“During cold-weather months, underneath the bustle of the holidays, the Earth is preparing in the northern hemisphere for a long period of inner stillness before the rebirth of spring. The closing of the year elicits contemplation: What has transpired? Where are we headed? What is left undone?”
This quote was the introduction to an email I just received from www.yogajournal.com. This wasn’t a bit of spam, I’m actually signed up to receive newsletters from them everyday. This means that, alongside my (fairly newly found) TEFL blog reading addiction, I also do my best to read about all-things-yoga. Anyway… enough about my struggles with internet-time-management.
The last sentence of this quote has really got me thinking: What has transpired? Where am I headed? What is left undone?
Three incredibly useful, soul-searching questions. I feel that these questions could be used to help someone analyse almost anything. From a lesson, to an argument, to cleaning your kitchen. I’ve decided to take these questions one-by-one to help map out my professional (and perhaps personal) development past, present and future, meaning this and my following two blog posts are/will be pretty self-obsessed. Sorry.
So, to begin – What has transpired?
I began the year pretty exhausted after completing my Delta at the end of 2010.
I joined a new yoga studio. This gave me back some much needed power and reignited my love for yoga.
I fretted about getting my Delta results.
I got my Delta results. I cried with absolute joy when I saw them. For the first time in my life, I had worked really bloody hard for something and it had paid off in droves. I was truly proud of myself. I honestly never thought I would do as well as I did.
I went on my first holiday in three years to Venice and South Tirol (the picture on my blog is me on said holiday just before I was almost killed by a snow plough).
Spring is a bit of a blur. I was waiting to start my training to become a Celta trainer. I spent a lot of time outside.
June arrived. I started my training. I was officially branded a TiT (Trainer in Training – Thanks for that Cambridge ESOL!)
The Summer was busy. Very, very busy. Teaching three lessons per day, plus observing either the input or the teaching practice on the Celta. I realised how much I loved this new world of teacher training. Yes, it’s really hard work, but it’s so incredibly rewarding. I was really happy to be taking this next step along my life’s pathway.
September arrived. I was qualified as a Celta tutor. No longer a TiT. Hooray!
I started this blog. I discovered the world of Twitter. I started to learn so much more about teaching, learning, training. I’ve met some wonderfully inspiring people online. I’ve read some incredibly enlightening blog posts. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed writing this blog and I’ve been surprised that so many people seem to enjoy reading it. (Thank you!)
The final three months of the year have seen me getting to grips with the realities of being a Celta tutor. Phew – it’s tough. Long hours, stressful situations to deal with, working so closely with people during a very intense period of time. But, you know what? I LOVE it. Even when it all feels a bit too much and I just want to go to sleep, I still love it. I’m blessed to be able to work with two brilliant colleagues in the teacher training department who have both supported me, helped mould me into a better teacher, a better trainer and have definitely given me some good laughs along the way. You know who you are, and I truly thank you.
And so here I sit, watching the first proper snow of the year settle on the cars outside my kitchen window, content with what I have achieved, ready to look ahead to the new year and feeling excited about what adventures and challenges it will bring.
Thank you to all of you who have been and are yet to be part of my journey.
As part of my recent action research project , I am trying to analyse the levels of control which are present in my job as a teacher trainer. The last couple of weeks I have been focussing on teaching practice preparation sessions by making notes on how I go about prepping a couple of the trainees I’ve been working with. This has brought me back to some action research I did last year on the power of questions. Back then, I was focussing on my use of questions with learners, but there are many parallels to be drawn between the teacher and the teacher trainer.
Just as we can open up communicative channels with our learners by asking questions which encourage longer answers or developed arguments (which is of course a feature of the more communicative classroom, and especially the unplugged one), so can we aid the evaluative and developmental thought processes in our trainees.
There are two types of question often employed in the classroom –
“Display questions [which] ask the respondent to provide, or to display knowledge of, information already known by the questioner, [and] referential questions [which] request information not known by the questioner.“ (Brock, 1986:48)
For example –
Display: “What’s the past participle of ‘see’?”
Referential: “What did you do after that?”
Brock goes on to explain that display questions are placed at the lowest level of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, whilst, unsurprisingly, referential questions are at the highest level, because they often require evaluation or judgement.
