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

Doctor Classroom

It’s been a long day. At least, long by the standards of my current job. I got to work at 10, and didn’t really stop until 9, even planning two lessons while I was eating at the local shopping centre this evening, because I know I won’t have time tomorrow. It’s the busiest time of year, with a new batch of teachers, timetables still in flux, lots of placement testing, one-to-one students waiting for timetables, constant questions, and the inevitable teething problems that go along with all that. Freshers’ flu is very much in evidence, with quite a few of the teachers suffering from all the new bugs we’ve been exposed to, and I’ve been hovering on the edge of a cold all week.

But despite all that, I feel great 🙂 I covered a late lesson this evening, hence the long day, and I feel like I spent the majority of it giggling. It’s a great group, who gel brilliantly and are very supportive of each other. They’re open to correction, and because they’re advanced, it’s possible to have some in-depth conversations about language with them. They regularly made me laugh, and I forgot about the cares of the rest of the day. The injection of teaching was just what I needed 🙂

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.

I’m very pleased to announce that ELT Playbook 1 is now available as a paperback via Amazon. It is a little more expensive than the ebook to cover the cost of printing, but it is still great value!

With thirty tasks in the book, each with multiple reflection questions and four reflection ideas, that’s hundreds of ways to think about your teaching or to help others to think about theirs.

What are you waiting for?

Get your copy now! [affiliate link]

ELT Playbook 1 on Amazon screenshot

And for those of you following the process of my self-publishing adventures, it took me about 7-8 hours in total to turn the ebook manuscript into a paperback, including reading two proofs and making the associated changes. Definitely worth it, as it was very excited when I held the proofs in my hand!

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!

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

Image of the CELTAchat question from above

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Attention, please!

I’ve just finished working on a CELTA course in Strasbourg, and one of the things some trainees had trouble with was getting and maintaining the attention of their students. Here are some of the questions I asked them and tips I gave in feedback after the lessons.

Do they know what signal you will give them when you want them to pay attention?

If you tell the students what signal to expect before the activity, they are more likely to notice. For example, you could tell them that you will:

  • Clap your hands.
  • Say ‘stop’.
  • Press a buzzer.
  • Ring a bell.
  • Switch the light off and on again.
  • Use a call and response signal, for example: Teacher: ‘Macaroni cheese.’ Students: ‘Everybody freeze!’ (Thanks Rose!)
  • Put your hand up and wait for them to put theirs up too.
  • Countdown from 5, starting quietly, and getting louder as you reach 1. (Particularly good for speaking activities.)
  • When the background music finishes playing, the activity ends.
  • Stand in a particular place.

It’s good to get into routines with this, and always use the same signal for the same kind of activity. For example, I normally put my hand up to signal the end of a pair discussion.

Did you give everyone time to respond?

After you’ve given the signal to pay attention, make sure that you pause for a few seconds to let them stop before you start speaking. Wait for attention from everybody – don’t just start with the next instructions or feedback, as you’ll only end up repeating it!

Try praising students who are paying attention, rather than picking out those who aren’t, especially with young learners: ‘Thank you, Sandy.’ rather than ‘Sandy, stop talking please!’

Is the signal visible/audible to everyone?

If you’re giving an audio signal, make sure it is loud enough. If you’re speaking, you don’t need to shout, but do project your voice over the volume.

If you’re giving a visual signal, make sure all students can see you.

Are they deeply involved in the activity they are doing? Are they ready to finish? 

Monitor closely to find out how students are progressing with the activity. If they’ve only done half of the activity, they are unlikely to want to stop when you try to get their attention.

If you know that timing will be a problem before you start, try to change how you set up the activity. For example, tell the students to do as many questions as they can in 3 minutes, rather than making them finish the exercise. Getting them to check in pairs can help them to fill in the gaps in their answers.

Have short extension tasks available for students who finish very quickly, preferably ones that don’t require too much extra input from you! For example, ask students to:

  • Read a sentence from the exercise, remember it, turn over your paper, write it from memory, then check whether you’ve got it right.
  • Change the sentences so they’re true for you.
  • Turn over the paper and remember as many of the words from the exercise as possible, either speaking or writing them. Then look and check.
  • Start saying the sentences/words to practise pronunciation.
  • Decide what was the most interesting thing your partner said, ready to report it to the class.

Is there a valid reason for them to need to pay attention to you or the other students who are talking? (i.e. Why should they care?)

For example, some teachers interrupt speaking activities to get everybody’s attention to try to elicit a single word from the group that one student asked for. This is unnecessary, as you could just give them the word without stopping all of the other conversations.

During feedback stages, students might pay attention at the beginning, but drift off if the stage gets too long or boring. Think of how to keep feedback concise, and try to give them a real reason to listen to the other students.

How long have you required their attention for? Can they maintain focus for that long?

It’s difficult to concentrate for more than a few minutes at a time without drifting off and losing attention. Vary the activities and the interaction in the lesson, so that students aren’t just listening to you for long periods of time. Give them clear things to do and keep them active.

Do you truly believe that you have the right to their attention at this point in the lesson?

This may sound quite odd, but I’ve noticed that a lot of teachers feel like they’re being rude when they interrupt students, especially if the students are older than them, and/or if they’re inexperienced teachers. I think if you don’t believe that you need students’ attention right now, then there is less conviction in your voice, and they are less likely to listen to you.

What would you add to the list?

EU Parliament, with flags of all of the current EU nations flying in front of it

The EU Parliament in Strasbourg, which I visited during the course

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