Post-CELTA Confessions

Aspiring to be a better teacher

Tag: input

Week 2 Day 2: Grammar (Introduction to Language Awareness) and CCQs

by celtaconfessions

This input session lasted for an hour or so and went like this:

Each table was given an envelope with two batches of strips of coloured paper containing headings and words. Pink strips contained headings, such as “conjunctions”, and blue strips had words such as “and”. The object was to match the words to their headings. When we’d finished, we were to run up to the front and squeeze a squeaky toy. So, lots of shrieks, whoops and squeaks…

The best part were the ICQs – take note. How many words are there under each heading? THREE! What colour are the headings? PINK! Blah, blah, blah…

Sounded a bit like the coach before sending the players to the battle pitch: Who are the best? WE! Who are we going to thrash? TEAM X! Blah, blah, blah… ūüėČ

Next, we were given five quotes and we discussed, in pairs, to see if we agreed or disagreed:

  1. The study of grammar as such is neither necessary nor sufficient for learning to use the language.
  2. It is through speech acts that new language ‘sticks’ in the learners’ mind. Insight into grammar is an equal partner in the dual process of acquisition/learning.
  3. Grammar is the engine behind language – it’s what makes the language stick together.
  4. Without studying grammar you can’t learn a language.
  5. Teachers of English should know all its rules.

What drew my attention was the fact that no sources were mentioned! Were we not told that we had to cite all sources, and we were graded negatively when we failed to comply? Mmm…

In discovery activity 2, we were to put 12 examples of verb forms into these categories: simple, perfect, continuous.¬† For example: He’s waiting / I’d imagined, etc.

I wasn’t sure as to the aim of this activity. Take “She’s been living”. I know it’s a present perfect continuous tense, but which category would you put it under? More importantly, does it matter?

Then, the second part of this activity was to deduce the rules on how to identify these three categories:

  • Simple tenses have no auxiliaries
  • Perfect tenses always have “has”, “have” or “had”
  • Continuous tenses always have a form of the verb “to be” plus a verb in -ing form (they liked to call the latter “verbing”).

Finally, discovery activity 3 was to name the tenses of four sentences based on the rules we “discovered” above.

My opinion:

I personally got nothing out of this session apart from a few laughs as it was quite a relaxing afternoon, in that sense. I know that Celta trainees are basically a mixed bunch of pre-service teachers and more experienced ones, and there are those who are familiar with grammar and those who aren’t. Some trainees didn’t know their perfect tenses from the simple. So, perhaps this session was aimed at the middle ground, which, to me, served little purpose. For those with inadequate grammar knowledge I doubt it enlightened them very much and for those with advanced knowledge, it was an hour’s worth of socialising, nothing much more than that.

What did the rest got out of it, I wonder…

Before this session, we had another, one on Conveying Meaning. I don’t have many records of this, which is why I haven’t reflected on it to the same extent. We were basically informed of the different ways of conveying meaning followed by examples of checking meaning, which means…yes…you’ve guessed it! Concept Checking Questions! I don’t remember much else except one of the sentences the meaning of which we had to convey was This milk is sour.

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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!

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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