Trainer Diary: 0

I’m going to do my best to record and share a daily entry/note over the course of the full-time 4-week CELTA starting tomorrow. The day # goes in the upper left. This is “day zero”, the day before it starts. There are twenty days to a course – so I’m aiming for my next 21 posts to be “trainer diary” entires/notes/whatever each day ends up producing.

Please feel free to comment, it’s always great to hear from you!

Basically the guiding questions for the “reflection 2.0” project is: how might the reflection/self-eval aspect on the course be made more ‘differentiated’ and modifiable in how trainees engage it? Can it be made to be better suited to and perhaps more productive for different kinds of people? How?


And it’s an exciting exploration.

So…Hmmmm writing by hand and posting snaps of my entries, I think, will be a good way to work it. However I t will also display my weirdly “glitchy” writing as seen in a few spots above, where I repeat a phrase, etc. plus my spelling can suck…I’m a distractobot subject to all kinds of embarrassments especially given my position😉. I wrote “initial first” above! ;P But it’ll be a good exercise in non-attachment to all that since I won’t be able to edit once it’s uploaded.

Anyway, thanks for checking it out and I hope it’s interesting in some way for you. The selfish reason I’m doing this ‘publicly’ here is the potential for gaining ideas/insights/simple nerdy enjoyment via any comments. The other reason is just that I’m a bit obsessed with the notion of teachers (and trainers, same same) sharing more of their ‘interior monologues’ with one another (and that’s it – just sharing some what might be kept private…no specific fancy follow-up or framework…though something – lots of different kinds of things – almost always HAPPENS). So this is one way to do that.


Six things that can frustrate/challenge a CELTA tutor…even the most ‘zen’ ones.


I recently complained about ‘listicles’ in a twitter video post but because I’m human I’m a just a lil’ bit of a hypocrite. So I’m going to post a list of six (little) things that can be frustrating and/or challenging for CELTA tutors/short course teacher trainers…

…and if you’re a trainer and one of them rings true for you and you’d like to fill in some details, or you’ve got one to add (this is HARDLY an exhaustive list) do so in a comment!

…and if you’re not a trainer and want to know more about a particular one, ask about it in the comments!🙂

  • When you’re not sure how many candidates are going to show up and you have to create two or more alternative schedules, TP rotas, and other documents to prepare for the course (this is happening now, argg).
  • When you have a course looming but you’ve yet to find an assessor for it (thankfully this isn’t happening now, but has happened before…it’s stressful!). You always manage to find one, but it’s ful o’ stress!
  • When failing to acknowledge copyright on handouts and plans continues to be an issue even after 243 reminders.
  • When you have lots of great new ideas for an input session, and get excited to try them out on a course, but end up without enough time to prepare it and so end up doing the one you’ve always done…but without your usual verve because you’re disappointed in yourself.
  • When you somehow (once! first and last time!) allow a misspelled name to make it onto a certificate and need to go through the rigamarole to get it fixed…also: #secretpenance
  • When you just. can’t. rustle. up. enough. TP. students!!! (this hasn’t been much of an issue recently, thankfully, and things are GREAT at the moment).

That’s my six. Not the result of an exhaustive reflection, just the first six that came to me, frankly.

The whole ‘beautiful struggle’ of training, of course, is the “training” itself! It’s such a fun job, it’s such a great space to be in. And it’s amazing what trainees experience and achieve in those four short weeks. Each and every time, it’s an amazing (and amazingly challenging) month on planet CELTA.

But it’s only a controlled, microcosmic experience out of which you just hope trainees take some lasting, inspired learnings. And each time hope YOU, as a trainer, also bring out some concrete, lasting lesson which will propel you forward into even more satisfying experiences with learning and teaching. It’s very rare that any of the things listed above get in the way of appreciating the point of it all.

Finally, to continue to put it all in larger perspective…I want to say that (of course) the typical cluster of real, large scale challenges in the career of a teacher (and a teacher/teacher-trainer) goes far, far beyond any particular short training course – stretching out afterwards and in fact long BEFORE any training like this ever occurs, as the slide below reminds…


What’s the “Apprenticeship of Observation”?:

…*10 minutes later*… I ended up ^there…because…well, I think it’s just really important to stay with the ‘big picture’ as much as possible: something listing “frustrations with X” can sometimes stray away from.

Basically, I’m paranoid about cynicism leading to burnout (healthily, I think – what’s the word for that?) and try to ‘manage frustrations’ as mindfully as possible. A short course like the CELTA is potentially experienced as ‘fraught with failure’ – for trainees and trainers. In the same way, a term with learners can feel like an endless uphill battle, and never good enough. The list can grow from 6 to 600.

It’s something I’ve seen play out so many times with colleagues, not to mention certain qaudrants of my own mind.

