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

Posts tagged ‘distance delta’

#epinterviews: Sandy Millin

Mike Harrison has started a new blog focussing on Experimental Practice, where teachers try out new ideas in their classrooms in the spirit of research. As part of it, he plans to interview teachers who have carried out Experimental Practice as part of their Delta. Interviewee number one is yours truly, and you can find the full post by following the link below.

Experimental Practice Academy

#epinterviewsThis is part of a series of interviews with fellow English language teaching professions to be published on this blog.

The interviewees are drawn from a variety of teaching contexts, in different countries and working with different kinds of learners. What they have in common is having experimented in some way with their teaching practice.

The reason why I asked these people to answer my questions (apart from being nosy!) is that I am a firm believer in the potential of experimental practice in helping you develop as a teacher, but I don’t know whether other people think the same. I’d like to get an anecdotal picture of my peers, to find out what they’ve done, why and what they’ve learnt from the experience.

I also believe that there is so much that we can learn from sharing our stories and these experiences. I invite you to read these brief…

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Delta conversations: James

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

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

James Pengelley

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

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

Why did you choose to do it that way?

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

What do you think you gained from doing the Delta?

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

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

What were the downsides of the method you chose?

There were many:

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

What were the benefits of the method you chose?

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

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

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

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

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

What tips would you give other people doing the Delta?

My top tips would be:

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

In retrospect…

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

Useful links for Delta

During my Delta I gathered a list of links which I returned to again and again. I’ve also seen many useful links since that I wish had been around before I started my course! I thought I’d share these with you, and I will try and keep the list up-to-date as I find more things which I consider useful. Please let me know in the comments if you think I have missed anything or if any of the links are broken.

delta-header

General

If you want everything in one place, try ‘How to Pass Delta‘, a very reasonably priced e-book written by Damian Williams, who was one of the tutors on my course. Another excellent resource is ELT Concourse’s Delta index, recommended by Katy M. I particularly like the myth-busting they do about Delta.

I collected all of the Delta posts I have written on my blog into one page.

The one which is probably most useful is called Preparing for the Delta, including advice about some good books to read before the course and a lot of ways you can improve/brush up on your Word skills in preparation for all of the typing you’ll end up doing.

Lizzie Pinard, who got a Distinction in all three modules, has been writing an incredibly useful series of posts about the Delta since she finished her course. Here is her annotated list of the resources she read before and during the course.

Chris Wilson wrote a summary of an ELTchat entitled ‘How to survive, and make the most of, your Delta‘. Chris also recommended tools he uses to keep track of references from his background reading for Delta, and shared his Delta diary from throughout the course.

Anthony Ash did the Delta full-time in Autumn 2014, and wrote a series of posts about his thoughts on various things that come up during the course. These cover the highs and lows of someone going through Delta, and give a good overview of what the course is like. He has also written a series of posts offering a general introduction to the course, particularly useful if you have no idea what it is or how it works!

Olya Sergeeva has written about her Delta too.

If you’re considering doing a Distance version of the course, but are struggling to find a local tutor, Alex Case may be able to help.

Finally, although this is advice designed for MA students, I think Laura Patsko’s tips on how to recover from an MA can definitely be applied to Delta candidates too!

Module One

ELT Concourse has a comprehensive Module One preparation course, which is completely free. You probably won’t need many of the other resources here if you use that, but just in case…

I created a ‘Delta’ group on Quizlet, which contains all of the Delta-related flashcards I made/could find. Quizlet is a great resource to help you brush up on your terminology, which is especially useful for parts one and two of Paper One of the exam. If you have never used Quizlet, here is my guide to show you how to make the most of it. There is also an app available for Apple devices.

The Cambridge website has a list of materials for Delta candidates, including various past papers. David Harbinson has compiled a list of books and resources for Delta Module One.

Dale Coulter created a step-by-step guide to the Delta exam, divided into one post for each of the two papers: Paper One; Paper Two. Lizzie Pinard did the same: Paper One; Paper Two. She also created a list of useful resources to help you revise for the exam, as well as a countdown which you can use as a last-minute checklist to make sure you know everything, or a starting point to plan your studies. Ricardo Barros describes how he prepared for the exam, as does Yuliya Speroff. I’ve written a post with ideas about how to lay out your answers in the exam and information on how I prepared for it.

Emma Gore-Lloyd made an infographic with questions for evaluating the effectiveness of a test, relevant to Paper 2 Question 1, and much prettier to look at than a lot of the things I was revising from!

