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

Posts tagged ‘CELTA training’

IH AMT conference 2020

This year’s IH Academic Managers and Trainers (AMT) conference happened in Greenwich from 9th-11th January 2020. As always, I enjoyed the conference and learnt a lot, which I’m looking forward to putting into practice as much as possible.

You can read about previous AMT conferences I’ve attended in 201420152016, 2019 (I’ve attended them all since 2014, but forgot to write about some of them!)

ih logo

Here are some of the things I’ve learnt about at this year’s conference. (As always, any mistakes or misinterpretations are my own, not those of the speakers – please correct me if needed!)

Managing performance in ELT

Maureen McGarvey asked us to draw the organisational structure and consider the organisational culture of our schools. She emphasised that without knowing the structure and culture of our school and how teachers perceive them, we can’t effectively manage performance at our schools. We need to clearly articulate the culture of our school to teachers, as you bring the culture with you from previous places you’ve worked. This can be one source of frustration for managers, and may lead us to think staff are being pig-headed, when in fact they’re butting up against the culture of the school and their perceptions of it.

She surveyed staff about how they want to be managed, using 5 questions:

  • What do you expect/would you like your line manager to do for you in terms of support and development across the year?
  • How would you like your line manager to manage your performance across the year?
  • What systems does your LTO (language teaching organisation) have in place for managing performance, as far as you’re aware?
  • Do you think the systems you identified are adequate? Any amendments or changes you’d suggest?
  • How would you like your line manager to deal with performance issues should they arise?

This threw up lots of interesting responses, mostly connected to personal awareness. When we talk about change and CPD as managers, we tend to present it as data. But those who changes or development are being ‘done to’ perceive it through their anxieties and fears. We need to create personal connections with staff and follow up regularly, not just check in once or twice a year. The survey showed up various variants on the idea of “regular, brief, human conversations” and “personal, face-to-face” contact, including a key focus on positives. Performance management isn’t just about managing negative performance and dealing with problems, but also about helping good teachers get better.

IH update

Every year we hear about the exciting things happening across the network. This year I was particularly interested in new IH Online Teacher Training Courses, including a new series of modules for Academic Management. If you do 5 of them, you can get the IHWO Diploma in Academic Management.

Blocked by our expertise

Monica Green summarised a Harvard Business Review article called Don’t be blinded by your own expertise.

She reminded us that an interested beginner draws on every possible resource to learn, but that as we become experts in a particular area, we often stop doing this. We can also become poor listeners as we assume we already know things.

To stop being blinded by our expertise, we need to get a sense of wonder back into what we do: ‘I wonder how this works?’ We should also ask ‘What am I not asking you that I should?’ more often to keep in touch with those who are still beginners in our area, or who haven’t reached the same level of expertise that we have. This is just a taster: there are a lot more ideas in the HBR article, which I definitely recommend reading.

ELT footprint

Christopher Graham told us about the environmental impact of ELT, for example the number of students who study English in the UK every year and are therefore flying in and out of the country. Even EU-based students tend to fly, when they could potentially get the train.

He introduced us to the ELT footprint facebook group and website. There are lots of resources available to help you if you want to start reducing the environmental footprint of your school, or teach students about it. These include a charter for a greener school, advice on good practice for events and conferences and lesson plans you can use with students. They are always looking for people to share how they are greening ELT so do get in touch with them if they have ideas.

Listening skills and initial teacher training

Emma Gowing talked about how we can refocus the training of how to teach listening to make sure new teachers are really teaching listening, not just testing it. She suggested the following ideas:

  • Help teachers to write aims that focus on developing rather than practising listening skills.
  • Highlight that comprehension tasks are a diagnostic rather than a teaching tool, to help teachers find out what learners are having trouble with.
  • Avoid right/wrong answers in listening activities. Instead use activities that promote the negotiation of meaning.
  • Get trainee teachers to take notes to identify difficulties.
  • Show how to use the audioscript to isolate difficulties and identify whether the issue was meaning or hearing related (i.e. do they know the meaning of the word(s) but couldn’t identify it in the listening?)
  • Include a ‘listen again’ stage focussed on difficult parts, helping students to recognise why the listening was hard for them.
  • When teaching staging, reduce the importance of preparation stages (lead in/gist) in favour of more in-depth detailed/post-listening activities.
  • Use authentic materials, grading the task not the text, wherever possible.

She has summarised her ideas for teachers in this article for the IH Journal.

Fun at work

Lucie Cotterill’s talk was called The Fun Factor – Let’s Play Leadership. She shared ideas that they’ve used at IH Reggio Calabria to get more fun into the school, and shared the research behind why it’s important to have fun at work. It makes us more productive, improves mental wellbeing, and increases staff satisfaction.

My favourite idea was a Christmas gift they gave their staff. They created a Google form for all staff (including admin staff). Respondents had to share the first positive adjective they thought of for each staff member. One adjective was selected and sewn onto a pencil case with the teacher’s name. All of the other adjectives were put on a piece of paper inside the pencil case. Now the teachers have a reminder of how much they are valued by their colleagues, and they can see it all the time.

Better self evaluation

Manana Khvichia described how they’ve reorganised their CELTA to improve self evaluation and help their trainees to quickly become reflective practitioners. Their CELTA now only has one input session a day and much longer feedback sessions. Self evaluation forms are created personally for each teacher, with the trainer writing a series of questions during the observation. Trainees write their own thoughts first, then look at the trainer’s questions and respond to them. They can do this because they’ve seen models of the trainer’s self-evaluation after the demo lesson on the first day, analysed this together, and had a full session on how to reflect. Feedback sessions often turn into mini inputs based on what the trainees need at that point in the course.

This was the most thought-provoking session of the conference for me, and I’ve asked Manana to write about it for this blog, so watch this space!

What I’ve learnt about teaching training this year

My talk, which is the already a post on this blog.

Drop-in observations

Diana England described what they’ve done at IH Torres Vedras to make drop-in observations more effective for their teachers. She says that having regular drop-in observations makes them a positive thing, not just something that happens when there’s a problem. It also shows students that multiple people are involved in their progress, not just their teacher.

During induction week, the teachers discuss terminology related to drop-ins, and decide on their own definitions, for example of ‘rapport’, ‘classroom management’, etc. They complete a questionnaire to show their beliefs related to these areas. The drop-in observer completes the same questionnaire, with a space at the bottom for extra comments. Post-observation feedback involves comparing the responses to both versions of the questionnaire.

The questionnaire is made up of factual statements, such as ‘I can spot early finishers and ensure they are purposefully engaged’ or ‘I know and use all my students’ names’, with the responses ‘Definitely’, ‘Most of the time’, ‘Some of the time’, ‘Not enough’, ‘I need more guidance with this’. This system has evolved over time, so that now the teachers create their own questionnaires, rather than using one developed by the school.

This is definitely something I’d like to experiment with at our school.

Improving the agency and confidence of novice teachers

Marie Willoughby talked about a workshop she ran to help novice teachers adapt coursebooks to make them more engaging. It was much more teacher-centred than her workshops used to be. She designed it this way to help teachers build their confidence and realise that they are able to solve problems and ask for help, rather than relying on their own knowledge and worrying when they don’t know something. This topic was selected following interviews with the teachers, as they said they often used coursebooks to help them plan but didn’t know how to make them engaging for students.

The workshop looked like this:

  • Brainstorm ‘What is engagement and why is it important?’
  • Examine Jason Anderson’s CAP(E) paradigm, as this is how coursebooks generally work.
  • Discuss what engagement looks like at each stage of a CAP(E) lesson and how you can evaluate this.
  • Teachers created a list of questions based on their own experience up to this point to help them consider engagement at each stage of the lesson. The questions showed up their current needs, and formed the basis of group discussions.
  • Session homework was to take a piece of material, choose two parts and evaluate whether they’re engaging, change if needed, then evaluate it afterwards. Afterwards they had to tell a colleague: I did this, it worked. OR I did this, it didn’t.

Marie said that she felt like she hadn’t taught them anything in the session, but that afterwards she got great feedback. It helped the teachers realise that they had the right to change things, and didn’t have to just use them as they were.

