The 8th Day of the CELTA was about introducing the trainees to the Lexical Approach and the idea of language existing as chunks, rather than individual pieces of vocabulary strung together to make meaning.
Trainees were getting experiential training through the use of a demo lesson of a jigsaw reading method I use to encourage learners to remember language in chunks.
Trainees, acting as learners, were divided into two groups (blues and yellows) and given different texts to read and summarise. The catch was that they were only allowed to make notes in the form of drawings to help them remember the content. This means that the learner would not be able to simply read the words off the page, but is encouraged to truly understand the meaning of the text and remember some of the chunks of language.
The trainees, now learners, are put in a carousel, with the Blues on the inside and the Yellows on the outside. The Blues then had to relay their summaries, with the help of only their drawings, to the yellows. The Yellows then moved a place to their left and had to re-tell what they had heard to their new Blue partner.
This achieves two things. It practises the very common communicative function of re-telling stories and reporting what one has heard, while allowing the new blue partner to fill in the gaps of the retold story, thus co-constructing the information learnt and reformulating the chunks of language from the text.
As Güven has very concisely summarized the lesson in his blogpost, I will refrain from describing the rest of the input session here.
What makes this input session slightly different from those with a demo lesson which employs the technique of a straight forward experiential learning/training, is that the text given to the trainees was about the Lexical Approach itself.
The Blues were given a page-long definition about the Lexical Approach from An A-Z of ELT (Thornbury, 2006) while the Yellows were given a page from the same book about lexis, lexical sets and lexical verbs.
Combining content (i.e. What the trainee is trying to learn: the text about the Lexical Approach) and process (i.e. How the trainee is trying to learn: the ‘drawing jigsaw reading’ which enforces the Lexical Approach), this specific style of teacher training sessions could be described as a loop input (Woodward, 1986).
Being multi-sensory, loop input allows for lots of recursion and for the reverberation of learning to take place through content (the text) and through experiencing the process (pretending to be students in the demo Lexical Approach lesson), thereby resulting in a deeper understanding and learning of the concept (Woodward, 2003).
What is perhaps most important in loop input sessions, and in fact any experiential learning process involving a demo lesson, is that trainees are given the chance to unpack (or what Woodward calls ‘decompress’) the lesson.
This means that time is given to trainees to have a detailed discussion of the main stages of the lesson they have just experienced, the aims of each stage, the content and materials used, and the participant experience of the activity (ibid).
In this loop input session for example, I asked the following questions in the unpacking stage:
What were the main stages of that lesson?
Why did I only allow you to draw and not write words?
Why did I ask you to re-tell what you had heard?
What words did you use when re-telling?
Did you remember individual words or chunks of language?
How did you remember the words you had to use to re-tell what you had heard? How did you feel as a student?
And judging from Güven’s blogpost, it seems like the trainees got the gist of the Lexical Approach.
Thornbury, S. (2006) An A-Z of ELT, Macmillan.
Woodward, T. (1986) ‘Loop Input – a process idea’ The Teacher Trainer 1: 6-7.
Woodward, T. (2003) ‘Key Concepts in ELT: Loop Input’ ELTJ 57/3: 301-304
On Day 5 of the CELTA, we looked at how we can focus on language in a systematic fashion through looking at Meaning, Form and Pronunciation (and Usage too).
In and amongst some genuine interaction happening between me and the trainees about the forthcoming weekend, I got them using the present continuous to talk about their weekend plans, and added a few of my own.
I then boarded,
“My friend is coming from Manchester on Saturday.”
“I’m staying home this weekend.”
“I’m finishing Season 7 of Desperate Housewives”
“Am I talking about the present, past or future?” (future)
“Am I talking about something I have already arranged? Or something I have just thought of doing right now?” (arranged)
“What tense am I using to convey this meaning of an arranged future?” (present continuous)
After writing the form of the present continuous (to be + -ing) on the board, we then established that we had covered the meaning and then the form of the language item. I elicited that we still had pronunciation to look at, and asked what the trainees thought might be pronunciation issues for the learners.
We looked at the pronunciation of the contractions and the pronunciation of the ‘-ing’.
We then agreed that although many people seem to be obsessed with form when dealing with grammar, it was the meaning that was the most important.
I then gave trainees a handout with a dialogue containing the following grammatical structures:
(a) I wish we hadn’t argued.
(b) She’s always complaining.
(c) If I were you, (I’d call her).
(d) If only we didn’t argue all the time.
Several sample CCQs were given with structure (a) and trainees had to decide whether they were useful CCQs or not. Here’s a taster.
Structure: I wish we hadn’t argued
CCQs: (1) Who did he argue with?
(2) Why did they argue?
(3) What does wish mean?
(4) Did they argue?
(5) Did he want them to argue?
And here are the answers:
Questions (1) and (2) are more like reading comprehension questions than CCQs. They do not clarify the concept of the use of ‘I wish + past perfect’ and therefore are irrelevant.
