Cert as CPD: Interviews with Anne pt. 4

We pick right back up again as Anne continues through the heart of a CELTA course in Thailand, the Land of Smiles…and 8,334 7-Elevens. Let’s follow…

…just after ducking into this mercifully air-conditioned “sewen” for a couple of steamed pork buns, some Pocky, and a nice cold M-150. mBeeem-boop! mBeeem-boop! 

Hey there, Anne. You’re way down the CELTA road now.

They say week three is the hardest. I couldn’t imagine harder than last week. But there is definitely a lot to do.

Highlights of hilarity: potatoes and multilingual poo. Flakes (but not fluffers). Word tennis, which is definitely not ping pong. CCQ as weapon. Visual aids.

Nope, I don’t dare to ask! It’s funny how CELTA courses birth little self-referential microworlds of their own…often featuring very high levels of absurdity. So. Many. Inside. Jokes. 

What else is new? 

I’ve met my third trainer of the course, who is of course another extremely gifted teacher. And he’s added new techniques of giving and getting feedback.

Cool. Can you give a couple examples of some of the feedback techniques you’ve experienced on the course?

Ah, of course! One way was sitting around the table discussing the positive things we saw in the lessons and ending by adding a way to help the teacher for next time (I LOVE this focus on ‘next time’ rather than dwelling on ‘last time’). Another was writing feedback for each teacher on the boards and letting the teacher decide which parts they want to take and which to leave. The third (and most creative so far) was ‘Giving’ and ‘Taking’ – a discussion on what we want to take from the lesson for ourselves (like great CCQ-ing) and what we would like to give to the teacher for their next lessons (like five minutes of meditation time before the class). I wonder if there’ll be any others.

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Sometimes the most creative peer observations are left for the very end of the course. Prepare thyself!

As for the agreeable “dwelling on the future”, I learned early on from a trainer during my training up process to consciously practice shifting how I talk: from X is what you “could have done” to X what you “can do (next time)”. Of course that constructive focus was my intention from the start, but my language wasn’t actually directly reflecting and serving that intention. But with this help, I sorted it…took about two full courses to nail it down as an ingrained habit/speech pattern. It makes all the difference! 

“Trainer Talk”, innit. 

In input sessions, I can always tell when I’ve given a wrong answer or expressed an idea that one of the trainers wasn’t expecting by the pause that comes before “…that’s okay…” or “…that’ll work…” But I actually think this is a good thing in terms of lesson planning because they aren’t so set in their ideas of how things should go that they won’t let me try things out (even though I can almost feel them biting their tongues).

Yep, I actually have a special tongue-guard protector thing for those moments. Maybe your trainers have temporarily misplaced theirs. Cambridge send one to all CELTA tutors after their first year on the job. We need to protect out tongues from all that biting; we need to preserve the health of our tongues for when they REALLY need to be bitten. Job hazard. 

tongue-habit-appliance

Seriously though, that’s good news because I’m sure you’re bringing a whole bunch of quality ideas to the table!

…so, a few more days have passed now and you’re well into Week 3. How’s it going?  

I have been feeling a lot of panic the last couple days. On Monday I found myself terrified that I’d misread the deadline for turning in my assignment. On Tuesday I worried that I had forgotten something else, and was shaking before I managed to convince myself that I was still on track. But when I’m being realistic, I know that there is always time to do the things I need to do for this course. And it’s amazing how friendly and supportive everyone is. There is a lot of laughter and silliness to cut the stress, and we all help each other.

helping-hand

Yup, sounds like a CELTA week 3! And it seems you ARE on top of the assignment side of things. Impressive, Anne! 

Back in our first interview you talked about three specific development aims you hoped the course would help you with. They were:

  1. Getting & using feedback on your teaching from both trainers and peers
  2. Improving classroom management skills
  3. Developing better lesson planning skills

Where are you with these three specific things at this point? 

