CELTA Day Four: Thursday 16th April
The One Where We Realised Just How Close We Are To Checkpoint Charlie
I think I walked to school on my own on Thursday (it’s only Friday and I already can’t remember what I did yesterday!) I had to do some photocopying for my second Teaching Practice in the afternoon so I went in a little early.
Our first input session was Grammar 2: Focusing on and practising grammar in context. We did some more practice with Meaning, Form and Pronunciation in our pairs and threes, and then Eoghan introduced us to teaching grammar generatively. He set up a scenario himself, and elicited the form from us. For the CELTA trainers reading this (as they apparently are; who knew this waffle might somehow be helpful for someone!), Eoghan did this brilliantly by introducing us to Pedro, who once had fast cars, owned lots of houses and smoked expensive cigars, but is now in prison. He stuck lots of pictures on the board and, as you have probably guessed, he was getting us to introduce ourselves to the construction ‘used to.’ I thought it was incredibly effective, but I doubt whether I am creative enough to come up with such a situation on my own!
We then learnt about teaching grammar through text, using a page about Mick Jagger from New English File Pre-intermediate to teach us the same ‘used to’ construction. It’s funny how I am instantly slightly more resistant to what I view as quite a contrived text within the textbook – it’s a bit rich really, from the girl who used to work in Editorial in academic publishing! I just remember how obvious such tasks seemed to me when I was learning German – but I do appreciate that not everyone has such a tragically keen eye for opportunities to learn grammar as me…!
Finally, Eoghan demonstrated the live listening technique I remember watching in the first lesson on the DVD from The Practice of English Language Teaching by Jeremy Harmer. Again, it seemed incredibly effective (even to someone who is quite familiar with the form already!) and I made a note to myself to see if I ever get the opportunity to try any of these techniques out in my TP.
This was an extra-long input session, although we were still allowed a coffee break, but then Helen appeared just before our midday lunch break to talk us through our assignment. Due to the way the assignments are listed on the Berlin School of English’s Moodle page, I had thought ‘Focus on the learner’ was the first one, so had watched the appropriate Jo Gakonga help video as I got ready in the morning. However, I had been misled as our first assignment is ‘Language related tasks.’ We have to analyse various bits of language, and exemplify how we would break them down for learners of different levels. There are some question requiring timelines, some requiring the creation of Concept Checking Questions and others requiring drafting some written guidance for lower-level students. As Helen showed us through the whole rubric, I had to raise my hand and ask the stupid question of whether she was actually showing us our assignment, or whether it was just an example! It turned out that it was indeed our actual assignment, so I was slightly reassured as it doesn’t seem too tricky – I had envisaged a huge essay to start with! Although ask me again at the weekend and I might say something different! I think that’s the first proper chance I’ll have to look at it, although I did dutifully print if off and have a scribble of the answers to the easy questions over lunch.
I felt restless over lunch: I had already handed in my Lesson Plan, to stop myself doing any more tinkering between Guidance + Feedback and then Teaching Practice (our lesson plan deadline is 2.30 and there is a break from 2.15 – 3pm before TP starts.) I also didn’t have the energy to fully focus on the assignment when I was nervous about teaching later that afternoon, and it was sunny outside, so Alex and I went and did a ‘lap of the block’ (her American words, not mine, I hasten to add!) I was a bit peckish, so I treated myself to a pot of natural yoghurt with a little pot of chocolate muesli to sprinkle on top from BackFactory, one of my favourite cheap German bakeries – it’s the sort of snack you could only find in this wonderful country, and it filled my hunger hole perfectly! In lapping our building, we realised that the Berlin School of English is actually are part of the same building that the Berlin Wall Museum is housed in, right on the corner of Checkpoint Charlie. Being both a huge Berlin nut and a German history aficionado, I could not get over how cool this was. Although it was definitely very odd wandering around one of Berlin’s tourist hotspots, with everyone taking their photos with the guard, whilst just carrying my purse and a pot of yoghurt!
After lunch we went through Alex’s and James’ lessons from the day before, and then they talked through their questions for their next lesson on Friday. Then it was time to teach! Rory taught a lovely lexis lesson based on words to describe places, like countryside, bay, docks etc. He was much more relaxed than before, and sat nice and close to our students in the seminar chair, rather than standing at the front and talking quite loudly. His lesson was almost too chilled, but the learners enjoyed it and definitely seemed to learn the new words!
Then it was my turn, and I had to sort of follow on from Rory in as much as our lessons were taken from two halves of the same textbook page (from Cutting Edge). My focus was reading, and I felt much better about the lesson in general because it was mainly about travelling, which I love. I had the students discuss their last holiday with a partner and then out loud, before we did a reading for gist task and feedback, followed by a reading for detailed understanding task. The text was about Bangkok and Dubai, and they got through the tasks more easily than I had anticipated, which was great! Two of the older German ladies in our class told us on the first day that they’re quite partial to a coach trip, so I think their being widely travelled aided their motivation to learn.
