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…

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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.

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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.

 

The seven deadly digital sins

This lesson is based around a wonderful set of videos made by the National film board of Canada and the Guardian, and can be found here; http://www.theguardian.com/technology/ng-interactive/2014/jun/06/-sp-digital-deadly-sins

It features artists such as Billy Bragg (musician), Josie Long (Comedian), Bill Bailey (Comedian) and Jon Ronson (writer/journalist), amongst others. Each of these people talks about a deadly sin and relates it to their own use of the internet and social media. Discussing how we are all affected socially, morally and personally by the digital age.

As well as videos, each sin comes with interactive questions and short articles related to other areas of internet use and applications, which may well be of use to students for further language study.

I have chosen to use the videos for listening and discussion practice as it exposes the students to a variety of different accents as well as providing some interesting discussion points.

The lesson is suitable for Advanced C1 learners and above.

I have given the answers for the specific vocabulary questions but I have left the rest of the questions open to individual interpretation, and this will also get the lazier teachers among us, to actually watch the videos and put the answers into their own words.

I have begun to transcribe the videos and these can be found in the file below. It contains the transcriptions for the videos, Wrath, Lust and Pride. I will try to have them all up as soon as possible.

The files are word documents and can be changed and edited as you see fit.

Enjoy the lesson. Comments are always welcome.

Seven deadly digital sins teacher&student notes

Seven deadly digital sins transcript