Well, I have definitely gotten a lot of feedback from everyone. I feel like I have a much clearer idea of my strengths and weaknesses (particularly in the delivery of my lessons and where my time management is going awry). I really value the feedback, support, and help they have given me, and the constructive suggestions for how to improve. I think my classroom management has improved quite a bit in most areas except for time management. I’m working on that still (and maybe will be for a long time). I’m so inconsistent from one TP to the next – depending on the lesson types and how tired I am, but also because I have a tendency to ‘front-load’ the lesson so that practice gets sacrificed. Now that I see what’s happening, I can find more strategies to fix it, though. Oh, and lesson planning is a legit strength now. Delivery, on the other hand….Well, development never ends, you know? 😉

The ‘front-loading’ challenge is pretty common in TP lessons, at least in my experience. Easy to do…hell, I did that with an input session the other day! But when later stages of TP lessons get ‘crunched’ too much and too often it’s a real problem.

I like to conceive of lesson stages as being consecutively more heavily “weighted” as they go…and how a lesson should almost feel like its on a slight downhill slope rolling – whether gracefully or not, maintaining real momentum – towards a center of gravity and magnetism which is those later stages, those richer tasks. I suggest that it’s the “arc” of the full stage-cycle itself which has the most power – so prioritize momentum, like getting to the end of a whodunnit mystery novel to find out who killed Gertrude before you fall asleep. And (thus) prioritize practice (which later stages provide the most of).

Sometimes people are so concerned with input being good enough and clarification being thorough enough that they ignore the fact that the practice keeps exposing and inputing and practice keeps clarifying. Naturally, they want to send their students into practice tasks fully prepared. But in TP lessons this often ends up being lots of preparation for what ends up being a rushed and rattled practice phase, especially final freer practice – the juiciest bit too often trampled over and squeezed if not squeezed OUT. So I say: PROTECT your later stages from encroachment! 

To my mind, it’s usually better to have practiced less language, more than practiced more language, less. Especially if, during practice, a teacher is providing immediate and/or delayed feedback which clarifies things further, based on the students’ challenges in the practice. But there’s just no saving insufficient practice time. So with this sobering danger in mind, cultivate a focused sense of urgency and a certain kind of impatience. The lesson itself – in its full arc, as you DID in fact plan it –  will bring your students to the happy place (and your TP assessment, too). 

rant-over

But yeah, is so easy to end up not quite getting through these ‘stacks of stages’ much of the time with an observed, assessed CELTA TP lesson.  The pressure’s on, it’s all eyes on you, no next lesson to connect back to right where you left off; all very different than a ‘normal’ single class off-world of Planet CELTA. 

How about your trainers’ demo lessons? The other day one of our trainees here said that she’s “never seen anything like” my lesson on Monday. Of course that’s always nice to hear, but I also know it’s sort of just baked into the course – I’m all set up to bring that “A-game” demo. I suppose I remember perceiving my own trainers as veritable magicians from that awe-inspiring first demo right on through. 

I have no doubt you are an amazing teacher. 🙂 My trainers are also fantastic and their level of expertise seems unreachable. But don’t you think it’s a little unfair to take trainers as models since they’re teaching polished lessons and we’re doing every lesson we do for the first time. 

That’s a really interesting perspective! I suppose you just want the best possible model…but I wonder, hmm…is it unrealistic? Is there a way this could be changed to be less ‘unfair’?

It shouldn’t be changed! It could be made explicit.

Ah, right! You had me imagining the trainees choosing a lesson for the trainer and saying “YOU’RE teaching THIS tomorrow at 2pm, tutor-guy. Yup, THE TABLES HAVE TURNED BWWAAHAHAAA!….oh and don’t forget copyright on all handouts OR ELSE”, and thus having a truer model of what they’ll be expected to do. 

Hahahahahahaha. Wouldn’t that be funny! But seriously, don’t trainers have enough to do?

Ummm…..yeah. Yes we do. 🙂

So…what’s one common and recurring theme in TP lessons so far?

Little strips of paper. Lots and lots of little strips of paper.

Ha!

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Because as we’ve realized how cool toys with lots of moving parts are, we’ve completely forgotten the advice about how easily they break. Also, language lessons are a lot less boring with lots of strips of paper. I wonder what other ways there are of making language lessons interesting?

