The CELTA Trainer’s Diary Part 4 – Emergent Teaching & Clarifying Meaning

This post is in response to Güven’s CELTA Diaries Day 4.

It is important that the input sessions of the first week starts exposing trainees to how they can focus on and clarify language in the classroom, whether that language be included in their lesson aims or emergent.

This also sets the groundwork for trainees to start including a Language Analysis sheet in their lesson plan (from TP 3 onwards), and gives them a basis from which to work on Assignment 2 – Language Awareness.

With this in mind, I timetabled a session on Clarifying Meaning on Day 4, with a focus on lexis. But before that, I scheduled for the second tutor to conduct a session on giving instructions and language grading with a focus on the use of ICQs (Instruction Checking Questions) and examples/demos to clarify instructions to tasks.

What was that instruction checking question again? Did she just ask ‘Should we read in alone or in pairs’? How on earth can anyone read in pairs?
Photo by Mike Hogan http://www.flickr.com/photos/irishmikeh/

Some tutors prefer to timetable the session on instruction-giving and language grading on the first day of the CELTA, but I have noticed that such a session often could be meaningless to trainees with no experience of classroom management, and have found trainees tend to understand and take on the suggestions given when they have had the experience of setting up tasks and not being fully understood.

Not unlike the belief that students would better understand and be more motivated to learn the lexis/grammar that have emerged from their use of the language and the gaps in their knowledge, it is perhaps easier for trainees to notice the gap once they have actually tried to teach and encountered problems with that particular area.

It is also in this spirit that the session on Clarifying Meaning (of lexis) was timetabled for Day 4 and another session on Focusing on language (grammar and then lexis) for Day 5, and not any earlier.

On Day 4, the session started with me writing up ‘to binge’, ‘to defeat’, and ‘langoustine vs crab’ on the board. I then asked trainees to discuss with their partners how they would clarify meaning of these lexical items.

In open class feedback, we came up with these different ways of clarifying lexis:

  • Using pictures/drawings/flashcards
  • Using photos/Google images
  • Using mime/Acting it out
  • Using realia
  • Giving examples
  • Giving an example situation
  • Using CCQs (Concept Checking Questions, e.g. ‘to binge’ – ‘Do I drink/eat a lot?’ ‘Do I drink/eat a lot in a short time?’)
  • And a combination of 2 or more of the above.
If you draw as badly as I do, perhaps it’s best to prepare some flashcards or use Google images… : (

I then gave trainees a handout with a list of the following words and they had to decide with their partners how they would go about clarifying them.
How would you clarify these words?

  1. to pay a fine
  2. to throw a tantrum
  3. to steal  vs  to rob
  4. frustrated (adj)
  5. to go on strike
  6. to sip a cup of coffee
  7. credit card (n)
  8. to fidget
  9. suntan  vs  sunburn
  10. heavy rain
  11. heavy bag

In open class feedback, I then pretended to be a student (and a particularly daft one at that) and nominated different trainees to clarify each of these lexical items for me. ‘To pay a fine’ was an especially good one to start on as it forces some of these issues to emerge:

(a) Spending too long setting the scene

‘I was driving a car. And I needed to stop. So I needed to find a parking space. I couldn’t find one. So I decided to park on the side of the road. This is not allowed and is illegal. I did it anyway. A policeman saw this. So he came up to me and gave me a ticket. I had to pay a fine.’

Such wordy and unnecessary scenario-setting could confuse students, introduce more unfamiliar new words (e.g. parking space, came up to somebody, illegal, give a ticket) and increase unnecessary teacher talking time.

Instead, this would suffice:

‘I was driving too quickly. The policeman stopped me. I had to pay a fine.’

(b) Explaining Explaining Explaining

‘So, ‘to pay a fine’ means to give the policeman money because you have done something wrong, like in this case, you parked in the wrong place and it is not allowed. And so you have to pay a penalty. In English, we call this penalty a fine.’

Like the wordy scenario-setting, wordy explanations often means students are not involved cognitively in the clarification process and might either get confused or simply tune out. And there’s no way of checking if they really understand what you have just said.

Instead, try asking CCQs (see below).