Question (3) features one of the ‘taboo questions’ ‘What does ~mean?’
Taboo questions fall into two categories.
One includes questions like ‘Do you understand?’ and ‘Do you know ~?’
Unhelpful because many students would simply nod their heads when asked perhaps because they are afraid of seeming stupid in front of other classmates, or because they think they have understood but actually haven’t, such questions do not really check for understanding of concepts.
The second category of ‘taboo questions’ include questions like ‘What does ~mean?’ and ‘Can you explain ~to the rest of the class?’
Perhaps more student-centred than the previous category of ‘taboo questions’, these questions show a recognition for the fact that it is better for the answers to come from students than have the teacher get into wordy explanations.
If so, then why are these ‘taboo questions’?
I once saw a trainee ask a pre-intermediate learner to explain the word ‘irony’ to his classmates. The learner froze and looked confused. The trainee assumed it was because he didn’t understand the word.
There is a difference between understanding a language item and being able to explain it. Most expert users and native speakers would struggle to explain a word comprehensively and satisfactorily enough for a class of learners without some teaching experience. They end up feeling put on the spot.
At the end of the day, don’t get your learners to do your job for you.
Instead, use guided CCQs, examples, and step-by-step inductive/scaffolded questions to get learners to the final destination.
(see yesterday’s post regarding CCQs for lexical items)
Questions (4) and (5) get to the meaning and usage of the structure ‘I wish + Past Perfect’ and are the most appropriate CCQs to ask.
Trainees now have to look at structures (b), (c) and (d), and formulate CCQs to clarify the concepts.
Here are some suggestions:
(Please note: I have included the meaning sections for the trainees and am in no way suggesting that we give our students the lengthy explanation within those sections. CCQs coupled with a few contextualized examples should suffice to clarify meaning and usage to learners.)
(b) She’s always complaining.
Meaning: The present continuous is used here not to signify an action that is happening now, but an action that happens with regularity. However, the choice to use the present continuous and not the present simple suggests that the speaker wants to show annoyance and irritation at the action.
Look at the difference between ‘He always gives me money’ and ‘He’s always giving me money’. Can you sense the irritation?
CCQs: Does she complain all the time? (Yes)
Is she complaining right now? (Not necessarily)
Is the speaker annoyed that she complains a lot? (Yes)
(c) If I were you, (I’d call her).
Meaning: The tendency for some teachers is to look at this structure as a 2nd conditional. However, considering the function of the phrase, perhaps it is best to teach ‘If I were you, I’d + bare infinitive’ as a formulaic chunk used for giving advice.
CCQs: Is the speaker giving advice? (Yes)
Is the speaker going to call her? (No) (Note: Students might see the ‘I’d call her’ and think it is the speaker who is going to call her.)
Who does the speaker think should call her? (The person that the speaker is speaking to…in the dialogue, this is Person B)
(d) If only we didn’t argue all the time.
Meaning: The ‘If only + subject + past simple’ is a structure used to show a wish for something that isn’t happening and might even be difficult to happen right now. Despite the use of the past tense, the structure is used to talk about the present e.g. ‘If only you were here right now’. This is one of the examples of how the ‘past simple’ is used to indicate psychological and hypothetical distance.
CCQs: Do we argue all the time? (Yes) (Note: Students might see the negative in that sentence and think the answer to this question is ‘no’)
Does the speaker want to argue all the time? (No)
Is this sentence talking about the past, present or future? (Present)
After looking at the meaning, trainees then had to work in pairs noting down the form of the structures:
(b) – to be + -ing;
(c) – If I were you, + I’d + bare infinitive;
(d) – If only + subject + past simple)
…and the pronunciation:
Focus on the stressed syllables and prominence of each structure;
and also note the catenation happening with ‘If + I’ and ‘If + only’.
Now they are ready for Assignment 2 – Language Awareness.
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.
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?
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.
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:
Learners are going to translate it into their L1 anyway, even if you don’t.
Telling learners off in L2 just doesn’t carry the same weight.
Instructions, especially for lower level learners, are more effective when given in the L1.
Using L1 for contrastive analysis e.g. comparing the tenses between two languages, can prove helpful.
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.
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.
This series is inspired by a conversation between Mike Hogan and myself about examining the controversies in ELT. We wanted to consider the different positions taken by different members of the industry. However, to do so, we’d need a debate, a disagreement of sorts. And it became apparent that we either tend to agree with members of our PLN (flying creatures of the same feathers and all that), or would keep an open mind and be fairly polite and supportive of one another (that is why we tweet and blog). Seeing that, the only way to get a real debate going was to actively play Devil’s Advocate (DA).
The following debate took place as an Instant-Messaging Chaton Skype. The statements of here are of the DA and in no way represent my beliefs about teaching. This is merely a tool to spark a dialogue between you, the reader, and all those involved in this project. You can find previous instalments of DA here.
