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

Posts tagged ‘reflections’

Online CELTA week 4: rounding up

On Monday 6th July 2020 I started training on my first ever fully online CELTA course on Zoom. On the same day, Stephanie Wilbur also started online CELTA training for the first time, but on a different course. We’ve decided to compare our experiences. The post below covers week four, the final week. Here’s week one, week two and week three.

What were the highlights of this week?

SM: As always in week 4, it was great to see so much of last week’s hard work paying off. The lessons were much better contextualised, and practice had a much clearer communicative focus, with trainees commenting in self-evaluations and feedback on the fact that lessons seemed to flow better and students were more engaged. Although this is something we discuss earlier in the course, it’s normally not until week 4 that trainees have the mental space to really think about this in their planning, and that some of them manage to conquer high levels of teacher talk and teacher-centredness. This was my favourite comment (quoted with permission):

The student focus really paid off and it was incredibly gratifying to see them figuring out problems with each other – I know they learned something from me and that’s an amazing feeling! (Terri Barker)

Language clarification was much stronger, timing tightened up with more realistic planning, and the pace of lessons improved and became more varied. It’s also great to see their teacher personalities develop as their confidence increases.

In input, I ran the YL and teen session using a project-based approach which worked even better than I’d hoped. I divided the trainees into six groups, two each for each age group (VYL, YL and teen) based on a Google Form I’d sent asking them about experience they had with each age group. I supplemented their knowledge with a list of resources for each age group, then set this task:

(Image of Tom Cruise from Mission Impossible, with the following text:) Your mission, should you choose to accept it… For your age group, answer the following questions: What are the characteristics of this age group? What can they do? What can’t they do? What kind of activities work well with them? What doesn’t work? What can go wrong in the lessons? What can you do to prevent/resolve these issues? What sources did you use to gather this information? Summarise what you learn in a method of your choice (document? slides? pictures?) in the folder. Be prepared to tell others about it. You have 45 minutes.

The presentations and documents they produced were full of great ideas. They then had fifteen minutes in new groups of three to share what they’d compiled, five minutes per person. When we came back together I told them this was project-based learning, and in the follow-up email I told them how to set up successful projects. I’ll definitely try input like this again, not least because they did all the work during the session!

Lessons from the classroom (assignment 4) is my favourite assignment, because trainees use this to reflect on their progress over the course and think about how they’ll continue to progress. It’s a fascinating insight into what they feel they’ve gained from the course, and the areas that they want to focus on after they’ve finished. I also like it because most people pass it first time, so there’s a lot less marking 🙂

SW:  I’ve watched so much development over the course and especially this week, watching them crack things that they had trouble with. The resistance that some trainees show in week 3 disappears in week 4 as they adjust to the higher level and expectations of the second half of the course. They can reset their priorities as the result of even short conversations as trainees realise what’s important. One example this week was rushing through lessons to get to the end, versus changing their planning to fit everything in more successfully. Once trainees made that switch, their lessons were so much more successful.

Everybody had good final lessons. It was fantastic watching one trainee who lacked confidence in her abilities make improvements in the final two weeks – she was a different teacher when she came out of her shell, with great rapport and better teacher presence.

How did trainees work with language during this part of the course?

SM: I continued to emphasise the fact that the bulk of lessons should be based around practice rather than teacher presentations, and there were almost none of this kind of presentation this week. Trainees commented that students know the rules but can’t apply them, making it easier for me to highlight the importance of feedback after practice activities, and clarifying why an answer/piece of language is right or wrong, not just what the ‘correct’ answer/piece of language might be.

SW: In the second half of the course, we did a lot more task-based learning. In my demo lesson at the start of week three, I showed trainees how to record emergent language and exploit it in the lesson. This meant they were working with emergent language a lot more in the second half of the course.

What teaching tips did you give teachers this week?

SM: As we had quite small groups of students and were often waiting to get extra students at the start of the lessons, I agreed with the teachers that I would start timing the lessons when they gave a signal, rather than starting automatically when there were two students. This gave them a chance to chat to the students a little before the lessons, rather than only interacting as part of the lesson itself.

In Zoom, you can click the three little dots at the bottom of the participants list and select ‘Play enter/exit chime’ or update your settings to make this the default for all meetings. This helps you to notice when somebody joins or drops out of the meeting, without having to double-check the list.

When you’re sharing documents, you can make them quite small on your screen and still have other things open to work on. For example, have the PowerPoint slides in one corner, the videos underneath and a document to the side to type into. Then share only the PowerPoint rather than the whole screen.

I reminded the trainees that videos and microphones don’t always need to be on, and encouraged them to switch off when reading things in input, and to suggest it to the students during reading and listening tasks during lessons. This makes a difference to the dynamic in the lesson as it gives students some space to process what they’re seeing/hearing.

I also continued to encourage trainees to really think about when to share their screen and when not to. All of my group successfully managed to run some activities without any slides, including much greater use of the chatbox, mini whiteboards/pieces of paper (especially for pronunciation features), and even just speaking (which we often seem to forget!)

SW: gyazo.com is a screen sharing piece of software – you take a screen shot and get a link which you can share instantly. This helped the students who couldn’t take screen shots.

It’s important to think about formatting – not everybody has access to Microsoft. We need to consider that students might not be able to or know how to open things we send them. We recommended pdfs and screen shots throughout our course.

What did you tell trainees about the next steps?

SM: In the jobs session, we talked about the fact that the market is currently very competitive. In another year, CELTA graduates might find a job quite quickly, but now there are a lot of experienced teachers who are also looking for work. Not getting offered an interview isn’t necessarily about trainees not being suitable, but more about the fact that it feels like much more of an employer’s market at the moment as there are so many teachers looking for work. It’s important to persevere and not give up.

SW: At the end of every CELTA course we talk about what life after the course is like. It’s harder right now to prepare trainees for the world after the course as we don’t know what it will look like, and what opportunities and problems they might have. Throughout the course I did a lot of work telling them about the difference between the online and the face-to-face classroom. This week I did the CPD session and the job session, talking about how to get support in post-CELTA jobs, but there’s so much more uncertainty than before. We don’t know how trainees will get support if the only work they can find is teaching fully online as freelancers and they never have the support of a staffroom.

Within a couple of years of working full-time in the past, you’d know grammar and understand it yourself if you were getting support. But now we don’t know how the first two years will shape up if schools are thinking about being online more than supporting the teachers with that? New teachers need to prompt senior teachers to keep sharing ideas in an online school.

How did you end the course?

SM: After their final TPs, I always ask peers to reflect on how each teacher has improved over the four weeks of the course. This time, I added a row to the Google Docs they’ve completed in peer feedback each day, asking them to identify what they’ve learnt from watching that teacher. The positive, supportive comments were fantastic 🙂

Throughout Friday I had a few opportunities for individual chats with trainees in my TP group, and heard some lovely messages about what they’d gained from the course and from getting feedback during observations.

Friday night at the end of a CELTA is normally my favourite part of the whole course. We tend to go out for a meal, and that’s when I really feel like I get to know the trainees, because they’re no longer worried about passing the course is being assessed. It provides some kind of closure. We had a final 30-minute session after their unassessed TP finished, with the main course tutor setting us a couple of ‘treasure hunt’ tasks. We had to find a piece of headgear, then a timepiece, in each case describing what it was and why we’d picked it. This was a fun bit of movement for the final session. We then shared memories in the chatbox, and we’d taken a group photo/screenshot in the morning. After all the trainees left, I spent a couple of minutes chatting to my colleagues, but I have to say it felt like a bit of an anti-climax when I closed Zoom at 6pm. I took myself out for food and spent the evening with friends, but it wasn’t the same. That’s the one thing I’ve really missed with doing the online course.

SW: After we finished the admin, we took a group photo and chatted for a bit, including sharing memories and ideas. The trainees planned a virtual wine and cheese party together. There was some closure, but I feel like we needed some kind of closing activity. It felt strange ending the course because it felt somewhat sudden. Some of the trainees sent me a message after we finished, which was really lovely.

