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

Archive for the ‘Guest Posts’ Category

Free CPD on demand: Boardshare as a tool for unseen peer observation (guest post)

Unfortunately I couldn’t make it to Dan Baines‘ talk on sharing whiteboards at IATEFL this year, so I asked him to write a guest post to share his ideas, especially because one of the tasks in ELT Playbook 1 is all about taking photos of your whiteboard and reflecting on them. He’s previously written a post on this blog about Rethinking reflection in initial teacher training. Over to Dan…

When I finished my CELTA many years ago in Prague, I was fortunate enough to be offered a job at the school which I took, starting the following Monday. So, after a very brief trip back home to say my good byes and almost missing the flight back to Prague I started work. It was intimidating. I got 2 days of induction and then received my timetable and the intimidation continued. As is the case for many teachers, my first day of professional, paid teaching consisted of more hours than I had taught in the preceding 4 weeks.

At this time, the school had a very large core of teachers and a really communicative staffroom. Most of the teachers were very experienced and many were also DELTA-qualified. Around peak teaching times, the room was buzzing with people talking about teaching: what they’d just taught, what they were going to teach, what had gone well and what had fallen flat. This was the start of my own teacher development story and how I went from being a nervous new teacher who thought he’d be exposed as a fraud any minute to a competent and then a good and confident teacher. The endless discussions filled my head with ideas and the advice and support was invaluable. The teachers I met in the first two years are still some of the biggest influences on my teaching as I sit here a decade and a half later.

That wasn’t the only perk. I had a full-time teaching schedule and paid holidays. I got lunch vouchers, phone credit and a travel pass provided. The money was poor, but I had real job security and after committing to staying a number of years I had my diploma paid for. Teacher development wasn’t only encouraged, it was compulsory and time was set aside for it every week. CPD just seemed… normal. It was what teachers did.

After taking DELTA and becoming a much better teacher, I did what most people in my situation do. I left the classroom and went into academic management, running the CPD programme in a very similar school to where I started (in fact the same school in a different city) with similar working conditions. After a couple of years of this, I returned to Prague and went into full time pre-service teacher training, effectively leaving the world of language schools behind me.

In June 2016 I returned as the DoS of a small language school in Prague tasked with, amongst other things, developing the teachers. The teaching landscape had changed since I began. Teachers on full-time contracts wasn’t the norm any more – they mostly worked on trade licences. There were no paid holidays and cancelled lessons meant teachers not getting paid. Many schools operate more like agencies than language schools, meaning that their teachers spend a big chunk of their day travelling from company to company. Language schools were in so much competition that rather than selling courses on the expertise and experience of their teachers, they sold them on price, the knock-on effect being that teachers were paid less and had no job security.

In designing a CPD programme I needed to find options that would that would meet the needs and fit the schedule of my teachers. I went for the more traditional approaches.

  • Workshops – They were received well. However, it was impossible to find a time when all the teachers could attend. There are many times in the day when none of the teachers are working for me, but none where they aren’t working for someone else.
  • Peer observations – A great development tool and a huge influence on me. Unfortunately, most of our teaching happens in peak times, meaning that if the teachers aren’t all teaching for me at that time, they are for someone else.
  • Lesson planning surgeries – A nice idea, but never took off. Mostly due to lack of time and availability on the part of me and the teachers.
  • Developmental observation – I do this a lot, all teachers are observed 3 times a year with a strong developmental focus. It’s stressful, it’s time consuming and because of clashing schedules, it can sometimes be a week or more before there is chance to do feedback.
  • Action research – This was discussed with the teachers, but the time investment was more than they could realistically commit to as some were working more than 20 classes a week just to pay bills.

