Again, I have reached the end of my Word document, where I first type my posts, and realised that I have something of a problem with blogging waffle… So apologies for the written verbal diarrhoea, and for the fact that it’s all one post! I hope it makes sufficient sense…
CELTA Week Two
Day Six: Monday 20th April
The One Where The Lesson Plans Got Longer And Everyone Seemed A Tiny Bit More Stressed
First of all, to those wondering whether I am going to acknowledge the weekend at all, or whether my life has become one big CELTA blur, I can assure you that I did take a break (or two over the weekend!) I met my lovely German friend Sabrina for coffee after she finished work on Saturday, and the same German friend was incredibly kind on Sunday, and not only baked me my favourite type of cheesecake as a welcome treat, but invited my
two flatmates to come and enjoy it as well. So it wasn’t all work – there was definitely some play! But I thought I’d save up any fun Berlin things I do during the course for a post at the end of the course, and focus just on the CELTA weekdays at the moment – although perhaps the course will step it up in terms of intensity over the next three weeks, in which case, that’ll be a very short post about Berlin fun if Saturday’s coffee ends up being the only thing I manage to do besides CELTA!
So, Monday morning! I am somewhat embarrassed to admit I spent the first input session worrying about the fact that I might have left the cooker hob on – totally irrational, I know, but probably rather symptomatic of my mental state at the moment! I stewed about it for ages, only to be completely calmed by Alex who told me she’d turned it off. Phew! Panic over.
Our first input session was with Eoghan and it was the fourth in our series on teaching grammar. We delved a little deeper into the world of methodology, which was one of the sections of the Jeremy Harmer book The Practice of English Language Teaching which I found particularly interesting. Eoghan demonstrated a Test-Teach-Test lesson and then we discussed it, and then we weighed up the pros and cons of that versus the more classic Present – Practice – Produce model, which is frequently seen in the ELT classroom. The key point I took away from his session was that it takes some serious courage and some decent experience to brave Test – Teach – Test, as you can never be sure exactly what the students are going to struggle with or find easy. But who knows, perhaps I’ll feel brave for one of my TPs before the end of the course…
Afterwards it was Helen’s turn to fill us with more ELT wisdom; this time about teaching writing skills lessons. This input session was perfectly timed for my flatmate Alex, as we had been puzzling over how she should teach her writing lesson on Tuesday on Sunday evening. We initially split up into two groups: one discussed their experiences of writing within the context of learning foreign languages, and my group discussed how writing could be useful to the specific group of (B1 and then C1) learners that both groups are teaching at the moment. This raised some interesting questions, and we also learnt that later this week, one trainee in each group is teaching a writing lesson and will have to collect the students’ work so that we can all analyse it together in class later this week and learn how to mark it. I think that’ll be super useful, especially if I have to go straight into teaching two weeks of classes to Business English students who I haven’t met before!
After we discussed the concept of teaching writing in general, we were split into five pairs (one guy left; one guy was ill) to discuss one textbook page each. Every pair had a different textbook to look at, but the thing they all had in common was that they were writing tasks. We had to look through and be able to apply the different stage labels to each exercise on each page, which will help us inordinately now that we have to use the new, and greatly expanded lesson plan template.
After going through and discussing all the different textbook pages, it was then time for some lunch – or rather, eating with one hand and frantically lesson-planning and printing with the other! I don’t know what’s happened, but now that the lesson plan is more extensive and the lessons we’re teaching are about to get longer, everyone seems slightly more stressed today… It’s definitely rubbing off on me as I felt fine before my TP last Thursday, but am quite worried about this afternoon’s. I’m writing this over lunch to calm my nervous hands, so fingers crossed we all get through it OK!