The shall we say ‘zen’ approach to it, I think, is all about perspective – something the ‘apprenticeship of observation’ concept helps provide so nicely. Also, certain SLA principles which teachers can keep in mind when it seems their students aren’t improving/changing in just the ways they are ‘supposed to’ in X number of weeks/months.

Maybe I’ll post a list of 7 or 12 of those perspective-givers in the future.😛

A student gives me feedback in 2011

Boston waterfront

I’m someone who once described himself in an interview for a teaching position as “a feedback machine”. Yeah, feedback is pretty important to me. You might say it’s the central concern (in a shoshin kind of way).

It’s what propels me: during my first several years teaching I racked up 10,000 posts on a teacher’s forum, often describing classroom situations and asking for advice. As a member of an advisory board, I advocated for a system of semiformal peer-observations to replace a PD structure based on off-site seminars. Later, I went and found a job on a training course where giving feedback is my primary function. Of course I also pore over course feedback, and sometimes even bother former trainees for something extra by email later on.

Oh, and I also tend to beg for comments towards the end of each post on this blog!

Well, I was just going through old emails and came across a message from a student in 2011. I don’t remember it, but apparently I’d requested feedback and this student responded. I’m thrilled that I’d forgotten – presto! loss of memory = instant organic “estrangement device” (a Leo van Lier term I think?).

I don’t even quite remember which language center I was teaching at at the time (I had classes at a few, overlapping). All I know is it was in Boston, my beloved hometown and home to alotta language centers!


See the message from my student below, and a few thoughts from me after.

Hi Matthew,

These are my opinions about you, class and everything…


Your teaching system or style is very useful and suitable for me. You  intervene immediately who makes a mistake. This is very instructive… And also your examples are very clear. It’s always made sense. do not have a lot to say about you. Everything is perfect about you…?


Our classmates is very funny, but I’m thinking that some of our friend(s) are not eligible for Advance class. Maybe he/she belongs to upper-int class (I’m not specialist about teaching English ), but I’m sure that: not Advanced. In fact, sometimes we are getting slow down. It’s not good for me because the class is 4 weeks. We’re in second week, so I have just 2.5 weeks. I think we should we give to classes more speed than last week.

Some of our friend very funny… I like it… But sometimes he talking too much more than enough. So, my attention is broken down (sometimes). Please don’t misunderstand me. I don’t complain to somebody…but Please keep short this idle time…

 My Expectations :

Please more and more grammar… Please more homework (include writing and reading) a little stronger than this. *please to control our homeworks*…

Everything almost perfect. Thank you so much.




  • I’m pleasantly surprised to find this student describing my provision of immediate oral corrective feedback, and evaluating it as “useful and suitable” for them. 
  • I’m always a bit irked when student feedback goes in the “you’re perfect!” direction. I don’t need flattery, I need feedback! (I do like the “everything almost perfect” comment at the end)🙂
  • The student is keenly aware of group dynamics in their classroom, as well as the importance of their own learning goals…and is quite nicely politic about how other learners may be harming their chances of achieving them. This is the bit that is most important to me: did I pay enough attention to this? did I pitch and manage the class content and challenge effectively? what did I do, if anything, to address this after receiving this feedback? 
  • They were clearly a highly motivated student, asking for more homework. As I type this and reflect, very vague memories are coming up: I think I may have responded by giving this specific student more homework? I may have even taken a few minutes with them after class to discuss it, and their progress towards their individual goals! But I can’t be sure. 
  • What I’m sure about it that having this chance to reflect in this way worthwhile. 

How often do you look back at old student feedback (whether intentionally or not!?). What do you do with it? Do you collect feedback from students only at the end of a session, or also halfway through? I’m glad I seemed to have done so halfway through here (especially *if* I was as responsive as I imagine I might have been ;P).



As for me, I now have the makings of an action plan for the next time I teach a course: design (or adapt) a systematic tool for collecting regular student feedback. Yet again, I’m reminded: feedback is where it’s at!

I haven’t breached any insights here, or really challenged any beliefs with this simple post I’m sure. More than anything else, I just wanted to share the beauty of that students’ thoughts and writing. But I’d really love to hear any thoughts you might have on this topic that might have come to mind.


The Power of Collegial Conversations for Teacher Development: A Dialogue in Progress


What you’ll see below is my idea for a session at TESOL 2017 (it’s actually the text of my proposal). TESOL’s enormous annual jamboree is happening just up the road in Seattle this year.This is kind of exciting though I can’t quite wrap my head around the idea of actually heading HOME rather than some hotel at the distant end of each marathon day. This will be my 6th TESOL convention if I’m counting right, and only the 2nd one I’ve submitted something for.

Last year’s workshop was good fun and, we thought, a solid success. So this year I’m again collaborating with colleagues on a session concerned with reflection on an initial teacher training course. But I also wanted to do my own thang, so I also submitted something a bit different, something I felt really came from my heart.

