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

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CELTA Week Four

Day One

Today was a difficult day.

I had a Stage Three tutorial with a trainee. I watched a very weak lesson by another trainee who I haven’t seen since week one. On top of that, I didn’t feel completely well.

On the plus side, my input session on guided discovery worked really well. Trainees had to come up with their own guided discovery tasks based on an article called Ten Ways to Make Someone SmileThe session was also designed to help them think about how to prepare for TP8, where they can’t use material from the book.

Day Two

When you imagine a teacher, what do you see?

For most people, it’s someone standing at a (white/black?)board, pointing at something written there and talking to (at?) their students. Even if they’re not at the board, they’re generally standing at the front of the room.

Teacher position

Image courtesy of Adam Simpson (who I’m sure isn’t a victim of what I’m about to describe!), taken from ELTpics, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license

I call this ‘teacher position’.

When you’re in ‘teacher position’ for the first time funny things start to happen. These include, but are not limited to, the following:

  1. You talk more, because you feel like you should be explaining things and/or you need to fill the silence.
  2. You talk louder, often louder than is necessary, to make sure all of the students can hear you. Alternatively, you get so quiet that nobody can hear you.
  3. You write all over the board, generally in a pretty haphazard manner, because that’s how students learn, right?
  4. You never sit down, because you can’t be a teacher if you’re sitting down, even if there are less than 5 students in the room.
  5. You become the centre of attention, which either goes to your head or petrifies you.

In the first week of a CELTA course, my aim is to help the trainees feel comfortable in the role of teacher, then to move past this image, and start to realise all of the other things that being a teacher involves.

Over the four-week course, I hope to see the following changes related to each of the points above:

  1. You realise when it’s appropriate to talk and when not. You learn to grade your language so that students can understand you. You lose your fear of silence.
  2. You learn the correct volume to speak at so that students can hear you, but you’re not shouting at them.
  3. The board becomes a tool which is used wisely and well, with only the information that needs to be there, beautifully laid out so that the students can follow it and get some use out of said information.
  4. You vary your position depending on the stage of the lesson, the size of the group, and your role at a given time. You feel comfortable as you move around, and don’t feel you need to maintain ‘teacher position’ throughout.
  5. You realise that it’s all about the students, and that attention should be focussed on them. If you were petrified, you repeat the mantra “I am the teacher. This is my classroom. I have a right to be here and I’m in control of the lesson.” until you believe it.

This week we returned to the TP groups we had during week one, and it’s been great to see how much some of the trainees have improved since I left them. They’ve managed to address most of the areas above. The hardest one to deal with is the first half of 5, but two experiments with guided discovery lessons, one yesterday and one today, show that the trainees are at least attempting to do this. There were mixed levels of success with there, but that’s what experimenting is all about.

They’re the first steps along a long road, but hopefully the techniques we’ve taught them during the course will help them to cope with the rest of the lesson successfully enough that they can concentrate on the students, because they don’t have to think about everything else as it starts to become second nature. We can but hope.

Day Three

TP was eventful, with last-minute changes due to circumstances beyond most people’s control. That’s all I’ll say about it, because I know trainees from the course may read this.

We’re starting to wrap up the course now, with half of the trainees having their final TP tonight, and the other half tomorrow.

I’ve marked most of my assignments, with a handful of outstanding resubmissions still to do.

I’ve only got one input session left, on literacy, a topic I’ve never covered before. I just had a 10-minute break from writing this for a quick look at the materials I have for it. Even though it’s 22:20 now, I can’t stop thinking about what I want to do in the session. Too many ideas, not enough time!

Also still to do: finishing off feedback for my TP group for TP8; update the provisional grades sheet with information about TPs since the assessor’s visit; write reports; relax.

Day Four

More difficult circumstances which I won’t go into, meaning we had to reorganise the timetable for the day. The new version of the timetable worked well, and everything was completed on time.

Day Five

The course finished well after yesterday’s blip 🙂

I was very pleased with my first attempt at a literacy session, thanks to using Wingdings as the language for a mini ‘literacy test’, an idea I stole from a conference talk at IATEFL Glasgow I think. It works nicely for putting everyone in the room on the same footing, and avoids you having to work out who speaks which languages in the group.

Once that was done, it was time for report writing and provisional grades, updating the report sent to the assessor showing the progress of the candidates since their visit, and confirming which grades should be awarded, pending the assessor’s approval.

To finish the evening I had my final two TPs, which were a great note to end the course on. The candidates in question have shown huge progress over the course, with their final lessons being useful to the students and fun too.

Because we were the last people at the school, we got a taxi together for the 20 minute ride into Chiang Mai. About half of the candidates from the two courses were at the final party. It was a fun evening, and as always, my favourite part of the CELTA course 🙂 With the pressure off, it’s a chance to really get to know the candidates, find out more about their history and their future plans, and finish off the course on a high.

