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Archive for the ‘Guest Posts’ Category

Online CELTA: the trainee perspective (guest post – Nadia)

Nadia Ghauri was one of the trainees on the online CELTA course I’ve just worked on. She’s one of two trainees who’s agreed to write about her experience (Yawen’s post appeared yesterday). I think you’ll agree that this post is useful for anybody doing the CELTA in the future, whether online or off! Thanks Nadia!

Make no mistake, doing the CELTA course ‘online’ did not make it any less ‘intense’! In fact, that will eternally remain one of the defining features of this course. Initially, when I was notified that the course would be moving online, I was a little hesitant. I was looking forward to meeting people ‘in real life’ and the physical classroom experience. I quickly came to realise, however, that it was becoming increasingly important to develop my skills in a virtual environment. No one can predict what the world will look like at the other end of the pandemic, including the world of EFL teaching. I realised it was important to be as open-minded as possible to adapting and learning about how I can do things from my own home. What’s more, the ‘virtual’ teaching skills and knowledge that I am now equipped with are, of course, transferrable to physical workspaces. The spectrum of lifelong communicative, organisational and planning skills will be useful for any career path that I pursue.

 

One of my biggest tips for doing the online CELTA is to keep organised and arrange your notes every evening. The CELTA trainee guide that is emailed before the course suggests 12 headings for notes. I naively thought this was a bit much…only to find myself adding ‘Assignments’ and subfolders too! Although I had a physical folder I did not use it much and just shoved in a few odd papers. Bookmarking also becomes your new best friend. Back your computer’s files onto a cloud or a memory stick as this avoids any scares when technology decides to mess with you. Having named folders from the get-go made it a lot easier to sift through my notes when doing assignments and uploading documents to the Cambridge ‘moodle’. It also means that when I start teaching and want to get hold of a useful resource, it will be easier to navigate through the abundant materials that the trainers generously shared with us.

Secondly, a huge tip is recognise that the virtual CELTA is both a personal and shared learning curve! You’re meant to be making mistakes from start to finish. I remember in week 3 when I switched to teaching the Upper Intermediate group I suddenly felt that the progress I had built up in the first two weeks had come crashing down. In fact, this was an integral part of my personal growth which also helped other trainees to learn about what sorts of things they should do or avoid. There’s also the notorious technical issues to which we have to adapt. I had my fair share of breakout room backfires but as a result I’m a lot more confident in using them and think they’re essential for group learning! The change in both students and TP tutor halfway through stretched me in new and different ways that further enriched my learning experience. It was also more reflective of real-life teaching because it’s inevitable that at some point you will teach different levels, have to work with new staff and adapt to different kinds of problems. Being exposed to different teaching methods and feedback styles widens our understanding of ourselves, each other and the demands of teaching. Spoiler alert – in week 4 there is no magical moment where everyone’s lessons culminate in perfection (though I did find all 5 of my fellow trainees’ final lessons marvellous). However, it was amazing to look back and see just how much progress we had made in less than a month! The CELTA course gives you the firm foundations for teaching English, but it for us to decide how we build upon these! Learning to teach is an experiential process that I don’t think ever ends. The trainers are there to help you and now I realise that sometimes when they pushed us, it was because they wanted to get the best out of us! I was so grateful for the time and support my trainers gave me, especially when I emailed them at some rather unholy hours!

My third tip is to take time out! When doing a virtual course there is an extra strain on us because we are sat in front of a screen hours on end. I found a number of great yoga videos on YouTube for stretching out afterwards. I also avoided screen-time as much as possible in my precious free time. CELTA also floods you with a lot of information day in day out. Our brains need time to process this, so try and get a decent night’s sleep! (Admittedly, I started having CELTA-themed dreams week 2 onwards!) On the weekends I would meet up with friends, go for a run or cycle just so that that I could have a bit of a breather physically and mentally. It’s also a great idea to have a WhatsApp group with fellow trainees. As we weren’t all physically in the same place, it was a lot harder to socialise compared to normal or know how others were finding the course. At the start in particular, I couldn’t tell if it was just me or not who was feeling quite overwhelmed with the workload. Reaching out to others and having a small chat with them beyond the training hours is a good way to build up a super support system and to boost morale!

One of the biggest things I have enjoyed is the opportunity to have met and worked with trainees and learners living across the globe be it Peru, Poland, Kyrgyzstan or Hong Kong! Meeting all sorts of wonderful people is definitely one of the biggest perks of doing the course. You may even be lucky enough to get 18 people across 3 different time zones singing happy birthday to you (at least we can blame bandwidth for it being a little off-key…!) Overall, the online CELTA has been an invaluable experience and I am excited to see where it takes me and my fellow trainees.

Nadia has recently finished her BA in languages. Fuelled by tea, she loves trying out new foods, meeting people and discovering new places, preferably all at the same time!

If you’re one of my other CELTA trainees reading this, let me know if you want to write too!

Online CELTA: the trainee perspective (guest post – Yawen)

Yawen Jin was one of the trainees on the online CELTA course I’ve just worked on. She’s one of two trainees who’s agreed to write about her experience (Nadia’s post will appear tomorrow). I think you’ll agree that this post is useful for anybody doing the CELTA in the future, whether online or off! Thanks Yawen!

My experience

I heard before I started CELTA that I could only sleep three hours a day on average during the four weeks. Therefore, I felt very complicated feelings. I signed up and tried to pass the interview because I had great expectations for CELTA, but at the same time, I was afraid that I would not survive. A friend even told me that on the first day of her face-to-face CELTA course last year, one of her classmates left the class crying because of stress and never went on with the class. Maybe what she said was exaggerated, but after experiencing it, I also felt that the course intensity, homework and lesson preparation content were quite a lot. However, in the end, I did it, and the rest of my classmates also did it. It has been proven that if you attend classes well, participate in discussions, help each other, complete tasks on time and do what trainers suggest you do, you can and you will survive. So, there is nothing to worry about. There will be nothing to lose by taking this course, and there will be a lot of growth for each of trainee.

Now, let’s talk about my experience over the last four weeks. The first two days of the first week I didn’t feel a lot of pressure. I used to feel anxious in order not to feel too much pressure. Therefore, I rechecked my schedule, reviewed the input lessons, confirmed what I had to do, and right after I had done these three steps, i.e. I made a detailed plan, and then the pressure came on me. It took me a long time to prepare for one lesson, often up to eight hours to make a high-quality PowerPoint and write a lesson plan. It was often necessary for me to stay up until three in the morning, sleep for about five hours, and continue on with a full day of classes. Besides, there were one or two assignments (four in total) to be written every week, and the first weekend I had no rest at all. Even when I was sleeping, the dream was about how to prepare for the class and there were fragments of the input classes.

At the beginning of second week, I felt my mental and physical state was very bad, so I asked two classmates to talk about it. Because there was no private communication before, I didn’t know what other students were like and how they felt about the course. But after the communication, I found that everyone was happy to help each other, such as sending me the methods and websites to relieve mental stress and improve sleep quality. In fact, I found my classmates who looked very energetic had to work very late as well, but they had been working very hard. I felt that even though we were attending classes online, we were all in a group rather than a single person. Then I became more and more accustomed to CELTA’s rhythm, and the time for class preparation was reduced. After each teaching practice, the trainer and other trainees need to give comments on each class. Often the evaluation contained a lot of affirmation and encouragement, and also included objective suggestions. In this process, everyone had more confidence. For example, in the beginning many of us felt that they have little strengths, and lots of weaknesses, but after some time we thought we actually had some advantages. For me, when I was in the third TP, I suddenly released myself and no longer felt nervous. Others commented that they found the strength of my personal charm and self-confidence. This is due to my every effort and every encouragement and recognition from my lovely trainer and trainees in the team. (Another important point is that I learned a lot of useful information and skills from the daily input lessons, and then used them in my own TP, which often produced some good responses.)

By the third week, each group had to change a trainer. The new trainer of our group is a very energetic person who loves education and is willing to discuss and solve problems. (The owner of this blog, Sandy :p) Her requirements were more strict than the previous trainer, which made our workload heavier. And in my observation of her classes, I could say that student-centered teaching method achieved the best degree in my opinion. That is to let the students learn by themselves or let students help each other to learn then achieve the learning outcome. When I was learning educational theory in the uni, I knew the benefits of such a teaching concept and thought I could do it if I wanted to. But after the first two weeks of TP, I tried to spend more student-time each time, thinking that I did quite well, and it seemed that STT might not be added any more. But her demo lesson made me stop being self-satisfied and feel that there was so much to improve. For the first TP in the third week, I agonized for three days but still didn’t reduce the TTT much. Then I communicate with her for a while, she found out I give yourself too much pressure, so she gave me some advice on her experience and her, and told me she had also frets about how to reduce TTT in the past and every step grows through experience. The most important point is that this course values the growth of each trainee, so do not be too anxious.

Therefore, I tried to prepare for the class with a relaxed mood. Although it took a lot of time to increase STT, I made great progress. It should be mentioned that after the members of our group gradually got used to the new trainer, everyone’s growth was remarkable, that is, the so-called strict teacher produced brilliant students. And as the team members got more familiar with each other, everyone was supporting each other and cheering each other on. Although the first half of the third week seemed to be harder than the first week, the rest of the one and a half week were very happy. It is no exaggeration to say that up to the last stage, I felt sad for the end of the course, because this praiseworthy experience, the good atmosphere of mutual support and the fact that I enjoyed every day of lesson preparation and teaching, they made me feel happy and fulfilled.

There are a lot of details to remember these four weeks. First of all, the three trainers were very patient and supportive, and they encouraged trainees to deal with the problem actively and they shared a lot of resources. They all have different teaching styles, and we can learn different teaching methods from their courses. It should be mentioned that in these four weeks they were offering help and support to each trainee. Secondly, even if trainees are from different countries, different cultures and different languages, we always cheer each other on. We were happy to share our own stories, sometimes also talked about our own country’s culture, future plans and interesting views. It’s an amazing experience and I’m sure everyone learned a different kind of wisdom. For example, I feel the power of others to believe in their dreams, and also found different life attitudes. It was all fun and gave me courage. Thirdly, it’s important to believe in yourself. At the beginning of the course, it is necessary to adapt to the pace, but after the initial adaptation period, everything will become more interesting. As long as you can find the fun, it won’t be as difficult as you thought. In the end, you will be glad to have taken such a valuable course. I do love CELTA and the people I met in it.

Tips

  1. Do exactly what trainers say

The trainers are experienced teachers, you can discuss questions with them (because there is no standard answer for some questions). But in the general direction, especially the suggestions for improvement must be followed (just my suggestion). This will definitely help you progress faster and more efficiently.

  1. Manage your time and materials

You need to be clear about your goals and plans for each week to help save time. You also need to organize your documents every day, whether it’s printed or in a folder on your computer. It’s important to keep your documents in order!

  1. Prepare the materials you need

I bought books that might be useful (including Teaching English Pronunciation, Grammar for English Language Teachers and Learning Teaching) before the course started. In this way, I won’t be in a hurry when I need materials (in fact, I don’t need to buy any books myself. The trainer has distributed the resources we needed, but I like reading paper books). Prepare white board, white paper and notebook at the same time.

  1. Watch your diet and sleep

When you’re in a high-intensity class, not eating well only makes your body feel more uncomfortable, and you don’t get as little sleep as the rumored average of three hours. The time required to write each assignment is not ten hours, but three to six hours is enough if you concentrate (and even less if you are a native English speaker).

  1. Find some help and don’t be alone

People under high pressure tend to be mentally fragile. If only a person silently thinking and suffering, will only make themselves more painful. Communicating with other trainees will help you solve problems, maybe help you with practical problems like preparing for class, or maybe relieve pressure. People will meet different difficulties, and it’s helpful to try to ask for help. Me, in particular, had planned to learn and digest the stress on my own from the beginning, so I felt extremely anxious. But it’s much better to talk to someone.

I’m Yawen Jin. I have been teaching young learner English in an educational institution for two years. I then completed a master’s degree in Education Studies at the University of York, followed by CELTA in July 2020. In the future, I will continue to engage in the English teaching industry that I love.

If you’re one of my other CELTA trainees reading this, let me know if you want to write too!

Dyslexia Bytes – Q&A with Martin Bloomfield

I first met Martin Bloomfield when I was a trainer on summer courses at York Associates. I’ve seen him in action doing presentations and running an incredibly engaging guided tour of York, and can spend hours talking to him 🙂 I’ve been watching his Dyslexia Bytes community grow over the past few years, and am very happy that Martin agreed to share the story of the site with you here.

What is your own experience with dyslexia and how has it affected your teaching?

In a way, being dyslexic made me want to become a teacher! As an unrecognised dyslexic, I’d had so many horrible experiences at school that affected me so negatively as a child (and therefore into adulthood) that one of my reasons for going into education was to retrospectively somehow “right those wrongs”! I didn’t want others to suffer in the same way that I’d done.

I found school life completely dis-spiriting. Childhood is supposed to be the best time of your life and my overwhelming memories of school (where I spent most of my childhood) are miserable, suffocating, demeaning, humiliating, terrifying, and genuinely heartbreaking. No child should have to go through that. And my memories aren’t unique – you ask just about any dyslexic person, and they’ll tell you the same. Education has to change.

But there were other ways it affected me as a teacher – when I was working as a Business English teacher in Germany, I noticed that a lot of intelligent students I came into contact with hadn’t been doing very well in their lessons, and I recognised my own dyslexia signs in them… so I taught them appropriately to how I wish I’d been taught, and their results went up! This led to the school asking me to give some dyslexia awareness workshops to the other teachers, and that was really the start of my deeper engagement with the subject – twenty years ago. It gave me a very student-centred perspective, always keeping in my heart the sensitivity that not “getting something” when learning is an emotional and psychological issue, at least as much as it is a learning issue.

How widespread is dyslexia?

Did you know different countries define dyslexia differently, and even some countries – such as those with a federal state system – have different official definitions within their own boundaries? And then, within these definitions, different organisations around the world apply different measurements to dyslexia.

This is important because these two facts lead to vastly different understandings of dyslexia, vastly different figures for how many dyslexic people there are in the world (Turkey puts it at 0.05% of the population; while Nigeria puts it at 33% of the population), and hence vastly different national, governmental, and social approaches to dyslexia. If we took those two extremes in global terms, for instance, we’d have to conclude that somewhere between 3,750,000 people and 2,497,500,000 people have dyslexia worldwide. This would equate to a difference in estimates of 2,493,750,000 – nearly two and a half billion people – more or less the combined populations of China and India! And with such differing views of what dyslexia is, there follow different approaches to the law, to funding, to education, to social programmes, to awareness raising, and to workplace accommodations.

Dyslexia does not “belong” to the Anglo-American world; yet almost all research and perspectives are focused on the Anglosphere, and carry with them Anglo-American “white” cultural biases and preconceptions. This risks marginalising BAME dyslexics, and the different impacts dyslexia has on cultures whose language is non-alphabetic, or whose cultures involve interactions which will be differently affected by dyslexia.

What is Dyslexia Bytes and how did it start?

Dyslexia Bytes is an online “one-stop shop” to show an international, intercultural perspective on what dyslexia is. It acts as an information resource about dyslexia facts and statistics, helping people understand what executive function difficulties dyslexic people have, what benefits research shows dyslexic thinking to have, and how educators, businesses, and law-makers can understand dyslexia from a variety of viewpoints.

It began life as a way of bringing together people from around Europe who had attended my SEN (dyslexia, autism, ADHD) workshops and training courses to allow them to exchange experiences once they got “back to work”. There’s a Facebook Dyslexia Bytes group open to anyone who wants to join, that can act as a space for such discussions! It quickly developed into a dyslexia awareness resource website, with key tips on understanding dyslexia, weekly video releases (also available on a YouTube channel) to inspire conversations, and even a Twitter presence!

Martin has worked in the field of intercultural ethics and dyslexia awareness for twenty years, speaking in front of the British Government, the British Swiss Chambers of Commerce, departments of International Trade, and international conferences worldwide. He holds visiting lecturer positions at universities in Britain, Germany, France, Russia, and Switzerland, trains teachers from around the European Union, and is currently authoring a chapter for a major publication on Innovative Teaching for Early Years Education.

He was a top three finalist in the Bank of England Innovation in Enterprise awards, initiated and presented the UK’s annual Dyslexia In Business award, is a finalist in the 2020 British Council Innovation in ELT awards, and sits on various international advisory committees for inclusion and neurodiversity. Currently driving pan-European projects to provide a consistent and interculturally-acceptable measuring tool for dyslexia assessment across the EU, and to provide free online Special Educational Needs training to schools around the continent, Martin runs the Dyslexia Bytes project, and is also completing his PhD at the University of York, England.

If you’re interested in learning more about dyslexia, I would definitely recommended exploring Dyslexia Bytes for yourself. Two other useful resources I’ve regularly used are ‘Special Educational Needs’ by Marie Delaney and Jon Hird’s website. You might also be interested in the IATEFL Inclusive Practices and Special Educational Needs Special Interest Group (IP&SEN SIG).

Professional Development beyond CELTA (guest post)

When a Twitter account called What they don’t teach you on CELTA started to pop up on my stream I was intrigued. Looking at their tweets, it seemed they were trying to fill the gap in post-CELTA development that I’m hoping ELT Playbook 1 also helps with. This is one of my main areas of interest for all the reasons Chris Russell describes below, so I was very pleased when he agreed to share the story behind the site and the Twitter account with us. Thanks Chris!

As for many of us, lockdown has been a strange time for me. Along with some colleagues, I’ve spent most of it furloughed and with a desire to do something productive with all that time on my hands. Fortunately, my colleague Stephen, an experienced teacher, teacher trainer and examiner, identified a problem waiting to be solved.

He got a few of us together on Zoom and asked us to think back to our early days of teaching, and all those moments we cringe at: the overly-ambitious lesson plan; the activities that fell flat; the grammar explanations that confused more than helped. CELTA and equivalents are great courses, but there’s only so much that’s possible within the confines of a month-long course. They should be one of the first steps on a journey in learning to teach, but for many it seems that their professional development doesn’t progress much after it.

As we thought of those moments, we wondered if there was a way of others finding a kind of shortcut. Especially those not lucky enough to work in a school with a supportive manager and opportunities for professional development. For teachers who have some experience, but aren’t ready to be thinking about doing a Delta or Master’s yet. We toyed with a couple of names, but ultimately settled on What they don’t teach you on the CELTA.

The name is a little tongue-in-cheek, and not intended as a criticism of CELTA per se, but an acknowledgment of its limitations. It can’t teach you everything. Cambridge are quite open about this: it falls under the ‘foundation to developing’ stage of their teaching framework, rather than ‘proficient’ or ‘expert’. We also noted the number of job opportunities that simply require a CELTA-qualified candidate, without asking for relevant experience or offering sufficient support to newly-qualified teachers, perpetuating the myth that CELTA is the final destination, rather than a first step, in ELT.

So, with our combined experience as teachers, teacher trainers, DoSes and language learners, we got writing, trying to help others benefit from our experience. We thought about what we wish someone had told us in our first years in the classroom, from the websites we now can’t imagine living without to knowing how to deal with classroom cliques. We’ve also thought about the things we do in class now, almost as second nature, like correcting students effectively and dealing with being observed. We don’t intend to imply that none of what we discuss is actually covered on any CELTA courses! However, expecting trainees to retain all that knowledge from such an intensive course doesn’t seem realistic, and so we hope some reinforcement will prove useful.

We know there are lots of other resources out there, but we don’t feel there are enough aimed at this audience – likely time-poor (planning and teaching 25 hours is a very tough ask at first!) and in need of a bit of guidance. The industry churns out lots of CELTA graduates, but how many really last in ELT? I’ve seen some have an initial unfulfilling year and never return – could some more support and development have helped them have a better time and retained them? Those staffroom tears and breakdowns that I’m sure many of us have seen really shouldn’t be the norm. I’ve also seen plenty of teachers with many years of experience, but whose teaching ability seems to have stagnated early, doing a disservice to their students and perhaps limiting their job satisfaction.

A blog certainly won’t solve all those issues but we hope to provide some help as well as to start a conversation around this issue within the industry. If nothing else, writing it has helped us reflect on our journeys within ELT and been a mixture of interesting and cathartic, emphasising the good that can come out of blogging and reflection – another important tool in professional development!

Chris Russell is a CELTA- and Delta-qualified English language teacher who has been working in ELT for 8 years in the UK, Spain and Poland. He recently took on the role of school director at Alba English in Edinburgh. He blogs with some colleagues at https://notoncelta.com and tweets at @ChrisRussellELT.

How do we teach when teaching online (guest post)

Laura Edwards talk on teaching online at the IATEFL Global Get-Together a couple of weeks ago was one of my highlights. If you’d like to watch the talk, it’s available to IATEFL members in the member’s area. Find out how to join IATEFL. She’s kindly agreed to share her ideas here.

This month I was part of the Global Get-Together, an online conference run by IATEFL. I was asked to present by telc language tests and I thought I’d talk about something connected to my work there in test development. But everything I came up with seemed irrelevant when most conversations with my teacher friends and colleagues revolved around coronavirus and their anxiety and frustration at having to suddenly teach online. I knew those feelings were completely valid. I have a Master’s in Education and Technology and ample experience with online teaching and I still felt overwhelmed. I also noticed that many articles and blog posts about teaching online explained the merits of various video conferencing tools, but few mentioned actual teaching. The implication seemed to be that once you get the hang of the tool, everything will fall into place, but that’s not the reality, which is why I decided to talk about how we teach when teaching online.

With schools suddenly shut, we find ourselves having to design materials suitable for online learning, change our assessment techniques and find new ways to manage student interactions, with very little preparation time. We’re also dealing with the stress of the situation, concern for our students’ well-being, and for self-employed or freelance teachers, there’s the potential loss of income to consider. 

Overwhelming really is the word for it! 

Adapting to the situation

I started my talk with a few inspirational quotes. This one from H. Jackson Brown, Jr. seemed particularly fitting.

Let perseverance be your engine and hope your fuel

As well as effort and perseverance, we need patience, hope, humour and plenty of self-compassion to help us face this challenge. 

It’s unfortunate that many teachers see teaching online as something to suffer through. Of course, it’s difficult to be positive about something that’s forced upon you. I can rave about how it creates great opportunities, frees us from geographical limitations, allowing us to learn whatever we want, wherever we are. But we’re human – we require time to grow accustomed to new ideas, technologies and teaching methods. The habits and biases we develop during our lives can cause us to reject alternative ways of thinking or acting. We face what’s known as the Adaptability Struggle. Change is difficult and some may question the appropriateness of a tool or initially dismiss something that doesn’t fit their perception of learning. Talking to students about their feelings and discussing the benefits of online learning definitely helps. If there’s a moment when your students aren’t reacting as you’d hoped or you’re feeling frustrated, remember it could be the Adaptability Struggle.

How learning happens

When it comes to actual teaching, the first step is to consider how learning happens in your classroom.