If I run an online course again, I’d like to put more thought into a closing activity, for example doing something social online together with the trainees at the end of the course. I think this should create a better sense of the ending of the course.

What do you think 100% online trainees will need support with when they go into a physical classroom?

SM: As somebody who employs a lot of post-CELTA trainees, I need the fact that trainees were on a fully online course on the report so I know what training to give.

The main areas I think trainees will need support with are:

  • teacher presence in a physical classroom
  • monitoring when everybody is talking at once
  • using the space in the room
  • including movement in the lessons (though this is also true online!)
  • teaching using paper/physical coursebooks e.g. pointing to the exercise on the page while giving instructions
  • choosing when and when not to use the whiteboard

SW: CELTA graduates will need support with realising that the physical classroom is not that different to the online classroom. They’re going to feel different sitting in front of a group of people, or standing up with people in front of them, but this is a confidence issue rather than a problem. They could observe a group from the back of a room to see what’s the same or different. Identify what’s the same in a physical classroom, for example breakout rooms is the same as moving chairs to set up pair work. The videos they’ve seen are mostly in physical classrooms, but real-life observation could be useful.

Monitoring and pair work are different, but once CELTA graduates see it in action and do it themselves a couple of times they’ll feel much more confident. The skills are the same – instead of ‘turn off your camera’, they have to sit there and not interrupt. It’s a modified version of what they’ve already done.

Board use could be an area to work on, but people use PowerPoint in the physical classroom too. Planning a PowerPoint means they’ve thought about their board work before the lesson and how to lay everything out. Another important area is different ways of doing feedback, especially if they’ve only taught quite small groups online.

What should we consider when training online? What do we need support with as trainers?

SM: Trainers still need support and training in learning how to use the platform successfully so they can pass on this knowledge to their trainees. In input, if trainers don’t know techniques, they can’t demonstrate them to trainees. I feel like although there has been a little support, trainers have mostly been expected to figure it out for themselves, and are only one step ahead of their trainees in some cases. On the flip side, this has forced us all to be creative and I believe it has injected a level of excitement into courses which might have been run in a very similar way for a long time.

As time goes on, we need to remember to describe and exemplify the parts of our online teaching which have become natural and second nature, in the same way as we would in a physical classroom. This is particularly important online as trainees can’t see what we’re doing, whereas they might be able to pick things up from just watching us in an offline classroom – we need to comment on this to make it clearer to them.

Many people are feeling screen fatigue, especially this summer. I think it’s hard to get students who will commit to the lessons (though this can be true offline too!) Perhaps somebody could create a central database where students can sign up and trainers can tell them about courses. (Sorry that this won’t be me!)

SW: We need to remember that it’s not really that different. CELTA online is not a whole different course – there are so many similarities to the offline version. We’re still doing the same things as trainers. We still want trainees to do the same things. We need to keep looking at what matches up between online and offline. Technology can be an issue for some trainees and trainers, but it’s definitely something that can be learnt. Both Sandy and I have watched trainees over the past month who’d never used PowerPoint or other technology before the course, and are using the technology in a way that doesn’t stop them from demonstrating they are perfectly good teachers at the end of the course.

Because the course is online, we can market it to trainees and TP students anywhere, not just in the town or city where the course is based, but also (for example) people in villages who might not have known about courses before.

If we use a model of combined synchronous and asynchronous provision, the idea that you have to show huge amounts of learning into a crammed four-week course while you put your life on hold and (often) move to a new place no longer holds true. That idea can make the course seem impossible to some people, but an online or blended CELTA makes it feel more possible. Flipping the course completely could allow more time for feedback, if trainers have time to create the input to prepare such a course.

Time management is another area where trainers might need support. Everything takes longer in input, as it does in lesson. What are our priorities? How can we tighten our sessions up? How can we make them more efficient?

When will you run your next course?

SM: I only do one CELTA course a year, so I won’t be doing another one until at least next summer. At present it’s impossible to say if that will be online or face-to-face, and what kind of protective measures we will need by then. Right now I’ve got a few weeks holiday, then it’s back into my other life as a Director of Studies and working out what our school will look like from September.

SW: I’m going into a face-to-face course next week. I’d thought of everything except for passing things around between trainees, then asked myself ‘What if it’s paperless?’ Now I’ve done a course online I realise that a paperless course is possible. We’ll have an online portfolio, an online CELTA 5, and have handouts on a shared drive or email them to trainees. It’s easier for assessors too because they don’t have to chase things up – everything is more easily available for them. Trainees can email handouts to students the day before and students need to bring a computer/tablet for the lesson. If they need a pen, they have to take it from a pre-set box at the door, then return it to a different box. Pens will be sanitised before and after the lessons. We did this for IELTS exams I’ve been running, so I know it works. With all of these innovations, we don’t need to pass this things around, and thereby reduce the risk of infection. We’ll also be wearing masks throughout and using face shields.

How do you feel about online CELTA now?

SM: It’s definitely here to stay. The course was just as vigorous, just as useful, and just as successful as the fully face-to-face version I’m used to, and I’d be happy to employ graduates of fully online courses (not something I would have said in March). I think that the future is probably a blended course, with 3 hours of face-to-face TP and 3 hours online (I seem to remember reading that there’s a centre which is already doing this, but can’t remember where), with a mix of input online and offline.

SW: I wasn’t convinced about online CELTAs at the start, but now I’m a convert. We’re doing the same thing and the criteria are still relevant. I made sure to let what’s important in the face-to-face classroom guide my messages about what’s important in the online classroom, especially monitoring. I feel strongly that we should be monitoring and grouping in similar ways to the offline environment. You allow students to be in pairs and groups online for the same reasons as you do offline, and you don’t sit in breakout rooms all the time hovering over them, just as you wouldn’t stand over students in the classroom. I’m coming away from the course feeling like we’re sending a solid group of teachers out into the world.

That seems like the perfect note to end this mini-series on. Thanks very much to Stephanie for agreeing to meet me each Saturday to compare notes. It’s been fascinating learning about how everything is the same same, but different when running an online CELTA. I’ll be interested to see how teacher training continues to develop and evolve as the world settles into new patterns over the next few years, and to what extent the online CELTA model is part of that.

Online CELTA week 3: the slog

On Monday 6th July 2020 I started training on my first ever fully online CELTA course on Zoom. On the same day, Stephanie Wilbur also started online CELTA training for the first time, but on a different course. We’ve decided to compare our experiences. The post below covers week three. Here’s week one and week two.

Why is it a slog?

SM: Week three is often the most challenging one on any full-time CELTA course, especially one where you change groups halfway through the course. Sometimes you change groups more often but most courses I’ve worked on just change once in the middle. Everybody gets the changeover blues. You often have new language students to work with (though sometimes you’re with the same students throughout) and a new group of trainees. The trainees have to get used to you and you to them. The change in level can come as quite a shock for some trainees. They feel comfortable with the first level, in our case pre-intermediate, and working with students who expect something completely different of them can really knock their self-confidence. This is also when we’re starting to expect trainees to become more independent, and this can also knock their confidence or make them feel stressed.

Week three is when everything feels like it’s happening at the same time. Everybody has assignments to submit, and lessons to work on in more detail, and it feels like your brain is full and has no space for any more information from input. It’s like a sponge which can’t take in any more water.

For trainers, it’s also a challenging week because we have to manage the changeover and the expectations of trainees, as well as keeping students coming to the lessons. We also have to continue our preparation for input sessions, mark assignments, work with trainees on assignments which need to be resubmitted, and particularly with any trainees who are not making the expected progress. It’s always a long week. This weekend [as of Friday night] I still have to finish TP feedback from Friday and send it, mark 6 assignments and 3 assignment resubmissions, plan my input sessions for next week, or at least know which ones need more work, and prepare some tutorial documents. [Sunday update – I got everything done except the input, but finished at 23.25 to make sure I would have a full day off!]

We have TP at the end of the day. When a trainee needs more help, it takes more time to do feedback, particularly making sure that you’re highlighting the most important areas for them to work on and not overwhelming them. Thankfully I only got behind on feedback on Thursday, when I sent one lot of TP feedback at the end of the day, not the morning as I usually do.

