A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of spending over an hour chatting to Jim Fuller, who writes the blog Sponge ELT. I really enjoyed the conversation, and I hope you do too. You can find the YouTube link and Spotify audio on Jim’s blog.
We covered a whole range of topics connected to teacher training and academic management. This was the list of bookmarks Jim made:
01:50 Introduction and purpose of Sponge Chats 04:30 Who is Sandy Millin? 06:00 Sandy’s view on freelancing 09:10 Some benefits of blogging 18:21 Why the move into teacher training and management? 26:00 Why have teacher training and development programmes? 34:00 Managing expectations 36:00 Challenging aspects of teacher training and management 44:00 Getting feedback on your feedback 48:30 Managing time as an academic manager 54:00 Advice for teachers looking to move into teacher training or management 56:30 Diploma-level courses and teacher training 1:01:30 Sandy’s Delta Module 1 preparation course Take Your Time 1:09:00 How does Sandy develop? 1:11:30 Sandy’s book recommendations
I’ve just found some old notes from a workshop we ran at our school after a round of lesson observations where we saw every teacher, and thought it might provide a useful model for somebody somewhere.
I started by summarising all of the positive points which came out of the observations – I think it was probably the third and final round of observations for the year. This was the list:
Clear effort and planning that had gone into the lessons
Huge progress through the year
Demonstrating an obvious response to feedback we had given
Points and routines used more consistently in young learner and teen classes
Anticipating problems and being able to deal with them efficiently
Varying lessons effectively
Demonstrating ideas the observers could steal (one of my favourite things about observing!)
Teachers knew their students and there were no surprises with students having trouble with what happened in the lessons
Teachers were challenging themselves, not just coasting with their teaching
Experimenting with ideas from workshops
We then had about 30-40 minutes left. Each member of the senior team was in charge of an area of development we’d noticed when observing. The four areas were:
Getting attention and monitoring
Brain breaks/stirrers and settlers
The aim of activities/where is the learning happening
The teachers were free to spend as much or as little time as they wanted with each of us, to visit all of us or stay focussed on one area, to move around as they pleased and to participate as much or as little as they wanted to (side conversations were fine!). This gave the teachers autonomy within the session.
The final area on the list was mine. If I remember rightly I had a few of the course books we used at the school. Teachers chose a book, opened it at random, and had to decide what the aim of given activities/pages in the book were. They also had to decide what help or support they perhaps needed to add to make sure that learning would definitely happen if they used that activity. This was designed to help them think more deeply about what they could and should use from the course book, how it might or might not help the students, and what scaffolding they might need to provide.
What happens at your school after observations to build on observation feedback?
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 2014, 2015, 2016, 2019 (I’ve attended them all since 2014, but forgot to write about some of them!)
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.
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.
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.
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
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?’
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.
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.
The series Death in Paradise, which is pre-watershed so contains nothing you’d need to bleep out, but has a wide range of accents
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 🙂
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.
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.
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)
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?
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.
We are excited to share this video with you from our annual #IHConfAMT! 🤩 The community of International House DOSes and senior teachers met in London for 3 days of sessions, networking and sharing ideas. We just wanted to say a big thank you to everybody who joined us! pic.twitter.com/ST7PNLbsOX
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.
These guidelines are adapted from the following sources, with my own ideas added:
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).
I recently observed a teacher who wants to work on the feedback stages of her lesson, making sure that she is as responsive as possible to the needs of her learners and helping her as part of her DipTESOL studies. Most of the reading and methodology we’ve found about feedback has been connected to error correction and upgrading language. We haven’t been able to find very much about feedback on content and skills work and how to do it effectively. Please share if you can recommend anything!
In our post-observation discussion, one thing we discussed was the pacing of feedback, and that not everyone was fully involved in feedback stages. Feedback also didn’t really feed into later stages of the lesson. We identified that this was partly because the method of post-activity feedback chosen didn’t always appropriately match the activity itself – something neither of us have been specifically trained in. As a result, we came up with a series of questions to use to help her (and me!) when planning a lesson to work out how to get the most out of post-activity feedback.
What is the purpose of the task?
Is it comprehension of specific information?
Brainstorming ideas for a storytelling activity?
How can you most efficiently find out whether the purpose of the task has been achieved in the lesson?
By looking at students’ books while monitoring.
By students putting their ideas onto mini whiteboards, then walking around and looking at other people’s ideas.
What is the feedback stage actually for?
To make sure the students know the correct answers. To get a general idea of how well students have initially understand what they listened to.
To steal ideas from other students ready to use later in the lesson.
Where is the learning happening? For who? How many students are actively involved in this?
In pairs, students don’t just say what’s correct, but why, referring back to the text/transcript. If they’re not sure about something they circle it. The teacher monitors and notices what is circled to deal with in the next stage of the lesson.
You ask them to add ideas from other people to their whiteboards.
What other questions would you suggest? Would you use them in this order? Would you edit/remove any?
For example, in the lesson I observed there was rather a long listening task where students had to fill in a table with 4 rows and columns about the problems presenters had had during their presentations. Students checked their answers in pairs, then some of them wrote up the notes onto the whiteboard. Of the eight students in the class, four were writing up answers and the others were watching. In the peer check, one student who has general problems with listening comprehension had struggled a little with some of the points in the listening, but most were fine. It took a relatively long time (3-4 minutes) and once it was confirmed that the answers were correct, they were rubbed off the board.
Using the questions above, how would you approach the feedback from the activity in your lesson? How could it feed into later stages of the lesson to develop the students’ listening skills beyond pure comprehension?
Over the last 18 months, we have accidentally made video observations a ‘thing’ at our school. There was no grand plan – it just kind of happened, and I’m very glad it did!
As far as I remember, it started with the senior staff recording some of their lessons and making them available to the teachers to watch in a video bank on the school server. If we think particular teachers need help with something specific, we might recommend they watch a specific video or clip.
Then we had some teachers in satellite schools who needed to be observed, but we were not able to send an observer out for the 45 minutes they needed. Video was logistically much easier to set up, and had the added bonus that the teacher could see themselves too. Some teachers have also chosen to record themselves to look for specific things in their lessons, without having it formally observed.
Another technique is when a senior teacher and an inexperienced teacher would film themselves teaching the same lesson plan (we plan collaboratively) with their respective groups, then watch both videos and compare how the lesson plan manifested itself with two different groups. This is particularly useful for demonstrating differences in pace and in running feedback.
The final way in which we use videos is to back up in-person observations, with the observer recording clips of the lesson to show the teacher during feedback.
Although it is now possible to easily record lessons on a smartphone, most of the teachers use my Canon IXUS camera and GorillaPod tripod.
They can set it up anywhere in the room and it will record non-stop for 60 minutes (if I’ve remembered to charge the battery and empty the memory card!) I then put the video into their individual space on the server for them to watch when they are ready.
If it’s for a more formal observation, we do it in two different ways. Sometimes the observer watches the video first, then does the post-observation feedback in the same way as they would for a standard observation, but showing any relevant clips from the observation. Alternatively, the observer and teacher watch it together at the same time, having already decided what they’re looking for. They pause and discuss the video at relevant points, and decide together what the action points are coming out of the observation, and what positive things were spotted.
On joining the school, all students sign a list of terms and conditions. One of the items is that they are happy to be filmed or audio recorded. Teachers also sign permission slips in our induction week professional development sessions. Videos are for internal use only, and they are entirely within the control of the teacher. It is up to the teacher who sees them and whether they choose to put it into the school video bank for other teachers to see.
Video observations are a shortcut in a lot of ways. They enable teachers to see and hear:
the reactions of students to what they are doing, including who is not paying attention (and why?)
their activity set-up and how effective it is
how well students work with each other
which activities do and don’t work with a particular group
how other teachers do things, particularly managing young learner and teen groups (it’s not always possible for us to organise peer observations)
and much, much more.
Overall, video observations have enabled us to provide richer professional development to our teachers, enabling them to see into a variety of classrooms, including their own. If you haven’t tried it with your own teaching yet, I would highly recommend it. If you want to introduce it at your school, start with your own teaching – if you lead by example, it’s easier for other teachers to want to join in as it can feel less threatening. Good luck!