(c) Not nailing the meaning of the language item or asking irrelevant CCQs

‘Does this mean I give the policeman money?’ (Yes)

‘Why did I give him money?’ (Because I parked in the wrong place)

At this point, I feign stupidity and say, “Ah! So teacher, ‘to pay a fine’ is same as ‘give coffee money to policeman’?”

Indeed, those CCQs could easily lead one to misconstrue that paying a fine means to give the policeman a bribe.

One extra CCQ is needed to ensure learners do not misunderstand the lexical item.

Who receives the money? Does the policeman keep it? Or the government?’ (Technically, the government)

As for irrelevant CCQs, here’s one of my favourites:

Lexical item: Season (Level: Elementary)

CCQ: What seasons are there? (Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter)

Okay that was a good CCQ…wait till you hear the next one…

CCQ: Does this mean I put salt and vinegar on something? (DOH!!!)

Colourful Egyptian spices to season your food with…
Did you just get it? ; )
Photo by Chia Suan Chong

On Day 5, I look at the clarification of meaning for grammatical structures, and look at how to systematically focus on MFP (Meaning, Form and Pronunciation).

But I’ll leave that for my next post…

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The CELTA Trainer’s Diary Part 3 – Inside the Mind of a Coursebook Writer

The first week of the CELTA often tends to be really hectic, both for the trainees and the main course tutor (MCT from here on).

For the CELTA trainee, it’s a case of information overload as they realize what it meant when they were warned in the pre-course interview that it was going to be an intense course.

For the MCT, it’s about ensuring that all the start-of-course administration is actually carried out and sent off, getting trainees acquainted with the format of the course, and writing up a timetable that fits in the necessary input sessions that will get them ready for their observed teaching practice which starts on the 3rd day of the course.

But what are these necessary input sessions?

What would you include when introducing the basics to teaching?

Should these basics be a representation of your fundamental beliefs to teaching?

I used to expose trainees to lots of demo lessons, giving them standard lesson shapes to emulate. This perhaps reflected an underlying fear that trainees would not yet be able to know how to respond to students appropriately, deal with language, and deliver a 40-minute lesson so soon into the course as these skills come with experience (and an accumulation of knowledge over time).

Demo lessons therefore act like little nicely packaged ready-to-go lesson shapes in the form of a situational presentation, a Present-Practice-Produce, a typical listening/receptive skills procedure, a Language from a Text, etc.

I have absolutely nothing against these traditional lesson shapes although they tend to be adapted and modified sometimes beyond the point of recognition especially when in a Business English (or ESP) or coursebook-less Task-Based Learning classroom. In fact, I do believe that they could act as a useful hook when trying to understand the principles of language teaching and seeing the logic of how lessons flow.

But perhaps the logic of that flow might be buried in and amongst the confusion and overload of information of Week 1, and a lack of belief in the trainees’ ability (both by the trainees and the trainers). Behaviourist-style ‘make sure you copy the following’ type demos seem safer and less demanding of the trainees.

But could this be part of the reason for the prevalent belief that there is a ‘CELTA method’ to teaching that fails to take into consideration the different sociocultural contexts of different teachers?

In an attempt to shift the focus from a ‘Just Copy Me’ demo, I went straight into Day 2 of the CELTA with a session called ‘Inside the Mind of a Coursebook Writer – PPP’.

The session saw me giving trainees pages from 3 different coursebooks, all containing variations of the Present-Practice-Produce, or Present-Controlled Practice-Freer Practice stages. In the style of a jigsaw reading, trainees explained the stages of the coursebook page they were given to their group mates, focusing on why the coursebook writer had chosen to shape the lesson in such a way.

Trainees were not told that all 3 pages contained a similar lesson shape.

But my trainees soon figured it out.

They also figured out that language was often presented in context, that the earlier practice stages were more controlled than the latter ones and discussed the justifications behind them. Some even noticed that the language presentation in 2 of the coursebooks chose an inductive guided discovery format as opposed to simply explaining the grammar rules, insightfully commenting that students would remember it better if they discovered the rules for themselves.

Trainees were then asked to look at the coursebooks that they were using for their teaching practice and to find an example of such a lesson shape. Most did this very quickly and were immediately able to spot the PPP format used to focus on both grammar and lexis. One trainee even cleverly noticed that sometimes the ‘practice’ stage came before the language focus stage, and when pushed for a justification, she said, ‘It is so that students are pushed to notice the grammar pattern!’ and then later, ‘This practice stage is actually a revision of the grammar they had previously learnt in a previous level!’