You can also find a guide to the exam on ELT Notebook and tips from Lu Bodeman. Roya Caviglia has created a flowchart with a breakdown of the marks for each section of the exam. Barry O’Leary has general tips for how to prepare for the Delta exam and tips for dealing with Module 1Elliot Brett wrote about how he felt about doing the exam and his tips for success. Jamie Clayton reviewed the Distance Delta Module One course.

Module Two

Information about all of my Delta Module Two assignments is available on my Delta page, including a summary of feedback on two passes (one merit for an essay) and two fails, so you can get some idea of the problems I had and what I learnt from my experience. At the other end of the scale, Ricardo Barros tells us how he got a distinction in at least three of his LSAs (nobody ever finds out about LSA4!) and shares his bibliographies. He has also shared the bibliographies from Konstantinos’ LSAs, mostly focussing on young learners. Stewart offers practical tips for writing your background essay and lesson plan based on his experience from his first two LSAs.

Lizzie Pinard gives you her reading list and feedback from her LSA1 on lexis (collocations).

Matthew Smith shared his Delta Module Two assignments and Joanna Malefaki shared her grammar one and her vocabulary one. Jemma Gardner shared her experimental practice assignment, on the subject of Dogme. Ricardo Barros has shared an example of some of the materials for his LSAs on phrasal verbs and listening. ELT notebook also has examples on developing fluency and phrasal verbs. Emma Halliday shared an example of a listening essay (merit) and lesson plan (pass). Please bear in mind that Cambridge does not take plagiarism lightly, and it can result in you being banned from the course – these are examples only, so please do not copy from them!

Talk TEFL has a Delta LSA survival kit full of lots of tips and decoding some of the many acronyms on Delta courses.

Katy M has written about her experience of doing Delta Module Two, including some practical tips for how to reduce your stress levels. Jamie Clayton wrote some notes from different weeks of the Module Two course, including tips for planning lessons.

Christina Rebuffet-Broadus and Jennie Wright have written a book called ‘Experimental Practice in ELT‘ which came directly out of their experiences of Delta Module 2. It includes lesson plans and ideas for the five most popular topics for the Experimental Practice part of the Professional Development Assignment. It’s available from the-round for a very reasonable price.

Mike Harrison runs the Experimental Practice Academy blog, including interviews with various people about their Delta experimental practice.

Lizzie Pinard explains:

And if you need a bit of a laugh, I would highly recommend The stages of a Delta assignment, all of which I have definitely experienced! You could also read The Secret DoS on why we should banish the word ‘practise’ from our aims.

Module Three

Information about my Module Three assignment, on teaching exam classes, with a specific focus on IELTS reading and writing, is available on my Delta page.

An overview of types of syllabus was a useful primer for different types of syllabus, although I would recommend reading about them in more depth before you write about them.

Jonny Lewington shared his Module 3 essay on young learners, for which he got a distinction (well done!). He also has a related book list on his blog. Robert William has shared his Module 3 essay on IELTS. Please remember that these are samples only: Cambridge looks on plagiarism very seriously – if you copy sections of these assignments, you are likely to  be disqualified from the course.

Anthony Ash has a general overview of Module 3. Lizzie Pinard has guides to writing each section of the Module 3 assignment:

Skills

Skills are reading, writing, listening and speaking.

Lizzie Pinard’s Delta Notes* is a series Lizzie has produced based on the notebooks she kept during her Delta course. Here are her notes on:

I have a list of online bookmarks, which I constantly add too. The links below take you to the bookmarks tagged ‘Delta’ and:

Systems

Systems are grammar, lexis, phonology and discourse management.

I looked at conditionals (grammar) and multi-part verbs (lexis) for my two systems LSAs. For the latter, I found a couple of particularly useful articles in the Macmillan Dictionaries magazine, including one about the pronunciation of phrasal verbs, by Adrian Underhill. You can find my full bibliography in my assignment on my Delta page.

Lizzie Pinard’s Delta Notes* is a series Lizzie has produced based on the notebooks she kept during her Delta course. Here are her notes on:

I have a list of online bookmarks, which I constantly add too. The links below take you to the bookmarks tagged ‘Delta’ and:

Other

Lizzie Pinard’s Delta Notes* on:

Emma Gore-Lloyd is doing the Delta at IH Seville intensively in autumn 2014. She’s writing a series of posts including some reflection questions for her weekly blogging.

I have a list of bookmarks on diigo to which I regularly add. I tag all of the ones I think are relevant to Delta. You can subscribe to the list to find out when I add anything new.

Remember that it will all be over at some point, and you’ll be able to go through the post-Delta phases described by Joanna Malefaki.

And finally, if it’s all getting a bit much, go and see English Droid.

(*This series is a work in progress, and I will add more links to it as Lizzie writes the posts.)

Good luck!