Christian Tiplady asked me if he could share his ideas for shifting the focus of official observations with the readers of this blog. I think you’ll agree that they are minor tweaks that could make a big difference.
Why do we focus on the behaviour of teachers during ‘official’ classroom observations? Is there an alternative way that is more in line with current thinking on learner-centred approaches?
So many institutions, including ones where I have worked, still cling to the idea that teachers need to be evaluated for quality assurance and that the best way to do this is with a formal observation, often compartmentalised and homogenised, taking the form of an hour-long observation by a senior member of staff. The observer uses a standardised feedback form with variables by which the teacher’s lesson is graded, and then leads feedback analysing what went well or badly. Oftentimes this observation takes place only infrequently, perhaps once a year, and there is often no follow-up to assess observation outcomes.
This style of evaluative observation is not only outdated but also ill-conceived. It assumes that the activity of ‘teaching’ can be rated, and that this can be done with the kind of standardised grading to which we have grown accustomed. In order to have much value at all any assessment of teaching needs to be thought through carefully. It needs to be done over a longer period with more frequent observations to avoid a ‘snapshot’ view and therefore the danger of misguided evaluation. Feedback needs to be cyclical and iterative in nature and co-constructed with the teacher as part of a reflective process to ensure that the teacher is on board with continuing development.
But there is a much more important point to be made here, which is that to focus on what the teacher is or isn’t doing in a classroom (and to rate that) is surely at best irrelevant and at worst dangerous if this is without explicit reference to the world of the learner. My contention is that we still do this way out of pure habit, and that at least in part, this undoubtedly comes from vestiges of ingrained beliefs that still linger, even if as teachers we know these things to be untrue.
Firstly, the status quo derives from the mistaken belief that teaching equals learning. However in reality we know that the teaching is only part of the equation and that learners will learn in their own way and at their own rate. As Freeman reminds us “teachers are influential in classroom learning but that does not mean they cause it to happen.” (Freeman, 2006; 254). Indeed we can teach what we might consider to be the best lesson, only to note that in terms of the learning it did not have the impact that was desired. Or conversely we can teach a lesson which at first sight did not go to plan or very ‘well’ in practice, but where there was nonetheless significant learning.
Secondly it comes from the implicit assumption that teaching behaviours can be classified and evaluated and that ‘more’ or ‘less’ of that thing is better. For example, typically ‘student talking time’ is inevitably valued within today’s language teaching, where a premium is placed on communication, and ‘teacher talking time’ should be reduced at all costs. In reality, purposeful teacher talk can be very useful as part of the learning process and in some lessons it may be vital.
Another example is the use of the English in the classroom versus the use of the student’s L1. The former has conventionally been highly valued (probably to encourage an element of immersion), whilst the latter i.e. the use of L1, has been relegated to the fringes with infrequent activities such as ‘translate these sentences into your own language’ given for homework, but with little real acknowledgement that use of L1 in the learning process can be extremely useful.
Although such thinking has increasingly been challenged over recent years, it still tends to be pervasive in the realm of teacher observations. We continue to focus on what the teacher should and should not do in the classroom (theories on this will likely come and go), and judge things by our own semi-conscious ideas of what is right and wrong. More importantly, by taking our eyes off the ball, we often miss the real action i.e. we neglect the impact (or lack of it) of the lesson on the learner. A typical example might be the types of praise given for a communicative speaking activity, which a teacher organised well and the learners dutifully performed with high levels of talking time, but which had little intrinsic value in terms of developing the learners or engaging them in meaningful expression.
By focusing on the behaviours of teachers in the classroom, we are also reinforcing a model that is teacher-centred and are thus potentially affecting teachers’ beliefs and behaviour. If we (learners, teachers, teacher trainers, managers etc.) desire lessons to be learner-centred then surely we need to promote that in everything we do, including the observations of teachers. Evidently, the main thing that is useful to focus on is learning and the learning process for the learner. In short, we need to rethink our observations of teachers to refocus on how teachers may best facilitate this learning.
So how do we do this? Assuming we still have to follow an institutionalised system of official observations, (which I still think can be reclaimed for the good), these can be redesigned with an onus on the learners with surprisingly minor structural adjustments, but with a fairly radical shift in our philosophy.
First of all, the usual observation template can be changed to make all criteria more learner-centred. Criteria such as ‘relevant learner outcomes established in conjunction with the learners’ and ‘lesson managed in a way that promoted achievement of lesson outcomes’ can be included to promote learner-centredness. The emphasis of wording is all-important; thus a criterion such as ‘use of English in the classroom’ can be amended to ‘English/L1 used appropriately for learner needs’ and ‘teacher talking time’ can be amended to ‘learner talking time suitable for learner needs’. These changes may seem somewhat pedantic, but in my experience such small adjustments can promote a major shift in the thinking of both the observer and the observed teacher alike. For instance, the phrasing of the latter criterion on learner talking time intrinsically leads both parties to ask themselves questions such as: ‘What was witnessed in terms of learner talking time?’ ‘Was the learner talking time appropriate in amount, form and quality at various stages of the lesson, as well as overall in the lesson? If not, why not?’ ‘Did the amount, form and quality of learner talking time mean the aims of the lesson were achieved for the learner? If not, why not?’ Clearly this change of emphasis might necessitate some ongoing training for both teachers and observers of lessons, but is nonetheless quite possible.
Secondly, the observer needs to truly focus on the learner – on their reactions, behaviour and likely learning – during the observed lesson. Often the observer sits at the back of the classroom to watch the teacher but cannot see the students’ faces or reactions. What the teacher does in terms of facilitation is important, but how the learner responds and whether they demonstrate that they are learning is of ultimate importance. Therefore the observer should try to ‘climb into the learners’ skin’ and see it from their perspective. The simplest act of the observer positioning their chair to the side of the classroom, to see the learners’ faces, how they react, and what they are doing, can make a huge difference to the observer’s understanding of the effects of the lesson on the learners and their learning.
Thirdly, the information gathered by the observer should ideally be backed up with further evidence to reduce subjectivity, preferably in the form of a video recording. Silvana Richardson (2014) has done some interesting work in this area, which she calls ‘evidence-based observation’. Software is also available which allows the observer to annotate the recorded video with questions and comments for the teacher, thereby facilitating a feedback process focusing on the learner, though it’s not always particularly easy to access.
Finally, however much the observer and the observed teacher try to adopt the mindset of the learner, and back it up with evidence, they can never claim to know the thoughts of the learner. The learners’ voice therefore needs to be included within observation feedback for any lesson or series of lessons. Thus the observation process should seek to include feedback from the learners, for example, their assessment of how engaging the lesson has been and how successful they think the lesson has been in terms of their learning. This can be factored into evaluative feedback as long as the process is handled sensitively.
Any additional comments learners have on the lesson(s) are also vitally important to inform the feedback process and can change the evaluation of a lesson significantly if they happen to disagree with what the observer and/or the teacher believe. When experimenting with this approach, I observed a lesson where I thought the learner might have been overloaded with the amount of topics that she was asked to speak about. However, in her feedback the learner maintained that that the amount of topics was at about the optimum level for her. This first-hand vantage point significantly changed my perception of the lesson.
In most institutions, how often does the observer of a lesson really solicit the opinions of the learners as part of the observation process? I would suggest very seldom. By contrast, including the learners’ voice in the observation feedback implicitly encourages the teacher to engage with learner feedback in the same way. Reframing the observation in terms of the learners not only allows a more relevant learner-centred perspective but also models good practice for the teacher as part of wider classroom culture.
Can this focus on the learner be equally beneficial as a basis for peer observations? Absolutely, yes! In fact gathering information on the learners provides an excellent focus and helps to avoid any evaluative critique of teaching, which many teachers may have come to habitually expect as the ‘default model’. So whilst evaluative observations look set to stay, let’s at least focus on what matters, namely the learners.