If the CPD on offer wasn’t accessible to all teachers equally, it felt token at best and far too exclusive, and therefore pointless at worst. So, the challenge was to create something that was:

  • Free – rent prices in Prague have rocketed in recent years, teacher salaries have not.
  • Inclusive – in the private sector, the working day in Prague is typically any hours between 7.30 – 21.00. Any successful development would be able to be done by all teachers and at their leisure.
  • Guided – autonomous development is one thing, but many of the teachers I employ are fairly newly-qualified. Not everyone is really aware of how to begin their CPD journey.
  • Classroom-focused – much of the teachers’ time is spent in the classroom and many are fairly inexperienced. The development should reflect their daily life.

I’m an occasional Twitter user (@QuietBitLoudBit for anyone interested). I use it almost exclusively for following accounts related to ELT and it could be said that my posts are a bit… samey. Basically, I like posting pictures of my whiteboard after I’ve taught and looking at others. Maybe I’m an exhibitionist and/or a voyeur, but either way, it’s great to see into the classrooms of others and it has given me some great ideas.

If it could give me inspiration, I figured that sharing pictures of whiteboards with some discussion could be an interesting way to carry out professional development with my teachers, so I set up a Facebook group and added some teachers (some local and some from far away). The idea was to post a weekly or bi-weekly “task” for teachers to carry out, which involved taking pictures of and sharing their boards at some point during the lesson. They were then encouraged to comment on the pictures of their peers.

It ticked a lot of boxes. It allowed some form of peer observation, but importantly without the teachers needing to cancel their own lessons or travel. It was development that could be done from anywhere – most of the teachers involved used Facebook on their mobiles, so they could participate from trams or buses as they bounced round the city from class to class or just from home, in bed, at the end of the day. The tasks provided reflection in a guided way, an unseen peer observation task.

This was the first task…

Whiteboard task 1

It was deliberately left very open and general. I posted the first one (a picture of a substitution drill I’d done that day) and encouraged them to do the same. The response was underwhelming. One person responded with a picture and explanation, someone else with a description of an activity (both great), but nothing much else. I decided to change the way the tasks were set up. For the posts that followed I posted my board with commentary and encouraged them to comment on mine and discuss a few questions. There was greater interaction this time with good discussion based around how (or whether) to teach subject questions, confidence using the board and phonology related activities. Some, however, fell flat and got no interaction at all. I was pretty disappointed.

As a final attempt to get some interaction and engagement I mixed it up again. I didn’t post my board, but found two similar boards on Twitter (using #ELTwhiteboard – a great hashtag to look up) and asked members to compare them and find a board that they liked and explain why. This was the first task to get the teachers sharing pictures to discuss and it raised some interesting conversation. It was a small victory, but I was still left disappointed at the relative failure of a project I had such high hopes for.

ELTwhiteboard examples

I decided to seek some feedback on the group and why the teachers didn’t participate. A couple of things became apparent quite quickly. Firstly, sometimes people get so involved in teaching that, unlike me, they focus more on the students than taking pictures of what has gone on the board and simply forget. Others feel that what they have produced just isn’t interesting enough to share with the rest of the group or are too self-conscious to open this window into their classroom. Others just prefer to watch from afar.

The biggest surprise was how positively the group was received. When asking a colleague if she found it useful, it was met with a heart-felt “HELL YES!”. She never gets to see what other people do and even just seeing my boardwork helped her with ideas and made her feel better about what she was doing. Others said it had given them great classroom activities to try out and others just liked reading the discussions under the posts, but just didn’t feel the need to contribute. I’d been disappointed, but only because the project didn’t pan out the way I’d envisioned it. It wasn’t a hotbed of activity, but that didn’t mean that it wasn’t useful. Teachers don’t need to actively participate to take something from it, or at least that’s how it seemed.