I teach large groups of mixed-ability adults, who are returning to education having worked for several years. To tap into their knowledge, deal with the differences in abilities, and make sure that in a group of 30 students everyone has a chance to speak, I incorporate a lot of pair and group work, projects, and peer feedback into my lessons. 

Make a list of the activities or approaches you use in your physical classroom and refer to it for guidance when planning your online lessons.

Exploiting the technology

Then think about the tech tools you have at your disposal. The SAMR Model helps us evaluate our use of a technology. SAMR stands for

  • Substitution: Tech acts as a direct tool substitute, with no functional change
  • Augmentation: Tech acts as a direct tool substitute with functional improvement.
  • Modification: Tech allows for significant task redesign.
  • Redefinition: Tech allows for the creation of new tasks, previously inconceivable.  

The first two refer to the enhancement of learning, the second to transformation. 

One example of the SAMR model is …

  • Substitution: Instead of writing texts by hand, students type them out. 
  • Augmentation: Students type their texts using word processing software, with spell check and formatting tools.
  • Modification: Students use Google docs to share their texts with classmates and get feedback, perhaps even working simultaneously on the document.
  • Redefinition: Students use their texts to make video presentations which they share online.

The goal is to move beyond merely replacing traditional tools, tasks or resources with digital ones, to a situation where technology is facilitating new ways of learning. Of course, under present circumstances, we may not be ready to think about transforming our teaching just yet. We might be thinking at the enhancement level, which is fine.  

The SAMR model helps us reflect on how we can use the tools we have to help our learners best reach their goals. 

Exploiting video conferencing

Many of us are using a video communication tool now. How can we change our lesson design to take full advantage of the tool? Can the tool offer an improvement?

One idea is inviting a guest speaker to join the lesson (if allowed by your school). This is something you couldn’t do as easily without the video conferencing tool. As you and your students are online anyway, it’d be easy to add a friend, colleague or family member to your meeting to be interviewed by the students. Even 10 minutes would be sufficient for them to talk about their job or industry, answer questions about their daily life, or give people a quick tour of their house (ideal if you’re teaching things in the house). It can be informal, even fun, while involving multiple tasks for students:

  • Researching the speaker, for example using LinkedIn
  • Writing an email inviting them to join, explaining why you are interested in speaking to them 
  • Preparing questions 
  • Planning who asks what
  • Conducting the interview
  • Writing a thank you email, outlining what you enjoyed or found useful
  • Preparing a post-interview report

If the conversation was recorded (with the guest’s permission, of course), the video can be replayed for comprehension and vocab activities. So much learning from just a short video call! 

Recording your lessons or parts of your lesson is another example of using the tool to transform learning. Students can watch the videos as often as needed, the repetition helping them notice things they didn’t catch initially. This also helps them reflect on their own contributions. We’re often so focused on expressing meaning, we’re not as aware of our language. Students could transcribe short sections of their speech and reflect on their language. 

The SAMR model reminds us to be open to the opportunities that teaching online offers us, rather than seeing it merely as something to tolerate until we return to the classroom. 

The downsides

Moving to online teaching isn’t without its issues. In some cases, students’ verbal participation decreases, causing you to wonder if they’re paying attention at all. There are many reasons why this might happen. Students may be shy, uncomfortable with the technology, distracted or having tech issues. But they might also be unsure about when they should speak or trying to avoid the situation where everyone is speaking at the same time.

What can we do about this?

Start with Small Talk

Begin each lesson by greeting students individually and asking them how they are, giving each a chance to say something. Then ask students to write something in the chat box: what they had for lunch, what they did yesterday. This easy warm-up allows you to check that everyone’s equipment is functioning. It also allows students to try things out, get accustomed to the situation and connect with their classmates.

Create and discuss guidelines for communication

This is a must. Should students mute their mikes? Should they raise a hand (visually or using the function in the tool, if it exists) or type something in the chat box to indicate they want to speak, or can they speak at will? Do they have to turn their video on, or can they participate by voice only? Are they allowed to record the video call? (Consider privacy regulations.) These things should be communicated clearly in the first meeting or beforehand. It’s also helpful to explain why you set each rule.

If your expectations are unclear, you risk intensifying the adaptability struggle, resulting in some students initially rejecting the technology. We cannot expect students to participate the way we want them to if they don’t know what that is. This may sound logical, but we’re all guilty at times of assuming students understand our intentions and motives when, in fact, they don’t.

Try chatting

A lot of interaction in the classroom is spontaneous. The frowns indicating which students haven’t understood the task, the rolled eyes at your jokes, the groans when you announce an upcoming test, the witty comments. So much impromptu communication gets lost online if everyone’s on mute or has to wait their turn before speaking.

One way to facilitate this valuable communication is by encouraging written communication. The chat function in video conferencing tools is often used by teachers as a place to type corrections, but that shouldn’t be its only use.

Instead of asking questions to students individually, ask the group to respond in writing in the chat box. Give them enough time, then tell them to hit send. You can go through the answers to compare responses, ask follow-up questions and point out improvements.

You may consider moving some of your discussions to the chat box altogether. This takes a little getting used to but works essentially like a group chat on whatever messaging app you’d use on your phone. A written discussion gives everyone time to think up a response and prevents discussions being dominated by more confident or out-going students. This would also benefit the less confident speakers among our students who just prefer writing anyway.

It can be a bit chaotic but it’s worth it, as the use of this function not only helps increase participation but, going back to the SAMR model, we see it is transformative in that it allows for greater inclusion.

Using forms

Further ways of increasing interaction would be to use tools like Google or Microsoft Forms to share listening or reading comprehension questions with students. As the students complete the activity, you can assess in real-time how well each understands the material and quickly discover where misunderstandings lie. Questions can be multiple choice or open-ended, students can see which ones they get wrong or right, and you can display the results to the group for discussion. Gaps in knowledge are quickly identified, and you can deal with these questions without wasting time on the ones everyone got right.

Use the same tools to create feedback forms for your students to be used at the end of the session or week. Find out what students like most and least, and if there’s anything else they’d like to cover in the lessons. This gives students a voice, increases their engagement and aids your own development.

Many teachers find that once they move their class online, they suddenly become the centre point, through which all communication flows. They feel pressure to keep things moving and teacher talk time increases. The use of chat and survey forms can help prevent that.

Promoting engagement

What else can we do to ensure student engagement and interaction? Let’s return to the question of how learning happens in your classroom. If you were in the classroom, what would you be doing that you’re not doing online?

My big challenge teaching online is pair work and peer feedback. For me learning is a social activity and communication and collaboration with others are essential. Although some tools allow for break-out rooms, it’s not always practical. If your students can’t conduct pair work during your live session, how about moving that to outside the allotted class time? Give students a task to complete for the next session and assign them a partner. During the following lesson, the pair can report back to the group.

Peer feedback is another collaborative activity that increases students’ engagement and self-awareness as learners. The key to making it effective online is sharing the task rubrics with the students. Explaining to students what they have to do to complete the task successfully brings transparency to the evaluation process, and helps them effectively evaluate and help others. To really enhance the reflective process, students can create the rubrics or evaluation checklists with you. This further helps them develop a common language to use when giving each other feedback.

Students can also give feedback more informally. During speaking tasks, those listening could use pre-assigned emojis or a comments sheet with short sentences like ‘I agree’ or ‘Good vocabulary’. These could be quickly copied and pasted into the chat box, helping students give feedback faster while eliminating typing errors. The added advantage of this is that it builds community among learners, which is even more important when we are not all sitting in the same room together.

All of these things take practice, which I guess was the main message of my talk. We’re in a difficult situation, and it takes time to adapt to any change so we need to be kind to ourselves. I hope this post gives you a few ideas to help you along the way.

After university, Laura left Ireland to work as an English teacher. Now in Germany, she teaches adults and creates content for digital and print language tests. She has Master’s degrees in Education Leadership and Education Technology. She tweets as @edlaur. In her free time, she turns all devices off to read a good book.

Using Nearpod for asynchronous online teaching (guest post)

Katie used to work with me at IH Bydgoszcz. She previously appeared here writing a guest post about DIY festive homework, and is back now to explain how she’s teaching in a student-paced way using an asynchronous model, a great contrast to the fully synchronous model I’ve been working in, with only live lessons. Here’s what she’s been doing:

A bit of background

Much like everyone else on my Twitter, Instagram and Facebook feeds I have had to move my classes online. Unlike most of those people, I don’t have a class full of students who have reliable internet access and regular schedules at home. Although a few of them are sitting at home with wifi and no work to do, a lot of ESOL students are what our government has started calling “key workers”. In my classes I have shop staff, factory workers, warehouse workers, care assistants, cleaners, and of course, full-time mums.

I have a university lecturer who almost always uses a website called Nearpod in her lectures with us, and we follow along on our phones, seeing class results immediately on her screen at the front. She mentioned off-hand once that it was a useful website for setting work to be done at home, as it also has a function for “student-paced” lessons. Unfortunately, as I discovered when I tried to use it, you need an upgrade to use the student-paced lesson function. Fortunately, Nearpod is currently offering a free upgrade! It was a bit fiddly to get one, but it was eventually sorted out. I had to fill in a few forms, and even had a Zoom call with someone about what I needed. There was an option to become a “school” account, and link other teachers to mine, but I went for a simpler option to have the upgrade just to myself.

How do you use it as a student?

The easiest way to introduce you to the site is probably by using a demo lesson, so I’ve made you one (be warned, it’s not remotely professional in tone) Access is very similar to the Kahoot process.

  1. Go to join.nearpod.com
  2. Type in this code: JTOGF (this code expires on 16th May 2020, so get in touch if you miss it and you want to give it a go)
  3. Put in a name or nickname

How do you use it as a teacher?

I’d say that once you get over the initial hurdles of getting an upgrade, you only need a little while to find your way around the website. If you have done the lesson above you will know a few of the possible features, but of course there are always more. If you want different classes to do the same lesson but keep their results separate, you can launch it more than once with different codes. This is helpful if you have many classes of the same level with different teachers.

Giving feedback

Once you’re ready, scroll down on the left side until you see “reports”. Each lesson is listed, and on the right there is a house-shaped icon with a pen on it. When you click on that you’ll be taken to a summary of your students’ results. At the top of that summary you can select “downloads” to view the results either by the whole group or by students individually. I download the student reports and email them individually to each student with feedback or suggestions of particular things to practise. This is very time consuming!

Pros and Cons

Although feedback takes longer, you are obviously not spending any time actually in class, so that does sort of balance out. Unfortunately there’s not a lot of options for students using phones to respond with audio, so they tend to spend a lot of time writing. After the Easter break we’re going to have a go at doing a mixture of Zoom and Nearpod.

Has anyone else tried asynchronous online teaching yet? What tools have you been using?

Katie is an EFL teacher back in her hometown in the UK, teaching ESOL part time at the local council and studying for her MA TESOL part time at the University of Warwick.

4 tips for teaching teens online (guest post)

This is a short post I’ve written from Cambridge University Press summarising four things I think it’s key for online teachers to do (not just of teens!) The short version is:

  • Be their teacher first
  • Keep it simple
  • Include variety
  • Experiment and reflect

You can read the full version on the CUP blog.

Adding movement to online lessons (guest post)

My friend Olga Stolbova posted these suggestions on facebook a couple of days ago, and agreed to share them on my blog. Thanks Olga!

Some simple tips on how to add more movement to your online classes. These are some of the things I do and they work for kids and adults.

1. What do you have in your fridge?

For lower levels

Ask your student/s to stand up, go to his/her fridge and remember 5-7 things that they have have in their fridge, allow 1-2 minutes. Then they return to their online classroom and tell you what they have.

For upper levels

Ask the students to check their fridge and tell you what they may be running out of and what they need to buy, ask them to check their fridge and make a list using the words for packaging ( cans/ pack, carton, bottle etc.)

To make it more interactive

Write a list of words that you think a student may have in his/her fridge, and the student/students make predictions about their teachers’ fridge. Set a time limit of 30 seconds – 1 min depending on their level, then you read the items from your list and the students go to the fridge and check. Take turns. It can be done in different formats. If you have a 121 class, then it is teacher-student; if you are teaching a small group, students can work in pairs or you can do it as group. You can use different questions depending on their level. For lower level students you can just read the list, for slightly higher levels you can use: Do you have any bread? Is there any… in your fridge? Is there a bottle of milk in your fridge? To focus on containers you can ask clarifying questions for the second round. e.g. Do you have a carton of milk or a bottle of milk in your fridge?

2. Can you name all the green/pink/blue/white objects in your bedroom/kitchen/living-room?

Students need to walk to their room and check the objects. You may ask them to take pictures of all green/pink/blue etc. objects and send them to you, though make sure you have parents’ permission for them to do this.
You may either set a time limit or ask them to take pictures of limited number of things, e.g. Take pictures of 4 green things in your flat)

3. How many rectangular/oval/triangular objects do you have in your flat/room/kitchen?

(This idea is from Lisa Margolina. Thanks a lot!)

Students are given some time to walk around and take pictures of all/some shapes at home, similar to the one with colours. They may not know the name of the objects, so you can help them with that when they show the object to you or send you a picture of it (with permission), or you can ask them to use an online dictionary to find the name. Set a clear time limit for that one.

4. What can you see from your window?

A student is given 1 min to go to the window and describe what he/she can see outside. If the window is far from the computer, allow 1 min for the task and make them remember/note down 4-5 things. Then they can tell the rest of the class what they can see. Then you may ask several students to compare it with their view. Encourage them to find more than 5 differences. Again, this can be done teacher-student, student-student, teacher-students.

5. Where’s the mirror?

Make 2 lists of 5 objects each: 5 pieces of furniture and 5 objects, e.g. list 1: a pillow, a vase, a mirror, a cat, keys. List 2: a desk, a bookcase, a bedside table, a bed, a windowsill. One student shows his list to the rest of the class. The students and the teacher make predictions about where the objects are. Those who guess correctly, get one point for each correct answer, and the objects are crossed out from the list. Take turns.

Olga Stolbova

Olga Stolbova is a freelance teacher and a teacher trainer, based in Sevastopol, Crimea.

She has taught English in the USA, China, the Czech Republic, Vietnam, Russia and Ukraine and has run more than 30 CELTA courses around the world.

She loves teaching, travelling and coffee.

If you’d like more ideas for teaching on Zoom, including how to incorporate movement into lessons, read Ideas for adapting group lessons to working on Zoom.

Learning the language and low-level learners (British Council TeachingEnglish Associates)

Paul and I are working our way through some old posts of mine on the British Council Teaching English website. Here are two which were published in November:

You can find the full list of all of the posts I’ve written for TEBC on my Writing page. Look out for more coming soon.

And to make this post look pretty, here’s a gratuitous picture from the country where I work (there are more of those here).Bydgoszcz Filharmonia wrapped up for Christmas

Enjoy!

Work-life balance for new teachers (IH Journal Issue 47)

Issue 47 of the IH Journal has just come out, including articles by me on Work-life balance for new teachers. Amy Gowers has written about Taming Teens, which I’ll definitely be sharing with lots of my colleagues and taking note of myself! There’s even an article called How effectively are you using your PowerPoint, which I think a lot of teachers could do with reading Here is the full contents page:

IH Journal Issue 47 contents page

Designing teacher development workshops: key design principles for planning training workshops for in-service teachers (guest post)

I found Lauren Perkins’ IATEFL 2019 talk incredibly useful, and it’s already inspired changes in the way I run workshops, something I’ll be blogging about soon. Before I shared what I’d done, I asked Lauren to write this post summarising her design principles for effective in-service workshops. Thanks for agreeing to do it Lauren!

At IATEFL Liverpool 2019, I delivered a session on ‘Designing Teacher Development Workshops’. The 45-minute workshop was designed in the same way that I would design any other workshop: following a set of key design principles and including some experiential learning activities, with the intention of practising what I was preaching.

Some background: The problem with workshops

When I first read Simon Borg’s blogpost on Workshops and Teacher Change in 2016, I had just spent the previous 4 years working as a teacher trainer on workshop-based teacher development courses in Thailand. Borg highlighted the “inherent limitations of workshops”: the assumption that by simply increasing teacher awareness and knowledge, teachers will change what they do in the classroom. He argued that such sessions rarely promote teacher change. After reflecting on my own workshops, I came to agree with him. This led me to read more about workshop design, with the aim of finding out how to make workshops more effective. I found that four principles emerged, which I then matched to different activities. When I design workshops now, I try to include at least one practical activity that follows each of the four principles. I’ll go into some of the ideas behind each of the four principles and then describe in more detail the practical activities related to each principle below, but first here is a summary:

Design principles Practical activities
1.    Draw on participants’ prior knowledge, experience and beliefs – Find Someone Who- Blind needs analysis

– Brainstorming

– Pair discussion

– Needs analysis survey

– KWL grid

2.    Provide opportunities for collaboration and dialogue – Discussion tasks

– Mind-mapping

– Jigsaws

3.    Include experiential learning and teaching practice – Microteaching

– Video observation

– Demonstration

– Loop input

4.    Promote reflection, contextualisation and follow-up – Reflection questions

– Action points

– Adaptation ideas

– Peer observations

Principle 1: Draw on participants’ prior knowledge, experience and beliefs

If a workshop is for in-service practising teachers, then all participants will come to the session with prior knowledge, experience and beliefs about teaching. As Borg stresses in his blogpost, it is important to recognise this existing knowledge and experience before teachers engage with new ideas. Participants are more likely to accept new teaching concepts if their prior knowledge and experience is acknowledged.

Depending on the context of the workshop (i.e. school, conference, training centre etc.), the trainer might not know anything about participants’ backgrounds. For example, as my workshop on ‘Designing Teacher Development Workshops’ was held at an international conference, I had no idea who would be attending, what they already knew about workshop design, or their experiences of delivering workshops. It was necessary, therefore, to find out this information at the beginning of the workshop. Here are some practical activity ideas for drawing on participants’ prior knowledge, experience and beliefs:

Find Someone Who

Create a short Find Someone Who activity that includes specific descriptions about participants’ experience, knowledge and beliefs related to the content of the workshop. Participants mingle and find someone who matches each description. For example, this is the worksheet I designed for my workshop:

has delivered a workshop to teachers before, knows what 'microteaching' is, knows what 'loop input' is, thinks that workshops impact what teachers do in the classroom

Blind needs analysis

Ask all participants to close their eyes at the beginning of the workshop. Ask them a couple of questions to find out their existing knowledge or experience. e.g. “Put your hand up if you have delivered a workshop before”, “Put your hand up if you know what microteaching is”. By making the needs analysis ‘blind’, participants will hopefully feel comfortable putting their hands up and you will be able to quickly find out more about their prior experience, knowledge and beliefs.

Brainstorming

Put participants into small groups and do a quick 3-minute brainstorm on everything they know about the topic of the workshop. For example, if the workshop topic is ‘Games for young learners’, ask groups to brainstorm games they already know.

Pair discussion

Give participants two or three questions about their prior knowledge, experience and beliefs to discuss in pairs. For example, if the workshop is on ‘Using songs in the classroom’, you could ask participants to discuss the following questions:

  • Have you ever used songs in the classroom? If so, when and how?
  • How do you think songs can be used for helping students learn English?

Needs analysis survey

Write 10 needs analysis questions on strips of paper and stick them on the wall around the room. e.g. ‘How long have you been teaching?’, ‘What do you find most difficult about teaching?’ etc. Participants walk around the room on their own, read the questions and think about their own answers. Ask each participant to take one question each (if there are more than 10 teachers then put them into pairs) and ask them to survey the whole group by asking each participant the same question and noting down their answers. Participants summarise the results visually (i.e. in a chart or graph) and display them for the whole group to see in a gallery walk.

KWL grid

At the beginning of a workshop, ask participants to create a grid with three columns: what they know (K), what they want to know (W), what they have learned (L). Participants complete the first two columns and then return to the third column at the end of the workshop. (Sandy gave me this idea – thanks Sandy!) [and I learnt it from a previous IATEFL, so thanks to whoever that was!]

Principle 2: Provide opportunities for collaboration and dialogue

Teachers will not only learn about teaching from the trainer, but also (perhaps even more so) from each other. By giving workshop participants the opportunity to discuss, question and share ideas with their peers, there will be more opportunities for them to learn from each other. There is always time in a workshop for a 5-minute discussion; at the beginning to share what they know, in the middle to check their understanding, or at the end to relate the topic to their own teaching context. After all, workshops should involve audience participation in order to distinguish them from talks and presentations. Here are some ideas for making workshops more collaborative.

Discussion tasks

Ask participants to work in groups and complete simple tasks that promote discussion. For example, ask participants to rank or categorise ideas related to the workshop topic and discuss their opinions at the same time. e.g. ‘Rank the qualities of a teacher from most to least important’.

Mind-mapping

Put participants into small groups and ask them to create a mind-map of a topic. Give each participant a different role in the group to help with collaboration e.g. a ‘writer’, a ‘dictionary’, and a ‘designer’.

Jigsaws

Divide participants into groups and give each group a different text related to the workshop topic to read / summarise / brainstorm their own ideas. Regroup participants so that at least one participant from each original group is in a new group. In their new groups, participants take it in turns to share what they have read / summarised / brainstormed to other group members. [Here’s how to set up a jigsaw activity if you’re not sure how to do it.]

Principle 3: Include experiential learning and teaching practice

There are clear similarities between teacher-learners in the training room and learners in the classroom. As Tessa Woodward points out in her book Models and Metaphors in Language Teacher Training [Amazon affiliate link], teacher development activities should “capitalise on the parallels between trainees and students”. During workshops, we should let participants experience the same processes they are supposed to use in their own classrooms. This will make it more likely that they will transfer what they have learned from a training context to a teaching context.

Even if there isn’t enough time for teaching practice in a short 45-minute workshop, there should be time for a quick demonstration of a classroom activity related to the topic of the workshop. If you’ve ever been a participant in one of my workshops, you’ll know I’m a big fan of loop input activities. Although such activities in the training room can get a bit tiresome (and a bit too ‘meta’), some workshop topics just lend themselves to loop input. It would be a shame, for example, to deliver a workshop on Task-Based Learning without any tasks! Here are some practical ideas for including experiential learning and teaching practice in workshops:

Microteaching

Participants practise teaching in a roleplay-type activity in which some participants are teachers and some are students. For example, if the topic of the workshop is ‘Giving instructions’, participants could practise setting up an activity in groups of five: one participant is the ‘teacher’ and four participants are the ‘students’.

Video observation

Show participants a short video clip of a teacher in the classroom. For example, if the workshop is on ‘Storytelling’, ask participants to watch a video of a teacher telling a story in the classroom and make notes on the storytelling techniques he/she uses.

Demonstrations

Ask participants to pretend to be students and demonstrate an activity. For example, for a workshop on ‘Communicative activities’, you might want to demonstrate a ‘running dictation’ activity using texts that you would also use with a class of students.

Loop input

Participants do an activity in the same way as described in the ‘demonstration’ above, but with the content and the process aligned. For example, to make the ‘running dictation’ a loop input activity (rather than a demonstration), use texts that describe ‘how to do a running dictation activity’ instead of texts that you would use with a class of students. 