Freeman, D. Teaching and Learning in Gieve S. and Miller, I. (2006) ‘The Age of Reform’ in Understanding the Language Classroom. Basingstoke: Pelgrave-Macmillan.
BSc (Hons), Trinity Cert. TESOL, PGDip TESOL, MA TESOL
Christian is a freelance teacher trainer based in the UK. He has worked in both EFL and Modern Foreign Languages (MFLs) sectors for over 25 years, teaching, teacher training and managing in private language schools, NGOs and government organisations. Most recently he served as Pedagogy Manager at the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office organising CPD for tutors who teach MFLs to diplomatic staff. He has set up TrinityTESOL and Cambridge CELTA courses and is currently a CELTA tutor and assessor. He specialises in the creation of CPD programmes, developmental observations and feedback. Christian currently produces the teachers’ podcast Developod for the IATEFL Teacher Development Special Interest Group (TDSIG).
For a lot of teachers, it can be hard to find the time or the opportunity to observe and learn from other teachers’ lessons. If that’s you, hopefully you’ll find these videos useful.
I’ve divided them into loose categories, with a sentence or two to help you decide which are the most relevant to you. Within the categories, they’re just in the order I found them! I’d like to thank the many people who’ve sent me links to these videos over the years (though unfortunately I can’t remember exactly who sent me what!)
Please feel free to tell me about other videos I may have missed in the comments, as well as any broken links. I’d particularly appreciate any VYL, YL or teen videos that may be out there, though I know they may be hard to find.
P.S. I’ll admit that I haven’t watched all of these from start to finish, just bits and pieces, so please proceed with caution…
Hubert Puchta introducing vocabulary and using Total Physical Response (TPR) and telling an action story (7 minutes)
An American kindergarten teacher working in a French-language immersion school (27 minutes) (via David Deubelbeiss)
Teacher Allen singing a song and teaching a demo lesson with Chinese kindergarteners (10 minutes)
Another kindergarten lesson in China, this time with 33 children (30 minutes)
Michael Roxas working on adjectives, using TPR and introducing clothes with a kindergarten group, working with a Chinese teacher (27 minutes) Michael has other videos of him teaching kindergarten on his YouTube channel.
This one shows Mark working with puppets (3 minutes)
Paul Pemberton teaching kindergarteners in China (30 minutes), including a really nice routine for getting kids to put their hands up
Shaun teaching 3 year olds in China for a parents’ open day (15 minutes)
Hannah Sophia Elliot teaching kindergarten in China (41 minutes)
Ann teaching children using a story bag (9 minutes)
Watts English have a series of videos showing children in Prague kindergarten. Here’s the first (20 minutes) Look at the Czech playlist for more, as well as the games bank.
Here’s an example of a teacher using a puppet as part of their WOW! method (5 minutes)
Savannah building rapport with a brand new group of students (4 minutes)
Tony using role plays as part of a demo lesson (23 minutes)
Najmul Hasan (a.k.a. Peter) also has a range of videos of him teaching kindergarten. Here’s one (25 minutes)
Rebecca Eddy teaching shapes to a kindergarten class in China (13 minutes)
This video is designed to show teachers how to run a demo lesson, but there are also lots of useful tips in there and examples of how to set up activities (9 minutes)
Tanner Applegate teaching 3 year olds in China (6 minutes)
Marco Brazil teaching colours to very young learners (4 minutes)
Teaching weather to kindergarten children, with a Chinese teacher also in the room (15 minutes)
Introducing body parts (4 minutes)
Thanks very much to Lucy, who suggested in the comments that I look up kindergarten ESL teacher on YouTube, which led to most of the above videos!
Adi Rajan suggested the Teacher Development films available on the British Council website, accompanied by workbooks. Here’s one example (52 minutes):
Marisa Constantinides playing the ‘please’ game, and thereby demonstrating total physical response (TPR) (8 minutes) She wrote about this activity, plus two more with accompanying videos (Thanks for letting me know, Marisa!)
Ashley Haseley teaching sensory reactions in China (12 minutes)
Kaila Smith talking about teaching children in China, with lots of clips from her classes (4 minutes)
Pass the bag, a video of a game shared by Ian Leahy (90 seconds)
Sam playing a days of the week game with Thai children (2 minutes)
This video shows you how to do guided reading with elementary learners – it’s mostly describing the technique, but there are various clips of the teacher at work (11 minutes)
A counting game for kids (2 minutes)
This is a video describing various classroom management techniques shared by Ian Leahy. Although there is a voiceover throughout the entire video, there are lots of clips of exactly what’s happening. (16 minutes)
Gunter Gerngross demonstrating TPR with young learners (3 minutes)
Karlee Demierre using a body parts song (3 minutes)
Introducing animal vocabulary in a demo lesson, with lots of flashcard games (32 minutes)
A shopping lesson with pre-intermediate students using Solutions Pre-Intermediate (17 minutes)
Ross Thorburn introducing the rooms in a school (6 minutes)…
…and showing how unmonitored group work ran (35 seconds)
Ross Thorburn using flashcards with beginner young learners (1:10)…
…and with elementary young learners (1:30)
Ross also has tips for behaviour management, including live examples from class (5 minutes)…
…and demonstrating routines (7 minutes)
In this video, Ross introduces vocabulary, then takes his class into a shopping mall (8 minutes)
Sarah Troughear teaching a group using Life Pre-Intermediate, based on the topic of transport (60-minutes, including post-lesson analysis)
Clive Brown teaching a group using Life Upper Intermediate, based on the topic of documentary film-makers (37 minutes, including post-lesson analysis)
Andrew Walkley using an image to get students interested in a coursebook topic and lead in to a discussion (6 minutes)
Hugh Dellar teaching listening lexically – part 1 (13 minutes)
and part 2…
Stacey Hughes teaching using an e-book – find out more (10 minutes)
Me 🙂 teaching upper intermediate students – working with gerunds and infinitives (8 minutes) – find out more
Me clarifying the difference between ‘borrow’ and ‘lend’ with upper intermediate (9 minutes)
Me teaching money vocab to intermediate students (15 minutes)
Billy Hasirci teaching a demo lesson for a CELTA course (he’s the tutor!) He’s working with intermediate students, listening to a song (41 minutes)
Lindsay Warwick teaching second conditional (1 hour)
Hugh Dellar demonstrating the lexical approach, including lots of whiteboard work (18 minutes)
Elizabeth Kuizenga Romijn teaching high-level beginners (I would say elementary) cooking vocabulary using realia (38 minutes)
John Bartik teaching beginners the phrase ‘I like ______’ (13 minutes)
Chris Westergaard teaching animal vocabulary to a group of intermediate students (14 minutes)…
…and movie vocabulary to another intermediate group (10 minutes)
Functional language to help students debate, I’d guess at intermediate or upper intermediate level. I don’t know the teacher’s name, but it was shared on the ELT Experiences blog (17 minutes)
Hugh Dellar teaching a one-hour Skype lesson based on Outcomes Advanced with three students from Krasnodar, Russia. It includes examples of Hugh works with lexis, as an advocate of the lexical approach.
Angelos Bollas teaching a CELTA demo grammar lesson to upper intermediate students on Zoom, showing you what it’s like from the teacher’s perspective:
Angelos again, teaching another CELTA demo lesson, this time using task-based materials using the Fluency First blog:
CELTA TP7, as uploaded by English with Stephanie, intermediate students, restaurants (45 minutes)
And TP8, focussing on functional language, again with intermediate students (35 minutes)
David teaching during CELTA uploaded by Insearch LearningCentre (60 minutes) – I’m guessing it’s elementary or pre-intermediate students, talking about a trip to Japan
Anastasia, a Russian trainee who did her CELTA in 2012 (47 minutes)
Please feel free to suggest any extra videos or to tell me if there are any broken links.
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.
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:
Observation task focused on learner errors also helps trainees develop their language analysis skills #CELTAchat#IATEFL2017
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:
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!
One of the reasons that I go to the IATEFL conference so regularly is to give me a boost for my own CPD. It’s always a bonus when I get ideas of alternative ways to develop too, and that’s what these sessions reflect.
