Post-CELTA Confessions

Aspiring to be a better teacher

Month: December, 2012

2012 in review

by celtaconfessions

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog. Thanks for coming, reading and commenting. Hope to see you again soon!

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 3,000 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 5 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Day 5: The Twilight Zone

by celtaconfessions

As I mentioned in my previous post, on this day, teachers 4, 5 and 6 had to observe the level (in our case, intermediate) they would be changing to on Day 7. I’m not sure how Al and Ingmar took it, but, me, after day 4, which I’d blogged extensively on, I was groping around, disorientated, in the twilight zone.

Part of me was attempting to focus on the trainees in this group (Meghan, Dennis & Sarah Walker) and the students (I started writing their names down), part of me was trying to remain attached to the pre-intermediate group, which I would have to teach the next day and thinking of the lesson plan, yet unfinished, and part of me was helping Sarah to relax – she was a right bundle of nerves! So, while Megan and Dennis were teaching, there was I coaxing her to breathe the proper way, to think positively, etc. I’d like to think I was of help, but I’m not the right person to say it, of course.

Meghan’s lesson was on skills – listening skills. It was something on touring Australia. Meghan, like the others, based her lesson on the coursebook. I thought the listening was tedious; it was quite long, and they listened to it three times: first time for gist, then, for detail, after which they conferred with their partners on their answers, followed by a third listening. By this time, I’d slipped deeper into the Zone, so, sorry, Meghan, I didn’t know if it was for a separate task or not. In a way, it was good that I was helping Sarah as it took my mind off worse things…

classroom, waiting for students

Copyright 2012 Chiew Pang

Meghan was cool and collected, laid back in that oh-so stereotypical Californian style ūüėČ whereas if it were me, having to go through three listenings, my nerves would have got the better of me. I’d be worried about where the students’ thoughts would be… But, as Ceri mentioned in the feedback, it was me who were having issues with the listenings; the students were fine LOL.

In addition, Meghan gave the impression she had slept with the Ten Commandments under her pillow and delivered her ICQs to perfection ;).

Dennis was up next – how come Seville was full of Americans? ūüėČ His was a task based lesson, before we had the input, so most of us weren’t aware of the rationale behind the modus operandi. That’s what coursebooks are for, right? ūüėČ

Dennis started by giving his example of an interesting tour, backed by visuals, of New Orleans, his home town, and a hand-drawn map. Language aim was advice and suggestions (I think). A few questions later, and it was the students’ turn to produce their own tour of Seville. I can’t remember if it was a 3 or a 7-day tour.

The lesson went really well, with the group getting very motivated over the map-drawing. Not sure about the language, though ;). Seriously, you could see that the students enjoyed the lesson – shame they didn’t have enough time to finish their project.

Then, up went Sarah. Did I manage to calm her down? What was her lesson aim? I thought it must have been to practise or reinforce the language they’d previously seen with Meghan and Dennis, but later, in the feedback, Ceri said that the main aim was listening, which surprised me.

I thought she did quite well. After the two Americans, she was dynamic and the lesson suited her. There was some pair work, some short listenings, some pronunciation drilling. There was a game of matching, followed by a role-play. Unfortunately, for me, the time left for them to do the role play wasn’t quite enough. They were enjoying it.

After a break, we had global feedback with Ceri. Here were some points which came up:

  • after listening activities, compare answers in pairs.
  • put instructions on the PPT as well as on the handout, if any – not just given out orally.
  • timing – remember FB time. A 5-minute activity could take up 10, if instructions and feedback are added.
  • visual FB – always useful to support FB by board work, on the handout itself, or other visuals.

In the feedback, I clarified with Ceri on her stance on diverting off coursebooks and lesson plans. She gave the impression she was more sympathetic to this as long as there’s good justification. And, at least, she laughed at my jokes. I wish I had her as my main tutor!

