Post-CELTA Confessions

Aspiring to be a better teacher

Week 2, Day 2: The dreaded 20-minute TP

by celtaconfessions

Yes, I dread these 20-minute TPs – not much can be achieved in such a short space of time. By the time you’ve warmed up, your time’s up; and if you’re coming after someone else (as I tend to do), what you do may be unrelated to the previous “lessons”, thus making the morning a very disjointed affair.

However, as I’d mentioned in my last post, the three of us would be attempting to work together to try to deliver a seamless lesson. It was a refreshing change to have Ts 1, 4 and 6 followed by Ts 5, 3 and 2 instead of the usual 1-6 consecutive order.

So it was that Hatty went first, followed by Al, and then, the resident top-of-the-bill, namely me. Haha. It’s amazing how I was always at the end of the pack…

20-minute TP on CELTA

Hatty on being successful. Copyright 2012 Chiew Pang

We were to do one of these survey-personality test – you can see it in the previous post. Hatty would do the reading-vocabulary, Al would get them to actually do the test, and I would get them to calculate their score and get them talking.

I’d prepare a PowerPoint and my warmer was to ask them 3 questions:

  1. Do you think your assessment is fair?
  2. Do you think this is a good test to assess personality?
  3. Which are the most/least useful question? Why?

I’d also prepare some images of successful people.

To be honest, I didn’t really like what I’d prepared because I wasn’t in control of what would happen before I came on. Much would depend on what Al did and where he’d stop…

With the experience of what’d happened to me in the first 20-minute TP, when I decided at the spur of the moment to divert from my stage plan, this time, I “cleverly” wrote down my introduction like this:

Why? To initiate rapport with the students.
What? T introduces himself and carries on from the previous lesson.

Cheeky, huh? Haha.

As it happened, I frigging did it again. I couldn’t help it, could I? Al was going on about being truthful and lying on these tests, so when he finished, instead of doing what I’d prepared, I went off-the-cuff again. It just felt so right. I wrote, if I remember, three sentences on the board, one of which was a lie. I told the students to guess which the lie was.

They lapped it up. Rapport was established and they were very animated.

I told you I’m not made for these 20-minute TPs. My aim was to get them talking and talking was what they did. But, of course, my timing went out the window. When you’re doing a course like this, you have to play their game. They are big on aims, they are big on control. I hate stopping students when they’re having fun speaking! To cut a long story short, I rushed at the end because I suddenly realised that if I wanted to pass this practice, I’d have to fulfil my “aims”!

What a disaster.

Consequently, I received my first Ns – one for conveying meaning in context (I wasn’t clear about what this referred to) and the other was for presenting materials with professional appearance and copyright requirements. I’d made reference to this latter point somewhere else in this blog, in one of my many rants. Why did I get an N? Because I didn’t use any materials! The students already had the test handout from Hatty. I had no need for the PowerPoint I’d prepared. The proper grading should have been non-applicable, surely? I can only assume that IH CLIC does not dish out NAs like some other centres. Beats me.

However, to compensate, Ceri gave me S+ on establishing rapport and developing motivation, and providing appropriate practice activities. At least she recognised my warmer for what it was! There’s hope here!

My thoughts

I was relieved that there would be no more 20-minute TPs after this. I wonder if those courses dealing with only two levels – and I think these are more the norm than our 18-trainees, three-levels course – would only have one 20-minute TP and not two like us. I’m the first to admit that I don’t control these mini-TPs very well, at least, not to CELTA’s criteria.

What was good, however, was that we worked together and our three lessons appeared more like one lesson with three different teachers.

My advice: Twenty minutes go by quite fast, really. Be sure to know your aims clearly. When planning your timing, remember to add time for giving instructions. Monitor well, and slot in a PACS. It’s not easy to fail, so try to enjoy it, establish rapport with your students, and don’t worry about the grading, which is quite ridiculous. In 20 minutes, the trainer has to grade you on 20+ items! Not for the faint-hearted!

Week 2, Day 1: surrealistic confusion

by celtaconfessions

Surreal day for me.

I’d just given my last lesson to the pre-intermediate group, which was a shame, really. Just as we were getting to know each other, we had to say goodbye… and it was a good lesson, too. See the last post. So, a large part of my mind was still mulling over the students, my lesson, the disappointing grading, while the rest of it tried to pull me back to the here and now, to the discussion with Ceri about the level we’d be teaching for the next seven days.

It started well enough. We discussed the differences we’d noticed between our previous level (pre-intermediate) and this level (intermediate), bearing in mind we had only one day to observe the students from this latter level. We also discussed the differences in the rooms – this one was much larger, with three round tables, and two WBs, one of them a smartboard.