With some trust and belief in the trainees’ ability to use their logic and instincts, perhaps we can get them to not just emulate what we do, but to use this ability of understanding the rationale behind the ways a lesson can be staged and the principles they are based on, and adapt them to suit their future teaching contexts.

As Güven said in his post, it was not an easy task.

But the trainees certainly rose up to the challenge.

And although it was tiring, I hope in the long run, it was worth it.

The CELTA Trainer’s Diary Part 2 – My trainee’s maxims of teaching

The story up till now…

I discovered that my CELTA trainee and experienced teacher Güven Çagdas was blogging about his CELTA experience. We decided that it would make a great archive if I blogged in parallel to him. In his first post, Güven blogged about his response to my foreign language lesson – a session that I have found crucial to helping trainees put themselves in the shoes of the learner and establishing the basic principles of teaching. (Click here for the lesson procedure and rationale of my foreign language lesson)

And here are the ‘maxims of teaching’ that this month’s trainees’ came up with.

1.    Be friendly, active and animated.

It encourages learners to be relaxed and feel at ease, thereby reducing their affective filter and enabling them to better make use of the learning opportunities.

2.    Invite learners to practise and to make mistakes

It’s almost impossible to learn a language if one is unwilling to be adventurous and make some mistakes. I often tell my learners, ‘Mistakes are good. If you don’t make mistakes, I don’t have a job!’

3.    Build your learners’ confidence

Echoing the first two points, it is important that the learner is not made to feel stupid or lost. Offer praise to the learner and make them feel good about themselves. But be careful because too much praise can render your kind words insincere and meaningless.

4.    Use body language, mime, visuals, realia, and ANYTHING that will help you convey meaning

Meaning is king and no amount of work on Form or Pronunciation is going to matter if meaning is not successfully conveyed. But meaning clarification does not have to be boring or teacher-centred. Get students involved in discovering the meaning to language.

5.    Keep the pace up

A slow pace can really bore the students and cause them to lose their intrinsic motivation to learn. However, going too quickly and not giving students time to think things through, to make notes and to formulate what they need to say could also be detrimental. It is a fine balance that the teacher has to manage.

Which brings me nicely to the next point.

6.    Allow time for students to think and to produce language.

7.    Use pair and group work as often as possible

Putting students in pairs or groups ensures that increases the opportunities for students to practise speaking, allows them to learn from each other, promotes authentic cross-classroom interaction, and avoids putting shy individuals on the spot in front of the entire class.

8.    Nominate students and do it randomly.

Nominating ensures that all students get a chance to participate, and not just the confident and louder ones. It also allows you to get a better idea of who really knows the answers and who does not. Nominating students in order of their seating arrangments often means that students can predict when their turn is about to come and be thinking about what they are going to say instead of listening to their classmates.

9.    Provide step-by-step support

Scaffold the language input and the difficulty of tasks so that learners are not thrown into the deep end too quickly. Whether it be drilling, or guided discovery, or controlled-to-freer practice, provide the support and slowly remove each supporting beam, while ensuring that the ‘+1’* is always provided.

  • See Krashen’s ‘i + 1’ theory.

10. Think also in terms of lexis and don’t get too obsessed with grammar.

Many trainees starting the Celta, especially those unfamiliar with English grammar rules, often feel overwhelmed by the amount of grammar they are expected to learn. Considering the amount of information overload, the intensiveness and the pressure experienced on a typical Celta course, this obsession with grammar can cause more unnecessary stress. Grammar can be learnt. But don’t forget that lexis is important too.

11. Monitor and take note of emergent language

Always ensure you have a notebook or scrap paper with you so you can take notes as you monitor. And remember not to get too drawn in to particular groups when monitoring and neglecting to listen to what is happening with the other groups as a result. Avoid making eye contact so that students are less tempted to draw you into their conversations. But be ready to support and help when asked.

12. Do not overwhelm students with too much language!

Too much input can make students feel lost, insecure and overwhelmed. Limit the language input and do not expect them to produce all of it successfully just because you have ‘covered’ the language points. Language learning is not linear.

I fully intend to print this out on A3 size paper and stick it up in my input room…and hold the trainees to these maxims they have come up with!