The end, for now

I’m very happy that I’ve finally been able to blog about my experience of being a tutor, mostly because this is the first CELTA I’ve done where I’ve managed to avoid working at home! My work-life balance has been much better, and I’m hoping to maintain this on future courses.

I feel like I’ve finally got the hang of managing my time and knowing what I need to do when during the four weeks of the course, and I’ve built up a stock of input sessions which mean I don’t have to spend so much time preparing them.

I’ve enjoyed my first course in Chiang Mai, working with a group of experienced and interesting tutors. I’m looking forward to doing three more in the same place and learning a lot more from them!

(The other posts are here: week oneweek two, week three)

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CELTA Week Two

Day One

I could have sworn I’d done an input session on functions before, but I can’t find it anywhere on my computer, so it must have been a figment of my imagination. The system I’ve developed for creating a new input session is:

  1. If I can’t make an educated guess, check what areas need to be covered in the session, especially if I know it can have different interpretations, e.g. ‘Phonology 1’ could be sounds and the phonemic chart, or a general introduction to phonology.
  2. Find all the documents I think might be relevant/interesting and put them all in a dedicated folder on my computer/lay them out on my desk. For example, for this session I found the centre’s folder for the functional language session, went through all the activities and laid out the ones I thought I could use on my desk. I also looked at the handful of related documents I have on my computer, all of which I’ve inherited from various other tutors.
  3. On a piece of scrap paper, come up with a rough running order for the session, including timing. Today that consisted of writing a list of the documents, crossing out duplicates, linking ones that could be combined, numbering them in order, and adding times.
  4. Type out a running order, underlining the materials I need as I go along. Number the file ‘0’ so it always appears at the top of the folder and is easy to find.
  5. Create/adapt/type up/resave any documents I need for the session, numbering them in the order they’re needed.
  6. Print.
  7. Do session.
  8. Scribble notes all over the printed running order.
  9. Try to remember to do something with said notes, if I can find time.

I’ve got much better at timing my inputs now too, working on the basis that if I think it’ll take 5 minutes, it’ll probably take 10; if 10 minutes, 15; and so on. By adding 5 minutes to everything, I seem to get it roughly right, although I still need to drop an activity every now and again, or just give things as reading rather than dealing with them in the session.

The whole process took about 3 hours, plus printing off yesterday’s feedback and eating, which took me up to 2 minutes before the session was due to start. It’s true that tasks expand to fill the time allotted to them!

I was watching a different TP group and a different set of students (still elementary) tonight, and there were some timing issues. Two of the three trainees went 7/8 minutes over their 45 minute slot, making the whole lesson 15 minutes longer than it should have been. That prompted me to finally get round to blogging about timing, something I’ve been meaning to do for ages. Thanks guys, but please don’t do it again!

Day Two

Two days into week two, and illness has struck. Three trainees had to go home today for various reasons and lots of others looked pretty tired all day.

In general, the trainees haven’t had enough sleep, and they’re feeling stressed out and under pressure, no matter how much we try to reassure them and calm them down. This is not unusual for a CELTA course, due to its intensive nature. I’ve reminded a few of them individually about looking after themselves, but today decided to give the whole group a bit of a pep talk. It went something like this:

I know that some of you are tired and feeling a bit sick, and that the stress and pressure of the course don’t help, but you need to look after yourselves. The CELTA might seem very important right now, but your health is more important. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep, and that you take at least a few hours for yourself at the weekend, preferably half or even a full day. It might seem like you’re wasting time, but it’s a false economy to work all the time because you’ll regret it later. You’ll exhaust yourself and/or make yourself ill, and nobody is at their best when that happens. I’d rather see an adequately-planned lesson and you’re still alive, than a perfectly-planned lesson but you’re half dead.

I didn’t do CELTA full-time; I did it part-time, but when I did Delta, also part-time, I was working for about 20 hours every weekend on top of my full-time job. I started in September and took the whole of December off sick from work, then triggered a condition I’ll have the rest of my life, which is the reason you see me eating all the time. I don’t want any of you to make yourselves ill, because it’s not worth it.

Remember that work expands to fill the time you have available. If you say you’re going to go to bed at 11pm, stick to it, because you’ll be much more productive for it, rather than saying that you’ll work until you’re done. That way you’ll end up being up until three in the morning. The same is true at the weekend. Give yourself a specific amount of time to do each thing, and be strict. You’ll get a lot more done that way, rather than just starting blankly at a computer screen waiting for inspiration to strike.

Take breaks while you’re working too. Stand up, stretch, give your eyes a bit of a rest. You can download apps to help you. If you have a Mac, TimeOut blocks out your screen every 30 minutes, and I’m sure there are similar things for Windows.

