeds, via a trip to Hardwick Hall with my grandma

Hardwick Hall

15th September-10th October

My first course as a CELTA tutor
The place: Leeds, UK
The trainees: 10 native speakers, 1 Iranian; 8 women, 3 men; early 20s-mid 50s
The other tutor: a Brit who’s been in Turkey for a while
The assessor: a Brit
How I got the job: on 10th September I got my first ever email from the CELTA mailing list, and Leeds were looking for a tutor. After discussing it with Sevastopol and knowing I probably wouldn’t get a visa any time soon, I applied straight away and it all worked out 🙂
The accommodation: a very nice attic room with a homestay couple
The evenings: chatting to my hosts, putting together input sessions, cooking, going to see Paco Peña
The weekends: catching up with friends, exploring Leeds, visiting Ulverston and the Lake District
The lows: gettting home every evening and knowing I still had to work; walking away from feedback on some days knowing I might have been too demanding
The highs: staying in a great home-stay; the support of my fellow tutors (on both my course and the one running in parallel); realising I could tutor!

Leeds collage

12th October

Car back to my aunt’s, thanks to my mum

13th-14th October

Recovery/preparation time, including trying to get my hair cut, and to get enough prescription medicine for a trip of indeterminate length from a doctor in a random part of the country

15th October

Train to Manchester, an evening at my friend’s house cooking for my journey

16th October

Fly to San Diego, via Amsterdam and Detroit, arriving at 9:45pm SD time

17th October

Settle in, getting very lost finding the school because I decided to walk, but seeing 3 eagles because of my detour

18th-19th October

Trips to San Diego Zoo and SeaWorld with my co-tutor

Young panda at San Diego zoo

Young panda at San Diego zoo

Whales at SeaWorld

20th October-14th November

CELTA tutor: course 2
The place: San Diego, California
The trainees: 9 native speakers; 7 women, 2 men (1 man quit after the first day; 1 woman after the first week); early 20s-mid 50s
The other tutor: a Brit who’s based in the UK, but does training all over the world and loves the States
The assessor: a Brit, now based in Texas
How I got the job: via the CELTA mailing list. Until two weeks before I left, I’d never had any plans to go to the States!
The accommodation: at a residential hotel, with a microwave and fridge in the room, and shared kitchens
The evenings: putting together input sessions, cooking, planning my travels, basketball, exploring San Diego
The weekends: exploring San Diego, whale watching (no whales, but lots of dolphins!), Torrey Pines, Flagstaff, Grand Canyon, Lowell Observatory, LA, Hollywood, space shuttle
The lows: self-induced tiredness, having to cook all the time (due to my exclusion diet)
The highs: an amazing opportunity for adventure – it definitely won’t be my last trip to the States!

San Diego

San Diego

Flagstaff, Grand Canyon and Lowell Observatory

Flagstaff, Grand Canyon and Lowell Observatory

LA collage

LA

15th November

Fly to San Francisco

15th-19th November

Staying at the Fisherman’s Wharf hostel, where I could see the Golden Gate Bridge from my window through the trees.
Whale watching (a pair of humpbacks 🙂 ), hop-on hop-off bus tour, Alcatraz, exploring, a cable car all to myself, a day in Yosemite

San Francisco collage

19th November

Greyhound bus to Sacramento, where I stayed in a beautiful hostel (bottom left in the collage). Visited the Capitol building – until recently I didn’t realise Sacramento is the capital of California, as I’m sure many people don’t!