It’s hard to design effective CPD that serves everyone equally and effectively, and this isn’t it, but it is a nice supplement to a more traditional CPD programme and is very easy to set up and maintain. A few things I realised for anyone attempting to do the same:

  • Facebook works well. People use it (at least for the time being) and the nested comments on posts are perfect for replying to other people’s pictures.
  • It needs a “leader”. Someone needs to make the posts that serve as reminder for people to participate. It doesn’t need to be someone more experienced. The person responsible can be rotated.
  • Pictures can come from anywhere. You don’t need to take the pictures yourself. Twitter has a nice community of people sharing theirs that can be good for discussion.
  • Language related tasks work well. They generated a lot of discussion, particularly those tasks related to phonology. Boards showing actual activities also tend to get more engagement.
  • Tasks should be simple. At times I let things become over-complicated and I think they just looked intimidating. One person actually commented that they didn’t know where to begin.
  • Not everyone will actively participate. And that’s just fine.

I’ve checked my expectations and I’m satisfied overall. The group exists and I’m getting back to posting more regularly in it. If people don’t engage, I don’t take it personally and hope that everyone involved takes something from it and that maybe one day they’ll decide to photograph their work and share it with us all.

About the author

Dan Baines

Dan is director of studies at Oxford House Prague as well as a CELTA and Trinity DipTESOL trainer. He really likes whiteboards. Join the group and share your board or follow him on Twitter @QuietBitLoudBit.

Advertisements

Tips for Dips (guest post)

My colleague Helen Rountree is in the process of completing her Trinity DipTESOL. In this guest post, she shares some of the tips she has been given while doing the course. Note: all links to books are my affiliate links to Amazon.

Language Awareness & The Exam

Tips:

  • Do some full, timed practise exams before the day – even it’s just to know what your hand feels like after scribbling non-stop for 3 hours!
  • Revision – with so many language points that could come up, know that you can’t revise everything but learn some general quotes from big names like Parrott, Scrivener, Harmer etc to drop in for different things.
  • If you’re currently teaching, make notes on language points as you teach them – the ones I remembered best in the exams were the ones I’d reflected on after presenting them in class. It also gives you clear examples of what your students found difficult and activities you used.
  • Look back at past exam papers and find the points that come up repeatedly (for example, the classification of conditionals)

Unit 2: Coursework Portfolio

I’ve not finished this unit yet so can’t really give any tips.

Unit 3: Phonology Interview

This is made up of:

  • 5 minute presentation
  • 5 minute discussion about presentation
  • 5 minute transcription
  • 15 minute chat about phonology in general

Tips:

  • The transcription is only 2 lines (max 20 words) but you must note the phonemic script, features of connected speech, intonation, word stress, and tonic symbols.
  • Learn phonemes; use apps like Macmillan’s Sounds and practise writing notes to colleagues/friends in phonemic script.
  • Practise transcribing and timing yourself. 5 minutes seems like plenty of time but under pressure it’s not long at all!
  • Remember you can ask the examiner to repeat the text as many times as you want within the 5 minutes.
  • I found it useful to practise taking random clips from Youtube, transcribe them and then check against a phonemic translator. http://lingorado.com/ipa/ is pretty accurate although it doesn’t have any additional prosodic features.
  • Choose to present on something you have experience with and which is specific to your learners (For ideas look at Swan’s Learner English)
  • When you’ve chosen something your learners have difficulty with, research the background to the problem with reference to their L1 and prepare to explain how you tackle it. This may be a specific activity, it might be a technique for error correction etc.
  • If possible test out your activity/approach with your current students
  • At Greenwich, where I did my interview, they ask for your topic in advance of the onsite practical component but in reality you were able to change your topic up until the week of the interview. They also hold a phonology session in the first week which answered a lot of my questions leading up to the interview. There was also time for us to practise our presentation with our tutor, something which proved invaluable for me.
  • Whatever you choose make sure you know it inside out- ready to field any questions during the discussion after the interview.
  • For the discussion familiarise yourself with the elements of connected speech and be sure to have examples of each one. They love examples!
  • They are likely to ask you questions about anything they think you were weak on/missed during your presentation so if you don’t want to be asked about something get it in your presentation where you are in control and you can rehearse first!
  • Don’t be afraid to “guide” the discussion at the end to something you feel confident speaking about. It’s a conversation, not an interrogation and if the examiner senses you want to talk about something they will respond to it. For example, if you’ve read about English as a Lingua Franca and feel strongly about the value of teaching connected speech it’s possible from the question “How do you help learners with the schwa?” to lead into a discussion about Jenkins et al. and the suggested lack of importance for intelligibility in accurately pronouncing the schwa sound.
  • Get a list of interview questions (in your course materials/ online) and make notes for each question using your own experience and knowledge from your reading.
  • Get a friend or family member to ask you the questions and respond without notes.
  • Read…