I have noticed that I use a range of question forms in my teaching practice preparation sessions, but that when I am under time pressure (as is normal…!) I am prone to use questions like this:
“So are you planning to do this as a jigsaw reading or are they all reading the same text?”
This gives the trainee only two options, and I am sure my tone of voice indicates which one I think is the better of the two. I would say this sits about half way up Bloom’s model at the Application level.
Now, it could be worse – I could not ask a question at all and say:
“Do this as a jigsaw reading.”
Naturally, there are times when this is needed, for example nearer the beginning of the course or when a trainee doesn’t know/isn’t able to come up with ideas. However, I would argue that it is my responsibility to be helping the trainees become as independent as possible.
To do this, I therefore need to ask more questions like this:
“How are you going to use this in class?”
And this is what I began to do consistently, attempting as much as possible not to ask any closed questions. It was interesting to see how the trainees responded by appearing to feel a closer bond to “their” ideas and being much more creative, evaluative and confident in their lesson planning and execution.
Just as I ask my trainees to think about their language in the English classroom, I am now expecting the same of myself, and thereby reaping the rewards of creating more empowered teachers and yet again learning more about my own behaviour.
Have you ever thought about your use of questions in class? Do you think there’s a place for display questions? Would you say that I should be telling my trainees what to do? Would love to hear your thoughts!
Brock. C.A, 1986, The Effects of Referential Questions on ESL Classroom Discourse, TESOL Quarterly, Vol. 20, No. 1 (Mar., 1986), pp. 47-59
In response to the challenge set by ELTbites (read more here), here’s the retrospective plan of a functions lesson which I did last week. I think you could easily use this with almost any level, but my class were C1.
I entered the class at the company with no materials except my pencil case. There is a small white board in the room. I had 3 students that day. I also had no idea what would happen over the 90 minutes: this is one class that I definitely practice Full Dogme with!
Here’s what happened:
The students noticed that I didn’t have my usual water bottle with me, and commented on this as I always have the same bottle. I told them about how I had actually been incredibly clumsy over the last week, including dropping and breaking my bottle, spilling tea/coffee/you name it, cutting my finger/banging my head etc.. etc… Poor me. We started to share stories of other mishaps in our lives. Seemed we were all in the same boat.
We listed some mishaps on the board which involve other people (spilling your drink over someone/banging into someone on the street/etc…)
We collaboratively worked on a dialogue for one of these on the board. We drilled the dialogue and spoke about how we don’t actually say “I’m terribly sorry.” but rather use intonation (higher voice, greater range of pitch) to highlight the intensity of our apology with “I’m so sorry”, as well as the differences between their L1 and English. They practised this amongst themselves.
They chose one situation each and worked alone to write a dialogue between the people involved.
We spoke about modality for politeness. They adjusted some of their dialogues.
We worked on some more pronunciation.
They “performed” their dialogues.
Why not take part in the challenge yourself? Or follow the results here – http://eltbites.wordpress.com
I’ve spent today reading a range of wonderfully inspiring and thought-provoking blog posts from the likes of Jeremy Harmer and Dale Coulter on reflection, action research and development. These posts come at a time when I have been slowly beginning to build a picture of what I want to work on in my professional life as a teacher/teacher trainer next. Amongst all of the hundreds of things I want to focus on, I’ve come to rest on the idea of control in the classroom and also its existence in my role as a teacher trainer.
This is a new role for me (I’m working on my second course as a Celta tutor as we speak) and so, just as I did when I began teaching, I want to do some action research to help me see how I can increase my effectiveness as a trainer. Action research, active professional development and reflection (both formal and informal) have mean that I’ve learnt so much since first stepping into the classroom in 2007.
Here’s a quick overview of a few of the ways I’ve gone about this:
One of the first things I did once I finished my Celta and began teaching was start to systematically observe my colleagues, who I found were all so inspiring and taught me so much. I remember seeing one colleague use the smallest bit of a coursebook to create a whole 90 minute lesson from. I saw another teacher do a writing lesson using reported speech and nothing but the board and some coloured paper. I was amazed at how little material they used, but how much they seemed to cover in their lessons. I guess this was where my unplugged seed was planted (if only I’d been wise enough back then to nurture it!).