We find out whether or not the proposals are a go for TESOL at the end of October (on Halloween, I believe…spooky!). I’m posting this here in the hopes that I might get a little bit of feedback from peers in the meantime and, well, because the very act of sharing helps me further process a thing, too, whether or not any feedback occurs. And whether or not the session is accepted, it’s something I’d really like to keep thinking about and act on experimentally in ever more more concrete ways.

So thanks for checking it out! You’ll find some question prompts at the bottom of my post which perhaps might inspire you to respond. It’s something I imagine many people can relate to. Please share ideas, comments, questions or anything else in the comments section! It’ll all help with developing the idea further and inform my session (on the off-chance my poorly written proposal actually makes it through the evaluation gauntlet!).

The Power of Informal Collegial Conversations for Teacher Development

(A 45-Minute “Dialogue” Session)  

Programs of teaching workshops, class observations, and supervisory feedback provide valuable tools for change, but a simple conversation with a fellow teacher can also actuate significant growth and spur development. Why? How? Dialogue participants will share experiences and explore ways to capitalize on conversation for organic, personalized teacher development outcomes.

Session Description
In an increasingly complex and dynamic global ELT industry, interest in practical and effective approaches to teacher development continues to grow. While demand ensures barriers to entry remain low for novice teachers and initial teacher training courses remain quite short, there is wide recognition that in-service continuing teacher development is crucial for improving instructional quality as well as providing dedicated but low-paid teachers with opportunities for rewarding personal growth.

The aim of this session is to outline, explore, and practice a particular way of teacher development that is not often recognized and exploited for its potential: teachers’ “collegial conversations”, the informal but focused conversations with peers anchored by a description of a recent critical incident, an articulate or off-handed reflection on a particular or general classroom challenge or success, or a request for an opinion on a future instructional decision teachers naturally initiate. Dialogue will focus on sharing personal perspectives on the role these conversations have played in feeding, fueling, and organizing participants’ own teacher development from an internal source, and how encouraging, facilitating, even ‘training for’ them could form the basis for an innovative teacher development program.

Drawing on the Vygotskian perspective on all learning as socially situated and jointly constructed, Underhill’s ideas about teacher development as personal development and the role of groups in developing self-awareness, and Edge’s well-developed Cooperative Development (CD) framework for development, the presenter will outline a proposed model in which conversation forms the cornerstone of a radically context-sensitive, participant-appropriate, and needs-focused teacher development program before participants are prompted to debate, discuss, question, and co-construct ideas for possible collegial conversation-based models for teacher development work.


  1. Do you value informal conversation with peers as a real source of profession development? If so, how does this source compare to organized/official sources?
  2. Where and how do these conversations and interactions with peers happen?
  3. What was the last “collegial conversation” you had and how did it/might it impact your ongoing development, even in a subtle way?
  4. Have you heard of Cooperative Development (CD) before? Tried it?
  5. What would you hope to happen in a session like the one described above?
  6. Do you think it has any chance of being accepted? Wait, don’t answer that!😛




By the way, I’d like to mention that I’m happy to see TESOL tweaking the old “Discussion Group” session type to give it more of a sense of fluidity (personally, I don’t really like the term “roundtable discussion”, it sounds stiff and formal). Peer-to-peer, hoorah!  :)



Jonny Ingham shared this account (by Lizzie Pinard) of a CPD session which embodies the exact thing I’m exploring: here:

And in the comments section of that post, Jonny Ingham mentions that the session was inspired by this post on “Be the DOS” here:


Oh, and one last thing: I’m just gonna park this here!🙂

Hope to see you soon Carol!🙂

The So Whats of “Exercise E on page 5”

Edit/Update: Sandy Millin commented on the initial ‘Exercise E on page 5’ post, and as usual she got right to the heart of the matter: 

“It never occurred to me to write about a single exercise in so much detail, and it’s a brilliant way to demonstrate just how many things are going on when we ‘do’ one exercise, both in our heads and those of our students. Show this to a CELTA trainee who doesn’t understand why ‘Do exercise e’ is not a sufficient level of detail for their lesson plan, and we’ll scare them all into submission!”

While I’m not likely to scare any trainees into anything anytime soon (I’m irretrievably harmless), the intention of that post is exactly as Sandy described: to illustrate how much lies beneath the surface of the simplest classroom activities.

This post is a bit tl:dr (as the kids these days say), but the idea is similar: it’s simply a demonstration of reflection on a classroom event, now, proliferating beyond the minimum and in multiple directions.


What I said I’d do at the end of April 27th’s ‘Exercise E on page 5’ post

In the next post I plan to reflect, analyze, unpack, contextualize. I might even cite a few experts and quote some folks.

I think I might quote and/or mention Adrian Underhill and ‘Demand High’, Thomas Farrell, the Lexical Approach maybe, teacher cognition and decision making, and…some other perfectly preposterous pretentiousness.