She contrasted classic training with agency-driven training. In class training, the outcome is pre-determined by the trainer/tasks, there is a focus on best practice, elicitation and leading questions, and a power differential in dialogue. In agency-driven training, the outcome emerges during and beyond the session, there are no right answers (open-ended tasks), a collaborative effort to explore choices and evaluate (not talking about procedures), and equality in dialogue.

By making this shift, Marie says that she has realised the power of training lies in the process, not the product, of training sessions. Returning back to Monica’s idea of being blinded by our expertise, we need to question our training routines: when are we empowering when helping and when not? Do we praise confidence, collaboration, evaluation and leave it there? Without having to give trainees the answer or find the next step: sometimes we shut down options when we help, instead of letting teachers find answers themselves. This is not to say that we shouldn’t help trainees, but rather that we should reflect on the help we give.

Sound bites

Chloe Pakeman-Schiavone told us why it’s important for us to work with different accents in the classroom. She talked about how cultural knowledge includes knowing about stereotypical accents and phrases. For example, in the UK we have stereotypical images of what a policeman, farmer, Asian corner shop owner, etc sound like. We know that in real life people don’t always sound like this, but there are a lot of reference points, for example in comedy, which rely on us being aware of these stereotypes.

We should work with a range of accents to help students gain familiarity with different models of speech. The hint that an accent might be present can impede understanding, even if the person speaking if completely clear – we put up mental blocks.

Some resources Chloe recommends are:

Young learner safety

Edward Evans described what they’ve done at IH BKC Moscow to put a policy in place to ensure teachers know what to do to keep young learners safe in the school, and so that the school knows what to do if there is a concern about the safety of young learners.

He reminded us of the importance of considering safety before anything bad happens, rather than only as a reaction. This is especially important in some countries where you might have issues when working with child safety: a lack of good state school policies, an aversion to procedures, training is unavailable, or where child abuse is not a ‘hot topic’. ‘Common sense’ is not a good yardstick for behaviour, as it means different things to different people. Schools need to have clear policies in place.

At Edward’s school, they drew on UK state school procedure to put policy documents in place. These are accompanied by a clear system of which offences lead to a warning, and which lead to instant dismissal. They have reporting procedures in place, along with procedures for how to handle any reports which come in. This is detailed in a two-page document which teachers need to sign when they start working at the school, and every year thereafter to remind them of the policies.

Q & A session

Along with Ian Raby, Giovanni Licata and Jenny Holden, I was part of a panel taking questions from the floor related to various aspects of training and management. I really enjoyed this, but you’d have to ask other people what we said because I (obviously!) wasn’t tweeting what happened 🙂

EdTech

Lindsay Clandfield gave an updated version of his IATEFL 2019 plenary about mythology, methodology and the language of education technology. You can watch the 2019 version of it here, which I’d recommend if you have any interest in how we talk about edtech.

He recommended the hackeducation blog, which looks fascinating.

Coaching and observations

Jonathan Ingham asked whether an incremental coaching model can improve teaching. He works at a college where he observes English teachers, but also teachers of many other subjects, like brickwork, carpentry, and media make-up.

Jonny’s school was inspired by UK state schools who have implemented this model, summarised in this blog post. Rather than 2-3 observations per year, each with a range of action points to work on, teachers are observed every one or two weeks with only a single action point to work on. Feedback is brief and on the same day where possible, with opportunities during the feedback session to practise the changes that the observer suggests. As it is much more focussed, Jonny says that teachers have responded really well: it feels less intrusive, and changes to teaching have been really noticeable. This is something I’d like to try out at our school next year.

Jonny’s slides are available on his blog.

Visual literacy

Kieran Donaghy showed us various frameworks we can use to help students develop their visual literacy. Viewing is becoming the ‘fifth skill’ and has been added to curricula in Canada, Australia and Singapore as viewing and images have taken over from reading and the written word as the principal way we communicate.

He suggested the following resources:

  • Into Film’s 3 C’s (colour, camera, character) and 3 S’s (story, setting, sound) as a way of approaching videos – the link contains lots of examples of how to use them, and questions you can ask
  • The Center for Media Literacy’s educator resources, particularly 5 key questions and 5 core concepts
  • Visual Thinking Routines such as ‘see-think-wonder’ (I’ve used this routine a lot with my teens and they really like it)
  • Ben Goldstein on visual literacy in ELT

He also reminded us that we need to use these methods repeatedly with students – it takes 10-12 times before students can use them independently.

Emergent language

Danny Norrington-Davies described research he did with Nick Andon into how experienced teachers work with emergent language in the classroom.

They found 10 types of teacher intervention in the lessons they transcribed.

  • Explicit reformulation (live or delayed)
  • Recast
  • Teacher clarification/confirmation requests
  • Metalinguistic feedback
  • Elicitations
  • Extensions
  • Interactional recast
  • Recalls
  • Sharing
  • Learner initiated

The definitions of these are available on a handout on Danny’s website.

He also shared work from Richard Chinn into how we can help teachers learn to work with emergent language more quickly. Working with emergent language is a skilled practice, so how can we help teachers arrive at this more quickly?

Burnout

Rachael Roberts finished off the conference by help us to recognise the warning signs of burnout. She gave us the following tips to help our teachers:

  • Cut down on paperwork. Is this actually helpful/useful? For example, do the agenda at the start of meetings to keep focus. Examine marking policies and whether students benefit from them.
  • Help your staff keep boundaries. Don’t expect teachers to reply outside school hours. Expect them to take real breaks. Be clear about your own boundaries as a manager. Only check emails when you know you can actually respond to them – otherwise you’re raising your stress hormones for no good reason!
  • Examine unconscious beliefs you hold about teaching. For example: ‘A good teacher is like a candle – it consumes itself to light the way for others.’ Is sacrifice really the model we want to hold about teaching?
  • Learn to say no to people and projects, and allow our teachers to say no. This includes to things that might be enjoyable, not just things that are difficult!
  • Notice your feelings and attitudes towards situations. If you have a choice, choose to be positive.
  • Where possible, empower teachers to make decisions for themselves.
  • Don’t jump to conclusions about why people might be being difficult. Avoid a culture of perfectionism, and show your own vulnerability.
  • Explain the rationale behind what you are doing. Involve and consult staff when making decisions. Be patient with their responses/reactions.

I would highly recommend reading her Life Resourceful blog and joining her facebook group which is a very active community designed to help teachers maintain their mental health.

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I’m already looking forward to next year’s event!

Observer guidelines: giving feedback

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

The aims of post-observation feedback are to:

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

Effective observation feedback is

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

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

Helping teachers to reflect

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

Reflection doesn’t work

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

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

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

What would you add to my list?

Reflection on short courses

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

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

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

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

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

Amy Blanchard guest posts on my blog again… 🙂

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

What

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

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

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

How

Gestures

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

Stop and Intervene

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

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

Why

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Potential problems (and solutions)

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

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

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

Things to consider

Manage expectations: (of trainees and students)

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

Personality types: Be sensitive / Ask

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

Balance

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

Discuss interventions in group feedback

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

Written feedback reflects action points

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

Withdraw support as the course progresses

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

Questions to discuss

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

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

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

Amy Blanchard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A mixed group of Karin's trainees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the author

Karin Krummenacher

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

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

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

CELTA banner

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

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

A definition

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

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

Examples of tasks

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

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

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

Considerations

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

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

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

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

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

My two cents

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

Things I learnt in Torun today

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

Torun

Here are some of the things I learnt:

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

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

Two years as a CELTA tutor

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

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

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

View from the Duomo terraces

View from the Duomo terraces, Milan

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

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

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

Thoughts on giving feedback to teachers

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

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

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

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

Other feedback activities I’ve used successfully are:

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

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

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

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

Torre Velasca, home of IH Milan

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

IATEFL Birmingham 2016: Teacher training and CPD

As a CELTA trainer and Director of Studies, I’m particularly interested in sessions connected to training new teachers. Here is a summary of some of the talks connected to teacher training, CELTA and continuous professional development from this year’s IATEFL Birmingham conference.

Images for teaching: a tool for reflective teacher learning (Matilda Wong)

Matilda teaches on an undergraduate pre-service course for secondary school teachers at the University of Macao. Students do a four-year B.Ed. programme. In their fourth year, they do two one-month practicums in a local secondary school, the same school each time. Matilda works with 8-10 students from each cohort, and tries to teach them how to better at reflecting on their teaching.

