Electioneering

This will be my last post on the subject of the effectiveness of CELTA/Trinity cert as pre-service courses, before I go on holiday.

Firstly, I wanted to highlight two articles worth reading related to this discussion. The first, being the second article that Willy Cardoso recommended. The full title is below.

‘A basic starter pack': the TESOL Certificate as a course in Survival
Valerie Hobbs
ELT Journal Volume 67/2 April 2013

The second is an old PDF file of an article by Phillip Kerr, who did some research into the CELTA course in 1996 after it underwent a change in syllabus. His findings are very interesting and worth 15 minutes of your time.

http://www.elted.net/issues/volume-4/kerr.pdf

Finally, I wanted to propose an idea and get peoples general feeling on this with a quick poll here on the blog.

In my last post I summarised an article by Gibson Ferguson and Sarah Donno. At the beginning of their article they mention a conference that took place in 1993 to debate the CTEFLA course and potential changes to the course. This caught my eye and I began wondering whether at the next IATEFL it would be possible to get together a Panel discussion on the issue of Pre-service courses. Looking at ways of improving both what happens before attending the course and potential ways of implementing more rigorous and widespread post CELTA training and development. The idea and abstract are still in the early stages and to get to my point, I would first like to get a general consensus from you, the reader, on whether it would be a debate you would like to see happen at IATEFL and would anything be gained from this topic being debated further.

So please take a quick look at the poll and let me know what you think.

No title

With time on my hands and the urge to continue and practise my writing, I wanted to provide a summary of an article I read as part of the background reading for the previous two posts.

This particular article was recommended by Willy Cardoso and its full title is below.

One-month teacher training courses: time for a change?
Gibson Ferguson and Sarah Donno
ELT Journal Volume 57/1 January 2003, Oxford University Press

The article in general, is concerned not with the “syllabus (of the CELTA) or it’s delivery … but rather at the concept of a one-month initial training course, and whether, given the changed circumstances of much EFL teaching, it still remains … the optimal route of entry into EFL teaching.” (Ferguson, G and Donno, S 2001) The article then goes on to deal with four changes in EFL that the authors have highlighted as having a significant impact on the pre-service training courses.

1) changes in teacher supply
2) changed views regarding the position of the native speaker in English language teaching
3) developments in EFL methodology
4) developments in the theory and practice of teacher training

The first change finds the authors drawing a comparison between the nine month PGCE initial training course that all teachers must complete in the UK, and the one month TEFL course. Here, the state vs Private sector is mentioned and of course the difference in hours spent in the classroom on teaching practice, 15 weeks vs 6-8 hours, respectively. The article points out this is perhaps an unfair comparison given the differing teaching contexts and “socioeconomic circumstances” (ibid) of the two courses, but it does well to highlight the gulf in training and therefore the potential quality of the teaching expected from the trainee on completion of the course. This then reflects upon the whole TEFL community as being somewhat sub-standard and the authors echo what I mentioned in my first post on this subject about how teaching English as a foreign language is perceived by the public. “One wonders also whether the very shortness of the initial TEFL teacher training may play an unhelpful role in constructing a public image of TEFL as a craft which is easy to enter and to pursue, provided one is a native speaker and has the right kind of personality.” (Ibid)

The focus of the second change is on the “privatised position of the native speaker”(ibid) and how this helps to fossilize “a form of linguistic imperialism” (ibid), a claim which is perhaps now being challenged by the emergence and support for English as a Lingua Franca. Secondly, the authors claim, and quite rightly so, that non native speakers are actually at more of an advantage, in that they have already been through the process of learning the language that they are teaching, they are therefore “better placed to understand the problems of the learner”. (Ibid) Finally, the native speakers proficient grasp of the language allows course providers to use this as an excuse to limit the amount of language awareness that is provided on the course. Unfortunately, as the article states, “it threatens to undercut claims to a professional basis for EFL teaching because it is sometimes claimed that one of the defining characteristics of a profession is mastery of a body of distinct, specialised knowledge.” (ibid)

The discussion of non-native speakers was raised in the comments for my first blog on this issue, and has been an area of some contention in the EFL community for awhile now. It is saddening to hear stories of non-native speakers I know, who have been asked to change classes on the basis that the client feels the need to have a native speaker in order for them to sound more native. It is interesting to me that students would choose to concentrate on sounding more native like, in terms of pronunciation, rather than work on more important areas, such as holding simple conversations and sustaining more complex discourse. I wonder where this need came from?