Sometimes the mum just comes out in me. 😉

It was nice that one of the trainees noticed that my input was much smoother today – she asked me whether I’d done it before. It’s the fourth outing for that one, and you can really tell!

Day Three

‘Not to standard’ lessons are never easy to give. On my part, at least, there is a lot of soul-searching and questioning, but ultimately you have to follow the criteria. So far I’ve never given this grade without discussing the lesson and checking carefully with other tutors on my course to make sure I’ve made the right decision and have justified it clearly and accurately. Every lesson is graded against a set of criteria from Cambridge, and I have to use it objectively, no matter how difficult that may  be at times. I know how much work goes into every lesson, and I know how much of a disappointment it is when it doesn’t turn out the way you planned. (Two of my four Delta lessons were below standard due to weak planning, and I put a lot of hours into each!)

Giving feedback on these lessons is also not easy, but thanks to my co-tutor in Vancouver, I’ve found one way to do it which seems to work. Divide the board into as many columns as there were trainees teaching that day (2? 3?). Then create the following rows: name, main aim, (secondary aim – optional), stages. Give the group time to complete the table. The teacher whose column it is can’t contribute to that one, but can to any of the others, e.g. if A was teaching, they can’t write in column A, but can (and should!) in B and C. (By the way, this isn’t the only time I use this method of feedback, but it’s particularly effective for these lessons.)

Using this method today made it very clear that the ‘not to standard’ lesson was that way because teacher A wasn’t clear about the aims of their lesson and lacked the necessary level of detail in their planning to successfully introduce the grammar point they were trying to teach, partly since they didn’t really understand the grammar themselves. It also affected the pace of the lesson as there were long pauses while the teacher tried to work out what should happen next. Their peers didn’t identify language as one of the aims at all, and struggled to come up with the stages of the lesson. It also boosted the confidence of teacher B, as they believed that their lesson was ‘a disaster’, but their peers could reconstruct it very easily, were clear about the aims and could see how the students had benefitted from it.

Teacher A took this feedback very well, and asked lots of questions about how to improve, especially since this was their second ‘not to standard’ on the course, out of three lessons so far. Today their first tutor and I have given them a series of steps to take to help them use their time and plan more effectively, since they tend to spend a very long time on creating excellent materials, at the expense of really knowing how to use them in class. The audio recording produced for this lesson was a case in point – it was written by the trainee, recorded by them and a friend, and even had a phone ringing at the beginning to make it sound more authentic!

The way teacher A took their feedback is in stark contrast to a trainee I had on a previous course, possibly due to the way I gave feedback. I think this was before I learnt about the stages/aims method, although I’m not 100% sure – my memory is a bit hazy on this. I tried to introduce it as gently as possible, since the trainee had been struggling with the course in general as it was very different to the ‘chalk and talk’ style they were experienced in delivering in their home country. On being told that it was ‘below standard’ for that stage of the course, the trainee asked if the grade could be changed. I said it couldn’t, and started to explain why with reference to the Cambridge criteria (although I thought the points had already been made clear during the preceding few minutes of feedback). The trainee stormed out of the room and slammed the door at this point. This was a shock to me and the rest of their TP group, and I wasn’t really sure how to react. In the end, I did the only thing I could, which was to apologise and move on to the final trainee’s feedback.

It’s a little ironic that the same trainee has chosen today to post two comments on my blog, which I don’t plan to approve due to the lack of context, but will share here for the sake of completeness and to avoid being accused of censorship. I hope doing it this way will also protect the identity of the trainee in question:

Sandy is extremely rude to her students. She enjoys student’s failure. She hates to see students performing well. How could such a vicious one be a teacher?
She tortured me spiritually in 28 days.

And about 5 hours later on a different post:

Sandy Millin wants her students to worship her. If you don’t, then she steps on you. She is too proud of her being born in the UK. She feels superior than any student. It’s her personality that she treats her students with the attitude of being unfair. If you lick her ass, she will give you an A, otherwise, a C.
These blogs help others to teach, it’s useful. But can Sandy learn a lesson that teaching is to promote students, not to kill us. I got a very subjective judgement from her. Why does she work so hard? She wants to be worshiped only for she can speak some English, which everyone can.

You can’t render your rude judgement on me. I will appeal and appeal till I get the justice.

I’m very sorry that this is how I came across to this student. My aim during the course, and I think that of any self-respecting tutor, is to build on the trainees’ strengths and to support them to become the best teachers they can be within the confines of a four-week course, and hopefully instil in them the desire to keep reflecting and developing once they’ve finished the course. In case you were wondering, this trainee did pass the course, although it was a weak pass, as they continued to struggle through the course. If they’d failed, I might understand the feeling behind these comments a little more.