When she first started doing this, Matilda used written journals for reflection, but she felt they weren’t doing what they were supposed to. Instead, they were putting added pressure onto her trainees, and some of them were just completing it because they had to instead of really thinking about their teaching. It can lead to burnout.

While Matilda was doing her PhD, she was given paper and coloured pencils, and had to draw a picture of her ideal classroom. The teacher she drew had no mouth, and it wasn’t until analysing the picture afterwards that she realised the teacher had no mouth. The underlying thought here was that she had no voice, and she hoped that one day she would be able to draw a mouth onto her face. That was in 1999, and she still had tears in her eyes talking to us about it last week. It was a very powerful experience for her.

This led her to experiment with drawing pictures rather than writing, as it can be less tiring, and can be combined with written reflection later. It can also highlight beliefs which are difficult to articulate. Matilda asked nine students to work with her on this experiment, none of whom knew anything about reflection before working on her module.

Who am I as a teacher?

What do I want to achieve?

What does it mean to my job?

Before their first practicum, Matilda asked her trainees to write a language learning biography, describe their worries before going into the classroom, and draw a picture of their ideal classroom, then answer some simple questions.

  1. What level are you teaching?
  2. How many students are in your class?
  3. What is the lesson about?
  4. Write as much detail as you can to describe what you are doing (e.g. What re you saying? What materials are you using? With whom are you talking? What are you thinking?)

After they finished the second practicum, she asked them to evaluate their original image of an ideal class and compare it to their experience. They reflected on what was the same and what was inconsistent, and also on what they felt they had learnt from this type of reflection.

Matilda showed us lots of examples, but only one was drawn in colour. What do you notice about this student teacher’s image, bearing in mind that they come from Macao, a Cantonese-Portuguese city?

We spotted that it was odd that the teacher was blonde, since in real life, she was Cantonese. Matilda hadn’t noticed until we pointed it out in the session. It was another way of reinforcing the lack of confidence that some bilinguals have in their teaching ability. This is just one of the subconscious beliefs that was expressed through drawing, but probably wouldn’t have been through writing. Three of the teachers had smiley faces in their images, showing that they think it’s important for a teacher to be friendly. One forgot to put a teacher in the image at all, and didn’t realise until it was pointed out! For me, it was also interesting to see that most teachers were at the front of the room, and only one was in among the students.

These are Matilda’s conclusions after the study, and she would like to experiment more with it. I think it would be interesting to get them to draw another picture between and after their practicums and get them to analyse all three of them. I also think it would be interesting for them to analyse each other’s images, or those of previous participants to draw conclusions about stereotypes about teaching (like that the teacher should be front and central).

This session was one of the surprises of the conference for me, and it was a real shame there were only 10 people in the audience. I’ve asked Matilda to write a guest post on it for me, and hopefully she’ll say yes!

Training or grading? TP and the art of written feedback (Bill Harris)

I met Bill at last year’s conference and enjoyed chatting to him about his experience of working on CELTA courses around the world. I also responded to one of the surveys which formed the basis of this talk, so I was looking forward to seeing the results. 109 trainers and 90 course graduates responded to his surveys.

Because Bill has worked in so many centres, he has worked with a wide range of formats for written feedback. He often adds ‘cold’ feedback to post-lesson reflection, so trainees write ‘hot’ feedback immediately after the lesson, get their spoken feedback, then write another reflection summarising the two.

Why do written feedback?

  • Detailed written feedback helps the trainer process their feedback (often more for the trainer than for the trainee!)

In his survey, Bill was mainly contrasting handwritten and typed feedback.

Tutors said that 45% of them handwrote, 43% typed, and the rest said it depends on the situation. 28% of trainees said they got typed feedback, 40% said it depended on the tutor, and the rest was handwritten. [I normally type on CELTA because I have my laptop with me, but handwrite in school observations because I don’t!]

Bill separated the advantages and disadvantages into those for tutors and those for trainees but I can’t remember which were which so have combined them!

Advantages of handwriting

  • Used to doing it (for some!)
  • More personal/authentic
  • Seems more detailed
  • Penmanship can seem important
  • Seems to show more care and effort from the tutor
  • Able to add cartoons/diagrams etc
  • Break from looking at a screen
  • Can easily use different colours
  • Can use lots of different signposts easily to help trainees process the feedback: ticks, smileys, ?, TIP:

Disadvantages of handwriting

  • Can be harder to read!

Advantages of typing 

  • Neater
  • Looks more professional
  • Easier to read
  • Can watch the lesson more (if you’re quick!)
  • Faster (if you touch type)
  • Easier to edit
  • Can copy and paste previous actions points easily
  • Easier to share with other tutors
  • Can email to trainees
  • You have a backup if it gets lost
  • Most trainees said they’d prefer typed feedback (mostly due to legibility!)

Disadvantages of typing 

  • Can be noisy/distracting [I was once told that when I got excited I typed more quickly/loudly and they wondered what they’d done!]
  • Can take time/be difficult to print out
  • May seem formulaic/impersonal
  • Tutors may write too much
  • Can get distracted by other things on the computer [though in the face of a 40-minute grammar lecture, this may not always be a bad thing ;)]

What should be in written feedback?

Trainees said that they appreciated practical suggestions for how to improve, with clear action points. They also wanted recognition of what they were good at, and a positive spin on things when possible. One non-native speaker wanted more feedback on language [and some natives do too, especially if they are not confident with grammar].

Written v. oral feedback

Trainers said that written feedback could be digested more slowly away from the pressures of the group, and focussed much more on the individual. This was contrasted with oral feedback, which was for the group as a whole. Written feedback acted as a useful prompt when giving oral feedback.

Trainees said that both written and oral feedback was useful. Written feedback was more permanent, and they could refer back to it with time and less stress. They appreciated the interactive discussion aspect of oral feedback, but found it hard to remember all of the details. One problem was that sometimes there were differences between what was said in oral feedback and what was written. Some felt that their peers were over-positive or too harsh in oral feedback, and were not qualified to give feedback. One audience member suggested recording oral feedback too, partly for accountability and transparency.

Conversion

Up until recently, Bill had always written his feedback by hand, but he is a recent convert to typing. Then he worked at a centre where he took over part-way through a course and had to shadow the other trainer’s feedback style. Luckily they had a colour printer, and this was the result:

I think you’ll agree, it looks pretty good!

Tutor-trainee team-teaching: a hands-on tool for teacher training (Emma Meade-Flynn)

Emma reported on some research she has been doing into how to make use of unassessed slots during CELTA, Delta and other short courses. In a survey of tutors, she found that 60% sometimes used it for a demo lesson, 70% used it for practice with no tutor present, some for getting to know you activities with students, and some for practice with a tutor present. About 35% of her respondents were already doing some form of team-teaching in these slots.

Team-teaching: planning, delivering and reflecting on a lesson together.

Emma found that her students were very receptive to team teaching, and when asked, they always requested it. In demo lessons, they couldn’t see the students’ faces and often felt left out. Because they weren’t part of the planning process, they didn’t always understand what was happening.

Emma decided to incorporate the trainees into the unassessed lessons by giving them roles, such as collecting and correcting errors, setting up activities and monitoring. They were also used as the source material, for example in live listening activities, meaning the students go to know them better. Trainees decided what they wanted to focus on, and it was almost always collecting and correcting errors, so she does a lot more of that now. She negotiates with them about where they want her help: with planning? With choosing materials? With presenting?

Benefits

  • Trainees were much better able to reflect on the learners’ abilities if they had been involved in the lesson in some way.
  • It taught trainees how to adapt lessons to finish them on time, partly through doing some improvisation in lessons: they would only plan the first half, and base the second on what came up.
  • They could deal with more difficult language areas which would be challenging for the trainees to work on without support.
  • Trainees saw lots of techniques in action, which they were then able to incorporate in their own lessons.
  • They were much more aware of student language, and used the pro-formas Emma corrected to help them focus on particular areas.
  • This lead them to teaching and helping each other more within the group, without always relying on the tutor.
  • Emma could explain the rationale of activities more clearly before the lesson, and evaluate them more easily afterwards.
  • It can be tailored to the trainees’ emergent developmental needs.
  • You can help trainees to notice things on-line during the lesson.
  • Learners can offer feedback, and they generally don’t worry about having lots of different teachers when they can see they are working together.