My interest in the topic must also have calmed me down significantly, as I felt much more confident interacting with the students as well this time. I even somehow accidentally ended up doing some spontaneous pronunciation work as they all stumbled over ‘archaeology’, but thankfully that went down without a hitch! I even had time to do the extra lexis work I had planned ‘if we have time’ and squished in some corrections on the board as well. My one main boo-boo was a result of planning too far ahead, I think! My last lexis exercise included 5 phrases in the text, and I had done the exercise myself to find said phrases. However, I did the exercise before deciding to chop off the last box of the text, so when one of the stronger students said she couldn’t see it, and I couldn’t either, I genuinely thought I was going insane. It threw me momentarily, but one of my fellow trainees waved the sheet and pointed at the corner I’d blanked out on the photocopy, and I realised the error of my ways. Luckily it was easily salvaged because I had written out examples of all the phrases, so I just read that out loud and it seemed to suffice – phew!
After my lesson it took me a few minutes to calm down before Allegra’s lesson, but I was really pleased to receive quite a lot of very kind feedback from my fellow trainees. Somehow it seems I’m quite relaxed with the students – it’s not what I feel internally, but at least everyone else is fooled 😉
Allegra’s speaking lesson was great, and then it was home time. I stopped at Edeka for some more salad supplies on the way home, and staggered back to my flat with my little reusable bag from Paperchase overflowing! I spent the evening self-evaluating and looking at my lesson plan for Monday, and conked out in bed far too late as I was chatting to the boy on WhatsApp. It was harder to talk in Malaysia because of the time difference, but it’s nice to be able to catch up at the end of the day from here. I also had a nice little surprise in the form of an official offer of two weeks’ worth of teaching work for after the CELTA course finishes (which I already know I will be sad about!) Someone from the Berlin Language Workers’ Group on Facebook had posted a message whilst I was in Malaysia asking if anyone would be able to cover his classes whilst he was on holiday at the end of May. I private-messaged the guy, and it turned out the dates coincided perfectly with my finishing the CELTA course. Tom kindly put me in touch with his boss and we had spoken briefly whilst I was still in England, but on Thursday she phoned our flat landline (in poor Ingrid’s room!) to officially offer me the job! It’s only for 12 days, and is the intense hours of 9.30 – 1.30, back-to-back, but hopefully it’ll be great experience and might help me get another job afterwards… If anyone reading this needs a keen and enthusiastic English teacher who will learn on the job very quickly in Berlin, then please let me know 🙂
CELTA Day Five: Friday 17th April
The One Where I Had My First Becks Lemon Since Arriving In Germany
This morning, as I made my porridge all bleary-eyed from staying up too late last night, the TV Tower on Alexanderplatz was looking rather stunning in the dark morning sky. It looked like it was threatening to rain, but I made it to school dry and it brightened up later in the day. Our ship-shaped room has such lovely, big windows that you really notice when the sun goes down behind the surrounding buildings!
This morning we had an input session from Helen on planning lessons and there were 12 pretty scared faces looking back at her, as she introduced us to the new, longer lesson plan that we are to use for the next 6 lessons. Now we have to anticipate learners’ problems, draft our board plans, write out the meaning, form and pronunciation of any grammar we teach and make sure we have solid explanations down pat for any new lexis or functional language. The template alone is 11 pages long, so this is definitely a whole new level of challenge! Some of the items that are new to this lesson template from the Week One template I was doing already, like listing out the materials and handouts I’ll be using, but most of them are new and seem to require a lot of work… Good job there’s a weekend coming up! We worked on that new lesson plan with the wonderfully dynamic Helen until the break, and then refuelled the caffeine levels (it was Friday, after all) before Eoghan’s third session on grammar.
We had focused on planning grammar, discussed how to teach it (using the ‘Holy Trinity’ of meaning, form and pronunciation, of course!) and this morning we learnt how to check that students understand whatever we’re wittering on about. Enter all the wonderful knowledge I had somehow passively absorbed from ELT experts’ blogs on timelines and concept-checking questions. Thank you Jo Gakonga and your wonderful ELT Training videos!
We did lots of practice on Concept Checking Questions, which are far harder to formulate than I had anticipated, and then moved on to practise how to lay out various different tenses on timelines, to help those visual learners in our classes. It’s so far removed from how I like to learn (I am wordy; could you tell?!) but I can see its value so I threw myself into the drawing of squiggly lines, arrows and interesting stick people at various points along the timeline! I wish I could have taken a picture of the board by the end of this input session; it was quite the scene of madness!