[later on Monday]
Straight after lunch we had a Guidance session for Alex and James who are teaching on Tuesday. Alex is teaching a writing lesson and due to our need for authentic material from our own learners, she is going to be allowed to run over into the third slot which Jim should have been teaching to allow them to finish their writing. Since it was Monday and we do all our feedback within the same week, we then had a wonderfully free hour and a half to plan lessons or, in my case, continue panicking about our lessons later that day. I did some more printing of photos of the celebrities in my exercises, just in case my students didn’t know them – and of course, that was useless effort as they were familiar with all of them! I also did some extra scribbles on my lesson plan. I have learnt that I can’t work from a lesson plan which is any longer than 2 pages, as I print it off double-sided, and then just have to flip it over. Ever since poor James dropped his plan and his running order temporarily went out of the window, I’ve been scared of doing the same thing, and this seems to work quite nicely. Of course I also had a piece of paper with my new lexis on, and the functional language, and three pieces of paper is more than enough for my little brain to deal with during a lesson!
First up today was Rory, and he taught a great lesson on reading. They were reading about Andre Agassi and again, thankfully the students knew who he was. I think the hard thing with a reading lesson is learning to deal with the silence as the students read – it’s probably always more acute for us observers, but he got through all his material marvellously. He even managed some language feedback and a lovely little plenary involving some interesting facts about Agassi.
This was the second time that I had laid out all my materials in advance of the first lesson on the table, which is definitely worth doing because it means it’s much less stressful when you’re on second and there’s no gap. My lesson was about awards and nominations, with a speaking focus and the aim of the game was for them to have time to give their own little awards speech themselves. I did a little lead-in to ask whether anyone had won an award, to which I initially had blank faces, but I thought on the spur of the moment that I could ask them to consider talking about friends’ and families’ awards too, which did give them all something to talk about.
We then did a listening to model a nomination speech and some follow-up discussion on it, before I introduced some Useful Language for speech making. With hindsight (such a wonderful thing!) I should have drilled the students’ pronunciation of this Useful Language more than I drilled their pronunciation of the words in the initial lead-in exercise because then they would have been able to us them more fluently in their speeches.
We had learnt in input that it’s important to give students time to gather their thoughts before asking them to do any extended speaking, so I had made my class a little prompt sheet with four main headings to encourage them to only write notes and not prose. They managed this whole task a lot more successfully than I had expected, so I was really pleased because it meant that I was then able to do some language feedback which they corrected themselves. So, no matter how badly I drilled their pronunciation earlier in the lesson, I had at least ticked the feedback box alright by the end!
Allegra was the last to teach, and she did a grammar lesson on the Past Simple and Past Continuous. Although she had some trouble asking the right questions to get the actual form out of the students, she managed her first ever grammar lesson brilliantly, I thought – although she did seem so relieved once it was over! It was reassuring for the rest of us to see that the class did have some basic knowledge of grammatical concepts, as they were able to help Allegra elicit the form. So hopefully we’ll all survive our grammar lessons later this week!
After school it was time for home, self-evaluation and a giant bowl of pasta whilst I did some reading for the next day. The absolute highlight of the day was another slice of the delicious cheesecake that Sabrina had kindly given us the day before, which powered us all through some more preparation for TP4 on…*cue dramatic music*…grammar! Eep, I’m so scared!
Day Seven: Tuesday 21st April
The One Where I Freaked Out About Having To Teach The Present Perfect and Past Simple
I’m writing this at the weekend (I wrote bits and bobs during the week but was not very consistent!) and I couldn’t remember what happened on Tuesday except for my overriding feeling of terror at having to teach my first ever hour-long lesson on grammar on Wednesday afternoon!
But I have checked the timetable and we started with an input session on reading before Helen set up our second assignment ‘Language skills’, whereby we have to use a pre-selected text to design our own materials for a class, and then write a commentary on them. That was a really helpful lesson, and incredibly amusing as always! I’m a bit scared of the assignment, though, as this one demands more background reading than the previous one. Thankfully we’re given much longer to write it, and mine isn’t due until Friday of Week Three as I’m teaching on Thursday. After assignment chat, we had an input session with Eoghan on error correction, which I found helpful as it’s an area I’m struggling with at the moment.
My struggle with error correction was proven correct in feedback where I learnt from Helen that I over-corrected my students in my TP3 the previous day. We also talked about learning when it’s appropriate to drill pronunciation with them (ie. if the words are trickier) and discussed Allegra’s grammar lesson as well, which provided me with some useful tips in advance of my first grammar lesson on Thursday. After that we had guidance for our lessons the following day, which only marginally helped to allay my nerves! Then it was Alex and James’ turn to teach, so the rest of us sat slightly smugly at the back of the class and completed our observation tasks on them.