Continued professional development: frameworks, practices and promises (Gabriel Diaz Maggioli)
The opening plenary of the conference gave us an overview of how CPD could be integrated into professional organisations more effectively. You can watch the full plenary at IATEFL online, or read my summary here.
Much CPD is decontextualised, one size fits all, prescriptive, and not relevant to the teacher, leaving 90% of the profession behind, with only a few ‘lighthouse schools’ as the exception to this. A lot of it is self-driven, and it can be very superficial. If they do anything, teachers pick two or three techniques from superficial learning, for example from a one-day conference once a year, and use them too much, meaning it is not effective as it should be. They are often not given the time or support to follow up on CPD, and if an expert comes in to tell them how to teach and they don’t implement it, it’s considered their fault, not the management’s.
Teachers need time, resources and support to ensure that CPD is neither useless, norpointless. Real life CPD needs to be timely, job-embedded, personalized and collegial. Diaz Maggioli says we need to think in terms of learning communities to come together to investigate areas of mutual interest.
CPD is an investment, not an expense. The end user of CPD is the student, not the teacher, and more investment in CPD benefits everyone.
Diaz Maggioli suggests that every school should provide one hour of paid CPD, away from the students. He’s created a framework: ‘The Teacher’s Choice Framework’ (2004). On the vertical access, we have outdated/updated knowledge, and on the horizontal access, we have aware/unaware. In every organisation, there are people in all four quadrants, for example who are unaware that their knowledge is outdated. Here are some ideas for differentiating CPD to ensure that there is something for people in each quadrant:
Mirror coaching: ask a colleague to come and write ethnographic notes about your class. No judgements, just notes about what you do, which you then get. You access your behaviour through somebody else’s eyes, in a way you can’t with video. You can ask them questions too. This is great for teachers who are unaware that their knowledge is updated or outdated.
Collaborative coaching: especially co-teaching, which is good for those who are aware their knowledge is outdated.
Expert coaching: for those who are unaware their teaching is outdated. This is not a deficit view: you are giving them the strength to renew their teaching.
Study groups: a teacher volunteers to show a sample of student work, and explain how they got the students to learn. They have 5 minutes to describe it, then other teachers have 10 minutes to ask questions, then a 10 minute break for the teacher to build a case to respond, then 20 minutes to form conclusions as a group.
Critical friend teams: this works as a sounding board, especially when teachers are struggling with new methodology or classroom management. Some of them look for resources for you, others ask questions. Groups are adhoc, but the results should be recorded. It may lead to ideas like collaborative action research, with teachers planning and implementing ideas together.
Exploratory action research: teachers are taught to answer questions that are in their context. They communicate this through posters that they share with their colleagues, and it is highly contextualised. It gives the teachers a voice.
Lesson study: a group plans a lesson together, then one of them teaches it while the others observe the students learning, They get together and decide whether it needs replanning, then another teacher teaches it, and the process repeats. It’s also highly contextualised.
Learning circles: ad hoc professional development meetings. One person has something they want to find out about. They open the circle by asking others what they know and what they want to know. Teachers work together to plan a project together and implement it. They then decide how to publish the knowledge, and close the circle when they’re ready to do so.
Mentoring: working with a more experienced teacher who helps you to work throuh changes. These are more personalised approaches to CPD, and work best when pairs are self-selected.
Professional portfolio: by putting this together, you reflect on your own development.
Dialogue journals: work together with another teacher to record your development and ask your own questions.
These are all things which can be done within work time and don’t have to be self-driven.
As yourself (through photos or audio/video recordings)
The last is the one he terms the ‘selfie’ observation. He did a survey to find out more about these, and shared some of the results with us in the session, as well as on his blog.
Benefits of self-observation:
can focus intensively on one area over a series of lessons
observing students’ reactions is easier
you can question your own assumptions
more ‘real’, less ‘staged’ than formal observation
snapshots of a lesson help you to remember it better
observations become then norm, not the exception, so teachers become more relaxed
The #eltwhiteboard hashtag is a good place to find and share pictures of whiteboards. In the session we looked at one particular whiteboard and our impressions of the teacher and lesson behind it. John also mentioned Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink [affiliate link] and a study about teachers and first impressions, which Gladwell also referred to in this New Yorker article.
If you do decide to video a lesson, remember that you don’t need to watch the whole thing.A lot of self-observations are focussed on what’s being said (e.g. instructions, student talking),more than what’s seen, but remember that you can use different kinds of observation task to help you notice different aspects of the lesson. John has a range of them on his blog. Ways of using self-observations:
Observe yourself teaching out of general interest
Observe yourself to address a specific issue
Personal record-keeping and reflection
Part of certification/further study e.g. DipTESOL, Delta
John also highlighted the importance of training teachers to observe, so it’s not just the preserve of managers and teacher trainers. I think this is really important, and takes a lot of the mystery out of the observation process. If you know what’s happening from the other side, it shouldn’t be as scary any more. According to a friend who teaches in state schools in the UK, this is a normal part of training new teachers there – I’m not aware of it happening in any kind of formalised way in ELT.
Developing through IATEFL
Jon Burton is the new CEO of IATEFL. In this interview recorded at IATEFL Glasgow 2017, he talks about what IATEFL is doing to attract younger teachers, and the #myiatefl hashtag which you can use to give feedback on the organisation.
Having recently recorded a lesson, I thought it would be interesting, if excruciating, to go back and re-watch myself teaching from mid-Delta. You can watch too if you want to join in the fun 😉
These are my impressions:
I’ve lost a lot of weight, and I’m so much happier and healthier for it! (Yep, that’s the first thing that struck me!)
My lessons flow much more now, with better pacing. There’s a dramatic reduction in the amount of time I spend at the board/doing open-class work.
I’m more confident when dealing with language now. Much less looking at a piece of paper to check things.
My God I was talking slowly! Although that may reflect the level of the students – I can’t remember if it was intermediate or upper intermediate, but I think I could have spoken at a more natural speed.
Everything was at the board here and open class. I’d be much less likely to do that now, unless I’m mopping up. I also appear to be telling the students lots of things, rather than checking if they already know it by getting them to discuss it in pairs.
My board work was already fairly well-organised, and I was using different colours to differentiate information. I can’t remember what happened in the rest of the lesson, but it looks like I’ve written everything on the board. That must have taken quite some time – time when I wasn’t paying attention to the students…
There wasn’t much thinking time for the students after some of my questions. The language appears to be appropriately graded.
The staging of the questions appears to be logical and the questions are all clear.
I wrote the above list while watching the video saved on my computer. I’ve just found the original blog post, and noticed some of my opinions/beliefs have changed too. For example “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.” which is not what I thought when watching it this time, especially when I realised they were upper intermediate!
I also realised there’s actually another post about an intermediate class, this time with two videos. Here’s what I thought on watching those:
My instructions were fine, not as bad as I remembered, but not as good as they could have been. Some chesting of the handout, some instruction checking, instructions before handouts… I think the main problem with them seems to have been a lack of demos/examples.
The first time I was drilling without visuals, so students were saying, not reading. This is good! I also made everybody join in. Later in the lesson they were reading from the board though – no memorisation here. There were some supporting gestures and a bit of connected speech (‘to’/’from’) too, plus one example of drilling from phonemes. Now I suspect I’d put structures like “lend sth to sb” into a ‘real’ sentence, like “He lent the pen to her.”
I reminded students that “There’s never idle time in classes. That’s your remembering time.” Didn’t realise I was already doing that before – I thought that was a relatively new thing. There are also other bits of learner training: highlight the things you had problems with, use two colours to copy information and a reminder to use Quizlet, which was obviously a routine with this group as I didn’t have to tell them any more about it. I also must have used Edmodo with them, which I’m out of the habit of using with my students now (just some of my trainees).
Clear board work again 🙂
There was an opportunity for some dictionary work with the prepositions and the money words potentially.
I emphasised that the preposition should be learnt with the word: a bit of lexical chunking (though prompted by the book, and not sure I realised I was doing it)
Giving students the opportunity to work out the language themselves, although again in open class. Now I’d get students to discuss it in pairs first, then feedback in open class.
The borrow/lend focus included students’ names, making it a tiny bit more personal.
I made sure I had their attention during the clarification, and gave them separate writing time afterwards.
Wait time was better in this clarification than in the first video.
Nice bit of comparative linguistics about ‘borrow’ and ‘lend’ 🙂
So it turns out another benefit to recording yourself – you can come back to it later and see how much you’ve improved/developed/changed, just as you might by recording a student and saving it for the end of the year 🙂 Oh, and it wasn’t quite as excruciating as I thought it might be!
A few days ago my students agreed to let me record their lesson. Thanks very much to Mike for doing the honours! Unfortunately we didn’t get the whole lesson, because the camera ran out of space, but 50 minutes was plenty. I was working with a group of upper intermediate students from English File Upper Intermediate 3rd edition, and this was my tenth lesson with them.
The last time I watched myself was during the Delta, about four years ago. You can see the videos here. I enjoyed the experience much more this time round, partly because I have a great group of students, and partly because I can see just how much I’ve progressed.
My instructions are now almost always clear and concise, and I’m much better at waiting for students to listen to me. I indicate changes in pairs or groupings and wait for students to move before the rest of my instructions, show the materials as I speak, and check instructions so the whole set-up is much more efficient. Monitoring is more consistent, for understanding of the task, task completion and language. I’ve recently started using the board more consistently for emergent language, and am developing the information I include there. I was pleased that I gave students time to write down this language as I don’t always remember it.
There is still the occasional lack of wait time for students to answer my question, I should have introduced the phonemic chart before students looked at the sounds on the board, and I need to incorporate more of the language that I write in my notebook into future lessons, though at least I’m normally getting it into the lesson which I write it down in. In fact, it’s important to get a lot more recycling and revision into all of my lessons.
The part of the lesson which wasn’t recorded consisted of finishing the pronunciation practice, including differentiating between /u:/ and /ʊ/, which the group particularly struggled with, and then giving them some speaking practice about clothes and fashion. For the first time in a while they had a chunk of time to do this, which was long enough for me to conduct a speaking assessment, one of the regular assessments we do. It also gave them freer practice, something which I often struggle to get to, and am trying to work on at the moment.
All in all, I think this was probably my most successful lesson with this group, mostly because for the first time this year I didn’t try to cram too much in. The students were engaged throughout, and I believe we only focussed on the language that caused them problems after we’d completed the initial test.
From August I’ll be the Director of Studies at IH Bydgoszcz in Poland, and in preparation for this I’ve been reading and listening to blogs, books and podcasts about management. Observation will also be a key part of my role, as well as being relevant to my work as a CELTA tutor. I’ve therefore grouped the talks I saw at IATEFL on these topics into a single post.
Forum on peer observation
This was my first experience of an IATEFL forum, and I decided to go on the spur of the moment. I’m glad I did, as it gave me ideas for how to encourage teachers to take part in a peer observation programme, and showed me some of the potential problems with setting one up.
EFL Teachers and Peer Observation: beliefs, challenges and implications – Gihan Ismail
Gihan works at King Abdulaziz University in Saudi Arabia. She decided to research how experienced EFL teachers (5-20 years) perceive peer observation, in contrast to most research which focuses on relatively inexperienced teachers.
Experienced teachers had multiple identities as teachers which came into conflict when considering peer observation, contrasting their personal identity and the value of the observation to them as individuals with their professional identity and observations as CPD (continuing professional development). Her findings showed that there was a relatively negative attitude towards peer observation, despite experienced teachers knowing that it can be beneficial. This encompassed the following factors:
How the outcome of observations may influence their career.
Psychological/emotional tensions, including a potential distrust in the peer doing the observation.
Feeling threatened because there’s a risk that they might lose some of their reputation if the peer doesn’t understand what they are doing.
A rejection of changes in their habits: comfort zones are difficult to leave.
Doubt in the outcome of any changes they might make as a result of observations.
The potential stress involved in participating in peer observations, and the fact that this can be avoided by doing other forms of CPD, like going to conferences.
Their beliefs were also shaped by past experience and ‘professional coursework’ (e.g. formalised training, books read).
Most studies focus on external factors influencing whether teachers are willing to participate in peer observation schemes, but Ismail found that actually internal factors were dominant. For example, issues like fear and/or a potential loss of face in front of a less experienced colleague were more likely to make teachers want to avoid peer observation than factors imposed by their employer. It wasn’t helped by the fact that in most cases there was no pre-observation meeting to set up what the observed teacher and the peer wanted to get out of the observation. Her research suggests that teacher needs should be examined more carefully in workplaces, where student needs tend to dominate and teachers’ needs are secondary.
Peer observation: introducing a system that actually works for everyone – Shirley Norton
Shirley described a successful peer observation scheme which was set up at the London School of English, where teachers have between five and thirty-five years of experience.
Before the scheme was set up, peer observation was:
officially encouraged, but rarely happened unless there was an inspection.
management-led, with teachers being told who they should see.
contrasted with the atmosphere of collaboration in the staffroom: you can’t come into my classroom!
mostly focussed on quality control, rather than developmental aims.
To be able to implement a peer observation scheme which would work, they started with a questionnaire to collect opinions about peer observation, and discovered many points which echoed Gihan’s findings in the previous presentation. Everyone agreed peer observation was a good thing, but nobody actually wanted to do it!
All the research Shirley did said that teachers need to be involved from the beginning when setting up schemes like this, so that’s what she did. They had a focus group discussing the possible benefits of peer observations and potential obstacles. All ideas were accepted, and they came up with over 100 obstacles! Previously, this is where they had stopped when thinking of such schemes, but this time they went through each obstacle and came up with potential solutions. This led to the creation of clear guidelines for the scheme, including the role of the observer and the teacher, how to give feedback, and how to focus on development rather than judgement. Throughout her talk Shirley emphasised the importance of these guidelines, and the fact that a peer observation scheme is unlikely to be effective without them. Guidelines on feedback are particularly important, as this is where observation systems often fall down. Here are some examples:
Problem: Increased workload for teachers. Solution: No formal paperwork required for management. Peer observation is supposed to be development, and there doesn’t need to be proof of this. It’s between the teachers involved.
Problem: Lack of management buy-in. Solution: Make it a sacred part of the timetable and find a way to ensure it is never dropped.
Problem: There’s no chair for the observer. Solution: The teacher doing the observation provides the chair.
Spending time on these ‘what ifs’ makes teachers more relaxed and more likely to want to participate. No matter how minor they may seem, these are genuine fears which may scupper your programme, so you need to take them seriously.
The scheme has gone through various incarnations, with Shirley trying to match teachers up with their observation wishlists (logistical nightmare), then telling them who to observe (teachers were unhappy), before finally settling on teachers deciding for themselves (success!)
Now each teacher has an allocated week in the school year which is their opportunity to peer observe. Within that week they are allowed to choose anybody to observe and they will be covered if necessary to enable them to do so. This happens regardless of anything else going on in the school (illness, inspections etc) as otherwise the programme would fall apart. Up to two teachers may have the same week allocated – more than that makes it difficult to cover everyone. Even generally disengaged teachers did peer observations willingly with this system. As for those being observed, you can only say no to somebody coming into your classroom if you’ve been observed within the previous four weeks. Observations are included on the school’s weekly planner and email reminder is sent out to those being observed. Management doesn’t tell them who or what to observe: that is entirely up to the teachers involved. The only requirements from management are that each observation has three steps: pre-observation meeting, observation, post-observation meeting (these can be as long or as short as the participants like). Everything above is codified in the guidelines for the scheme.
Overall, the aim of the scheme is to share best practice, with everyone learning from each other.
Peer observation: making it work for lasting CPD – Carole Robinson and Marie Heron
Maria and Carole work at NILE, where there is a relatively high turnover of teachers. These are the benefits of peer observation as they see them:
Learning ways of dealing with critical incidents in the classroom.
Building peer-peer trust.
Observing learners from a different perspective (when observing a class you also teach).