He is also an active member of IATEFL, serving as the Social Media Evangelist for the Teacher Development Special Interest Group of IATEFL (TDSIG).
Having supped with the Devil’s Advocate here, he will be giving a talk at the IATEFL 2012 Conference in Glasgow on The Se7en Deadly Sins of ELT.
Chia: It’s a real honour to finally get the guru of Teacher Training Unplugged on DA! You ready for a grilling?
Anthony: You do me too much honour, I think, but I’m happy to get a grilling now and perhaps a roasting from your readers later…
Chia: I’m sure any grilling and roasting will all be done in good humour and in the name of CPD…
Many teacher trainers often tell their trainees that one should always start preparing for a lesson by first stating one’s aim…for when we know the aim, we can then go about planning a logical procedure that would help us achieve the lesson aim.
However, you seem to have a rather different take on this issue, I’ve been told…
Anthony: I’m not so sure about that. I think that having a clear idea about what it is that you are setting out to do and what you hope to achieve by that is generally a good idea.
What I perhaps have a problem with is how this basic common sense gets done in practice – or rather, how trainees get told to do it.
For example, ask any number of trainers (or trainees) on initial training courses what a lesson aim should be like and they will almost certainly say something like “By the end of the lesson, the learners will have improved their ability to (add communicative function, e.g. talk about their current habits) by using (add lexical/grammatical item, e.g. present simple).”
Sounds OK? After all, it outlines the language area being targeted, thus enabling said trainee to research it, and it’s communicatively oriented, thus making it potentially useful for the learners in real life, and it is developmental, as it aims for “improvement”. Problem is, in many respects, it’s meaningless.
For example, does the trainee really know that their learners need this lesson on this piece of language? Even if they do need it, will this aim lead the trainee to an appropriate procedure for the level and needs of the group, or will they simply operationalise one of the “lesson “shapes” that they may have encountered on the course? And how is one to measure improvement? Here are some problems for a start.
Chia: Trainees on initial teacher training courses often come from a traditional background of teaching, which often involves a ‘chalk and talk’ style of ‘transmission of knowledge. Getting trainees to articulate their lesson aims forces them to think about what they hope to achieve (with the level and needs of the group in mind) before embarking on planning the lesson procedure. It also demonstrates to the learner that teacher has thought about what is needed and has prepared for them).
Without formulating aims, trainees are likely to just be going through coursebook exercises one after the other (Turn and Burn) without any thought as to why they are doing it or how it helps the learners.
Anthony: The alternative to these sorts of aims is not “no aim at all”, as I’m sure you are aware – but to go back to your starting point…
If trainees come from a “chalk n talk” background, an aim formulated in a specific manner won’t change their behaviour – and it might in fact act as camouflage for their teacher-centred tendencies (i.e. the observing TP tutor is lulled into a false sense of security while reviewing the lesson plan by the superficially learner centred aim format, but under the hood in the procedure, there is something more transmissive brewing.) This often goes unnoticed until during the lesson, incidentally, as procedures might be so thin on detail as to obscure what is really going to occur.
In short, lesson aim formulas may facilitate and disguise lack of reflection. The trainee might have been better off simply stating in their own words what they wanted to achieve – they would understand it better, and the tutors would be less likely to fall for appropriately phrased but vacuous aims of the other type.
Chia : But Anthony, the way a trainee formulates his aims are often telling of their beliefs and attitudes towards teaching and language learning…There’s a reason why the ‘given pattern of phrasing’ aims exist. It ensures that the trainees ask the following questions:
Is the context included? (Because teaching language out of context is not only meaningless but can be detrimental to retrieval);
Is the aim achievable or is immediate production expected (Language acquisition is not linear and to expect immediate production is foolish);
Is it clear from the aim that the trainee understands the need for practice (Simply presenting the language without allowing practice of it is not going to help the learners)…etc.
Not only that, ‘it reflect teacher’s planning decisions, as well as the teacher’s understanding of the principles of lesson design…and a reliable indicator of the quality of a teacher’s expertise’ (Thornbury, A-Z of ELT) Wouldn’t you agree, Anthony?
Anthony: Not entirely, Chia. Firstly, requiring a lesson aim in a certain form of words in no way ensures “trainees ask themselves (important) questions”.
I do agree that a better teacher will be able to formulate lesson aims that more accurately reflect what they intend to occur in a lesson, and I agree that if aims are formulated in a way that implicitly poses useful questions to the teacher, this may make them more mindful of whatever tacit theories of teaching/learning are being inculcated. However, I would question deeply whether this use of a “given pattern of phrasing”, as you put it, actually leads to heightened awareness in trainees in itself.
So what I suppose I am actually concerned about, or against, if you will, is less the formulation of aims as such (which I do see a point to), but rather the issue I see with a trainee potentially adopting aims formulation of a certain type simply in order to match whatever they believe their tutors want to read.