When that ended, we were given a handout of a plan for our 20-minute TPs the following day. The first spate of confusion began. We read what was written but we couldn’t make sense of it because it didn’t coincide with the coursebook. It turned out that this handout was based on an older version of the book. Great. Thanks. Good start. This eventually led to a series of chops and changes resulting in a state of confusion that would stretch until the end of the day. I was too exhausted to keep up.

The best part of this planning was, for the first and only time, I had the chance to work together with Al and Hatty as a team. We’d be doing a test-assessment activity, split into three 20-minute tasks. For a change, haha, I’d be the last again. So, my lesson would very much depend on how Al finished his.

Cutting Edge Intermediate

Cutting Edge Intermediate; image by Chiew Pang copyright 2013

Coursebooks, friend or foe?

After lunch, our input session with Jo was on using coursebooks. There was a lot of pair and group work, discussing their pros and cons. Personally, I didn’t get much out of this – I don’t know about the rest of the trainees. It was all somewhat confusing for me, all the talking among ourselves, changing partners and tables, analysing our coursebooks, unsure of the purpose… and then somehow, this led to us having to prepare our own TP schedules for this level!

We spent a long time on this, chopping and changing, none of us really clear on the way forward. We had to follow the book, but, at the same time, we had to make sure we didn’t have two grammar or two skills lessons on the same day. Don’t forget that teachers 4-6 had just come from their last TP with the pre-intermediate group, and we weren’t really sure what this intermediate group of students knew or didn’t. In the end, after the umpteenth change, we had some sort of schedule.

Then, Ceri, our secondary tutor came in and checked it with us. To add to the confusion, those doing the skills lesson the following week would have to do their skills assignment (3), which meant, basically, they’d have to prepare their reading/listening material on their own, from scratch. The best news was that Friday was a public holiday, so we’d have some breathing space. Looking back, however, my advice to future trainees would be to avoid months where there are holidays if at all possible. I’d thought a break would be good, but all this does, really, is to intensify the pressure. The fact is the centre has to complete its schedule within the four weeks, holidays or not, which means that the lost day will have to be recovered in one form or another.

There were more changes made to the schedule we’d prepared, adding to the day’s surrealism. Was anyone sure of what they were doing? It was probably just me, a stupid old git, my mind being detached from my body, if you can call what I had a mind. The good thing (I think) was that I wouldn’t be doing my skills assignment lesson until week 3, day 4! That happened to be our last day with this group – I just made it! Otherwise, I would have had to do it with the next level, back with our main tutor, Ian, and those who have been following this blog know of how I’d feel about that!

My two pence worth

The coursebook debate is one worthy of more thought. What was given barely touched the surface, most of the time wasted on our own discussions, the worst being the part where we were formed into a trio, one from each level, i.e. pre-intermediate, intermediate and upper intermediate. We had to discuss the merits of the coursebook we’d used. We were given a checklist which filled a double-sided A4 sheet, and we were supposed to make comments. What an utter waste of time! I don’t know about the other groups, but mine just flicked through the pages and said, yes, yes, no, no. I am sure no-one will remember much of this session. I personally had hardly used the coursebook in the week I had it, so I couldn’t give much valued opinion anyway.

I know Cambridge is a big-time publisher so it is in their own interests that trainees be encouraged to use coursebooks, but I felt we ought to be lectured, for example, about their benefits, their weaknesses, how they should be used, etc. Coursebooks aren’t meant to be followed from cover to cover. At the same time, trainees ought to be guided on life without coursebooks. Or are CELTA trainees prepared only for materials-rich environments?

The other waste-of-time activity for me was when we were pussyfooting about organising our own teaching schedules. What was the point of this? Surely, this would have been more appropriate for DELTA and not CELTA trainees? OK, sure, it is a useful skill to have, perhaps, but I think other skills could have been given more priority. What made it worse was the point it was introduced, too. One minute we were discussing coursebooks, then the next, we were told to complete our schedules! Oh, well, at least it gave us a chance to speak to each other!

Week 2, day 1, 3rd TP: can I be sued?

by celtaconfessions

For this post, I will summarise my lesson, my third TP. I wasn’t going to do it, but since it was, arguably, my best TP up till this point, I thought it may be of interest to some of you. Freya, it was a shame that both you & Hatty missed this – I would have valued your feedback. The observers (Al, Ingmar, Josh, Phil & David) loved it as so did the students.

This was another 40-minute TP, but with full lesson plan. The aim of the lesson was to have the students practise reading skills where the grammar focus is on the past simple/continuous. It was a good thing that I had the whole weekend to prepare this (although I had to finish off assignment 1, too). The text I was supposed to use was The Perfect Crime from New Headway Pre-Intermediate. It was far far too long, especially for this level and for a 40-minute lesson.