SW: Week three was full of long days, and it’s easy to feel like you’ve hit a wall because there’s so much to get done. I was definitely feeling exhausted at certain points through the week. Our TP is in the morning, and I usually get TP feedback by the end of lunch, but had one day when I couldn’t do it until the end of the day because everything was taking longer.

There were a lot of resubmissions on our course this week, meaning trainees were feeling quite stressed. They can ask me questions by email, and often did this at very odd hours of the day and night. I spent a lot of time reassuring them and being clear about what I can and can’t tell them for their assignments, but also had to be clear that to stay healthy myself I can’t reply to them in the evenings because I need to have a break from work. 

The changeover is challenging as different trainers naturally give slightly different advice. You have to develop a rapport and a feeling of trust with your new TP group, and show them what your expectations are. For example, when there are only a few students in class, my colleague has left small groups in the main room and suggested teachers switch their cameras off to monitor, whereas I’ve suggested that trainees still put students into breakout rooms. I think this better helps them to learn to monitor appropriately, know when to move in and out of the rooms, and consider when to intervene and when to close the rooms. [SM: I’ve emailed trainees to tell them we’re going to use this approach next week if we don’t have many students – Stephanie has mentioned it every week, but I hadn’t done anything about it until now. One trainee put students into a BOR when there were only three of them, and another commented that this gives the activity a clearer start and end point, which I agree with.]

How do you cope with spending so much time in front of the computer?

SM: As a manager I already spend a lot of my time in front of a computer. Obviously this increased in March, but apart from adding an occasional online lesson, it wasn’t that much of a difference for me. The online CELTA is definitely a lot of computer time, especially this week, but that’s also fairly normal for me as I’ve always typed my feedback and have all my input sessions on my computer. In some ways I think I have less eye strain because I don’t have to keep focusing on the classroom and then my computer repeatedly. I can also move around more easily if I start to get stiff. Having said that I’m getting a slight pain in my neck from turning my head to the right all the time to look at the lesson on my second screen. I also have achey eyes at the end of this week from the long days.

I try to manage the physical effects by taking regular breaks. I have a piece of software which reminds me regularly to spend one minute or 5 minutes away from the computer when I’m not in sessions. I look away from the screen and out the window to refocus my eyes. I also do stretches as often as I can, mostly on my hands and my back. I have my phone set on night mode and try to use dictation when I can (including for my parts of this post) to rest my eyes and my hands. The biggest challenge I’ve had is that my days this week have been longer than normal. I think I have had three 11-hour days, finishing late in the evening. The quality of my sleep has been affected a little though thankfully not too much. The main problem is not being able to get back to sleep if I wake up in the night because I haven’t had time to process the day before I go to bed – I find myself making mental to do lists or planning blog posts 😉

SW: In a previous career I spent a lot of time on the computer, so I’ve had experience of long periods of screen time, but this is quite different from my recent experience because I’m normally in front of people moving around a lot. CELTA is normally the most sedentary thing I do, especially sitting during observations. An online CELTA is less strenuous on my back because I can move around when I’m observing because my camera is off. I can sit, stand, move or stretch as I need to. For half of the day, I’m not stuck in a chair so in some ways it’s easier than a face-to-face CELTA.

I need a gap between concentrating on anything and sleeping, so I make sure I have a clear two hours with no work before bedtime. That helps me to relax and means that I sleep better, though I work early in the morning and at most free minutes during the day to get everything done (that’s normal for CELTA though!).

How did you manage Stage 2 tutorials?

SM: We had no inputs on Monday morning of week three. On Friday we scheduled 30-minute meetings with our trainees, and they joined our TP room when it was time to meet. I prepared all of my grades using this template, and put my comments into a separate document ready to copy and paste. The trainees filled in their ideas of their grades on Moodle before we met. As we would face-to-face, we worked through the criteria, discussing any differences between their self-assessment and my assessment. They wrote the areas they think they need to work on in the second half of the course into the chat on Zoom, while I uploaded my comments to the Moodle (so we weren’t both editing at the same time). We then discussed the comments, with specific ideas for how to work on any problem areas, and signed off on the tutorial.

SW: Our tutorials happened on Tuesday afternoon as we started TP1 slightly later than on Sandy’s course. I had 20-minute tutorials instead of one input. The second input was slightly shorter to give us time to do this. I told the trainees when to join me on Zoom. I’d already pre-written my list of grades and notes for the last page. We have everything on Google Drive, include a version of the CELTA 5 document which we can edit. Trainees download it, fill it in, then upload it again. I download it, fill my parts in then upload it again. Unfortunately we can’t both use the same document at exactly the same time because the formatting messes up in the file version we have. Normally I start with the criteria, but this time I talked about final page first, then went through the criteria with them, pasted my comments, talked about any issues they had, then uploaded the final version to Drive. When one trainee hadn’t filled in the criteria on their CELTA 5, I sent them away to do it and they came back at the end after the rest of the tutorials. On a face-to-face course, I normally do tutorials with teachers ABC one day and DEF on the next day, but doing them all on the same day was fine.

SM and SW: In the tutorials we both found that trainees all marked 5A (“arranging the physical features of the classroom appropriately for teaching and learning, bearing in mind safety regulations of the institution”) as N (not applicable), but we both believe that Zoom still has features which can be exploited, just like a physical classroom does, and there are still safety regulations (for example issues with Zoombombing). As trainers, we need to check we’re applying criteria in the same way on Zoom as we do on a face-to-face course.

What worked this week?

SM: This week I experimented with an input which was based completely around a Google Doc. I had one document with activities to work through to help trainees understand present tenses in English. The answers were in a box under each activity in white text so that the trainees could be self-sufficient. I also added some clues in white which they could use if they wanted to, and some little summaries inspired by Michael Lewis. I put trainees in pairs with one second- and one first-language English speaker in each breakout room, gave them the document link and left them to it for just over an hour. My role was to monitor progress and intervene if they were having problems. As expected, one pair managed all of the activities, some only managed two or three, and others managed about two thirds. In our brief feedback afterwards we talked about how knowing a language includes procedural and descriptive knowledge and that it was useful to work with each other to fill the gaps. It was great to hear how excited people got when they realised that they had understood something which they had originally found quite challenging. I got some positive feedback after the session as trainees enjoyed being able to work at their own speed and get and give support to each other. It took a while to prepare, even though I had materials to adapt, but I can now reuse this session every time I want to work on present tenses from now on (on a face-to-face course too).

My CPD input always involves setting up assignment 4 and talking for a bit about my career, then sharing a list of resources which trainees can explore in the rest of the session. They can also ask me questions about any area which they can’t see covered on the list. This always seems to work well as everyone can explore what they’re interested in, and I think it transferred well online.

I continued using the same feedback strategy of trainees working with a Google Doc in pairs, and realised this is useful for quotes from peers for Assignment 4 reflecting on the course. Listening to what Stephanie does though, I realise that when we come back together it’s me lecturing and summarising – quite trainer-centred!

SW: I’ve been using Padlet in feedback, with trainees making notes during the lesson. I tell them before TP what the three lesson focuses are and what their observation task is. During feedback they do a carousel in breakout rooms in pairs, so each teacher speaks to three observers and can ask questions. Looking at Padlet gives them feedback from everybody. Then we have 15-20 minutes to talk about things together. Teachers do a summary of what they’ve heard when we come back together, and I fill in any gaps. I ask any questions if there’s anything they missed, for example: What do you think about the pronunciation focus? This works well because they’re doing all the summarising.

It was interesting hearing a discussion between trainees and students this week about how weird it is having 3 consecutive lessons with 3 different teachers. We’re so used to it as trainers, sometimes we forget it could be an odd format for other people!

What challenges did you have this week?

SM: In a classroom-based CELTA, if one trainee has very high unnecessary teacher talking time, I get them to agree on an action their colleagues can do while observing to highlight that they should stop talking, for example fingers on lips or putting their hand up. This normally drastically reduces their TTT within two or three lessons. It’s harder to do this kind of thing online, though perhaps trainees could private message each other. This doesn’t work in breakout rooms though as you can only publicly message there.