If we ask our trainees to work within a given framework, however we justify it, we create the danger that less able candidates will simply conform without really engaging with the task usefully, in order to do what we want.
Chia: Fine, so we both agree that planning and formulating lesson aims can be good? So what would you suggest as an alternative in order to overcome the dangers of hoop-jumping which a formalised certification process often presents.
Anthony: There is a lot of potential on intensive teacher training courses for hoop-jumping, and a lot of it is connected to lesson planning. I agree that preparing for a lesson is an important thing for teachers, experienced or newbies, but there is a difference between having a plan and being prepared.
One thing you could do straight away if you wanted to reduce the potential for “hoop-jumping” is get rid of TP points (note: TP points = Teaching Practice points, lesson ideas given to trainees by their TP tutors, with more or less detail about content and approach). Another thing you could do is reduce the amount of paper documentation that a trainee needs to submit for formal assessment in the early stages of the course. Another thing centres can do is become more flexible in the format that lesson plans take.
Chia: Can I first address your point about planning and being prepared? I think we should remember that we are not asking trainees to plan for planning’s sake.
The point of lesson planning, I always tell my trainees, is that through the process of sitting down and writing up the plan, trainees are forced to think through what they want the learners to achieve and how exactly they are going to go about doing it.
It also focuses trainees on the language that needs researching before they enter the classroom. Although teachers might not go in and execute the plan in the exact way they have planned it, the careful thought that has gone into the lesson will ensure that teachers have a direction even when they divert off plan.
And although trainees might never have to plan in such detail in real life, the process of writing lesson aims and lesson plans gives them a foundation on which to base their classroom decisions, and it gives them the structure upon which they could improvise and be flexible with dealing with the learners needs in a lesson.
e.g. If during a lesson, it becomes obvious that all the learners have issues with using ‘for’ and ‘since’, the teacher will be able to instantly formulate on the spot new aims in his/her head, followed by a clear logical procedure that would help learners with their issues…improvising a ritual that he/she has honed through the practice of lesson planning….
I suppose, it’s like learning to play the scales when you are learning music. You are never going to perform the scales in a concert, but the scales, although seemingly restrictive, actually give you a foundation upon which to improvise and be flexible.
Anthony: Lots there, Chia, so I’ll proceed carefully….
Of course we are not asking them to plan for planning’s sake, but how do they see it? And what might we be doing which might be contributing to their view of it? What I mean is, by asking trainees to submit work in a given format (i.e. a centre specific lesson plan template) we are asking them to shoehorn their thinking and way of thinking into a rigid framework which may simply not make sense to them in their terms.
There are alternative ways of laying out thinking about a lesson on paper – mind maps, for example, but how often do trainees do that? And why do you suppose they don’t? Based on conversations I’ve had, I think it’s because, contrary to what we may say to them, they feel that they “should” do it the centre’s way, for whatever reason. And by the way, it doesn’t matter what we say they are free to do; what matters is what they hear they “should” do.
Now, I see no meaningful correlation between the ability to formulate explicit lesson aims of a specific type and the ability to notice an emergent need in the classroom and work out a way of serving it on the fly. On the contrary, the fixation of pre-determining everything which is to occur in a lesson and forming an aim which condenses this is arguably more likely to lead to such emergent moments going either unnoticed or ignored for fear that their treatment would get in the way of the plan (how often have you heard that?)
This is one reason why I suggested getting rid of TP points earlier: it isn’t forming lesson aims that trains a teacher to become flexible and responsive in class – far from it, I would say. Instead, it is listening to learners with an open mind and responding freely to that.
And just so in music: a musician is not made by running scales – they are made by learning to listen and by exploring the range and limitations of their instrument unfettered by scales (ask Evelyn Glennie, world-class deaf percussionist, and she’d confirm this, by the way!)
So in short: lesson planning is not the key to developing a great teacher; developing listening skills, data gathering skills and the ability to see needs within the data – all this must be in place before formally assessing lesson planning has any added value.
Chia: Every good trainee should know that they should not be teaching the plan but their learners. It’s a well-known maxim that trainers often tell their learners.
To quote Thornbury’s A-Z of ELT again, he says, ‘”Despite the apparent inflexibility of planning a lesson in such detail, most observers allow for the fact that no lesson is entirely predictable. They will not expect the teacher to follow the plan slavishly. In reality, most lessons are a dynamic mix of the planned and the unplanned, and it is often during the unplanned moments that the most rewarding learning opportunities occur… Nevertheless, it is generally felt that the exercise of planning lessons in detail is a useful training practice, and a relaible indicator of the quality of a teacher’s expertise.”
All the teaching skills that you mentioned (developing listening skills, responding appropriately to learners, gathering data from what is happening in the classroom, etc) all point towards the fact that you believe in learning by doing.