Delta conversations: Roya

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

Roya Caviglia is currently setting up her own business to offer in-company courses in the Randstad area, South Holland: EnglishVoice. She blogs at LanguageLego and tweets at @RoyaCaviglia

Roya Caviglia

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

I did the Delta over a year or so, tackling one module at a time and moving house from Geneva to Hamburg in the middle. I started with module 3 because you need a class to use as a case study (I anticipated some time out of work after the move). Then I sat the module 1 exam shortly arriving in Hamburg. I studied with the Distance Delta for these two modules. Finally, I went to London for 6 weeks to do module 2 at International House.

What do you think you gained from doing the Delta?

If you had asked me that question immediately after completing the course I would have found it hard to answer. My head was so full of teaching approaches that for a while I was in a quandary every time I sat down to plan a lesson! Things get clearer with time, your brain needs some space to digest it all.

A year and a half down the line I think my answer is confidence.

I know that I have worked hard, have gained a lot of experience and that I have a grip on the theory that backs everything up. I know how to study by myself and I still try to do a little research before starting each new course. I want to make sure that I am utilising the methodology that will best help each particular student.

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

If you are looking at the Distance Delta, be aware that you will probably need a lot more time than they estimate on their website. I found I needed almost double their suggestion. This was a common observation on the participant forum!

What were the downsides of the method you chose?

Studying at home is not always easy. I remember having all my books spread out on the kitchen table and glancing nervously at the clock as it got closer to dinner time, knowing I would have to pack up and clear out the way! Of course there is also the issue of motivation.

Module 2 in London was difficult as I was away from my family for several weeks. And one should never, never underestimate how intensive it is! There were tears. I’m convinced that is the case on every full time Module 2 course (and the intensive Celta for that matter!).

What were the benefits of the method you chose?

I was able to combine Module 3 with work. And Modules 1 and 2 fit in nicely and kept me busy while I was establishing myself in a new country and did not have much in the way of work.

What tips would you give other people doing the Delta?

  • Do your research, there are so many different ways to take the course, find out which route is really the best for you.
  • Be aware that it will be intense and sometimes painful – always keep in mind why you are doing it!
  • Revel in the chance to take time out and examine our profession, it is a rare opportunity.
  • Consciously step back and watch your teaching improve!

Preparing for the Delta

There’s a lot I wish I’d known before I started studying for my Delta, and I thought I’d put it all into a post for anyone else preparing for the course. If you’ve got any tips you’d add, feel free to put them into the comments.

Before you decide on a centre to study Module Two at, I’d recommend asking this list of questions from Sue Swift.

1. Take a holiday

Before you start the course, make sure that you’ve relaxed as much as possible. However you do it, the Delta is incredibly intensive, and if you go into it already tired, like I did, you’ll regret it. If you need somebody else to tell you the same, Jye Smallwood also talks about the pressures of the course and the importance of being organised here.

2. Get reading

Start reading a few general books to get you in the zone. This will also give you a starting point when you are doing the course. Reading is something you probably won’t be able to take the time over during the course, so the more you can do before you start, the better. You’ll definitely return to the books again and again, but if you’ve read them once, it’s easier to find what you’re looking for later.

Some books which I found useful were:

  • Tricia Hedge: Teaching and Learning in the Language Classroom* – a good Delta-level overview. It covers each area of ELT in separate chapters.
  • Michael Lewis: The English Verb – one of the few books I had time to read cover-to-cover during my Delta, I can honestly say that this book changed the way I thought about English grammar.
  • Adrian Underhill: Sound Foundations – a great guide to all of the sounds of English, designed to raise your awareness of how they are produced.
  • Scott Thornbury: About Language – half of the book has tasks to make you really think about English in depth, the other half has commentaries to tell you if you’re on the right track.
  • Scott Thornbury: An A-Z of ELT – not necessarily one to read from cover to cover, but good to open at random and test yourself. It will quite possibly become your bible during certain parts of the course.

*All book links are to Amazon, and I will get 10% if you buy after clicking these links. Thank you!

ELT books are pretty expensive, and it all adds up, so think carefully about which books you really need to spend money on, and which you can borrow. Ask around the people you know, especially if they’ve already done the course, and you may find you can borrow some of them. You might also be able to get them from your school or from a library. In the UK you could also try inter-library loans at a public library.

If you’re not sure how to approach your reading, Stewart has some ideas.

You should also use the resources available on the Cambridge website to find out more about the course criteria.

3. Brush up on your Word skills

You’re going to spend a lot of time in front of a computer, and every timesaver you can learn will make a difference. Regardless of how confident a Word user you are, it’s worth checking out my friend Liz Broomfield’s very clear posts about making the most of Word. She uses Word for Windows. If you have a Mac and can’t work it out, Google it first, then ask me and I’ll try to help – I have Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac. I’ve picked out some of the things I found myself doing all the time.