All that in the service of something very real and very important: understanding what in the world I’m doing when I do what I do as the teacher in the classroom.

In the off-handed sounding yet sophisticated language of tripartite reflection offered by this blog’s favorite CELTA graduate Anne Hendler: I’ll being engaging the so what and the now what (the above being the what) parts of a reflection cycle.

The extent to which what follows will turn out to resemble what I imagined above I truly don’t know, but I’m hoping it serves me as worthwhile reflective activity and also, in some way, you dear blog reader! 

It seems I can start off by referencing the ‘Demand High’ meme and fulfill at least one small part of the prophecy right off the bat

I’d describe what I did with exercise E on page 5 as ‘doing Demand High‘. Or…erm…Demanding High. Being Highly Demanding? Let’s just go with doing DH. But what does that mean? To me, the most basic sense, that simply means “proactively and conscientiously trying to make the most out of your materials and your time in class, so that learning is maximized”.

That sounds so bland and generic it approaches meaninglessness, though. It sounds a bit like an athlete saying “the key thing is, really, well, we’ve just got to go out there and give it 110%”.  

…make the most of what exactly?

Maybe: make the most of the learner’s interest – interest in being respected and being challenged and being engaged by the realistic difficulty, the manageable complexity, at the ‘edge’ of a) their knowledge and b) their effort. If the learner has some knowledge (they tend to) and puts forth some effort (they tend to if conditions are reasonable), you’ve got the seeds for your DH garden, and demanding high is how you water them. 


When I looked at exercise E on page 5, all I saw were two suggested ‘demands’ (task instructions): 

  1. Read the sentences. 
  2. Match the boldface words with the definitions. 


That’s nuthin’, muffin!

What the DH concept (Scrivener’s stuff on the more practical technique/techtweak level, and  Underhill’s writing on the more conceptual/philosophical level) urges me to do is look at all the space, the ‘fat’ space on the page around this ‘thin’ little exercise.

That space on the page can represent exercise E as it exists off the page, in the space of the classroom, in the mindspace, in the soil of all the potentials there. What happens in those space before, during, and after these very basic and limited on-page ‘matching’ actions in this exercise that makes it rich, even needed? How can these four little matching items be made somehow more “3-D” and buzzy? There’s certainly plenty of space for MORE. 

“Read the sentences”. Just that, eh? the sentences HOW? Scrivener might suggest whispered, then said, then shouted. Or said silently in the head, but listening (Underhill might interject) for the inner voice’s pronunciation. 

“Match the boldfaced words with the definitions”. Match, match. Match HOW? Maybe with pencils down first, and only once you’ve agreed with another student are you allowed to write something in. For each item, agree with a different student. And use a different phrase for agreement each time. 

The essential thing is to completely halt, cease, desist from putting any stock in a course book’s instructions as sufficient or even necessary. Perhaps, dear reader, that’s an obvious point to you. Perhaps not. Interrogate the too-thin simplicities of the materials you’re using, and inject some fat. We’re doing inverse-liposuction. 

Yes, perhaps, dear reader, that’s an obvious point to you. It wasn’t to me for a good while. I was never really prompted to harness and bring with me into those quiet concentrated moments of lesson preflection some sharper critical habits of mind. I find that the answers to the interrogating, probing questions above grant me exponentially more ‘teaching ideas’ than any teacher’s book (when I’ve got one) ever does. Certainly the instructions written into the task itself give me next to NOTHING. Except for a space and a reason to dig into into it with my questions and my demanding answers. The DH idea tells me to go for it in a way that no teacher’s book I’ve seen has ever clearly instructed me to.

Scrivener (2015) writes:

More and more people in positions of authority (including many people who should know better) are making the mistake of assuming that the course book is “the course” – and as a result – are prescribing that teachers must finish so many units in so much time e.g. “Complete the first three units by the end of next week”. As a result, a generation of teachers has felt pressurized into speed-paging: “just teaching the book” at a great pace, turning the pages and almost not noticing whether the turning of those pages has led to any learning or not.

In an environment where not using the book at all is not an option, a ‘DH approach’ to coursebook use works for me. A simple way to think about it is: treat every coursebook exercise a bit like a reading text and apply the old ‘pre, during, post’ technique. Come up with something to do before the task that primes it, something to do in the task – a way to do the task, a tweak, wrinkle, or challenging dynamic, and something to do after the task, like reflect on which items were the easiest/hardest, or turn the papers over and try to recreate the entire thing from memory, or come up with a logical bonus item for a classmate to complete. 

The simplest of gap-fills can be tweaked to high heaven, and both you can stop hating gap-fills.

In any event, that’s all the kind of stuff I was thinking to myself when thinking about what I might/should do with exercise E on page 5 before the class. 