But arguably, Celta trainees are going to go on to teach and practise their teaching skills after the Celta and they will be able to hone those skills in their own time. Having said that, many Celta trainees come on the course, not just to get a certification to teach, but also to learn by being given a structure to follow. Providing a basis using lesson aims and procedures can guide more systematic learners as they will have something to fall back on – a hook, if you may, to lean on, before being thrown into the deep end…
And you must agree that we should train our trainees in the way they are best able to learn, and not in the way that we want to teach. If our trainees find that giving them a structure can help clarify their doubts, why are we insisting on taking that away from them?
Anthony: Why? Simple: because that is putting the cart before the horse, however easy it may be to use the “we’re serving our trainees by giving them structure, a hook, a recipe, etc” argument to cover up the fact that this leads, wittingly or not, to an industrial, production line model of training, and – and this is the truly nefarious bit – outsourcing the real learning to after the course!
You talk about honing, but you can only hone what you have in hand – and as these things are core to teaching and are hard to get to grips with, are we doing our trainees a service or a disservice by saying that “you’ll have time to hone that after the course; focus now on getting these recipes down pat”?
I don’t know about you, but I haven’t seen that many trainees who are put at ease by having to complete formal lesson plans – on the contrary, they are a source of stress, regardless of learner background. As I said earlier, this is linked to squeezing one’s thinking into a given format.
Chia: You speak of recipes…Jamie Oliver is famous for experimenting and creating amazing fusion dishes, but did he not learn from having recipes at the beginning before going on to become the master that he is today.
Our trainees need building blocks before they can start to go solo and improvise, and this is not ‘squeezing your thinking into a given format’, but rather giving them good habits they will need and the thought processes that will underline the decisions they will make in the classroom.
Anthony: I know you like the analogies that can be drawn between teaching and cooking, as do I, but we should be careful! I am not arguing here against “lesson recipes”, if you will, but against the products which we ask trainees to submit as evidence that they have internalised these recipes – the paper-based plan itself.
Taking your cooking analogy further: what is the better indicator of a chef’s aptitude – a paper-based description of a recipe that they have conceived, or the ability to get in the kitchen and turn out something edible in real time?
Let’s face it, lesson plan documentation (as opposed to recipes), especially when linked to a given “helpful” lesson plan template, is an administrative convenience, nothing more. It enables the quick assessment of the outcomes of a trainee’s thinking about a lesson – but the question that concerns me is: how much is not revealed by these partial documents?
And they are partial in both senses. They require trainees to think and express themselves in the terms of the plan, not in their own. This is likely to have a limiting effect on their ability to express their ideas, and it may even hinder them in their thinking from the start: if you spend any time talking to trainees about the process of planning, you hear this a lot.
And I doubt that Jamie Oliver ever had to produce the kind of “meal plans” that you can read and replicate from his cook books in his time as a chef – he learnt by watching an experienced chef and by getting stuck in.
Thus suggesting perhaps that writing a clear and useful lesson plan – like a clear and useful meal recipe – is something to aim for towards the end of training, not the beginning?
Chia: What then do you suggest we as trainers do to help trainees hone the necessary skills and develop a systematic thought process that would enable them to deal with skills and language work in the classroom effectively?
Anthony: Well, passing over the danger in your use of “systematic” (whose system?), I think one thing that could be done is ease up on when and how much documentation needs to be submitted for assessment, and also easing up on the format this takes. As I said earlier, another thing you could do is reduce the amount of materials and concrete guidance provided early on, in order to allow for trainees to invest themselves more fully in the planning of their lessons from as early as possible.
A final thing you can do is stagger the need for formal assessment of their lesson planning ability by not asking for fully featured plans from day one, or even during the whole of weeks one-three on a typical initial 4-week course. But I’ll leave it to your readers to take these discussions further.
Chia: Thanks for your time, Anthony. You’ve provided us with lots of food for thought there!
Epilogue: Anthony’s opinions are his own and do not represent any organization he is associated with. Chia was just playing DA. However, Chia is still waiting to be convinced to lighten her focus on lesson aims and plans on her CELTA courses, and so Chia and Anthony are planning to carry on this discussion in Lubeck, Germany. Interested parties ought to leave their comments here.
This series is inspired by a conversation between Mike Hogan and myself about examining the controversies in ELT. We wanted to consider the different positions taken by different members of the industry. However, to do so, we’d need a debate, a disagreement of sorts. And it became apparent that we either tend to agree with members of our PLN (flying creatures of the same feathers and all that), or would keep an open mind and be fairly polite and supportive of one another (that is why we tweet and blog). Seeing that, the only way to get a real debate going was to actively play Devil’s Advocate (DA). After all, it’s always healthy to rethink our views and justify them.
The following debate took place as an Instant-Messaging Chat on Skype. The statements of here are of the DA and in no way represent my beliefs about teaching. This is merely a tool to spark a dialogue between you, the reader, and all those involved in this project. You can find previous instalments of DA here.