I love learning by reading, and so I soon started to borrow books from my DOS and other colleagues. Often these were linguistics books by David Crystal and other such writers, because I was thoroughly interested in language for language’s sake. This gave me even more desire to develop my language awareness and ability to share my passion with those I taught. I was often overwhelmed by some of the books, not really having any idea what they were about, but forcing myself to read them anyway. I remember one train journey when I was in battle with a book on contemporary linguistics and my brain literally kept shutting off and putting me to sleep. Not my finest hour as a linguist, but I do still have that book on my bookshelf!
By the time I began studying for the Delta in March 2010, I had developed a huge interest in classroom methodology, which was lucky, as I had to spend a lot of time reading and writing about such things for my Professional Development Assignment and the Module One exams. During those 9 months of Delta-ing, I immersed myself in the process of analysing, observing, reflecting, journalling, reading and attempting to change. My approach to teaching changed dramatically over the course of the Delta, and not through learning more about the noun phrase (although that certainly helps too), but through attacking all the issues I had been ignoring or glossing over with a smile and a laugh. As I am sure some of the people who know me would tell you, I am certainly someone to face a challenge head on and not let myself get away with shying away from a weakness. The Delta gave me the last push I needed to look in the mirror and begin fixing all the things I’d been letting slide.
So, now I am here today at yet another point in my career when I want to tackle head-on some issues that are niggling away at me. Namely, control and the way it manifests itself in my role as a teacher trainer. I am to be materials-light. Can I also be control-light?
The first questions I want to answer are:
- How do I actually take control of trainees in relation to teaching practice??
- What results in my doing this and doing it in this way?
- What changes can I make to this approach to increase my effectiveness as a teacher trainer?
- Keep a journal on teaching practice, preparation and feedback, ensuring that I record the way I deal differently with the different trainees and how this is a reflection of their input and previous lessons.
- Ask my trainees to write to me/discuss with them the notion of control and how they think it has affected them throughout the course.
Can you help me with any research tips you’ve used in your development, or can you recommend any useful reading material for me to get my nose stuck into on the aspect of control? I’d really appreciate some help here.
Tomorrow it begins all over again. The first day nerves. The introductions. The expectations. The excitement. The trepidation. The fear.
Tomorrow is Celta Day One.
At 10.30 am I will meet the group of people who I will be working with for the next four weeks. Each of them will arrive with their own beliefs and principles about teaching. They will all have certain expectations of themselves, the course and the tutors. There will be different levels of classroom experience. The motivations for taking the course will all be different. They will have different skills and styles. They will be different people.
But one thing will be the same: They will all want to learn about teaching English and will expect to walk out of the course in four weeks being better able to teach than when they walked in.
They will need me to be supportive, respectful and trusting of them. I need to make sure that I give them the autonomy to make decisions based upon what they believe, but also that I am there to adjust any thinking that I know won’t work. It comes back to this element of control. Willy Cardoso commented on my last post:
I’d also be interested to know how trainees see trainers in relation to control, and also how trainers see themselves when trying, in one way or another, to control what/how trainees do.
I can’t comment on the trainees’ perspective at the moment, but I plan to carry out some research during this Celta to find out. Watch this space. (Any ideas on exactly how to do this would be much appreciated too!)
How do I see myself when being a trainer? On the one hand, I am there to give ideas, teach techniques and highlight areas that could be a hindrance to the students in the classroom. But on the other hand, I have to remember that they aren’t me and they aren’t trying to be me. We don’t want clones, we want teachers who can go out into the world of TEFL armed with knowledge, ideas and skills. How they each interpret the input they receive is up to them and down to their experience of the world they inhabit, which is not the same world as me.
The balance of control vs freedom can be really tough to get right. On the last course, for example, I had to give feedback to a couple of the trainees in particular on their body language. Who am I to tell someone how to sit or how much to move, for crying out loud?!! But it’s these elements of feedback that form part of the inwardly analytical process that all the trainees go through; they need to realise what they are doing and how it can affect a lesson/rapport with their students etc… But I don’t feel comfortable doing it. Not in the slightest. Despite the fact that I know it’s part of what I’m there for and that it can help with their ultimate goal of becoming better teachers. Making decisions about whether to comment on certain points in their teaching practice is a tough job – is it really necessary or am I being overly pedantic/critical/controlling? Maybe the control I have over the trainees is also down to my expectations of both myself and of them? I know I am a perfectionist and therefore a bit of a control freak I suppose, so I guess I consciously monitor the amount that I proscribe and expect from the trainees because I am aware that I run the risk of disturbing the balance.