A word of caution

Emma said it’s important to decide the boundaries of the team-teaching with trainees before you start. Will you intervene? How will you handle transitions? Be aware that it won’t suit some trainees. Careless (2006) says there must be pedagogical reasons to team teach, it must be logistically possible and it must be interpersonal, with everyone cooperating equally. Make sure you identify a clear developmental objective, and don’t just do it for the sake of it.

You can find Emma’s slides here, including videos of two Delta trainees talking about their experiences of being part of team-teaching. Her blog is Teacher Development Lab.

The LDT Toolkit (Damian Williams)

Damian spoke about ways to develop the language proficiency of teachers. I’ve written about this session in detail elsewhere.

Three more talks I attended

I’m feeling lazy now, so for the other three talks I went to, I’m going to give you a link to the storified version of my tweets. Sorry!

Developing language teachers’ professional reading and writing skills (Tatiana Ershova)

From CELTA to teaching teenagers – bridging the training gap (Mel Judge)

Bumpy ride or smooth transition? Moving from CELTA to EAP (Andrew Preshous)

Other sessions

I watched these two sessions after the conference, and thought you might find them interesting too.

ELTJ Signature Event: This house believes that teacher training is a waste of time

Graham Hall proposes the motion and Penny Ur opposes it.

Forum on encouraging teacher reflection

Three speakers spoke about teacher reflection on pre-service and in-service training courses:

  • Daniel Baines on why feedback on 120-hour initial training courses may need rethinking, and how to integrate reflection training in the first week of the course. Hopefully Daniel will be writing a guest post on the blog about this: watch this space!
  • Mike Chick on dialogic interaction and the mediation of pre-service teaching learning.
  • Teti Dragas (one of my CELTA tutors 🙂 ) on how in-house video training materials may help ‘reflective’ teacher development and help trainees to learn how to reflect more effectively, and on how to encourage them to watch more of the videos of their collaborative lessons with more focus.

I didn’t manage to attend Jo Gakonga’s session on alternative CELTA assignments, but she made a webinar version of it after the conference.

Interviews related to teacher training

Jim Scrivener interviewed about simplifying training

Should reflection be assessed? That’s the one key question which comes out of this interview, but I have to say a lot of the rest of the interview feels a bit wishy-washy to me. I agree that experiential learning is better than focussing on theory, and I think that what Jim is suggesting might work on a day-to-day basis for your own classroom through action research, but I’m not sure how it will work on a pre-service or further development course (like CELTA or Delta). Here are a couple of Twitter quotes from his talk:

Interview with Tessa Woodward about the 30-year history of the Teacher Trainer Journal, talking about how it has developed and grown over this period.

Tweets from other teacher training/CPD-related talks

These were talks I attended vicariously through other tweeters. I found these snippets of information interesting. Maybe you will too 🙂

Unfortunately nobody seemed to be tweeting from Pam Kaur Gibbon’s talk on the impact of technology on CELTA courses. I spoke to her as part of the her research and would have been interested to see the results, as I’ve written about it previously.

 

 

 

 

Catering for trainee diversity in CELTA courses (Olga Connolly)

This was a talk I particularly wanted to go to, but unfortunately it clashed with another one. Here are Angelos Bollos’ tweets from the talk:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yay! As I finished writing this post, the session was added to the videos on IATEFL online, but I haven’t had time to watch it yet:

After the conference

A couple of days after the conference, Hugh Dellar wrote a post called CELTA, the native-speaker bias and possible paths forward questioning the future of the CELTA. It generated a lot of discussion in the comments and Anthony Gaughan responded on his blog: A critique of Hugh Dellar on CELTA. You might like to join in with the discussion on one of their blogs. It certainly makes for thought-provoking reading 🙂

Reflections on a year of CELTA training

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

What the CELTA does

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What the CELTA doesn’t do

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

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

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

What being a CELTA trainer has taught me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10 tips to help you become a teacher trainer

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

ETpedia cover

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

Rhythm of a CELTA

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

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

Before the course

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

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

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

Week one

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

Week two

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

Week three

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

Week four

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

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

Is there anything I’ve forgotten?

Postscript

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

Two books about professional development

When I was at IATEFL I decided to use some of my birthday money to buy a couple of books in the sales on the final day. Because of my current role as a CELTA tutor and my move into management as a Director of Studies, I’ve been thinking a lot about professional development recently. I thought it would be a good investment to read some of the literature about it and get a few more ideas about how to help the teachers I work with to continue their development. Here are brief reviews of the two books I bought. Clicking on their titles will take you to Amazon, and I’ll get a few pennies if you decide to buy them via these links.

The Developing Teacher – Duncan Foord

The Developing Teacher cover

Books in the Delta Teacher Development Series (DTDS) are always easy to read and full of great ideas, and this one was no exception. I saw Duncan speak at IATEFL 2012 and as well as being a good communicator, I got the impression he must be a very good person to work for because he seemed to really care about the people he managed. That care comes across in this book.

Each DTDS book is divided into:

  • Section A: a look at the current theory underlying the area being discussed;
  • Section B: practical ideas to try out;
  • Section C: further areas to explore.

In this case, section B was further divided into five areas of investigation or ‘circles’, moving out from the teacher and gradually involving more and more participants:

  • You
  • You and your students
  • You and your colleagues
  • You and your school
  • You and your profession

(I don’t have my copy in front of me, so I hope I’ve remembered those correctly!) Each circle starts with a checklist of possible tasks, where the reader is encouraged to identify what they have already done and what they would like to try. This is then followed by a variety of different activities, broken down into the aim, the reason for doing them, and the steps needed to achieve them.

Section C focused on longer term projects, such as how to set up action research. The projects could draw on some of the activities from section B, or be completely independent of them.

Overall, I felt the book would be particularly good for less experienced teachers or for those looking for inspiration to put together a professional development programme, and less so for more experienced teachers. Through the schools I’d worked at and the online development I’ve done, I’d tried most of the ideas already. There are still some I’d like to experiment with, though I can’t recall any specific ones now a few days after I finished it. It will be a useful book to refer back to when I want to try something a bit more unusual for my development.

Professional Development for Language Teachers: Strategies for Teacher Learning – Jack C. Richards and Thomas S. C. Farrell

Professional development for language teachers cover

This is the first book I’ve read from the Cambridge Language Education series, which Jack C. Richards is also the series editor for. It was easier to read than I expected – even though this has been the case with most of the methodology books I’ve read, I’m still pleasantly surprised when they are written in such an accessible way.

It is divided into 12 chapters (again, no copy here so do correct me if I’m wrong!), plus a brief introduction explaining how to use the book. Each chapter focuses on one particular approach to professional development, including:

  • Observations
  • Teacher journals
  • Critical incidents
  • Case studies
  • Action research

In each case, a definition is given and the benefits and potential drawbacks of engaging in this kind of development are examined. This is followed by a step-by-step guide to how to approach it. Throughout every chapter there are vignettes to show real-world examples of how they were used by teachers around the world.

I had only heard about the concept of peer coaching from Ela Wassell in the last year, but this book had a different definition of it, seeming to express it as something closer to a form of delegation of training. Critical incidents was a term I’d heard, but didn’t really understand before reading this, and case studies were completely new to me. The information about action research and teacher journals complements Foord’s book, and taking the two together would be a good starting point for anyone wanting to try either of these for their development.

One frustrating thing for me was the lack of a contents page or index, so you have to flick through the book if you want to find a particular section again. The depth of the book was useful to me as an experienced teacher, as was the way that the chapters and ideas fed into each other. For example, critical incidents were suggested as possible fuel for a teacher journal. However, I feel this depth and difficulty of navigation might be off-putting to newer teachers, and they may feel overwhelmed. For them, the suggestions in the book may need to be mediated or introduced chapter by chapter rather than being read in one go as I did.

Having said that, it has given me a lot of ideas for possible professional development sessions over the next couple of years – I just hope I can remember some of them!

