You know the drill…I can’t control myself….
CELTA Week Three
Day Eleven: Monday 27th April
The One Where We Squished 12 C1-level Learners Into A Room Designed For Only 6!
Monday morning began in a strange way for me: I went to bed just before 10pm, but woke up wide awake at 2am. It took me a while to get back to sleep, so it was a bit of a struggle to get up at 6.15 when my alarm went off. I got ready and munched my porridge and sipped my coffee whilst reading about the phonology of connected speech in advance of input session 1.
I was also very naughty and paid €1.60 to get the U-Bahn with Alex, rather than walk 3km in the pouring rain! This meant that we arrived at school 15 minutes before we’re officially allowed in at 8.30, but we beeped twice and poor Helen eventually succumbed and let us in. We did some photocopying and printing, and updated our CELTA 5s, which are the official booklets that Cambridge require from each CELTA candidate. They are held in special folders in school which we are not allowed to remove from the school, and the halfway progress report had to be filled in by us in advance of our tutorials tomorrow (Tuesday.)
Our first input session was indeed on the phonology of connected speech, and was super interesting. My breakfast revision of phonological terminology turned out to be very useful as I was able to name most of the phenomena we discussed. I kept quiet on a few so people didn’t get fed up of me, but the whole session was really fascinating. We learnt about how English and German are stress-timed languages, with stress being placed on the words that carry meaning (like nouns and adjectives). We had to transcribe some sentences in citation form (ie. how they would be said on their own) and in rapid reduced speech (ie. normal speed, where all the words merge together.) We then learnt about all the different phonological phenomena that occur in normal speech, such as dropping sounds, merging sounds and contracting sounds – but I won’t bore / terrify any non-ELT readers with too much scientific language!
After the break, Eoghan talked us through our fourth (and technically sort-of-final) assignment, Focus on the learner. This one requires us to, unsurprisingly, focus on one learner from our new Teaching Practice groups, and talk about their language learning experience, their needs and their strengths and weaknesses. We then have to suggest some material to help them improve in their weak areas and then, for our second Teaching Practice this week, we actually give them a one-on-one lesson tailored to their needs! It’s not due until after the weekend, so we have a lot of time to scribble information on them!
To help us with the assignment, we spent the last 45 minutes of Input talking about learner styles, which was also pretty intriguing. It reminds me of the MBTI tests we did towards the end of my time working at Routledge, which was also a fascinating insight into personalities and interaction preferences.
Over lunch, I did some lesson planning to be ready to discuss my lesson with Helen at 1, which was actually very reassuring because I am worried about teaching an item of grammar which she described in my TP Points as ‘hard to explain with too many rules, so just let them practice!’ Apparently my plan seems alright, so I carried on fiddling with various bits and bobs whilst Allegra and Rory talked through their lessons. As there was no Feedback today (since we do Friday feedback on Friday after the lesson), we had an extra amount of time to work on our lesson plans, so I took the opportunity to practice what I was going to write on the board for my lesson tomorrow again. It worked quite well when I taught my grammar lesson, so I thought I would give it another go.
Helen then explained a bit about what was going to happen from 3 o’clock when our new students arrived. We have now moved from a B1 class to a C1 class (=more advanced learners). Last week, the C1 class fluctuated from 2 – 4 learners – and once they even had one just one person! This time, six had signed up, and then we all had the shock of our lives when, by 3.30, twelve learners had somehow squeezed into the smaller input room. We had thought that the B1 group would be bigger this week, but as it happens, they only have 4 learners so we will certainly be swapping rooms tomorrow!
Helen taught the massive group (of which we are all now a little terrified!) for an hour, and then after the break we did a sort of speed-dating event, where the five of us trainee teachers moved between little groups of students, in order to gather some good data about their interests, learning history, weaknesses and strengths for our experiment. In such a small room, it was quite intense and got very loud by the end – I think some of the weaker students were really quite stressed by the noise, so I think we will all be more comfortable in the bigger room!