Meanwhile, did I mention that this is my 100th post?

The CELTA Trainer’s Diary – Part 1 and Using L1 in the Classroom

It must be fate.

Or coincidence.

Go TEAM GB!
Flickr.com/ELTpics : Photo by @SandyMillin

 

Coincidence number 1

Team GB wins their first gold at the Olympics today.

And they go on and win another.

Singapore wins their first medal today.

I win the TEFL.net Site of the Month today.

Today must be a very good day.

Vicky Loras and me with some of our lovely PLN in Paris for the BESIG Summer Symposium

Coincidence number 2

Blogger and experienced Turkish university English teacher Güven Çagdas has been blogging about his reflective practice online.

He gathers a following, some of whom are in my PLN.

Güven decides to come to International House London to do his CELTA.

Of the 5 different CELTA courses running at IH London at the moment,

Güven is allocated to mine.

Güven blogs about his Day 1 on his CELTA, Vicky Loras reads it and realizes the tutor he is talking about is me.

Vicky is in both our PLNs.

Vicky RTs the post with me in cc.

Coincidence number 3

Güven tells me he intends to blog daily about his CELTA experience.

I feel tremendously lucky to have a way of getting daily feedback on the teacher training I do (instead of having to wait till the end of the CELTA for course feedback).

I write a long comment on Güven’s post regarding the first day of his CELTA.

The comment gets lost in the ether and neither of us knows where it’s gone.

I realize that I could blog alongside Güven about the CELTA course I’m running.

And that this could be an amazing resource and archive of a trainee’s and a trainer’s diaries of the same CELTA course.

Güven agrees.

I post the lost comment as a blogpost here on my site.

.

And so here it is…my lost comment… (Do read Güven’s entry before reading this)

And the start of The CELTA Trainer’s Diaries – Part 1.

.

Thank you, Güven, for journaling your experience on the CELTA.

This would no doubt be a invaluable resource for those who have done a CELTA, are doing a CELTA, or are thinking about doing the CELTA.

It’s amazing how the 30-minute Chinese lesson, in and amongst the 5 hours you spent with me on the first day of the CELTA, was the part you remembered most.

I suppose that it goes to show the fact that no matter how experienced we are, we must never forget what it feels like to be a language learner all over again.

As for the issue with the use of L1 in the classroom, I won’t go out of my way to avoid it. There are times when the use of L1 is either unavoidable or could actually be beneficial.

Although I know that some teachers feel that any amount of English in the classroom would mean extra exposure to the language, there is also an argument stating that L1 could be useful in the classroom.

In Vivian Cook’s Portraits of the L2 User, he gives some good reasons for the use of L1, including:

  1. Learners are going to translate it into their L1 anyway, even if you don’t.
  2. Telling learners off in L2 just doesn’t carry the same weight.
  3. Instructions, especially for lower level learners, are more effective when given in the L1.
  4. Using L1 for contrastive analysis e.g. comparing the tenses between two languages, can prove helpful.
  5. Using L1 for translation exercises can help learners develop a valuable skill that at some point of their career, they’ll need to use. They may not become professional translators but they might be asked to translate an email or an excerpt from English. We mustn’t be put off by the shadow cast by the Grammar Translation era. We are no longer talking about random meaningless translations here.
  6. Using L1 and L2 concurrently can help learners develop the skill of code-switching (i.e. switching between two languages when communicating). This is becoming a more and more common phenomenon we see amongst learners who speak English but share another language. What fun!

Sometimes the use of L1 could just be the sensible thing to do.

After all, why spend 20 minutes trying to explain and concept check the verb ‘happen’ to a group of Elementary learners when you can spend 2 seconds translating it and getting it across perfectly.

Evidently, many words or lexical chunks do not have a direct translation and these are the times I might concept check in English and give examples of usage instead.

Then there are times when the use of L1 helps the learner to get a feel of the phrase/sentence.

When getting learners to get their tongues around phrases like ‘It’s none of my business’ or ‘What has ~got to do with ~?’, I’ve found it helpful to get my multi-lingual classes to say the phrase in their own language (with the accompanying gestures) and then again in English, so that the emotions attached to the phrase is transferred to the English phrase.

I suppose, like most things in ELT, it’s all about not throwing the baby out with the bathwater.