Oh boy…we could be here all night! ;P 

That does remind me of one little thing we talked about in TP feedback here yesterday, I think it was. This was the takeaway: to generate and increase interest don’t call a listening “a listening” or a “track”. Don’t call a worksheet a “worksheet” or a “set of 8 gap-fill sentences”. If there’s any context to it at all, stick to that – squeeze the juice out of that. So often trainees instructions sound like: “So, now we’re going to listen to the CD and you’re going to…” when maybe it would generate and maintain interest more to say “Now you’re going to listen to an older guy named Steve and a slightly younger guy named Stuart – they’re pretty good friends – having a short conversation about global warming while sitting in an empty Starbucks”. As we’re showing the class the next worksheet and setting up the task before handing it out, what can we do so that learners don’t actually think of it only as a classroom exercise, but rather something that reflects real life? 

We could pretend all these generic course book stock photo characters are distant members of your family, for example. Every one of them. We could be so consistently sincere about it that students find themselves falling willfully for a long-con just because it’s amusing (it’s a muse). This kind of thing is not just ‘being entertaining’ for the sake of it, or for covering for any lack of content – rather, it’s positively conditioning what we can add as the primary ‘input-machine’ of the classroom. Just make sure your backstory involving Kevin from SB p24 and Janice from WB p13 holds up over time. In any event, of course it’s the principle of the thing. Not being a clown, but affecting learning conditions by generating interest, and humor is potent in this regard. It’s not entertainment, it’s attention cultivation. Something that’ll lead to it being the learners who end up ‘entertaining’ more – in the sense of considering possibilities, contemplating: a good learning state! When and if input needs to be enriched, ‘act it up’ a bit. Anyway, just some thoughts on ‘keeping it interesting’. End: current rant. Commence: next question!  

You mentioned a course room conversation about this whole twitter thing, which is where you and I connected.

That has only been a source of joy 🙂 I even went so far as to defend Twitter in a room full of haterz when Trainer 3 said “I keep hearing that everyone’s on Twitter. But when I ask trainees in each of these courses, it seems that not more than three or so over the past few groups are. What do you guys think of Twitter?” …the responses ranged from “I don’t use it.” to “I actively hate it.” And when he finally asked, “Does anyone here actually use it?” I was the only one who does. The obvious question came next: WHY.

“Why do I? Why don’t you?” is what I didn’t say because that’s not helpful.

My actual response: I use Twitter to connect with a community there. The people I’m connected to are supportive and friendly. They share articles, blog posts, resources, and materials, and they answer questions and help with problems and make me feel like a valued member of a professional community.

I hope that landed well in some people’s minds and they’ll consider checking into it at some point. As it happens, Laura Sorocco and I are doing an Electronic Village workshop called “Twitter for Anyone: Resources and Professional Development Opportunities” at TESOL 2016 in Baltimore this April. It’s pretty straightforward: it’s essentially just what you said above! In fact, would you please be our “plant” in the audience? 😉

I’ll be sure to share it on Twitter once I’ve got them all signed up. 🙂

Deal. So we’re both ELT twitter evangelists. All hail the chubby lil’ blue bird and praise the PLN!

free-twitter-bird-icon-sets-17

Ok, back to the CELTA, IRL. You’ve mentioned ‘microteaching’ in input sessions on the course. What do you like about it?

It’s kind of fun and really builds confidence. So long as the instructions are clear. Once during a phonology lesson the trainer gave us each a low-frequency word to teach. Seemed like there was about 30 seconds to look at it before we had to teach it. I felt bad because I’m usually a pretty safe bet to call on to go first, but I declined the honor that day because I had no idea what he wanted me to do. I had MFP dancing around in my head and 30 seconds was not long enough to figure out how to teach it. It turned out he was just interested in the P part (because it was a phonology lesson, duh). Other micro-teaching moments have been a lot more successful and fun. One day we taught a mini-text-based grammar lesson. Another day we taught mini-lessons on intonation.

input

Image from: Ways of Training by Tessa Woodward (here)

Another day, with a (very smart) partner, we brainstormed, wrote down, and then explained task-based lessons to the rest of the class. And suddenly I found myself standing in front of a group of my peers sharing what I can share and learning what I can learn without the fear that used to make my head spin.

Sounds great. 

Any major mishaps? (we’ve all got our CELTA scars…some of mine came from a disastrous reading lesson using my independently chosen text: a description Buddhist monks meditating on decomposing bodies).

Well, what is the number one panic-inducing thing that could go terribly wrong a few hours before a CELTA teaching practice?

Ut-oh…

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Somewhere inbetween this morning and this evening, my USB stick with my whole CELTA life on it got corrupted.