Unit 4: TP

Tips:

  • Teach students something they don’t know.
  • Plan for a 45-minute lesson, not a 60-minute one, and use any extra time to reflect, review and recycle.
  • Must pass criteria: x4…
    • Lesson Delivery 1: Teacher creates an environment conducive to learning and maintains levels of motivation and interest. (= rapport and an interesting topic!)
    • Lesson Delivery 2: Genuine and meaningful communication between learners takes place
    • Lesson Delivery 11: The teacher focuses on the use of language in context
    • Lesson Delivery 12: There is clear evidence of language / skills development taking place (= teach them something new)

Pre TP:

  • Familiarise yourself with B2-C1 textbooks and build up a bank of activities and lesson ideas for grammar points which are found at this level.
  • Make and test out some practise lesson plans.
  • Practise writing out your full lesson plan on the prescribed template so you are used to the detail required.
  • Make some model materials you could adapt for different levels/ grammar points.
  • Look into ways to differentiate tasks in class, as it’s something they are keen to see in lessons.
  • Talk to anyone you know who’s already completed the course – they’ll have invaluable advice and tips!

During:

  • Needs Analysis
    • Should be made before you start teaching (normally with your teaching group/partner) in the form of a questionnaire or something similar which can be given to your students before the first diagnostic lesson. It’s also a good idea to set a writing task for homework after the first lesson to get a clearer idea of the students’ interests, language needs and motivations to learn, all of which you can include in your class profile.
    • It’s a good idea to base your needs analysis questionnaire on the ‘class and lesson profile’ document they provide you with so that you can fill all the necessary sections.
    • In your needs analysis questionnaire ask direct questions and use tick boxes.
  • The diagnostic lesson on day 1
    • Teach exactly how you normally teach (bar the nerves of course) and the advice you get from your tutor will be most applicable. I’m not sure if it’s allowed but I also typed up a full Dip-style lesson plan and asked for advice on my lesson planning too, which my tutor gladly gave.
    • Ask lots of questions after this first lesson and pay attention to your tutor’s advice.
  • Deal with each day as it comes and try not to think too far ahead.
  • But stay ahead of your workload by at least 24 hours. Planning on the day of your observation is not advised for as it can lead to unhealthy stress levels (If you have an observation at 3pm on Thursday have your lesson plan and materials done by 3pm on Wednesday.)
  • Work collaboratively with your teaching group/partner.
  • During your lessons and when observing others, write down anything you notice about the students that you can add to your class profile later. They love details!
  • And as such assess the students’ learning every time – like the mirrors in your driving test overemphasise it in all areas of your TP to show you’ve done it thoroughly.
  • Less is more – I found that, for example, for a functional language lesson 6 lexical chunks and 3 lexical items was enough to allow me to also deal with emergent language, set up a full free-ish practice and reflect at the end.
  • Trust your instinct and teach lessons in your normal teaching style with content and language points you feel comfortable teaching. Observations are not the time to try out a funky new method or controversial topic you’ve been waiting to experiment with!
  • But also try not to teach the same lesson structure repeatedly or stay too within your comfort zone – they like to see you incorporate your own knowledge of different theories and styles in lessons.
  • Plan observed lessons where you can show off your teaching – for example don’t plan a 20-minute reading. That’s half your time with you being passive.
  • Take the time to get to know your students outside of class. You want them on your side!
  • Analyse your planning so you know at every stage what you’re doing and most importantly WHY. They will ask you this in the pre-obs and post-obs interviews. It’s even better if you can back that up with your knowledge of teaching/learning theory.
  • Listen carefully to what parts of your lesson they question in the pre-obs interview; it’s often a sign of the part you’ll have issues with/ you’ve not completely thought through. If you have time between your interview and teaching your lesson think about how you can remedy any issues they’ve flagged up. Departing from your plan is not a problem if you can explain afterwards why you felt it was beneficial to do so.