After an hour of being on my chirpiest, most enthusiastic behaviour whilst chatting to all these incredibly fluent C1 students, I was exhausted! The five of us had a little terrified chat afterwards, where we attempted to plan a mass escape so as not to have to teach such a big group…but then decided it would be OK in a bigger room with more distance between us and the students : )
I walked home with Alex, stopping for supplies in Edeka and then a very guilty box of crispy chicken noodles in the station. I don’t know what came over me, but I’ve had a lot of pasta, a lot of salad, and pizza twice since being here…so I just all of a sudden started craving noodles! Bad Rachel (but oh so delicious!)
It did, however, mean that I could get home, pack my food into my cupboard and get down to business with my lesson plan straight away. It’s now 9.47pm and I’m pretty happy that it’s almost there… I am going to save some of the practice exercises to do tomorrow so the rules are fresh in my head, too! So I have treated myself to a Skype session with the boy back home before he headed off for one of his last badminton matches of our season, and I have just scribbled this post. I also wrote a little note on the CELTA Facebook group that I am blogging about the course, in case it helps anyone decide whether it would suit them, and within half an hour, I had had 80 hits on my blog, which is most definitely a new record for little old berlingo! So thank you to everyone reading my waffle : )
Day Twelve: Tuesday 29th April
The One Where I Had To Teach The C1 Mob!
Tuesday morning was tutorial morning, and I was all set for waking up early and trekking to the citizens’ office in the area where I’ll be living for the next three months in order to register my new address. In Germany, being a freelancer of any sort seems incredibly complicated, as you need to register your address to be able to get a tax number, and then you need a tax number to be able to invoice your bosses. Of course, you also need a German bank account but I haven’t even dared try that yet as I’m terrified I’ll have some kind of record from when I lived in Hannover but never un-registered and the whole process will then be incredibly painful… But anyway, that particular civil service office doesn’t open until 11 on a Tuesday, and my tutorial was at 11.30 so that ruled out that plan. It worked well, actually, as it left me some time to faff around with my Language Skills assignment that I am being weirdly indecisive over, and then lots of time to fiddle with my lesson plan for my first lesson with the C1 class.
I braved the rain this morning, and didn’t frivolously take the U-Bahn to school. I did some photocopying for my lesson before my tutorial, and then went in to see Helen. She first asked some general questions about how I’m finding the course, the flat, the group, the students…everything! That is of course all hunky-dory, so then we went through my CELTA 5, the big booklet we all have to keep filling in throughout the course. I had accidentally written too much in the little boxes where we have to describe what kind of lessons we’ve taught (how unsurprising!) so Helen highlighted the key elements for the assessor to see, should he so wish.
Then we talked about my self-evaluation of my progress so far – the first part of the ‘Lessons from the classroom assignment’. What I wrote in that little essay was also related to what I had ticked in our CELTA 5 booklet. I had chosen ‘To Standard’ for almost everything, except writing skills which is irrelevant as I haven’t yet taught a writing lesson, and for error correction and instruction checking I put ‘Not to standard’ as they were my weaker areas that I need to improve upon. Helen kindly disagreed with me, and put To Standard for everything except about 10 boxes (there are about 50) where she had ticked Above Standard, as I am apparently quite good at planning and very helpful with my comments in feedback. So that was nice! She had also written her summary comment saying I am To Standard for the stage of the course currently, with a little caveat that I need to get better at certain things in order to get ‘one of the higher grades.’ It wasn’t overly helpful, as I know what my weak areas are, so some suggestions might have been useful, but I think I’ll ask that in Feedback today. Overall, it was an OK tutorial, but it only lasted for about 15 minutes so I had a whole hour and a bit left before Feedback to go over my lesson plan. The Resource Room was a little crowded, as everyone was in for their tutorials and had just stayed to prep for their lessons, so I stayed in my tutorial room and enjoyed the peace and quiet for a bit.