Principle 4: Promote reflection, contextualisation and follow-up

Another way to encourage participants to transfer ideas from the workshop to their own teaching context is to promote reflection and follow up. Workshops should help teachers to reflect on their practice and relate the content of the workshop to their own context. By including a follow-up activity for teachers to complete when they are back in their classrooms, we can encourage them to put ideas into practice. In this way, teachers are less likely to go back to their classrooms and forget everything that they have learned in the workshop. Here are some ways of promoting reflection and follow-up: 

Reflection questions

Give participants two or three questions to reflect on at the end of an activity or workshop. For example, after a ‘running dictation’ activity, write the following questions on the board:

  • Did you enjoy the activity? Why (not)?
  • Could you do this activity with your students?
  • How could you adapt this activity?

Action points

Ask participants to choose one activity from the workshop to try with their students when they go back to their classrooms. Ask them to specify which activity, how they will adapt it, when they will try it and who they will try it with.

Adaptation ideas

After each workshop activity, always ask participants to brainstorm how the activity can be adapted for their teaching context. For example, ask participants how to adapt the activity for large classes / low-level learners / different topics etc.

Peer observations

Encourage participants to set up a peer observation, ideally with a co-worker who also attended the workshop. Having someone else observe their teaching will make them more accountable for completing their action points and will encourage post-workshop reflection.

Reflection

To conclude the workshop on workshops, of course there had to be some reflection.

I asked the participants to think about their training contexts and discuss these questions:

  • Could you incorporate any of the practical ideas into your context?
  • How could you adapt these ideas for your training context?
  • Decide on one action point.

Thanks to everyone who came to my session. I would love to hear from you if you have tried out any of these practical ideas in your own workshops. If you have your own ideas on how to design effective workshops, please share them here.

References and further reading

Borg, S. 2016. ‘Workshops and Teacher Change’. Simon Borg’s blog. http://simon-borg.co.uk/workshops-and-teacher-change/

Graves, K. 2009. ‘The Curriculum of Second Language Teacher Education’ in Burns, A. and   Richards, J. (eds.) The Cambridge Guide to Second Language Teacher Education. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. [Amazon affiliate link]

Hayes, D. 1995. ‘In-service teacher development: some basic principles’. ELT Journal 49/3

Woodward, T. 1991. Models and Metaphors in Language Teacher Training: Loop Input and Other Strategies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. [Amazon affiliate link]

Woodward, T. 2003. Loop input. ELT Journal 57/3. https://academic.oup.com/eltj/article-pdf/57/3/301/1187562/570301.pdf

Lauren Perkins is a freelance teacher trainer and materials writer, currently based in London. Most of her teaching and training experience has been in Thailand, but she has also worked with teachers in Myanmar, Indonesia, Palestine, Rwanda and Bangladesh. Her interests are in classroom interaction and materials-light teaching. Follow her on twitter @Lperkinselt.

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.

Delta conversations: Jenni

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.

Jenni started teaching in Poland in 2014 following a CELTA from British Council Krakow. She moved back to the UK two years later as she found love during her Christmas holiday back home. She then spent time teaching in language schools and summer schools in the UK. In 2018, she completed her Delta and currently works as an online tutor and course developer. She enjoys an #eltwhiteboard and tweets @jennifoggteach.

Jenni Fogg

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

I did an ‘intensive’ Delta, where the course runs over 15 weeks and the modules are completed concurrently. At Leeds Beckett (formerly Leeds Metropolitan) University, you work towards completing an internal qualification – a Postgraduate Certificate in English Language Teaching and Professional Practice, which prepares you for your Delta and counts towards it (the internal LSAs are part of both qualifications).

You prepare for the Module 1 exam through a series of workshops and homework tasks as well as taking a full Delta-style exam in exam conditions. This counts towards your PG Cert. and acts as a Delta mock.

The module 2 preparation included weekly sessions with advice on writing LSAs and background essays. The work you submit becomes part of your portfolio for both Leeds Beckett and Cambridge.

In module 3, there were deadlines throughout the semester for each section, with the view that the whole piece of work is completed within 15 weeks. We then gave a 15-minute presentation on our specialism. This was interesting as we got to learn about other specialisms and could see how people approached them in different ways.

Why did you choose to do it that way?

I really wanted to do a course quickly as I found that teaching positions in the UK were generally low-paid and there was little chance of promotion without a Delta. I was already living in Leeds, within walking distance of the university, and was teaching part-time in a local language school, which meant I could teach my own class for the LSAs. It made sense to take this route. I also found the PG Cert. attractive, as it meant I could put this on my CV while I was still waiting for the results of the Delta.

What do you think you gained from doing the Delta?

I really enjoyed reading more about SLA [Second Language Acquisition] and feel I benefited from the further reading in general; this is something I couldn’t find time to do before the course. It also made me a more reflective teacher and I now take time to consider why I have planned and structured a lesson in a certain way. I also really enjoyed all the opportunities to observe my peers and teachers online. This was a great way to discover effective new ways to teach.

The intensive nature of the course meant that we bonded quickly as a class and I made several close friends. It also gave me confidence to become more present in the ELT community on Twitter.

What were the downsides of the method you chose?

It was absolutely exhausting. Doing the course in 15 weeks whilst teaching at the same time was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It meant very early starts and late nights with every waking minute focused on reading, writing or lesson planning. The deadlines across different modules often fell on the same day too. It required insane organisation!

Also, because I wasn’t working full-time, I didn’t earn a lot of money throughout the course. I had to manage my money carefully (but really didn’t have much opportunity to spend it!).

What were the benefits of the method you chose?

From starting the course to achieving all three module certificates took 11 months. The course took place from the end of September to the start of January. We sat the exam and submitted Module 3 in June and then had to wait for the results. As we received our PG Cert. soon after the start of the year, we could put this on our CV in the meantime, which meant I managed to get a Director of Studies job in time for the summer, despite not having my Delta results yet.

What tips would you give other people doing the Delta?

If you choose to do the Delta this way, you will need to become an organisation master. I used Evernote for general to-do lists, storing my notes, saving useful websites and making sure each notepad was correctly-titled and saved in the right place. I also printed an A3 calendar where I wrote all my deadlines down and what work I needed to do each day. Deadlines tended to creep up on me so I needed an easy reference to see where I was up to.

I tried to use my weekends effectively, spending most of one day in the library, and spending the other day relaxing, cleaning, seeing family and doing some bulk cooking for the week. Thankfully, my lovely boyfriend cooked a lot during the course, which stopped me from getting scurvy.

I would also recommend doing as much work as possible before the course starts, both doing some preliminary reading from a Delta reading list (there are lots online) as well as reading about how other people approached it – this is a good place to start!

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

In this intensive course, it was a lot. I turned on my laptop to start working between 6-7am and finished around 10-11pm. We had lessons at the university from 12-5pm on Mondays and Fridays and I taught in the afternoons on the other three days of the week. I don’t want to work the number of hours out!

Learner-centred observations of teachers (Guest Post)

Christian Tiplady asked me if he could share his ideas for shifting the focus of official observations with the readers of this blog. I think you’ll agree that they are minor tweaks that could make a big difference.

Why do we focus on the behaviour of teachers during ‘official’ classroom observations? Is there an alternative way that is more in line with current thinking on learner-centred approaches?

So many institutions, including ones where I have worked, still cling to the idea that teachers need to be evaluated for quality assurance and that the best way to do this is with a formal observation, often compartmentalised and homogenised, taking the form of an hour-long observation by a senior member of staff. The observer uses a standardised feedback form with variables by which the teacher’s lesson is graded, and then leads feedback analysing what went well or badly. Oftentimes this observation takes place only infrequently, perhaps once a year, and there is often no follow-up to assess observation outcomes.

This style of evaluative observation is not only outdated but also ill-conceived. It assumes that the activity of ‘teaching’ can be rated, and that this can be done with the kind of standardised grading to which we have grown accustomed. In order to have much value at all any assessment of teaching needs to be thought through carefully. It needs to be done over a longer period with more frequent observations to avoid a ‘snapshot’ view and therefore the danger of misguided evaluation. Feedback needs to be cyclical and iterative in nature and co-constructed with the teacher as part of a reflective process to ensure that the teacher is on board with continuing development.

But there is a much more important point to be made here, which is that to focus on what the teacher is or isn’t doing in a classroom (and to rate that) is surely at best irrelevant and at worst dangerous if this is without explicit reference to the world of the learner. My contention is that we still do this way out of pure habit, and that at least in part, this undoubtedly comes from vestiges of ingrained beliefs that still linger, even if as teachers we know these things to be untrue.

Firstly, the status quo derives from the mistaken belief that teaching equals learning. However in reality we know that the teaching is only part of the equation and that learners will learn in their own way and at their own rate. As Freeman reminds us “teachers are influential in classroom learning but that does not mean they cause it to happen.” (Freeman, 2006; 254). Indeed we can teach what we might consider to be the best lesson, only to note that in terms of the learning it did not have the impact that was desired. Or conversely we can teach a lesson which at first sight did not go to plan or very ‘well’ in practice, but where there was nonetheless significant learning.

Secondly it comes from the implicit assumption that teaching behaviours can be classified and evaluated and that ‘more’ or ‘less’ of that thing is better. For example, typically ‘student talking time’ is inevitably valued within today’s language teaching, where a premium is placed on communication, and ‘teacher talking time’ should be reduced at all costs. In reality, purposeful teacher talk can be very useful as part of the learning process and in some lessons it may be vital.

Another example is the use of the English in the classroom versus the use of the student’s L1. The former has conventionally been highly valued (probably to encourage an element of immersion), whilst the latter i.e. the use of L1, has been relegated to the fringes with infrequent activities such as ‘translate these sentences into your own language’ given for homework, but with little real acknowledgement that use of L1 in the learning process can be extremely useful.

Although such thinking has increasingly been challenged over recent years, it still tends to be pervasive in the realm of teacher observations. We continue to focus on what the teacher should and should not do in the classroom (theories on this will likely come and go), and judge things by our own semi-conscious ideas of what is right and wrong. More importantly, by taking our eyes off the ball, we often miss the real action i.e. we neglect the impact (or lack of it) of the lesson on the learner. A typical example might be the types of praise given for a communicative speaking activity, which a teacher organised well and the learners dutifully performed with high levels of talking time, but which had little intrinsic value in terms of developing the learners or engaging them in meaningful expression.

By focusing on the behaviours of teachers in the classroom, we are also reinforcing a model that is teacher-centred and are thus potentially affecting teachers’ beliefs and behaviour. If we (learners, teachers, teacher trainers, managers etc.) desire lessons to be learner-centred then surely we need to promote that in everything we do, including the observations of teachers. Evidently, the main thing that is useful to focus on is learning and the learning process for the learner. In short, we need to rethink our observations of teachers to refocus on how teachers may best facilitate this learning.

So how do we do this? Assuming we still have to follow an institutionalised system of official observations, (which I still think can be reclaimed for the good), these can be redesigned with an onus on the learners with surprisingly minor structural adjustments, but with a fairly radical shift in our philosophy.

First of all, the usual observation template can be changed to make all criteria more learner-centred. Criteria such as ‘relevant learner outcomes established in conjunction with the learners’ and ‘lesson managed in a way that promoted achievement of lesson outcomes’ can be included to promote learner-centredness. The emphasis of wording is all-important; thus a criterion such as ‘use of English in the classroom’ can be amended to ‘English/L1 used appropriately for learner needs’ and ‘teacher talking time’ can be amended to ‘learner talking time suitable for learner needs’. These changes may seem somewhat pedantic, but in my experience such small adjustments can promote a major shift in the thinking of both the observer and the observed teacher alike. For instance, the phrasing of the latter criterion on learner talking time intrinsically leads both parties to ask themselves questions such as: ‘What was witnessed in terms of learner talking time?’ ‘Was the learner talking time appropriate in amount, form and quality at various stages of the lesson, as well as overall in the lesson? If not, why not?’ ‘Did the amount, form and quality of learner talking time mean the aims of the lesson were achieved for the learner? If not, why not?Clearly this change of emphasis might necessitate some ongoing training for both teachers and observers of lessons, but is nonetheless quite possible.

Secondly, the observer needs to truly focus on the learner – on their reactions, behaviour and likely learning – during the observed lesson. Often the observer sits at the back of the classroom to watch the teacher but cannot see the students’ faces or reactions. What the teacher does in terms of facilitation is important, but how the learner responds and whether they demonstrate that they are learning is of ultimate importance. Therefore the observer should try to ‘climb into the learners’ skin’ and see it from their perspective. The simplest act of the observer positioning their chair to the side of the classroom, to see the learners’ faces, how they react, and what they are doing, can make a huge difference to the observer’s understanding of the effects of the lesson on the learners and their learning.

Thirdly, the information gathered by the observer should ideally be backed up with further evidence to reduce subjectivity, preferably in the form of a video recording. Silvana Richardson (2014) has done some interesting work in this area, which she calls ‘evidence-based observation’. Software is also available which allows the observer to annotate the recorded video with questions and comments for the teacher, thereby facilitating a feedback process focusing on the learner, though it’s not always particularly easy to access.

Finally, however much the observer and the observed teacher try to adopt the mindset of the learner, and back it up with evidence, they can never claim to know the thoughts of the learner. The learners’ voice therefore needs to be included within observation feedback for any lesson or series of lessons. Thus the observation process should seek to include feedback from the learners, for example, their assessment of how engaging the lesson has been and how successful they think the lesson has been in terms of their learning. This can be factored into evaluative feedback as long as the process is handled sensitively.

Any additional comments learners have on the lesson(s) are also vitally important to inform the feedback process and can change the evaluation of a lesson significantly if they happen to disagree with what the observer and/or the teacher believe. When experimenting with this approach, I observed a lesson where I thought the learner might have been overloaded with the amount of topics that she was asked to speak about. However, in her feedback the learner maintained that that the amount of topics was at about the optimum level for her. This first-hand vantage point significantly changed my perception of the lesson.

In most institutions, how often does the observer of a lesson really solicit the opinions of the learners as part of the observation process? I would suggest very seldom. By contrast, including the learners’ voice in the observation feedback implicitly encourages the teacher to engage with learner feedback in the same way. Reframing the observation in terms of the learners not only allows a more relevant learner-centred perspective but also models good practice for the teacher as part of wider classroom culture.

Can this focus on the learner be equally beneficial as a basis for peer observations? Absolutely, yes! In fact gathering information on the learners provides an excellent focus and helps to avoid any evaluative critique of teaching, which many teachers may have come to habitually expect as the ‘default model’. So whilst evaluative observations look set to stay, let’s at least focus on what matters, namely the learners.

References

Freeman, D. Teaching and Learning in Gieve S. and Miller, I. (2006) ‘The Age of Reformin Understanding the Language Classroom. Basingstoke: Pelgrave-Macmillan.

Richardson, S. (2014). Evidence-based observation – tips and tools. British Council webinar: http://britishcouncil.adobeconnect.com/p8slnclkd8e/

About the author

Christian Tiplady

Christian Tiplady
BSc (Hons), Trinity Cert. TESOL, PGDip TESOL, MA TESOL

Christian is a freelance teacher trainer based in the UK. He has worked in both EFL and Modern Foreign Languages (MFLs) sectors for over 25 years, teaching, teacher training and managing in private language schools, NGOs and government organisations. Most recently he served as Pedagogy Manager at the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office organising CPD for tutors who teach MFLs to diplomatic staff. He has set up TrinityTESOL and Cambridge CELTA courses and is currently a CELTA tutor and assessor. He specialises in the creation of CPD programmes, developmental observations and feedback. Christian currently produces the teachers’ podcast Developod for the IATEFL Teacher Development Special Interest Group (TDSIG).

Contact Christian at: christian.tiplady@outlook.com

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.

Delta conversations: Jo

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.

Jo Gillespie

Jo got her BA way back in 1994 in Christchurch, NZ, with a double major in Linguistics and Education, knowing that she wanted to teach English. After gaining the Trinity CertTESOL, she began teaching in Christchurch at various English schools. Although she changed careers a couple of times, she always knew that teaching ESL was what she wanted to do, so finally in 1999, she took courage and left for a year’s teaching in the Czech Republic. While travelling, she met her husband, who is Italian, so moved to Italy, where she has been living and teaching ever since. She began the Delta in 2010, and finally completed Module 3 in 2016. After six years as a primary school teacher in a small international school, she has just moved to a DoS role at a local English school (and has started a blog about it), while maintaining a part time role as primary coordinator at the primary school. She’s about to begin an MA in TESOL, Leadership and Management.

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

I did the Delta part time, and all three modules were done through International House Accademia Britannica in Rome. I did them in order and think that was very helpful, as it moved from the theory to the practical, and then putting it all together in Module 3.

Module 1 was blended online. There was also an online-only option, but I wanted to meet the people with whom I was studying. We were divided into study groups in a WikiSpaces classroom and met face-to-face on a Friday for input sessions about theory. We studied mock exam questions and prepared for the exam itself.

Module 2 was again part time and blended, with the face-to-face sessions on Fridays. We had input sessions in the morning, and then teaching in the afternoons. We worked in TP groups both online and at the centre.

A face-to-face course was also arranged for Module 3, which I attended, always part-time and always on a Friday. We looked at each part of the extended assignment, and began to draft our Extended Assignment (EA). However, after the course finished, it took me another 3 or 4 years to get my EA completed and submitted (oops).

Why did you choose to do it that way?

I had just completed the IH Certificate in Teaching Young Learners and Teens (IHCYLT) at the same school, and I really liked my colleagues and the tutors. As I knew that a couple of people from the YL course would be going on to do the Delta, I decided to join them. Rome is not very far from where I live (it took about an hour and a half each way), and my employer was flexible and happy to give me Fridays off to study, so it was a good fit all round. Doing it part-time also meant that it wasn’t such a financial burden, and I had enough time to dedicate to it, even though I was working almost full-time, and I had two small children. I probably put in about 2-3 hours of study each day during the week, then intensive study face-to-face. The M3 EA took a lot longer than it should have because I changed jobs between Modules 2 and 3.

What do you think you gained from doing the Delta?

Oh, so much! A much better grounding in the theory and practice of ELT. An understanding of the research that goes into the theories – and a desire to keep learning. The confidence to experiment in the classroom. The desire to conduct action research with, about, and for my students. My M3 EA was about CLIL [Content and Language Integrated Learning] with young learners – which has led to a key role in an Erasmus+ project about that very subject. The Delta has also opened doors and has led to a move into a Director of Studies position, and teacher training.

What were the downsides of the method you chose?

I really don’t think there were any. It was a great balance of tasks online, and face-to-face workshops. It was intense, but doable.

What were the benefits of the method you chose?

I was able to combine it with work. I met people who were doing it at the same time and developed lasting relationships with them. The extended timeframe meant that I could get all the reading done (mostly).

What tips would you give other people doing the Delta?

Get your hands on a reading list as soon as you start thinking about enrolling and start working your way through it! Make notes and mind maps about everything. Use tools like Quizlet (where there are already many Delta M1 quizzes) to help you memorise the definitions of all the terminology. Start watching teaching videos online with a critical eye, in preparation for M2. And start thinking about your EA very early.

In retrospect…

I don’t think there is much I would do differently except: study a tiny bit harder for M1; choose anything BUT a listening lesson for my final TP (the one where Cambridge is watching) – or else, use commercial materials instead of trying to make my own (ugh – lucky I passed!) I was going to say “spend less time fretting over M3” – but I chose something relatively unexplored and with hindsight, I am glad it took me as long as it did, because the end result is something of which I am very proud. I am even thinking of squeezing in another M3 EA, this time with the ELTM specialism! That’s doable, right?

Delta conversations: Jim

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.

Jim Fuller began his TEFL career after taking his CertTESOL in London in 2014. From there he moved to Italy and taught for three years, in which time his interest in developing further in ELT was piqued and so he began his Delta. He now lives in Almeria, Spain and works at McGinty School of English as the Head Teacher Trainer. Always looking to develop further, Jim is also currently taking his Masters in TESOL and Applied Linguistics. Jim blogs at https://spongeelt.wordpress.com/.

Jim Fuller

How did you do your Delta?

My Delta began in 2016. I was working in Bologna, Italy, and had decided that I wanted to make a career out of ELT and Delta was, in my mind, the next logical step. I took Module 1 first, followed by Module 3 and then finishing with Module 2. For Module 1, I completed a preparation course as I really had no idea what to expect – thankfully I did! And Modules 3 and 2 were both done via distance.

How did you arrange the modules? Why did you choose to do it that way?

I completed Delta this way mainly due to course timings. The Module 1 course started about four months before the exam. Then, I wasn’t able to go straight onto Module 2 because I had planned to move to Spain, so I did Module 3. Once I arrived in Spain, I took Module 2, starting in September and finishing in June of the following year.

What do you think you gained from doing the Delta?

Whoa! Big question. I believe there are two ‘main’ gains from Delta (among many). Firstly, a much more refined awareness of my teaching and how it affects learning in the classroom. Prior to Delta, I can say that I was a good teacher, but I had no idea about why I was doing something and what the possible advantages and/or disadvantages might have been. Secondly, the philosophy of reflection. Delta, especially Module 2, requires that you be reflective, and, in my opinion, it is this reflection that brings about the most change! So, it’s not enough to just be reflective whilst doing Delta… you need to continue post-Delta (Delta gets you into a good rhythm of reflective practice).

What were the downsides of the method you chose?

Well, I think that even though the modules can be taken in any order, there is a clear advantage to doing them in order. When I finished Module 2 and looked back at my extended assignment for Module 3, I noticed a lot of things that I would have changed had I done Module 2 previously. That being said, a lot of the research I did for Module 3 came in handy for Module 2!

What were the benefits of the method you chose?

Doing Delta via distance is somewhat daunting for some candidates because it is a long commitment. However, this time that you have enables you to trial techniques, methods, activities, etc. in class, and then reflect on them and how they could be used in either Delta or normal lessons. I would not have liked to do the intensive Delta simply because I have thoroughly enjoyed being able to experiment, research and then draw my own conclusions over an extended period of time. Each to their own, though!

What would you change if you did the Delta again?

Overall, I don’t think I would change any major points, but the one thing I would change is my knowledge of Word. You will be using Word a lot, so it’s best to make sure you know how to use it. You would be surprised by how much time you can save by learning how to have a table of contents created automatically, or how hyperlinks can make your document easier to read and navigate. Most of these I discovered at the end of my Delta – thinking about the amount of time I would have saved eats at my soul sometimes! [Sandy’s note: my preparing for the Delta page includes pages which help you to use Word more efficiently.]

What tips would you give other people doing the Delta?