Two more things you might find useful, taken from other sites (not Liz’s):

  • How to check the size of a file – Windows / Mac (Cambridge have a 10MB upload limit, especially annoying for Module 3)
  • How to add footers

Lizzie Pinard shares the three Word functions which she has found most useful.

4. Start learning phonemics

In the Module 1 exam you must use phonemics in question 4. If you don’t, you will lose marks. You may also need them for question 5, and you will probably also need to include them at various points in your Module 2 and Module 3 work. Even if you’re not comfortable with them and would never use them in the classroom, you MUST learn them.

Cookie studying the IPA

Photo taken from http://flickr.com/eltpics by @senicko, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/

Adrian Underhill has all the best materials for making you aware of how phonemics work. Try these to get you started:

  • Introduction to Teaching Pronunciation on YouTube – one hour, but well worth it
  • Sound Foundations – the book mentioned in part 2 of this post
  • Adrian’s Pron Chart blog – breaks down the phonemic chart into easy sections, often comparing two or three sounds, and goes into depth about how the sounds are produced

I learnt phonemics largely thanks to the English File pronunciation chart. I found the pictures really helped me to remember the sounds. However, my accent is largely standard British English, so most of the sounds aren’t a problem for me – I find the ‘u’ in ‘bull’ and the ‘ou’ in ‘tourist’ the most challenging sounds, and most of the time drop the latter, as it’s dying out in British English.

If you have an iPad or iPhone (possibly Android too, but I’m not sure), you could also try these apps:

  • English File Pronunciation – £3.99 at present, limited free version available. Record yourself and compare your pronunciation to the original.
  • Macmillan Sounds – £3.99 at present, limited free version available. Read and write phonemics throughout the app – great for forcing you to match sounds to symbols.
  • British Council Sounds Right – free, but no activities.

You can type IPA (International Phonemic Alphabet) using various typewriters online, for example here, then paste it into Word. When typing your documents, use a ‘Unicode’ font, for example ‘Lucida Sans Unicode’. If you’re not using a Unicode font, it may well turn into boxes like this [][][][][][] when printed.

5. Choose the four areas you’d like to focus on in Module 2

During Module 2 you have to teach four observed lessons (LSAs). These are divided into systems (grammar, lexis, phonology and discourse analysis) and skills (reading, writing, listening, speaking).

The four lessons you teach are made up of two systems and two skills lessons, one of which should be receptive (reading/listening) and the other productive (writing/speaking). To pass the course, you need to pass a minimum of two of your lessons, one systems and one skills. You cannot repeat an area, i.e. if you have done a lexis LSA, you cannot do another lexis one during the course.

If you have at least a rough idea of the four areas you’d like to investigate, you can start to read some of the most important books in those areas. For example, if you know you want to do a listening lesson, you might want to read Listening in the Language Classroom by John Field.

Note: please check with your centre before setting your heart on your four areas. They may have set rules about which areas they want you to focus on. For example, on Distance Delta, your first LSA is always grammar, and for the second you have to choose between listening or writing. You have free choice for the other two.

6. Choose your specialism for Module 3

In a similar vein, if you know the general area you will look at for Module 3, you can also start reading some of the books that you need. You can find the list of specialisms to choose from on page 68 of the Delta handbook. The handbook is generally a very, very useful document to have. This is the latest version I know about (if there is an updated version, please can you let me know. Thanks to Alex Case for doing just that!)

I chose Teaching Exam Classes, which I then narrowed down to reading and writing for IELTS. The first section of Module 3 is (loosely) about teaching general English is different to teaching students within your specialism, so in my case it was how general English classes differ to exam classes. You don’t focus on the specific exam until later. I found How to Teach for Exams by Sally Burgess and Katie Head particularly useful as a general overview.

7. Read up on needs analysis and diagnostic testing

While this is most useful for Module 3 (the whole of section 2 revolves around it, and it’s the basis for the whole course you put together), it’s also good to know to help you identify the needs of your students and justify your choices when putting together your LSA lesson plans in Module 2. I found Curriculum Development in Language Teaching by Jack C. Richards to be the most useful book in this regard, although they’re obviously covered in many other books. The same book was the one I referred to most when it came to justifying my course proposal too.

I didn’t really find out the principles of good needs analyses or diagnostics tests until very late in the course, meaning that my needs analysis and diagnostic test were thrown together very quickly for Module 3, and I then had to retrofit the theory to it – not easy!