I was really stressing myself out about the grammar lesson, so after class I just headed home and cracked on with my lesson plan and worked until far too late in the night again!
Day Eight: Wednesday 22nd April
The One Where I Taught My First Hour-Long Grammar Lesson and The One Where I Signed My First ELT job contract
This morning was quite grey and overcast – which matched my mood quite well as I woke up, still oddly petrified of teaching this grammar lesson! I walked to school on my own, as I wanted to get there nice and early to sort out all my photocopying for my lesson. It was quite fortuitous timing, really, as this morning our ‘input’ was observing one of the teachers from the Berlin School of English upstairs on the fifth floor. Those lessons don’t start until 9.30, so I had a slightly longer morning session to photocopy and panic.
Ingrid appeared around 9.15, and as we had been paired up to watch a B2 level class, we staggered up to the fifth floor to find the classroom. We initially thought we were late, as the door was shut as we arrived, but when we knocked and opened the door, we realised that we had simply barged in on a one-to-one lesson – oops, not a great start for Team Trainee!
The teacher we were observing was called Emily, a young American with German heritage who is apparently the newest member of the Berlin School of English’s teaching staff. She took the CELTA here, so there is hope yet that we might get hired! There was a train strike, so the members of the class slowly started appearing, and they were all present by 9.45. Emily had a really nice manner, and first went over their homework on the Past imaginary and Present imaginary (*must Google!*) before moving on to some speaking work relating to landmarks. She got each student to draw their favourite landmark on a colourful Post-It note, and they had to describe the building they had chosen. I thought I knew where she was going with the questions she was asking, and I was eventually proved correct when she wrote up some sentences that students had said on the board, and started teaching the passive. It was a really nice way of setting the context up, and the students really seemed to engage; going off on their phones to Google the exact dates that the Eiffel Tower was built, for example.
After discussing the form of the passive, Emily had her students practice the construction by guessing the answers to a survey about random facts about businesses. This worksheet was clearly from a Business English textbook, and Ingrid and I had a good snigger at the side of the class, laughing at some of the silly answers!
I think the class were a bit slower on the uptake than Emily had planned, though, so she set the remainder of that exercise for homework instead. Ingrid and I headed back downstairs for a refuel before a shorter second session with Helen on correction. It was a particularly interesting session for my Teaching Practice group, I think, as the writing samples that we used to practise corrections were from the members of our class. On Tuesday in Alex’s lesson, they had all written a travel blog about a place they’ve been and liked, so Alex had copied their work and we all had a go at correcting it. We were using what seems to be a generally standard correction code for language teachers, as I recognised a fair few of the abbreviations from my days of GCSE Spanish and German! It was quite fun to correct their work, actually, and we were all impressed with how much they had written!
Over lunch I did more panicking and copying, and then we had Feedback on Tuesday’s lessons. Eoghan used to go through everyone’s lesson, one at a time, but Helen takes a different approach and collates a general worksheet of common errors, and we discuss them. Both have their merits, and I learnt a lot about how to better organise the board and how to give better instructions as she went through Alex’s and James’ lessons from Tuesday. Then, you know the drill, after feedback comes guidance and Rory and Alex talked through their lessons for Thursday.
There was thankfully still time left after that for me to have one last panicked read-through of my plan before printing it and handing it into Helen. I also used the time to practise writing what I wanted to write on the board, and arranging all the handouts I was going to give my students.
