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:
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.