Demand High Exercise

I wrote: 

That picture is of a photocopy I made of the teacher’s copy of the student’s book. This is a book that gets handed down from teacher to teacher when assigned to this class. It has the odd penciled-in note here or there, but it’s not really annotated, answers aren’t filled-in, nothing like that. I don’t like that – I don’t want the same thing in my hand as the student has in their hand. Hence the photocopying.

(All the text in the above ‘quote’ format in this post is from the original ‘Exercise E on page 5’ post. Boldfaced = my thoughts/associations looking back at it).

I always suggest to CELTA trainees that their very first step once they find out their pages/source materials for upcoming teaching practice classes should be to head off to the copier and run off at least two copies of all of it. A teacher’s copy for them to mark up during the planning process and at least one other copy to edit, cut up for resizing and/or reordering, insert more example answers, or anything else imaginable. Getting this first step done accomplishes at least two things, to my mind:

  • Gets you a bit further away (both physically and mentally) from the course book. The book is a) un-write-on-able b) relative to 5-6 sheets of paper, heavy c) vaguely imposing d) (too) sleek and slick e) the product of the man, possibly in cahoots with big brother f) in color, which your handouts won’t be unless you make them g) did I say un-write-on-able? h) complete with answer ‘keys’ in the teacher’s book but in static, sealed-off from the activity itself while the ‘key’ to a good activity is along the path to the answers, and the best answer keys sit pat right on the very same blanks and spaces the Ss’ will write in, and are the product of the hand of the very teacher who’ll soon guide others through, and the task itself as filtered through the teacher’s mind.
  • You get some practice with using the photocopier at a time maximally farthest away from the time the class you’re planning for begins. Let’s face it, you’ll likely be here near or at the end of this process. Start here, get to know this place and this tool.


Obviously the first reason is multi-layered and is a not just a bit more important than the second one, but both of those things are there. 

I need to be able to write ALL OVER the materials I’m using. Write, note, scribble, mark the paper in some way, releasing feedback-vibrations from my brain. I need to dig in. But with a light touch. Shouldn’t take more than a minute or two. I want to float through the exercises and probably have the answers in there is best, embedded into the rest of the tracings. Rather than in an answer key neatly laid out in another book. Written into mine, which is in my hand in the room, with the scribbles that connect this me and the me who saw this coming down the road. You see some evidence of all this above. That’s relatively neat looking compared to what I often do.

So am I saying I suggest or expect the trainee teachers I work with to be ‘scribble-thinkers’ like me? I’m not. What I want to be clear with them about is the need to preflect. I don’t use that word because it’s odd and a bit precious. What I usually talk about is the need for “pre-planning engagement” with the materials, or some variation on that.

At the most blunt, this means do the lesson yourself first. Keep your teacher-planner hat off for a while and sit down with your favorite spot with your favorite libation and the tunes of your favorite musician and enter the world of the lesson as it exists on/in/around those materials you’ve been given. Find the/a place to enter, move through it patiently, take in your surroundings as you turn the corners, and get thee to the spot which seems to be the intended destination. If it helps to take those notes or scribble those scribbles, by all means…at the very least, having done the thing you now have an answer key to those parts where written answers are elicited.


You may have noticed that you weren’t really sure whether to write in full-sentence answers for Task C or not. Ah! Waste not this confused cognition for it is not in the least trivial. This is the ‘flect in preflection. You are seeing the invisible lesson. Which is the actual lesson. It’s invisible because all the action takes place in the students’ minds. And so here you are, with the lesson in YOUR mind. That’s not planning, but preparedness (again, echoing Scrivener most recently but it’s clearly not a new distinction). 



Do you get the lesson IN your mind by simply jumping into planning it with your teacher hat on? Of course you don’t. I least I don’t. And over the last two years of observing two hours of teaching at work every day, one of the things I have developed a decent ability to identify is the extent to which the teacher teaching the lesson has actually SEEN the lesson before. No, not someone else teaching the same lesson; THIS lesson.

The best classes are taught by teachers who prepared for their lessons by taking the steps which involved seeing the ‘material’ of the class NOT as stages on a procedure page or exercises on a page but as a particular “mental adventure” for which they will act as guide. The activity isn’t ON the paper, it’s IN the paper. 

I sometimes want to use the term ‘third eye’ in this connection but I tend to hold off more often than not. But in honor of the late, great Prince I need to mention it here. The teacher needs to awaken and use a sort of ‘third eye’ (mind’s eye) to ‘see’ the lessons they teach. But it’s not mystical. I believe it has to do with awareness of a) self b) students and c) language. But all three of those aren’t givens, especially for novice ELTs. The kind of ‘preflective prep’ I’m on about above is approaching teaching lessons as a way of learning lessons.

Prince wore 3rd Eye Sunglasses!