I hope these tips are helpful. Good luck!

Bio

Helen

Helen has been teaching for IH Bydgoszcz for several years and is the current ADOS. This is her 5th year as an ESL teacher and she’s about to complete her DipTESOL.

Language courses at companies – language teaching or language coaching? (guest post)

Victoria Toth contacted me because she has a few questions about business English teaching, and she thought the readers of this blog might be able to help. Let’s see what ideas we can offer her…

I have been teaching English to Hungarians in Budapest for 15 years now. I have taught kindergarten pupils, teenagers, adults, seniors, and prepared my students for different examinations such as the TELC, IELTS, TOEFL exams.

Nevertheless, I have always found corporate courses to be the most complex ones. First comes the ambience of the company. Right after the very first lesson, I can tell whether it is a workplace where the employees can generally work in teams and are devoted to contributing to the success of the firm or whether I will have problems creating the relaxed atmosphere that is essential to be able to learn efficiently. Then comes the hierarchy. The awkward moment when your boss is in the same language group as you. The inevitable comparison between you and your boss’s knowledge may spoil the enjoyment of the learning process. The same applies to colleagues who do not get on well with each other. How can you make them cooperate with each other? I have already come across groups in which members deliberately skipped the class if their colleague was around. What can I do in these situations? It definitely has nothing to do with me as a person or my teaching abilities. However, I really would like to sort things out and hold enjoyable lessons at these companies as well.

And last, but not least comes the learning process itself. At level A1, A2, and let’s say B1 it is quite easy. I choose a pretty good and modern student’s book I enjoy teaching from and hope that my students will also like the book and find it intriguing. I teach them the basic grammar and vocabulary so that they can start communicating with their foreign partners or clients. The difficulties arise when they reach level B2. They know enough to get by, but still they do not feel that their language knowledge is at an acceptable level. One has the desire to be more grammatically correct. Others are not intimidated by their grammatical mistakes but would like to extend their vocabulary so that they can communicate and express themselves more fluently and be able to understand native speakers more easily. As a language learner, I agree with the latter, but understand those who want to put the emphasis on grammar, because, for instance, they only communicate in written forms. How shall I, as a teacher, incorporate a bunch of students like them into one group? In my experience, in this case, one-to-one lessons are the most effective way of teaching at this level. This is what I call language coaching. I either help my student review his or her, usually crucially important, presentation for the following day or revise some grammar topics and try to answer specific questions. In other cases, my students simply would not like to forget the language knowledge they have already acquired, so I bring along some interesting articles to talk about whilst teaching some new vocabulary. Some people say, it is simply teaching and calling it ’language coaching’ only sounds good in terms of marketing. Oh, well, of course, you can always sell your product with terminology that sounds good, that’s for sure. Nonetheless, during those private lessons, when I listen to my students telling me the most discrete pieces of information about their company, I feel as if I was a psychologist or a personal coach rather than a teacher.

I keep telling my bosses that we should consider advertising our corporate courses as ‘language coaching’ and focus on teaching one-to-one at firms. Regarding the financial aspect, of course it is more costly, so language schools in Budapest are afraid of taking it on, even if I think it is well worth the money. What do you, my fellow teachers think? What’s your experience? How does it work in other countries? I’d really appreciate reading your points of view.