At this stage on a course, trainees can get very wrapped up in their own lessons and feel like they have to do everything themselves. I think it’s important to remind them that when teaching three lessons, they should know what the other two teachers are doing, and how all three lessons might fit together for the students as one lesson, not three. Some trainees also need to be encouraged to ask for help from each other, which is good practice for working in a supportive staffroom and for sharing classes with other teachers.

Week three is when I often find myself having individual meetings with some trainees to help with real problem areas they haven’t been able to get a handle on yet, or to boost their confidence to get them through the last part of the course. This week I had three 30-minute meetings with trainees at the end of the day, and one meeting on Saturday to help people with things that I would normally do in between sessions on a face-to-face course. It’s much harder to deal with things in little bites as you go along – everything needs scheduling and organising.

To support trainees with resubmissions, I gave them one hour before input when they could schedule meetings to discuss their assignments if they wanted to. To help trainees understand how to choose activities for the Focus on the Learner assignment, I talked to them about remedial tutorials we have at our school: teachers have to choose an area for the tutorial and give the tutorial teacher an activity to do. This worked really well and I think it helped them to understand the kind of exercises it’s useful to choose. As a trainer, it’s harder to ask colleagues little questions about assignments as you go along. You end up saving up all the questions for one big meeting, again generally at the end of the day/week.

SW: Trainees can’t just grab you for quick questions between sessions. I get an email in the morning but can’t look at it until the end of the day, so rather than solving a problem in those little minutes in between, trainees are left waiting all day. Next time I do an online course, I think I’ll have office hours so trainees can make an appointment if they want to speak to me about something.

When there were low student numbers, I asked trainees to help in a speaking lesson, the same as I would in a face-to-face classroom. 

An input session that works really well offline about minimal materials and which is normally interactive and fun ended up being a slide show. I was tired from marking and got sidetracked by trying to do a running dictation online and forgot about what I needed to do with the rest of the session! They still learnt about the activities, but didn’t try anywhere near as many as I would normally do with them.

What tips do you have/did you give?

SM: A couple of things I’ve told trainees:

  • Make sure you ‘clear all drawings’ after you use the annotate function on Zoom if you’re still sharing, as otherwise they’ll show up on the next slide. If you stop sharing, they’ll disappear.
  • Think about when to screen share and when not to. It’s easier to discuss things when there’s no slide on the screen, especially for students who are on a phone or tablet.

SW: You should still use breakout rooms, even if there are only one or two students in the lesson. This gives them space, in a way that just you having your camera off doesn’t do.

Online CELTA week 2: settling in

On Monday 6th July 2020 I started training on my first ever fully online CELTA course on Zoom. On the same day, Stephanie Wilbur also started online CELTA training for the first time, but on a different course. We’ve decided to compare our experiences. The post below covers week two. Here’s week one.

Do you feel you have bonded with the group in the way that you would on a face-to-face course?

SM: As I am working on a large course and have not done very many input sessions, I feel like I only really know my TP group. This is not that unusual for a CELTA course in my experience, as you spend so much more time with the teachers you are observing.

I observed sessions on the first two days because I didn’t have any input until Wednesday of week one. This was partly to see how online input sessions might work, but also to give me an idea of all of the trainees because I suspected this might be an issue. I have also talked to the other trainers about all of the trainees, so I feel I know a little about them. However it’s nowhere near as much as if it was face-to-face because you don’t have those little chats in between sessions.

I noticed when I was doing the first input session of the week that when I went in to break out rooms for the first group task, the teachers were having a chat about their weekend (input morning, TP afternoon). I think that the first session should perhaps include an opportunity for the trainees to chat with each other as they are missing that on this course – social time needed. ask us for extensions – CELTA is not the end of the world

 

On the other hand, I feel like I know my TP group better than normal because we are dealing with their everyday lives in the background. For example, we have talked about their children when we’ve seen or heard them, and discussed things you can see in their home behind them.

SW: That was one of my big surprises of the week – we ARE bonding. There’s almost more intimacy because you’re staring at each other’s faces and there’s no escape. We have TP in the morning and input in the afternoons. I normally open up breakout rooms 15 minutes before the first session. I leave my camera on so they know I’m still there but have my mike off. That was especially important this week when I was supporting trainees through the challenges of the end of week two. They can chat together, but they know whether I’m at the computer or not so are aware that I might be listening.

Week two is often exhausting and overwhelming, both for the trainees and the trainers. In one input session towards the end of the week, I gave the trainees thirty minutes to vent and to share with each other. Some of them had got to the stage where they didn’t want to have their cameras of microphones on because they were so overwhelmed. I let them talk to each other, but also encouraged them, and reminded them to wait until they’d slept to make any big decisions about what they’d do next. This point in the course is always challenging, and we were still able to help each other. 

How do you stay connected to your co-trainer(s)?

SM: What I miss most is socialising with the other trainers during the course though – I’m normally ‘on holiday’ while doing the course, using the opportunity to explore a new place. My co-trainers are either in the same position, or (adopted) locals who are happy to show me around. However, there are lots of similarities to a face-to-face course. It’s the first time I’ve worked with both of my colleagues, though they’ve often worked together before. As a freelancer joining a course, I always have lots of questions. tech support + making templates, I enjoy the fact that (as in any good team) we’re able to share the different areas of knowledge. My co-trainers have done the course online before and are much more experienced CELTA trainers in general. I can bring my experience of teaching on Zoom over the last few months, and my confidence with technology.

Our trainees are all teaching pre-intermediate using the same TP points. During lessons, we can WhatsApp to discuss the lessons if we need to. This is made much easier because we’re all watching the ‘same’ lessons at the same time – we don’t need to describe the TP points to each other. We’ve also started sharing other things in WhatsApp: photos out the window, bits of information about what we’re doing in the evening, or what we did yesterday – all the things you would normally chat about. 

SW: I’ve worked with my colleague on one course before, and I trained him up originally, so we know a bit about how we both work. We have one online meeting a week, and keep in touch on WhatsApp apart from that. This feels quite different to the constant communication you have on a face-to-face course, every time you’re in the trainers’ office before, after and between TPs. It also feels different outside work, as part of the experience of being a freelancer generally includes socialising with other freelancers, as Sandy described above.

What effect has being online had on your input sessions?

SM: In the first week I only had two input sessions and one video observation with a few minutes for a little input afterwards. I did two phonology sessions which I decided to completely rewrite. This obviously took a while! I based it on mistakes I had observed in the demo lessons with the pronunciation of the words ‘squirrel’ and ‘bear’. I think I will share these input sessions on the blog soon as I was very pleased with how they worked – to time, hitting all the important points, and having a noticeable effect in my trainees’ TPs. 🙂 

This week I had a session on vocabulary which I had also rewritten because my views on what it is important to know about in the vocabulary session have changed in the last couple of years since I did the input my previous CELTA course. This took me 4 hours on Sunday night, creating new materials for the session, getting bogged down in materials from old versions of it, overplanning it, then boiling it down and writing the handout. Then the first two activities both took twice as long as planned, so I ended up ditching two activities anyway. I still think the trainees came away with most of what they needed as the two things that went were a revision of lesson stages and planning activities from upcoming lessons (though obviously it would have been nice to still have these).

 

The other input session I have done is authentic materials, and I did that largely as I would in the classroom, using the same presentation, but with breakout rooms for discussions, including a jigsaw discussion. I did this by renaming the breakout rooms (Pros 1, Pros 2, Cons 1, Cons 2 etc.), handwriting a list of names for who they needed to pair up with afterwards and then manually creating the rooms for the second round. Normally I would have a carousel of authentic materials around the room for the final stage and trainees would move from one to the next. We normally have about 30 minutes for this. This week we had 15 minutes because everything takes a little longer on Zoom. I set up a Google doc which you can see here. The trainees could find any authentic materials that they had in their homes or online, and I could give them immediate feedback because I could move from one group to the next and see everything they were writing in the document very quickly without having to decipher handwriting! I could add and highlight comments which they could deal with when they were ready, rather than interrupting the discussions. I think this worked really well, and took a lot less time to plan than the other input sessions.