Footnote

I didn’t take any photos of the trainees giving the their lessons because I was afraid of being intrusive or unnerving. I was afraid of making them nervous. This was, after all, just day 5, and we hardly knew each other. It was a shame, really.

Day Four: Phonology 1 – An overview

by celtaconfessions

In spite of my earlier posts reflecting on day four, I actually hadn’t realised how affected I was. I just came across evidence that I was probably at my lowest level on this day than at any other point in the course, as far as my mood and state of mind was concerned. I remember having experienced such a day, but thought it occurred a little later; however, this “evidence” points to this day, day four, as being that day in question. It was a combination of factors: the mounting pressure, my forgetting important details, the slaughter I had, the changing of class to be observed – the next day, Friday, I would be going to the intermediate class to observe before coming back to pre-intermediate on Monday to do a TP, plus because of the way things had progressed, I was changed from being first up to last again for Monday! I’d always felt that I was last more times than others and I couldn’t figure it out until I remembered this. Being first would meant I’d have had to do grammar, which my tutor didn’t want and his only solution was to put me last. Last to teach for ALL the TPs I did with this level. So, the combination of a multitude of negativities (and I haven’t mentioned them all) drove me to a near-breakdown.

No wonder I hadn’t wanted to talk about it at first!

On to this input session. I don’t remember much about it, and I doubt may trainees do either.

CELTA input session

Copyright 2012 Chiew Pang

The aim was to give us an overview of pronunciation issues to consider. The stages of the input was as follows:

  • Possible problems students may have with pronunciation
  • Matching exercise: problems with terminology
  • Feedback on answers
  • How can we help students to improve their pronunciation visually and orally?
  • Drilling practice

Problem areas

We were given ten cards with problems written on them.

  • wash¬† /¬† watch¬† /¬† sherry¬† /¬† cherry
  • She’s French, isn’t she?¬† /¬† Really? Is she? I didn’t know
  • competition¬† /¬† competitive¬† /¬† competitor¬† /¬† compete
  • played¬† /¬† cooked¬† /¬† started
  • She was having a drink when he arrived.¬† /¬† What were they doing there?
  • T: Here you are. (T gives S red pen)¬† /¬† S: No, I want the blue one.¬† /¬† T: Ah, OK. (T gives S green pen)¬† /¬† S: No, I want the blue one. (T gives blue pen)
  • I’ve always liked maths.¬† /¬† What’s happened?
  • thorough¬† /¬† castle¬† /¬† walk¬† /¬† foreign
  • clothes¬† /¬† crisps
  • She had had an awful time.

We had to match these cards to the terminology of the problems, which were:

  • contractions
  • word linking
  • minimal pairs
  • voiced/unvoiced sounds
  • consonant clusters
  • weak forms / the schwa
  • word stress
  • sentence stress
  • intonation
  • silent letters

Drills

The basic drill involves simple repetition. However, there are variations we can use to break the monotony.

Who speaks?

  • whole group (choral) or individually
  • nominated student
  • male/female
  • sections (this half/that half; As/Bs)
  • Pairs: alternate words
  • Students lead the drill rather than the teacher

How?

  • volume: normal, whisper, loud, shout, sing, silent (mime)
  • speed: normal, fast, slow

Substitution drills

Transformation drills

True sentences

Examples of these drills can be seen in Learning Teaching by Jim Scrivener.

Helping students with pronunciation

This can be done orally, e.g. by identifying and isolating problem areas, using exaggeration, etc.; or it can be done visually, e.g. using directional arrows, stress boxes and phonemes.

Verdict

I’d already pronounced my verdict on these pronunciation sessions in a previous post.