Around 2.50pm I took my seat in the middle of the U-shaped classroom, and started chatting to the students who had arrived early. This really put me at ease and allowed me to slide very easily into my lead-in, which was for the students to discuss some photos of celebrities from within the textbook. I was relieved to find that they did know them all between them, as sentences about those celebrities would form the basis for my grammar lesson on the difference between the Present Perfect and Past Simple. We did a listening and an associated exercise, and then it was time for me to write up the positive, negative and question forms of the Past simple on the board. We had had so many conversations in Feedback about bad board work that I was really nervous, but practising what I wanted to write where really helped. I got the students involved in what I was writing and they did a great job of helping write out the form. We then did one more practice exercise to test if they had understood the rules, and they completed that quite successfully! By this point there wasn’t much time left within my hour lesson, so I skipped the second controlled practice exercise and went straight to the Have you ever…? game I had prepared for them to have some freer practice of using the two tenses. They seemed to really enjoy this, and I walked around and heard some slightly incorrect sentences, which I then wrote on the board and the students helped me correct those right as the clock struck 16.00, so I was relieved that I made the decision to skip that one exercise otherwise it’d have been too much of a squish!
After my lesson, Allegra taught a reading lesson and by the end of the day, the poor students seemed quite exhausted – perhaps two lessons of two hours is just as intense for them as it is for us!
I hurried home at the speed of light and wolfed down some food before starting my self-evaluation. Originaly, I was supposed to be going straight after school to the language school where I will be covering for someone who’s on holiday for three weeks. However, during the day, the Director asked to rearrange for 8, so I could at least head home and have some dinner. I left at 7, which should have been plenty of time according to Google, but of course it was my bad luck that there was a train strike! The Berlin equivalent of the Circle line (the Ringbahn) was not working, so when I got to the station where I was supposed to change onto it, I was told by two lovely Deutsche Bahn workers that I needed to go back into the city and out again on the U-Bahn instead.
I sent a text via the guy who I’m covering to the Director I was due to meet, to tell her I was going to be a bit late. I actually almost made it on time, but my misfortune continued when the bus driver of the bus I needed to catch from the U-Bahn station to the school was new to the route, and didn’t know where my request stop was. I missed it, so had to sprint across a busy road to very luckily catch the same bus going back the other way on the other side. By this time of night, there were only 3 buses an hour so I was incredibly lucky with that timing!
The school director was a little peeved when I arrived, but I think my constant repetition of train strike and sorry (in German) eventually appeased her. She nice and friendly, but with a very distinct air of businesswoman about her. She showed me the three classrooms in the little school, all of which are beautifully decorated with gorgeous high ceilings. Then she took me through some admin things like attendance registers, and then I had to sign a contract. This part was a little scary as she didn’t give me any time to read it, and I read slowly enough in German normally, let alone when it’s bureaucratic German! But Tom, the guy who had kindly let me onto the job, had told me most of the things I needed to know to ensure I wasn’t signing my life away, so I just scribbled my name and made a mental note to ask Helen to look through it the next day.
The Director had dinner plans at 9, so I didn’t stay much longer than that. I showed myself out and breathed a huge sigh of relief as I left; it had been quite a stressful journey! I pottered back home on the bus and two U-Bahns, and decided at my closest U-Bahn station that I deserved a Magnum for all my running around the city, and also partly in celebration for having 3 weeks of work lined up for immediately post-CELTA. It’ll be pretty intense as it’s 8.30 – 1.50 with very short breaks, but it’s money that I do need so hopefully I can survive! I’m seeing Tom on Saturday to learn more about what I can actually teach the students, and I’m hoping that’ll allay my concerns about being thrown in at the deep end a little!
By the time I got home, I just about managed to string some sentences together to Alex (boyfriend, not flatmate) on Skype and then crashed out in bed!
Day Nine: Thursday 23rd April
The One Where I Wanted To Eat Everything In My Sight For No Good Reason
This morning I treated myself to a slight lie-in (6.15 – 6.30!) because I was so tired, but I had to complete my self-evaluation so I had some porridge and got typing! I walked to work in the glorious sunshine and did some scanning for one of the assignments we have to do over the weekend.
Our input session today was a longer session on grammar, focusing specifically on guided discovery. Eoghan took us through an example where we had to discern the rule for using ‘so’ and ‘such’ (who knew there was an actual rule!) With guided discovery, you introduce students to some sentences which exemplify a particular rule, and then ask them pointed questions to lead them to figuring out the rule on their own. Despite personally being the kind of learner who likes to be told rules and then be able to practice them, I could see the value in letting learners work out the grammar point for themselves, because it’s much more effective and is of course likely to mean that they remember the rule better.