I’ve been lucky to be able to take my time with my planning because it’s a large course so inputs are shared between three of us. I think it would have been a lot more exhausting on a smaller course, and I’m not sure I’d have had the luxury to change as much (though there have still been some late nights!)

SW: This week I realised that most of my input sessions were entirely paper-based. I’ve often travelled for courses so I took my folder of input sessions with me. I kept thinking of digitalising them, but never did, and now I’ve been forced to. I always had some online sessions, but mostly what I’ve been doing is turning paper versions into digital versions – it’s a lot of work to turn them into something that functions online. It can be a challenge having everything ready for the input in time.

Having said that, it’s been really interesting to try and keep activities like mingles and different grouping as part of the session. You can still make it quite interactive. Sometimes I thought of ways I could do some of these things, but they would be way more energy than they’re worth for the return on them. One thing that worked really well was in the functional language session. Normally I would cut up exponents, functions and contexts for trainees to match in a mingle, then sit with their partner. This time I gave each group one column each, and they came up with the other two. They were really engaged with this.

For me, the whole process has been great because we can get stuck as trainers doing the same session in the same way for a long time, and this becomes repetitive. This is a chance to rethink all of our sessions – we have no choice. The content is still there, but how are we going to make it into something trainees can learn from in terms of teaching techniques too? 

What are the logistics of observations, especially using breakout rooms?

SM: I’m using a desktop computer with two screens, so have Zoom displayed on one and feedback on the other. When I join the room I’m the host. I make all of the other teachers co-hosts. I ask them to change their names to ‘Teacher XYZ’ and I change mine to ‘Trainer Sandy’ so we’re all grouped on the participants list.

I hand over the host role to the teacher and they make me a co-host. You lose a host role and become a normal participant when you hand it over. Because it is my room I can reclaim the host role if that is a problem but I don’t normally need to do this.

 

When teachers make breakout rooms for students they also divide the observers between the rooms. Only the main host can set up breakout rooms. However if you are a co-host, after you join a breakout room you can see the list of all the rooms and move between them whenever you like. Sometimes I follow the teacher to see what they see, and sometimes I stay in the rooms separately to see what problems students have with the activity and whether this is because of them or because of the teacher. By staying in one room with the breakout room list open, you can also get a feel for how long the teacher is spending in each room. We have mostly only had two or three rooms in the lessons I’ve observed.

If there haven’t been many students, I’ve suggested that we stay in the main room, but the teacher switches off their camera and microphone to give the students space to do the task alone. In feedback, we discuss what would happen if you’ve got 10 students and how this would influence the lesson, for example how feedback stages need to be different on returning from a breakout room.

 

During the break between each lesson, the teacher hands over the host row to the next picture. Teacher to then makes teacher one a co-host. At first I needed to remind them to do this but by the end of this week, they were doing it confidently without my intervention.

SW: I’m observing on a tablet and using my laptop to type feedback. I think the functions are more limited on a tablet, though I’m wondering if I can change that and will try again to move around the groups next week.

Trainees always put me in a BOR to see what the students are doing. I stay in the same room because of my tablet. I’ve noticed that trainees are monitoring well and coming in and out regularly to check in with students. When our class sizes are quite small, we have conversations about dealing with limited numbers of students. I suggested that teachers put students in breakout rooms as private time, but pop in and see how they do. Maybe next week I could suggest that students stay in the main room but the teacher puts themself in a breakout room to give the students space.

I didn’t specify what to do with the other trainees while teachers are first learning what to do with Zoom. It cant be overwhelming thinking about what to do with breakout rooms when you have so many people to deal with. I told teachers to put TT in capital letters after their name to help teachers see who is and isn’t a student. I think the mid-course changeover is a good time to change this, and get them to start putting observers into rooms too. 

What good things have happened this week?

SM: Because everything is typed on our course, preparing stage 1 tutorials was very easy. I normally type them anyway, adapting them from my typed feedback. On this course I could make a single table with strengths and action points and copy things across from TP feedback ready to edit them. Instead of trying to make them fit into the little box in the CELTA 5 booklet when you print them out and mess about with scissors and glue, it took about 5 minutes to copy and paste all of the information across to the portfolio on Moodle.

Over the course of the week, the trainees have started to hand over control more to the students. This normally happens at this point on a CELTA course, but I still think it’s worth mentioning because of a comment from one trainee in TP prep. She said ‘But I just want to teach them!’ when we were discussing how to help students with new vocabulary without presenting each item one at a time before doing an exercise (something which I’ve never seen suggested as an approach on CELTA, but which about half of trainees do themselves despite being explicitly told not to!). This reminded me again of the long shadow that the apprenticeship of observation casts over new teachers. We talked about how there are many ways to teach and lecturing is just one of them. The TP prep group reflected on when it is they learn best, and whether this comes from having something explained to them or trying it themselves, finding solutions, making mistakes, and getting feedback. The conclusion was that the latter is better, and I started to see the effect of this towards the end of the week. I think one problem is that the teachers haven’t seen very much of other models yet, because they’re only in week 2 of the course and they probably have thousands of hours of lecturing to contend with. This is an area I want to continue to think about.

 

The final interesting thing from this week and the one I’m most impressed by on the part of the trainees came from a 10-minute discussion about the use of the word ‘good’ at the end of feedback on Tuesday. During TP feedback, they have been writing notes about each teacher from that day. The word ‘good’ appeared 24 times in about 450 words of comments in our Google Doc on Tuesday, including 5 times in consecutive comments for one teacher. We discussed how as feedback it’s not very useful because it’s not specific enough. We also talked about what kind of comments you would make if that was a problem and contrasted the two approaches, and also talked about the value of specific feedback for students. Their feedback has always been pretty great for the stage of the course they were at, but the next day the difference made me so excited I jumped up and down at the computer. 🙂 On Wednesday, it appeared 17 times (12 from one pair of teachers!) in about 620 words of comments from all six trainees on three lessons – it had been replaced by really valuable, insightful feedback. They had noticed so many specific things, and were able to describe them in a beautiful level of detail which I have rarely seen even at the end of a CELTA course. They also inevitably noticed things I had not seen. We discussed this change afterwards and the trainees said that because they knew that they needed to put specific examples and not just write ‘good’, they were paying much closer attention throughout the lessons.

SW: The way the trainees supported each other when one trainee was talking about quitting mid-week was amazing. The chat lit up – they were all sending her fantastically supportive messages.If that had happened in person, I’m not sure everyone would have said something to her. Everyone can join in, including the quieter people. The online element could allow for more communication between trainees in difficult situations. The bonding and the support and commiseration over where they all were and how they were all feeling on Thursday continued on Friday – they opened up and were really greeting each other at the start of Friday’s sessions. 

The other great thing that happened on Thursday and Friday was the moment in the course when you see trainees break bad habits they’ve been getting feedback on, something clicks and they succeed. This is not unique to being online – it always happens at this point in the course. There was so much of that at the end of the week. Watching them gain confidence because of that, contributing more, growing and transforming as people and teachers is fantastic. It’s difficult to understand if you don’t experience or see it, and trying to persuade potential trainees of this at interview and earlier in the course can be a challenge. As a trainer, you have to keep trainees with you and encourage them not to give up, trying to convince them that the stress and struggle is normal for this point in the course. Other people have done this before, and you can do it too. And the trainee who was thinking about quitting? She taught an amazing TP on Friday. She’d got some of the stress out of her system, received an outpouring of support, and came back super strong with a great lesson.

What problems have you had this week and how have you solved them?

SM: Last week I mentioned that I was surprised at how few technical problems I had had. I spoke too soon! This week I had a power cut at the end of feedback, luckily when I was only speaking to two teachers about assignment questions and we’d pretty much finished. However I’d made a recording of the feedback session for a teacher who had to leave earlier and I thought I had lost this. Zoom recording only converts into a file when you close the room. I was very happy to find that when I restarted Zoom the next morning the recording was still there. Thank you Zoom!