This post contains notes taken from the official handout of IH CLIC Seville

Day Four: Discrete Item demo Lesson

by celtaconfessions

After the tangential digressions of the past two posts, it’s time to get back to reviewing day four’s input sessions. My ranting and raving might have angered some people perhaps, or might have stimulated some serious thinking; whichever the case, it was quite therapeutic for me. Words are a very important tool, but a tool can be used in many ways; sometimes, they can be put to good use, and sometimes the intention may be good, but they can be misunderstood and backfire. Wars have resulted because of misunderstanding. I have often say that final judgement should be reserved until there’s been a dialogue. Even then, misunderstandings happen. Words can be interpreted in many forms. That’s why I like writing poetry. A single word can have many nuances. Take for example the ‘vessel’ in the title of my last post. I wonder how many of you thought of my choice of word. There were at least three reasons for it, not just one.

Anyway, there I went again – digression. Apologies!

This day’s input session was a demo lesson on adverbs of frequency using the discrete item approach and it was given by Ceri. I wished she was my primary tutor instead of the secondary. She’s quite ‘techy’ in a way and she would have appreciated my audiovisuals more. While we’re on the subject of tutors (oh no, there he goes again!), I have always wondered why we never had a final evaluation/assessment session with our main tutor but we had, instead, a mid-course session with our secondary tutor. It beats me. If we had, perhaps, just perhaps, all my frustrations and rantings could have been avoided. Dialogue. As I said in the first paragraph.

As we trickled in – this was, effectively, out first input session – Ceri asked for, and wrote our names on the WB. I thought this was a neat trick to allow her to address us by name immediately. This is a large room, and had a reversible whiteboard plus an IWB, so equipment-wise, it was fabulous.

Warmer

For the first half of the session, we were acting as “students” while Ceri gave a lesson on the adverbs of frequency. She beamed up the often-quoted Confucius saying, “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” In pairs, we discussed who wrote it and what it means.

That done, she beamed up images of leisure activities and, again in pairs, we had to discuss what the teacher likes doing, and justify our choices.

Bible question: Are we thinking of your hobbies or my hobbies? Chorus: Yours!

Indonesia Handbook by Chiew Pang

Copyright 2012 Chiew Pang

Introducing target language

She had us explaining our choices before she beamed a text on “My hobbies” which goes something like this: In my free time, I often go travelling: at least four times a year. I never play football because…

Conveying/Checking meaning

We then answered questions such as:

  • “Do I like travelling a lot or a little?”
  • “Which word tells you so?”
  • “Which activity do I do the most?”

Following that, we were asked to identify the adverbs (of frequency), and to place them in the most appropriate position on a cline (0-100%).

CCQ: If I go to the café every morning and have coffee every morning, do I sometimes have coffee or do I always have coffee? Chorus: ALWAYS!

Pronunciation

She drilled the adverbs, emphasising on “often” (because there are two ways of pronouncing this).

I wasn’t sure why she did the pronunciation work at this point; I would have thought a better place would be just before the free practice, or maybe, before the controlled practice.

Conveying/Checking form (guided discovery)

  • Adverbs of frequency come BEFORE/AFTER the main verb.
    • e.g, I always go running after work.
  • Adverbs of frequency come BEFORE/AFTER the verb to be.
    • e.g. I’m always happy.

Controlled practice

We did a gap-fill exercise, e.g. I ______ play tennis; two or three times a week. There was also another exercise, which I think we didn’t do, and it was to put the adverb in the right place:

  • I cook the dinner (never)
  • I am very tired (often)
  • I dance badly (always)

Free practice

Again, in pairs, we discussed our own hobbies: where we do them, who with, and most importantly, how often?

ICQ: are we talking of my hobbies or your hobbies? OUR HOBBIES! YAY!!!!

Then, one person/group gives one sentence without saying whose hobby it is and the rest had to guess who they were talking about, e.g. I often go for walks.

PACS

This would have been the PACS session if we had been real learners. She showed some sentences and we had to say if they were correct or incorrect. We did this in pairs, too. I wonder if she would have done it in pairs with real learners, or she would have done it globally.

  • I am playing football always
  • I play tennis sometimes
  • I never going dancing

Note that the second sentence will be corrected at lower levels, but not necessarily at higher levels.

That was the demo lesson. We went back to being teachers after that, and started discussing the lesson.