Over lunch I of course indulged in some idle chit chat, but also cracked on with refining the plan I had realised I needed to sort out late last night! We have fallen into a nice little routine already over lunch: some people go out for food, some people go to frantically photocopy things for afternoon TPs in the resource room, and some of us just stay in the lovely big airy input room and eat while we chat away and tap away at our laptops. I like a little break, but being the person I am, I also like to use the time semi-productively.
In feedback, we all learnt some good tips from Eoghan about good times in a lesson to do pair checking and feedback, and bad points in a lesson to do it. We went through Rory’s lesson, then mine and then Allegra’s, and I took more than a page of his brilliant tips. At some point this weekend, I’d like to be able to go through them and categorise them a bit, rather than just having lists of good ideas on my notes of ‘Teaching Practice Feedback’ or ‘TP Guidance’, but I’m not sure I’ll have time for that. (Well, I hear you cry, you could find time for that if you stopped blogging! But I am really enjoying blogging about this course and apparently it’s also even halfway helpful to some very select people, so I am going to endeavour to keep it up!) I also learnt during feedback that I had been given Above Standard for my second Teaching Practice, which I was really pleased with. During each lesson, we all are given observation sheets which we have to fill in whilst our peers are teaching, and my colleagues’ feedback forms for me yesterday were really positive, which was encouraging after my less-than-ideal lesson (or at least, the second half of it) on Tuesday. My problem areas are currently making sure I allow sufficient time for feedback at almost every stage, and trying to check students understand word meanings more thoroughly – in my first two Teaching Practices I used a lot of personal anecdotes to explain words in context, but I feel like that technique will get old very quickly, so any new suggestions welcome : )
After Feedback comes Guidance and in Guidance, Rory, Allegra and I all discussed our lessons for the coming Monday. Poor Allegra has a slightly rough deal, as she has to teach grammar from Monday, whereas the rest of us have one more lesson before we have that pleasure! I’m fairly happy with my basic plan for my lesson on Monday, but it does need some tweaking.
After Guidance there was a little bit of a break, and I had a little conversation with Emil, the Spanish guy in our class, to tease him for being so late yesterday! But I was nice, I promise – we need him to come back to keep the numbers up! Then James taught a speaking lesson, which went pretty well until his lesson plan literally fell apart on the floor (there was his lesson to staple and not paperclip it together!) He recovered pretty well, but I think the temporary slip did throw him off for a while, poor guy. Then Alex (my flatmate) taught a listening lesson and I was so pleased for her that she was so much less nervous than before. She is so smiley and friendly with her students, but she just beats herself up out loud when she does something wrong and I want to go and give her a hug and tell her it’s all going well really! The third lesson was taught by Eoghan because of Jim’s early departure, so we got to observe another great lesson again, which is really lucky for us considering the other observations happen a little later in the course for everyone else officially. Eoghan opened the lesson by asking the class about their weekend plans, and then very casually introducing them to the phrase ‘TGIF; Thank God It’s Friday,’ which I thought was a nice touch!
Since it’s Friday, and the trainers don’t want the Friday teachers to have to stew over their lessons all weekend, we stay until 6.15 to do feedback for the last three lessons – or rather two in our group’ case. We talked through what went well and what could have gone better with James’ and Alex’s lessons and, again, we all learnt a lot as well – I’d have thought when you told me we all have to sit through hours of feedback about other people’s lessons that it was an inefficient use of everyone’s time, but it’s not at all because the more tips you hear, the more you are subsconsciously paying attention to and the better teacher you can hopefully become!
Needless to say, after such a long day, we were all absolutely knackered! A huge group of us wandered down Friedrichstraße because a few people (NOT ME!) wanted a Döner kebab, but then we dispersed when we realised that the chicest area of Berlin probably isn’t the ideal location to search for a kebab Imbiss! So Alex, Ingrid and I all walked home together; Ingrid got the kebab she was craving; Alex bought her organic potatoes she’d enjoyed so much last night, and I was the ultimate greedy person and bought a cheap Ristorante frozen pizza, a tiny little tub of peanut butter Ben & Jerry’s and a Becks Lemon. And my God what a good dinner it was! I planned to work afterwards, but with my wiredness, tiredness and one beer, I thought blogging was the only thing I’m good for!
Up at 7.30 for a run with Ingrid in the morning, and I’m so excited to do some proper exercise in my wonderful running shoes which my wonderful mother kindly posted to me! More over the weekend…
PS. The old phone which I am currently using is not playing ball for file transfers, so apologies for the lack of photographic adornments to this post… I should be reunited with my Sony at some point this week, thanks to my wonderful mother and the Carphone Warehouse, so then the pictures should return 🙂