My main tips are:
  • Start reading early, but be selective with what you read. There is so much information and interesting stuff in the books you are likely to read, and it is very easy to get sucked down the rabbit hole. Just be cognizant of the time you are spending reading certain parts of certain books. I usually preferred to read the ‘conclusions’ or ‘final comments’ sections first as these usually contained summaries of the chapters, articles, etc.
  • Clear your schedule while you are studying. You will be studying for anywhere between 10 – 25 hours a week over the course of your Delta, so the fewer distractions or unnecessary commitments you have the better.
  • Listen to your tutors. These guys have mentored and tutored candidates time and time again and they are a wealth of knowledge.
  • Speak to other candidates, both past and present. Delta automatically creates a community of practice with lots of people looking for and/or willing to give advice. There are many places you can find (or give) help – Facebook, online forums, etc.
  • Don’t be afraid to try new things. There is no one way to do Delta – this includes doing the LSAs [Module 2 assignments], etc. There is a phenomenal amount of choice allowed (sometimes the hardest thing is deciding what to do), so don’t be afraid to try something new.
  • Have fun. Delta can be arduous and tiresome at times, but you need to make time for little celebrations to ensure that you stay (relatively) sane. So, finished that background assignment? Have a glass of wine! Finished reading that chapter about cleft sentences and you’ve finally understood what the author was talking about? Sit back and relax for a bit!

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.

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.

The Proficiency Plateau (guest post)

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

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

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

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

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

Who are these amazing people?

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

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

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

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

The Proficiency Plateau

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

What does it mean?

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

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

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

Materials

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

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

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

Going beyond language

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lily-Anne Young

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

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

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

Delta conversations: James E.

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

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

James Egerton

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why did you choose to do it that way?

In a word, practicalities.

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

What do you think you gained from doing the Delta?

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

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

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

What were the downsides of the method you chose?

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

What were the benefits of the method you chose?

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

What tips would you give other people doing the Delta?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All the best!

Delta conversations: Yuliya

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

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

Yuliya Speroff

How did you do your Delta?

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

Why did you choose to do it that way?

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

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

What do you think you gained from doing the Delta?

SO MUCH!

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

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

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

What were the downsides of the method you chose?

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

What were the benefits of the method you chose?

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

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

What tips would you give other people doing the Delta?

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

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

In retrospect, what would you have done differently?

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

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

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

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

Delta Blues Bar

Delta conversations: Sarah

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.

Sarah May currently works in international education. She started her career when she trained as a secondary school teacher of Modern Foreign Languages in 2011. She moved into the field of English language teaching when she decided to teach English in Spain. Sarah has also taught Spanish in an international school, and since completing the Delta she is starting a new role teaching English (Middle Years and IB) in an international school near Barcelona.

Sarah May

 

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 my Delta in order (Modules 1-2-3) and I did the whole diploma part-time from 2015 to 2017. I did Module 1 with Distance Delta, so online. The following September, I started Module 2 on a face-to-face course at Cambridge School in Granollers, Barcelona. Every Friday from September to May we attended sessions, did our LSAs and observed each other. After Module 2 I took a six-month break as I was starting a new role, and then did Module 3 with Distance Delta again.

Why did you choose to do it that way?

I felt studying part-time would let me take in more information and assimilate everything better. This proved true – I was also able to try out different techniques as I was studying ‘on the job’. It was certainly a very busy time, as I had to fit the studying around my work schedule. However, I was still able to enjoy the course and earned merits in both Modules 1 and 2. It was also a really practical and economical option – I didn’t have to stop working and I didn’t have to travel around much as Modules 1 and 3 were completely online.

What do you think you gained from doing the Delta?

Too many things to count! Meeting other teachers on the face-to-face Module 2 course was a fantastic experience. Even though we all lived in the same province, we probably would not have met otherwise. We were a mix of native and non-native English speakers and we all had diverse experiences. Everyone was really talented and we learned loads from each other. The Delta is definitely a great way to network!

Although the Delta is a very academic, Masters level qualification, all the theory is geared towards your teaching practice. I really liked how all course content is directly relevant to lesson planning and teaching.

What were the downsides of the method you chose?

I had to study a lot on weekends, although I knew it was only temporary. However, managing this depends on the intensity of your job. By the time I got to Module 3, I had a new role helping set up a new MFL department. The added responsibility meant I could not spend as much time on Module 3 as I would have liked! I could not have foreseen this when I started the Delta, but if you study part-time it’s important to choose your timings wisely.

Also, studying certain modules online requires a lot of willpower. With the Distance Delta, the content wasn’t delivered in any type of lesson, you simply had to read, read, read! They have forums and other resources too, but it’s a lot of studying on your own. It suited me, but it isn’t for everyone!

What were the benefits of the method you chose?

Doing the modules in order really helped. Completing Module 1 puts you at an advantage when starting Module 2 – it teaches you the jargon and techniques you are expected to use in your LSA’s. There is also a particular style of writing expected at Delta (clear, report-like), which you can perfect on Module 2 before you start Module 3 (the extended assignment).

Studying Module 2 face-to-face was ideal. We were able to observe all the other course participants do their lessons (LSAs), and we all gave feedback. Everyone agreed that the post-LSA sessions were where the ‘real’ learning took place, as we compared our own views with the course tutors and with each other. We gained valuable insight as to how Delta lessons are graded (e.g. what a ‘merit’ lesson looks like compared to a ‘pass’) and this was really helpful for going forward.

Our tutors at Cambridge School were also a great mix of people, very encouraging and really experienced assessing Module 2. You hear stories about some centres who want to ‘de-construct’ and ‘put back together’ their Delta trainees, but here the course didn’t have that feel; it felt more like a learning journey which built on your experience.

As I said above, studying part-time allows you to process all the information at your own rate, in a way that is productive for your current teaching.

What tips would you give other people doing the Delta?

  • Don’t be afraid to consult your course tutor before you plan your LSAs. Course tutors are also there to advise you on your planning, as well as to give you feedback on the end result!
  • Get someone to proof-read your assignments – not necessarily a teacher. If they can’t find it easy to follow, then it probably isn’t clear enough. Ask them to highlight the bits they don’t understand. It’s easy to assume everyone knows where your essay is going, but even Delta assessors aren’t mind-readers!
  • Don’t compare yourself. Some people might seem to do everything perfectly, but just focus on your own goals. Just think – the more progress you make, the more you’ll get for your money! Everyone comes at the Delta from a different angle, and thank goodness – otherwise the course would be really boring!
If you have any further questions about how and where I trained, feel free to get in touch at sarita.ja.may@gmail.com.
Best of luck and enjoy the course!

Boardwork (guest post)

This is the second time I have had the pleasure of hosting a post by Amy Blanchard on my blog. The first time, it was all about Peace Boat, a Japanese scheme to promote peace and cultivate a wider understanding of different cultures. This time Amy is talking about her first conference presentation, which she did at this year’s InnovateELT conference. Over to Amy…

Amy's talk

(photo by Innovate ELT photographer)

Last weekend I had the opportunity to present at the third annual InnovateELT conference in Barcelona. The brainchild of the lovely people at ELTJam and hosted by Oxford TEFL, it’s become famous for a diverse and friendly crowd, relaxed and productive atmosphere, and innovative format: 10-minute plenaries in the garden, sessions involving learners, and 30-minute talks. I delivered one of these short sessions on the topic of using the whiteboard. No, not interactive, just the act of writing with a pen on the board. As a CELTA tutor, observing lessons and boardwork is a key part of my role. It’s something that frequently comes up in feedback. Yet there is no dedicated session on boardwork, nor did I have one on my initial training course.

Is boardwork still considered relevant in this era of technology, projectors and digital books? I think so, and attendance showed I wasn’t the only one, with a good mix of teachers and trainers alike.

The session began with a short discussion between the attendees: what do they write on their board? The following were all discussed as possibilities. Ultimately, teachers who know their students can make the best decision about which of the following might be useful to have on the board for their particular classes.

A menu

Seeing the content of the class in advance can be motivating for learners. Knowing what is coming up can make them feel more comfortable and give a sense of achievement when it’s done. Personally I use it more with my younger classes than with adults. My YLs often need to know that there’s something more appetising on the horizon, and they feel more secure knowing the routine of the class.

Aims

Again, this is not compulsory but can motivate students, especially if they are phrased in a way that makes the menu content make sense. So ‘telling anecdotes’ rather than ‘practising past simple’.

Admin

A few people used their board to highlight information for their students: course dates, exam dates, instructions to tasks, page numbers, and homework. Set homework immediately after the lesson component it refers to, and try to avoid leaving it to the end of the class; this makes it seem like an afterthought.*

Points system

Some teachers have a separate chart for this, or many now use Class Dojo or a similar system. Either way, seeing a visual representation of behaviour can be useful for YLs.

Errors for delayed correction

The majority of attendees use their board for noting down errors and give corrective feedback. One important thing to note – if you do write an error on the board, make sure you cross it out clearly. Leaving it on the board can reinforce it in students’ minds, even if you’ve told them it’s incorrect.

As we discussed these points, I drew areas on the board for each section. Have a system and be consistent in where you put this information. Learners find what they need more quickly if they know where to look.

Emergent language

The majority of the talk focussed on what all teachers said they use their board for: emergent language. This is ‘unplanned’ vocabulary which emerges during the lesson due to students’ needs. Giving students language when they need it is a huge part of our job and it’s important that we help them to the best of our ability. In order to clarify and consolidate this language, it’s vital we put it on the board. Remember that the students’ notebooks typically reflect what we put on the board. We need to consider what information we can add to the vocabulary to make it most useful for students.

One of the morning plenaries at Innovate was given by a polyglot, Lýdia Machová, who shared her tips for language learning. One of these was to learn vocabulary in context. Recording vocabulary with co-text (i.e the language with which it appeared) can help our students remember the meaning and give them a better idea about how it is used. Highlighting difficult phonemes, stress and features of connected speech helps them remember the pronunciation long after the lesson has finished. Using different colours to highlight dependent prepositions or the separability of phrasal verbs helps them learn even more, or – as Duncan Foord put it in his plenary, What Have Teachers Ever Done For Us? – helps resolve their doubts before they even appear. I demonstrated these points with the words photography, photograph and photographer. 

Amy's whiteboard, showing stress patterns for photograph, photographic, photographer, and vertical extension for call off (the wedding, the match, but not the flight)

One of my favourite ways of exploiting and developing new language is through vertical extension. By eliciting more examples from students, we can check their understanding and help students to use the word by highlighting common collocations. It can also be useful to point out things that do not collocate, as this is often a problem for students. I demonstrated this technique using the phrasal verb call off.

If our board is systematic and informative, hopefully our students’ notes will be, too. It’s very important to give students time to copy, so that they can concentrate while the language is being discussed. I recommend monitoring to ensure they copy accurately. This also gives shyer students the chance to ask questions.

Colours are important too. Personally, I’m a stickler for writing in black. Although everything looks clear when you’re stood up at the board, if you’re sitting at the back of the class, or have problems with your vision, red and green pens can be really hard to read.

By the end of the lesson, the board should be covered in lovely new language. Use the last 5 minutes of the class to review it, either through some extra drilling practice, or a game of Backs to the Boards/Hot Seat that just requires you to point at the language.

Encourage students to take a photo of the board. If you have an online platform or whatsapp group, they can share it (great for absent students!) or just keep them on their phone to flick through next time they’re bored on the bus. It’s also useful for the teacher to take a photo; an easy way of keeping a record of new vocabulary to recycle and consolidate in future lessons. Furthermore, taking a photo of your board is a wonderful way of reflecting on the lesson, and on your board work. You’ll see things you could have added or expanded, and ways to make things clearer.

Teachers are also sharing pictures of their boards on twitter, using the hashtag #ELTwhiteboard. It’s a wonderful place to connect with other teachers, to ask for advice and to pick up some great ideas for lessons. Get involved!

This was a 30-minute, streamlined talk that only had time to focus on a few aspects of using the board. The biggest omission is the issue of who writes on the board. Do your students write on the board? Let me know in the comments below or tweet me @admiralwamy

* Ur, P. 100 Teaching Tips (Cambridge 2016) p.6 [affiliate link]

Amy Blanchard

Amy has taught English all over the world including many years in Spain for International House. She is now a freelance CELTA tutor and can be contacted at: amybtesol@gmail.com

You cannot run before you can walk – reading in Arabic EFL learners (guest post)

I’m very happy to be able to share another guest post by Emina Tuzovic with you. The first time she appeared on this blog, she wrote about how to help Arabic students with their spelling. Now she’s back to tell us more about working with Arabic students, this time focussing on helping them develop their reading skills.

In the UK, a growing number of Arabic learners are joining English for Academic Purposes (EAP) and IELTS courses as they would like to enter British universities. Generally speaking, this group of students tend to have very good communicative skills; however, they considerably lag behind when it comes to reading and writing. As in the Anglo-American educational system, these skills are paramount, Arabic learners tend to struggle with their studies here. As a teacher, I often felt I didn’t know how to cater to their needs which led me to research this topic in more detail. In this blog post, I’m going to focus on reading and give you some tips which will hopefully help your Arabic learners improve this vital everyday, as well as academic, skill.

Now, think about how many times you have asked your students to skim or scan an academic text. While most of the students get to grips with the task, our Arabic students generally struggle with this. So how to tackle this problem?

I think what we teachers need to do is break things down instead of throwing our students in at the deep end. We should start with reading words, before moving on to reading sentences, paragraphs and finally the whole text. If we build things up, reading will suddenly become a less daunting process for our Arabic learners.

There are several reasons why they find reading challenging. Firstly, how much students read in their L1 usually predicts how much reading they do in their L2. Judging from what my Arabic students tell me, they don’t read that much in their mother tongue. This is reflected in their reading habits in English, where suddenly they are faced with a different script and a different orthography, as well as a different reading direction – all of these making the reading process much more challenging. As they lack exposure to print, they often do not accumulate a sufficient range of vocabulary. This, in turn, affects their reading comprehension, which is the reason why they do not want to read in the first place! This vicious circle needs to be broken.

Let’s start from the beginning. We need to tackle words in isolation first.

Vocabulary and word decoding

As we said above, vocabulary size plays a significant role in our students’ reading comprehension. Lack of vocabulary slows down the reading process and hinders their understanding of the text. Additionally, when I ask my Arabic students to read something for homework, they will often translate a lot of words, most of which are low frequency and therefore not very useful:

Translations by an Arabic-speaking reader of English

Therefore, in order to catch up with other groups of learners, I think it’s important for a teacher to prioritise useful, higher frequency lexis and monitor what vocabulary students actually record. For instance, I usually check the words they have selected during a speaking activity. I allow my students to look up no more than ten words per text which will force them to prioritise vocabulary that is worth looking up!

Secondly, like all other learners, they need to be able to guess unknown lexis from the context. One of the most useful lexical aspects for this group to focus on is word formation. It is a very important lexical process in Arabic therefore our learners will be able to identify with it. So whenever possible, I get them to extrapolate the root, notice any affixation and derive other parts of speech:

Word formation example

I would also strongly suggest pre-teaching vocabulary before reading a text. The next day you could do a spelling exercise as vocabulary revision. You can give your students an initial letter string with the exact number of gaps and get them to produce the word they learnt the day before:

  • st_ _ _ _ _ _ _ (strenuous)
  • acc _ _ _ _ _ _ _ (accidental)
  • sl_ _ _ (slope)

[Read more about how to help students with spelling in Emina’s previous post, and find out more about why it’s a particularly difficult problem for Arabic learners in one of my posts.]

Word decoding

Another reason for poor reading skills in Arabic learners is slow and inaccurate processing of words, (word decoding). When it comes to multisyllabic lexical items, my Arabic students often read the beginning of the word and then unsuccessfully predict the rest of it. Also, it is not uncommon that words get confused with similar lexical items (negative L1 transfer). This group of learners will tend to focus on consonants so century might become country, revelation becomes reflection, etc.

To fix this problem, one of the most important exercises to recycle vocabulary would be gapping vowels. This will help them not only to improve their spelling but also their word decoding:

  • c_rt_n               (carton)
  • _xh_b_t_ _n   (exhibition)
  • _cc_l_r_t_       (accelerate)

I think it is also essential for Arabic learners to learn to divide words into syllables which will also markedly improve their word processing (e.g. con-se-quence). They can clap/tap syllables and while doing so. I ask them not to look at the words as irregular spelling patterns will only confuse them (e.g. just think about how we pronounce common words containing ‘ea’ – meat, learn and heart).

Overall, I believe, starting with vocabulary accuracy is paramount. Once the visual form of the word is consolidated, students will decode it more quickly and as a result, they will eventually get faster at reading.

Sentence level

Besides working on accurate word decoding, I get my students to focus on the sentence structure at the same time. I think it’s really important to pre-teach sentence elements (S-V-O: subject-verb-object) and parts of speech (noun (n), verb (v), adjective (adj), etc.) as this will immensely help our learners ‘decipher’ long sentences and orientate themselves in a text. ‘Grammatical labels’ might seem superfluous; however, I’ve noticed once the students get the hang of those, it’s much easier for me to give instructions and explain various grammatical structures e.g. passive, relative clauses, participles, etc. As students gain the knowledge of the sentence structure, they will start processing sentences faster.

Another thing I do is give students the beginning of a sentence which they have to finish e.g. I went to the shop (to)…; My car stopped in the middle of the road (because)…. This is how they learn to predict the content and increase their reading speed.

Last but not least, it is already at sentence level that I get my Arabic learners to start noticing punctuation. We often analyse sentences and I get my students to answer the following questions:

  • Is there a capital letter? (Where is it? Why is it there?)
  • Is there a full stop? (Where is it? Why is it there?)
  • Is there a comma? Why is it there? (How is it different from a full stop?)

Try to do it every day (or as often as possible) until you see your Arabic students use capital letters and full stops automatically in their writing. While analysing the sentence(s) in terms of punctuation, you can also ask them to find the subject, verb, etc.

Complex sentences

In EAP and IELTS classes I have noticed that it helps a lot if we break down complex sentences. I get my Arabic learners to pay special attention to subordinate linkers (if, when, in spite of; however, etc.) as these do not feature very prominently in Arabic. After they have grasped the concept of sentence elements and parts of speech, I get them to focus on complex noun groups (consisting of head nouns, prepositional phrases, (reduced) relative clauses, etc.) as well as to notice the difference between active and passive. For example, I put a complex sentence on the board:

One surprising factor is the willingness with which the public in most countries accept the by now well-known risk of developing lung cancer in spite of the evidence of its connection with cigarette smoking published by WHO.

Taken from Nuttall (1989)

They can answer these questions either individually or in pairs:

  • Mark the beginning and the end of the sentence with a double-slash.
  • Can you find the linker? What does it express?
  • Divide the sentence into two clauses.
  • Can you find the head noun? Which verb goes with it?
  • What is additional information? Use a slash (or underline it)
  • Is published by WHO active or passive?             (passive)
  • What is missing before published by WHO?     (which was)

So in the end, we get something like this:

//One surprising factor is the willingness/ with which /the public in most countries accept/ the by now well-known risk /of developing lung cancer

in spite of the evidence/ of its connection with cigarette smoking / published by WHO.//

I try to stick to colour-coding and always use one colour for nouns, another one for verbs, etc.

Afterwards I give students another complex sentence which they have to break down answering the same questions as the ones in the grid. Alternatively, you can give them the key words beforehand and get the learners to develop their idea(s) of how to build it into a sentence first:

factor…willingness…public…accept …risk…lung cancer… in spite of…connection…smoking

How to extend the activity: After they’ve received, read and analysed the complex sentence in detail, you can ask them to cover it and go back to the key words. Now they have to try to produce the complex sentence just by looking at the key words. This will additionally consolidate their awareness of the English sentence structure.

Paragraph and text level

The analysis of punctuation continues when we read paragraphs and subsequently texts. If you teach multilingual classes, you can give these questions to your Arabic students separately on a piece of paper and tell them they need to answer the questions every time they read a text for homework.

  • How many full stops are there?
  • How many sentences are there?
  • Do all the sentences start with a big letter?
  • How many commas are there? Why are they used?
  • How many linkers can you see? Circle them.
  • How many paragraphs are there?

It’s particularly important for this group of learners to become exposed to whole paragraphs and texts as soon as possible. In this way they will be able to internalise the structure of a paragraph/a text which will also help them with their writing.

In order to generate interest in a text and for Arabic students to be able to identify with the topic, I would suggest tackling familiar topics for them (e.g. family and relationships, food, technology, customs and habits, weather, travel and transport, etc). In a multilingual class, I usually get non-Arabic students to explain various cultural references to them (e.g. the Beatles).

Other elements which slow down their reading

We’ve probably all witnessed many of our Arabic students using their finger in order to read in a line. To help them drop this habit (apart from the obvious: Don’t use your finger!), I would first of all use regular typeface, such as Calibri or Arial (not the ornate ones that look like script!), as well as font size 12+ as this will genuinely improve their word decoding skills and consequently their processing speed.

In order to help them follow the text on the line as well as to monitor their speed, I would get the students to use a ‘mask’ (see below). This will also discourage them from using their finger!

Mask for reading

Taken from: Teaching Reading Skills in a Foreign Language by Nuttall (1989)

You can make it yourself by cutting a window in a sheet of paper. Get them to place it over the line and as they read, and pull it down to uncover the remaining text.

Another prominent feature which slows down our Arabic learners is subvocalisation (pronouncing words under their breath). Reading aloud and subvocalisation are commonly used when reading in Arabic, therefore this, in many ways cultural difference, needs to be pointed out early on in their learning process.

In order to read faster, as we all know, predicting the content is vital. I have noticed that stories often go down very well with Arabic learners. I give them a text and ask them to read the first paragraph. Afterwards they need to predict what will happen in the next paragraph, etc.:

It was a cold, dark night

Taken from: New English File Pre-Intermediate by Oxenden et al. (2011)

You can also give them a series of pictures and ask them to explain to their partners what they think happened before they read the story.

Extension of this activity: Afterwards they cover the text and tell each other the same story but this time in more detail, based on what they have read.

Skimming

So we’ve finally come to the notorious skimming. This technique works well with students who are competent readers in their L1 and who can successfully transfer their reading skills into their L2. Apart from expanding lexis, if we want Arabic-speaking students to improve their skimming and pick up their reading speed, our students also need to learn to ignore non-key, usually low-frequency words and just continue reading!

I choose a text and gap every eighth word in it, next time every seventh, sixth word, etc.:

Read the text. Ignore the gaps.

Grace Simmons is only fourteen, and she speaks French, but she’s famous in Paris. She’s become a _______ model for a well-known _______ designer. Grace is from _____, Michigan. Her father is ______ car salesperson and her ______ is a teacher. Grace_____very unhappy as a _____ girl because she was _____ tall-almost six feet. _____ other children laughed at_____all the time and ______ had very few friends. ______ she was eleven years _____, Grace’s mother took her ______ a modelling school.

Taken from: More Reading Power by Mikulecky & Jeffries (2004).

How many words you gap depends on the students’ level and the lexical density of a text (the denser the text, the fewer the gaps). You can also gap grammatical words (determiners, prepositions, etc.) as well as adjectives and adverbs (basically words which are not absolutely essential to understand a text).

When we get our Arabic students to attempt to skim a text, I recommend selecting texts which are considerably below their oral level of proficiency. I don’t think there is much point in getting them to skim a text which contains a lot of lexis unknown to them. Another piece of advice would be, as mentioned before, to pre-teach new vocabulary.