Does anybody have any other suggestions on how to give feedback on ‘not to standard’ lessons, so that I can try to avoid a repeat of the situation with the latter trainee?

Day Four

There are four assignments on any CELTA course. Although each centre has slightly different variations on them, they are all designed to cover the following areas:

  • Focus on the learner: finding out about either one learner from your TP group in depth, or a little about all of the learners in the class, or both (depends on the centre), and providing materials to deal with two (normally) of their specified language problems, specifically related to grammar, vocabulary or pronunciation;
  • Language awareness: analysis of items of grammar, vocabulary and functions to prove that you can use reference materials to find out information about language, and break it down sufficiently to be able to deal with it in class;
  • Skills task: creating tasks based on a piece of authentic material, normally two receptive tasks and one productive;
  • Lessons from the classroom: reflection on your strengths and weaknesses as a teacher based on observations of you and other teachers during the course, and an action plan for how to continue your development.

Candidates are allowed to resubmit each assignment once if it doesn’t meet the criteria the first time, and they receive clear feedback on what they need to work on.

Today we were looking at the language awareness assignment, which tends to be the one with the highest rates of resubmission because so many people find it hard to break language down sufficiently to be able to teach it. In my experience, those who have learnt English as a second language are normally OK with this area, but may still have trouble with detailing how to check the language, whether it be with CCQs or otherwise.

Language awareness is a particular problem for native speakers, and is one of the reasons why I don’t think CELTA should necessarily be seen as the benchmark for employment that it can be in some countries/schools, since it needs to be backed up with a knowledge of how the language works. That’s not to say that people with CELTA shouldn’t get a job, just that if you’re teacher (often a non-native) with a good command of the language and no CELTA, you shouldn’t automatically lose out just because somebody else has a CELTA.

The areas trainees really ought to find out about before the course are:

  • the difference between parts of speech (noun, verb, preposition etc);
  • the names and forms of the basic pedagogical tenses in English;
  • the main functions of each of these tenses.

Of course, that’s only a tiny slice of the English language, but it’s a good grounding to start off with. It’ll be a bit of a confidence booster once the course has started.

Here are a couple of useful books [both affiliate links, so I’ll make a few pennies if you buy them through here]:

  • Grammar for English Language Teachers by Martin Parrott – designed with teachers in mind, it includes possible problems students might have, and tasks for you to do to help you understand the language better;
  • Teaching English Grammar by Jim Scrivener – very easy to find your way around, including possible timelines, ways of checking the concepts, and contexts to introduce each language point in.

There are more links to help you build your language awareness in the ‘Before the Course‘ section of Useful Links for CELTA.

Assignments are one of the places where being a CELTA tutor can feel pretty stressful, since there’s normally a very quick turn-around, and you mark them in any spare moment you have. That’s been at home on all of my previous courses, but this time I decided that work will be at work, even if it means going in early, and home will be for me, including getting some of the posts written which I’ve been meaning to do for ages! As a result, I’m feeling a lot more relaxed on this course. I hope it continues!

Day Five

We’re half-way through the course, so today the trainees planned their lesson focuses (foci?) for the next two weeks, aiming for two skills and two language lessons each to cover the remaining four TPs.

The tutors also had a relatively light day, doing feedback on yesterday’s classes and preparing for and administering Stage 2 tutorials, a 15-minute or so individual meeting with each trainee updating them on their progress on the course so far, dealing with any questions the trainee raises, and telling them what they need to do to meet their potential. It’s based on a list of criteria which the trainees mark themselves against, then the tutor assesses them too, a comment by the trainee and a comment by the tutor, making sure everyone is on the same page and that there won’t be any nasty surprises later in the course (at least, that’s the plan!)

Other progress reports done during the course are a brief one at the end of Stage 1/week 1 and a Stage 3 tutorial at the end of week 3 if the trainee is not performing as expected. They can also request informal tutorials.

I have to say that I find some of the criteria a bit odd/unnecessary, the main one being 2f: The candidate shows an awareness of register. I’m not really sure why this is given it’s own criteria when analysing form, meaning and phonology is a single criterion, as is teaching those three things – many trainees are really good in one or two of those areas, but not necessarily in all three. Another odd Cambridge thing is that the first group of criteria on the list (connected to planning) are all numbered 4, followed by 1, 2, 3, 5. A strange way of counting!

There was no TP tonight, so I took advantage of the early finish to have a peaceful evening bike ride. Here are a three of the beautiful views I saw:

Wat Pha Sukaram

Wat Pha Sukaram

Rice paddy at sunset The mountain near Chiang Mai and Wat Pha Sukaram

(The other posts are here: week oneweek three, week four)

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