We’re back with the second installment talking with Anne Hendler (@annehendler on twitter, and author of this blog) about her experience on a CELTA course as it unfolds in Chiang Mai, Thailand. If you missed Part 1, find it here. We’ve gotten some really nice responses so far. Pretty please don’t be shy to comment after reading!
So without further preamble let’s pull up a red plastic stool, shoo away the soi dogs, give our iced coffee a stir, throw a bit of extra ginger into some steaming bowls of delicious rice porridge (called “joke” in Thai, ha-ha!) and find out what Anne’s been up to.
Part 2: Down the CELTA road we go…
Hi Anne! So, you’ve rocked the first week and are now launching into the second. How would you describe the CELTA in a maximum 140-character (tweet-sized) bite?
Awesome people, knowledgeable and patient trainers, excellent meals, tons of homework, not so much sleep. Chance of survival: fair. #CELTA
Cool, it even has the hashtag! Sounds worthwhile to say the least. You’ve also once again managed to make me hungry with just passing mention of food in Thailand.
One really interesting thing you’ve talked a bit about is how you’ve been observing your fellow trainees’ TP lessons: while watching from the back of the room you’ve been doing the tasks along with the learners. And you’re finding this to be really productive. So let me ask: do the trainers have you making copies of your LP and/or class task handouts etc. for each other and setting you up for this, or are you only expected to complete given observation sheets?
Good question! The trainers haven’t facilitated this so far. We’ve just been doing it on our own. However, we are always encouraged to collaborate in lesson planning and we started to try out our instructions on each other. I think doing the activities in the lessons keeps us engaged and focused more than the observation sheets. It also gives us a better idea of why certain activities worked (or didn’t).
Hmm, that makes a lot sense to me. It also sounds really nicely proactive on your part! You also mentioned the idea of having other teachers complete your lesson tasks and give you feedback as part of the planning process. Can you say more about why that seems so fruitful to you?
I think that it gives me a better idea of how much time to allot a task and how difficult it is likely to be. For instance, one of my fellow trainees once asked students to come up with three special things they will have at their house party. We started whisper-asking each other in the back and discovered that it is hard to come up with one, let alone three. Same was true for favorite songs. I think there’s a lot to be gained from knowing that ahead of time.
Wow, very well said! You’ve got me thinking of a “map vs. territory” analogy for lesson planning: the lesson plan is the map, and the tasks themselves are the territory. We can create a really great map, but if we haven’t done the tasks we’re setting, it’s as if during the lesson we’re leading our learners through a terrain we haven’t actually ever walked through with our own two feet. We won’t know that there’s a slippery rock in #7, or that you can see for miles from #9 if you look back in the direction of #3, or that hidden right around the bend of the more likely wrong answer to #10 is the perfect prompt for a class debate. Or, as in your anecdote, that a particular question might seem perfectly fruitful on the surface, but only if we ourselves try to answer it (in our L1) in the time we plan to give the learners to do so (in their L2!) we might realize that, in fact, it lacks accessibility. You’ve got to actually step on it to know that that particular path is rather muddy.
Anyway, it’s really interesting – and kind of surprising! – to hear about this because in my experience it’s relatively rare for trainees to go down that road on their own.
Actually it’s pretty interesting to me, too. I can only wonder what the trainers make of it. Keep in mind that out of six in my TP group, four are seasoned teachers. And of those four, two are already involved in professional development groups. I think this influences how we prepare and reflect and help each other.
Funny story: until about a couple years ago, I had never done a task I set for my students. I started when I had to do tasks in workshops that were similar to ones I set in class and I realized how much time they took and how difficult something like “what are your three favorite places” can be. I swore I’d do all my tasks ever since. Now it’s really cool for me to see how other teachers do them, too.
Love that anecdote. I’d imagine many teachers out there can relate to it. And I’d say you may have really lucked out with a cohort like that on your course!