I also get my students to skim a text more than once. But the most important thing is that they get into the habit of doing it on a daily basis, either in class or at home or even both! I also get them to time themselves and write down how long it took them to skim a text the first time, second time, etc.

Last but not least, it’s very useful to set up a reading routine. You can get them to choose the texts they want to read in their free time. I usually put a grid on the wall where they write down what they read the day before:

Reading grid

To recap…

Reading is a very complex cognitive process which requires a long time to ‘master’. Our Arabic speakers are in many ways disadvantaged as when reading in English, they are faced with a completely different writing system alongside considerable linguistic as well cultural differences (e.g. knowledge of the world; various cultural references) which influence their reading in English.

I believe we can help our Arabic learners a lot if we break things down, starting with words in isolation before moving on to higher levels of processing. In the same vein, I think accurate word decoding should be tackled before working on reading speed.

After skimming for the gist, I think it’s vital to do the post-reading analysis in terms of:

  • prioritising vocabulary and breaking the words down into syllables;
  • guessing key vocabulary from the context;
  • analysing the sentence structure (especially in complex sentences);
  • analysing how ideas are developed in each paragraph and in a text as a whole;
  • analysing punctuation.

All of these things will help our Arabic students improve their accuracy and speed when reading. This will build up their confidence which will motivate them to read more in their free time. And we all know developing extensive reading is paramount if you want to become a competent reader!

After employing all the strategies that I have outlined in this blogpost, the reading skills in my Arabic learners have improved significantly within a fairly short period of time. It did require a lot of time and effort on both sides but as I always say, hard work pays off! So in the end, the majority of my students got significantly higher scores in their IELTS reading as well as their writing, which got them a step closer to getting into a university of their choice. Vicious circle broken, mission accomplished! 🙂

References

  • Mikulecky, B.S. & Jeffries, L. (2004) More Reading Power (second edition) Longman
  • Nuttall, C. (1989) Teaching Reading Skills in a Foreign Language Heinemann
  • Oxenden, C.; Latham-Koenig, C.; Seligson, P. & Clanfield, L. (2011) New English File Pre-intermediate Teacher’s Book OUP

About Emina

Emina Tuzović works as an English language teacher at the London School of English, predominantly on EAP, ESP and exam preparation courses. She has designed an online spelling module for Arabic learners of English for CUP as well as reviewed various syllabuses for spelling materials for the Middle-East market. She is currently completing the final year of a PhD on word recognition and orthographic awareness in Arabic learners of English at Birkbeck College, London.

Emina

Writing ELT materials for primary (guest post)

At this year’s IATEFL Materials Writing SIG pre-conference event, Katherine Bilsborough offered us tips on writing materials for primary-age young learners. These were really useful, so I asked her to put together a blog post summarising them for you.

Writing ELT materials for primary can be great fun but don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s somehow easier than writing materials for an older age group. It isn’t. It has just as many challenges but some might be less obvious at first. Following on from the talk I did at this year’s MaWSIG pre-conference event at IATEFL, here are five things to take into consideration for anyone thinking of writing for primary.

1 What does primary actually mean?

The term primary usually covers six years – a long period in the life of a child. Materials that are suitable for a year 1 or 2 pupil aren’t suitable for a year 5 or 6 pupil – for a number of reasons. It’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with the age group for which you are writing. The best way, of course, is to teach this age group yourself, but this isn’t always possible. The next best thing would be to observe some classes being taught – but fortunately there are a few easier things you can do too.

When you know the age group for which you are writing, check out the kind of things they are doing at school by using the UK’s Key Stage classification. Once you know the key stage, you can go to sites such as BBC Bitesizeand look at what children are doing in terms of subject matter and activity types. Remember this is a site for British school children whose first language is usually English so the language used might be more complex that the language you need to use in an ELT context. A good place to go to get an idea of the kind of vocabulary and grammar your target users need for their age group is the Cambridge English Exams website**. The word lists are very similar to word lists in the syllabus of most course books, especially since more and more course books now include exam preparation materials.

2 Primary appropriateness

The most important starting point for anybody writing materials for primary children is appropriateness. There are lots of ways to interpret this but we all know what it means. Primary materials have all the usual no-no’s and then a few more. Publishers usually provide a list of things they wish to avoid. Many of them are common sense but others might surprise you. It’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with all of the potential restrictions to your creativity. It’s frustrating having to completely rewrite a story, for example, because you’ve included something that needs to be cut … and the story won’t work without it. This is why it’s also a good idea to run your ideas past your editor before embarking on a writing marathon. I haven’t given any specific examples here … that’s a whole blog post in itself!

3 Illustration

Illustration is important in primary materials and once again the importance of age appropriateness needs to be considered. Look at some storybooks for five-year-olds and then at some others for nine-year-olds. You’ll notice all kinds of differences. Not only obvious things like word count or language used but also themes, genres and art styles. I have heard that more and more photos of real-life people and objects are appearing in materials for ever-younger learners. This might reflect changes in their real worlds where they are watching an increasing number of youtube videos and have much more access to photos.

It’s worth investing in a scanner if you start writing primary materials. Editors, designers and illustrators appreciate getting a scanned sketch of your perception of a page. They also like to see more detailed drawings of story frames or pages where the illustration is key to the understanding of the text. It’s worth pointing out that one of the best things about seeing the final product is seeing the brilliant work of the artists in transforming your roughly sketched ideas into work of true beauty.

4 Instructions/rubrics

When it comes to writing materials for primary I think a good rule of thumb for an instruction is ‘the simpler, the better’. That’s probably the case for all kinds of materials, for all ages and levels, but with primary it’s especially important because in the case of the youngest learners, some might not be able to read yet. Have a look at the instructions in materials for this age group. Note how they change according to the age and how simple icons are used for year 1 pupils to support the learning.

5 Useful websites for a primary materials writer

All professionals have their favourite websites and primary materials writers are no different. Here are 6 of mine. If you have any others, let us know. It’s always great to discover a new one.

http://vocabkitchen.com
Paste a text and get an instant colour-coded version, showing at a glance where each word lies within the CEFR guidelines or the AWL (academic word list) guidelines. Perfect for adapting the level of reading and audio texts.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/education
*BBC Bitesize archives for different UK curriculum key stages.

www.vocaroo.com
Easy-to-use, quick and simple recording site. Useful for sending your editor an audio of how you imagine a chant, song etc. sounding.

http://www.timeforkids.com
Age appropriate news stories from around the world (older primary).

http://www.puzzle-maker.com
Free online puzzle maker where you can create crossword grids and word searches quickly and easily. Other online puzzle makers make anagrams, jumble sentences and create other kinds of puzzles.

http://www.cambridgeenglish.org/exams/young-learners-english/
** Downloadable pdf wordlists for each level (Starters, Movers, Flyers, KET and PET).

 

Whether you are writing primary materials for your own classes or to share with others, for a blog, a website or a publisher, don’t forget the most important thing – have fun!

About Katherine

Katherine has worked in ELT since 1986 as a teacher, teacher trainer and author. She has published coursebooks and materials for all ages and contexts. Her primary materials include Dream Box, Ace! Oxford Rooftops, a new course book for OUP and a new online course for BBC English. She develops print and digital materials for the British Council and the BBC and regularly contributes to the LearnEnglish and TeachingEnglish websites. When she isn’t writing, she is gardening. Not having a blog of her own, Katherine enjoys gatecrashing other people’s blogs and was recently named ‘the interloping blogger’ – a title she approves of.

Katherine Bilsborough

If you want to find out more about materials writing, why not get a copy of Katherine’s new e-book How to write primary materials, written for the ELT Teacher2Writer site. (If you decide to buy it through Smashwords with this link, I’ll get a few pennies!)

Rethinking reflection in initial teacher training (guest post)

So I want you to tell me what you think went well, what you think didn’t go so well and what you would do differently next time…

Sound familiar? If you’re a teacher trainer, academic manager or even just a teacher who has been through a training course, then the above is probably burned into your brain and has become a mantra. In initial teacher training, at least in my experience, these three points form the start of the post-lesson discussion. And the reason? Reflection.

Most teachers, I hope, would agree that reflection is a useful, maybe even vital, tool for professional development as it helps us dig into what we truly believe in order to then subject it to scrutiny, with the final goal being improved practice. The question I ask myself, though, is would someone on an initial training course (CELTA/CertTESOL) see things the same way? Do they see it as a route to professional competence or merely another hoop to jump through to satisfy the tutor on the other side of the table? Are the reflections that follow the prompts a genuine attempt to understand what just happened to them in the previous 45 minutes? Or strategic responses to tell the tutor what they want to hear? Or even in some cases an attempt to rescue a failing grade by showing real awareness of their class? Only one person in the room truly knows the answer to that question, but, again, from my experience I’ve had reason to believe that required reflection in such stressful circumstances doesn’t always lead to genuine reflection and may in fact be counter-productive.

I struggled with this dilemma for a long time. I came to the conclusion that forced reflection will always be unreliable, so can you engage the trainees in genuine reflection during teaching practice?

The answer…? you can’t. At least, not all of them. Genuine reflection has to come from a place of genuine desire for development and if we’re honest, we have to admit to ourselves that that’s not where the majority of our future teachers are coming from.

In the end, the solution was a simple one: to teach the trainees the benefits of reflection for future development and more importantly how to go about it. This way if they are truly invested in their future development, the tutor can allow the time and space for reflection in feedback. However, for those not interested in future development and more concerned with the certificate they need to secure their visa to work abroad, there’s no need to make them squirm or to elicit the same strategic responses that waste the tutor’s time, their time and the time of their co-trainees.

In response, I’ve created a series of activities designed to lead the trainees through the reflective process and to provide a framework to guide reflection for those interested. This was incorporated into an input session during week 1 of a four-week course.

Stage 1 – Identifying reflection as a rigorous mental process

The session starts with a look at the stages of a reflective process and trainees organise them into what they feel is a logical order. The aim is to lead trainees away from the notion that reflection is simply looking back and highlight the importance of seeking to name the issue and, more importantly, to devise hypotheses for future action. As a kinaesthetic problem-solving activity it tends to generate a lot of discussion too.

I use this process taken from Rodgers (2002:851) which is a summary of John Dewey. However, the exact process isn’t so important. What’s more important is that there is a framework to guide the trainees.

  1. An experience is required to trigger some sort of reflective thought.
  2. The teacher seeks to interpret the experience.
  3. The teacher seeks to name the problem.
  4. The teacher seeks explanations for the problem and general questions are created.
  5. A concrete hypothesis is developed.
  6. The hypothesis is tested.

Stage 2 – Reframing classroom events

In this stage trainees consider typical classroom “problems” and seek to find potential reasons, encouraging them to think deeper than their initial knee-jerk reactions in the classroom. Once they’ve made a list of reasons they spend some time in groups discussing possible ways of addressing each of them in the classroom, which helps to encourage the hypothesis forming described in the stage 1.

The students spoke too much L1!

They got all the answers wrong to the grammar activity

Stage 3 – Categorising reflection

In this stage I get trainees to look at real reflections taken from recorded feedback meetings (these could also be written by the trainer) to highlight the different angles we can reflect from. They spend some time reading them and then categorise them according to what the teacher is talking about. For this I use four categories inspired by Zeichner and Liston (1985).

  1. Reflection which simply recounts the events of the lesson with no real analysis of them.
  2. Reflection which focuses on what worked and didn’t work and how they could address it.
  3. Reflection which focuses on why the teachers chose to do certain things in the lesson and what they hoped to achieve.
  4. Reflection which moves beyond the lesson and questions larger curricular issues.

There is typically a lot of grey areas here, which is good to generate discussion, and leads to the creation of questions to ask themselves to elicit each type of reflection. This has been identified by the trainees as a very important stage.

Stage 4 – Analysing beliefs about teaching

Using the reflections from the previous stage, trainees discuss what the teacher’s beliefs about teaching may be and then compare them to their own beliefs and discuss how aligned they are with how they think languages are learned. This stage should bring the reflective process to a logical conclusion and encourage more critical reflection.

Results

Since introducing this session on the course, feedback has changed. It no longer starts with the holy trinity of feedback questions from earlier, but instead begins with something much simpler: “How do you feel about the lesson today?” Those invested in their own development reflect; not always in useful ways, but as with any skill it takes practice. Those interested in their grade often respond with “How do you feel about it?” or more commonly “Did I pass?” and that’s ok.

References

Rodgers, C. (2002) ‘Defining reflection: Another look at John Dewey and reflective thinking’ The Teachers College Record Vol. 104, no. 4, pp. 842-866.

Zeichner, K. M., & Liston, D. (1985) ‘Varieties of discourse in supervisory conferences’ Teaching and Teacher Education Vol. 1, no. 2, pp. 155-174

About the author

Dan Baines has been teaching English since 2004 and been involved in some form of teacher development since finishing his DELTA in 2008.  He currently works for the British Council in Prague and as a freelance Trinity CertTESOL and DipTESOL tutor.

Dan Baines

Peace Boat (guest post)

I met Amy Blanchard when I was working in Palma, Majorca, in May this year. She told me about a fascinating project called ‘Peace Boat’ and I asked her to write a guest post to share it more widely. This is the result:

Peace Boat is a Japan-based international non-governmental and non-profit organization that works to promote peace, human rights, equal and sustainable development and respect for the environment.

Peace Boat carries out its main activities through a chartered passenger ship that travels the world on peace voyages. The ship creates a neutral, mobile space and enables people to engage across borders in dialogue and mutual cooperation at sea, and in the ports that we visit. 

Peace Boat ship

When I found out Peace Boat hire volunteer English and Spanish teachers for their round-the-world voyages, I obviously saw it as a wonderful opportunity to travel the world. The role is unpaid but your bed and board provided for, and although you work nearly every day when the boat is at sea, days in port are free.

You perfect the skill of exploring a place in a short amount of time, free of the typical hassles of arriving in a new place such as finding somewhere to stay and lugging around your backpack. With some decent planning, it’s amazing how much you can see in just one day. Moving on quickly allows you to see the bigger picture; the similarities and differences between places as you slowly travel (in my case) from east to west. It’s a really unique way of seeing the world. What I hadn’t appreciated is that it’s also an incredible teaching job.

70th Peace Boat route map

Working as a volunteer teacher on the GET (Global English/Español Training) programme you really feel part of a team (on my voyage; 3 co-ordinators, 10 English teachers, 2 Spanish teachers) setting up an on-board school. You are involved in every step of the process. The participants complete a level test prior to arrival but oral tests/interviews are done on board by the teachers. As a group, the teachers and co-ordinators look at the results as well as the profiles of the participants and work together to arrange them into classes, with a maximum class size of seven students.

Each teacher has two classes of the same (or very similar) level, which helps reduce planning. There are no text books. There is no syllabus. The teacher has complete freedom. At the time, having only had one teaching job, I didn’t appreciate how wonderful this was. Now, post-Delta, with years of being forced to teach from awful and irrelevant textbooks I realise (for me, personally) this is the holy grail of teaching. We had access to a wealth of resources on board, including lessons from previous voyages and information on the various ports that we would visit on the journey. This was the main resource I drew on for my classes.

T-shirt from the 70th Peace Boat voyage

Before arriving in Singapore, we used maps of the Singapore metro and the city to ask for and follow directions. When my students expressed excitement about Indian markets, we had lessons on money and haggling before spending the day in Kochin, India. The students were motivated by how useful and relevant the lessons were, and it was so satisfying to see them in the following classes, bringing things that they’d bought in the markets and explaining how much they paid for them. For longer periods at sea (ten days crossing the Atlantic; fourteen across the Pacific) we focused on communicating with the crew on the boat. This helped foster relations on board and even helped solve some miscommunication problems between one student and the person who cleaned her room.

What began as a way of seeing the world ended as my most positive teaching experience. It was Peace Boat that made me fall in love with teaching again, when I was on the cusp of giving it up. I made some amazing friends and some amazing memories (teaching and playing Twister in a hurricane, attending a lecture with Fidel Castro and dancing under the stars in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, to name but a few).

GET, Peace Boat’s language training programme, is now accepting applications for English and Spanish language instructors for the 91st global voyage departing Japan on April 12, 2016 and returning to Japan on July 27, 2016.

Amy

Amy was an Assistant Language Teacher on the JET programme in Japan before moving to Andalucía, Spain to work for International House Huelva. She is now an English teacher and CELTA tutor in Majorca.

A few tips for mature entrants to the EFL profession (guest post)

At IATEFL 2015 Manchester I was disappointed to miss a workshop by Helen Dennis-Smith with tips for more mature CELTA trainees on how to enter the profession once they’d finished their course. I contacted her and she very kindly agreed to write this post for me. She’s now a teacher at Wimbledon School of English, London, UK. Helen Dennis-Smith headshotWimbledon School of English logo

My experience

I entered the EFL profession at the age of 56 in 2010, taking my CELTA in London and needing to sell myself into an overcrowded market place. My recommendation is to tailor the way you market yourself to carefully reflect the experience you have and the subsequent impact that this will have on your teaching.

My own experience looks like this:

Mind map showing Helen's experience, divided into previous experience: love of languages, Chinese primary school, business career, raising a family, primary and secondary schools, school governor; and impact on teaching: sympathetic to the difficulty of learning a new language, celebrate different types of education and value different expectation, not afraid to teach business of legal English etc, appreciate some of the difficulties of management and be supportive, not scared of failure, can attempt to understand what makes younger learners tick and empathise, appreciate the legal implications of health and safety, employment law, safeguarding etc

I recommend taking the time to complete this kind of exercise for yourself before applying for jobs. The market place is tough, and your application needs to make it as clear as possible that the school you want to work for is going to benefit hugely by employing a more mature teacher than a very young one.

The challenges and how we can rise to them

Having obtained my first job, my initial thinking was to work as many hours as possible in as short a space of time as I could. This was based on my research into the market place in London, where it had become clear that permanent jobs in good quality schools were given largely to DELTA qualified teachers rather than CELTA teachers. The result of that was that I was eligible to start my DELTA just two years after initially qualifying. This also potentially opens up pathways into management for anyone considering this.

It also seemed essential to consider the need to squash the lifecycle of a teacher into a much shorter time than most teachers.

I recommend watching a presentation given by Tessa Woodward, a former president of IATEFL, about the various phases of teaching: The Professional Life Cycles of Teachers.

In this video she suggests that we need to start tinkering with our teaching as soon as we have got through the initial survival phase. This implies that we will experiment with different teaching styles, approaches and activities and never be afraid to try something out. Younger teachers may take some years in the survival phase. We do not have such luxury!

By doing this, we also make ourselves more marketable, as we can talk from direct experience both in applications and at interview and indicate clearly that we are not going to get stuck in a conservative approach to methodology.

The final area I would like to highlight is technology. It seems to me very important to keep up-to-date with what is available in terms of technology wherever you are teaching, but it is also important not to attempt to be seen as “cool” by the students. For me, the best approach has been to let, to some extent, the students teach me! Enquire what they use and what they would like to be able to use in class and let them show you where to find it and then adapt it for teaching purposes. The students will love to be the teacher for a while.

Last of all, we need to remember why we started teaching English. We need to enjoy ourselves, so when you get that first, albeit seemingly elusive job, make sure you have fun!

If you have any questions, you are welcome to contact me at hdennissmith@gmail.com or via the Wimbledon School of English website. You can also tweet me.

With thanks to Sandy Millin for allowing me to be a guest writer on her blog.

Update

I’m very pleased to announce that Helen has been awarded the Teaching English British Council Featured Blog of the Month award for September 2015 for this post. You can find links to all of the nominated blogs by clicking on the image below. Well done Helen!

Featured blog of th emonth

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?

Delta conversations: Emma

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.

Emma Gore-Lloyd started teaching four years ago after doing her CELTA at IH Wroclaw in June 2011. She worked at IH Huelva in Spain, where she enjoyed presenting at the IH Andalucia and ACEIA conferences, and started the DELTA in 2014 before moving to work at the British Council in Madrid. She blogs at https://hiveofactivities.wordpress.com/

Emma Gore-Lloyd

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 an intensive Delta 3-2-1 course at IH Seville (CLIC). This intensive course starts with an introductory course for Module 3 [the extended assignment], which served to prepare us well for the other two modules and also, as it was the least demanding week, gave us a chance to settle in and get to know one another a bit.  Module 2 [the observed teaching] came next, and that lasted for 6 weeks. Last came Module 1, the exam preparation course. Because we had covered most of the input we were able to focus on exam practice in this time. Then in the new year when I started work in a new job, I got going on Module 3. IH Seville set us deadlines for each part and offered feedback on each part and a final draft before we submitted the final thing.

Why did you choose to do it that way?

I chose to do as much as possible of the Delta face-to-face because I’m not a fan of online learning or of studying at the same time as working. My choice of intensive course was limited by the fact that I wanted to keep the summer free and start in September (most intensive courses seem to be in the summer), but luckily for me, IH Seville was close to where I’d been living, and I later heard that it has one of the best pass rates for the Delta.

What do you think you gained from doing the Delta?

It was a great opportunity to fine tune my teaching skills and to read more of the literature – I feel much more knowledgeable about English language teaching now. This can also make you more critical and/or cynical, which could either be an advantage or a disadvantage! I really enjoyed doing the experimental practice as it was an opportunity to learn about something new and try it out in the classroom without the pressure of being observed. I’m definitely more confident about how to tailor a course to my students’ needs now. I made some good pals on the course too.

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

Ha ha! All of it during Module 2! I would get up around 8 and try to do some yoga and then some reading over brekkie, before heading to school for the first input session at 10. The best part of the day was the breakfast break at 11.30. Then there was teaching practice, lunch, and often another input session. There may have been more input than that on some days or less – I can’t quite remember now! I’d get home around five and then work until about 11pm. Weekends were a bit more intense. It sounds awful, and perhaps it was a bit too much because I was ready for it to be over by the end of the fourth week – not great when the teaching practice that counts is in the sixth week! Module 1 was less full-on, which was great because we all had Delta fatigue by then. Module 3 was a bit different – I chose not to do much during the week when I was working and then spend the weekend focusing on it, but you could do it in other ways. I didn’t have much of a social life anyway, so it suited me to do it that way. If you’re organised and make a good headstart, it shouldn’t be too much of a headache.

What were the downsides of the method you chose?

Well, obviously I had to give up working while I did the intensive course (and I had to pay for it myself), but I was prepared for this and saved up. By the end of Module 2 I think we were all quite tired and it was hard to stay motivated during the module 1 prep course. At this point I was also concerned with finding work starting in January. If you find yourself in the same situation, don’t panic – job vacancies appear at the beginning of January too.

What were the benefits of the method you chose?

I got most of it over and done with quickly!  I was reminded that my choice was the right one when I was doing Module 3 at the same time as working. It dragged on forever! (It is possible to hand in Module 3 on the same day as the Module 1 exam in December, but that’s a bit full on and our tutors didn’t really recommend it). Doing Module 2 before Module 1 definitely made sense for me because we had already applied the knowledge we needed for the exam meaningfully and it was therefore more memorable. I imagine learning a list of terminology without having applied it would be a lot harder.