At 1pm, we talked about Rory, James and Alex’s lessons for tomorrow, and then talked a bit more about the one-to-one lessons we’re doing with our students on Thursday and Friday. I’m not sure if all centres do this, but as Friday is a public holiday in Germany, the Berlin School of English can’t oblige its students to come in for group classes, but we can entice them to come in for one-on-one lessons with us. So tomorrow we have an input session on teaching one-to-one, and Helen has suggested that the people we teach in those individual lessons are the people we write our Focus on the Learner assignments on, because then we will have more data. So I am writing mine on a lovely man called Oliver, who is a German Marketing Manager with two children who attend a bilingual school!
After Feedback and Guidance, there was more time to plan for lessons, so I wrote out my rules for infinitives and gerunds on the board whilst Allegra wrote out her vocabulary. She was teaching first, but had kindly said I could use some of her board in advance, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to write up my rules.
Allegra taught a listening lesson on ‘the psychology of music,’ which the students seemed to find really interesting. There was one German guy dominating the class a bit, though, as he’s clearly something of a classical music nut and that’s what the majority of the recording was! I think both Allegra and I underestimated how rowdy a class of 12 confident English speakers can be, as opposed to our previous class of four or five very timid older German ladies, who would practically whisper to each other when we said ‘talk to your partner!’ You have to really assert your authority over this group, because some of them just love to chat! Poor Allegra also had the challenge of constant latecomers – some people who don’t finish work until 2.30 and arrive late; some people who are in the intensive classes upstairs at the school and then don’t finish there until 3.15…all in all, it’s a pretty steady flow of newcomers and a pretty steady increase in noise until about 3.30, but Allegra coped admirably.
Allegra’s lesson ran a little bit over, which threw me off my initial timings a bit. I just about managed to get it back on track at the start of the lesson, but it really was hard work with such a big class of 12.
I was teaching grammar again: this time verbs which take gerunds and verbs which take the infinitive. It was a hard lesson to start in an interesting way as the theme was also music – I was doing the remainder of the double-page spread she had worked through. So my lead-in was a bit rubbish, but the rest of the lesson seemed OK. My example sentences seemed to work well to clarify the different uses of remember, forget, try and need, which (apparently!) change their meaning depending on whether they are followed by a gerund or infinitive – I literally am learning something new about English every day! They seemed to like my worksheet and then enjoyed the free practice at the end, so that was good, although I didn’t explain it fantastically so I am really going to try and work on Instruction Checking Questions for the remaining three TPs. (Can’t believe we only have three left!) All in all, I think it definitely could have gone better, but it also could have gone much worse. I am glad I practised writing things on the board in advance again, though, as that really helped!
After the break we got to watch Ricky teach, which I had always wanted to do. He has been teaching English for about 15 years, and has now decided he would like to do the DELTA so he’s warming himself up with the CELTA. He regales us with lots of anecdotes about his experience in class so I had always been curious to see him teach. The minute he got the students’ attention, you could tell he had a really solid classroom presence. He moved so well from one exercise to the next and, although the students struggled initially with his grammar point of ‘to have/get something done [for you]’, his explanations and checking questions were so good that they were clearly all on the same page by the end of his lesson. He somehow had no problems controlling the rabble, and did lots of circling of the room to sort of keep his presence strong. It was definitely a fantastic experience to watch him teach – there were a few CELTA-specific techniques that he was struggling a little with, but overall he’s clearly a brilliant teacher.
After class it was time for home and a new variation on my salad: salad + pan-friend mushrooms and peppers, but this week with the addition of chopped-up Frikadellen, or meatballs. More #CELTAsustenance, that’s for sure!