Sacramento collage

20th November

Old Town Sacramento, underground tour, California Railroad Museum, river boat trip
Overnight Greyhound to Portland, Oregon

21st November

A very wet day in Portland, when most of my attempts to explore failed. The one that didn’t was the Wells Fargo museum, where I discovered they used to transport everything from wedding cakes to cattle!
Trip to the cinema with a Portland native who was in the bed next to me at the hostel in San Francisco 🙂

Portland collage

22nd November

Whole day on the bus from Portland to Vancouver, arriving at about 9pm

23rd November

Settling in, walking to downtown Vancouver, seeing the sun set from the Lookout above the city

24th November-19th December

CELTA tutor: course 3
The place: Vancouver, British Columbia
The trainees: 18! 14 native speakers, 1 Russian speaker, 1 Iranian, 1 French, 1 Chinese; 8 women, 10 men; early 20s-late 50s
The other tutor: a Brit who’s lived in Canada for the last couple of years
The assessor: a Brit based in Vancouver
How I got the job: via the CELTA mailing list and the connection between the schools in San Diego and Vancouver
The accommodation: week 1: in a shared house with travellers from all over the world, all in Vancouver on working visas; weeks 2-4: at a building which used to be a hotel and has recently become little apartments
The evenings: putting together input sessions (though not as many as before), cooking, marking assignments and more assignments
The weekends: meeting family friends and a fellow blogger, Capilano Suspension Bridge, Victoria, Butchart Gardens, Whistler, Stanley Park Seawall, exploring Vancouver, the aquarium, two hockey matches (one of which was a teddy bear toss)
The lows: self-induced tiredness and illness; problems with the first accommodation (although the people were lovely!); the fact that the assignments seemed to be breeding!
The highs: more adventures; fantastic wildlife sightings (bald eagles, a sea otter, raccoon, herons); the natural beauty of BC

Vancouver skyline

Vancouver skyline

Vancouver collage

Vancouver

Victoria and Butchart Gardens

Victoria and Butchart Gardens

Wildlife

Wildlife

Whistler

Whistler

CELTA

CELTA

20th-24th December

I wrote most of this sitting at Pacific Central Station waiting for the bus to Seattle. I’m now finishing it off at Manchester Airport where I’m waiting for the train which will take me on the last leg of my journey. I’ve spent 2.5 fun days in Seattle, relaxing and exploring the city, and I even got to see Mount Rainier.

It’s now 9:45am on Christmas Eve in the UK, and my body thinks it’s 1:45am, so I’m nicely jetlagged in time for Christmas with my family!

What’s next?

Who knows? I’m hoping to get a visa to go back to Sevastopol as soon as I can, but all that sits in the hands of bureaucracy, over which I have no control. It also depends on the situation between Russia and the West not getting any worse. The final factor is the opening times of the embassy, which is closed for both the UK and Russian public holidays. All that means I have no idea when I’ll be back in Sevastopol.
My only other firm plan in the near future is the IH Director of Studies conference in early January, by which time I hope to at least have applied for my visa!

So that’s why I haven’t really blogged since the end of July 🙂 I hope you’ve enjoyed the adventure and the photos!

Merry Christmas everyone, and I hope you have a successful and happy 2015!

The start of a new chapter

Tomorrow I start the next stage of my teaching life as I begin training as a CELTA tutor.

For those of you who don’t know, CELTA stands for Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults. It’s an entry-level qualification accredited by Cambridge, designed to provide the basics of the communicative approach. In theory, those with a CELTA know the basics of what they need to be let loose in a classroom, although there is controversy about that which I won’t go into here. It can be run part-time or full-time, with the latter being the most common. I did my course part-time from October 2007 to February 2008, which seems like a very long time ago now!

My CELTA group

My CELTA group, way back when!

If it’s full-time, the whole course lasts four weeks, which is what we run at IH Sevastopol. This will be my first experience of the four-week course, so it will be interesting to see how the trainees (and I!) deal with it.The group will have nine trainees, and there are two tutors besides me. I’ll be a ‘Trainer in Training’ or ‘TinT’ (thankfully this abbreviation has changed!) I’m looking forward to meeting the trainees tomorrow and getting to know them over the next four weeks.

I’m excited about the prospect of helping a group of people develop into teachers, and learning about how a CELTA course works from the inside. As part of my training I have to keep a reflective journal, which I’ll be doing in notebook form, but I will, of course, blog about the process too!

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