On the Celta I teach, we don’t allocate course book material for the trainees to teach. We expect them to come up with their own ideas for lessons (unlike when I did my Celta at a different centre and we were given pages from books to teach). This means we have already handed over a lot of the control to them and we take the role of supporting and fine-tuning their ideas. I would like to think that by handing this over to them from the beginning, we are setting them up to be autonomous and alleviating ourselves from the role of dictator?
Gosh, this subject has really got my mind running at one hundred miles a hour. I think I will have to do some mulling over of this issue over the next weeks and will blog about it once I have done some research.
In the mean time, what’s your experience, as trainer or trainee, in terms of control? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
On Friday at about 7.30pm, I suddenly realised that I had managed it…without actually dying/fainting/having a panic attack/jumping out the window/going (completely) mad… What had I managed? Well, to complete my first Celta course as a tutor. And I think it all went ok, despite the odd uncomfortable moment in feedback and the fact that my life admin. had been totally neglected for four weeks, but hey – I was alive. And so, more importantly, were my trainees.
Looking back at the four weeks, I have a few things that have continued to revolve around in my mind from the feedback sessions I gave.
The Being at the Front of the Room.
In the first week the trainees were just beginning to find their feet in front of the class, and some of them needed reminding that, despite the fact that they were now a “teacher”, they should also do their best to remember to be a “human being” as well.
Are we just teachers? I would argue, no.
Lecturers? Certainly not.
We are humans. Human beings. Human beings who happen to also be teachers.
One of the trainees wrote to me at the end of the course and said:
“This whole course […] has taught me a lot, not only about teaching, but also myself, and most importantly, myself as a teacher.”
And this is exactly the concept that I wanted the trainees to grasp. We are humans who happen to be teachers, and by keeping that in mind, we can better serve the needs of the other human beings in the room who happen to be students. I find the Celta teaches us as much about ourselves as it does how to be a teacher.
Rein Them In, Hold Them Tight
Nearer the end of the course, once we all knew we were humans, I changed my tune and found myself repeating the metaphor “let go of the reins”, both to myself whilst watching some of the lessons (“Let go, let go, get out of it, let go….”), and also within feedback sessions.
“Control” is an interesting concept. It would take too long to define here, but as Anthony Gaughan recently spoke about on his blog, lesson plans (or at least the anticipating problems part) can give a false sense of security to trainee teachers as they can feel that they will be in control of whatever happens if they have anticipated accurately and some feel that having control is the marker of a successful lesson. To a certain extent, this is correct – we don’t want a class that refuses to listen or to do the work which we set. However neither do we want a trainee to be so rigidly in control that they won’t stray from the plan for one single moment, or to get so involved in every part of the lesson and micro-manage all the interaction and conversation.
Now, I can understand why trainee teachers feel the need to have this control – they want to know what is happening next and that they will be able to cope with it. Or they know that, in their last lesson, they were picked up on the way a specific part of the lesson went, so this time they are going to fix that by being so tightly involved that nothing can possibly go wrong.
But, unfortunately, that’s not how it works. By holding on too tightly to those reins, the trainees don’t allow that space to come into the classroom that makes for comfortable, natural conversation.
Productivity is heightened by space to move into, not by being stifled.
Head Cowboy’s Back in Town?
The Celta course I work on does not expect the trainees to use coursebook material, we want to see them coming up with their own original ideas. But does this mean they are less likely to assume the position of Head Cowboy or not? I’m not sure…
On the one hand, coursebook material is already controlled and requires the trainee to manipulate their teaching style to fit it, potentially resulting in a clash of principles/beliefs/opinions and thereby propelling the trainee into control-overdrive in order to deliver the lesson the way the coursebook seems to envisage it.