The face-to-face factor was definitely a benefit for me: studying with actual, physical tutors and peers (rather than virtual ones) can mean the difference between something seeming a bit dull and something being totally inspiring – for me, anyway. It can also be eye-opening to meet teachers who have worked in totally different environments, and it’s nice to be able to support each other as you go through the course.

What tips would you give other people doing the Delta?

  • Read Sandy’s and Lizzie’s posts on doing the Delta for excellent tips.
  • Start reading before the course and make notes on things that you think are interesting or that you disagree with.
  • Be organised! I found Evernote really helped me keep everything sorted.
  • Don’t expect to feel great when Module 2 finishes. It’s more of a weird anti-climax.
  • Take Sandy’s advice and have a holiday before and after Module 2 – you’ll need it.
  • Take the advice you give your students and plan your essays really well because there’s no room for waffle in those word counts.
  • Do as many past papers as you can for Module 1.
  • Keep to the deadlines your tutors give you for Module 3 so you can benefit from reading their comments.

In retrospect, what would you have done differently?

It’s hard to say, but because we had so much useful input in Modules 3 and 2, I might have been able to study by myself for the exam. However, the school gave us access to lots of past papers and examiners’ reports, and they are the best resource for learning what Cambridge want (providing an excellent test example to analyse for reliability) – and it was good to be with my study buddies.

Delta conversations: Joanna

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.

Joanna Malefaki has been teaching English for approximately 18 years. In the mornings, she is an online Business English tutor and in the afternoons, she teaches mostly exam classes as a freelance teacher. She has been teaching pre-sessional EAP for five summers now, and will be working at Sheffield University this summer. She holds a M.Ed in TESOL and the Cambridge Delta. She blogs regularly at www.myeltrambles.wordpress.com. You can also find her on Twitter: @joannacre

Joanna Malefaki

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

Well, I did the Delta slow and steady. I took lots of breaks. I did module one on my own. I didn’t do a course. I already had an M. Ed in TESOL, so when I looked at the reading list, I saw that a lot of the material overlapped. Also, some of my friends who had already done the Delta suggested I try to prepare for it by myself. That’s what I did. I read whatever I could get my hands on. I did lots of Module One past papers and read examiner reports very carefully. I then found a center willing to take me on as an external candidate (CELT Athens). I took the exam and passed. After that I took a little break. I then did a blended course at CELT Athens with Marisa Constantinides and George Vassilakis. I had weekend sessions (online) and I had to go to Athens for my observed lessons (I live on a Greek island, so I needed to travel quite a bit for Module 2). I passed Module 2 and then took another break. I then did Module 3 online with Bell. My tutor there was Chris Scriberras. I passed Module 3 last December.

Why did you choose to do it that way?

I work full time. I did not take any time off in order to do the Delta. I was working about 40 hours a week and then there was also the extra-curricular teaching related stuff. That means I was really busy. I couldn’t commit to an intensive Delta nor go somewhere and do the course. This was the only option. The breaks were a way to help me avoid burnout. I don’t think that I would have finished if I had done the Delta full time and have a full-time job at the same time. I probably would have dropped out.

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

I studied whenever I had time. I studied late at night and on Sundays. I cannot put it in numbers though. I feel I studied a lot, but not enough. I should have cut down on my working hours.

What do you think you gained from doing the Delta?

Where do I begin? On a personal level, I learnt that if you set your mind to something, you can probably do it! I learnt that I complain a lot when I feel overwhelmed and that I really like comfort food! ‘Have a break, have a Kit Kat’ was my motto those days!

I also met lots of lovely people who were doing the course with me. I met people from around the world and I now consider them my friends, my study buddies. I learnt that I love writing and particularly, blogging. I actually started blogging because of the Delta. My tutor, Marisa, said it will help me reflect. I wrote a post about what the Delta means to me for her Delta blog. After that, I started my own blog. Getting more connected and growing my PLN was another result of the Delta, and another recommendation of Marisa’s. I learnt so much while I was doing the course, and I am still learning as a result of the course.

On a professional level, I became more aware of some of my teaching ‘weaknesses’, moved away from bad habits and experimented a lot. I started paying more attention to the links between lessons and tasks. I looked more carefully at my students’ needs. I moved a bit further away from course books. I became better at lesson planning and learnt more about aims and objectives. I also tried out new tasks, approaches and techniques I had never tried before. I learnt a lot from the feedback I got regarding my teaching. I think I liked feedback sessions the most. They are really helpful and informative.

Finally, during the Delta I became once more, a learner. The assignment writing was an eye opener for me. You see, I had been teaching EAP, for a few months. I had been going on about academic writing, integrating sources, paraphrasing and plagiarism. I spoke to my learners a lot about supporting their arguments and so on. Only when I did the Delta, did I realise that all I had been preaching was actually very hard!! I walked in my learners’ shoes. Now, I know better. I also have more study tips to share with my students!

What were the downsides of the method you chose?

Doing the Delta slowly is like a knife with two blades. You have time to breathe but you may lose the momentum. Getting in and out of Delta mode is quite hard.

What were the benefits of the method you chose?

I did not have to take time off work and I did the Delta at my own pace. Doing the Delta online allows you to be at home and save money and time.

What tips would you give other people doing the Delta?

I would say that it’s a good idea to do the Delta when you have extra time. Don’t do it if you are too busy. The workload is very heavy and demanding, and if you really want to enjoy it, you need to have time. Take some time off. It is very hard to do the Delta if you are teaching 24/7.

I also think it is necessary to stay focused and be selective. When you are doing the Delta, you want to know/ learn everything. You have a plethora of information coming your way. This can be overwhelming, so you need to be able to identify what you need and what needs to go (information-wise). Trust me. If you do not ‘filter’ the information, you will end with loads of photocopies scattered around your study space.

Finally, allow yourself some time for everything to sink in, again because there is a lot of information. You teaching changes gradually and what you learn takes time to become part of your teaching.

Teaching English on Skype (guest post)

After meeting up with Sandy at IATEFL Manchester 2015 (having not seen each other face-to-face since finishing our university studies in 2008 – one of the reasons social media is great!) and chatting about the fact that I do most of my teaching on Skype, she asked me to write a guest post on her blog, and here it is!

I’ve been working as a freelance English teacher since the beginning of 2013, when I set up my business, Get Ahead in English. I’d just moved to Barcelona, and after teaching at SGI in London for a couple of years, was keen to see if I could strike out on my own! I built up to a full timetable of private students, almost all 1-1 with the exception of two students I taught together, and a group of three students in-company. I also started my first Skype lessons whilst in Barcelona. This was a 45-minute lesson with a student I’d taught face-to-face in London. We met once a week and mostly practised speaking, as well as email English. In this case, he didn’t have a webcam, which worked well as it gave him the chance to practise telephone English – in his job, he has to speak English to people without seeing their faces almost every day.
My husband and I moved back to the UK in December 2014 and I offered all my students in Barcelona the chance of continuing their lessons on Skype. Some were immediately keen, others said they’d prefer face-to-face (for example, those taking lessons in-company who felt they needed the motivation of a physical person appearing in their office every week) and some said they’d think about it (most of those have now started Skype lessons too!)

Activities

Most of the activities I do are not that different to those I did in face-to-face lessons. Instead of arriving at the lesson with printed handouts, I email them in advance, or send documents via Skype (there’s a paperclip symbol next to the chat box where you can attach files), and they arrive almost instantly. I also use this to send homework. To review students’ writing, I sometimes use the screen share function on Skype so we can look at their work together. I think some Skype teachers use Teamviewer, but I haven’t found it necessary.

It’s also very easy to look at websites together online – a student can send me something they’ve seen that they have questions about, I can send an article, or we can look at exercises together. Google images is also great when one of us is trying to describe something!

How different is teaching on Skype to teaching face-to-face?

As long as you both have a good internet connection and webcam, not that different at all! I have actually met the majority of my Skype students face-to-face as well, because I was teaching them in Barcelona, but I now have a few who I’ve never met in person. People ask if this is awkward, but I don’t think it is. One of the reasons I offer a free 30-minute consultation before students have to pay is to make sure the student feels comfortable with the format, as well as to check their internet is good enough and to conduct a needs analysis, of course!

One difference I have noticed is timing. When going to a student’s house or office, you arrive a couple of minutes early and by the time you’ve come in, sat down, they’ve offered you a drink and you’ve chatted about a new picture on the wall or something else you’ve seen, you’re at least 5 minutes into the lesson. With Skype, the lesson starts as soon as you press the “call” button! This also means that there are generally fewer distractions, which is nice.

Of course, there are sometimes technical problems. Touch wood, I’ve had fewer problems with my internet connection than I did with late trains/buses when teaching face-to-face! It’s important to have a strategy in place for these types of things though – do you still charge a student if their internet is broken? I ask students to give me 24 hours’ notice of any changes or cancellations, but treat those with less notice on a case-by-case basis. If my internet broke and we couldn’t do our lesson, I wouldn’t charge the student and we’d arrange another time to make up for it. This is yet to happen! We did have a power cut last week but luckily not while I had any lessons scheduled. Occasionally mine or my student’s internet connection will cut out for a minute or two during the lesson, but that’s rare and only for a short time.

How do I find students?

I’m lucky in that the majority of my students are ones I already knew. However, I’ve found a few new students through TutorFair and others through Blabmate. Be warned that with the latter, you’ll receive a lot more enquiries than paying students! There seem to be a lot of people looking for free lessons. However, for the £1.40/month fee, you don’t need many paying students to make it up. I would also say it’s important to have your own website so students can find out more about you.

Other advantages

I asked my Skype students to tell me what they most like about learning on Skype for a blogpost I wrote on my website, and the main thing they mentioned was convenience. They can take their lessons anywhere (even on a beach or in their pyjamas!) as long as they have an internet connection.

This is also an advantage for me, as my travelling time and cost is now zero. It also means that I have students all over the world, which is great to increase my client base, but also to learn about new cultures.

Last but by no means least, there’s the environmental factor. I print so much less now that I’m teaching online. A recent ELT chat highlighted the desire for teachers to reduce the amount of paper they use, and this is one way to do it!

Disadvantages

I used to enjoy teaching face-to-face in Barcelona as it gave me the chance to walk around the city a lot and get to know it. This is slightly less appealing in rainy Manchester, but I do miss the exercise and variety!

Sometimes you can’t beat being in the same room as a student – they may have a book they’d like you to look at, and it’s easier to pick up on body language etc.

I haven’t taught any small groups on Skype but imagine that would be more difficult. Having had three-way conversations with friends on Skype, we’ve tended to end up with lots of people starting to speak at the same time as it’s harder to see visual clues. However, I’m sure you’d get used to it and would be good practice for meetings etc.

Overall, I really enjoy teaching on Skype. It’s comfortable for me and the student, it’s more environmentally friendly and it means I can teach students all over the world!

Julia Phang

Thanks a lot to Julia Phang for writing this post. It was great to catch up with her after so long, and the fact that she could write a guest post on a topic I often get asked about was an added bonus! If you’d like to find out more, you can follow Julia on Twitter and read her shiny new blog too.

Delta conversations: Anthony

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.

Anthony Ash

Anthony Ash has been working in ELT for 4 years now. He did his CELTA at IH Wroclaw in August 2011 and has been working for International House ever since. He has taught in Poznan and Torun in Poland as well as in Newcastle and Oxford in the UK. After completing his MA in English Language and Linguistics in Poland he went on to do the Delta at IH Newcastle. Anthony works each summer at Newcastle University as an EAP tutor and he is currently the ADoS at IH Buenos Aires.

Anthony can be contacted on anthony.ash.teaching@gmail.com He tweets at @ashowski and regularly blogs at http://eltblog.net.

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

I did the “intensive Delta” i.e. I did all three modules in one go. This happened from September to December 2014 at IH Newcastle. The input and the teaching practice part of the course constituted an 8-week block, with an additional 4 weeks being dedicated to preparing for the exam and writing the extended assignment for Module 3.

However, I also did a Module 1 preparation course and the Certificate in Advanced Methodology with IH World online from September to June 2014. So, in a way I was already quite prepared for Module 1 before starting the intensive course and I had an idea of how Module 2 would look.

The intensive course started around 10am Monday to Friday. Mornings were dedicated to input sessions; afternoons to preparation and teaching practice; evenings and weekends to reading and writing assignments. We taught several times a week, regardless of whether it was an assessed teaching practice or not. This was good because it meant we got loads of practice and lots of feedback from tutors and fellow Deltees.

Why did you choose to do it that way?

Before going to IH Newcastle I was Senior Teacher at IH Torun in Poland. I had planned to do Module 2 over several months by travelling into Warsaw every other weekend. However, circumstances changed and I ended up back in the UK. I chose to do the Delta intensively purely because it meant I could focus 100% on that and have it over and done with in a shorter space of time – compared to a year-long distance course for example. Just about all of the positions I wanted to apply for required Delta anyway, so the quicker I got it, the sooner I could apply for those positions.

What do you think you gained from doing the Delta?

People often cite “linguistic knowledge” as the big thing they got from doing the Delta; however, in my case I gained most of my knowledge of linguistics during my MA. What I think I walked away from the Delta with is a greater understanding of what makes good teaching and learning excellent – I now have a deeper understanding and greater appreciation of what happens to the learners while learning, so I can plan lessons around that. Furthermore, now I also know “why” I do what I do in lessons – there is sound pedagogy behind every stage and decision.

What were the downsides of the method you chose?

The intensive Delta doesn’t leave much room for Module 3. In my case, I finished the first two modules during the 8-week block and then theoretically I had 4 weeks to write and finish the extended assignment. However, I had a conference to present at in Rome (TESOL Italy National Convention 2014) and I had to make a trip back to Poland as well. So, in the end I only had 2 weeks to read, research and write the assignment. Even if I had had the full four weeks, it seems to me this is still quite a short period of time, so I think I might have done Module 3 through an online distance programme instead.

What were the benefits of the method you chose?

I think the intensity of it all meant it became my full-time job for 3 months. This meant the Delta was the only thing I was focused on for three months straight. I feel this helped to remove any distractions and let me concentrate on my professional development.

What tips would you give other people doing the Delta?

The three modules are supposed to be quite independent of one another. However, it is to my experience that you might struggle to be successful in Module 2 without the theoretical knowledge from Module 1, and you might not be able to really design a course well for Module 3 if you lack both the theoretical and practical knowledge from Modules 1 and 2. So, I would strongly recommend doing the modules in order as they come: 1, 2 and 3. However, if you decide not to do this, I recommend in any case preparing for Module 1 before Module 2, as the second module is very demanding and takes up a lot of time on its own.

Delta conversations: Angelos

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.

Angelos Bollos

Angelos Bollas is a Cambridge CELTA and Delta qualified TEFLer based in Greece and the UK. He is currently working towards an MA in ELT at Leeds Beckett University. He is an Academic Manager at an international educational organisation and is interested in online education, CPD, as well as teacher training and development. In his free time, he blogs (www.angelosbollastefl.com), participates in #ELTchat weekly discussions on twitter, and connects with language educators around the world. He is @angelos_bollas on Twitter.

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

I did my Delta at CELT Athens – same place I had done my CELTA – with Marisa Constantinides and George Vassilakis. I could either follow an online/blended course or an 8-week intensive one. I opted for the second, not because I have anything against online courses (quite the contrary), but because I wanted to be completely devoted to it.

Why did you choose to do it that way?

As I said, the course was an integrated one, which means that I did all three modules at the same time. Undoubtedly, this was the hardest period of my life, but the most fruitful one. Doing all three modules together helped me stay focused and interested throughout. From one perspective, it is much easier: I was reading an article for Module 1 and realized that I can use it for my Module 3 essay, for example. What I am trying to say is that there is a lot of overlapping and I benefitted from the fact that I was studying for all modules at once.

What do you think you gained from doing the Delta?

First and foremost, I got the chance to reach my limits both emotionally and physically: spending three nights and days writing an assignment and, then, being told that I had to rewrite it all over again was something that I had always thought I couldn’t handle. Well, I did!

It also helped me hone my professional skills: organizing time, tasks, and people were closely linked to the course. Finally, it made me accept my role as agent of change, which may add to the responsibilities I have as teacher but, at the same time, it makes me want to constantly become better.

What were the downsides of the method you chose?

That’s an easy one: lack of sleep (as a result of lack of time, of course). A typical day was as follows: 8am – 9am Travel to CELT Athens, 9am – 4pm Input Sessions/Teaching Practices, 4pm – 5pm Travel back home, 5pm – 6pm One-hour sleep, 6pm – 8pm Work for Module 1, 8pm – 12am Work for Module 2, 12am – 3am Work for Module 3. Also, note that I am not the most organized person on earth so, following this schedule was a constant battle for me!

What were the benefits of the method you chose?

Two months and I was done and dusted! This may not seem as an important benefit but I can assure you, it was a great motive. Other than that, there was no room for anything not related to Delta. As I mentioned before, this helped me a lot.

What tips would you give other people doing the Delta?

Since I have written on my blog some tips for people who are about to follow a Delta course, I shouldn’t repeat myself. People interested in reading my tips, can click here.

However, I would like to stress the importance of the following two:

a. When choosing a centre make sure that you have enough and varied support (other than trusting the tutors, that is). For example, at CELT Athens, we had physical access to a library that had as many titles as you can think of, full of rare and very well known books; we, also, had access to the Delta wiki – an online space where one can find anything related to ELT and linguistics; lastly, we were part of network of many alumni who were willing to help and support us.

b. It is of utmost importance that people on intensive courses are team players – if they don’t support each other, they make their lives much harder.

In retrospect, what would you have done differently?

There are times I wish I had done my training way before the time I did it (I had been teaching full time for 8 years when I did my Delta), but then…I wouldn’t know if things would have been better or not. So, to answer your question, I wouldn’t have done anything differently.

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

As many as possible. Unfortunately, I don’t have a better answer to that one. I spent 9 hours/day for researching, reading, brainstorming, organizing, drafting, planning, etc. As I said, though, I don’t regret any of these.

Arabic students and spelling (IATEFL Harrogate 2014)

At IATEFL Harrogate I watched a presentation which went a long way towards answering a question I posed on this blog a while back: How can we help Arabic learners with their huge problems with spelling in English? It was given by Emina Tuzovic, and she kindly agreed to write a guest post sharing her tips for my blog. What with one thing and another, it’s been a while in coming (she finished it for me 6 months ago!) but I hope it was worth the wait!

Emina

Emina

A couple of tips on how to improve spelling in Arabic learners

Any TEFL teacher who has experience teaching Arabic learners is acquainted with the difficulties they face when it comes to spelling. I would like to share some spelling tips which helped my Arabic students improve this skill.

First of all, I would pre-teach what vowels, consonants and syllables are as well as highlight the difference between sounds and letters. This is important for Arabic learners as when they learn English, they need to deal with the following:

  • a new script;
  • numerous spelling patterns;
  • a complex and very often unpredictable system of mapping sounds onto letters (Arabic has a regular 1-1 sound-letter conversion);
  • a different reading direction (Arabic is written from right to left).

Therefore using the appropriate ‘labels’ will make your explanations much clearer. Also don’t forget that a phonemic chart looks like another script for this group of learners. Therefore I tend to avoid it if I can, especially transcriptions of whole words. Instead of writing a phonemic on the board, I prefer writing another, high-frequency word with the same pronunciation of a sound in question, e.g. moon; rude (/u:/).

Vowels

As you have probably noticed it is the spelling of vowels that creates most difficulties for Arabic students. One of the most effective tasks for this group is simply gapping the vowels:   e.g. _xc_pt (except)   vs   _cc_pt (accept).

‘Problematic vowels’ are down to L1 interference. Firstly, in Arabic short vowels are in most cases not written down but only indicated by diacritics. For that reason, they are frequently glossed over by the students when they read in English (which consequently results in the poor spelling of vowels). Secondly, Arabic only has three long and three short vowels in comparison to English (5 vowel letters and 20 sounds!).

Therefore when I board new vocabulary (especially multi-syllable words), I mark vowels with a colour pen and break the words down into syllables which I subsequently drill in isolation. This is very important as many Arabic students will otherwise either guess the vowel or simply omit it when trying to read a new word.

Vowels

Breaking down words into CVC (consonant-vowel-consonant) patterns is also important as it helps students visually memorise lexical items. I try to encourage my students to practise words by writing them down, not typing them up on the computer. This will help them consolidate the visual form of the words which is absolutely vital if you want to be a good speller! (e.g. they need to see how differently words such as play and blue look like). I also try to get the students not to only copy the word but use the Look, remember, cover, write, check method. I get them to look at a word for about 20 seconds and try to memorise it before covering and then trying to recall it. In this way you know the students have used their processing skills to retain the item instead of just copying it.

Noticing patterns

As teachers, when we teach spelling, we tend to focus too much on spelling and pronunciation irregularities (e.g. plough, cough, etc.) rather than teaching spelling patterns. If you need to check these and the rules associated with them, I suggest using the guide on the Oxford Dictionaries website. In relation to this, I try to get my students to notice the most common letter strings (e.g. sh, ch, spr, ure, etc.) and encourage ‘active reading’ where they look for letter strings and spelling patterns. When they record vocabulary, encourage the use of spelling logs as a separate section of students’ vocabulary books (based on a spelling pattern, e.g. ie vs ei, rather than just randomly recorded vocabulary).

When revising new lexis, I sometimes use magnetic letter strings (rather than only letters) which I simply ordered off Amazon! Here is the link if you’d like to buy your own magnetic letters [affiliate link, so Sandy gets a few pennies if you order here!]

Magnetic letter strings

To get a closer insight into spelling games based on spelling patters, I would recommend Shemesh & Waller’s Teaching English Spelling [affiliate link].

[Note from Sandy: another good spelling book is Teaching Spelling to English Language Learners by Johanna Stirling]

Building up confidence

I have noticed that my Arabic learners are well aware of their poor spelling. In order to build up their confidence, they need to be shown that they have made progress.

I usually set up a routine: for the first or last 5 minutes of the class we revise vocabulary from the previous day (e.g. spelling bee) or I might give them a spelling test either every day or every other day. In this way they will soon get the sense of achievement.

I also try to praise my students for using a correct pattern (e.g. *reech, *shef, etc.) even though the word might not be spelled correctly.

Morphology

When it comes to spelling, morphology plays a very important role, too. Highlight the root, suffixes and prefixes of a word and encourage students to create word families. Based on their L1, Arabic learners will be familiar/will be able to relate to this concept/aspect of learning the new vocabulary.

Morphology

Avoid the following…

One of the common spelling activities you find in various coursebook is unjumbling letters (e.g. *fnsniuoco-confusion). However I would not advise these exercises for Arabic learners. Individual letters shuffled around might only confuse them as these exercises do not contribute to consolidating the visual form of a word.

Another exercise which particularly lower-level Arabic learners might not find useful is crosswords for the same reason as listed above (words are often presented vertically and in divided block form).