(Sidetracking a little – I bought Syllabus Design by David Nunan to help with Module 3, but found it pretty confusing and not very practical. Could just be me though…)

8. Network!

Last, but definitely not least, start networking! Join Twitter and facebook, and find other teachers around the world on there. The Teaching English British Council and Cambridge Delta facebook groups are particularly useful. I could not have survived my Distance Delta without the support I got from my PLN (Personal/Professional Learning Network). This may be different if you study face-to-face, but it’s still useful to have a set of people who can respond to questions you may have at any hour of the day or night.

Finally…

You can read other people’s advice on how to survive the course in the Delta conversations series.

And with all that hard work, don’t forget to take time off, be with people and to find things to laugh at. 🙂

Good luck!

Starting the Delta

No, not time travel. Instead, a few questions for Chris Wilson, who’s about to start the Delta. He’ll be dedicating his blog, elt squared, almost exclusively to Delta for the duration of his course. Here are my questions and his answers:

  1. Why did you decide to do Delta?

    As soon as I heard there was a higher level teaching certificate than the Celta, I knew I wanted to get it at some point. I heard that I needed two years teaching experience, something that I am grateful for, but I knew I didn’t want to be a “base-level” teacher, although since then I’ve realised there are plenty of great teachers who haven’t done the Delta but still have learnt a lot over time.
    I wanted to really know why I should teach in a certain way and how to craft better lessons. I guess I also just love learning about language, teaching and how the brain works. Really I just want to know more about teaching and help people more.

  2. How are you going to do it? Why did you choose this method?

    I’m doing a modular distance Delta, which means I’m taking each module on it’s own when I want, fitting them in as I can. This was largely a practical decision tying in with the financial help that I could get from my school, but also because of difficulties in finding a local tutor for module two. I am probably going to have to do module two intensively at a local centre because of that.
    Also I’m interested in taking a closer look at how the distance delta does the distance learning aspect of the Delta so our school can hopefully steal some ideas too 🙂

  3. How much do you feel you know about the course before you start?

    I feel I know quite a lot about the course thanks to ELTChat and the recent “How to survive the Delta” discussion (and the previous “what has the delta ever done for us” one). I’ve also spent the last few months just asking people who had done the course lots of questions. At the same time I don’t know anyone who has done it the way I am about to, so I’m still unsure how it will go!

  4. How have you prepared for the Delta?

    I’ve been asking a lot of questions, blogging for professional development and getting my note-taking system in order. At the same time we’ve been really busy here at work recently (and I’ve been finishing off a few projects that I want to get done before the start of the Delta) so perhaps erratically would be the best adverb 🙂

  5. What do you think will be the most useful part of the course?

    I am really looking forward to all of it, to be honest, and I am sure it will all be useful. I can’t wait to up my game in both knowledge of terminology and methodology, conducting a research project and lesson observations. In all honesty the lesson observations and classroom practice probably scares me the most and so is probably the part that will be most useful for me.

  6. What will be the most difficult part?

    I think it’s connected to the point above, class observations. I am quite clumsy and forgetful at the best of times but with stress I know I can slip up more and take longer to recover.

  7. Anything else?

    I guess thanks to everyone who has helped with their advice and recommendation in relation to the DELTA. I hope you don’t mind me asking a few more questions over the coming months!

I’m looking forward to following Chris’ blog over the next few months, and even more, to the end of my own Delta on June 5th! This post is, in fact, procrastination, as I’m supposed to be getting ready for the third of my four observed lessons. Hope you found it interesting!

Chris' new friend?

Photo taken from http://flickr.com/eltpics by @senicko, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/

Watching myself teach

I’m constantly telling students to record themselves to improve their speaking. I finally took my own advice and recorded myself to improve my teaching. I procrastinated a lot before watching the video, despite knowing it would be useful, and the initial shock at my accent at the start (even though I’ve heard recordings of my voice many times before!) almost put me off, but it was worth it in the end.

It was a two hour grammar lesson with a (very friendly and supportive) upper intermediate group. I recorded it as part of my Delta Reflection and Action. The main thing I realised was that it was a bit of an uninspired PPP lesson (present-practice-produce), and I probably could have used something a bit more exciting and Delta-y, but the students learnt the language (or at least, remembered it the next day), so it wasn’t a waste of time. We were looking at uses of the gerund and infinitive based on New Cutting Edge Upper Intermediate Student’s Book page 88.