 

I also got kicked out of Zoom randomly for two or three minutes during one TP. I didn’t miss anything important, but it made me realize that I could end up missing quite a lot. I told the trainees that if any of them noticed that I’m not in the room, they should press record straight away. Only a host or a co-host can record a meeting, and you have to have this function turned on in the settings. Luckily the meeting doesn’t end if you get kicked out and it’s your Zoom room. Somebody else is randomly allocated the host role if you are still the host. When you rejoin the meeting, you need to ask the teacher to make you a co-host again.

A couple of students have dropped out because of internet, but normally immediately come back. Some have to leave early because of work – but slightly changing numbers during TPs is normal on any course.

SW: I tell trainees to sit closer to the router if they have a connection problem. One trainee has to sit next to the router as it was on a different floor in her house. That seems to be working.

Another trainee has had technical problems and has been finding workarounds to avoid excessive teacher talk. For example, she has somebody else play the listening and/or downloads the listening so it’s not using as much bandwidth. This is reflective of the kind of real-life problems trainees will have to deal with in the classroom and online after the course, and at least now they have the support to help them resolve them.

My internet kept dropping out in one particular input session and I have no idea why. I sat by the router and it was much better. It’s the same as in the classroom – when there’s a problem, you give the trainees something to do while you try and resolve it. I was setting up an assignment, so told them to keep reading it if I dropped out again and ask me questions whenever I made it back.

What other tips do you have?

SM: Write down all of the Zoom codes that you need in a clear table on a piece of paper which you can keep next to your computer. This is invaluable when moving quickly between rooms, for example when input has finished and TP prep is about to start. The main course tutor sends out links for TP each morning to all the trainees.

 

I train my trainees on any course to name their files consistently. When you have a lot of computer files appearing in your inbox every day you can waste a lot of time trying to work out which generic plan belongs to which teacher. The formula I always use is TP1 Bob lesson plan, TP1 Bob materials, TP1 Bob feedback, etc. It keeps all of the files together in a logical order, and makes it easier when sending them back to the trainees. Shared screen to show them why this is useful/important to me

SW: I have all of the Zoom codes on a post-it notes. Going into the week 3 changeover, we’ll send out one email with all the links so everybody has the links in one place

Get as much done ahead of time as you can. This is particularly true of planning input, especially if you’ve previously done things in a paper-based way.

Above all, enjoy the process of thinking about and discovering new things, and rethinking old things in a new way. Don’t try to make the course exactly what it is face-to-face. Keep the integrity and standards of course, but remember that it’s a different environment. Just as you would as a freelancer moving between schools, you’re doing the course in a different place, each of which has pros and cons. You ask yourself: How does it work in this centre? When you teach somebody else’s timetable, you look how things change when they’re in a different order. So treat this in the same way: look how things change when you do them online. It really refreshes your practice. Enjoy the advantages – they do exist! 

WHAT ELSE WOULD YOU LIKE US TO TALK ABOUT?

Thank you to those who commented on last week’s post here and elsewhere – I hope we’ve been able to answer your questions. Let us know what else you’d like us to discuss in the comments below.

Online CELTA week 1: Compare and contrast

On Monday 6th July I started training on my first ever fully online CELTA course on Zoom. On the same day, Stephanie Wilbur also started online CELTA training for the first time, but on a different course. We’ve decided to compare our experiences over the next few weeks. This is a long post as it sets the scene, but hopefully the others will be a little shorter!

What’s your previous experience with CELTA?

Sandy speaking at InnovateELT Barcelona

SM: I’ve been a CELTA tutor since August 2014. In 2014-2015 I did courses full-time around the world, and since then I’ve just done courses in the summers in between my other job as a Director of Studies. I didn’t do a course last summer as I started my MA, so my last course was in July 2018. All of the courses I’ve done have been full-time, four-week, face-to-face courses.

Stephanie Wilbur headshot

SW: I became a CELTA tutor in June 2015 and I’ve have been working as a full-time trainer since then. I worked as a Teacher Training Manager from 2016-2017, when I did a course every month. Since then, I have been a freelance teacher trainer working on CELTAs and other training courses in the Middle East, Latin America, Central Asia, the US, and Europe. In that time, I have worked on full-time and part-time CELTA courses, but they have all been face-to-face up to now.

What’s the context?

SM: My course has 18 trainees based in a wide range of locations: the UK, Italy, Andorra, Poland, Romania, Jerusalem and Gibraltar; they’re from the UK, Ireland, China, Italy, Russia, Poland, Romania and Germany. Our students are also from many different countries: Turkey, Brazil, Chile – some living at home, and some based in the UK now. It’s one of the most international courses I’ve worked on. As I’m based in Poland and the course is run from the UK, time zones are a little confusing, and we’ve definitely had one student who’s arrived an hour early because of this! The other two trainers are based in the UK and have previously run online CELTA courses, so I’m definitely benefitting from their experience.

SW: I’m based in Slovakia and working on a course run from Gran Canaria. There are 11 trainees, all based in Gran Canaria as far as I know. They’re from Gran Canaria, Morocco, Poland, the UK, Ireland, Ukraine, and Argentina. Our students are all Spanish from different parts of Gran Canaria, mostly lawyers who are also participating in online courts sometimes have to miss some lessons. They’re mostly in their 30s and 40s. My co-trainer is in Gran Canaria.

How did you originally feel about online CELTAs?

SM: When I first heard about online CELTAs back in March, I was really worried that they would not maintain the standards of the face-to-face course. It’s hard now to put my finger on why, but I think I was worried that the technology was new to most of us as trainers, and we wouldn’t know how to train teachers to use it properly if we weren’t fully confident with it ourselves. I was concerned about how CELTA criteria designed for a physical classroom would map onto an online environment, and I also wasn’t sure how the extra layer of dealing with technology would impact on trainees who already have a lot to get their heads around. I originally felt like CELTAs run fully online should be a separate course with separate certification. As a recruiter, I was concerned that CELTA graduates from online courses would not be ready to stand in front of a classroom full of people and confidently teach them, and that as a school we would have to do a lot of extra training to get them to that point.

SW: Initially, I wasn’t completely sure about whether trainees who’d done courses online would feel fully prepared to teach in a classroom. I feel like a lot of trainers initially thought that online versions of the course wouldn’t be as high quality and we were biased against it. When we realised things weren’t going to change overnight and the world was changing, we started to open our minds more and we started to see what opportunities this situation has to offer. I’m still deciding how I feel about this, but in the near future current CELTA trainees will certainly be more trained for the environment we will probably have to teach in. There’ll be a much more blended world afterwards – we don’t know what level of safety there will be, but more people will teach, work and learn from home. However, the success of the online CELTA will depend on who the trainers are and what they’re bringing to trainees’ attention. Employers need to know what training they have to do after an online course to get teachers ready for the classroom. As trainers, we need to make it clear to trainees how it’ll be different face-to-face.

How do you feel now? Why?

SM: Over the past few months I’ve followed a lot of discussions between CELTA trainers who have been running courses online. I’ve also built up my own experience with Zoom, and learnt a lot from my colleagues at IH Bydgoszcz and other IH schools. I’ve completely changed my mind about CELTAs run fully online, and now know that they’re here to stay. They’ve offered so many people the chance to do the course who wouldn’t normally be able to.

The trainees I’ve seen this week are already better at giving and checking instructions and demonstrating activities than some trainees in week 3 of face-to-face courses I’ve worked on before. Their reflection is already deeper and more productive. They’re more aware of the students right from the start of the course: normally they’re so focussed on what they’re doing as teachers, that they forget the people in front of them. As on every course, the trainees are immediately taking what they learn from observing each other into their lessons the next day, but I feel like it’s happening across the board with the whole group, instead of just the stronger teachers doing this. These are all things I’ve seen reflected in discussions with other trainers.