On the other hand, when we create something ourselves, we have a vision of it and we want that vision to be realised. This could also mean that the trainees have such a fixed view of their lesson, they aren’t willing to “let go” for fear of it not being what they picture.
So how do we get out of this Mad-Cowboy cycle? Well, it all comes back to my first point in this post. Part of being human means we expect things to go awry/differently to how we imagined they would. Even the optimists amongst us can see that holding on to that glass-half-full whilst traversing a lesson means we are likely to end up with a glass-full-of-nothing.
So, by being human and remembering that we can’t control all aspects of everything – from the weather at the weekend to how our students decide to organise themselves in a task – we will be much calmer and happier teachers people.
UPDATE 10/10/2011 – scroll down for new anaolgies!
“I wonder if it would be possible to get learners to come up with an analogy between their own learning experiences and some sort of hobby/sporting practice? I think there’s a lesson in that somewhere!”
So, never one to dodge a challenge, I decided to find out….
The lesson began with my revelation that I have recently done something I never (ever) thought I would do: I’ve started a blog. (Shock, horror.) After their sniggers had died down, we discussed my reasons for doing such a thing and then I did another thing I honestly thought I would never (ever, ever) do – I gave my students a copy of my blog post to read.
(As an aside – Have you ever got your students to read your blog posts? I was more nervous than I was about all you lot reading it!!)
I was pleasantly surprised to see that they (mostly) enjoyed it and were interested in drawing their own parallels between some part of their life and learning English. Some of them have chosen sports, others more obscure things like zombie video games. So for homework they are finishing off their ideas and have agreed to me posting them here.
Here are the results – (bear with us, not all of them are in yet due to a public holiday here in Germany, but watch this space for more installments…)
Cycling and learning English
I spent a great deal of time thinking about this topic, if there were common aspects between learning English and my hobby “Cycling”. My first thought was: Nonsense! They have nothing in common. That’s like comparing apples with oranges! Later, I had more and more ideas in my head and I was surprised that there were actually some common aspects…
For both you need a lot of discipline, especially if you like to do an exam or to cycle a race or planning a cycling holiday over long distances. For both you need to be well prepared. Here it pays off to do little steps, that means learning English every day maybe half an hour and not only once a week for hours. If you are able to learn one new word a day – the figure is 365 new words a year – that’s not too bad! It is the same with cycling. It is better to cycle every day a small distance – maybe your way to the office – and you will see, that you were in a good shape without a lot of pain. In any case it would be better to cycle every day or 2-3 times a week than 50km at once. That is really exhausting and serves no useful purpose for your fitness.
Independent from the discipline, I can try to get an opinion from an expert. That could be a good English teacher or for cycling a nice friend or trainer because sometimes it’s good to get a little motivation or a soft kick in the butt 🙂
Additionally it is more fun to do it in a group with other guys than alone in your flat or on the street. Without fun it would be very hard to reach your aim. I know from my own experience, that a boring language course without any fun took away my interest in the French language. We had boring school books and a teacher without any passion for her own profession. It was a shame, then she removed the possibility to be curious in the foreign language and the people of this country. On the other hand, we had a fantastic English teacher, with good ideas beyond our school books. From time to time she came in with her guitar and taught us English songs and motivated us to get pen friends all over the world or to translate our favourite songs. We noticed, that the English language was a great chance to communicate with nearly all people from the world and that was fantastic!
But now I would like to return to cycling. A good teacher or trainer is half of the rent! He or she can increase enthusiasm, can give you a helping hand with your equipment like the bike or – in the case of English – with the right books, internet pages, preparation for the exam, motivation and praise.
At the end, if you can see your progress and the initial successes in learning English and cycling, then nothing can stop you and your big aim and your can be proud of your own and your trainers great performance.
What are the parallels of a language learner and a jogger?
Personally, I think they share many things. In both “jobs” it is important to retain a regular basis: you have to speak a foreign language consistently otherwise you won’t learn it. Almost the same is training for a half-marathon. If you only go running once a week or less, you will never reach your goal.
As a language learner, it is nice to have people around you who are in the same situation. So working in a group is much more fun and provides more practice than working alone, just as with running. To have a running group who meets three times a week motivates you.
