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.

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