There are a few possible reasons for this: not having a commute or having to get used to living somewhere new frees up time to focus on the course. Everyone being in their homes means trainees are relaxed, and therefore more able to take in what’s happening in input and feedback. When we observe lessons, our cameras and microphones are off. That means that if you need to stand up and move around, or have a snack, or have an emotional reaction to what’s happening in front of you, you can do it without fear of distracting the teacher. This makes it easier to maintain concentration when you’re observing. Trainees aren’t spending ages cutting things up, fighting with a printer or a copier, or worrying about where *that* bit of paper has disappeared to, so they’ve got more mental space to focus on what’s actually happening in the lesson and what the students are doing. Trainees are also not as aware of or distracted by the other people watching them – instead of looking for the trainer’s reaction to something they’ve just done, they just get on with it. Students might feel more confident too as only one teacher is obviously focussing on them, rather than a rather intimidating seven!

I’ve also really enjoyed the input sessions I’ve done, as I’ve been able to demonstrate various ways to use Zoom, and have also been able to incorporate technology much more easily. For example, when I asked trainees to look at a couple of websites which are useful for learning phonetic symbols, they didn’t have to find and start their laptops before they could explore the sites. Another benefit has been how easy it is to observe my colleagues. I’ve been able to watch a couple of their input sessions and they’ve watched mine, while still being able to get on with other work in the background.

SW: We know this is likely to continue for a long time. The reality might be that these trainees are more prepared for the next year of teaching than traditional teachers who are adjusting, fantastically but have old habits to break. New teachers don’t know any other way of teaching. What we’re providing them with on an online CELTA is a good thing for the future.

Technology skills are a big factor – logistical things like which link to use to go to TP (teaching practice) or input can be quite confusing. Trainees fresh out of university are generally not having a problem as they already have the technology skills and their study skills are fresh. They’re very supportive with those who are finding it harder. I emphasise that the trainees are there to support each other, as I do on every course. We have a couple of people who were unfamiliar with technology before they started and that’s been very challenging for them and us. They weren’t completely prepared for the learning curve of moving to an online environment and the pressure that adds on top of CELTA. Dealing with Google Docs, learning to use breakout rooms, understanding where to find all of the documents – we had one person drop out because of this learning curve. Some people might feel like they have to do a CELTA course because they want the qualification and now there’s time to do it. There’s pressure on them, so they dive in without being fully prepared. On the other hand, some people love all the online courses they’re able to do and get really into it. One person really enjoyed learning all of the technology that was completely new to them, and now knows how to talk about it and use it in the classroom after just one week.

Our trainees all had a 45-minute unassessed TP with feedback before they did TP1. That meant they’d had more lessons and some feedback by the time they got to TP1 – they’re further on before they got assessed for the first time. They were more insightful already at this point, and trying more challenging things. For example, some trainees were already negotiating meaning with their students in TP1. The pressure is off, and it’s not so scary by the time you get to the assessed part. I’m meant to be running my first face-to-face course since the pandemic soon, and I’d like to carry this over from the online CELTA so that they have unassessed TP before they get the pressure of assessment.

Observing lessons is much more comfortable and relaxed than in a classroom. 2.5 hours of TP always feels like a long time to sit still and observe. At home, we can move around, stand up, or stretch, and it doesn’t look awkward. I’m using my tablet to watch the lessons, with my laptop open to type everything up. Trainees aren’t watching our reactions all the time, they’re just thinking about teaching.

What are the challenges of the online CELTA and how have you dealt with them?

SM: Our course had extra sessions the week before the main course to introduce some of the functions of Zoom, particularly breakout rooms. We sent out a short tech questionnaire before the course, asking how familiar trainees were with Zoom, word processing software, presentation software, and internet functions. We also checked what kind of computer they’re accessing the course on and whether they have any recurring tech problems. This was a very useful needs analysis to help us find out who needs what tech help straight away. Trainees also had a 20-minute unassessed TP to familiarise themselves with managing the tech while teaching.

There was a big storm here yesterday and I thought I’d have a power cut, so I asked a trainee who was observing to start a recording if I dropped out of the lesson so I’d be able to watch it later. I think I’ll prepare a trainee to do that each day regardless of the weather from now on.

When trainees have had internet or other tech problems, I’ve had to decide whether their TP should be extended for a few minutes or not to compensate for this. Luckily our TP is at the end of the day, so I have the flexibility to do this.

The strangest thing for me is that I don’t feel like I know all of the trainees after a week. We had a very short getting to know you activity on day one, but then had to show them the Moodle where they’ll upload all of their documents. I can’t chat to them in breaks or just before and after input sessions as easily, so although I know the six trainees in my TP group well, I’ve only had limited interaction with the other twelve in the two input sessions I’ve done. I observed sessions run by the other trainers on the first two days so I could see the trainees in action, but haven’t interacted with them much at all.

SW: Our course had an extra day the week before when trainees had a Zoom tutorial and watched demo lessons. I taught my demo from where I was on holiday, so didn’t participate in the rest of the day, which was run by my co-trainer. That meant that I missed out on getting to know you activities, so my first input session was a challenge as it felt a bit awkward, but this was much better by the end of the week. I’ve made a real effort to pair trainees up with those from the other TP group (as I do face-to-face too) so they can all get to know each other better. At first the trainees thought I was Slovak with a really good American accent. They didn’t realise I was American until my phonology session later in the week!

One teacher had internet issues during her lesson. The video and audio were breaking up, and she was worried that if she put students into BORs, they’d disappear. She decided to keep them in the main room, but this increased her teacher talking time and reduced the student-centred activities. It’s a challenge deciding what to do in feedback in this case, as she’d clearly made a decision based on the circumstances, but that meant students got less speaking practice.

What have you learnt this week?

SM: These are the tips I’ve picked up this week. 

  • When I was teaching on Zoom before, my students all had course books. On the CELTA course, they don’t have any materials, so they have to take a picture of the activity before they go into breakout rooms (BORs), either on their phones or by doing a screen shot.
  • When students are doing a reading, display the reading text on the screen and get them to take a picture of the questions. If they’re doing this task in BORs, they need the reading text in a document which one of them can share (e.g. a Google Doc link for the reading, and the questions on their phones).
  • When monitoring in BORs, switch off your camera and microphone to make it less intrusive. (Thanks for the tip Rebecca!) Scott Donald called this ‘ninja mode’, a term I’ve already stolen!
  • I’ve found I’m spontaneously interrupting trainees more to help with tech problems, for example when a reading doesn’t display or when their video is off (if the students haven’t told them). Normally I would only interrupt during TP if a trainee asked for my help. I think it’s OK to do this at the start of the course while trainees are familiarising themselves with the platform, but I’ve told them I’ll only do this in TP1 and TP2, and after that they should ask for help if they need it.

SW: I hadn’t been teaching on Zoom before, apart from one small conversation class, so I’m learning as we go as well. It can be a challenge sometimes, but it’s really beneficial learning from our trainees as well – they’re more familiar with some aspects of the tech than me. Because of lockdown, trainees know we’re probably new at the technology. This has levelled the playing field as we’re all learning from each other. You have to be open about learning along with them. I’ve found the Teaching English Online course from FutureLearn and Cambridge really useful. Here are some things I’ve realised this week:

  • Put all the links for rooms in one place to simplify things for trainees.
  • A Zoom tutorial before the course starts is essential.
  • Remind trainees that sometimes students should switch the camera off. This is the procedure I’m teaching them for reading lessons to students them some space.
  • You can move from one BOR to another directly, rather than going back to the main room each time.

How do you organise TP feedback?

SM: BORs are great for reflection on TP! I’ve adapted an idea from CELTA trainer discussions. I set up a Google Doc with a table for trainees to write strengths and action points for each teacher they saw. Above the table I display the criteria we’re working on at this point in the course, so they know what to focus on.

I did this in pairs in BORs, one teacher from that day and one observer, so there were three sets of criteria and tables in the document. I told them to start with other people’s lessons and finish with that of the teacher in the pair, i.e. if ABC taught and AD are discussing the lessons, they discuss B and C’s lessons first, then A’s. They have 15 minutes to complete the document and I look at their notes while they’re doing this but leave them in peace in the BORs.

For the other 15 minutes of our feedback, they read each other’s comments, then I talk about general strengths from all of the lessons and one specific strength and action point for each teacher. I also add any Zoom tips based on problems that day, and perhaps demonstrate one or two techniques trainees should find useful in future lessons.