Second on the hot seat is Dale Coulter.
Dale currently finds himself in Rome where he is an English teacher. He specialises in Dogme and reflective practice in teaching, both of which he has spoken about at ELT conferences in the past year. You can find out more on his blog here. Or follow him on Twitter here.
Chia: Hi Dale, are you ready to be DA-ed?
Dale: Hi Chia, great to be speaking to you, I guess I’m as ready as I’ll ever be for a DA-ing.
Chia: It is a well-known fact that you are a Dogmetician who have been practising Dogme ever since you finished your Celta. Many would argue that newly-qualified teachers (NQs) should not be attempting Dogme. What would you say to that?
Dale: Interesting point, Chia. As a teacher trainer what would you say are the reasons why you’d be skeptical about your trainees attempting Dogme?
Chia: Answering a question with a question…very cunning, Dale… Well, there are several reasons for the CELTA trainers’ skepticism.
For starters, NQs are not experienced or skilled enough to be dealing with emergent language and reacting to spontaneous and specific needs…
Dale: True, the teaching practice element in CELTA courses does not provide enough classroom time to prepare a teacher thoroughly to react to emergent language. Mind you, attempting a Dogme lesson doesn’t mean throwing the book out the window and unplugging your whole course. For instance, my first Dogme lesson was a 1 hour 15 minute slot as part of a three hour lesson. I think that somewhat minimises the the risk of ‘failure’, wouldn’t you say?
Chia: Not really, because you could still have a 1 hour 15 minute flop, which could lose your credibility and destroy your confidence…something that NQs don’t need. NQs need confidence-boosting experiences, don’t you think?
Dale: Definitely, a complete flop using any teaching method or approach is a big dent in the confidence of any teacher, not just an NQ. You need to be prepared for the lesson. Emergent language doesn’t just emerge on its own; the teacher needs to know how to exploit language opportunities in the classroom. It is also about the language the teacher selects to deal with, and how it is dealt with. I was definitely reassured by the fact that I had some experience of being guided towards learning to deal with emergent language from my teaching practice on the CELTA. We can’t underestimate the importance of knowing what ’emergent language’ is and what it means to deal with.
Take an experienced teacher who tried Dogme, for example. What if their lesson was a failure and they failed to react to students’ emerging needs and the language they were producing? I don’t think this is a criticism that can be soley aimed at NQs.
Chia: On a CELTA, one can get experience of dealing with emergent language through teaching practice, but they are mostly lexical items. What about grammar? Most NQs don’t know their grammar well enough to be able to deal with the questions or the emerging reformulations that are needed.
You said so yourself in a post on your own blog on November 12th (reflections on Tesol France) that NQs often think, ‘There’s so much I don’t know about grammar, I am terrified that my students might ask me questions’. This is from your blog.
Dale: I knew that one would come back and bite me one day. Jokes aside, what’s to say an NQ can’t pick up a grammar book and read it? Take a proactive approach to it by dealing with the lack of knowledge. Obviously you can’t read up on the grammar of the English language in one week, which is something I realised too, so I chose to do Dogme with a class that is least likely to throw up difficult questions: an intermediate level. After all, when teaching Dogme, you can always guide the conversation towards areas that you know students may have difficulties with – to make your life easier, and secondly, research those areas and make sure you feel confident to answer questions about them.
You know they don’t know X or Y and you can guide them towards that, almost like leading them towards a cliff then when they reach the edge, building them a bridge to the other side
Chia: Is that then not really Dogme? It sounds more like a planned lesson where you have manipulated the needs…
Dale: In that case, I guess I’m not a Dogmetician then, I just manipulate conversation driven lessons around the needs of my students and work with the language they produce. Guilty as charged…hahaha
Chia: Stop acting cute, Dale. But in all seriousness, conversation lessons can sound like a chat. As many opponents have said, Dogme could be seen as ‘winging it elevated to an art form’… Couldn’t students get that from sitting in a pub? Where’s the structure?
Dale: Of course, I’ve heard that one a million times before… for me Dogme has always been a manifestation of principled eclecticism in the classroom. It’s not like you’re hashing a lesson together at random, you’re providing the most suitable solution to what has emerged, which, obviously a NQ would have some difficulty with on a long-term basis, but generalising that all of them couldn’t I think is a bit of an insult to the ability of an NQ.
By the way, I remember one of my trainers saying that to me “a speaking activity should give students something more than they could get in the pub” …
Chia: And how do you give them that extra that they can’t get in a pub?
Dale: Well, firstly I think there’s a difference between conversation-driven and a conversation lesson. The former implies that conversation is the vehicle with which learners and the teacher arrive at their destination, the latter is like conversation as a road to learning, which is where some cynics have their doubts.
It’s a teachers’ job to pick on thematic or linguistic elements of conversation-driven time and use them for lesson content, that way what is taught is immediate and contextualised.