Bio

Victoria Toth
I have been an EFL teacher for 15 years. I graduated from the University of West Hungary in 2003 where I received a BA in English Language Teaching. Since graduation I have been teaching for language schools as well as doing private tutoring in Budapest, Hungary. I hold in-company courses and teach the employees of the companies general English, Business English or Business Law. I also prepare students for examinations such as TELC, TOEFL, IELTS. Currently, I’m teaching for Babilon School of Languages in Budapest and Rian 4 You Hungary Language School in Dunakeszi, which is 5 kilometers from Budapest.

Apart from teaching English I occasionally do translations and proofreading.

Delta conversations: Iza

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

Iza has been an EFL teacher for 9 years. She has an MA in English Philology and did her CELTA in 2011 at IH Katowice where she worked as a senior teacher for 5 years. She has also been teaching EAP at the University of Birmingham. She completed her Delta between 2015 and 2017. Recently she has been juggling the jobs of a freelance teacher in Poland and a teacher trainer on Cert TESOL courses in Spain and Italy.

Iza Mania

How did you do your Delta? How did you arrange the modules? (i.e. in what order and did you do them in different places?)

I did Module 1 first, then Module 3 the year after and then finally Module 2. I chose this order mainly because my friend motivated me to do Module 1 as she found it quite enjoyable. I guess I was also trying to put off the most difficult one as long as possible (don’t ask me if that’s the right way to do it). I did Module 1 and 3 on my own, i.e. with no course and no tutors. For Module 3, I had two supportive colleagues – one who is an expert on EAP, which I chose as my specialism and the other one who proofread my assignment checking for what Delta examiners expect. I was very lucky to work at IH Katowice at that time as they had quite a wide selection of methodology books. I did Module 2 online, which means all the assignments were discussed and submitted via Moodle, but I had a local tutor who observed my lessons.

Why did you choose to do it that way?

I think starting with Module 1 is the best way to do it as you gain a lot of theoretical and practical knowledge that comes in useful when you complete the other two modules. Working on my own saved me both time (there was a weekend Module 1 course but it was a 3-hour drive from my home) and money. It was mainly due to my two friends (thanks Zuza and Kate) who said that with the right amount of determination and self-discipline, I could do it myself. And I did! Doing module 2 online was not my first choice but a necessity (lack of places on the course in Warsaw). However, it worked out all right in the end.

What do you think you gained from doing the Delta?

The Delta has made me much more analytical and reflective when it comes to my own teaching practice. I choose and plan the stages of my lessons more carefully now and look at the learning process more from the learners’ than the teacher’s point of view. Obviously, you have to read a lot but that means that you get to know many different approaches to language learning. Having done that, I feel more confident as a teacher trainer and pay more attention to CPD. Finally, it also gave me an opportunity to work on such aspects of TEFL as testing, course design or materials writing (which you might not always have the chance to do if you work as a teacher but which might be necessary if you want to move on to a more senior position). I personally think it is quite a door opener – I really enjoy being a teacher trainer – a job I wouldn’t be able to do if I hadn’t done my Delta.

What were the downsides of the method you chose?

Doing Module 1 and 3 on my own required a lot of determination and good time management (well, I guess Delta always requires that, doesn’t it?) I had doubts and sometimes I thought it would have been nice to have someone who could help me deal with them. I also didn’t get to take a mock for Module 1 which I believe would have been very useful, especially in terms of time management in the actual exam. As to Module 2, I was worried that not having a face-to-face contact with my tutor, getting delayed responses to my questions and having very little support from peers would be frustrating. Luckily, the online mode turned out to be a really convenient way of studying (see below).

What were the benefits of the method you chose?

I saved money and commuting time, that’s for sure. Being able to do things at my own pace from the comfort of my home made the experience a bit less stressful. For Module 3 I also started working in the summer for my December submission; that gave me extra time for reading, needs analysis, etc. My Module 2 tutors were very efficient when it came to online communication. Also I got to teach groups I already knew which made writing learner profiles and anticipating problems easier. In addition, this module was quite intensive as it was a 3-month course. Even though it might sound like a downside (especially if you work full-time), it actually means that you give up your life for 3 months only, get it done with and then forget about it!

What tips would you give other people doing the Delta?