Afterwards, I send them the link so that everyone has access to some written follow-up to the feedback from that day, not only the teachers.

This is different to how I’ve done feedback on face-to-face courses, when I often feel like we spend a lot of time on what problems there were because I set up more of a carousel, with each teacher getting individual feedback from each of the three observers, and having little time to reflect on the lessons they saw, instead talking about their own lesson three times.

I feel like this approach to feedback has been incredibly positive. Around 20-25 minutes of our 30-40 minutes are focussed on strengths, with only about 5 minutes on action points, and another 5 or so on how to work on the action points. Trainees are learning from and focussing on each other’s strengths, and I’ve seen them putting this into action straight away.

SW: I think it’s important to give trainees space to talk about things together without me being there. I leave them in the main room and tell them I’ll be back in 10 minutes. We also talk about the importance of trainees giving the students space, for example through activities with the video off, which creates a different dynamic. By removing yourself from the discussion by switching the video off or leaving the room, you’re not tempted to keep stepping in and solving problems. I used a Padlet I set up as their observation task. I started columns of positive points and constructive criticism for each teacher which trainees added to as the lesson went on. I could watch who was participating and what was happening, keeping trainees active in our morning TP.

What else would you like us to talk about?

Over to you: if you’ve got this far (thank you!), what questions would you like us to answer in the next three weeks?

Distance Delta – the story so far

A little bit of background

For those who have never heard of it, the Delta is an advanced teaching diploma offered by Cambridge. It consists of three modules:

  • Module One is theory-based and culminates in an exam.
  • Module Two is based on teaching practice, with four observed lessons and a professional development assignment.
  • Module Three is an extended assignment on a chosen ELT specialism.

Some people choose to do the modules separately, and others to do them in tandem. There are two common ways to study it: intensively, normally over six or eight weeks, or extensively, normally over the course of an academic year. I chose the distance option as I wanted to work at the same time, and I also like having more time to reflect on what I am learning and try it out with my classes.

The Distance Delta is a collaboration between International House London and the British Council. I am studying on the ‘Integrated Programme’, meaning that I do all three modules in tandem over about nine months.

Orientation Course

Everyone on the Distance Delta has to attend a two-week orientation course at the beginning of the year, with various dates and locations offered around the world. I did mine at IH London in September, just after I had finished at the Paralympics. There were seven of us on the course, from a range of different backgrounds, levels of experience and teaching contexts. During the course we taught a series of peer-observed and tutor-observed lessons, culminating in a diagnostic lesson to give us an idea of what would be expected during the formal observed lessons later in the course. We also had to write a draft background essay and full lesson plan for the diagnostic lesson during the two weeks. At the end of the course, we each had a tutorial offering us advice based on the essay, lesson plan and diagnostic lesson to help us during the rest of the course. It was incredibly useful, and I learnt something new every day. I enjoyed having the chance to do a lot of peer observation, to plan in groups, and to bounce ideas off my colleagues.

We had input sessions in the morning as well to give us some of the grounding we needed for that start of the Delta, including an introduction to many of the abbreviations we see during the whole Delta. Here are just a few of them:

Abbreviations

After all of that, we were ready for the first assignments.

Experimental Practice (Module Two)

On the Distance Delta you start with your Experimental Practice lesson, where you try out an approach or technique which you haven’t used before. I chose to investigate grammaticization, which in its simplest form involves removing the grammar from a sentence and asking students to put it back, then compare their version to the original. For example, the first sentence of this paragraph might be given to the students as:

Distance Delta / start / Experimental Practice lesson / try out / approach / technique / not / use / before

That would be a pretty difficult example though! 🙂 I found Thornbury’s Uncovering Grammar and Batstone’s Grammar to be the most useful sources for this topic. I taught the lesson a few days ago, but haven’t had any feedback yet, so won’t tell you too much more at the moment.

Reflection and Action (Module Two)

The other big assignment we have worked on at the start of the course is a reflection on our current teaching strengths and weaknesses, and creating an action plan of how to focus on our weaknesses. The weaknesses I have identified in my teaching are:

  • not taking advantage of emergent language during the lesson;
  • teacher-centred, long, sometimes convoluted, grammar explanation;
  • a complete lack of any drama/roleplay type activities.

If anyone has any useful tips on how I can work on these weaknesses, please let me know! I have a few ideas which I submitted in this section of the course, but more wouldn’t go amiss.

Exam practice (Module One)

We’ve looked at four parts of the exam so far. There is a lot of training before you submit your practice answers. It’s broken down very well, and seems quite manageable at the moment, but I’m sure that feeling won’t last!

Extended Assignment Proposal (Module Three)

Although we don’t have to start writing it yet, we have submitted our proposals for the topic we will investigate in Module Three. I have chosen to look at Teaching Exam Classes, focussing on FCE. If you have any tips or suggestions for this, they will be very gratefully accepted 🙂

What it’s like and a few tips

Don’t forget me-time. Everyone I knew who had already studied the Delta told me it would take over your life. It does! But at the same time, it’s important to find time for yourself as well, otherwise you will go crazy. I’ve decided not to study on Wednesday and Friday evenings, and to try to finish by about 6pm on Saturdays and Sundays. Normally there is a deadline every Sunday on the integrated course. Mostly this has worked so far, although in the first couple of weeks after the orientation course I felt very overwhelmed – there was a lot of information to get your head around, both about the way the course worked and for the assignments that we have worked on so far. I feel that by giving myself set time off I am much more in control now than I was a couple of weeks ago, even finding time to write this post!

Print. When I first started, I was trying to read all of the documents shared online or on my iPad to save paper, but I soon realised that that way lies headaches and eye strain. Invest in a printer, and try to reduce your computer time – you’ll be spending enough time there without reading on it too! I print everything two-per-page, double-sided, so at least it’s a quarter of the amount of paper than full page, one-sided 🙂

Index cards: so useful! I have cards with key terms, and cards for each section of the exam we have looked at so far. I’m sure I’ll find more uses of them as the year goes on.

Make your life easier. Learn how to use style formatting in Word – this will make contents pages very easy to produce, saving you a lot of time later. Learn how here. Also, add sources to your bibliography as you go along, rather than trying to find them all when you’ve finished your assignment. Little things like this save you time and stress later down the line (at least, in my opinion they do!) They also make your document look a lot prettier.

Plan on paper before you go anywhere near a computer. The assignments I have got through fastest were the ones which I planned in as much depth as I could on paper before I opened Microsoft Word. This could just be a personal preference, but I generally find that staring at a blank computer screen is a surefire way to kill any inspirational thoughts I might have!

Use the ‘mark all as read’ buttons on the forum. The forum is the single most useful part of the Distance Delta website. You can share your worries, ask questions, try out ideas, and feel a lot less alone. On the home page, the site shows you all of the posts which you haven’t read yet. At the first opportunity go through all of these and read as many as you can. After that, keep the home screen as empty as possible. Again, this is a personal preference, but I’ve found it much easier to manage the forums when I did that. You can always search the forums later to find out if your question has already been asked, without having to scan all the subject lines and try to find it.

Find someone to vent at. And warn them that you’re going to do it! It’s so useful to have somebody to talk at occasionally, just to get things out of your system. I’m lucky to have a few people I’ve been able to do this with so far (hopefully they’ll still be talking to me in June!)

Reading

The most useful book I have used so far is An A-Z of ELT by Scott Thornbury. It’s an easily-accessible introduction to most of the terminology you will need to understand during the course. And Scott takes this introduction further on his blog too.

Dale Coulter shared two very useful posts about the Delta exam on his blog: Paper One, Paper Two.

I’ve also been collecting, and continue to add, links which I think are useful for people studying Delta on this list.

The next step

Once I’ve finished writing this post, I will start researching and preparing for my LSA1, or first observed lesson. The draft is due next Sunday, so I’ve got 7.5 days to do as much as I can. Grammar is the first area for us to investigate.

I hope these tips have been useful, and that I’ll have time to share a few more as I continue through the course! And if you have any tips for me for Module 3, or advice on how I can work on my weaknesses (see ‘Reflection and Action’ above), please let me know! Thank you 🙂

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