After showing us how the technique works, Eoghan then put us in small groups to try it ourselves. It was certainly harder than we expected! Me, Rory and Allegra were together and were given indirect and direct questions to teach. I think we got a fairly raw deal, because it’s quite hard to guide learners to working out the grammatical form of a question type which can include three different verbs! But we gave it a good shot, and then I got some good feedback when we were put into groups mixed of people who had done the same exercise for other grammar points, and we all had to try our own out. I think it’s a much easier technique to use on slightly ‘smaller’ grammar items, like adverbs of frequency. I’ll definitely try and use it at some point in my next grammar TP!
After that long session, Helen came in to give us our grades for our assignment and I was pleased to have received 30/32… I was worried I’d made some of the errors that Helen had mentioned casually yesterday morning, but it looks like it was OK in the end.
Partly to celebrate my grade, and also partly to quell an outrageous hunger, I went for a walk around the ‘block’ over lunch and fought my way through all the tourists swarming around Checkpoint Charlie to get to Backwerk. My jam sandwich (yes, I am five years old inside) hadn’t quite hit the spot, so I went and got a chicken panini thing instead. It was pretty delicious actually, despite the surprise cheese inside which had unfortunately melted beyond the point of possible extrication (I’m not the greatest fan of cheese, which will no doubt horrify many of you reading this!)
For the rest of lunch, since I’m triumphantly not teaching again until Tuesday, I just sat and tapped away at this blog, as well as doing some more photocopying for the assignment.
For mine and Allegra’s feedback, Helen had created another feedback sheet for us, and we had to discuss some key problems with mine and Allegra’s lessons. With my lessons, Helen pulled me up on how I correct students, as I still can’t quite get it right in my head when I am supposed to monitor and write notes, and when students require immediate correction. I of course know the fundamental rule of ‘if it’s an accuracy activity, then correct immediately, but if it’s a fluency activity, then take notes for later.’ However, I think because Helen had mentioned this on Tuesday after my TP 3, it was at the forefront of my mind, so I almost went the opposite way in TP4 and did very minimal correction, except on the board at the end. That’s definitely something I need to work on.
I also learnt a great way for describing the Present perfect tense, as I had come a little unstuck in my lesson with two very similar example sentences which both seemed to mean the same thing, but which used different tenses:
Barack Obama has published a children’s book.
Winston Churchill painted over 50 pictures in his life.
Helen helped us all hugely by telling us that we should explain it using a time frame. That is, if the ‘time frame [of the sentence/utterance] is restricted’ (for example because Winston Churchill is dead in the example sentence above) then it will always be Past simple. However, if the time frame is still open, as in a sentence about Barack Obama, then it will likely be Present Perfect. Bingo!
From Allegra’s lesson, we learnt that you should always be sure of the focus of each exercise you do – the CELTA course places a lot of emphasis on the correct labelling of lesson stages, such as ‘reading for gist’ or ‘listening for detailed understanding’ and it’s important to think through the implications of those labels. Overall, though, the Feedback was very positive and I was delighted to have been given another ‘Above the standard expected’ grade : )
As James was the only person teaching on Friday, we left him to discuss his lesson alone with Helen (on her instructions; we didn’t just all walk out!) and went to do some photocopying and preparation for other lessons.
Rory taught his first hour-long lesson about comparatives, using cities as the topic, and Alex expanded on his lesson by focusing on phrases such as ‘more than,’ ‘as big as’ etc. We had all initially been perplexed how such a small area of language could be dragged out for an hour, but it became apparent that our students needed the practice, and Alex did a great job.