For Module 1, do a lot of past papers. Clearly, you need to do your reading too but you also need to know exactly what the Delta examiners expect. Also pay attention to the new format – it’s not ‘write as much as you can’ anymore. There’s a certain degree of repetition in the answers you can give. Obviously, don’t copy them mindlessly but take advantage of that (e.g. you could make a list of all features of parts of speech you need to include in the language analysis task).

For Module 2, make your life easy and choose these areas of language you feel most confident about. I chose the easiest area for my first LSA, as passing this one took a lot of pressure off me. There’s not much point reading intensively before the course; focus on the specific areas you are going to cover in your LSAs. Also set yourself a realistic work plan and stick to it!

For Module 3, choose a specialism that you have already worked in and you know something about. In addition, make sure your tutor is actually an expert in this specialism. And stick to word limits (this applies to Module 2 as well) – it’s not worth losing points here.

For all of the modules, I would say be prepared for hard yet very rewarding work. Read the handbook carefully and get support from others (blogs, colleagues who have done it already, tutors, peers). Very soon, you’ll be done with it and you will be able to reflect on the whole experience and notice the benefits. And finally, do go out sometimes, assuming that you want to stay sane!

Delta conversations: Kirsten

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

Kirsten Colquhoun qualified with a TEFL certificate in 2003. Since then she has taught in Thailand, China, Spain, England, Qatar and South Africa. She did her Delta while teaching in Cambridge in 2009. Now she is back at home in Cape Town, working as a TEFL trainer, writer, materials developer and blogger. She blogs on teaching at www.jellybeanqueen.wordpress.com and on parenting at www.birdandthebeard.com .

 Kirsten Colquhoun

How did you do your Delta? How did you arrange the modules? (i.e. in what order and did you do them in different places?)

To be honest, I didn’t really know much about the Delta before I started it. When I finished my Master’s degree in English and Applied Linguistics I knew that I wanted to continue studying but something more directly related to my teaching. My Master’s was amazing and gave me a great background to language learning and languages in general, but I wanted to learn more about the practical side of teaching, which led me to the Delta.

So I did Module 2 first. I was living in the UK at the time and I realized that I could do Module 2 in Europe for cheaper than in the UK – and I’d be living in Europe! I’m South African, so that’s a big plus for me! I applied to International House Barcelona and was accepted after a horrendous interview (tip: be prepared. This is not for fun and games). That was 8 weeks full-time. I did Modules 1 and 3 independently afterwards but at the same time.

Why did you choose to do it that way?

I was lucky enough to be able to afford Module 2 full-time and because the course was in Spain and my job was in Cambridge it was never really a question of doing both at the same time.

When I went back to Cambridge I had to go back to work which is why I decided to do the other 2 modules independently. I didn’t realise you could do online courses to get help but I managed ok without. If I remember correctly, I started both modules in August and they were both due in December, so I reckoned I had enough time to work and do both. I basically just wanted to get them over and done with.

What do you think you gained from doing the Delta?

So much. It’s difficult to put it into words but my whole attitude to teaching changed. Something in my teaching shifted and suddenly things started to make sense to me. It was probably a combination of all the theory I had become aware of and the recognition and acknowledgement of my teaching ability – my knowledge had increased but so had my confidence.

What were the downsides of the method you chose?

Doing Modules 1 and 3 independently was probably harder than it needed to be. I passed both (Module 1 even with Merit) but I feel I could’ve done better if I had had more guidance. I really had no idea what I was doing!

What were the benefits of the method you chose?

Doing Module 2 full-time was the best decision I could’ve made. I had the best time living in Barcelona – I mean, who wouldn’t?! – but I had the freedom of time to really sink into the reading we needed to do, think about my lessons and connect with the other students on my course. Doing it full-time also meant that the whole experience was condensed which really helped me focus.

What tips would you give other people doing the Delta?