I was looking at my methods of language clarification, and the main thing I noticed was that I used a whole range of methods:

  • definitions;
  • explanations;
  • examples – both on the board and spoken;
  • concept check questions (CCQs) – where you ask questions to lead students towards the meaning of a piece of language;
  • giving students a dictionary;
  • gestures

Apart from the structure of the lesson and the language clarification, the main thing that I noticed was that I never seem to be still. I’m always moving around the room, looking at my materials, putting my hair behind my ear (!)…not sure if that’s a good thing, showing energy, or a bad thing, making the watcher nervous! I also don’t know if that’s normal, or only because I was filming the lesson. I forgot it was there most of the time, but you never know what your sub-consciousness is doing!

On the plus side, I think I was speaking at a manageable speed, using appropriate language, with some repetition, as you would get in normal language. I do speak faster to these students at times, but I feel in a grammar lesson it’s better to take your time. There is also a lot of laughter in my classroom, which I think is incredibly important. If the students aren’t comfortable enough to laugh, to ask me questions and to work together, then I’m not doing my job properly.

Unfortunately, I did the recording in a small room, and it was quite difficult to find a good position where the camera could film what I was doing at the board and when I was monitoring/moving around the room to listen to the students. A lot of the video is the back of one of my student’s heads! Here’s a little clip though, focussing on my time at the board (and the back of said student’s head), just to whet your appetite:

Enjoy!

Clarifying Language

As part of my Delta Reflection and Action stage 2 action plan I said that I would try to:

move away from a teacher-centred, board-focussed model of language clarification

In two weeks time, I have to write up my stage 3 action plan, including reflecting on what has changed in my teaching since I wrote stage 2. It seems to me that I’ve not done much about this point, and I’d like to ask your help. 

When I wrote this I was focussing specifically on language clarification, as opposed to presentation. Most of my reading seems to be talking about moving away from PPP (present-practice-produce) towards a more guided method of introducing language. I think I’ve already made this journey, and can generally choose a presentation method to match the grammar point my students need (if, indeed, they need to be taught a particular grammar ‘point’ at all). What I wanted to focus on was how to clarify the meaning of this grammar if it was unclear to the students from my initial teaching.

Image

He just doesn’t get it…
Photo taken from http://flickr.com/eltpics by @yearinthelifeof, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/

 

My natural instinct is always to go to the board, and I seem to end up spending a relatively long amount of time there. The students’ eyes glaze over, and they end up none the wiser. My explanation normally includes example sentences, perhaps timelines or pictures if relevant. I use concept checking questions, and I always have some kind of context, or at least I’m pretty sure I do. 

My question to you is: what have I missed? What could I be doing instead of lecturing from the board? 

Arghhhh!

I’ve thought for a while about whether to publish this, knowing that people from my Delta course read my blog, colleagues read it, that representatives of my current employer probably do, and that potential future employers may read it as well. But I really need to get it out of my system. And if I didn’t publish it, I feel like I would be hiding something that needs to be written about.

Delta is doing my head in!

I’ve been ill for the last month (a combination of IBS, which I’ve never had before and you probably didn’t want to know about, and a bad cold/cough/losing my voice). Now admittedly, last year was very busy, and the lack of a proper, doing-nothing-at-all type holiday for 12 months probably had something to do with it, but I strongly suspect that constant thinking about Delta probably tipped me over into nearly two complete weeks off work – and the guilt and resentment I felt about having to take that time off probably made it worse too.

The amount of motivation I need to actually achieve anything towards my Delta seems to be increasing exponentially. For everything I hand in, it seems to take twice as much motivation to get through the  next piece of work. I’ve had a relatively relaxing Delta-free ten days off for Christmas and the New Year, after the two weeks of no Delta at all that I had when I was off sick. I came home on New Year’s Day to give myself five days to Delta in before going back to work. So far, in two days, I have read two documents for background reading, gone through two sets of exam guideline answers and done half of an exam training document . To do each of these it has taken me at least twice as long as it should have done, with probably more time spent on procrastinating than work in each of these cases. I have no motivation to write a timetable and stick to it. What would be the point? As long as I hit my deadlines. Before I started the Delta, I thought I would like a distinction. After a couple of weeks I thought ‘As long as I pass, who cares what grade I get.’ And I still intend to pass, but I find I can’t be bothered to work a lot of the time.

After six hours of ‘work’ today, probably consisting of about two hours of actual work, and about the same yesterday, I am already tired and in tears because I am so frustrated. And I still haven’t started doing any work for Module 3 (extended assignment) at all yet. All the effects of my holiday seem to have worn off already, and my illness, which seemed to have almost gone three days ago, has come back with a vengeance. That can’t be coincidence.