Oh no! 

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But don’t worry, intrepid reader! It was already in my #anticipatedproblems because of a moment of sheer panic last weekend when I realized that my USB was the most important thing in my pocket – including my phone. So I backed it up and started saving to the cloud as well. #anticipatedsolution and #disasteraverted

Whew, that was lucky! But before the resolution it must have been a pretty terrible feeling. 

What happened during your disastrous lesson? I’m dying of curiosity. My biggest mishaps have been about language lessons that never get to practice. 😦

Oh, it was just…way off. In fact, most of the TP students who showed up that day were Vietnamese Catholics – and just kind of…flabbergasted and confused…okay, not ‘kind of’. I’m just glad I didn’t have a notion to bring in any realia for that one. 😉 

I’m sure it went better than you think.

I know that my fellow trainees are a lot harder on themselves than I think they should be, and I sometimes wish they could be sitting in my chair watching themselves teach and seeing how it’s actually going pretty well in spite of all the things happening in their heads. Wouldn’t it be cool if trainers made a practice of videoing lessons – not for evaluation or extra work for anyone, but for the trainees own reference so that they could see how they’ve changed from TP1 (or even 3) to TP 8?

Yeah, lots of trainees get self-evaluative in a way that’s not always productive and slips into a negativity that’s just, well, unfortunate if it sticks and blocks and drags. Good TP group dynamics help; trainees can and do really uplift each other, as your account shows. 

To my knowledge the videotaping TP thing is actually very rare, but it’s not entirely unheard of. I know Chris Meoli in Boston gives trainees the option of having their TP videoed and he gives them the file. I think it’s a fantastic idea for a whole host of reasons. Nonetheless the closest I ever get is to take pictures for trainees during the final few TPs – essentially just as a souvenir. Fanselow-level self-observation it ain’t! But you’ve got me thinking…and maybe we can try something new on an upcoming one, or maybe even this current one. We’re one week in now here. 

Hope your new CELTA course started off well! The more I watch my trainers here, the more respect I have for all of you. What an amazing set of skills you have to do what you do.

Friday evening has finally arrived here in Chiang Mai. Our students have the day off, which means we do too. And our tireless trainer has gone home with work in her bag. She ran the show mostly by herself this week when Trainer 2 got sick and Trainer 3 had other duties. We just shake our heads in amazement at what an awesome person she is. And she somehow still managed to be available, friendly, and compassionate.

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SuperTutor!

So week 4 is in the future and I have a grammar and a speaking lesson to teach. Thankfully, we already have TP group that works really well together. It took us about 20 minutes to sketch the four days of classes with interconnected contexts daily and building on last week’s work. It’s kind of exciting to be on our own with the lessons plans. It won’t be glamourous, but it should work. And maybe MAYBE I’ll be able to improve on the past three weeks (and not end up in the corner with a dunce cap!).

That is exciting. Looking forward to hearing about it! Good luck with those lessons. 

11 thoughts on “Cert as CPD: Interviews with Anne pt. 4

  1. Hi Matt and Anne,
    These posts have something for everyone. An insight into what CELTA will be/could be/is like for future trainees, and tips on training and how it comes across for trainers. Well done both of you for keeping it up, and looking forward to reading the final instalments. I’m about to start tutoring on a part-time course and I’m thinking about what I can steal (sorry ‘take’) from both of you!
    Sandy

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Unless it’s a skeleton plan, I encourage them not to do that, instead getting them to highlight key points in the plan, perhaps in different colours, e.g. pink for reminders, green for answers, yellow for instructions. What do you do Matt?

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      1. Both. Probably more often what you suggest, Sandy. But sometimes it seems the concreteness of picking up individual index cards for each stage is helpful for a trainee who clearly struggles to stay focused on a 5 page document, no matter how well marked up.

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    2. That’s interesting. It was in our handbook NOT to do that. What goes on the lesson plan form that isn’t on the plan the trainees use?

      The forms are a lot of paper to look at. One of our trainers suggested chopping off the sides of the plan (the empty boxes for comments) and stapling the whole thing together into a convenient booklet. The other trainer suggested highlighting with different colors. And I also color-coded notecards (and paperclips!) to keep things organized by stage.

      I guess I never did find a perfect way of remembering everything. :-/

      Liked by 1 person

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