Methodology is the concern in the third major change. The authors state that, “We live in ‘the post-method age’, and there is no theoretical consensus for any one methodology.” (Ibid) A claim which I am inclined to agree with, yet they go on to say, “To some degree this is already reflected in the CELTA syllabus (UCLES 1998) which does not recommend the adoption of any one teaching or formula – such as P-P-P, for example.” While It is true that the syllabus does indeed suggest this, I am not convinced that this is in fact the truth, when actually applied to what happens when a course is delivered. This idea in fact clashes with what Lewis claims in the Lexical approach when he says, “the basic teaching paradigm is based on present-practice-produce. This is a convenience for trainers, allowing them to breakdown the teaching and learning sequence into steps for individual trainees.” (Lewis, M 1993) Here, I am inclined to agree with Lewis, especially from my own experience and from having spoken to other teachers who have passed through their pre-service training in a large variety of different countries. Yet, I believe that this would be a good area for some solid research in order to find out just what method(s) are employed on pre-service courses.

Teacher development, or lack of it, takes centre stage for the final major change featured in the article. Citing changes in UK governmental policy in the 90s, which shifted towards a more practical and hands on training policy, it seems as though the CELTA course seemed to fit in perfectly with the new educational landscape what with its emphasis on practical skills and classroom experience. The lack of theoretical content was countered by the the claim that, “they (pre-service courses) are but a stepping stone to subsequent post-experience professional development in the form of the Diploma course.” (Ibid) The DELTA of course, goes into much more theoretical depth concerning both teaching and learning and has recently been granted Masters level status, as of this year.
Unfortunately for the authors, this claim does not sit easy and they set about deconstructing it. Firstly, pointing out “that only about 10% of CELTA graduates actually go on to obtain the diploma.” (Ibid) Secondly, many teachers simply leave the profession after using the qualification as a way of funding their travels around the world, usually after a couple of years. Finally, and most depressingly, “Further numbers remain in ELT but gain no additional qualifications. For those people, initial training is the only training they will ever receive.” (Ibid) This is blamed upon poor support for professional development in schools once teachers are in their first teaching position and that the majority of teachers, ” somehow muddle through and grow professionally, a few do not.” (Ibid)

In conclusion the authors offer five key areas for further consideration:

1) “To the see the course extended in length and made more rigorous despite the the greater cost for trainees this would entail.”

2) “An increased focus on awareness of different teaching contexts, for a greater recognition of realities of the work situation”

3) “Increased attention to language learning as opposed to teaching”

4) “Further work on explicit language awareness”

5) ” A compulsory period of post course supervised practice prior to final certification.”

Despite the fact that this article was published 13 years ago, I believe that the major points featured here are entirely relevant to today’s current situation. Moreover, I wholeheartedly agree with the conclusions the authors have made and I feel this is reflected in the previous two posts on this subject.

At the very end of the article it is mentioned that the authors had begun a research project to investigate some of these questions. Through limited research, I have not been able to discover any more on this or the authors themselves, so if anyone can point me in the right direction, your help would be gratefully received.

References

Lewis, M The Lexical Approach, 1993′ Language Teaching Publications

Mountain Energy

At the end of the last blog I posed three questions that had dogged me through the writing process.

1) Does this topic warrant sufficient discussion in the ELT/EFL community at present?

2) Am I barking up the wrong tree? Is it just me that feels this way?