This is simply an attempt to describe an internal process. In the post I’m following up on here, I said: “it’s something I feel I need to do in order to set the groundwork for the in-the-moment decision making that happens in class”. This suggests that it’s not a ‘whole’ process in itself. It’s a ‘priming’ process for later mental stuff. But the second processing is, I think, the stuff called ‘online’ processing and informs near/immediate action. I think it’s hard to pin down, but neither is it mystical (‘3rd eye’ talk notwithstanding). 


Okay. Next, I’m going to commentate (in somewhat riffing fashion) on the 13 turns into which I broke down that action. I’ll also sum up most of the 13 turns with a pithy ‘so what’ statement (with the help of the ‘so what’ master himself Mr. Miles Davis).   


After the previous task (detail questions on a reading passage) I had the student close his book as I told him that he’d done really well with the reading task.

I love praising my students. I’ll go right ahead and praise myself for praising them. Top flight, Matthew! Top drawer. 

I try to praise them in different ways, and make this rich material for them. I’m happy to report that it’s often salient stuff for them; they’ll often ask for further clarification. Probably because they view it as useful, attractive language to be able to use themselves. So I’ll say “Good job! You really knocked that one out of the park!” or “You did a killer job with that. Done and dusted, eh?”. I don’t remember what I said here, leading into exercise E on page 5. 

It may just have been “Good work, Frank”. His name’s not Frank, but that became my nickname for him after noticing the dramatic overuse of the word ‘Frankly…’ to introduce all kinds of statements that, frankly, didn’t call for that word at all! 

There may be times when students don’t really deserve praise. In that case, don’t give it. If you’ve established a good working relationship, a bit of honesty is best: “well, this one wasn’t strong by you”. Every time you praise students for work that doesn’t deserve it, you blunt the blade of all the praise you give (do you agree with that?). 

A recent article in EFL Magazine called “Teacher Talk Acts, Not Teacher Talk Time” identified praising/congratulating as one of many ‘valuable Teacher Talk Acts’. 

So what 1


I asked him “now that you read that article, what do you think is next? [+ wait…until S says ‘Um..I don’t know…read more?’]. Well, I think there were some words that you should look at more closely. So, you’re going to focus on some vo…vo….voooooo…” until the student said ‘vocabulary’, and maybe gave me a look. ;P

I really like asking the learners to tell me what they think is coming next in class. I want to use a big work here and say I think it’s a metacognitive thing. I think it’s good thinking for them. I don’t think the structure of my lessons or even more nuts-and-bolty stuff should be hidden away or thought of as ‘behind the curtain’. I think students are typically really interested in teachers’ methods and constructs and tools. And of course they are interested in the learning process itself. More Underhill: 

underhill quote
(I’ve lost track of the source for the quote above – I think it’s in Meaningful Action? The image is from a slide in a presentation I made at the Teaching House Boston Mini-Conference in 2014 called “Beyond the Japanese Fan: Making Task Feedback More Learning-Centered)

So there’s a) a shift to more focus on the mental activity in the learners (as far as we can perceive or at least predict it) and b) acknowledgement of the learners’ own attention to that stuff, the interior lesson, to which you and your lesson are an instigation, but are also “at a distance”…that is, until you show up closer in to it, leaning into the interior, as Underhill invites us to try. 

I like the idea of making the lesson a partial object of the lesson because it suggests that the lesson and the teacher are separate. The teacher and the learner can stand together, “hey, check out this lesson we’re doing! whoa. hey, what do you think will happen next? what do you think should happen next?” :) 

Hear that cool, foggy blue-grey muted trumpet phrase? That’s Miles, he’s back with his so what?

So what 2


I had the student open to the blank back page of the book and write numbers 1 to 4 and then I told him I’d dictate four short sentences.

I feel like I do dictations more and more these days. There’s really nothing I don’t like about them. I love bottom-up listening work these days, and dictations can get into/lead in to the nooks and crannies of decoding the speech stream very nicely. 

I’ve also never heard a student complain about or express negativity towards doing dictations. Have you? In my experience students grab their pens and jump right into it with gusto, as a rule. It’s funny that I used to see dictations as the ultimate in old-fashioned uselessness. 

So what 3


When he was ready, I said “Can you explain the rules to me?”, careful to say it in a completely relaxed, naturally paced, relatively quick manner.

See above re: decoding the speech stream. I’ve never done ‘slow motion’ dictations, I wonder if there’s any value in that. Or ‘from down the hall’ dictations (though I’ve done S-S dictations from across the room crisscrossing, you know, Ss trying to talk over each other, etc.). 


As you might imagine, he started writing a little bit and then looked up at me and said, “again, please?”.

He had that sort of incredulous look in his smiling eyes there, that look I’d put money down on you, dear reader, recognizing instantly. “Teacher, you can’t possibly expect me to be able to get whatever that was from your voice through my ears, into my brain, out of the pencil in my hand onto this paper here. Feed the needy, man. Feed the needy!” 