We agreed that the lesson was intended for elementary or pre-intermediate level. Because of this, the lesson tends to be more visual and the language is sometimes not very natural. At very low levels, grammar is put across more prescriptively and diversion from the coursebook is not advised because it can confuse the students.

Lesson Framework

The stages for a discreet item lesson basically progresses from presentation to practice:

  • Lead-in/warmer
    • to engage students
    • to establish topic/context
    • to enable students to bring their external knowledge of the topic and the language to the lesson (activate their schemata)
  • Introduce target language
    • to introduce the target language into the lesson
  • Convey and check meaning
    • to highlight the meaning of the target language
    • to check students’ understanding of it
  • Convey and check form
    • to highlight the form of the target language
    • to check students’ understanding of it
  • Pronunciation (floating)
    • to practise the pronunciation of the target language
  • Controlled or semi-controlled practice (oral or written)
    • to practise the meaning and form of the target language
  • Free(r) practice (oral or written)
    • to provide students with an opportunity to practise the target language in a free way
    • to allow students to discuss the topic of the lesson
  • PACS – Language feedback (in pairs ‚Üí whole class)
    • to provide students with corrections on the language produced
    • to provide students with correct examples of language produced

5 ways

There are 5 different ways of introducing or revising language

  • via examples

Examples of target language are introduced, and from this, students establish rules by means of guided discovery.

  • via text

The context is provided in the form of a reading or listening text. General procedures for a receptive skills lesson is followed.

  • via rules

A set of rules is given, and students look at examples and identify the rules.

  • via situation

A context, which contains examples of the target language, is built by using images, mime, story, etc.

  • via TTT (test-teach-test)

Students are “tested” to see how much they already know about the target language. What they are unsure of is taught. They are tested again.

Verdict

I’m not convinced as to the usefulness of the first part of this session. OK, it’s always interesting to watch another teacher at work, but using us as the students felt comical at times, especially with the corny ICQs and CCQs. I thought it was too long for the benefit we reaped and would have preferred more time to be spent on showing us/discussing the five different ways.

Any comments?

Not just an empty vessel

by celtaconfessions

Pull up a chair. Make yourself at home. Whatcha like? Cuppa? Coke? Glass of wine?

Cappuccino and puffs

Copyright 2012 Chiew Pang

Blame it on Freya, who told me it was unfair of me to mention criticisms of others but not of myself; blame it on Barry for encouraging me to exorcise the demons. I’ve been stuck on Day Four as though I were trapped in a warped time machine, and going off on tangents like an out-of-control spinning top… (Freya, cue: smile!)

OK, so you think my ranting and raving has been totally over-the-top, that I have no evidence, that I’ve been somewhat unprofessional… is that right? OTT, debatable. Evidence, I have… some. Professionalism? Yea, talk to me about that. Anyway, let’s take a look at this CELTA course from the top down, or is it bottom-up? Let’s roll up our sleeves, push up our glasses, and crack on!

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’d do the course again, no doubt about that. I enjoyed it for many reasons – No8Do Seville, the ambience, the unfinished (and the non-existent) conversations, the shattered fantasies and the grim reality, the lost, dreary looks, the bonding, the tension, the laughter, the tears, the love, the fear, and a multitude of various other human feelings; yes, I’d do it again. So, why all the ranting? Because I believe in continuing professional development and that applies not only to myself but to everything else above, including, naturally, CELTA.

I know I’m a nonentity, but I’ve lately got into the habit of talking to the screen as no-one else would talk to me, so, here goes…

I’d actually planned to do this at the end; it would have made more sense after I’ve had the chance to review everything, but the demons saga has pushed everything out-of-sync, and I just felt I had to take it a step further. Perhaps I’ll do another review right at the end.

What would you do if you were to give this lesson again? We were constantly asked. I ask: what would you do if you had a chance to change the course?