CELTA Week Four

Day One

Today was a difficult day.

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

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

Day Two

When you imagine a teacher, what do you see?

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

Teacher position

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

I call this ‘teacher position’.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day Three

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

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

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

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

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

Day Four

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

Day Five

The course finished well after yesterday’s blip 🙂

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

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

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

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

The end, for now

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

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

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

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

CELTA Week Three

Day One

What happens when a CELTA tutor is away?

There’s not much leeway, because you almost always have exactly the number of tutors you need, no more, no less. There’s no time to be sick, and any other absence is a very bad idea, particularly on days when you’re observing teaching practice (TP), when it’s vital to have one tutor per group of trainees.

We were lucky that we have a little bit of slack on the courses in Chiang Mai because of the number of trainers. Today we had demo lessons with no TP because of the level change half-way through the course, so if you have to be down a tutor, it was the best day for it. One was off sick, and another had to go to Bangkok to renew their visa.

Luckily, the one who was ill doesn’t do input, only TP, and we’d already arranged cover for the input sessions for the one in Bangkok. We shared guided lesson planning between the rest of us, and because there were no classes on Friday, we didn’t have feedback, which meant there was time to do this. The major change was having just two demo lessons in the evening, with larger than normal classes: 16 students and 10 trainees in the elementary one, and 11 students and 15 trainees in intermediate with me. We’re very lucky that we have rooms big enough to hold that many people! The lessons were useful for both the trainees and the students, and it was good to demonstrate techniques that can be applied to larger classes.

In the end we coped today, but hopefully we’ll be back to full strength tomorrow! Another reason to look after yourself

Day Two

On CELTA courses, I find the most often skipped part of language-related TPs is phonology/pronunciation. Trainees check the meaning of the language, spend ages checking the form (especially if they’ve been let loose on a whiteboard), then skip merrily along to controlled practice, without teaching students how to actually say this beautiful new piece of language they’ve taught them.

Trainees get more guidance in early TPs, and this reduces as they progress through the four weeks. At the start I can remind them repeatedly that they need to cover meaning AND form AND pronunciation, but there comes a time when they have to remember it for themselves. For two of my trainees today, that’ll be after tomorrow’s feedback.

Why do they skip it?

Often, it’s not mentioned in the plan at all, and if it’s not there, then it won’t be in the lesson unless they have a last-minute brainwave and remember it. I therefore encourage trainees to have three separate rows in their plan: one each for ‘focus on meaning’, ‘focus on form’ and ‘focus on pronunciation’, to make sure they remember to cover all three areas.

Sometimes it’s in the plan, but they blank and forget to do it in the lesson.

Still other times, it’s there, but they’ve spent hours on the warmer, the focus on form or something else earlier in the lesson, they notice they’re running out of time, and as pronunciation is clearly the least important part of introducing new language (!), they decide to drop it. Since to hit the Cambridge criteria it’s important for the students to get at least a bit of practice with the new language, this can be a sensible decision mid-TP, but I’d rather they tried to get to the point faster and gave pronunciation it’s due: what’s the point of knowing what a structure looks like if you can’t say it yourself?

No solutions here, just a general complaint…

And while we’re here, I’ll reiterate a point I made in my week two post: why, oh why, aren’t the way that meaning, form and phonology are covered in the lesson three separate criteria rather than being lumped together as one? Assessing the trainees on it as a single area frustrates me, but opinion is divided as to whether you can/should separate them out.

Does anybody know when the criteria were last updated? And when are Cambridge likely to update them again?!

Day Three

Easing off in guided lesson planning isn’t easy – the temptation is always there to help too much. Trainees need the opportunity to make their own mistakes, but they also need the chance to shine without you too.

I find TP6 to be the hardest one to do guided lesson planning for, assuming a total of 8 TPs. In the first four, trainees need support to help them focus when planning, not get carried away with materials or too stressed about introducing new language, including logical stages and not dominating the classroom too much, thereby leaving little room for students to experiment with the language themselves.

In TP5, they’ve normally just moved to a new level, so guidance is about how this will affect their teaching, and how to work with the higher/lower students.

In TP7 and TP8, trainees should be showing us how independent they can be, since they’ll be going out into the real world soon, where they’ll have to work alone. They can still ask us key questions and we’re there in emergencies, but generally they should be seeking the support of their peers rather than us.

But what do you do in TP6? Mostly I just have to try and restrain myself, making sure I’m only asking questions, and encouraging the trainees to think for themselves. Definitely an area I still need to work on…

Day Four

a.k.a. Assessor Day

The assessor’s visit looms around the end of week 3/beginning of week 4 on any CELTA course, and is dreaded by the trainees because they’re petrified about having another person watching their TPs. I have to say that since you already have up to 6 people watching, I’m not sure what difference a 7th one makes, but there you go.

Far from being there to judge the trainees, the assessor’s role is actually to standardise the course and make sure that the CELTA ticks all the correct boxes and everything is running as it should. They check some of the portfolios, particularly (but not exclusively) for borderline candidates where another opinion would be welcomed. They also observe some of the TPs that day and can observe/participate in feedback if it’s on the same day.

Before their visit they get lots of documents to look over, including an overview of the performance, strengths and weaknesses of each trainee. These are the basis for a grading meeting, where the assessor and tutors discuss what candidates need to do to pass/fulfil their potential/avoid failing. Earlier in the day, the assessor meets with the trainees to collect anonymous feedback about how the course is working, and they pass this on to the tutors after the grading meeting. Finally, they make recommendations about what the centre needs to do to maintain standards.

If there’s a tutor in training on the course and the centre is not a training centre, the assessor may stay for an extra day to observe the TinT doing an input session, taking notes in TP and giving feedback, as well as checking their portfolio and offering advice.

All in all, assessment day is long for the tutors, but it’s an important way of making sure that all is as it should be.

Day Five

The joys of CELTA are many.

Watching people who’ve never taught before learn the buzz of being a teacher, knowing that their students have learnt something from them.

Knowing that the more experienced teachers appreciate the opportunity to develop and reflect that the course offers.

Seeing the lightbulb moment when a trainee finally cottons on to something that they haven’t really understood the point of before.

Watching the trainees’ development over the course.

When you see something used successfully in a lesson that you suggested in feedback to another trainee less than two hours before.

Terminology slips in assignments and lesson plans producing new and interesting terms that will never again feature in any ELT literature.

When a new input session you’ve never done before works.

Lesson approaches input session

Finally figuring out how to do something you’ve never been quite sure how to do in your own teaching because one of the trainees has just asked you how to do it, and you’ve got to answer them.

Teaching people to reflect.

Having a TP group who work together like clockwork, so you don’t really need to be in the room because the support network and bond they’ve built up between them does your work for you.

Working with inspiring people and learning their stories.

Sharing my love of teaching.

Playing: with the room, the space, feedback sessions, interaction patterns, normal sized classes (not just 2 or 3 students!), teaching style, new activities, ideas, thoughts…

Lesson approaches input session
Hearing that somebody you’ve trained has got a job and is excited about starting their new life.

Knowing that you’ll be working with a great trainee, and have the chance to help them build on the initial course.

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

CELTA Week Two

Day One

I could have sworn I’d done an input session on functions before, but I can’t find it anywhere on my computer, so it must have been a figment of my imagination. The system I’ve developed for creating a new input session is:

  1. If I can’t make an educated guess, check what areas need to be covered in the session, especially if I know it can have different interpretations, e.g. ‘Phonology 1’ could be sounds and the phonemic chart, or a general introduction to phonology.
  2. Find all the documents I think might be relevant/interesting and put them all in a dedicated folder on my computer/lay them out on my desk. For example, for this session I found the centre’s folder for the functional language session, went through all the activities and laid out the ones I thought I could use on my desk. I also looked at the handful of related documents I have on my computer, all of which I’ve inherited from various other tutors.
  3. On a piece of scrap paper, come up with a rough running order for the session, including timing. Today that consisted of writing a list of the documents, crossing out duplicates, linking ones that could be combined, numbering them in order, and adding times.
  4. Type out a running order, underlining the materials I need as I go along. Number the file ‘0’ so it always appears at the top of the folder and is easy to find.
  5. Create/adapt/type up/resave any documents I need for the session, numbering them in the order they’re needed.
  6. Print.
  7. Do session.
  8. Scribble notes all over the printed running order.
  9. Try to remember to do something with said notes, if I can find time.