I am also grateful to my wonderful boyfriend back home, who connected to my laptop remotely on Tuesday before his badminton match (mind.blown.!) , and restored all my contacts back to my phone. All I need now is for my phone case to arrive and my little Xperia Compact will be back to its shiny new self 🙂
Day Thirteen: Wednesday 29th April
The One Where We All Thought It Was Thursday
On Wednesday I walked to school with Ingrid, and our first session was on teaching one-to-one. In case you missed me mention it earlier, due to the German May Day Bank Holiday on Friday, the Berlin School of English can’t force students to come in for group lessons. Therefore, they make them a special offer and say that the first 6 people in each class to express their interest will get a one-on-one lesson, and then to make it fair, those teaching on Thursday also have to teach one-to-one. I fall into the latter category of Thursday teachers so the upcoming input session on teaching one-to-one did feel a little late, but it was still very interesting. I had already selected my material for Oliver by this point, but it was nice to have it reinforced that I had made a good choice!
After the break we had an interesting session on Functional Language, which was the only tab in my giant folder which I hadn’t yet filled with handouts or notes. Eoghan taught us how to analyse language which fulfils a purpose in chunks, aka ‘functional exponents’, and how to teach them to students. Context is obviously of pivotal importance here, so it’ll be interesting to watch the first people who teach functional-focused lessons.
Over lunch I did some more lesson planning and then we did feedback from Tuesday’s lessons. Helen praised my neat board work, but we all agreed that I had a bit too much written up there, considering I had given students a handout with the information on it already. I had also asked for some help with formulating Instruction Checking Questions, because checking students’ understanding of my instructions is still something I’m finding a little tough, and her advice there ws very helpful. In her written report I also learnt that it’s very unprofessional to have black edges from the photocopier on my worksheets so, although they have otherwise been praised for looking very professional, I need to get cutting and re-sticking when I am only using smaller sections from textbook pages! A valuable lesson to learn!
We did Allegra’s feedback and then talked about our plans for our one-to-one lessons the following day – the turnaround is sometimes so intense on this course! To go from having 6 days with no teaching, to two days to prepare a new lesson plan was quite tough! But thankfully the one-to-one lesson plan wasn’t expected to be quite as detailed, as you have to be flexible to your student in the class, which is why I was slightly less stressed about leaving it to the night before, which I hadn’t otherwise done. But Allegra and I had only decided which students to teach on Wednesday, so we didn’t have much choice in the matter anyway! We are both going to write our Focus on the Learner assignments, which are due next Tuesday, on the people we are teaching our one-to-one lessons to, so fingers crossed we get more material then.
After our guidance we had more time to prepare our lesson plans, whilst Rory, Alex and James got ready for their lessons. They were all absolutely fantastic and really took control of the class in a way that Allegra and I hadn’t been able to. I really enjoyed watching them all, particularly at the moment when Rory told them they were going to be writing something, and they all got unbelievably excited before he’d even told them what they were going to be writing!
After class I headed home via Edeka (which is becoming a theme! Why is healthy food so expensive and hard to carry home?!) and then just worked for the rest of the evening on my lesson plan and materials for my one-to-one lesson the following day.
Day Fourteen: Thursday 30th April
The One With The One-to-One Lesson
On Thursday morning I walked to work to the sounds of OK Kid, a German band. Despite having (hopefully) temporarily lost my SD card from when my phone was being fixed, I realised I can still fit some music on my phone’s internal memory, and I’m finding it weird speaking so much English in my favourite German city, so I thought I’d use any walks on my own to indulge in some light rock auf Deutsch.
Input session number one of the day was our third session on listening skills. Helen came in and decided we all looked a bit lethargic (which we probably were from the fear of one-to-one lessons!) so she started the day with a running dictation which, as the name suggests, involved some running and some dictation! I made a joke about it being called that right at the beginning, and Helen made me repeat myself once Kyle and Matt had won the dictation race because it turns out that is indeed the proper name for that technique! It definitely woke us all up!