Take regular breaks, I hear you say. Since I started the distance part of the course at the end of October, I have only had three (I think) weekends which were entirely dedicated to Delta. Most weekends I have gone out in the evenings to meet friends/go to the cinema/…, and many weekends I have had a complete day off. I’ve had two complete weekends off since then, until I got ill. Since the middle of November, I have done almost no Delta on weekday evenings, sometimes working on one evening if I could motivate myself to do it. I am lucky enough to work 9-5 so I have a regular timetable, and should have some energy to work in the evenings, but I just don’t. I don’t really see how I can have any more breaks. And I can’t go away on holiday unless I don’t plan to have any time off for the rest of 2013. I’ve already booked the week after the Delta exam off work.

At the start of the course I felt like I was learning quite a lot. Now I feel like I am filling up pieces of paper with pointless notes about how to do the exam in the (too short) allotted time. Oh yes, the exam. Is it just me or does the Delta exam not actually test whether you are a good teacher or not? I know that the things you have to study for it are useful, and I’m sure without an exam most people wouldn’t bother with it, but surely some of that stuff could be put into module 2 teaching practice more. How about a spoken exam? It would require more manpower, sure, but why not have Skype exams? Recorded video ones? Those are my best suggestions at the moment, but this is something I thought long before I started doing Delta, and it’s a feeling that just won’t go away. All it seems to test is whether you’re good at studying for and doing exams, and whether you can handwrite for three hours without your arm falling off. Luckily, I’m normally fine in exams, so I shouldn’t worry, but all it does is annoy me that other people might fail despite being amazing teachers. What part of teaching is a three-hour exam really applicable too? Apart from maybe helping you sympathise with students you are preparing for exams.

The most frustrating thing about all of this is that THIS IS NOT ME. I like studying. I like learning new things. I even, weirdly, don’t mind doing exams. I normally want to do the best I can in any course I do. I love teaching. I want to be a better teacher. But is this really the best way to do it? Now I feel stressed, I find I increasingly don’t really care about Delta, I am bored with it, and annoyingly, I sometimes find I’m not really that bothered about my lessons: “Oh, that’ll do.” THIS IS NOT ME.

But it’s OK, because this is apparently normal for Delta students. You should expect to feel like you don’t know how to teach (I haven’t felt like I don’t know how to teach (big-headedly perhaps), and I’ve always  known that I have a lot more to learn about it). I don’t like hippy-dippy overly cheery ‘everybody is amazing’ type things, and I am a realist about this kind of thing, or at least I like to think so, but why should you be torn down and built back up again. Surely it should be a gradual, positive, building process all the way through your career. Dream on?

On the plus side, because of Delta I’ve read some books I wouldn’t have read otherwise. I’m thinking about starting a kind of blog-based EFL methodology book club after I’ve finished Delta, if I can motivate myself to keep reading. Another plus point: I’ve learnt some terminology I didn’t know before, which helped me understand said books.

So how else can you get in-depth certified CPD that will let you become a DOS or a teacher trainer or simply a better qualified teacher? There must be a better way than this. Suggestions on a postcard please.

Reading a short story

This week, my colleague Lesley and I decided to work on a short story with our (two classes of) pre-intermediate students. We chose the Sherlock Holmes story A Scandal in Bohemia. We have four hours a day with them, divided into two two-hour lessons, so we dedicated the afternoon lessons to the story.

This post is intended as a list of ideas for using a short story, rather than a series of lessons you could necessarily follow yourself. If you want to follow it exactly, you need to find an abridged version of the story – I can’t find a suitable one to link to, unfortunately.

Monday

We showed the students pictures of Irene Adler (x3), Dr. Watson (x4) and Sherlock Holmes (x4), in that order, taken from various TV and film adaptations of the story. The students had to describe the people and decide what they had in common. Until they got to the final group of pictures, they didn’t know it was connected to Sherlock Holmes. After each group, we wrote a set of sentences on the board about the characters (the names were added later).

Character sentences

We then brainstormed everything the students already knew about Sherlock Holmes. Of my seven students, one had read a short story and two had seen the film. This is what we came up with:

Sherlock Holmes mind mapAfter this preparation, it was time to start reading the story. I read aloud while the students followed. I stopped on the second page of our abridged copy, so that the students had seen the description of Adler, Holmes and Watson, giving them enough information to add attach the names to the pictures.

To stop the students from trying to understand every last word of the story, I asked them to highlight every word they understood in their copies. This idea was inspired by Kevin Stein and really motivated the students. I put % on the board, and asked them to estimate how much they had understood so far, getting answers from 70-99%. They then worked together to fill in some of the gaps, highlighting any extra words they understood. Estimating the percentage again after this exercise, all of the students raised it. I pointed out that they didn’t need to understand every word to understand the story, but that it’s a good idea to focus on a couple of new words, and this is where we left lesson one.