I’ve got much better at timing my inputs now too, working on the basis that if I think it’ll take 5 minutes, it’ll probably take 10; if 10 minutes, 15; and so on. By adding 5 minutes to everything, I seem to get it roughly right, although I still need to drop an activity every now and again, or just give things as reading rather than dealing with them in the session.

The whole process took about 3 hours, plus printing off yesterday’s feedback and eating, which took me up to 2 minutes before the session was due to start. It’s true that tasks expand to fill the time allotted to them!

I was watching a different TP group and a different set of students (still elementary) tonight, and there were some timing issues. Two of the three trainees went 7/8 minutes over their 45 minute slot, making the whole lesson 15 minutes longer than it should have been. That prompted me to finally get round to blogging about timing, something I’ve been meaning to do for ages. Thanks guys, but please don’t do it again!

Day Two

Two days into week two, and illness has struck. Three trainees had to go home today for various reasons and lots of others looked pretty tired all day.

In general, the trainees haven’t had enough sleep, and they’re feeling stressed out and under pressure, no matter how much we try to reassure them and calm them down. This is not unusual for a CELTA course, due to its intensive nature. I’ve reminded a few of them individually about looking after themselves, but today decided to give the whole group a bit of a pep talk. It went something like this:

I know that some of you are tired and feeling a bit sick, and that the stress and pressure of the course don’t help, but you need to look after yourselves. The CELTA might seem very important right now, but your health is more important. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep, and that you take at least a few hours for yourself at the weekend, preferably half or even a full day. It might seem like you’re wasting time, but it’s a false economy to work all the time because you’ll regret it later. You’ll exhaust yourself and/or make yourself ill, and nobody is at their best when that happens. I’d rather see an adequately-planned lesson and you’re still alive, than a perfectly-planned lesson but you’re half dead.

I didn’t do CELTA full-time; I did it part-time, but when I did Delta, also part-time, I was working for about 20 hours every weekend on top of my full-time job. I started in September and took the whole of December off sick from work, then triggered a condition I’ll have the rest of my life, which is the reason you see me eating all the time. I don’t want any of you to make yourselves ill, because it’s not worth it.

Remember that work expands to fill the time you have available. If you say you’re going to go to bed at 11pm, stick to it, because you’ll be much more productive for it, rather than saying that you’ll work until you’re done. That way you’ll end up being up until three in the morning. The same is true at the weekend. Give yourself a specific amount of time to do each thing, and be strict. You’ll get a lot more done that way, rather than just starting blankly at a computer screen waiting for inspiration to strike.

Take breaks while you’re working too. Stand up, stretch, give your eyes a bit of a rest. You can download apps to help you. If you have a Mac, TimeOut blocks out your screen every 30 minutes, and I’m sure there are similar things for Windows.

Sometimes the mum just comes out in me. 😉

It was nice that one of the trainees noticed that my input was much smoother today – she asked me whether I’d done it before. It’s the fourth outing for that one, and you can really tell!

Day Three

‘Not to standard’ lessons are never easy to give. On my part, at least, there is a lot of soul-searching and questioning, but ultimately you have to follow the criteria. So far I’ve never given this grade without discussing the lesson and checking carefully with other tutors on my course to make sure I’ve made the right decision and have justified it clearly and accurately. Every lesson is graded against a set of criteria from Cambridge, and I have to use it objectively, no matter how difficult that may  be at times. I know how much work goes into every lesson, and I know how much of a disappointment it is when it doesn’t turn out the way you planned. (Two of my four Delta lessons were below standard due to weak planning, and I put a lot of hours into each!)

Giving feedback on these lessons is also not easy, but thanks to my co-tutor in Vancouver, I’ve found one way to do it which seems to work. Divide the board into as many columns as there were trainees teaching that day (2? 3?). Then create the following rows: name, main aim, (secondary aim – optional), stages. Give the group time to complete the table. The teacher whose column it is can’t contribute to that one, but can to any of the others, e.g. if A was teaching, they can’t write in column A, but can (and should!) in B and C. (By the way, this isn’t the only time I use this method of feedback, but it’s particularly effective for these lessons.)

Using this method today made it very clear that the ‘not to standard’ lesson was that way because teacher A wasn’t clear about the aims of their lesson and lacked the necessary level of detail in their planning to successfully introduce the grammar point they were trying to teach, partly since they didn’t really understand the grammar themselves. It also affected the pace of the lesson as there were long pauses while the teacher tried to work out what should happen next. Their peers didn’t identify language as one of the aims at all, and struggled to come up with the stages of the lesson. It also boosted the confidence of teacher B, as they believed that their lesson was ‘a disaster’, but their peers could reconstruct it very easily, were clear about the aims and could see how the students had benefitted from it.

Teacher A took this feedback very well, and asked lots of questions about how to improve, especially since this was their second ‘not to standard’ on the course, out of three lessons so far. Today their first tutor and I have given them a series of steps to take to help them use their time and plan more effectively, since they tend to spend a very long time on creating excellent materials, at the expense of really knowing how to use them in class. The audio recording produced for this lesson was a case in point – it was written by the trainee, recorded by them and a friend, and even had a phone ringing at the beginning to make it sound more authentic!

The way teacher A took their feedback is in stark contrast to a trainee I had on a previous course, possibly due to the way I gave feedback. I think this was before I learnt about the stages/aims method, although I’m not 100% sure – my memory is a bit hazy on this. I tried to introduce it as gently as possible, since the trainee had been struggling with the course in general as it was very different to the ‘chalk and talk’ style they were experienced in delivering in their home country. On being told that it was ‘below standard’ for that stage of the course, the trainee asked if the grade could be changed. I said it couldn’t, and started to explain why with reference to the Cambridge criteria (although I thought the points had already been made clear during the preceding few minutes of feedback). The trainee stormed out of the room and slammed the door at this point. This was a shock to me and the rest of their TP group, and I wasn’t really sure how to react. In the end, I did the only thing I could, which was to apologise and move on to the final trainee’s feedback.

It’s a little ironic that the same trainee has chosen today to post two comments on my blog, which I don’t plan to approve due to the lack of context, but will share here for the sake of completeness and to avoid being accused of censorship. I hope doing it this way will also protect the identity of the trainee in question:

Sandy is extremely rude to her students. She enjoys student’s failure. She hates to see students performing well. How could such a vicious one be a teacher?
She tortured me spiritually in 28 days.

And about 5 hours later on a different post:

Sandy Millin wants her students to worship her. If you don’t, then she steps on you. She is too proud of her being born in the UK. She feels superior than any student. It’s her personality that she treats her students with the attitude of being unfair. If you lick her ass, she will give you an A, otherwise, a C.
These blogs help others to teach, it’s useful. But can Sandy learn a lesson that teaching is to promote students, not to kill us. I got a very subjective judgement from her. Why does she work so hard? She wants to be worshiped only for she can speak some English, which everyone can.

You can’t render your rude judgement on me. I will appeal and appeal till I get the justice.

I’m very sorry that this is how I came across to this student. My aim during the course, and I think that of any self-respecting tutor, is to build on the trainees’ strengths and to support them to become the best teachers they can be within the confines of a four-week course, and hopefully instil in them the desire to keep reflecting and developing once they’ve finished the course. In case you were wondering, this trainee did pass the course, although it was a weak pass, as they continued to struggle through the course. If they’d failed, I might understand the feeling behind these comments a little more.

Does anybody have any other suggestions on how to give feedback on ‘not to standard’ lessons, so that I can try to avoid a repeat of the situation with the latter trainee?

Day Four

There are four assignments on any CELTA course. Although each centre has slightly different variations on them, they are all designed to cover the following areas:

  • Focus on the learner: finding out about either one learner from your TP group in depth, or a little about all of the learners in the class, or both (depends on the centre), and providing materials to deal with two (normally) of their specified language problems, specifically related to grammar, vocabulary or pronunciation;
  • Language awareness: analysis of items of grammar, vocabulary and functions to prove that you can use reference materials to find out information about language, and break it down sufficiently to be able to deal with it in class;
  • Skills task: creating tasks based on a piece of authentic material, normally two receptive tasks and one productive;
  • Lessons from the classroom: reflection on your strengths and weaknesses as a teacher based on observations of you and other teachers during the course, and an action plan for how to continue your development.