But of course, jogging and learning new vocabulary, memorizing it, using it actively gets on my nerves the same as running five times a week does. But when you actually do all this, you will be confident and proud in the end. So the best thing to do is go running after you have learned vocabulary because your psychological challenge will turn into a physical one and that is a strong and important difference!
Killing English-Speaking Zombies
I want to talk to you about the parallels between learning English and playing games.
I’m this nerdy girl who likes to spend her free time with saving the world from hordes of the undead, jumping on giant mushrooms or slaying demons with a big ass sword.
But since a few months ago I’ve also been an English student, preparing for my CAE exam in early December. Now I have two major goals in my life. The first goal is to pass the exam with a decent grade and the second goal is to learn how to play ego shooters.
The big question is: What does language study and killing pixels have in common?
A important part of studying is to regularly attend class and do to your homework (yes Jemma always remembers that part :p) and when you want to learn a new game you have to play it regularly and practice offline to get experience.
It shouldn’t matter how nice the weather is and that you’re lying lazily in the sun, you have to get up and go to your English lesson and sit on your butt and do the homework (the last you can do while enjoying the sun). It’s nearly the same with a new game. No matter how de-motivated I get by being killed repeatedly (usually when I enter a map -.-) I still have to start the game anew and let myself get killed.
Another thing is to practice with others. Be it to talk English with friends/acquaintances or to let friends help you with a difficult level.
In addition to that I like to improve my English with movies, series and books. I started to watch movies with English dubbing and subtitles and to read a book with a dictionary handy. Now I’m secure enough to remove the training wheels and hope for the best.
As for my gaming skills I still like to use Youtube tutorials or a guide for support. Maybe one day I’m going to be the one writing a guide or uploading a gameplay video =)
A good way to boost your language skills is to visit an English speaking country. I’ve never done this, but if I ever get the chance I would gladly take it. For gamers it’s harder, there isn’t any country full of nerds, but there are meet-ups like the GamesCom in Cologne or the famous E3 in Los Angeles. And what’s new (at least for me) is a live action role playing game. A friend of mine was on a boat full of zombies and had to fight, with a team of other players, to kill as many undead as possible without dying. The zombies had to bite as many people as deadly possible.
Last but not least. The exam. I’m still a short way to my exam, but I know that I’m going to be extremely nervous especially near the end of the time limit. I tend to panic and make stupid mistakes. The same goes for a game. You can see your damage (and it’s more realistic with the newer games) and I usually lose my calm and that’s what always gets me killed. I have to practice, to stay cool and obtain control of the situation, so my head will stay in the moment and not the “what will happen if I fail”-fantasy.
What do you think? Is it a common thing to see parallels in seemingly unconnected topics?
Martial Arts vs English!In my English course we are in discussing about guided principals from one topic to another topic. This means that we try to find analogies about hobbies and the topic ‘learning English’.The idea isn’t new for me. A lot of the big philosophers show the analogies of their thinking with examples of the ‘normal world’. A reader is more able to understand the guidance when he reads parables in the normal world and how he has to act in this world by accepting the philosophies. But before I start a text about such a complex topic – I will try to show my own simile.English learning and learning a sport activity have a lot in common. I have experience in material arts. I’ve practised KENDO for several years.Both things are the same topic for the student – to learn something new:Teacher———–The respect for the teacher is very important. He shows the way how to learn the new topic.He shows his experience. In the teaching class he has always the last word and gives guidance on what is right or wrong.Repeating————–In Kendo it is important to repeat every thing as much as possible. In a fight there is no time for thinking. In English repetition of grammar is also important. In the moment of speaking there is no time for thinking about the rules.Learning groups———————-The best way to learn is in a group. So it is possible to get feedback and the motivation helps everybody. But in English there is no fight – there is no final test on who is the best student in a combat.Part of the life——————-In both topics it is important if you want to become a expert that the topic has to become a part of your life. Only 120 minutes a week doesn’t help you to become an expert or master. Every day the student has to practice the things which he’ learnt from the teacher.I hope my points start a discussion – feedback is welcome.By Gunter
So there you have it: four, in my totally unbiased opinion, amazing pieces of work drawing some really interesting parallels between different areas of life. I hope you have enjoyed them!
I am sure my students would love to hear your comments, or maybe to read what your students see the parallels between.