So what 4

^ specifically, I’m thinking, in terms of where ‘really hard’ meets ‘really fun’. That’s also something that applies to the CELTA course! Where’s that sweet spot? 

*I’d like to acknowledge here how terrible the writing is in that image above! My blog writing can be sloppy but…how did I manage THAT?😛


First I shook my head, and my eyes said ‘no soup for you!’. His reaction to this refusal was a big ol’ laugh. Oh my god! Leally?! Back in my head, I was thinking no repetition would be nice, but in that moment I decided against it. I told him “Sure, I’ll say it one more time. And for 2, 3, and 4, I’ll say it twice. And you need to ask for the 2nd time. If you really think you don’t need it repeated, don’t ask!”. “Ok!”, and he dove back to the page, pen at the ready for dictation item #2.

I believe he DID ask, but I’m glad I set him up to take the initiative for it. This, I was thinking, would instigate more attention to what happened the first time, self-evaluate, that kind of thing. 

So what 5


So we did that, and I watched him closely, and he did pretty well. If memory serves what he ended up with was something like: Can you explain rules to me? I feel very uncomfortable. You made a lot of mistake on the test. All of great children respect him.

Do you find that the results of dictations like this are relatively predictable in where the missing pieces tend to be (I mean, not be)? Me too. 


Next, I had him guess which words in those sentences would be the vocabulary words. He identified these correctly.

I don’t think I’d ever done exactly that before. I like it and I’ll do it again. For one thing, if the student identifies some other items as potential target vocabulary, it may help tip me off to what else might be interesting for them. Of course, that could start to approach the old “are there any words in there you don’t understand?” chestnut if taken too far. 


I then had him compare his sentences with exercise E. He read those, looked back at his sentences, but didn’t immediately notice the gap. He also clearly wasn’t trying to fill it immediately with the answers from page 5. I was happy to see this, and I prompted him with thing like “a lot of is plural, so…what’s missing? it’s small, but it’s a MUST” and “WHOSE grandchildren?” in #4. He made comments like ‘oh, grand sound same as great for me!’. I tried to be patient and acknowledge these things. The little things that “come up” are JUST as important as “what we’re doing”. But I’m getting ahead of myself!

Why was I happy to see him ‘not trying’? In a word that people seem to like these days, “affordances”. This deserves its own post. 

So what 6


Next, we moved back to exercise E on page 5. I directed my student to read the definitions for himself once, then to me out loud. I told him to focus on his pronunciation when doing so. I gave some very immediate corrective feedback prompts in a handful of spots, most of which I’d predicted in my minute or so of looking at the exercise earlier.

The ‘reading aloud in class or not, ever, never’ controversy (that’s a controversy, right?) mars not my practice – the only issue, it seems to me, is the purpose/focus assigned to the thing. It’s usually pronunciation to me, or perhaps, in the case of pronunciation through/with reading, “phonics”…whatever that means. ;) 

So what 7


Then I had him read them out again. It was better and he corrected himself a few times. Me: “mm-hhm, mm-hhm”.

My favorite ELT person this month (it’s on a calendar) is a guy named Drew S. Fagan. Once of Fagan’s articles I’ve been able to get a hold of is called “Beyond “Excellent!”: Uncovering the Systematicity Behind Positive Feedback Turn Construction in ESL Classrooms” (available online here) and like some of his other work is a microanalysis of one expert teacher’s classroom practices utilizing the framework of conversational analysis. You end up with a wonderfully fine-grained picture of how one teacher provides positive feedback in the moment during lessons.

Interestingly, Fagan draws a clear distinction between giving positive assessment and implying positive assessment. Although what Fagan explores in terms of the latter is much more subtle and varied than my “mm-hhm, mm-hhm”, I’m going to use this distinction to identify and further explore my own ways of less-than-direct (“Good! Correct!”) feedback. 

When I listen back to recordings and watch classroom video of my own teaching, I notice that I do these ‘hum-phrases’ a lot. Come to think of it, there must be a name for those? This will be staffroom chatter later today. 


A colleague’s google search hit on paralanguage but I suspect there’s more to that story. Hmmm, with my training, experience, graduate degree, etc. should I know this? And I think I remember doing a lesson on this stuff at least once before! In any event, according to the products of my externalization devices (class recordings, peer feedback, etc.) I’m “paralanguaging” all the time throughout my classes.

And what I think I’m doing with it is finding efficiencies for feedback-giving. In particular, in order not to disturb or arrest the discourse while still providing relatively constant feedback. Rather than beyond excellent, this – more below excellent. Sub-talk stuff. 

So what 8


Finally I had him match them. As usual, we sort of did #1 together out loud, then he flew through the rest (this is a very short 4-item exercise!).

So what? So that Gandhi’s quotable can be invoked, of course: the before and the after are as important, if not more important, than the thing itself in and of itself. 