Chia: Yes, but NQs will not be able to differentiate between conversation lessons and conversation-driven lessons, needless to say have the confidence or ability to pick out linguistic elements to use as lesson content simultaneously and spontaneously.
Having linguistic aims prepared and how these aims are to be achieved in each stage of the procedure does not only provide structure for the NQs but also for the students. Jeremy Harmer said that Dogme is like ‘jungle-path teaching’, i.e. a lesson with no plan and structure, and therefore no continuity…
Dale: So you are going to quote Harmer at me, are you? Let me quote one of my classes back to you. They said they believed I prepared more than any other teacher and that my lessons were very structured and organised. Doesn’t that pay tribute to the fact that Dogme is a form of principled eclecticism working on a materials-light level. Didn’t you yourself call it Improvised Principled Eclecticism?
Chia: Sshhh, don’t tell anyone, Dale. I’m trying to play Devil’s Advocate here.
Dale: No, you’ve raised a good point there about the perceived lack of structure. I think it’s a criticism levelled at Dogme very frequently.
Chia: So what do you do in your Dogme classes that helps students to feel that they are well-prepared and well-structured?
Dale: I have always applied a lot of what I learned in CELTA and then subsequently in DELTA. You see, lesson stages, as such, still exist: there is still a stage in which you check meaning or form, practice, review, drill, feedback, practice. The difference is that they are not rigid in a Dogme lesson; stages are at your disposal when they are necessary, if they are necessary. Students feel like it’s structured because it is structured.
Chia: Are you therefore saying that it is important to teach CELTA trainees to write lesson aims and and execute the procedures and lesson stages they have planned? Isn’t that contradictory to Dogme principles?
Dale: Well, the teaching of linguistic aims, lesson plans, lesson procedures, achievement of aims etc is easier to teach directly to trainees, in the sense of transferring information from A to B.
By the same token it’s easier to assess and benchmark to decide on a general standard. Is this contradictory to Dogme? Without the foundational backbone that lesson aims and procedures provide, a lesson lacks structure, which is why I consider them to be important as a foundation to build on.
However, identifying positive teaching behaviours in trainees like dealing with emergent language, building on them and reinforcing them with positive feedback corresponds more with the demands on a Dogmetician. I’d say a lot of the cynicism about Dogme and NQs stems from the fact that training does not cover these areas. The ability however is there, it just needs pulling out.
Chia: The thing is Dogme requires the teacher to have a certain rigour and an ability to deal with emergent language, correction and reformulation whilst combining structuring, multi-tasking abilities and knowledge of language in order to come across as organised and well-prepared. NQs often are still struggling with these aspects and are not going to be as able to cope with combining them in a flexible and improvised manner.
Dale: Exactly, it takes a long time to become an expert in these areas, which required years of practice, positive models to follow and experience in the classroom, so why are we not focusing on these things right from the beginning, to give trainees a better start?
Chia: You sure you’re not digging yourself into a hole there, Dale? You’re right, it takes lots of years of experience honing the skill of dealing with emergent language. If done badly, it could either result in all talk and no language work, or even worse, teacher-centred explanations and lectures that are contradictory to the communicative approach to teaching.
Dale: But Chia it takes time to refine the skill and the road is a long one. Which comes back to my point that why aren’t we starting the journey straight away?
And on the topic of communicative language teaching… many teachers work under different definitions of ‘communicative’, and there’s disparity between their ideas and what others consider it to be…but that’s another topic for a sequel to my first DA, perhaps?
Chia: So you’re enjoying this grilling enough to come back again then? ; )
But, honestly, a common point made by CELTA trainers is the fact that many coming on courses like the CELTA already think that teaching English should be relatively easy simply because English is their native tongue. Introducing NQs to Dogme and dealing with emergent language at such an early stage of their teaching can mislead them into thinking that chatting with their students in English is all they need to do…into mistakenly believing that Dogme is easy.
Dale: A very good point. You could also say that trainees may be misled into thinking that following the instructions in the teacher’s book, doing the practice exercises in the back of the book and teaching from page 1-100 is all they need to do. Coming back to Dogme though, I think in these cases the better-judgement of the trainer is needed. As I’m sure you know, each group of trainees is different from the last; some groups are stronger, some are weaker. Introducing elements of Dogme to a stronger group, pushing them to deal with emergent language and use their knowledge of the English language to help students pushes the trainees to their i+1. To a weaker group though, I will admit that it is not a good idea to encourage them to use Dogme and could lead to such opinions. Like a hierarchy of needs, Dogme lies at the top and lower levels need to be satisfied first.
Chia: Are you therefore saying that Dogme can or should only be attempted if and when trainees are able to use the coursebook and when they are able to deal with shaping a traditional PPP/Test-Teach-Test/Guided Discovery lesson from pre-assumed lesson aims?