Turn into and outsmart

Lesley had decided to start from the title, discussing what a scandal was. I never ended up doing this explicitly, but should have done at some point.

Tuesday

On day two we started by recapping what the students remembered from the first two pages of the story. I showed them the Watson/Holmes pictures again, and asked them to decide which Watson assisted which Holmes, based purely on the images. For example, Jude Law with Robert Downey Jr. and Martin Freeman with Benedict Cumberbatch. We talked about how they decided, using clues like the age of the photo and the kind of clothes they were wearing, as well as prior knowledge of the film. This introduced the idea of observation, and linked to a quote I had on the board: “You see, but you do not observe.”

In the next page of the story, Holmes lists four things about Watson which he has observed:

  • Watson is enjoying married life.
  • He has put on weight.
  • He was caught in the rain recently.
  • He has returned to his career as a doctor.

The students had to identify the paragraph where Watson confirmed each observation by writing a key word next to it, which the students decided would be married, fat, rain, job. They were very motivated when they realised this was easy to do, as they had initially said they couldn’t understand.

For the next sections of the story, Lesley and I had prepared pictures taken from screenshots of a YouTube video. I haven’t uploaded these, as I think they are probably covered by copyright. The students had to read the part of the story where the King describes his problem, and match what he said to the pictures. They then worked together to complete a gapped summary of his problem:

Sherlock Holmes gapfillSherlock Holmes completed gapfillFor the last ten minutes, they divided a piece of paper into four and wrote sentences describing everything they knew about the four main characters. For example:

  • Sherlock Holmes: He is observant. He lives at 221B Baker Street.
  • Doctor Watson: He is married. He works with Sherlock Holmes.
  • Irene Adler: She is very clever. She has a photo of the King and her.
  • The King: He wants to get married. He needs Sherlock’s help.

Wednesday

We started by recapping the summary from the end of Tuesday’s lesson. The students were amazed at how much they could remember! They also added to their sentences as we’d run out of time on Tuesday.

The next part was picture-based again, this time with the students predicting what they were about to read about. They  had pictures of Sherlock Holmes in disguise as a tramp, Godfrey Norton arriving at Irene Adler’s house, then leaving, and Adler leaving. There was another summarising gapfill for them to complete at this point.

Once they had checked their answers, they had to guess what would happen next. They were right in suspecting that Norton and Adler would get married, but were surprised when they read and discovered that Sherlock Holmes was the witness!

To finish the lesson, we read about Holmes’ plan to get the King’s photo back from Adler.

By this point, the students were flagging a little, but I told them we would finish the story the next day and they perked up a bit!

Thursday

The students read about how Holmes and Watson put the plan into action. They then watched three short clips from the TV episode, showing:

To finish the story, the students had to say what they thought would happen in the final four pages, then read to check whether they were right or not.

They then started to work on an 8-10 sentence summary of the main events of the whole story, which they had to finish for homework.

Friday

All of the students did their homework 🙂 They worked together to decide which sentences were necessary in the summaries, as some students had written a lot more than eight to ten.

I divided the class into two groups of three/four students each. Each group had to choose any scene from the story and reenact it. They had about 25 minutes to plan what they would say and do (luckily there was a spare classroom next door). They then performed their scene, to much raucous laughter – one student played the King visiting Sherlock Holmes. In the story he is wearing a mask, but she made do with her sunglasses and headscarf, which none of us expected! It was probably much funnier being in the room, but affective filters were definitely lowered! While watching the scenes, the other group had to decide who was playing who, and which part of the story it was. The task wasn’t very difficult, but they had used a lot of English to prepare for it, and they really enjoyed it, as they told me afterwards.

For the final half hour of the week, we played Hot Seat/Backs to the Board, using words taken from the story. We hadn’t really focussed on anything in particular, but words and phrases the students had picked up and started using during the week included: witness, framed photograph, panel (which Adler hid the photo behind), tube (which the smoke bomb was made of), false alarm, observe, Your Majesty…

When I asked them to think back to the first lesson and how they felt when they first looked at the story, the students all said it looked hard, but that now they could understand. There was a great sense of achievement on looking around the room.

Doing it again

I definitely would! And I wouldn’t change much at all – the students were engaged, motivated, and picked up a lot of new language along the way. Hopefully it will inspire them to read a little more in English, and remind them that it’s not necessary to understand every word of something to get the main points. One student did go home and look up all of the unknown words on Monday evening, but that was the only time she did it.

The final lesson was one of the most entertaining I’ve had for a long time. The students were very motivated by the role play, and put a lot more energy into it than I expected. (The role play was included as part of my Delta Professional Development Assignment.)

What other ideas do you have for using short stories in class?

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