Candidates are allowed to resubmit each assignment once if it doesn’t meet the criteria the first time, and they receive clear feedback on what they need to work on.

Today we were looking at the language awareness assignment, which tends to be the one with the highest rates of resubmission because so many people find it hard to break language down sufficiently to be able to teach it. In my experience, those who have learnt English as a second language are normally OK with this area, but may still have trouble with detailing how to check the language, whether it be with CCQs or otherwise.

Language awareness is a particular problem for native speakers, and is one of the reasons why I don’t think CELTA should necessarily be seen as the benchmark for employment that it can be in some countries/schools, since it needs to be backed up with a knowledge of how the language works. That’s not to say that people with CELTA shouldn’t get a job, just that if you’re teacher (often a non-native) with a good command of the language and no CELTA, you shouldn’t automatically lose out just because somebody else has a CELTA.

The areas trainees really ought to find out about before the course are:

  • the difference between parts of speech (noun, verb, preposition etc);
  • the names and forms of the basic pedagogical tenses in English;
  • the main functions of each of these tenses.

Of course, that’s only a tiny slice of the English language, but it’s a good grounding to start off with. It’ll be a bit of a confidence booster once the course has started.

Here are a couple of useful books [both affiliate links, so I’ll make a few pennies if you buy them through here]:

  • Grammar for English Language Teachers by Martin Parrott – designed with teachers in mind, it includes possible problems students might have, and tasks for you to do to help you understand the language better;
  • Teaching English Grammar by Jim Scrivener – very easy to find your way around, including possible timelines, ways of checking the concepts, and contexts to introduce each language point in.

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

Assignments are one of the places where being a CELTA tutor can feel pretty stressful, since there’s normally a very quick turn-around, and you mark them in any spare moment you have. That’s been at home on all of my previous courses, but this time I decided that work will be at work, even if it means going in early, and home will be for me, including getting some of the posts written which I’ve been meaning to do for ages! As a result, I’m feeling a lot more relaxed on this course. I hope it continues!

Day Five

We’re half-way through the course, so today the trainees planned their lesson focuses (foci?) for the next two weeks, aiming for two skills and two language lessons each to cover the remaining four TPs.

The tutors also had a relatively light day, doing feedback on yesterday’s classes and preparing for and administering Stage 2 tutorials, a 15-minute or so individual meeting with each trainee updating them on their progress on the course so far, dealing with any questions the trainee raises, and telling them what they need to do to meet their potential. It’s based on a list of criteria which the trainees mark themselves against, then the tutor assesses them too, a comment by the trainee and a comment by the tutor, making sure everyone is on the same page and that there won’t be any nasty surprises later in the course (at least, that’s the plan!)

Other progress reports done during the course are a brief one at the end of Stage 1/week 1 and a Stage 3 tutorial at the end of week 3 if the trainee is not performing as expected. They can also request informal tutorials.

I have to say that I find some of the criteria a bit odd/unnecessary, the main one being 2f: The candidate shows an awareness of register. I’m not really sure why this is given it’s own criteria when analysing form, meaning and phonology is a single criterion, as is teaching those three things – many trainees are really good in one or two of those areas, but not necessarily in all three. Another odd Cambridge thing is that the first group of criteria on the list (connected to planning) are all numbered 4, followed by 1, 2, 3, 5. A strange way of counting!

There was no TP tonight, so I took advantage of the early finish to have a peaceful evening bike ride. Here are a three of the beautiful views I saw:

Wat Pha Sukaram

Wat Pha Sukaram

Rice paddy at sunset The mountain near Chiang Mai and Wat Pha Sukaram

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

CELTA Week One

Day One

Information overload, getting your head around so many different things, asking loads of questions, trying to get all the right documents, getting to know everyone…and that was just me!

This is my:

  • fifth CELTA course
  • fifth centre
  • fifth country
  • fifth MCT (main course tutor)
  • fifth set of documents
  • fifth approach to giving TP points (the guidance trainees get for their teaching practice =observed lessons)
  • fifth variation on assignments
  • fifth procedure for doing feedback
  • and probably many other fifths…

It’s a good job I’m flexible, adaptable, and settle in quickly 🙂 I’m looking forward to staying in one place for the next four CELTAs though, if all goes to plan.

IH Chiang Mai

There are worse places to spend the next four months…

15 trainees, 3 TP groups/classes, 2 levels (elementary and intermediate), with another CELTA running parallel with 10 more trainees, meaning 5 tutors in total, plus a tutor-in-training. Lots of people to learn from, and you end up sharing some of the work, which makes things easier.

The 45-minute demo lesson I did tonight went fairly well, as did my Russian lesson in input [note to self: really must learn how to say ‘stand up’ and ‘sit down’ in Russian!], although I forgot to set time limits for a few tasks that really needed them, so I dropped a task and still went five minutes over. My instructions have improved a lot since I became a CELTA tutor, but I shouldn’t repeat them so much. I also need to make sure that I anticipate problems with vocabulary a bit more carefully when doing a reading text. Timing and instructions were problems identified by my tutor when I was doing CELTA, and I still haven’t managed to sort them out completely!

Day Two

The joys of using a coursebook you don’t really like for TP (no, I’m not going to tell you which one):

  • when referring to it in an input session on receptive skills, I struggled to find a decent reading text which the trainees could use to plan a sample lesson (most of the ‘reading’ texts in the book were isolated sentences or glorified gapfills);
  • students don’t really need to understand any of the language to answer many questions in the book; they just need to be able to recognise that what they’ve read/heard is identical to what’s in the question;
  • there’s a lot of work that needs to be done, especially in the first week, to help the trainees to be able to use it.

Luckily, I don’t have to write the TP points for it, as my co-tutors have done that. Another plus side is that it’s good practice for the trainees in adapting materials.

The three trainees who taught today all survived their first lesson, and the students seemed to enjoy it. They may even have learnt something! For most trainees, the most important thing about TP1 is getting through the lesson, especially if they’ve never taught before. It’s a scary thing to stand up in front of a bunch of strangers, one of whom is assessing you, and 2-5 of whom are making notes on your every move, and try to behave like this is an everyday occurrence and you are confident and competent in every why, while at the same time a million things are going through your mind, the most important of which is “What the hell am I meant to be doing now?” Well done, guys!

Day Three

Generally on a CELTA course you share input with one other trainer. There are two input sessions a day on most days of the course, each lasting 75-90 minutes depending on the centre/timetable, meaning one each. This week, though, there’s a special arrangement here, where one trainer gets two linked inputs one day, and the other gets two linked ones on day four. Today was my ‘day off’. Why, oh why, did I therefore nearly fail to plan either of my inputs for tomorrow today, given I had all this extra free time?! I wish I knew the answer to that. I ended up managing to do one of them this evening after TP as I unexpectedly had an extra 45 minutes at school, but now I need to go in extra early tomorrow at the start of what is already a long day to put together the other one. Grrr. Must learn from this in future and get to school earlier, as it seems I can’t work well at home at the moment. Normally I’m less productive at school, but here it seems the opposite is true.

On the plus side, because we only have 5 trainees in each TP group, we have a ‘free’ teaching slot every other day, meaning we get to finish 45 minutes earlier, which is nice 🙂 The two who taught today also survived!

Typical TP1 problems I’ve seen (and ones which I’m still guilty of at times!):

  • over-explaining activities, rather than just demonstrating them;
  • echoing all the students’ answers;
  • random words all over the whiteboard.

Amazing things I’ve seen in these TP1s:

  • getting to know the students really quickly;
  • showing real interest in what they’re saying, and treating them as human beings, rather than as learning machines present only for you to teach at;
  • real teacher presence and confidence in front of the class from all five trainees;
  • dealing with materials that didn’t fill the 45-minute slot as trainees expected by filling the time effectively and usefully.

Day Four

Today was a bit of a killer.