Extended professional development.
They have tried a variety of different peer observation systems. An open-door policy was seen as being too radical, so they decided to have a sign-up sheet instead. Teachers have been issued with red cards which they can put outside their door if they feel it would be a bad time for an observer to come into their lesson. Although they have never been used, it makes them feel safer and more willing to accept observers.
Because of the problem of cover, many observations are only 10-minutes. These are particularly useful at the beginning of a class as teachers are more likely to be willing to relinquish their students to another teacher at this point while they go and observe. Once every two weeks, they also run workshop sessions for the students which require fewer teachers than traditional classes do, leaving teachers free to observe other classes.
Other possible observation systems are:
Blind observations: The lesson is discussed before and after it happens, but there is no observer in the room during the class.
Video observations: The lesson is discussed before, videoed on a mobile phone, then specific sections of the lesson are watched with the observer. This removed the fear of having another person in the room.
The pre-observation chat is very important, regardless of the manner of observation. This is when the focus of the observation is decided on as well as how feedback will be conducted.
To reduce paperwork, teachers only complete an observation log showing the time, date and focus of observations. No other paperwork is required by management. To maximise their potential, observations take place throughout the year, rather than only once or twice, and they vary in length to help teachers fit them in. Teachers are encouraged to keep a reflective journal of what they have learnt from the observations, both as observed and observer. They don’t have to show it to anyone, but can if they want to: What have I learnt? What questions does it pose?
Peer observations are also the subject of workshops the school holds, including discussion about how to develop the scheme further. These workshops take the form of debates and happen every 2-3 months, covering a whole variety of topics (not just peer observations). They sound like an interesting idea, and one I’d like to experiment with.
Better together: peer coaching for continuing professional development – Dita Phillips and Ela Wassell
Ela has been telling me about the peer coaching project she has been running with Dita over the past year since it started, so I had to go to this talk to find out how it all panned out in the end 🙂
Dita and Ela met at IATEFL Harrogate last year, and quickly realised that they had quite similar teaching profiles in terms of their experience and length of time in the classroom. They were also both based in Oxford.
Ela returned to the classroom at around the same time, having taught 121 for a long time. She asked Dita to observe her to check some of her classroom management techniques. Dita asked Ela to observe in return because she didn’t want to get stuck in a rut. They found the experience so useful that they decided they wanted to turn it into something more formal, and their peer coaching project was born.
Peer coaching is:
A confidential process through which two or more professional colleagues work together to reflect on current practices; expand, refine and build new skills; share ideas; teach one another; conduct classroom research; or solve problems in the workplace.
Robbins, P(1991) How to plan and implement a peer coaching programme Alexandria, VA; Association for Supervision Curriculum Development (may be a slight mistake in the reference – tweet not clear)
Or, as they said:
Reflecting together, learning from each other.
Their project involved:
Listing their individual and professional goals before the project started.
Meeting regularly to discuss their lessons, things they had read/watched and teaching in general, working together to solve problems and build their knowledge. Because they were working with an experienced peer, the discussions could go into a lot of depth. They supported each other as critical friends.
Observing each other’s lessons for specific details. They originally taught at different schools, but Ela later moved to Dita’s school. They told their managers what they were doing, and received support with timetabling (among other things) to make their project possible.
Audio and video recording lessons.
Giving feedback to each other on lessons and suggesting small tweaks they could make to change them.
Keeping a teaching diary, which formed the basis for future meetings and ideas for observations. Ela colour-coded hers: change, improve, important.
Teaching each other’s classes: they could focus on their learners while the other teacher led the class. When students asked why this was happening, it evolved into a discussion about the nature of teaching and learning, and students were interested in how they were developing their teaching. As a result, Dita became more comfortable with asking her students for feedback on lessons.
For Dita, the project encouraged her to leave her comfort zone, and she decided to work on a CELTA at a different centre, giving her more material for development and reflection.
These are the benefits of peer coaching according to Dita and Ela:
Easy to incorporate into your work schedule (especially with the support of managers).
Two heads are better than one!
You build a closer relationship with a colleague.
Mutual motivation because you don’t want to let your peer down.
Can see continuity and progress throughout the year.
Here are their tips if you’d like to set up a similar project:
Choose the right person.
Set up ground rules, including confidentiality and how you will give feedback.
Decide what forms of coaching you will include (see ideas above for inspiration).
Set goals before you start and review them regularly.
Create a schedule and stick to it.
Decide what you hope to achieve with the project as a whole.
Inform management and gain school support if possible.
Be open and honest about what you are doing.
Evaluate the project when you have finished.
Share the results.
Because there was no requirement to grade or assess the lessons, they both found it very liberating and learnt a lot.
I’m here to improve and to learn.
Their students also benefitted. They both gained confidence in their own practice and abilities as teachers, as well as the courage to experiment more with their teaching.
Lesson jams were designed as a fun way to get together for a few hours with other teachers and be inspired by each other and a random prompt (you might find some inspiration on my other blog!) to come up with a lesson plan. There is a step-by-step process for this, culminating in each group sharing their plan with everyone there. The aim of the jam is to be creative and to learn from each other. They also share the final plans on their website, and they’re currently looking for more ideas on how to work with the finished products after the lesson jam. So far, they’ve had two very successful jams and will continue to hold them in the future.
If you’d like to set up your own lesson jam, there is a downloadable guide including all of the stages on the Berlin LW GAS site.
Aspiring to inspire: how to become a great LTO* manager – Fiona Thomas
(*Language Teaching Organisation)
What is the difference between an inspiring manager and a mediocre one? How does an inspiring manager make you feel?
Why is it so hard to be inspiring? It requires time to connect with people at an emotional level, and if there’s one thing managers are short of, it’s time. Our stress levels build up because we’re constantly ‘on’ and this leads to us ignoring the warning signs of stress until it’s too late, much like boiling a frog. This leads to us becoming uninspirational micro managers.
To combat this we need to stake a step back and analyse what we are doing with our time. Fiona suggested creating a pie chart and using this to decide whether you are spending appropriate amounts of time on each area. These are the categories she suggested:
Being an academic expert/mentor;
Fiona decided she was spending too much time on operations management and looked for ways to delegate some of the more administrative parts of her job. Technology could also help you to make some of these areas more efficient. This frees time to focus on developing ‘distinguishing competencies’, thus making managers more inspirational. These differ from ‘threshold competencies’, which are the minimum skills required to do your job. For a DoS, this would be areas like timetabling and conducting observations. ‘Distinguishing competencies’ include:
Social intelligence: understanding relationships.
Emotional intelligence: being aware of your own emotions.
Cognitive intelligence: interpreting what is happening in the world around you.
Research shows that outstanding managers create resonant relationships with the people they manage. This reminds me of the idea of one on ones from the Manager Tools podcast I have been listening to, which seems like a very effective way of building up these relationships. So what is a resonant relationship? It’s one which:
Communicates hope: the belief that the future will be good and things are possible;
Reminds people of the purpose of the organisation and encourages a shared vision (If you have a mission statement, refer to it!);
Demonstrates compassion (showing that you care and that people feel you care) – following the recipient’s agenda: what motivates them?
Shows mindfulness (you are ‘with’ the people you manage, not thinking about other things) and attention. Be fully aware of where you are and what you’re doing. If you know it’s not a good time and you can’t give your full attention, act accordingly: postpone the meeting, ask to speak to them at a specified later time, etc.
Has participants who appear to be authentic, genuine and transparent and act with integrity;
Includes quality time spent with the people you manage, in which you learn about their aspirations and motivation – it’s easy to make assumptions about people if you don’t get to know them properly;
Spreads positive emotions: the more powerful your position is, the more likely your emotions are to affect other people.
These talks have given me many ideas for how to implement observations when I become a DoS, the most important of which is to make sure that any peer observation scheme comes primarily from the teachers themselves. I am also more and more sure that I want to include one on ones in my timetable for next year to get to know the people that I am working with as quickly as possible. Lots to think about 🙂
This was my first IATEFL since I became a CELTA tutor, so I had a whole new set of talks to discover. Here are the three I went to, all of which made me think about how I approach CELTA tutoring and what an ‘ideal’ course would look like.