I crunched it by at least half and put line numbers on the left of every 5 sentences. It fitted onto one A4 sheet on Tahoma 11, so that was pretty concise. I won’t load it up here because of copyright issues, but if you wish to have a look at it, email me.

If you remember, I mentioned in a previous post that, again, I would be the last to teach as though I were always the top of the bill, ha ha. That’s the positive way of looking at it, right?

Board work

Neat & tidy board

Lesson

Everyone loved the lead-in. I started with the dramatic soundtrack of Psycho and after a while, in case they still couldn’t identify the music, the famous screenshot of Anthony Perkins with the knife in his hand faded in onto the WB…

My aim was to elicit MURDER.

There were three images in the coursebook. I changed their order, and had them printed (I’d managed to get them off the Internet) onto the handout. On the reverse side of this was my adapted text. The reason for the change was to facilitate the task I set them, which was to predict the story of the text (pair work).

On the other side of the images was the reading text, titled The Perfect Crime. To make sure they understood “crime”, my CCQs were

  • Does crime mean murder? No!
  • Is murder a crime? Yes!
  • Is burglary (alluding to my previous TP with them) a crime? Yes!
  • Meaning: crime is an illegal activity or action. (The Spanish have two words: delito (less serious) and crimen)

I gave them a first-reading set of questions:

  • Did Alice love her husband?
  • Did Henry, Alice’s husband, love her?
  • How many children did they have?

They conferred their responses with their partners first before I told them to turn the page over where the answers were. They checked and compared them with their partners.

Next, I handed them the lexis questions:

  1. What is the word you use to describe a date when you celebrate something that happened in a previous year (lines 1-5).
  1. Find a word between lines 1 and 5 which means “a ceremony in which two people get married”.
  1. Find a word between lines 5 and 10 which means “visit”.
  1. Find an expression between lines 10 and 15 which is used for “emphasizing that you are extremely surprised or angry about something you have seen or heard”.
  1. Find a word between lines 20 and 25 which means an object that can be used to hurt people.

I did the first question with them. They did the rest on their own before checking their answers (on the other side of the handout) with the person next to them. On the answer sheet, I also printed the dictionary definitions, with some examples of further usage.

Pronunciation issues were dealt with at this point.

Next task was a T/F comprehension exercise and they had to justify their false answers. I did the first one with them.

  1. They were married 11 years ago.
  1. They were having a party that evening.
  1. There was a big marble statue in the middle of the living room.
  1. Alice was putting the baby to bed when Henry came home.
  1. The weather was very hot that evening.

Again, they answered the questions, checked them (the correct answers were on the back of the handout) and conferred with their partners.

I ended the lesson with the question:

  • Why was it the perfect crime? Because the murder weapon was destroyed!

Grading

If I had been doubtful of the existence of some form of bias before, this was the lesson that confirmed it. Can I be sued for libel for saying this? The lesson was not perfect by any means, but it was a damn good lesson, especially for a third TP. I hate to sound arrogant, but I’m very self-critical as you can see in some of my posts in The Dogme Diaries. NOT A SINGLE S+! The minimum I’d expected was a superior grading on the material I spent the whole weekend preparing: well-adapted text, self-penned questions, astounding lead-in, copyright information clearly laid out on handouts and on the slides…

It was highly demotivating. I was glad I was changing tutors because it would give me the opportunity to confirm or squash my theory. Unfortunately, the change would only last a week.

What modifications would I make?

  • I would scrap the first-reading questions. I’d remove the title from the handout. I’d introduce a gist-reading activity, which could be any one of these:
    • Write their predictions on the board; after the gist-reading, they decide if their predictions are accurate.
    • Have them think up a title.
    • Give them a choice of, say, 3 titles and they choose the best one.
  • On my answer sheet of the T/F comprehension exercise, I should have put the line numbers so the students could quickly see where they were in the text. I also had the answers on a slide – the line numbers should appear on this, too.
  • Removing the first-reading activity would allow me to add more detailed-reading questions, e.g.:
    • The police suspected that Alice had murdered her husband. (F)
    • The police wanted to find the murder weapon. (T)
    • Alice was an intelligent murderer. (T)
    • Open question: What was the murder weapon? (The ice statue)
  • Ideally, I would finish with a production activity where the students retell the story to each other. I had this on the plan as a back-up, knowing full-well that it would be a miracle if I had time for it.

As I said, not a perfect lesson by any means, but extremely well-controlled – one I would have been proud of in a real environment.

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.

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 😉 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? 😉 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? 😉

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.

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