The day started with me having to plan the session I didn’t get round to yesterday, then teaching two sessions based on somebody else’s materials because I hadn’t found the time to put together my own for the second session. I had stuff for the first one already, but no time to put together a linked lesson planning session, and there are materials at the school and ready to go for it, so I couldn’t really say no! I’m not a fan of working from other people’s materials as is, and I struggled a bit with the lesson plan in the text-based presentation because I hadn’t internalised it as much as I thought I had, but I managed to survive in the end, and I think both inputs went relatively well.

Because TP finishes so late (20:15), we have delayed feedback the following day. Trainees can sleep on their self evaluation, instead of having to write it immediately after their lesson when it’s difficult to be objective, and the trainer has a bit more time to finish off their feedback too, which is useful for me while I figure out how the documents work here. My favourite comment today was when one trainee described how pleased she was they’d all survived TP1, and that they felt like a family already 🙂 We’ll see if they still think that in three weeks’ time!

TP rounds off the day, and after two inputs in the morning, I was really flagging. At some points I was having trouble keeping my eyes open, but a biscuit between watching the second and third trainees helped me to stay focussed.

When I got home I realised my unusual tiredness today, despite a good night’s sleep, wasn’t just because of the long day. Instead, it was because I’d only had five (small) meals on day three, rather than my usual six, because of the times I ate at. Due to the vagaries of my diet, I have to eat 300g every three hours, and I should avoid snacking as much as possible. I try very hard to look after my health now, and I don’t normally miss a meal. The last time I did it was quite a while ago, and I’d forgotten the effect it has on me. I won’t be doing it again any time soon!

Day Five

As with most of my work, my favourite thing about CELTA is the mix of people I meet. Before the course starts, we put together a document with basic information about the trainees, mostly limited to their prior experience, any languages they speak (for the foreign language lesson) and their age, so we can have a fairly even spread of age/gender/experience between the TP groups. I like to look at it again at the end of week one to see whether the dynamics I expected before the course have played out, and whether there is any other information I can draw on now that I’ve spent a week with the trainees.

There are a lot of people on this course with prior teaching experience. That means that sometimes they know more about things than I do, particularly if they’ve specialised in certain areas. Today I did an input session on phonology to introduce the phonemic chart, and one of the trainees was very helpful when it came to coming up with examples for certain kinds of sound which I had forgotten to prepare, like a glottal stop to show the epiglottis at work.

CELTA is designed for people with no experience whatsoever, so if you do have some, it can both help and hinder you. Sometimes there are bad habits that you need to break, like spending too much time at the board, or treating your adult students like children. That’s not to say that complete newbies don’t do the same too! Sometimes trainees have already done a lot of professional development and self-reflection before the course, and they are aware of the areas they need to work on. They are also already comfortable in front of a class, which can’t be underestimated.

For completely fresh teachers, there are also two types: those who panic when all those staring eyes look at them for the first time; and those who are complete naturals and seem like they were born to teach. Luckily, we don’t seem to have any of the former type on this course.

Regardless of the level of experience, the most common complaint on CELTA is about the workload, and this is compounded in week one by a few other feelings:

  • Information overload;
  • Why does planning take so long? Will I ever get faster at it?
  • How many things do I have to think about?!
  • When can I sleep? No, no sleep. Can’t sleep. Must work.

To anyone considering CELTA, I would always recommend making sure you have at least half a day off a week and that you get a semi-decent night’s sleep every night. Your lesson plan may be perfect, but if you can’t stay awake to teach the lesson, there’s a problem, and you won’t take anything in in input either!

To the trainers, especially if you’re in your first few courses, leave the work at work! If you have to take it home, keep at least one day a week for yourself. For the first time, I’ve managed to not really do any work at home on this course, as I’ve been able to prep my input sessions at school. I’ll also be taking the whole weekend off.

I’ve just sent this to my trainees to round off the week (always my first port of call when wanting to cheer people up or give them a 5-minute break):

Well done for surviving week one!

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

The start of a new chapter

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

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

My CELTA group

My CELTA group, way back when!

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

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

Leaping before you look – Danny Norrington-Davies (IATEFL Harrogate 2014)

Danny was a tutor on my Distance Delta course, and his presentation at IATEFL Glasgow was one of the most useful I went to all week. I’m hoping to be trained as a CELTA tutor in the near future, so this was an ideal talk to go to.

There are three main strands to Danny’s talk:

  1. Encouraging trainees on pre-service courses to work with emerging language during observed lessons.
  2. Exploring how trainees feel before going into a lesson like this…
  3. …and after (both after the lesson, and after the course).

Some issues (from trainees)

  • They don’t believe they can do it.
  • They worry about being put on the spot.
  • They worry about losing control.
  • They like the security of pre-planned input (however much they might moan about planning!)
  • They don’t notice emerging language or “can’t hear it”.
  • They can’t decide what’s important.
  • They worry about putting students on the spot.

Danny believes from this that trainees think emerging language means ‘error’. He says that it’s also about questions students might have, like “What’s the word for ____?”

How do we encourage trainees to work with emerging language

On day 2 of Danny’s courses, they look at the meaning of language from a text he uses. They look at the questions students have in relation to that text. It helps the trainees to notice that they know more than the people they’re teaching – it’s not just about meta-language,

On day 4, they explore the kind of questions learners might have when setting up activities and giving feedback.

On day 6, they look at a coursebook double-page and how five different teachers interpret them. One of those interpretations is task-based learning, another is using emergent language,

On day 9, they have a session on TBL and working with emerging language. They think about what is likely to emerge from the interaction.

Day 9 then has the correction and reformulation slot, after emerging language has been dealt with.

Other parts of course design include:

  • observation tasks which include a focus on emerging language. It’s better as an observation task than as input.
  • no language analysis form in the lesson plan.
  • retrospective language analysis forms, after the lesson.

The data is mostly drawn from students who have done this once from eight teaching practice sessions.

Danny also doesn’t mind if trainees ask for help during their teaching practice, if they get stuck.

Lesson planning

When trainees come to him with these questions:

  • When should I deal with language?
  • What language should I focus on?
  • What problems will the students have?

… he used to help a lot with this, but now he asks ‘Why don’t you see what happens?’

This helps to build up the trainees’ confidence with dealing with language.

Feelings beforehand

“I felt quite nervous about it, not having specifically practised how to do it.” (Elizabeth)
“I’m not sure I’ve planned enough.” (Stefano)
“I was worried about only going into the lesson with a piece of an A4 and an anecdote and every other lesson took a lot longer to prepare, so I was more nervous.” (Neil)

Praise what your trainees are putting in front of you.

How did new language emerge?

From six or seven candidates’ lessons, they came up in questions about texts, Q&As…

How was the experience different?

  • It felt like it went better than when I planned it.
  • I felt like I was really present in the lesson.
  • I felt like I was teaching the students, not the plan.
  • I didn’t concentrate on one particular point, so I felt less constricted.
  • I felt for the first time like I’d actually been teaching, rather than presenting. [this can often be a problem on Celta courses]
  • I felt like a real teacher. (she felt like stuff would happen in the class – students would ask questions, she would answer them)

New techniques and skills

  • “I learnt to listen and help them say what they want to say, rather than make them use a grammar point.” (Ros)
  • “I realised I could take my time, which allowed me to use some techniques I’d learnt on the course.” (Joanna)
  • “I realised I can answer questions about meaning if I know what they want.” (anon)
  • “I realised it was just like monitoring, but to everyone.” (anon)

Planning for future lessons

  • “It was nice not to have to guess what all the problems were going to be.” (Ros)
  • I didn’t have to plan for 24 hours.
  • I don’t need to overplan – if I leave spaces, things will emerge.

Some significant impacts

  • It didn’t really impact the course, but now I do it all the time. (Elizabeth)
  • It gave me more confidence in addressing students and braking down barriers. (Neil)
  • It taight me I quite enjoyed teaching, which came as quite a shock. (Neil)

Suggestions

  • You have to encourage trainees. They don’t trust themselves.
  • They need to be reminded that they do have time.
  • They will notice what emerges if they have to. They won’t if they’re teaching their plan.
  • Feed it in early, demystify it.
  • Make sure they know it’s not all about errors and jargon.
  • Encourage them to look at teachers working with emerging language in observations.

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