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

Posts tagged ‘reflections’

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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