Post-CELTA Confessions

Aspiring to be a better teacher

Tag: reflection

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… 😉

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 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, 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.

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 → 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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