After class, I walked home with Ingrid and we stopped at Edeka for some food. Due to my gluttony over lunch, I had a salad for dinner and actually almost had an entire evening off. My replacement phone had arrived at school on Monday, but I had told myself I couldn’t play with it until after my TP4. Wednesday evening was of course so mental that I didn’t have time to play with it, so I ended up spending most of Thursday evening playing with it, and allowing my wonderful technologic helpdesk boyfriend to remote desktop on my laptop to try and restore my contacts from my back-up file for me. That part of the mission has been put on hold (he had to leave to go to badminton!), but I managed to set up most of the rest of it, and it’s now blissful to have a functioning phone again! I went to bed far too late, as I felt guilty for my procrastination and decided to start looking further at our Language Skills assignment around half 10, which I sorely regretted in the morning!
CELTA Day Ten: Friday 24th April
The One Where We Said Goodbye To Our Lovely Class
I’m writing this on Saturday and we have a lot to do this weekend, so I am going to try and keep this one short, at least!
Both Ingrid and I struggled to get out of bed yesterday morning, as we had both treated ourselves to a lazy Thursday evening but still gone to bed far too late! We were consequently both running a bit late in the morning, but we still made it to school for 8.45.
Our input session was a longer one because it was a tricky area: phonology! Some people looked visibly horrified when Helen put the Adrian Underhill version of the phonetic chart on the board, but she taught such a fantastic input session that we were all friends with it by the end. I was already vaguely familiar with the symbols from university and my geeky pre-CELTA YouTube perusing, but Helen took us through each symbol and got us to say the sound out loud, before asking for example words of each sound. Then we talked about some funny differences between American and British English, before looking through some of the course books to see how they gradually introduce the phonetic symbols without terrifying learners with the whole chart. Our final activity was to go through a list of words and match their underlined syllable to a phoneme from the chart. This was a lot of fun, and also ended in another hilarious discussion about American and British differences – and laughter with confused Kyle, who has a partly South African and partly Australian accent, so was struggling to fit himself into either category!
After that longer input session, we had a shorter one to introduce us to the first part of the third assignment (Assignment 3a, if you will) which doesn’t sound too bad, as it’s basically a self-evaluation piece. We have to write about our strengths, weaknesses and what we have taken from observing other teachers. I’ll definitely try to do that one before the longer Language Skills one this weekend.
Over lunch we tried to do some of the admin that we had been asked to do before Monday morning because of our upcoming tutorials on Tuesday, and then I escaped into the sun for a bit.
We had feedback for Alex and Rory’s lesson, and then brief guidance for mine and Allegra’s on Tuesday. Thankfully we get an extra session on Monday, as it’s hard to plan a lesson for learners you haven’t met yet, so hopefully meeting the new C1 class on Monday will be quite instructive for how to approach TP5. I feel like I’ve got the short straw again with explaining gerunds and infinitive constructions, but apparently practice is key so I’ll just see how it goes!
We then ended up with a long break before class started, so we decided what we were going to do in our last free lesson with our class (which, again, Jim should have been teaching) and then I popped to Rossman for some treats for them – Italian chocolates for Allegra; Werther’s Originals to represent me, Rory and James as the British contingent and huge American cookies for Alex! James taught them a proper grammar lesson on the past continuous, and then after the break was our free lesson.
We gave them the treats at the beginning of the lesson and they seemed really chuffed. Alex went through the travel blog writing they had done on Wednesday, and helped them correct their own mistakes, and then we asked them to fill out feedback sheets for us, which we put in an envelope to peruse later. By this point, there wasn’t much of the lesson left, so we decided to just chat with them in little groups, which they seemed to love! (And it means that the little box of assorted Ritter Sport chocolate that I had also bought to be a prize for the game we were going to play, is now safely in my locker to be our motivation next week!)
After they had said lots of very kind thank yous and goodbyes, we looked over our feedback forms and I was really touched with mine, actually. You can see some of them at the side. Then we had a shorter feedback session because only James had taught, and then Alex and I just decided to go home. I felt terrible, as I’d made an effort to arrange drinks on the beautiful Gendarmenmarkt square after school, but we had forgotten that Fridays are even longer days, and our group was pretty beat after school. I had a tension headache growing, so we just headed home and I devoured another huge bowl of pasta and drank about three litres of water. Thankfully the headache never materialised, so I was able to start and finish my self-evaluative ‘Lessons from the classroom’ assignment before crashing out in bed!