Dale: I think trainees should have the benefit of a ‘backbone’ to English language teaching, as I mentioned earlier, it gives them an invaluable introduction to the profession. With a stronger group that grasps these concepts with ease, and one whose beliefs about teaching fit with the ideas behind, then I would say yes. I think it’s up to the trainer(s) to assess the level of the group and provide suitable challenge for them. I think I’ve touched on another point here that’s important: how Dogme fits with a teacher’s developing belief structure.
Chia: What do you mean by that?
Dale: Well, let’s face it, everyone believes languages are learned and taught in a different way and some teachers just don’t see Dogme as a way of playing to their teaching strengths and/or compatible with what they believe about SLA.
If there is a group containing many trainees who have the experience of learning another language, the experience of being a language student, and from this have understood the need for communication, immediacy and sensitivity to students needs, then it makes a more fitting environment in which to attempt Dogme.
Chia: Hang on, Dale. I’ve got two questions I’d like to ask here…
1. Are you saying that if the trainees do not believe in the need for communication and immediacy, that if they believe in that languages are learnt by grammar translation or the Direct Method, or by completing countless gap-fill exercises, then we should not encourage them to attempt Dogme?
2. Are you saying that native speakers who have never learnt another language and have no experience of being a language student would be far less suited to Dogme?
Dale: Ok, I’ll take your first question. No, I’m not saying we should settle for this and simple pander to their needs. I referred to a kind of hierarchy earlier. In this case, guided-discovery, test-teach-test etc would be the next level on the hierarchy. In this situation, a trainee must train to level and encouraging them to attempt Dogme would be pitching too high, don’t you think?
In response to your second question, I think that non-native speakers or native speakers who have had some form of language instruction/experience of learning another language have in their possession key abilities for Dogme and for teaching. One of them is empathy with their students, which makes a teacher more sensitive to students’ needs, both emotional and linguistic.
Chia: Interesting points there. Can I take this debate on a slightly different direction?
We have so far been arguing about the ability for NQs to use Dogme in conversation-driven lessons with language focus. How about the other skills like reading, listening and writing?
Dale: As a Dogmetician, I’m sure you’ve considered this as well yourself.
Chia: Dale…I keep telling you, I’m not talking to you as a Dogmetician at the moment…only as a DA…
Dale: Sorry, it’s sometimes difficult to tell the difference, especially when I’m used to you playing the role of DA consistently in daily life anyway.
Back to the point, we bang on about being sensitive to our students’ needs and responding to them, but what if these needs are specific to writing/reading/listening? This throws up another question: how does a NQ handle these without coursebook materials?
It’s a good question and it focuses us even more on the difference between attempting some Dogme lessons and being a Dogmetician. Materials-light is sometimes confused with materials-free, and it would be wrong to think you can’t use materials altogether. Certainly if this were the case, skills that require materials would not receive focus. A Dogmetician, in my opinion, selects materials to teach skills which can be exploited for conversation, engage learners and provide space to deal with difficulties learners have when practising those skills.
I think some NQs would have trouble teaching reading, writing and listening skills without the supportive framework of materials. On the other hand, if a NQ wants to use authentic materials, use learner generated and produced materials, then shouldn’t we be supportive in this pursuit? After all, isn’t that what assignment 3 of CELTA is trying to encourage anyway?
Chia: What kind of materials could an NQ use to focus on such skills that still keeps the lesson a Dogme one?
Dale: I would recommend short texts, both listening and reading, and authentic. Your ideas for using BBC news were very helpful for me, also short newspaper articles, parts of short stories or even teacher-written texts. In creating tasks, try and move away from testing comprehension and encourage students to interact with the text, pick out language they identify as useful, share ideas about a text, have them create the questions, have them respond to the text, rewrite it.
Chia: NQs would have greater difficulty in selecting authentic texts and creating tasks for their learners, in addition to the previously-discussed ability to pull out appropriate language for learners to focus on and dealing with them in sufficient detail.
Dale: You’re right there Chia, in selecting appropriate language and creating tasks, experience puts you at a great advantage. That’s why, just like emergent language, it’s better to get NQs practising asap.
Chia: Wait…if you are using such materials, what then is the difference between a Dogme lesson and a non-Dogme one?
Dale: Maybe there isn’t much of a difference.
Chia: Maybe it’s just good teaching.
Dale: Maybe the labels aren’t important.
Chia: Yeah, maybe it’s the learners’ motivation and needs that should take centre stage.
Dale: Maybe Dogme is a platform that provides the most space for this in the classroom.
Dale: Wow. That was intense.
Chia: Thank you for letting me put you in the hot seat.
Dale: It’s been a great pleasure, Chia.
Epilogue: Dale and Chia still argue like siblings at a family Christmas dinner. They also love each other, especially when the exchanging of expensive gifts is involved… Dale was only expressing his own views and does not represent any organisation he’s associated with. Chia is, in fact, a Dogmetician too. She was only playing DA.