Strictly Come CELTA: An analogy and some thoughts on feedback – Jo Gakonga
I’ve found Jo’s CELTA training videos very useful and enjoyed a meal with her and a few other CELTA and Delta trainers at the beginning of the conference, so was looking forward to hearing her speak, and I wasn’t disappointed.
Jo compared the role of CELTA tutors to that of judges on the BBC programme Strictly Come Dancing. Each of them has a distinctive personality and gives feedback in different ways, which reflects our roles as CELTA tutors. She asked us to consider which of the judges we are similar to, and how this may change throughout the course or with different trainees.
She also talked about differentiated grading scales (compared to ‘To Standard’ and ‘Not To Standard’ from Cambridge), and how this can create standardisation issues. On SCD, there is a 10-point scale, but only one of the four judges really grades like this. One of them only really uses a five-point scale, because she never gives lower than 5. In 12 series, one judge has given 113 ’10s’, another 146 and another 35, but they’re all supposed to be grading on the same scale. She used this to encourage us to think about whether differentiated grading is useful or not.
The development of cognitions and beliefs on CELTA courses – Karla Leal Castañeda
I first learnt about the concept of teacher cognitions (what teachers know, believe and think) at the IH DoS conference in January this year. I believe it has a big effect on participants in CELTA courses and how receptive they are to the training they receive. I chose to go to this talk in the hope of finding out more.
In a nutshell, Karla’s research was to investigate what the trainees believed coming on to the course, whether this changed through the course, and how it influenced their performance. She did a combination of interviews and observations with 8 trainees from 3 different courses.
Most of them had unrealistically high expectations of what they might be able to learn on a four-week course, including ‘grammar’, a formula for how to be a good teacher, or a completely new way of approaching teaching. By the end of the course, they recognised that it was impossible to cover all of this within the time constraints, but still found the learning experience to be ‘rich and far from disappointing’. As they said, CELTA can only give them an insight of what teaching is and experience will give them the rest.
They highlighted the importance of planning in their post-lesson reflections, as they realised that problems in the lesson often stemmed from a lack of preparation. Based on negative experiences they had had in lessons, trainees had aspects of teaching they would prefer to avoid after the course, for example, CCQs (concept-checking questions). Despite this, they recognised that they needed to give techniques a fair trial before discarding them categorically, and that a four-week course was not enough time to say that a particular technique would or wouldn’t work.
Coming on to the course, most of the trainees talked about their own previous negative experiences learning languages and expressed that language learning needed to be fun to be effective, with a good rapport between teacher and students. This led to them prioritising fun in their own evaluations of their lessons, often disregarding what the trainer had to say about the lesson in terms of how successful it was if they (the trainees) thought that it wasn’t fun. There was a belief that language teachers need to be different to teachers of other subjects, since language teaching cannot be as teacher-centred as other subjects: interaction is crucial. By the end of the course, classroom management was added to the list of desirable teacher characteristics, in addition to subject knowledge and good rapport with students.
During the courses, there was shift towards a more student-centred approach to teaching. However, trainees stated that when teaching more student-centred lessons they felt less professional, and less ‘teachery’, which echoes my own informal observations of the need for trainees to adopt ‘teacher position‘ to feel like they are being effective and useful to the students. There is a continuous struggle against deeply rooted previously ‘learned’ behaviour, either from their own experience in the classroom or from the ‘apprenticeship of observation‘: what they have learnt from being a student and observing their own teachers.
In the Q&A session at the end, a trainer in the audience highlighted that sometimes we are not very good at managing expectations during the CELTA course, and that perhaps we need to revisit them more often. Another trainer suggested including regular slots in input sessions where you encourage trainees to compare what they have learnt about teaching with their own beliefs about how to teach. This is definitely an area which warrants further research, and one in which I will watch developments with interest.
The natural CELTA – a farewell to language? – Joanna Stansfield and Emma Meade-Flynn
This was the final talk I went to at IATEFL this year, and was a great note to finish on as it inspired me to consider a completely different approach to putting together a CELTA course by rethinking it from the ground up, rather than basing it on more traditional structures.
Joanna and Emma wanted to remove as much of the stress from the CELTA course as they could and make sure that their trainees were as prepared for real-world teaching as possible. To do this, they decided to get rid of language instruction from the timetable, since this is the most stressful area for most trainees.
They also tried to integrate the course as much as possible, so everything fed into the teaching trainees would do and nothing felt like extra work, since many trainees find it difficult to prioritise when juggling assignments and TP (lessons). They still had to meet the criteria set by Cambridge though, and demonstrate that their trainees could be effective language teachers. To do this, they changed the course in the following ways:
Replacing language analysis sheets with task analysis, focussing on the specific activities that trainees were planning to use. Different sheets were used for receptive and productive tasks. This had many effects on the trainees, for example realising that lexis is important for listening tasks. Trainees also created more meaningful productive tasks as a result.
Basing the language skills assignment around task analysis sheets which had been used in previous TPs, with trainees reflecting on what problems the students had with the language and re-planning the lesson in light of this. This is instead of the over-analysis and the added stress of a more traditional assignment, which can create an atomised view of language. It can also mean trainees over-explain to students because they try to give them all of the knowledge they have instead of just what is relevant.
Teaching a model lesson at the beginning of the course in the same way and using the same materials that they expected their trainees to use, then incorporating more explicit reflection on the model lesson throughout the first week of input, unpacking the techniques used in it. Trainees were noticeably better at lesson cohesion after this.
Adding a 20-minute slot at the end of TP where trainees could speak to students about what happened in the lesson without trainers in the room. This was recorded, and fed in to the Focus on the Learner assignment. Trainees were more aware of their students as people and of their needs, and better able to understand their accents. There was also higher student retention because of this, and this reflects the real world, since student retention is something we all need to be aware of.
Encouraging trainees to note questions they wanted to ask the students and their co-teachers while observing.
Learning more about students meant TP points weren’t needed after week one, as lessons were based around student needs, although a course book was still used.
Changing the layout of the lesson plan, including a column for self-evaluation. Before seeing trainer comments, trainees had to fill in a stage-by-stage reflection, rather than only reflecting on the lesson in general.
Integrating assignment 3 with trainees designing materials they would then go on to use (I think – my tweets aren’t very clear at this point!)
They got very positive feedback from their trainees on this course. They developed their language awareness naturally, in a similar way to how teachers do in the real world, and language became much less scary as a result. They also realised how important lexis was and were much better at teaching it because they had built up a good rapport with the students through the 20-minute conversations. Students weren’t afraid to ask how new lexis should be used. Trainees were also much more self-critical and reflective as a result.
This is definitely a course structure I would like to find out more about, and I think it will influence my own course design when I finally put together a CELTA course myself as a Main Course Tutor (I’m an Assistant Course Tutor at the moment).
Anyone following my blog will know that CELTA took over my life in August last year (2014), and will continue to dominate until the same time this year (2015). I’ve been building this list in my head for a while, and it’s finally time to get it onto the blog.
It’s arranged into categories, with subtitles and topics in bold to help you navigate. There’s a lot here, so just use the bits you need as you need them rather than trying to look at all of them – if not, you’ll end up being overwhelmed!
A quick way to find what you need it to press CTRL + F (CMD + F on a Mac) and type a key word connected to what you’re struggling with, like ‘TTT’, ‘instructions’ or ‘writing’ – this will take you straight to the relevant section.
Please let me know if any of the links are broken so I can update them, and feel free to add suggestions to the comments. I also plan to add to it as I write/find more posts. [Note added 12/12/2022: I know that the links to Jo Gakonga’s videos are broken, but hopefully if you visit her site or put the titles into a search engine you should still be able to find them. I’m hoping to be able to verify all of the links at some point in the next 6 months, but it’s a challenge to find the time! Hopefully you will still find the post useful in the meantime]
Before the course
CELTA is a very intensive experience, and it’s important to know what you’re getting yourself into. Take a look at these to give you an idea of what to expect.