3) Do I have enough experience and knowledge to even be contemplating looking further into this issue? And, will it make any difference?

From the responses and interest the blog generated, it seems the first two questions were answered. This is a relevant and constructive debate, which many people in the ELT community have strong and passionate opinions about. The third question still persists, but more on that at a later date.

It seems that after reading and digesting the comments, and then through subsequent further reading on the topic (thanks Willy), what I have been left with are more questions.

A summary

Scott Thornbury seemed to agree with what I had said, but rightly pointed out that an extension of the course would add a substantial cost to a course which is, “prohibitively expensive for many wannabe teachers” and that “The four-week model is directly proportionate to the value that the market places on language teaching in the private sector, and until that value changes (unlikely) we are stuck with it.” (Thornbury, S 2014) His suggestion was that we should concentrate on
making the initial course better and supply regular, quality training, post CELTA.

>My first question would be to ask, why is the CELTA/Trinity Cert so expensive?

>Does the cost reflect the amount of training received?

>Would it be beneficial to analyse and investigate the price and subsequently produce a breakdown of the cost and look at ways of squeezing a little more from the course?

>Why only concentrate on post CELTA inservice training? Shouldn’t we also concentrate on establishing a coherent, practicable and rigorous pre pre-service training?

Well, to help answer the last question I will turn to Sue Annan, who pointed out that her trainees have to go through a 3 month distance learning programme before even attending the actual 4 week CELTA/Trinity cert. And it seems she is not the only one, with other centres offering the same. This is fantastic! Yet, I am left with more questions,

>Why doesn’t every training centre offer this type of course?

>How much does this distance learning add to the overall cost?

>Would it be worth carrying out a survey to find out how many centres actually offer any kind of training before their trainees attend the pre-service course? If so, what form does it take, cost, delivery method, etc.

>Although cost dependent, could we establish this pre pre-service training as the norm across all centres?

Scott also asks what the alternative would there be to the current pre-service courses. Well it seems that Willy Cardoso is the man to ask. In his comment he mentions that he is developing an alternative course and is due to start running pilot courses. I am keen to know how this develops. Furthermore, Willy is not the only one looking for an alternative with Anthony Gaughn having already established an unplugged style CELTA course which you can find out more about here -
http://teachertrainingunplugged.com

In his comment, Dave Thornton takes the discussion in a different direction by highlighting the fact that the CELTA is “essentially euro-centric one-size-fits-all nature”. I admit that my own teaching context didn’t allow me to take this into account and is an area for further exploration. But what did catch my attention is Dave’s mention of the “bolt-on CELTA YL” component. With the increasing emphasis on getting children into the classroom as soon as possible, the percentage of YL classes is increasing exponentially and therefore more and more teachers with training and experience with YLs are required.

>Should the YL component be a standard requirement of a pre- service course?

Finally, what stood out in the comment from Angelos Bollas, were his comments on observations and his rewarding experience of continuing to observe once his CELTA was complete. While the two schools I have taught in both actively encouraged peer observation and reflective feedback on these, the culture of observation, from what I have seen and from talking to other teachers, is one of fear. Emphasis on pass or fail. Focus on detailed lesson plans and the wording of aims rather than concentrating on what actually happens in the class.

>How do we go about changing teachers attitudes to observation?

>How can we encourage teachers to want to observe each other and make it an integral and daily part of their teaching?

>As part of the post CELTA inservice training, would it be possible to have a set amount of observations that a teacher must complete and provide feedback on? Electronically uploaded and saved as part of an online professional development portfolio.

I think it’s clear to see that there are more questions than answers. Some of which we might never get to answer, yet I still feel deep down that this is a cause worth pursuing. The original post which centred on the structure of the pre-service course itself has now helped to highlight two further areas which require our attention. What happens before the pre-service course and what happens after it is complete. It seems like the mountain has just got bigger. I guess I just need to work out where to start climbing from.