BTW: No, people who post quotes online aren’t, in fact, dumber than average.😉


After confirming the answers, I prompted some brief discussion with questions like ‘have you ever said #1?’, ‘had #3 said to you?’, ‘what rules do you break most often?’, ‘who is the most respected person in your family?’, ‘what’s the most embarrassing thing you’ve experienced in the US so far?’.

It’s clear to me that using the vocabulary in a personal way (the highly technical term, I believe, is personalization) at the point of learning/clarifying is a good thing. 

That’s all. I didn’t mention Thomas Farrell. Until now. 

I didn’t mention the Lexical Approach and hearing Hugh Dellar chat with Marek on the TEFL Show podcast this morning, I’m not sure why I felt the need to capitalize that. Hugh does a nice job of demonstrating why it’d be best not to peg that as a very particular ‘method’. Anyway, I guess I thought something related to that might come up simply because in doing a bit more sentence-level stuff on the way to the single words in exercise E on page 5, it kind of had those vibes.

What Hugh brings up on the show about the quality of examples is great food for thought, though. Seems reasonable to think “explain” collocates very strongly with ‘the rules’, and that the plural of rule is likely much more frequent than the singular.

I have to admit that I’m still not comfortable actually using online corpora tools, even though I find the whole thing very attractive and interesting.  

What else do I want to say? I think I’m so whatted out. But all of this (the Miles Davis sponsored ‘so what statements’ specifically) lead to one more step: the now what. See you then! 

You’re supposed to finish blog posts with questions and prompts that would inspire your readers to consider interacting and/or feeding back by leaving a comment. I dunno, so I’ll just leave it to Miles to ask YOU:

blank so what

Live from Motown: CELTA TP Student’s ‘Black Belt in English’

Happy Friday! I’m not going to post much this evening (it’s almost time to step out on the town), but I did want to share a little blast from the past here before I head out. And because it’s Friday, it’s just a simple, happy thing that I just wanna groove on as the weekend gets rolling.🙂

Sometimes it feels like we –  committed and concerned members of the ELT profession who connect and converse online – spend a lot of time digging into and dialoguing (and sometimes arguing) about the challenges and problems and limitations and imperfections of what we do. That’s because we care. We’re always on the search for insight and improvement. But it can also be wearisome.

So we can…we should…we have to always remember to celebrate and appreciate that we’re in a wonderful profession, we get to work with wonderful people, and despite everything, wonderful things happen around us nearly every single day.

This was just one of those days:

If you’re watching on your phone you won’t be able to see the explanatory annotation on YouTube. Here it is:

Last summer we ran the first ever CELTA course in the amazing and astounding city of Detroit, MI. It was a huge challenge, but we pulled it off. The man speaking had heard about the TP classes and brought his niece who was visiting from China. After seeing him waiting for her down the hall, I asked him if he’d want to join our TP classes himself. He did. This is what he had to say on the final day.

You might not have a recording, but do you have a memory you could share about something a student said or did that reminded you to smile and feel great about your small part in something great? If so, please share in the comment space below.🙂

Following Frances: Expert corrective feedback in action at Columbia University

Just today Laura Soracco posted a fantastic collection of 14 short reflections from teachers on their TESOL 2016 convention experiences (including mine). Rather than pinpointing my favorite moment of the conference I decided to deflect reflect on the notion of ‘takeaways’.

But I thought of a moment. A very specific moment. Here’s what happened:

I saw her and did a double-take.

Then, a bit like an irrational superfan: “You’re the woman from the video! It’s you! Oh my god, it’s an honor to meet you! You’re from the video! I just want you to know, I think you’re the coolest. It’s you, from the corrective feedback video!”


The woman was Dr. Frances A. Boyd (see her impressive bio here). The video was:

I first saw it as part of Carol Numrich‘s presentation “Students and Teachers: Differing Perspectives on Oral Corrective Feedback” at TESOL 2014 in Portland.

Since then I’ve used the video often to give CELTA trainees a glimpse at how an expert teacher harnesses corrective feedback to give learners the kind of responsive feedback they need to notice, upgrade, and internalize the language they’re working on and working with.

It’s a great exposition on corrective feedback. It’s also really well produced – giving us the teachers’ actions, plus her personal narrative illuminating her decision making in her own authentic voice. See? This is what accounts for my fanboy moment! (A more graceful one than reaching out to shake Scott Thornbury‘s hand…in the men’s bathroom). This film is an instant classic and Frances is a star!🙂

Here are the photos I took at the TESOL 2014 presentation:






As you can see, there’s really nothing new under the  “Pardon the Correction” workshop presentation sun. This presentation is an aunt or uncle, if not a parent, of ours two years later.

So thanks, Carol. And thank you Frances! I’ve got the signed version of this photo already framed up on the ELT hall-of-fame wall in my mind…