Spelling games on the computer

Students can check the following useful websites if they want to practise spelling in their own time:

This task is particularly of interest for Arabic learners as there are a lot of vowel changes between the three verb forms (e.g. drink-drank-drunk).

The first two tasks in the next group are very useful for consolidating the visual form of the word:

If students enjoy playing spelling bees, spellbee.org is an option. However, you need to register.

In terms of spelling software (which has to be downloaded on your computer), there is a lot to choose from. However, the vast majority is designed for native English speaking children and is therefore not the best tool for ESL learners. After having done some research into those, I’d recommend ‘Speak n Spell’. Although there are some issues with the audio, it’s still worth having a look.

Other useful websites

This is an excellent website by Johanna Stirling which gives tips on how to improve spelling in Arabic as well as Chinese speakers.

THRASS chart (phonics chart): Although this chart is not free (from £2), it’s a very useful tool to memorise phonics and consequently spelling patterns.

Thrass chart

To my knowledge not much has been published to solely cater to Arabic learners’ difficulties in spelling. In the classroom I frequently use Harrison, R. (1990; 1992) Keep Writing 1 and Keep Writing 2, published by Longman [affiliate links]. These books are specifically aimed at helping Arabic learners with their writing. At the end of each chapter you can find spelling exercises.

By incorporating the things mentioned above in my lessons, my Arabic students managed to considerably improve their spelling in a fairly short period of time. I hope you find these tips useful too! You can write to me on emina.tuzovic@londonschool.com.

References

About Emina

I’m currently teaching at the London School of English

I’m Delta-trained and doing my PhD in visual word recognition and recall in Arabic ESL learners at Birkbeck College, University of London.

Developing myself and others (Teaching English associates)

I haven’t had time to write on my blog in the past few months, but I did manage to do a couple of very short pieces for others while I was on one of my recent long bus journeys.

One of these was for the British Council Teaching English website as part of their monthly blogging challenges. I wrote on the theme of professional development, with the title ‘Developing Myself and Others‘. Click on the link to read the post.

I’m currently assistant course tutor on a CELTA in Vancouver which runs until the 19th December. I’ll then have a few days in Seattle, then head back to the UK for Christmas, where I’m hoping to apply for my Russian visa and get back to Sevastopol, at which point I might have time to blog again!

Japan or bust: journey’s end (guest post)

This is the final part of a series of posts by one of my university friends, Graham Moore. He is currently teaching English in Japan, and has agreed to write about the experience for my blog. All of the posts are available under the ‘EFL in Osaka‘ category.

Graham

Graham’s magic!

Phase 7: Journey’s End

Eikawa: GABA

And now we come to the grand finale. Sort of. Gaba was actually one of the very first places I applied to upon returning to Japan, literally within a week of landing. Gaba is a nation-wide conversation school that specialises in tutoring (usually) adults one-to-one English with customised lessons, making them uniquely suited to the style of teaching I was looking for…. with a few provisos that I will explain later.

Gaba hires instructors from many walks of life to create a diverse selection of teachers for their clients. You don’t need even to be a native English speaker, just a fluent speaker, but with at least a Bachelor’s degree and like all EFL positions, a history of teaching will play in your favour. With no former teaching experience and no teaching qualification, I emphasised my educational background, my varied interests and my travel experience in my resume. This tactic worked and I was accepted for an interview.

The interview was the most formal I have had so far; strictly dark suit, smart shoes and tie. The applicants were given a company talk and asked to take a short English/teaching quiz* just to prove we could at least think like teachers, even if we had no experience. We were given separate interviews, in which I blagged confidence harder than I have ever done before. My interviewer told me my resume was impressive and that, were I to be hired, I would likely be popular with clients with science-based jobs, wanting to learn English to aid their research/understanding of scientific literature.

*Research helps. I found at least two blogs describing the Gaba interviews in detail. One common question was “Is _____ a gerund?” Though proficient in English, I am not as knowledgable in its terminology. A gerund is a word that is both a noun and a verb, e.g. painting, building. In my interview, the word in question was ‘boring’. I answered no, with the reasoning that I knew ‘boring’ as a verb and an adjective. It turns out that a hole made by boring can also be called a ‘boring’, hence it can be a noun and therefore is a gerund. I would personally call this a bore-hole; I do not know if this was counted against me or not. [Note from Sandy: I didn’t know this either. I feel there may be a flaw in this logic.]

Two days later I was called back for a second interview and trial lesson with a staff member acting as a client, just to see how I performed. I did the best I could and I think I performed admirably. But two days later, I received an email I had been dreading…. I had not been accepted for the April recruitments. They did ask my permission to keep my details in case they wished to contact me in the future. Something I was genuinely not expecting them to do. But after two months of job hunting and working at conversation cafes, I received an unexpected phone call at the end of May, asking me if I was still interested and willing to start training next week for April recruitment. I gleefully accepted.

Before I had even applied to Gaba, I had done extensive background research on the company and doing so revealed many mixed opinions, the bulk of which centre around their scheduling system. Gaba instructors are not employees, but contractors and hence are not entitled to many standards that most workers are, including compensation for training days and travel costs. They also do not provide set working hours, meaning one’s attendance may be required without guarantee of salary. But it is also this system that gives Gaba its greatest perk: flexibility.

Allow me to explain further. Instructors choose their own working hours, divided into 40 minute lessons throughout the day, from 7:00-22:00 on weekdays and 8:45-21:15 on weekends. You can choose to teach anything from one lesson per week to fifty (or more if you have the energy!). Taking holidays are easy; if you want a day, week or even a month off, you simply don’t book any slots for those days. However, these time slots have to be booked by students (or allocated to students by the counsellors) for it to count as a lesson. If you make yourself available for ten slots on a particular day, but only seven get booked, you are only paid for seven lessons.

Depending on your lifestyle, this can be somewhat disorderly. Imagine you have designated slots for three lessons, a break and then another two lessons. Now imagine only the first three are booked. This is not too much of a problem – you can easily ask the staff to cancel the last two and go home early. But imagine that only the first and last lessons are booked. This will mean about two and a half hours of doing (almost) nothing and not getting paid. Likewise, last minute bookings are not uncommon, and you may have prepared for three lessons, only to discover you have a fourth minutes before it starts.

Occasionally, you get No Shows, meaning the lesson is booked, but the student does not turn up. In such cases, the Instructor is still paid but must remain his/her booth in case the student does appear, even if it’s only for the last five minutes. If the student cancels before 6 pm the previous day, the lesson slot becomes unbooked again. If the student cancels after 6 pm the previous day, the lesson slot becomes rebookable, meaning the instructor will be present and get paid, but will either have to teach a late booking or do related activities such as marking homework.

The likelihood of being booked is, on average, is 60% for a new instructor. Gaba encourage you to book early mornings, evenings and weekends where possible as these are peak hours. Should you become promoted (‘belted up’ in their terminology), you will also earn more money per lesson during these hours. Your likelihood of being booked also increases with time spent in the company and for veterans, it is about 90-100%.

Timetable

Timetable of my first week. UME and CHA refer to the teaching locations.

Monday: I was being certified, so no lessons

Tuesday: Allocated five lessons, none were booked. Not surprising given it was only online for 24 hours. Spent the first three slots planning for tomorrow’s lessons, cancelled the last two and went home.

Wednesday: First proper day and all five slots were booked, including two of the desirable client-requested blue bookings!

Thursday: Four allocated slots, only the first and last were booked. Had a very long lunch break.

Friday: Day off!

Saturday: Five allocated slots, four were booked. The 16:00 slot was booked less than an hour before the lesson started, so speedy preparation was required.

Sunday: Five slots, first three were booked. Luckily, I was able to cancel the unbooked slots and meet up with a friend.

I was fully aware of (and okay with) all of this information before I even had my interview. Regardless of what you may think of Gaba’s system, I believe they very open about the pros and pitfalls of it. The booking system is explained in detail during the company talk, on their website and even on Wikipedia. I have a feeling that many of the complaints of Gaba that I had read about were from instructors who had not researched the company – as late as the contract signing, there was an individual in our group who appeared to be unaware of the payment system. To counter, I have spoken to many staff members who are more than happy with working for Gaba, even after many years.

The training was a breakdown of the company and their teaching method. Gaba uses communicative language teaching as their ideology and emphasises learning functions of a language (e.g. describing people, scheduling, complaining) over the more traditional methods like learning grammar and sentence structure. They produce many text books to cover many functions, and some are specialised to business clients, some to travellers, some to those needing it for every day activities. Gaba also prides itself on customisation; altering the text and teaching additional words and phrases relevant to the client’s needs – something harder to do outside of one-to-one teaching.

A typical lesson consists of 5 minutes chatting, 10 minutes reading the target language (a sample conversation) and answering any of the client’s questions about words and phrases they may be unfamiliar with, 10-15 minutes of practising additional words and phrases, and inventing examples that may be useful to the client, 5-10 minutes of role play and 5 minutes of feedback. However, clients may request anything that helps them with their skills, whether it be reading a newspaper, scientific journal, practising a presentation or even just having a conversation. As I am a new instructor, many just want to spend the lesson chatting and get to know me. Even in such cases, we are still expected to take notes and suggest improvements for the client’s English.

The trainees practised trial sessions with one another, and we discovered the importance of planning a lesson in only a few minutes, keeping track of time during the lesson, altering your language to suit the client’s level and coming up with ideas on the fly. After three days of training we were…. almost… ready to start teaching. Experience will be the practice from here on.

At the time of writing, I’ve had about 25 lessons and already I’ve seen great variety in the client base in terms of background, hobbies, jobs and needs. I am still treading unfamiliar ground right now but I hope I will become more confident and enjoy it. And I hope Gaba’s scheduling system stays a blessing rather than a curse – I’ve come a long way and I don’t want it to all be for naught.

But either way, it’s a start.

That’s the last of Graham’s posts about how he made it to Japan and found work. If it’s something that will be interesting to others, I’d like to ask him to write more about his experiences as an unqualified teacher in Japan. I hope you’ll agree that it’s been a fascinating insight into how he made the leap from dream to reality, and that it inspires you to follow your dreams too!

Japan or bust: on the hunt (guest post)

This is part four of a series of posts by one of my university friends, Graham Moore. He is currently teaching English in Japan, and has agreed to write about the experience for my blog. All of the posts are available under the ‘EFL in Osaka‘ category.

Graham

Graham’s magic!

Phase 6: Let’s get down to business

Visa, house, bank and phone in hand – I was ready to find work!

Service: Osaka Employment Service Center for Foreigners

This was the first place I knew about from the UK. But my second big gripe with Japan is that this place is staggeringly useless. Despite advertising “English speaking staff available”, there was a single man whose English was intermediate at best and everyone else didn’t speak a word of it. Really? I’m not demanding that everyone in Japan speak fluent English, but there are a few places I would expect it, a presumably government-funded employment centre for foreigners advertising the linguistic prowess of its staff being one of them. I had to register; there were helpful guides written in Chinese and Portuguese, but none in English. Really? I mean, realllly???

Once I finally commanded the attention of the only staff member who could speak any English at all, things got even less impressive. I wanted to search for an English teaching position in a school, something I know there is high demand for in Osaka. He was able to find and print out ONE job advert (written entirely in Japanese). Realllllllyyyyy?????? I called the number multiple times on different days and got no reply. I never went to the Employment Center again.

Websites: Freelance tuition

In a country where learning English is in high demand and doing so costs a premium, many students find hiring a personal tutor more cost- and time-efficient, and many teachers find it likewise. There are many websites that allow students to find teachers: my-sensei.comhello-sensei.com121sensei.com and findstudents.net to name a few. In Tokyo, craiglist.jp is also a popular choice, though the Osaka version is somewhat bare.

All of these websites follow a similar format. Fill in your personal details, contact information, previous teaching experience, interests, teaching style and specialities, areas near to you (in particular, accessible train lines and nearby stations) and your fee. Tutoring fees range enormously: from ¥100-15,000 (or more) per hour, with ¥2,000 being the average starting price.

Filling in each form slowly chips away at your patience, as does the need to refresh your profile weekly to ensure its visibility, but these websites are (usually) free to use and getting your face on as many websites as possible will give you a better pool of students. Unfortunately, like everything, this is a competitive market and students are obviously going to hire more experienced teachers, and word-of-mouth is far more important here. I only got a few contacts over multiple months – my lack of teaching experience and lack of commitment in refreshing my profile likely stymied my chances.

Website: Kansai Flea Market

Kansai is a region in the middle of Japan containing, among others, the cities of Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe. To the amusement of many Westerners, this region is also known as Kinki.

This was not the first website I found for job-hunting in Japan, but it is the one that gave me the most interviews. Many of the adverts were sketchy in detail, and I must say, even somewhat dodgy-sounding…

Advert

Despite the suspicion this was some sort of code for Yakuza recruitment, I applied. It was an English teaching job but basically none of the other information was true.

…however a decent number of ads interested me. My first jobs in Japan were conversation cafes.

At conversation cafes, clients pay a minimal fee (by Japanese standards) to chat to natural English speakers for 1-5 hours, while enjoying a soft drink or two. Most clients are already somewhat proficient at English, at least able to speak in basic sentences, while many are quite literate. Some use conversation cafes as a means of language exposure, some use it to make sure their skills don’t go rusty, some just like chatting to foreigners! Topics can be about anything and everything, whatever the client and host find as common ground or as a topic of interest. You are not expected to necessarily teach them, but you can write words, show pictures, draw diagrams as you see fit. No fancy work clothes, just casual clothes are fine. And it is probably one of the easiest jobs in the world – all you do is talk and listen!

The pay is understandably low; ¥1000 (£6) per hour, paid in cash, and you are unlikely to work more than 10 hours per week, if that. Also, given that you are not employed, or even contracted, there are no additional benefits like insurance or pension. There is possible room for development; some cafes do teaching classes as well, presumably made available to those with more suitable backgrounds, or who have managed to work a substantial number of shifts, but generally it’s a dead-end job.

Cafe: Leafcup

Leafcup is a nation-wide group of conversation cafes. Criteria for staff is absolutely minimal; if you can speak English and are not an illegal immigrant, you can work there. It is basically a walk-in job; I had no interview beyond a chat with the cafe manager in the middle of one of their international parties.

The hours, however, are terrible. You have no scheduled work times; the cafe will periodically email you (maybe once or twice a week) to ask if you are available to work a shift on a particular day at a particular time, and you need to reply quickly before it is offered to someone else. Occasionally they will send out mass emails for shifts or notifications of cancelled shifts and it is a first-reply-first-served basis. I lived very close-by and I could seize these impromptu shifts easily, but even so, I probably worked an average of less than one shift per week.

I would still recommend anyone looking for work (ANY work) in Japan with nothing already lined up to become a Leafcup instructor as soon as they land. No hours are expected of you beyond what you accept (and it’s super easy to cancel a shift), so it will not interfere with your job hunting and if nothing else, it is a very easy way to network (especially at the international parties held every other Saturday) and depending on your ultimate work schedule, an extra ¥2000 for a laid-back evening’s work may not be a bad thing.

Cafe: Pocket English Shinsaibashi

In the middle of Osaka’s shopping district is a little conversation cafe with a small but loyal group of customers. Unlike Leafcup, PE is not a chain and it does not appear to have any hierarchy beyond the owner, a cheerful young woman named Maho. The interview was the best of any I had ever had. She asked me to do a trial two-hour chat to see how I did, and was impressed with my clear voice and the range of topics covered. I shrugged off my nerves after a few minutes and enjoyed the whole thing. She asked me to start as soon as I could. Best of all, I got paid for the interview!

And thus began my first major commitment in Osaka. As PE has a smaller pool of staff, there was an immediate need for me to work longer hours. Indeed, during May 2014, there were only three staff members, including myself, and I was the only foreigner. In practice, this still only meant 3-5 hours, 3-4 days a week (and still only ¥1000 per hour), but it was a start.

Pocket English

At my work station, in my work clothes. Observe the lack of fume cupboards and lab coat.

PE’s atmosphere is much friendlier than Leafcup’s; the small, cosy room, the sofas, tree-trunk design tables and 1980s pop music playing in the background contrast to Leafcup’s hard chairs and largely empty space. PE also allows chat hosts to help themselves to snacks and free drinks, something that Leafcup chat hosts are generally forbidden from doing; this small difference is a great comfort when talking continuously for 5 hours on a hot, humid, Japanese summer day.

The clientele are pretty much what I was hoping for; working professionals at any age between 23-83. And all have their reasons for wanting to learn; some want to better understand English TV shows and movies, some need it to further their careers, some (actually, many) enjoy travelling and can do so with greater ease with some English under their belts. Some just like to do it as a hobby; I’ve met many retirees who are keeping themselves occupied despite their age, showing you’re never too old to try something new.

The only possible downside is that it is only open weekend afternoons and weekday evenings, reducing the number of potential shifts one can work. Also, Maho insists that you do not work for any other conversation cafe in addition to PE. As such I did my best to keep my occasional shift at Leafcup quiet, a feat sometimes jeopardised when a shared client would appear and loudly proclaim “Hey! I saw you at Leafcup yesterday!”

As much as I enjoy(ed) working at PE, the wages were simply not enough to cover my living costs, and I still had too much free time. I needed to find some additional income.

Cafe: Plus Color

Near Utsubo Park, Osaka, is another conversation cafe that is incredibly hard to find and I barely got to my interview in time. They operate in the afternoons as well as the evenings, meaning I could potentially work a shift at PC before doing my usual shift at PE. The interview at PC was somewhat more formal than either of the other two conversation cafes and the atmosphere somewhat more stark. Possibly because of my insistence that I could only work afternoon shifts, I was unsuccessful in my application.

Eikawa: Marvin’s School

A small studio between Osaka and Kobe, and one of the most aggravating interviews I ever had. I replied to their offer of an interview… which apparently they did not receive and I arrived at the school unexpected. Fortunately, they didn’t turn me away. Unfortunately, they asked me to teach a class. Wait, they had virtually no idea who I was and they weren’t even anticipating my arrival and they asked me to teach a class with almost no preparation. Reaaaaaalllllllyyyy??????????? This wasn’t a conversation cafe, this was a school! In the end, I did a half-baked lesson based on the differences between US and UK English, which gave the two clients plenty of information but I’m not sure how useful it was. Marvin’s School offered me a shift but their interview method of “throw you in the deep end with no arm-bands” didn’t instil great faith in me. I didn’t bother to follow up.

Website: GaijinPot

GaijinPot is a forum and personalised ads site for work and accommodation, and probably the best known of its kind. There aren’t as many ads as KFM, but the jobs advertised are somewhat more professional. If you are a happy job-hunter, you can create a resume online and and allow companies to contact you, and likewise search through ads and apply to job positions directly. Filtering the search options to “Entry Level”, “Kansai Region Only” and “Japanese Beginner Level” dramatically reduced the number of potential jobs for me. Among the ones that interested me were video game translator and tester (though the pay was very poor) and a couple of teaching positions.

Eikawa: NOVA

NOVA is an eikawa mired in bad reputation and indeed went bankrupt a few years ago. They reformed, though smaller than before, and given that a common joke among EFL teachers in Japan is that NOVA stands for No Vacation, I was hesitant to apply for them. One of my friends, a former NOVA employee, confirms their shifty reputation; he claims to have been screwed over by his contract (the exact details of which have slipped my mind) and spoke of their policy of giving a ¥200 bonus for every lesson taught, which is nullified if you are late for ONE lesson, potentially costing a teacher a big chunk of their rightfully earned salary. Some former students have likewise complained about their teaching methods. Thankfully, as desperate as I was for a job, I never applied for NOVA.

The final phase in Graham’s adventures coming soon…

Japan or bust: on the way (guest post)

This is part three of a series of posts by one of my university friends, Graham Moore. He is currently teaching English in Japan, and has agreed to write about the experience for my blog. All of the posts are available under the ‘EFL in Osaka‘ category, where you can find out more about Graham, why he wanted to go to Japan, and what he did in the UK to prepare.

Graham

Graham’s magic!

Phase 3: Screw it, I’m going to Japan anyway

If Japan wasn’t going to invite me, I was going to crash the party. A second trip to London (luckily coinciding with a friend’s wedding), a visit to the Japanese embassy and a parting of £23 allowed me to get a working holiday visa. This gave me one year to travel, live, and work in Japan. Even if I failed to get a job, I would have at least been to the country I had dreamed of for so many years.

With my passport returned, I booked a flight from London to Tokyo a mere five days before I flew. I waved goodbye to my family and friends and proceeded to travel around Japan for two months. I really cannot emphasise enough that Japan is EXACTLY how you imagine it to be…

Toilet

In lieu of a picture of the shinkansen, a temple or some ramen, I decided this one better embodies Japan. (Graham’s photo)

…and that is exactly what makes it an essential destination. I could talk at even greater length of the sights I saw during my travels but that’s a story for another day; I will merely say I was able to cover Tokyo, Nikko, Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe, Naruto, Naoshima, Okayama, Tottori, Hiroshima, Akiyoshidai, Fukuoka, Nagasaki, Okinawa, Zamami and Ishigaki. I considered this useful research on the Japanese lifestyle, hopefully allowing me to better understand my hypothetical future students.

Then I decided it was time to settle down and start work…. no wait, actually, I travelled for another month. I flew to Malaysia to meet some friends for a crazy Chinese New Year celebration before heading north to Thailand to meet some more friends. Anyway, with 9 months left on my visa, I returned to Japan to look for lodging and work.

I had chosen Osaka as my base of operations as it is a large city with high demand for foreign workers. It is right in the middle of Honshu, the main island of Japan, with easy access to any other place I may be likely to travel to. Osaka is also famous for its food and shopping, two items likely to benefit those living in it. Plus Kyoto and Kobe are very nearby.

Phase 4: A man’s home is his castle. A gaijin’s house is a gaijin house.

I crashed at the incredibly cheap Toyo Hotel in Shin-Imamiya for a few days. I needed to relax after my three months of travelling (I maintain that if you’re not exhausted after travelling, you’re not doing it right) and I needed to find a place to live. Apartments can be tricky to rent for foreigners; landlords may not be willing to let non-Japanese speakers, or those without a current source of income, sign contracts. Also, in addition to two months’ rent in advance, tenants are also likely to have to pay high deposits, including key money. This can mean a new tenant has to pay the equivalent of 3-6 months rent up-front.

Not with gaijin houses (gaijin means ‘foreigner’, and has become a kind of community name for expats working in Japan) – gaijin houses are similar to student houses in that they offer cheap accommodation in shared houses. They are fully furnished and are only available for foreigners. Best of all, you pay rent only, no deposit or key money. It was pure luck that I was able to find the perfect place to stay on my first try. While searching for gaijin houses, I found a post about cheap gaigin houses.

I heeded this man’s praise and contacted the landlord. After viewing the accommodation, I asked if I could move in straight away. Easiest move I have ever done. The house itself is small, but ultimately this is standard for Japanese housing. I chose the Western style room over the Japanese style; it costs more but the room is slightly larger and comes with a bed (as opposed to a futon and tatami mat). The area is quiet, but there are plenty of supermarkets and restaurants nearby, and Umeda, one of the largest train stations and shopping centres in Osaka, is only 20 minutes walk away. My ¥40,000 (~£240) rent covers my room, water and internet. I only pay for the electricity that I use in my room (around ¥2,000 per month in the summer, ¥4,000 in the winter). The toilet, shower and washing machine are shared but currently I am the only one living in this two-bedroom house. It’s a little lonely but it means I can spread my stuff out into the hall. My landlord has also kindly let me borrow a bike for a mere ¥3,000 deposit, an investment that has already saved me at least as much in train fares.

Phase 5: Phoning it in and taking it to the bank

The day after I moved in to my gaijin house was one of the busiest days since coming to Japan. I wanted to start job hunting ASAP, but I needed to register my address, get a phone and open a bank account. I intended to do all three in one day.

Registering myself wasn’t too hard; once I found my ward office, I just showed my registration card, filled in some forms and asked them to write my address on the card in kanji. The next two were problematic. In Japan, you need a phone number to open a bank account….. but you need a bank account to buy a contract phone. The banks would not allow me to use my landlord’s phone, so the only option was to buy a prepaid phone.

This was my first major gripe with Japan; everywhere else I have been in the world, using a phone is a simple matter of buying a SIM card and inserting it into your phone. Japan does not use a 2G signal and my Samsung phone that had served me so well in the UK was useless here. Finding a prepaid phone was alarmingly difficult, only Softbank seemed to have them and finding a Softbank store with stock was infuriatingly hard. I eventually found one – and buying a phone in Japan is painfully bureaucratic; with no exaggeration, it is harder than opening a bank account. I know this having done one after another. I had to fill in more forms, choose my number and my PIN, I had to show my registration card and my passport, the latter of which I didn’t even need for opening a bank account!

The next phase in Graham’s adventures coming soon…

Japan or bust: in the UK (guest post)

This is part of a series of posts by one of my university friends, Graham Moore. He is currently teaching English in Japan, and has agreed to write about the experience for my blog. All of the posts are available under the ‘EFL in Osaka‘ category. Read phase 1 to find out more about Graham, and why he wanted to go to Japan. In phase 2 he tells us about the options for teaching in Japan which he investigated while still in the UK.

Graham

Graham’s magic!

Phase 2: Searching from the UK

Programme: JET

The most common recommendation for those wanting to teach in Japan is the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme (JET), a government-run system that offers a lot of support to aspiring teachers. While former JETs talk fondly of their experiences (and indeed at the time of writing, I have a JET friend in Tottori who is enthusiastic about her work), ultimately I didn’t even consider it as an option for me. I wanted to teach adults and JET focuses mainly on high school students, plus it didn’t have the amount of free time I desired, having just finished a PhD, one of the few perks of which is you can generally come and go as you please.

Eikawa: GEOS

A friend of mine recalled his time in Japan teaching with GEOS and recommended them as a capable eikawa (English school). A quick Google search reveals they are now bankrupt and hence unlikely to be hiring.

Eikawa: ECC

My first real consideration was By Education, Through Communication and For Community, better known as ECC, a hybrid school and corporation with a solid reputation. I believe their pay is marginally lower than JET’s but they offer higher support for their teachers and give the opportunity to teach both adults and children. I would be expected to do both, though I could put a preference for the latter if I wished. ECC’s main selling point though, was its relatively low working hours (29.5 per week) and its high amount of holiday time (7 weeks, including national holidays). At the time, this seemed like the perfect match for me.

I just made it in time for their June recruitment, though during the application I did get asked the question I was hoping I would be able to avoid: “If you have a PhD in Chemistry, why are you looking to teach English?” Despite this, I was accepted for an interview in London, though apparently Japanese companies often do not pay accommodation or transport costs for interviews, even when in another country. Luckily I have kind friends in London.

There were sixteen interviewees in total, some already teachers, some from other walks of life. After a company talk, we were given an hour-long English test; you had to get a minimum of 70% of continue with the interview process and about half of us were anticipated to fail. It was actually pretty difficult for a non-linguist like me, though I passed and I was able to go on to the next stage. As ECC predicted, seven people failed, two of whom were actual English teachers! Worst of all, I had a quick glimpse of the papers and saw some had failed at 69%!

The remaining nine of us had to plan and perform a practice lesson for teaching simple vocabulary. Long story short, I did my best but I was not among the final five who made it to the final stage. How many were accepted I will never know. But I imagine my lack of TEFL certification and previous experience did not benefit me. I was back to square one again.

The next phase in Graham’s adventures coming soon…

 

Japan or bust: how I changed careers to achieve a dream (guest post)

This is the first in a series of posts by one of my university friends, Graham Moore. He is currently teaching English in Japan, and has agreed to write about the experience for my blog. All of the posts are available under the ‘EFL in Osaka’ category.

Graham

Graham’s magic!

Phase 1: I dream of Japan

Japan has fascinated me for many years. The combination of its modern image as a crazy, busy, futuristic wonderland with its traditional, almost mythical, history of shoguns, samurai and martial arts has kept it high on my list of places to visit for as long as I have wanted to travel. A high proportion of my ample collection of video games originate from Japan (Final Fantasy VII, despite its age, remains my favourite game of all time) and I diligently practised karate during my university days. The more I learned about Japanese culture…

If the trains are late by more than five minutes, you are given a note to show to your boss as a reason for your lateness.

The crime rate is so low, you can leave your bike unlocked at night and nobody will steal it!

With the exception of Monaco, Japanese people are the longest-lived people in the world!

…the more I wanted to see it first-hand. And so began a journey that would take me the best part of a decade.

Japan in one picture. Yes, even the girl in the pizza suit.

Japan in one picture. Yes, even the girl in the pizza suit.*

I am a scientist by education and I never pictured myself as anything else until recently. My dream was to work as an industrial chemist and ultimately move to Japan, hopefully working on some exciting new technology (like designing self-repairing metal for a car or a giant robot) or synthesising world-changing chemicals (like a cure for cancer that also gives you gives you Super Saiyan powers). I studied Chemistry at Durham University for my undergraduate degree, with three years of lectures and practice labs, before working a year in industry at FujiFilm Imaging Colorants, Scotland. The advantage of doing an industrial placement during the final year rather than as a penultimate sandwich year was that, upon graduation, it would be easier to make the transition into the working world.

And this situation seemed perfect – I was working for a Japanese company after all, surely it would be easy to transfer to Japan from here? But sadly this was 2008 and the economy was taking a major hit – FujiFilm IC could not afford to take on graduates and they weren’t even able to continue their industrial placement scheme the following year. Fewer places were hiring and many of my friends were laid off mere months after being hired for their first job. My time as an undergraduate finished on a low note and the future was not looking as bright as it should have. Finding funded PhD positions was easier than finding a job. I went from having no intention of doing a PhD (at least not until I was older) to having one confirmed at the University of Nottingham in a mere three weeks.

It was somewhat less abroad than what I was hoping for but financially speaking, it was stable and more than enough for my lifestyle. Having a doctorate under one’s belt can only be a good thing, plus I would extend my time as a student by 4-5 years, something I was very happy about. During my first year, I discovered a university program called BESTS (Building Experience and Skill Travel Scholarships) which allowed research students to spend part of their degree working abroad. Japan was among the countries that had allowed BESTS students to work there previously, and the research I was undertaking was also being done in Japan. I could even take a bonus module in Beginner Japanese as part of my PhD (something that FujiFilm IC had offered to previous placement students but not to my year’s). All a perfect fit, right?

Sadly, when you are a PhD student, your supervisor is your king, and unfortunately, I am quite the anti-monarchist. We were destined to have many clashes during my studies and the notion that his students may also be productive outside of his laboratory was an alien concept to him. And while the University of Nottingham gave me the best experiences of my twenties, none of them were in the Chemistry department. I’m sure the majority of people with PhDs enjoyed their research, but I didn’t. And as my second graduation approached, I was once again flustered as to where to go. Industry hadn’t worked for me and neither had academia.

The brain part is being optimistic

The brain part is being optimistic (From ‘Piled Higher and Deeper’, copyright Jorge Cham)

“Why not teach English in Asia?” multiple friends suggested. I’m not sure if this was a recommendation based on my English skills and love of Asian culture or simply as a go-to gap year-esque idea, but the thought intrigued me. I am a pedant for accuracy in English and I had experience dealing with people with beginner English skills, so why not? Plus it would be a means to my long-standing goal of getting into the land of the rising sun. May 2013, my PhD was near completion, my quest for an English school in Japan began.

Phase 2 in Graham’s adventures coming soon…

*Image credits
Temple image from ‘theswissrock’City image from nhouse.sgSushi image from PBSGirl in pizza suit image from Business Insider

Delta conversations: Sheona

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.

Sheona Smith is a teacher and teacher trainer based in Majorca, Spain. She loves her job and discovering ways to continue her Professional Development.  Her special interests at the moment are using ICT in language teaching and CLIL. Her next project is to do an MA in ICT and EFL at some time in the not too distant future. She tweets from @eltsheona.

She was on the same Distance Delta orientation course as me, with James doing the same online course, if you’d like to compare notes.

Sheona

 

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

I’d been reading a lot of methodology books for ages and decided that I should try to put what I was studying to some use and have clearer objectives, so I opted to do the Distance Delta Module 1 [the exam] first in March 2011. I finished the module in June 2011 with a merit. As I am based in Majorca I knew it would be difficult to find a local tutor so I did Module 3 (merit) [extended assignment] next and then Module 2 [observed teaching practice] in October 2012 when I finally found a Local Tutor [someone to observe the lessons]. I got a Distinction for this module which was a big surprise even thought I put a lot of work in, and I was lucky to have a very understanding local tutor who gave me excellent feedback and advice!

Why did you choose to do it that way?

I’m a working mum, with 3 kids and it really was the only option I could do. I was unsure for a while if I’d ever be able to actually do Module 2 with the two-week orientation course, but after doing the other two modules I was determined to finish.

What do you think you gained from doing the Delta?

Well, there’s so much to say really. I really feel I gained a lot.

  • Confidence in myself as a teacher.
  • The confirmation that teaching is learning all the time.
  • Discovering a ‘Sense of Agency’, something that I learned about in an excellent book that I’d recommend all teachers read: Psychology for Language Teachers by Williams and Burden [affiliate link]. This refers to giving students a sense of empowerment in their learning, showing them or facilitating an atmosphere of taking control of their own learning. For me that wasn’t just about helping students but a life lesson.
  • An inkling of what doing an MA might be like in terms of amount of work and commitment (that’s my next challenge when I find the money)

What were the downsides of the method you chose?

The way the Distance Delta is set up you can do any module first and individually. This means that the course materials for each module overlap, so if you’ve done Module 1 you’ll get most of same material for the other modules.  I feel this could be improved in some way.

As some people have mentioned, the course organisers could make better use of technologies available to update some aspects of the course. Much as I loved the orientation course and my stay in London, it was very expensive and logistically complicated for my family for me to be in London for 2 weeks. I felt despite being primarily an online course there was a human element which could be better enhanced through more use of digital tools like Skype, webinars etc.

What were the benefits of the method you chose?

The best thing for me about doing the Delta course at a distance was that I could carry on with ‘normal life’: that is, be at home for my kids and, of course, continue working. There is no way I could have done the intensive course.  I also learned a lot about online learning and the benefits of Blended Learning, something that I’ve become really interested in.

What tips would you give other people doing the Delta?

Tips I’d give are:

  1. Only do the Delta if you feel it’s the right time for you to do it. This might seem a bit obvious, but it is a very difficult course in terms of workload and emotional highs and lows and if you’re not determined to finish and give it everything you’ve got, I would have a rethink and wait till the time is right.
  2. Read the Delta Teacher Handbook, (you can download this free). That is the best place to see what examiners are really looking for in candidates. Mine was tattered and torn by the end of the 3 modules.
  3. Don’t over-read. Some of the background reading books are amazing and I found myself getting lost in them, which I didn’t really have time to do. Don’t feel bad if you just read the chapter you need for your assignment. If it’s a worthwhile book you’ll come back to it after the course when you can really absorb and enjoy reading it.
  4. Resign yourself to the fact that for the duration of the modules/course you will be totally absorbed by the coursework. You might as well just make the most of it. I took my course books to the beach with me and read in the car between classes. But I did block off time specifically for my family and gave myself extra free time if I managed to get an assignment ready before the deadline. I always set my deadline a day before assignments were due so that I could leave my work alone for 24 hours, relax and then come back to it with a fresh perspective before handing it in. You’d be amazed at the things you find  when reading with a fresh pair of eyes.

In retrospect, what would you have done differently?

I would probably have done the modules in the correct order: that is, 1,2, and then the third. They quite clearly follow on from each other which can only be beneficial when doing the third. I also  left a bit of a gap (10 months) between M3 and M2 and I had this niggling doubt about how much I’d remember. I felt I’d kind of lost the momentum.

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

As regards the amount of time I spent, it was definitely well above what the website suggested. But then I’ve been told I can be a bit of a perfectionist. Definitely over 10 hours a week for Module 2. What can I say, writing up the background essay and the lesson plan felt endless at times. When I look back now I don’t actually know how I managed to do it!

Delta conversations: James

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

James Pengelley is a teacher at the British Council in Hong Kong. He tweets @hairychef, swims in the pool and bakes at home in his kitchen. He was on the same Distance Delta course as me, if you’d like to compare notes.

James Pengelley

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

I completed the Distance Delta programme (Integrated).  This basically entails attending a 2-week face-to-face orientation at your nearest centre (usually a British Council), and then completing modules 1, 2 and 3 at the same time over about 9 months.  The first two LSA’s [observed lessons – Module 2] are very close together, and then the last two are a bit more spaced out, with the written exam [Module 1] coming at the end before submission of your module 3 thesis [the extended assignment in which you put together a course proposal].

Why did you choose to do it that way?

Where I was working, the only choice I had was the Distance programme.  I had been thinking about doing the Delta for a few years, and realised I was at the low-end of teaching experience I thought would be needed to succeed (5 years ± was my estimate after speaking to lots of people and trainers, even though Cambridge recommend 2 years minimum), but given I was working as a Senior Teacher and thought it would both a) be good timing and b) improve my chances of getting a job that would provide financial support to fly me back home to Australia 🙂 I decided to go for it.

What do you think you gained from doing the Delta?

Aside from a nagging sense of paranoia whenever I walk into an observation…?  No, I’m only joking… Actually I have just completed a TYLEC [Trinity Young Learners Extension course, currently being piloted by British Council] and to be honest, I am almost certain no observation, assessed or otherwise will EVER phase me again since the Delta.

Above all, I feel significantly more confident in the decisions I make as a teacher.  I feel I am also better able to guide and support colleagues who have questions and I have really been able to pursue my own interests in classroom research.

What were the downsides of the method you chose?

There were many:

  • The Distance Integrated Programme does not offer any standardised face-to-face instruction throughout the course.  All input is either self-directed (independent reading) or via disappointingly sub-par PDF documents that are made available for each section of the course.  These are often insufficient on their own, contain errors, or are poorly formatted.
  • The tutors were, on the whole, extremely helpful.  I did feel, however, there was a significant need to standardise the way tutors were giving feedback. The way the DD programme is structured, it is normal for candidates to submit a draft of an LSA, for example, and then receive feedback from one tutor. When candidates receive feedback, they continue working (or in some cases, totally re-working) what they have done, and then submit the final draft, which is marked by a different online tutor. I found, from discussing experiences with several DD candidates who were in the same city and course as I was, that the second round of feedback (and the final mark) was often in stark contrast to what was suggested by the first tutor in the first draft. In one case, this actually involved a candidate having to totally rework their final LSA (which, if you don’t know, is the LSA that candidates are required to work on independently, with minimal tutor input and determines a huge part of your overall mark for module 2) with only 5 days notice, having worked on a draft for 4 weeks.
  • There was a lack on resources allocated to the course.  Candidates were not given access to journals (there were a limited number of articles made available on the website, but these were not enough to complete the course to any appropriate standard), and I felt quite strongly about this. A large theme that runs through the Delta is “tailoring your classes to the needs and contexts you teach in”. However, there was no attempt made to provide instruction via contemporary digital technologies (think of the possibilities: virtual classrooms, chatrooms, etc) other than a limited selection of videoed lessons and the chat forum for each group. The issue of lack of journal access was raised with the Course Co-Ordinator and as of the end of the course, the DD response was that they had financial approval to grant journal access to future candidates. However, there is a copyright issue in granting access to so many people online. This issue may take some time to resolve, though its resolution is currently in the works
  • I feel, above all, the main let-down of the course is the lack of face-to-face training.  From speaking to other colleagues who did their Deltas in a face-to-face setting, they often use words like “inspirational” or “extremely motivating” to describe their experiences.  I think with some fine-tuning, and provision of more appropriately interactive online learning platforms, or at the very least significant provision of quality model lessons (with discussion/focus questions to follow up), the course would be greatly improved.

What were the benefits of the method you chose?

Don’t get me wrong, I think the DD programme has huge potential, but in its present conception, it is an outdated and wilted product. It has, no doubt, facilitated the up-skilling of thousands of teachers in areas where face-to-face training is not an option, like me.

For those candidates who were motivated, the extended time frame of the DD programme allows you to fully explore and investigate areas of interest in your own teaching and assimilate concepts effectively. To be honest, I have no idea how people survive the 2-month intensive courses!

We were also able to work full time and study, and did not have to sacrifice our income stream in order to study, which was a bonus.

How much time did you spend per week on the course?

I was lucky in that my working hours were quite flexible during the course.  I estimate that on average I spent about 20 hours a week minimum. At peak times it was possibly in the region of 5-6 hours a day (in the lead up to LSA deadlines and pre-exam).  However, I know many many people who passed the course doing less than this.

What tips would you give other people doing the Delta?

My top tips would be:

  • Think very carefully about your preferred method of delivery.  Do you need constant pressure and face-to-face guidance to stay on task?  Do you have the time to complete the course over a longer period of time?  Do you have access to resources to do sufficient reading and investigation? Do you have access to peers and colleagues who are interested in and able to support you and act as sounding boards for your ideas? [If you need help deciding, you can read more of the Delta conversations to find out what options are available.]
  • If there are only 3 books you buy…
    Methodology in Language Teaching (Richards & Renandya)
    Beyond the Sentence (Thornbury)
    The Language Teaching Matrix (Richards)
    [affiliate links – Sandy will get a little bit of money if you buy after clicking here]
  • However you do the course, think long-term: try to think about how you will use your knowledge and ALL the work you’ve done once the course is finished.  For example, I turned one of my LSA assignments into an article for the IH Journal, part of my module 2 classroom research into a successful scholarship application for IATEFL 2014, and I have delivered a number of INSETT and training sessions based on my Delta assignments. I found some of the most rewarding results from doing the course happened after I got my certificates!

In retrospect…

I’m not sure I would do anything differently. I dearly wish I had had the freedom to attend a face-to-face course, though these are not offered widely outside Europe.  In a perfect world, I’d have take some time off and gone to the UK, but that clearly wasn’t going to happen. I am especially glad I did my Delta and didn’t opt to pursue an MA, because of the huge emphasis on practical classroom application of theory in the Delta. I wouldn’t, however, recommend the Distance programme (if that isn’t painfully obvious from what I have said above) until the major issues in delivery of content have been addressed.

Delta conversations: Matthew

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.

Matthew Ellman is a teacher and materials writer working in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He passed the Delta with double distinction in 2013, and is currently doing an MA in Applied Linguistics to fill the gaping void it left in his life. He blogs at teachertolearner.com and tweets from @mattellman.

Matt Ellman

How did you do your Delta?

I did my Delta on a face-to-face course over 8 months at International House Madrid.  I had already done quite a bit of reading when I started though  ̶  I used the course as a pretext for staying at home and sponging off my parents all summer, so it was unavoidable!  All told, then, I suppose you could say I did it over about a year.

How did you arrange the modules?

I didn’t really arrange the modules so much as blindly submit to the schedule that was given to me by my tutors. It’s a good thing I did though, because in hindsight I can’t see any better way of organising things.  We did modules 2 and 3 side-by-side, and the classes we had in preparation for our module 2 assignments doubled up as exam preparation classes, particularly as the exam drew near.

Why did you choose to do it that way?

I was working for IH at the time, so it made sense to do it there. They were able to fit it around my teaching timetable and helped ensure I had suitable classes for observations. I didn’t get a staff discount though, which still keeps me awake at night…

What do you think you gained from doing the Delta?

In the classroom, it made me more aware of the rationale behind things: things I had learnt from the CELTA without truly understanding, and things that I was using in published materials. That, in turn, made me more confident about the decisions I was making during planning and in class.

As I’ve moved into materials writing, I’ve come to appreciate the benefit of module 3, the extended assignment.  It gave me an understanding of things like assessment and course design that I hadn’t touched on before, so it was probably the module that has opened the most doors for me since I finished the course.

What were the downsides of the method you chose?

I’m not sure there was a downside, apart from having to pay for it myself! Had I been in a situation to do the Delta as part of an MA course, I might have chosen to do that, but it wasn’t an option.

What were the benefits of the method you chose?

Face-to-face instruction has enormous benefits that tend to be overlooked when it’s compared to distance or blended learning. Informal discussions in class between tasks, or in breaks, and tutors’ offhand comments about this theory or that book – all of that feeds into your understanding of the material, but you don’t get that from an online course.

Timing was another benefit.  Nine months proved to be a good balance between getting the course done on the one hand, and having the time to absorb the new information and apply it to my teaching on the other.  I marvel at how anyone can get through a full-time Delta in 8 weeks.

I was fortunate to have the help of two excellent tutors – Kate Leigh and Steven McGuire – and their advice and encouragement were crucial factors in my success. I don’t think that anything improves your teaching more than being observed by experienced tutors who can see in detail what your strengths and weaknesses are. I’ve since spoken to other Delta trainees, particularly doing the Distance Delta, that haven’t had the same level of support or insight from their tutors, and that’s a great shame. The purpose of the course is to improve your teaching, and unfortunately it seems that there are some tutors who see the whole thing as one horribly rigorous extended assessment in which their role is simply to pass judgement.

What tips would you give other people doing the Delta?

Be organised – the course is perfectly manageable if you set aside time for studying and keep on top of all the work.

Do your reading – Tricia Hedge’s Teaching and Learning in the Language Classroom is an excellent place to start for just about any topic the Delta covers.

Practise your assessed lessons – if you can, try out your lesson plan on a class of guinea pigs beforehand.* Doing so reveals weaknesses that you just can’t spot by looking at it on paper.

Use your tutors – for better or worse there is an element of box-ticking when it comes to CELTA and Delta, and knowing what Cambridge expect is part of the difficulty with each assignment. Don’t be afraid to ask your tutors about anything that’s unclear; it’s their job to clarify that type of thing.


 

*Not real guinea pigs, obviously – they are terrible language learners. I mean “a class of normal students that don’t mind being test subjects”, but that’s not as catchy.

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