Cambridge English has a 30-minute webinar called The Ultimate Guide to CELTA which details different types of CELTA and tells you what to expect from the course. (Thanks to Viacheslav Kushnir for telling me about this)
Is the CELTA worth it? As a course and as an experience I would have to give a resounding YES!!!
Although the interviews on Adi Rajan’s blog are called ‘Life after CELTA‘, they give you a great idea of what different professionals at various stages of their careers got out of the CELTA course and why it was worth doing, even if they already had a PhD in one example! [Note: when I checked on 4/10/20, these posts aren’t available, but hopefully Adi will share them again in the future!] My favourite quote is from Vaidehi Kenia:
What running 5 miles daily for a month will do to your physique, the CELTA will do for your mind.
If you’re still not sure whether to do the course or not, Chia Suan Chong, a CELTA trainer, describes 10 things she likes about the CELTA, all of which I agree with. If you’re a more experienced teacher, you might be interested in Jason Anderson’s research on how trainees who came to the course with experience feel like they benefitted from CELTA.
If you’d like to do a course before your course, you could invest a little money in the ELT Campus Complete CELTA Preparation Bundle, online training in key ideas, teaching methods and concepts, as well as a grammar refresher.
Brushing up on your technology skills could also help you out. 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.
Keyboard shortcuts save a lot of time in the long run. These are 100 for Windows and some for Mac too. If you’ve got a long time before your CELTA, working on your touch typing will help you now and later. On a side note, set up a filing system on your computer and start naming files with lots of detail in the file name so you can find things easily in the future. “Document 1.docx” won’t help you, but “Personality adjectives and definitions NEF Pre-Int SB p6 and SB p145 U1B.docx” will. I always try to include the book, chapter and page numbers so I can use the search function to find things again quickly in the future.
If you set up your goal as “I’m gonna gits me an A!” then, well, it’s a worthy goal and all, but you’ll probably give yourself an ulcer, and stress so much about whether you’re doing enough or doing well enough that your freaky-outy stress will cause you to lose focus and actually do worse. Don’t look for a magic bullet or secret formula – there is none, and trying to guess at the magical combination of factors that leads to an A will just cause you to get even more freaky-outy. Always remember that it’s not a competition, so if you see someone who seems to be doing better than you, hey, you’re in it for four weeks with that person and you are quite possibly friendly with them – you are not in a race. There is not just one gold medal. Their good work does not mean you’ll get edged out for the one top spot, because there is no “one” top spot.
By the way, when I did my CELTA, one of my fellow trainees got a Pass A with no prior teaching experience, so it is possible! However, in the courses I’ve tutored on so far, I’ve yet to see an A candidate. Update (May 2017): I’ve seen a couple of A candidates now, and they’ve been very hard-working, and followed all of these tips from Ricardo Barros, among many other things!
Nicky Salmon, a CELTA trainer, tells you how to write CELTA lesson plans to make the documents as useful as possible for you and your trainer, so that you’re ready to give your students the best possible lesson.
I have a step-by-step guide to setting up an information gap, a speaking activity in which each student only has part of what they need to complete the task and they need to speak to others to complete the information.
This post has ideas from five different teachers on how to maximise student talk time, the most useful of which is probably Dorothy Zemach (the first) demonstrating how to model the kind of conversation you expect your students to produce. Doing this makes them more likely to produce quality talk, not just short answers.
Jo Gakonga also has a webinar introducing you to PPP, TTT and TBL – three different ways of presenting language, whether grammar, vocabulary or functions (35 minutes). It will tell you what the abbreviations mean! CELTA train describes ‘Presentation via a situation‘ a.k.a. situational presentations, and includes an example of one designed to introduce ‘used to’.
Pronunciation Bites has a collection of links to online transcription tools, along with reviews for each. It also tells you how to download IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) scripts onto your computer, and how to use them. Don’t forget to put the phonetics into Lucida Sans Unicode font to make sure they’ll print on any computer (I hope!)
ELTchat is a weekly hour-long Twitter conversation which happens every Wednesday. In February 2012 there was a discussion about the IPA, including reflection on its usefulness and suggestions for how to exploit it.
Nicky Salmon offers tips on how to reflect on your teaching during CELTA courses, including examples of language you can use. As she says, reflection is a skill which takes time to learn, but is one of the most important things you can do to develop professionally.
The main problem most people have with the CELTA is the workload. It’s not unusual for some trainees to stay up for most of the night and forget to sleep, and there are always some people who don’t hand in lesson planning documents because they ran out of time. In a 10-minute webinar, Lisa Phillips offers some tips for time management for teachers in general, but many of them apply to the CELTA course too. Remember to ask for help if you need it – you’re not bothering people, and you might find they’re in a similar situation. As for your trainers, that support is what you’re paying for!
Don’t forget to take some time for yourself during the course. You’ll benefit from it more than you will by just pushing on through, and no matter how important the CELTA is, your health and well-being should take priority. Get enough sleep, look after yourself and take regular breaks. If you need inspiration this might help:
Here are a few of videos I send out to encourage my trainees to take a brief break – I won’t tell you what they are so it’s a lucky dip! One, Two, Three – each one is 3-4 minutes, clean, and should make you laugh!
And just in case you think you’re entering a serious profession involving a lot of work, take a look at EnglishDroid – he’ll burst your bubble quickly (this is a site to return to as you learn more about the world you’re entering!)
To continue the reflective cycle you started on CELTA, you could keep a reflective journal, as recommended by Dale Coulter. Another option is to write your own blog, which I’ve found really useful. However you choose to do it, Jason Renshaw explains why reflection should be a vital part of any teacher’s development (and offers another suggestion for how to keep a reflective journal). Oh, and if you want to send a few pennies my way, you could investigate ELT Playbook 1, an ebook of 30 reflective tasks designed for new teachers, written by me and only costing around 5GBP/5.50€ 🙂 If you complete all five tasks from a single section, you can earn yourself a badge to put on your CV or social media, showing potential employers and/or students that you are continuing your development after the course.
The best resource on Twitter is ELTchat, a weekly one-hour chat on topics chosen by participants. Summaries of chats going back to 2010 can be found in the Summaries index on the website and cover pretty much every topic you could possibly imagine related to ELT teaching – if it’s not there, you can suggest it for a future chat.
Conferences are a great source of ideas. Both IATEFL and TESOL hold multi-day conferences each year, and although the IATEFL conference is the highlight of my year (!), they can be quite expensive. IATEFL streams some sessions from the conference, and these are available to watch after the event (for example Harrogate 2014). One- or two-day local conferences can provide lots of inspiration. There are also online conferences and webinars provided for free. David Harbinson has a long list of sources for webinars to start you off.
There are various journals and magazines dedicated to ELT, full of articles from around the world with lots of great ideas and issues to think about. The IH Journal is available free online. Most teaching associations have their own newsletter or journal. Other magazines include English Teaching Professional and Modern English Teacher, both of which are subscription only – you can choose whether to get them online or as a hard copy.
If you’d like to work on your own skills as a trainer, you might want to get yourself a copy of ELT Playbook Teacher Training, my book of 30 reflective tasks in 6 categories, as you can see below (Amazon/Smashwords affiliate links).
In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic meant lots of things changed, including the sudden need for provision of fully online CELTAs. Brendan O Sé from University College Cork, Ireland, blogged about running their first fully online CELTA. James Egerton talks about how IH Rome Manzoni took their CELTA course online and offers tips for other centres doing the same. Angelos Bollas has a demo lesson with upper intermediate students on Zoom which you might want to use to show trainees how it works from a teacher’s perspective:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Create/adapt/type up/resave any documents I need for the session, numbering them in the order they’re needed.
Scribble notes all over the printed running order.
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!
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!
‘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?
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.
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!
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:
The journal features articles by IH staff from around the world, covering topics as diverse as teaching very young learners, pre-teaching lexis and social media. The contents page is here, and the whole journal is here. You can also read past issues of the journal.
Observations was also the topic of the latest iTDi blog, with posts by Anna Loseva, Josette LeBlanc and Kevin Stein.