Do as much of the reading beforehand as you can so that you are as prepared as possible before you begin. Do one module at a time so you can focus on it without worrying about the others at the same time. Find a mentor to give you guidance. This can be someone you know who has done the Delta before or someone from a course provider – you don’t need to reinvent the wheel and it’s useful to know exactly what’s expected of you.

In retrospect, what would you have done differently?

Taken more time. I felt I needed to do all three modules as quickly as possible. Working full-time became a nightmare, so there were a few weeks when I cut my hours so I could put more time into my Delta.

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

For Modules 1 and 3 I think I was doing maybe 3 to 5 hours a day, so say about 15 – 20 hours a week. It was really difficult with work because some days I would have more time than others so my weeks were never the same.

DIY festive homework (guest post)

When I walked past my colleague’s desk at work a few days ago, I noticed a really interesting handout, and asked her if she would be willing to share it with the world. I’m very happy that she agreed 🙂 Over to Katie…

‘Tis the season for teachers to hand out Christmas holiday homework, and if your students are anything like mine, ’tis also the season for students to ignore their Christmas holiday homework until half an hour before their first lesson back in January. So I came up with an idea that will hopefully motivate them to actually do something different every day, without having to personally visit them on Christmas day and force them to talk to me.

The format is simple and can be adapted for any level, but mine was for an advanced class (hence the uninhibited use of the word “regale”). I’ve made a calendar for my students, with a box for every day between our last lesson of the year and the first lesson of next year. Every day they choose a task from the list, and they note down which one they did into the right day. On their return to the class in January, they use the calendar to recall the different things they got up to over the holidays. My hope for this exercise isn’t necessarily to test or challenge my students, so I won’t take in any of their work to be marked. Instead the aim here is to train them to keep working at their English even when I’m not standing over their shoulder.

The list is based on my class and what I know might be interesting to them, but you should edit the list to make it appropriate for your class. I’d especially recommend adding in any online resources that you regularly use with your students, but to keep all the tasks relatively low-effort.

Christmas homework handout

Here’s the list again, for ease of copying and pasting:

  1. read your book for 20 minutes
  2. watch a film in English
  3. write a New Year’s resolution and summarise it in exactly 20 words
  4. go to bbc.com/news and read a news story
  5. put a photo on social media with an English caption
  6. write an email to Katie wishing her a Happy Christmas & tell her what you’ve been doing (your@emailaddress.co.uk)
  7. listen to some music, look up the lyrics and try to sing along (obviously only songs that have English lyrics!)
  8. write a diary entry about something interesting that happened to you
  9. watch something in English on YouTube & tell someone about it
  10. learn a Christmas song in English and sing it to your mum/uncle/pet/neighbour
  11. compose a haiku about Christmas Day
  12. go into a shop and pretend that you don’t speak any [Polish], and ask them to speak English to you
  13. write a Christmas recipe out for Katie to try at home (please make it very clear, and with minimal pickling)
  14. regale your family members by speaking to them in only English for part of the day (even if they’re not sure what you mean)
  15. look at your textbook, sigh, and say “maybe I won’t do anything in English today today” *ONE USE ONLY*

Bio

Katie Lindley

Katie Lindley has been teaching at IH Bydgoszcz since September 2016.  She hasn’t published any books (yet), or spoken at any conferences (yet), but the 9-year-old girls in her kids’ class think she’s brilliant.

I hope you enjoy adapting Katie’s festive homework, and I’m sure you’ll join me in asking her to write more posts in the future!

Introversion: the hidden strength in language learning? (guest post)

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

All about me

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

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

Two roads

Image taken from Google Street View

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

Identifying introversion in students

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

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

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

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

These four students in my class were me.

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

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

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

Creating a more inclusive environment

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

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

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

Lesson Structure

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

Valley

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

Working in groups

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

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

Speaking out in front of the class

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

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

Classroom layout

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

Worrying about ‘lonely’ students

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

P.S.

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

Alastair Roy

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

References

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

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

Other posts about introversion (from Sandy)

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

Tag Cloud