Primordial

Have you seen the stats? No, I won’t give the link again. Go to my last post and look for it. Doesn’t something stick out a mile from it? Does it look “normal”, does it look “professional” even? The very first thing that I’d change would be to have two grades: PASS and FAIL. That would, at a single stroke, remove tremendous pressure from trainers and trainees alike.

No matter how much is claimed about trainers being trained and standardised, they are humans, not robots. Humans have feelings. Humans err. Humans get tired. Humans have good and bad days. Having just a pass and a fail grade minimises the effects of these “defects”.

Streamline

The second thing I would do is to streamline the whole assessment and evaluation process; I’d cut the number of components by at least half. I’ve mentioned before in one of my older posts that I had no idea how trainers are able to do so many things and to evaluate on so many aspects… except by not doing it to the best of their ability. It’s simply c-r-a-z-e-e.

The check list should be reduced to just a few essential items. A box could be used to add additional aspects that trainers see fit to mention. Not once was a box marked N/A (not applicable) when clearly, there were circumstances when it would be so. An example would be “organising the classroom”. Imagine a scene where each trainee gets to the front and start rearranging the classroom! Multiply that by the number of teachers, lessons, days and soon, you’ll end up with no students.

So, reduce check list drastically, getting rid of, quite frankly, senseless components. Allow for N/A. Allow a space for additional comments.

Feedback

Readers of my other blog know that I regularly ask for students’ feedback, often after every lesson. I don’t know if the “guinea pigs” of CELTA courses give feedback. I suspect they do, but only once for each teacher, no doubt. Whether they do or not, trainees themselves do not get to see it. I’d change that. First, I think a feedback after each class would be useful. They could have a 20-minute feedback just before the tutor’s, or they could do it online and could also remain anonymous. Whichever way, trainees ought to be party to it.

Input sessions

I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels these need to be overhauled. Are they the same for all centres? I have no idea. To go into detail, I’d need to look into my notes and recordings, something I’m not prepared to do at this stage. I will comment on them as I review the day-by-day events. However, a couple of them springs to mind.

We had, if I remember correctly, three phonology sessions. Don’t get me wrong; I dig phonology and I’m an Underhill fan, so in a way, the sessions weren’t of much benefit to me, but that isn’t the reason why I think, quite frankly, they should be either scrapped or reduced to one session. My general view of the trainees is that they needed more a grammar than a pronunciation lesson. They can get by without knowing the phonetic script, but can they get by without knowing grammar? I’ve seen them breaking down in class because the lesson aim was beyond them. It’s not pleasant to watch that; one feels so helpless, not being allowed to help a fellow trainee.

The other was the Young Learners session. It was fun; it was enjoyable, but did we need it? I suppose now that the “A” in CELTA no longer stands for adult, it’s justified? Or perhaps it acts as a filler, happening towards the end when some have actually finished all their TPs. If we have the YLE, why not one on business? Or 1-2-1? Or telephone/online lessons?

My input suggestions

  • In methodology, we had TBL, DI, and skills. I would definitely include Teaching Unplugged. Maybe even a 30-minute TP. Imagine there’s a power cut. No photocopier, no printer, no internet, no IWB, no PC, hell, not even lights. No tools, no paper. Get up there. Give your lesson.

This is real life. This is survival.

  • Technology. It cannot be assumed that everyone has sufficient knowledge of this. Some of us may take tools such as PowerPoint and media players for granted, but there are others who struggle with the most basic of techy stuff.

 

  • CPD. I’m surprised this wasn’t included. Half of the trainees, if not more, were probably not even aware of what it stands for. I’d expected at least one session of this because I thought they would be wanting to sell their other courses, but I was mistaken. This is ESSENTIAL. What forms of CPD are there? Why is it important? How to use social media for CPD, etc. Tons of stuff to talk about.

These are some suggestions which came to mind at the time of writing. I’m sure there are more, and I may mention them in future posts. What do you feel about them? Do you agree/disagree? Were you a trainee once? What would you do to improve the course? Are you a trainer? Are you happy with the current programme?

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