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:
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:
- 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 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.