So I went fishing
A note from a fish said:
Dear dope, if you wanna catch us
You need a rod and a line
Signed the fish
(Mark E. Smith)

P.S

Thank you for all the comments on the blog. If I didn’t mention you in this post, it wasn’t because I didn’t value your comments. I could have written a thousand more words but I wanted to try and keep the discussion coherent and stop myself from rambling too much.

Many thanks.

What can happen when the CELTA is questioned

Originally posted on ELT Rants, Reviews, and Reflections:

This is an actual conversation. As far as you know. Just a bunch of guys at the pub talking about the usual stuff.

M: You know what, guys? One thing that always interest and surprises me every time there is a mention of quote native teachers in Korea and job security and the like, one of the first things usually mentioned is qualifications and this word qualified. 
A: Yea. Cool story bro.
M: I think it is sort of important. Really. First of all, I don’t think qualified means the same thing to everyone. Here in Korea it just means that you are allowed to work. Doesn’t it?
B: There is no more to it?
M: I don’t know. To me it just means “able to legally get the job, and maybe do it.” I dunno. I really don’t. But my point is that when people rail on about unqualified…

View original 1,131 more words

My mind is ramblin

It seems that the post DELTA negativity I mentioned in my previous post has worn off. With time to reflect, relax and recharge I now have a variety of ideas to play around with for the next teaching year. Moreover, I am also trying to visit ideas that have been on the back burner for some time now, as well as getting back to blogging regularly. So, here goes.

Before you read this post please bear something in mind. My comments below are about the structure of the pre-service courses currently on offer and in no way a reflection of the excellent work done by hardworking, dedicated and highly professional trainers and tutors in the ELT/EFL community.

Let me take you on a quick journey into the past, if I may. Before I did my Trinity Cert course in 2010, I went to visit a friend in Germany. We attended a party with some friends and as always with a multi-lingual group, the conversation turned to Languages. As I recall, It went something like this:

German girl: Adam, do you speak any languages?

Me: A little bit of Spanish, which I learnt while I was travelling. But it was this experience that made me decide to become an English language teacher.

German girl: Oh really! And which University are you going to study at?

Me: Oh no, it’s not a university course. I’m attending a 4 week course in London.

German girl: 4 weeks! (coughs, trying not to choke on her bratwurst) is that it!?

Me: Well, it’s quite intense and very practical.

German girl: Yes, but 4 weeks. Is that really enough time to become a teacher?

I’ll never forget the look of incredulity on her face. It wasn’t enough to put me off doing the course but it always stuck with me and niggled away when ever I thought about it.

These thoughts continued to reside in the darkest depths of my grey matter and were provoked to resurface a couple of weeks ago, after reading this blog post by @KateSpringcait, who talks about her struggles with lesson planning after completing the CELTA

http://iamlearningteaching.wordpress.com/about/

I shared this on Facebook and not long after received a comment from a CELTA trainer colleague and a then from another colleague who is also a CELTA trainer and the following exchange ensued.

David Valente: learning teaching is a never ending journey which can take many directions, CELTA is only ever intended to be a PRE service course and a foundation on to more experimental, critical and needs driven approaches, methods and techniques…

Sarah Findlay: Is it not just bad school management/ DoSing, Adam? I think NQTs need additional support n having the realities v expectations made gradually clear? If you hire someone fresh-off (CELTA) u can work with them to minimise the stresses of transition, I reckon…

Me: You both make valid and good points and I have no doubt both of you offer NQTs the support they need after finishing the CELTA, but I would say that sadly this support is in the minority. I think that the most glaring and obvious point, that is often overlooked is simply the length of the course that the CELTA and Trinity cert offers. We are doing the trainee a disservice by only allowing them 4 weeks with well trained, knowledgable and supportive tutors. Subsequently, we are doing the students who are taught by the NQTs a similar disservice by offering them a teacher that is simply not ready yet. Just stop and think about it for a second, maybe say it out loud. 4 weeks. 4 WEEKS! How can we be taken seriously as teachers when this is the entry level course? Post CELTA support is essential but with all the added responsibilities of admin and everything else how much time can a DoS really spend with that NQT? As CELTA tutors don’t you wish you had more time to work with your candidates? If there are three tutors working a CELTA course, with let’s say 30 yrs of experience between them, why would you restrict the flow of this knowledge to just four weeks? And in reality, of the four weeks, how much time of that is face to face where you really get to work with the candidate?

David Valente: well yes, but preaching to the converted, tis the awards bodies like Cambridge English Language Assessment and Trinity which need to reconsider course lengths, intensity and the impact of such on entry level teachers… Robust CPD is defola the way forward mind…

Now, while I was ranting slightly, what I posted contains my biggest problem with the pre-service course that all teachers must take to enter our profession. It is simply too short. Way too short! 4 weeks is an awfully short time in order to learn something from scratch and then be expected to immediately put this training into action and teach. Why do we persist in offering a course which primarily gives trainees just enough to survive in the classroom and not what they actually need, which is knowledge. Knowledge of methods, the language itself and how learning works.

While writing this post I was reminded of what Michael Lewis wrote in his excellent book, The Lexical approach. Using ten simple points, Lewis picks apart everything wrong with Pre-service courses and even today, 21 yrs after it was written, I believe it is still totally relevant and applicable to today’s current courses.

image

20140726-095413-35653228.jpg

M. Lewis The Lexical Approach. The state of ELT and the way forward. 1993, Language teaching publications.

As you can see, Lewis has put it better than I ever could have. Yet, has what he wrote ever been taken on board and tackled in order to make the CELTA/Trinity cert courses more robust and ultimately useful to the trainees attending the courses? Seeing as the length of the course has not changed, I would stick my proverbial neck out and say no. Undoubtedly, the excellent tutors and trainers on the courses do amazing things, but with very little actual time in which to work with the trainees, all we can expect are trainees that can survive in a classroom environment. Why would we limit well trained and experienced CELTA tutors to just 4 weeks with trainees? I imagine that a lot of CELTA trainers often find themselves muttering to themselves, “If only we had more time, then we could actually get down to what teaching really is.”

While the teaching of English as a career choice has been ridiculed and mocked as the travellers way of funding their way around the world, the teaching of English as a serious profession has begun to build strong foundations. There is now a large and committed community of professionals that continually strive to develop not only themselves, but also other teachers around them. Twitter and the rise of CPD in the workplace have done wonders for ELT and with the amount of Conferences available both physical and online, as well as the sharing of materials and a large array of teaching blogs, teaching English as a profession should be taken seriously. Therefore, it beggars belief that we only offer a 4 week course to be apart of our profession and all the hard work that we do with conferences, CPD and the like is undone and largely ignored by people that can’t see past the 4 week pre service training course.

Don’t we owe it to ourselves, our students, our profession, future teachers and the English language to offer a course that produces teachers that Lewis describes as competent and with a deep understanding of the language and learning, and who are expected to be teachers and not performers?

During the process of writing this post, I had several questions that continued to hang over me and I feel still need to be answered.

1) Does this topic warrant sufficient discussion in the ELT/EFL community at present?

2) Am I barking up the wrong tree? Is it just me that feels this way?

3) Do I have enough experience and knowledge to even be contemplating looking further into this issue? And, will it make any difference?

I guess that with time these questions will be answered. So now it’s over to you the reader. Is it time for the pre-service courses to change?

Oscillating wildly

graph-fiz2

What a year it’s been. Busy, stressful, frustrating, disappointing and very much varying in quality. For those that didn’t know, I completed both part 1 and part 2 of the DELTA this academic year. It wasn’t planned, as I had originally wanted to spend a year reading and gearing up for it, but the chance was offered and I took it.

At this current moment in time my feelings about the course are mixed, but I’m not afraid to admit that they are mostly negative although I feel that it might be far too early to comment on the course as a whole. Firstly, because I don’t have the results from either module and secondly, I simply haven’t had the time to process everything and the opportunity to put it all into practice.

What I would like to talk about is the effect that doing a course like the DELTA, which is designed to take you beyond the CELTA level of teaching and “elevate your career to the next level”, had on my teaching this year. The effect was that my teaching was all over the place, ranging from barely registered interest and the need to just get through the lesson to full on lesson plan and incorporating new techniques and ideas from that days DELTA input session.  It was difficult to get any kind of rhythm going and any idea of establishing routines within my classes disappeared as soon as they were started. All I could think about was the DELTA, my essays, what hoops I needed to jump through next and when it was going to finish. I couldn’t sleep, I stopped exercising and lost the majority of my weekends to study. I’m not sure I was a great person to be around for most of the time.

Ultimately, I have been left with the feeling that I have let the majority of my students down and failed to use this year as another advancement in my teaching career. A plateau if you like, but one with no shelter and no significant point of reference in order to move forwards and upwards. Where to go next?

To begin with, back to basics. A focus on the four main skills, with equal measure. Bringing writing back in from the cold and making listening a main player. Grammar is now officially taking a back seat. While doing the DELTA I pushed myself to concentrate on the skills I was weakest in and by doing so my eyes were opened to just how neglected writing and listening were in my classes, more importantly it highlighted how my students were suffering from the lack of focus on these skills.

Grammar is the bane of the staff room where I work. All I hear is teachers talking about the grammar point that they taught and need to teach before the exam. This is interspersed with the whining about how the students still haven’t got the hang of the present perfect or the passive or what ever the hell they were being taught. And I have to hold my tongue not to shout out and tell them that it’s the first time they have seen it, give them a break! Did you really expect them to understand, process and then produce mixed conditionals in one lesson, or for that matter after 3 lessons? And yet they feel as though they need to hammer away at it because it’s coming up on the test. I have never heard a teacher in my staff room talk about a skilled based lesson, doing a task based lesson or focusing purely on vocabulary or collocation.

So my classes will be different, look different and feel different. If I can get away with barely touching the coursebook for the first few weeks, I will. Then, once we really get going the coursebook will only be a springboard for discussion and any kind of grammar sections and exercises can be left for homework. Grammar will be dealt with as and when it comes up in class. That’s what my W/B is for and that’s what I get paid to do. Grammar will be constant yet always in the background. And, when the students inevitably complain about not doing enough grammar in class, as they have been indoctrinated to do so, I will point to the W/B and say, “Behold! We were doing it all along!”

But what about the exams, I hear you cry!

“Screw the exams!” (A.Beale, 2014)

 

I will make my own exams, based entirely on what has been happening in class. The main section of the exam won’t be made up of the grammar and vocabulary covered in sequential order in the book. Vocabulary that will probably never be used again and grammar points which the students are unable to use beyond sentence level. The four skills will take front and centre. I will design my own speaking assessment, because, and you might want to sit down for this, the school I work at doesn’t actually require us to give the students a speaking assessment. In fact, I remember one of my students this year who, knowing that the end of term exam was coming, asked, “Do we have a speaking assessment?” to which I replied, “No, but I have been assessing you the whole term.” Her reaction was to fist pump and audibly breathe a sigh of relief. It was almost as if she knew she would fail. Yet, she had made it this far through the system and will continue to do so.

I feel as though I should stop there, before I rant  say too much. I’m not sure why I wrote this, but it felt good doing it and I’m glad I have laid down a marker for myself. I will undoubtedly come under some sort of criticism from somewhere and I’m likely to get into trouble at work, but as long as I can arrive at this time next year and be able to say without doubt that I didn’t let my students down and I gave them a different and valuable learning experience, I will happily take the flak.

N.B – Thank you to all of the people who have followed the blog over the last year. Sorry I haven’t been able to write as much as I would have liked. I will be breaking for the summer now but I aim to be back in the saddle come October next year. Stick with it and I will make it worth your while.