For the rest of the session, we steered away from course books and instead looked at a variety of other ways you can do listening lessons, such as live listenings, video-based exercises and podcasts. We looked over the materials for a live listening exercise that the B1 + classes do on the intensive courses upstairs, and then heard an example of a text from BBC’s Our Correspondent about cycling in Berlin, which is apparently also very popular on the intensive courses. It was a very eye-opening session into going beyond the course book, that’s for sure! I get the sense that Helen isn’t the biggest fan of course books, and it was fascinating to hear all her ideas for ways to train students’ listening skills without them!
After the break we had a session with Eoghan on evaluating published course materials – so a direct contrast to our quirky, off-piste session with Helen beforehand! It was very helpful though, as Eoghan gave us all a little overview of some of the key course books for different areas (English for Academic Purposes; Business English, general English, pronunciation etc.) and then we had some time leftover to skim through some of them in order to find some ideas for our one-to-one lessons and/or our Focus on the Learner assignment. It was a bit too late for me to be using the time to sort out my lesson plan for the afternoon, but I did find some good Marketing- and Sales-related content in some of the business books, which is great for my learner who is
a Sales and Marketing manager!
After lunch and some final tweaks to our plan, we had feedback for the three great lessons the day before. We all learnt more from Helen about Instruction Checking Questions and how to do them, and I am hoping that I might be able to implement them a little more successfully the next time I teach a big class.
Then it was one-to-one time. Allegra firstly taught a German guy in his late twenties, who had requested to do some work on idioms. He speaks very fluently, with a fantastic Australian twang after two years spent living down under, but he’d like to give his language some added finesse. He seemed to really enjoy his lesson, and she worked through it very well with him in what is a much more intense situation than I had remembered, one-to-one lessons. We were in one of the teacher trainer’s offices, so it was a bit cosy with four of us in there (me and Helen were observing) but the student didn’t bat an eyelid and was very grateful at the end.
Then it was my turn, and Oliver came in and we began the lesson with a nice conversation about the rowing session he had left class early to attend yesterday. It turns out he is training for a triathlon, so I will definitely be giving him some sport-related material in my ‘Focus on the learner’ assignment, for which he is my subject!
Oliver had requested some practice on the –ing forms, or to give them their proper name, the continuous aspect in the past and present. We started with some eliciting involving daily routines, and it became clear quite quickly that Oliver’s grammar isn’t quite on a par with his speaking. All my exercises therefore took much longer than I had planned, as I had envisaged the lesson to be more like a revision lesson than a teaching lesson. But since he struggled so much more than I had anticipated, we didn’t make it to any of the more fun, communicative activities I had planned. But oh well, he seemed incredibly grateful and had definitely made progress within the hour. It was also a good lesson for me to suddenly realise that not everyone can just get grammar – it clearly doesn’t come naturally to Oliver, so it was a good challenge for me to explain things to him in a less rules-focused way.
After those two intense lessons, we watched the rest of our normal class being taught by one of the teachers from upstairs (since Helen had to observe us) to make up the 6 hours of observation of experienced teachers we need to have done for our course.
After that, I was absolutely exhausted so I headed home for some more pasta and chopped-up meatball deliciousness (way better than it sounds, I promise!) before some self-evaluating and some finalising of my Language Skills assignment. It was a late night!
Day Fifteen: Friday 1st April
The One When Nobody Else Went To Work
It’s May Day today, or ‘Workers’ Day’ – aka a German Bank Holiday. If you thought Germany on a Sunday was pretty quiet on the main business streets, try Germany on a Bank Holiday! As I walked to school on my own with the dulcet German tones of OK Kid (thanks, Sabrina!) in my ears, I was genuinely spooked by how few people were on Friedrichstraße, one of the most famous and busiest streets in the city.
I got to school just before 9am and did some tidying up in the resource room because no other trainees were in to play with me. It’s amazing how far and wide little bits of discarded worksheet and paperclips can scatter! Allegra appeared just before 9 and we had feedback on our one-to-one lessons from yesterday. We all agreed that Allegra’s tricky lesson on idioms had gone well, and I realised that I had inadvertently learnt a valuable lesson about learners: that the loudest, cockiest and most confident ones are very often the ones who struggle with grammar!
Then we discussed my lesson, and I was relieved to hear Helen tell me that I had made all the right choices, despite my thinking it hadn’t gone very well. I was disappointed we hadn’t had time to do anything vaguely communicative and/or fun, but she agreed that it would have been too hard for Oliver, and that I did the right thing giving him extra controlled practice on the Past and Present continuous together instead. One amusing piece of feedback both Helen and Allegra had noted is that I say ‘a little bit’ all the time – apparently verbs were ‘a little bit irregular’ and some of the questions I had set Oliver were ‘a little bit tricky!’ I thought that was really funny! I would absolutely hate to hear myself…!
I was further delighted at the end of the session to get my feedback sheet and see I got a third Above Standard, eep! We also got our Week Three progress reports, and mine says that I have ‘made strong progress and met or exceeded the standards required up to this stage of the course. Providing that [I] continue to this in Week Four, [I] can be confident of successfully completing the course.’ Double eep!
There is the chance that I might be awarded a higher grade if I can:
a) give clear, succinct instructions using Instruction Checking Questions where appropriate
b) correct students as appropriate (ie. in accuracy tasks, but not in fluency tasks)
c) control my Teacher Talk
So any suggestions are welcome here!
On that same Week Three (or perhaps it’s called ‘Stage Three,’ which seems a little odd!) feedback form, there is a subtle little comment to tell us to try and not ask for too much help for Week Four… Not that I could in the 9.30am slot that Helen allocated to Allegra and me anyway, as I had stayed up late the night before to finish my assignment and self-evaluation and hadn’t even looked at my lesson for Monday!
Since it was a Bank Holiday, and we had no classes (see Thursday), it was a strange kind of day in school. Lots of trainees were teaching and observing each other, and I observed Rory give a rather excellent one-to-one lesson in which he coached a tour guide through a speech she was going to deliver to a bunch of Norwegian schoolchildren as she toured them round Berlin the following weekend! After the feedback for that, I essentially camped out in the main input room and began working on my Focus on the learner assignment. I knew school wasn’t open on Saturday (as it otherwise has been) so I plotted out what I needed and did some photocopying. For the large part of the morning, I had the whole room to myself as most people were either teaching, in the resource room or not in school. My hideout was found eventually, but I still managed to get quite a lot done and eventually gave up and went home around 4 when I realised just how tired I was.
I stopped in Edeka on the way home (thank God for supermarkets in train stations!) and bought some more salad stuff, and then was very naughty and also bought a slice of pizza – a Friday craving just overpowered me and I was helpless to resist! I got home, unpacked my food, got frustrated that I can’t use my Lidl Mobile SIM card without a German bank account (argh!) and then decided to have a nap.
I felt tonnes better after a guilty hour’s nap, and had some coffee and danced around to some wonderfully random songs on Fritz Radio as I got ready to go out. I worked hard at school because I had decided I deserve a night off, so I headed out around 7 and went to Sabrina’s again. She had a whole delicious spread of olive bread and meats ready for me when I got there, and we enjoyed ‘ein gutes deutsches Abendbrot’ together over her favourite drink, an Americano. I originally thought she meant coffee, but it’s a short cocktail involving Campari and red Martini…and I really didn’t like it! I tried so hard but, alas, sadly not my thing! Give me a sugary Daiquiri any day!
We then headed out to a bar in Friedrichshain, which was sadly shut due to the Bank Holiday, so our slightly wild night out turned into a very cosy night out involving tea and waffles in a very cute little place called Kauf dich glücklich in Prenzlauer Berg. We were with Sabrina’s Belgian friend Anne, and we had a rather excellent evening auf Deutsch, and I was home by around midnight. Ready for some serious CELTA study this weekend!