Okay, well let’s keep moving: how many TP lessons have you taught so far? What differed or changed or improved from one to the next? Specifically, how have things gone so far with 1) lesson planning and 2) classroom management?
I’ve just taught two TP lessons so far. The focus was on classroom management. The other trainees said that the second lesson was miles better than the first because I appeared more relaxed (stopped playing with my hair and clothes, and started interacting more normally with the students) and gave better instructions. My lesson planning is hit or miss so far, and my biggest challenge is timings. In the second lesson I think I managed the space better than the first, and now I have even more strategies to do so. I haven’t found the opportunity to plan choices into my lessons, and I am also questioning the need when prep time is limited and students seem completely willing to try any activity.
Nice to hear that you’re making progress with both teacher talk and managing timing and ‘space’. What’s been the best part of the feedback process so far?
The support! The trainer and also the fellow trainees are really constructive with feedback and really supportive before, during, and after lessons. Everyone is really open. I don’t know what I was expecting – a more competitive atmosphere or something. We’ve got each other’s backs and because of the good rapport, it is easy to listen to criticism knowing that other teachers and teachers-to-be are just trying to help me help myself improve. It’s amazing.
I think you mentioned previously that in all the years you’ve been teaching you’ve only been observed a handful of times. It must be really satisfying to finally get such a big dose of direct feedback on both your planning and teaching.
So, beyond the teaching practice grind, perhaps you’ve also begun working on the FOL (‘focus on the learner’) assignment. For those who don’t know, this involves interviewing a learner and writing up a profile of their background, experience with learning English, learning preferences/styles, etc., as well as compiling a couple of practice activities meant to target specific areas identified through oral and written error analysis. How’s that going? It’s one of my favorite parts of the whole CELTA course.
Why is it your favorite, from a trainer’s perspective? They set the assignment on Thursday, but I had already been collecting examples of language and transcript of conversations I have with students during break times, as well as info about their backgrounds. I haven’t done a proper language analysis since my MA, but for me it’s fun to learn about the learners and have the potential to try and help them meet their goals.
Seems like a good start on the FOL. Best of luck with the paper! To answer your question, I think it’s just a really great opportunity for folks to get to know a learner as well as connect teaching with learning and being a teacher with being a learner. I feel like it can sometimes be easy to lose sight of this in the midst of all the intensive and constant focus on a hundred different criteria for good teaching and the self-focus of the training. And I like to suggest that the TP students are the real trainers while encouraging people to really keep their ‘focus on the learner’ beyond that assignment. This includes the focus on error in learner language as something to pay close attention to.
You also mentioned you’re amazed by the trainer you’ve been working more closely with so far, and that you’ll have the other trainer with you for your teaching practice next week. Any trepidation? Is there anything like the ol’ “good cop/bad cop” dynamic on your course?
If there is, I’ve only had the good cop so far. My trainer in week one was (is) brilliant, helpful, compassionate, interesting, knowledgeable, and tireless. And funny. Her feedback has been genuinely helpful and insightful. She picked up on my weaknesses right away and gave really helpful tips to improve, and was patient when I didn’t quite manage to make it work in the second TP either. Both trainers show concern about our well-being and are not shy about joking around in class. (I’d say they’ve established pretty good rapport so far, wouldn’t you?)
I would indeed! A bit of humor goes a long, long way doesn’t it. And I bet everyone’s eating Thai food, too – wait…focus, Matthew, focus! 😉
Finally, how’s the northern Thailand life treating you?
I am really enjoying it. I got out on my bike this morning for a ride through the countryside and along the river back to the old city. It was about 30km round trip and it felt so good to be on a bike. (Shoutout to @pterolaur, the previous owner of the clunicycle)
I’m teaching tomorrow and the language analysis assignment is due the very next day, so I’d better get some sleep! Have a wonderful week!
You too, Anne! We should definitely discuss language analysis next time, among other things. Thanks for another great interview. Until we chat again, and continued choak dee! 🙂
*Postscript – 3 killer CELTA links: