New year, new language? Language learning resolutions for 2019.

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Cheers, Duolingo… This was a while ago, hope I’ve improved a bit since then! 

Since it’s the start of a new year, I thought I’d write about my language learning goals for 2019, in the hope that this will help me become clearer about what I want to achieve (and also help me stick to it!).

I realised recently that, despite having a languages degree and reaching C2 level in Spanish, my language learning strategies aren’t particularly well developed. I’ve always been lucky enough to “pick up” vocabulary quite quickly, especially when I was living in Chile (but also when I was studying at university and spending a lot of time reading  complex literary texts in Spanish). This means that I don’t really have strategies for learning vocabulary (apart from the classic “read, cover, write, check” strategy that I remember from primary school spelling tests). So, I’m also hoping to experiment with different language learning strategies and use what I learn from this to help my students.

I’m going to focus on two languages, Spanish and Polish.

Spanish

Where I am now.

Having studied Spanish at university and lived in Chile for 2 years, I’d say I’m probably at C2 level. I’ve never taken any formal proficiency tests (apart from university language exams) but essentially, everything I would normally do in English, I can also do in Spanish, including reading academic texts and writing academic articles – a couple of articles that I wrote with some Chilean friends have been published. Even now I’m not living in a Spanish-speaking country, I still use Spanish on a regular basis to keep in touch with friends and read news articles in Spanish.

What I want to achieve.

However, this doesn’t mean that there’s nothing left for me to achieve. The prospect of living and working in Chile again has given me a new set of goals:

  • I want to improve my general vocabulary. Overall, I think my receptive vocabulary is pretty good, but I could sometimes push myself to use more sophisticated vocabulary when speaking and writing.
  • Although I’ll mostly be working in English, there’s also the possibility of being involved in a couple of Spanish-language projects. So I want to be able to discuss teaching methodology comfortably in Spanish, with both specialists and non-specialists. This would also be useful outside of work: my best friend in Chile is a Spanish-language teacher in a Chilean state school, and we often talk about teaching.
  • I want to be able to write formal emails more comfortably. This is something I’ve never actually been taught to do – at school and university, we were only ever taught to write essays and summaries. At the moment, I often get my Spanish-speaking friends to proof-read important emails I have to send (and they normally tell me that the email’s fine) but I’d like to be confident enough not to need this.
  • I want to start reading for pleasure in Spanish again. I don’t often read novels in Spanish (analyzing Spanish texts to death at university took all of the joy out of reading in Spanish for me) but it’ll be much easier for me to get hold of books in Spanish than in English once I move to Chile.

What I’m going to do

I’d like to have some lessons, but I don’t think that’s going to be possible – as I’ve got very specific goals, I’d want to have 1-2-1 lessons, rather than group classes, which are probably out of my price range. So, this is what I’m going to do:

  • Extensive reading: this will hopefully help me both get more comfortable with reading for pleasure in Spanish AND acquire some more vocab. I want to read 5 books in Spanish in 2019. 
  • Intensive reading: I’ve recently started reading newspaper articles in Spanish in a more focussed way, really trying to notice the language used and stealing useful chunks of language. I want to read at least 2 articles a week and record useful language in a notebook. 
  • Formal emails: I’m going to look at formal emails I’ve received and keep a list of useful expressions for formal emails.

I would also like to read more methodology books in Spanish, but I haven’t found any I like yet – of course, the majority of ELT methodology books are in English. I’ve been looking into ELE (Spanish as a foreign language) resources, but with no luck so far. I’d be grateful for any recommendations…

Polish

Where I am now.

After living for 3 years in Poland, my Polish is probably somewhere around  high elementary level. I went to a Polish class once a week during my first year but then life got in the way and I didn’t go to classes regularly after that. I managed to have some decent conversations with the school driver, Mr Zbyszek, on the way to my company classes – on a good day, we could spend almost all of the 40 minute journey talking about our families, holidays we’d had/ were planning to have, and life in England/Poland, with a little help from Google Translate occasionally. But I’m also very aware that my grammar is shaky and there are big gaps in my vocabulary. One of my biggest regrets about my time in Poland is not learning more Polish – if I could go back in time, I’d add 15 mins of studying Polish a day to my routine.

What I want to achieve.

  • I want to improve my general level of Polish for when I visit Poland in the future.
  • I want to be able to communicate better with my Polish friends – all of my close Polish friends speak English, but some of them occasionally message me in Polish, and I’d like to be able to reply more easily.

What I’m going to do.

  • I’m going to learn 5 new words a day on Memrise. I’ve just started doing this, and the course I’m using is mostly revision at the moment, but should have some new vocabulary in the later part of the course. So far, I’m on a 5-day streak…
  • By the end of 2019, I will have read a book in Polish. My book of choice is “Mały Książę” (otherwise known as “Le Petit Prince”, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry). I picked it up about 3 years ago in my local convenience store in Poland but it took me a while to get round to reading it. I tried a bit last year, but I could only understand about 10% of it without a dictionary (and I don’t want to look up every single word in the dictionary!). So this might be one for later on in the year…

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What are your language learning goals for 2019? 

 

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December reflection challenge

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A reflection from 2018 😉 (A garden in Granada, Spain).

When I saw this reflection challenge on the That is Evil blog (great name!), I couldn’t resist taking part.

Apart from the ones which describe activities, I’ve tried to keep it short and sweet.

So….here goes!

Day 1: your favourite activity from 2018

It’s got to be the “I’m an expert” activity that my friend Charlie showed me. It’s prep-free and really gets students talking. I’ve done it with several different classes and it’s always gone down well.

It goes something like this:
1) Students write their name and the sentence “I’m an expert in __________________” at the top of a piece of paper. E.g. Emma. I’m an expert in vegetarian food. 
(Some of my students were very modest and didn’t think they were experts in anything, so we said that they could write “I’m interested in ______________” instead).

2) Students leave their paper on their desk and walk round the room, writing questions for other students. It’s really important that everyone writes their name next to their question (I’ve learned from experience to demo and ICQ this stage…).
E.g. Emma. I’m an expert in vegetarian food.
What’s your favourite dish? (Charlie).
If you could only eat one vegetable for a month, what would that vegetable be? (Katie).

Monitor and help students with vocab / question form. Ideally, allow enough time for everyone to write a question for everyone else in class.

3) Students mingle, finding the people who’ve written questions for them and answering them. Monitor and note down language to upgrade as necessary. This stage always takes a lot longer than I expect because the students are generally very into their conversations.

4) Do feedback on content (students share the interesting/surprising things they’ve learned from their classmates) and language.

I did this activity with my intermediate group in an unassessed lesson during Delta Module 2 and we had a great time – it took up a whole hour, and we ended up talking about a huge variety of topics (the NBA, how to design a race car, the role of religion in Cuban society, typical Spanish and English food, and Brexit).

Day 2: most memorable story from 2018

It’s only vaguely teaching-related: being in a house fire the day before the Delta Module 1 exam and having to move flats immediately because we couldn’t stay there. I was pretty shaken up, but my friends and colleagues couldn’t have been kinder. And Delta seemed so unimportant after that…

Day 3: the best piece of advice you were given in 2018

Teach the students, not the plan.

Day 4: the moment in 2018 you felt proud as a teacher

Working on my YL teaching and noticing improvements. And presenting at an online conference for the first time (IH TOC 10)

Day 5: your favourite memory as a student

Studying abroad in Chile and experiencing a very different university culture (the stray dogs, the Friday parties, the tear gas). I’m still in touch with a lot of the friends I made then.

Day 6: the funniest story from 2018

My adults’ end-of-year test coincided with the Poland-Senegal match during the World Cup. As they obviously couldn’t use their phones during the test, they persuaded me to keep a scoreboard, and their reactions every time a goal was scored was hilarious.

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You mean you don’t have a special column on your board for the football scores?!

Day 7: your favourite coursebook in 2018

Ready for First was good for FCE writing and Use of English. Apart from that….pass. I’m not a great fan of coursebooks in general.

Day 8: a new idea you implemented in 2018

I tried to focus a lot more on learner autonomy and resources for self-study with all my groups. It worked best with my intermediate adults, as I did the same challenge with my Polish.

Day 9: your favourite teaching aid in 2018

Scrap paper (I’ve been trying to use fewer materials, and scrap paper is so versatile).

Day 10: the best joke you’ve heard in 2018

Pass (I’m terrible at remembering jokes). Have this vaguely ELT-related meme instead.

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Day 11: the moment in 2018 when you felt proud of your student

It’s really hard to choose just one student… almost all of my students made me proud. But if I have to choose: realizing how much more confident a particular in-company student was and how hard she’d worked.

Day 12: your favourite teaching website in 2018

I can’t pick just one….

Lesson Plans Digger and Tubequizard.

Day 13: the person who inspired you in 2018

My mum (a former secondary school history teacher). She still lives in the town she taught in, where I grew up, and regularly bumps into her old students, who always seem pleased to see her. I hope some of my students remember me as fondly in the future. She taught me that teaching is all about the people.

Day 14: the moment in 2018 you realised WHY you’re doing your job

Seeing my “difficult” YL class get excited about making story books in English, and working really well together.

Day 15: your greatest challenge in 2018

I left my comfort zone a lot (doing Delta, and teaching some challenging classes). It was a bit stressful.

Day 16: your strongest point as a teacher

I know that there’s still so much more for me to learn.

Day 17: most motivational idea/quotation/picture in 2018

“Be the change you want to see”.

Day 18: 3 reasons why you became a teacher

The pay?  (Joke).

I love languages and working with people. And I really wanted to go back to Chile.

Day 19: your favourite teaching application in 2018

Quizlet 🙂 (one of my students described it as “better than Facebook”).

Day 20: a piece of advice you would give to a rookie teacher

I wrote a whole blog post about the things I wish I’d known as a new teacher 🙂

Day 21: the best CPD book you read in 2018

Listening in the Language Classroom, by John Field (over one weekend, in the middle of Delta Module 2…).

Day 22: your greatest frustration in 2018

Lack of work-life balance (I studied for Delta Module 1 and 3 while working full time).

Day 23: one thing you want non-teachers to understand

I am a “real teacher”, not just a backpacker. I’m qualified and I care about my job.

Day 24: your most memorable teaching experiment in 2018

Videoing myself teach. I hated doing it, but it really helped me pinpoint things I could improve on. I suppose I’d do it again…

Day 25: your personal success in 2018

Getting a Distinction for Delta Module 1 (I have terrible exam-related anxiety, so this was a REALLY BIG DEAL).

Day 26: one thing you plan to change in 2019

I want to have a better work-life balance. No to taking work home!

Day 27: your greatest discovery in 2018

I feel so much more confident than I did before.

Day 28: which superpower would make you a Super-Teacher

I wish I could magically help my students believe in themselves more.

Day 29: one area to improve in your teaching in 2019

I want to spend more time reviewing and recycling vocab with my classes (I always run out of time!).

Day 30: how do you plan to start your first lesson in 2019

My first lesson in 2019 probably won’t be until March….some GTKY activities, I suppose.

Day 31: the most important thing you want to remember tomorrow

The things I worried about most in 2018 didn’t happen/weren’t that bad after all… and I feel happy right now.

 

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A moment of absolute calmness (celebrating my birthday by going hiking in Torres del Paine, Chile, with a good friend).

2018 was quite an intense year but, overall, a good one. I lived in 3 countries (Poland, Spain, and the UK) and finally managed to go back to Chile and visit my Chilean friends. I met some amazing people, who I hope to keep in touch with. I feel that I’ve developed a lot as a teacher and I’m really excited to start my new job in Chile in March

Like a seal on thin ice…

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Photo from ELT Pics by dudeneyge

I love my career. I love working with my students. I love seeing them making progress and becoming more confident at communicating in English. I love the opportunities I’ve had to travel and see parts of the world that I never imagined I’d visit, let alone live in (and yes, I’m very much aware that being a white native speaker with a British passport means that it’s much easier for me to find jobs abroad than for many other people. Which really sucks: qualifications + experience > a teacher’s L1 or nationality). I really love my career…except when I don’t!

You see, over the past few months, I’ve come to realise just how much of my professional life is dominated by uncertainty and the resultant anxiety. Just to give a few examples:

  • I’ve just been offered a fantastic job….but will I get a visa? Will I be able to get all the documents I need in time?
  • What will happen when the UK leaves the EU? How difficult will it be for me to get a job in the EU? How difficult will it be for me to get a job in ELT in the UK if EU student numbers fall post-Brexit? What will happen to my friends who are currently working in the EU?
  • My first job in ELT was as a language assistant at a Chilean university (which I’m deliberately not going to name). I never knew when I was going to be paid (I started work in September, and didn’t get my first pay cheque until the end of November….and that was not an isolated incident) and, unfortunately, complaining about these conditions led me to being treated with some hostility. So I often worried about when I’d be paid, if I’d be able to pay my rent…and what would happen if I complained again.
  • When I worked at a language school in the UK, the number of hours I worked varied wildly from week to week, dependent on student enrolment, which led to financial uncertainty on my part. Luckily, I was living with my parents at the time – I certainly couldn’t have afforded to rent my own place.
  • When I’m working at summer schools in the UK, there’s always the constant worry of what will happen when student numbers drop: will my contract get cut at short notice? This is especially bad when you’re relying on your income from summer school to supplement your wages from your year-round job…

I can do very little about some of these situations: anxiety surrounding getting a visa is part and parcel of living and working abroad. And there’s not much that I, personally, can do about Brexit (A People’s Vote, please….). But it seems to me that a lot of the anxiety I’m feeling is caused by poor working conditions in the ELT industry. I’m quite an anxious person generally and I’ve spent years working on strategies to minimise/deal with my anxiety and, overall, I’m doing much better. And this leads me to say: if I’m still feeling anxious, ELT, it’s not me, it’s you.

I realise that schools are businesses and they need to make money to survive. I don’t necessarily think that most school owners are rolling in money. But, having worked in a great school in Poland for the last two years, where I was treated well (paid on time, a guaranteed salary even when students cancelled at the last minute, sick pay), I know that it is possible to treat your teachers fairly and still run a successful business. The problem is: how to improve working conditions in the EFL industry? I can turn down a job if the pay and conditions aren’t what I want…but I know that eventually, that job will be filled (possibly by someone fresh off CELTA) and so school owners won’t see the need to improve conditions. I know that there’s been some discussion in Ireland recently about the need for legislation to address the precarious working conditions in the ELT sector there, and I really hope that this brings about results.

I love my career – it challenges me and opens my eyes on a daily basis. But still so much more needs to be done. But how?

Ultimately, I know that this is a distinctly unfestive blog post, with more questions than answers,  but I would have welcomed reading something like this before I started out on my TEFL journey. Here’s to a better 2019!

The title of this post comes from an expression that one of my Delta coursemates used to describe how anxious we felt at times on the course. I’ve stolen it because it’s quite an apt description of my feelings right now. 

My favourite Christmas activities

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Wrocław Christmas market….well worth a visit 🙂 

It’s almost Christmas! ‘Tis the season to…plan your Christmas lessons (at least if you’re an English teacher). I won’t be teaching any Christmas lessons this year 😦 , as I’m currently on an extended post-Delta break/job-hunting, but I thought I’d write about my favourite activities anyway, in case they’re useful for other people and to help me remember them for next year.

1. Christmas speaking lesson 

This lesson works particularly well with FCE/CAE exam classes because it follows the format of the FCE/CAE speaking exam (some colleagues and I at IH Bydgoszcz originally planned this together as a lesson for our FCE classes, thanks Charlie, Rose, and Shannon). I think it’s quite a fun speaking lesson anyway and have also used it with other adult classes.

  1. Before the lesson, write a list of Christmas-themed characters, one character for each student in your class / if you split your class into smaller groups, one character for each student in a particular group. For my mostly teenage FCE students, we had characters such as Santa Claus, a Wise Man, the Grinch, an elf, Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Scrooge etc. but obviously choose characters that your students will know and that are appropriate for your context.
    You’ll also need to find some pictures showing Christmas artwork/showing people celebrating Christmas (Christmas cards are good for this) and, if possible, print them out and stick them around your classroom for step 4.
  2. At the start of the lesson, give each student a character and tell them that they are that character for the rest of the lesson. I found that giving students a couple of minutes to think about the following questions individually really helped them get into character:

– What do you already know about your character?
– What do they normally do at Christmas?
– Do they like Christmas? Why / why not?

3. Then set the scene. It’s Christmas Eve and all the characters are at a Christmas party together. Give them a time limit and ask them to mingle and get to know as many of the other characters as possible. Monitor and make notes for delayed feedback (at the end of the lesson, so as not to break the mood).
This activity is designed to practise FCE Speaking Part 1. My students didn’t have any problems coming up with appropriate getting-to-know you questions, but if you think your students might find this more difficult, you could always give them some of these questions to ask.

4. Tell students that they are now the judges of a Christmas art competition, held at an art gallery. Give the students some time to walk around the room, comparing and contrasting the pictures (similar to FCE Part 2 speaking), before putting them into smaller groups and asking them to decide on a winner. They should still be “in character”.

5. Then tell students that their characters are going to spend Christmas Day together. Give them a couple of minutes to think of as many ways of celebrating Christmas as they can (e.g. spending time with family, having a barbecue, going to church, going skiing). Monitor and board 5/6 of the best ideas. Use these ideas to create an FCE Part 3 speaking task:
a) in pairs, students have 2 minutes to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each of the ideas and talk about which characters they think would enjoy each suggestion.
b) They then have 1 minute to decide on the best way of celebrating Christmas for them.
Then take a class vote to decide on the winner.

6. Time for the final speaking activity of the lesson. Tell the students that it’s the evening of Christmas Day and their celebrations are almost over. They’re sitting round a fire in small groups (or round a swimming pool, or some sort of scenario that fits with the way they chose to celebrate Christmas in step 5) and they start to reflect on their Christmas celebrations.
Give out the following questions (or make up your own ones) and give the students some time to discuss them in small groups, still in character:

-Did you enjoy these Christmas celebrations?
– What does Christmas mean for you?
-How do you normally celebrate Christmas?
– Do you think Christmas has become too commercialised?
This is similar to an FCE part 4 speaking task.

7. If you’ve been monitoring throughout the lesson, you should now have lots of things to focus on in delayed language feedback.

 

2. Christmas film review 

With my FCE class, I introduced review-writing to them just before Christmas, so it seemed like the perfect chance for them to write reviews about Christmas films. This made the process of writing a film review much more engaging, as they had a purpose for writing (helping me choose which films to watch over the Christmas holidays!) I adapted the materials from the FCE coursebook I was using at the time, but if I taught this lesson again, I’d probably create my own materials.

 

3. “Oh, you really shouldn’t have…”

I came up with this series of activities when one of the students in my adult intermediate class said that she was going to spend Christmas with her English in-laws and was worried about “being polite enough”. I really didn’t think that she needed to worry too much about that, but dealing well with potentially awkward situations is definitely a useful skill to have. The role-playing element of these activities also worked well with a teen class, who had some very funny dialogues 🙂

  1. Lead-in. Students discuss the following questions with their partner:
    – What presents are you hoping to get for Christmas this year?
    – What would be the worst Christmas present for you? If someone gave you it this year, what would you do? What would you say?
    Do some quick whole-class feedback on content (and language, if necessary).
  2. Role-play: give students a minute to think of a terrible gift for their partner. Then role-play a Christmas gift-giving scenario (for extra drama, vary the character of the person who’s giving the present e.g. best friend, elderly aunt etc.). Monitor and note language to upgrade.
  3. Depending on how your students did in step 2, you’ll probably want to teach some functional language for thanking people/responding to being thanked. Here are some examples, but choose phrases that are appropriate to the needs/level of your group:
    Thank you, it’s lovely.
    – Thanks, it’s really useful. 

    It’s lovely, where did you get it? 
    – You really shouldn’t have! (make sure your students know that this one can come across as ironic/sarcastic).
    Drill these phrases, focussing on intonation and sentence stress (in my experience, Polish speakers tend to have a narrower pitch range than English speakers, which can make them come across as unintentionally rude).
  4. Students repeat the task from step 2 with a different partner, trying to use the new language that you’ve introduced.
  5. Time for Secret Santa! Students write their names on a piece of paper and you collect them in and redistributes them, making sure that no-one has their own name. Students then think of a present for their person and write the details on a piece of paper (decide if you want students to write the name of the giver or not… in traditional Secret Santa, it’s, well, a secret 😉 ). Something like:
    I’m giving _____________ a ____________ because ____________________.
    (Here, you can choose if you want the students to write nice presents or intentionally bad presents….I think a lot depends on the class dynamic).
  6. Collect the pieces of paper in and put them into a hat. Then pick them out one at a time, and read them out. The person who gets a present has to say thank you appropriately.

 

Happy Christmas!

What are your favourite Christmas activities? 

 

 

Reflections on Delta

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Work-life balance, Delta style.

I’ve spent a large part of 2018 working pretty intensively on Delta (February to early June working on Modules 1 and 3 ready for the exam/assignment submission in June, followed by a six-week intensive Module 2 course at IH Seville, which I’ve just finished). I won’t get my Module 2 results until February (I’m keeping all my fingers crossed. AND my toes) but I feel I need some sort of closure now, so I decided to write a bit about my Delta experiences. In no particular order, here are some thoughts on Delta:

  1. It’s possible to study for both Modules 1 and 3 at the same time while working full-time, but I’m not sure I’d recommend it! I did much better than I thought I would (Distinction for Module 1 and Merit for Module 3) but I was also permanently exhausted and stressed, which didn’t have a great impact on either my teaching or my social life. Fortunately, I had some very supportive friends and colleagues and an amazing flatmate who really helped me, but it’s not exactly an experience I’m keen to repeat.
  2. Perhaps because of this, I was very keen to do an intensive Module 2, and it was absolutely the right decision. 6 weeks felt very short and pressured at times (and apparently there are some centres that do a 5-week Module 2 course. The mind boggles…) but I really benefitted from the opportunity to focus on my teaching and to learn from my coursemates and tutors. It was fascinating talking to teachers who work in contexts thousands of miles from my own (literally and figuratively…) and I learned so much from our conversations and from observing their lessons – there’s a big wide world of ELT out there to explore. And I made some great friends. Even if I don’t pass Module 2, I’m still glad I did it the way I did.
  3. One thing I really took from Delta was an increased awareness of how it feels to be a student, which was sometimes quite a humbling experience. I remember getting feedback on the first part of my Module 3 assignment and feeling overwhelmed (on reflection, the feedback was pretty fairly-balanced between positives and “areas to work on”…but it didn’t feel like that at the time!). And this made me wonder if I’d been too harsh on my FCE students when I marked their writing. I realised that I really appreciate focussed praise (don’t just tell me something’s good, tell me why it’s good and then I might be able to do it again…) as well as when tutors notice the effort I’ve put into improving in a specific area. I tried to put this into practice with my own students and I want to keep working on this.
  4. But then I also wonder whether it’s problematic to read so much into my own experiences as a student – after all, my experiences are unique to me. Doing Module 2 made me realise just how much my own experiences as a language learner have affected my teaching. I’d say that mostly this has been positive – my experiences as both an advanced/proficient (Spanish) and beginner (Polish) language learner mean that I can empathise with the difficulties my students face and recommend different language learning techniques and strategies. But sometimes I think this clouds my judgement a little. In the feedback on my Module 2 diagnostic lesson, my tutor suggested doing more individual drilling, not just choral drilling. When I thought about this, I realised that I rarely did individual drilling.And perhaps, just perhaps, this is because of how much I hated it in my Spanish speaking tutorials at university (my pronunciation was much worse than that of the other student in my group and a typical class would inevitably involve my teacher spending a lot of time drilling me individually and then getting frustrated that I wasn’t improving, without realising that I couldn’t always hear the difference between her pronunciation and my own….).  I spent a lot more time on individual drilling in subsequent classes and when I gave my students a questionnaire about drilling, they all said that they appreciated individual drilling. So I guess it’s all about needs analysis and not making assumptions…
  5. A lot of the things we had to do on Delta seemed very artificial. I was left with the very strong impression that Module 1 is more about your test-taking ability than your teaching skills (and to make it fair, Cambridge really need to make more past papers and mark schemes available, otherwise people who can afford to take an exam preparation course have a huge advantage…a friend who’d already done Module 1 shared her past papers with me, but not everyone has friends who’ve already done Delta…). And the LSAs for Module 2 didn’t really bear any resemblance to the day-to-day reality of teaching – I mean, I now know I can teach a decent lesson if I have a week to produce a background essay and a 30-page plan, but obviously I’m not going to do this when I’m back to teaching 25 hours a week. And learning can’t (shouldn’t?) be measured in 55 minute chunks.
  6. Delta is definitely an emotional rollercoaster (there were tears on more than occasion). I remember getting feedback on one of my LSAs and feeling on top of the world because I’d somehow got a Distinction. I came back down to earth pretty swiftly the next day when I had a meeting with my tutors about LSA4 (the big, scary, must-pass external assessment) and realised how much more work there was still to do. But that was nothing compared to Module 1. The day before the Module 1 exam, I was in a house fire caused by an exploding boiler, which was probably the most terrifying experience I’ve ever had. So my feelings about Module 1 went from “I’m pretty nervous about this exam” to “Exam? What exam? I’m just glad that we got out in time” in the space of about an hour.
  7. Pre-observation nerves are a thing. For some reason, I wasn’t so nervous for LSA 1, but I more than made up for it with LSA 2. I don’t know whether it was because my LSA 2 was listening, which I don’t feel so confident about teaching, or because after LSA 1, I realised exactly how detailed the observation feedback would be, but I don’t remember ever being as nervous for an observation as I was then. This definitely affected how I taught the lesson and I left feeling frustrated because I knew I could have taught it much better if I hadn’t been nervous (luckily, I still passed). For my other LSAs, I went for a run with a friend before the lesson, which did the trick.
  8. It’s worth making sure that your final LSA is on an area that you feel really confident with. Unfortunately, teaching grammar is probably my strongest area and on the course I did, everyone had to do Grammar for LSA 1, so I couldn’t do it again for LSA 4. I really want to work more on how I teach skills, especially on developing students listening/reading skills rather than just testing them, which is something we spent a lot of time discussing in input sessions.
  9. I spent a lot of time during Module 2 lacking confidence. Not so much about my teaching as such (I actually feel much more confident as a teacher because I can see some areas that I’ve been working on starting to come together) but about my knowledge of methodology. It probably didn’t help that I had the least experience out of anyone on my Module 2 course (I did my CELTA 3 years ago). It took until about the third week of the course for me to actually feel confident enough to contribute to the discussions we had in input sessions….sometimes I just feel that I’m too inexperienced and don’t really have the right to have an opinion. I feel the same about blogging sometimes – everyone else sounds so knowledgeable and then there’s me, rambling on about my feelings! This is kind of ironic given that I’ve blogged about increasing your confidence as a teacher before.
  10. Despite all the things I’ve complained about above, I do actually feel pretty enthusiastic about teaching. I started off Delta wanting to go into management/teacher training. I do still want to do those things eventually, but right now I want to have my own classes again and put all the things I’ve learned into practice, without the pressure of being observed. I’m just not sure exactly where this will be. At the moment, the idea of living in the same place for the next few years sounds very very appealing – I’m about to turn 29 and I realised the other day that I’ve lived in 7 different cities in 4 different countries over the past 10 years (not counting all the moving about I did with summer school). I feel the need to put down roots somewhere! I’m just not quite sure where… I’m open to recommendations!

Wow, this ended up being a lot longer than I thought it would – if you made it to the end, CONGRATULATIONS!

A couple of questions:

How do you think that your experiences as a student (of anything, not just languages) has affected how you teach? 

How do you deal with observation nerves? 

A getting to know you activity: language learning habits.

In my first few lessons with new classes, I always try to find out more about their language learning experiences and if they do anything outside of class to improve their English. This gives me more information about their learning preferences and allows me to suggest other tools they can use to study outside of class. This time, with my Delta Module 2 TP class, I wanted to try something different. I decided to create an activity using an advert from the Polish online e-commerce company, Allegro, which shows an elderly man trying to learn English in a variety of ways. It worked really well, so I thought I’d share it.

Procedure 

  1. Show students the image above from the film and ask them to work in pairs to predict what it’s about.
  2. Watch the film and ask students to answer the following questions: “What’s the film about?”(an elderly Polish man who’s learning English to go and visit his young granddaughter in Britain, who he’s never met before) and “How does it make you feel?” Students discuss the answers in pairs, followed by some whole-class feedback.
  3. Elicit and board some of the strategies that the man in the video uses to learn English (he memorises verb conjugations, he reads grammar books, he labels objects with Post-It notes, and he watches films in English and repeats some of the phrases – you may need to play the video again for students to get them all). Elicit and board more language learning strategies.
  4. There are several options for what to do next. I had initially planned to ask students to discuss in pairs the advantages and disadvantages of each one, and which one they thought was most effective (similar to an FCE part 3 speaking task). I then wanted to feed in some functional language for agreeing, disagreeing and asking for opinions, before asking students to repeat the task with a new partner. However, in the end, lack of time (I am so glad I don’t normally have to teach 30 minute lessons!) meant that I asked students to discuss with their partner which strategies they’d used and which ones they’d like to try.
  5. Collect feedback from students about what they learned about their partner.

Why I like this activity 

  • I learned so much about my students and their language learning preferences from this, all of which will be useful for planning future lessons and writing Delta assignments. For instance, I learned that almost all of them enjoy watching films and listening to music in English. I’ve definitely got a better idea of what resources to recommend to them.
  • The students had the chance to think about other strategies they could use and share ideas with each other. In feedback, we had a very interesting discussion about the advantages and disadvantages of listening to films in English with Spanish subtitles, with English subtitles or with no subtitles at all.
  • The video promotes a positive approach to language learning – my students felt that it was inspiring to see an elderly man try to learn English.
  • The video is quite sweet (it’s technically a Christmas advert but using it at other times of the year to focus on language learning also works well) and put everyone in a good mood.

What I’d change

  • As I mentioned, lack of time meant that I couldn’t implement the activity as I’d originally planned. I think that the alternative I came up with worked well and the students benefitted from it, but I would have liked to introduce functional language for agreeing and disagreeing as I felt that this was something that this class really needed. So if I did it again, I’d probably allow 45 minutes for the whole activity sequence.

A letter to my first-year teacher self

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Bydgoszcz, one of the cities I lived in. 

Alternative title: “What I wish someone had told me 3 years ago”.  Watching my friends and colleagues go back to work whilst I’m still waiting to start my Delta Module 2 course has made me very nostalgic… 

Dear 25-year-old Emma,

So you’ve accepted a job in Poland, in a city that you’d never heard of two weeks ago. You’re excited and also a tiny bit (no, who are you trying to fool? Very) nervous – you haven’t got a clue what the city, the school, your colleagues, your students will be like. And you don’t know if you’re cut out for this teaching thing.

Let me tell you straight out that it’s going to be fine. It’s not going to be easy, but it’s going to be fine (and often quite a lot better than that). You’ll spend large parts of your first six months feeling slightly confused and wishing that you’d just gone back to Chile like you were planning to do when you did your CELTA. But in three years’ time, you’ll leave Poland having worked in two different schools in two different cities, with lots of amazing memories, and you’ll be half-regretting not signing up for a fourth year. You’ll have learned so much, not just about teaching, but also about yourself.

  1. Teaching is really about the people you meet. You’re going to work with some lovely students and colleagues and you’ll learn a lot from them. Some of them might not seem so lovely at first, but give them a chance – they’ll surprise you. And it’s incredibly rewarding watching your students progress, especially young learners and beginners – you really notice the difference between the start and the end of the year.
  2. You’re a perfectionist. Get over it. Your classes are never going to be “perfect” – but neither are anyone else’s, because the “perfect class” doesn’t exist. The great thing about teaching is that it’s always possible to learn more and to improve.
  3. Linked to the above, don’t overplan. Early on in your first year, you’ll have a few classes which race through everything you’ve planned, leaving you to improvise on the fly. You’ll then spend the next two years overplanning almost every class, until a combination of increased confidence and lack of time due to intensive Delta studying mean that you cut planning time to the minimum – and your lessons actually get better.
  4. Put a bit of effort into learning Polish, you’ll feel so much more confident and happier when you do. The habit-formation stuff that you tell your students about also works for you (Quizlet!). And go to Polish classes, you’ll learn so much about teaching beginners from them.
  5. Don’t work all the time, or you’ll leave Poland at the end of your third year feeling disappointed that you never made it to Wrocław. Go out. Explore. Have fun.
  6. But not too much fun. Don’t mix beer and vodka. Trust me on this one.
  7. Say ‘yes’ to as many things as possible, even if you’re not sure if you’ll like them. In your first term of teaching, you’ll say ‘yes’ to presenting a swap-shop activity at a teacher training day and running a 10k Santa Claus race, purely because you can’t think of a reason to say ‘no’. And then by your third year, you’ll have presented at an IH online conference to teachers from around the world and run two half marathons. And you’ll feel amazing.

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    Finishing my second half-marathon in torrential rain. I might not have felt quite so amazing at that exact moment! 
  8. The thing they always used to say in secondary school assemblies about comparison being the thief of joy is true. You’ll spend a lot of time at first feeling inferior because everyone else seems so much better (at teaching, and at life) and so much more confident. But eventually you’ll learn to appreciate yourself and you’ll feel so much happier. And ignore the people who say that introverts can’t be good teachers.
  9. The other thing they always used to say in secondary school assemblies about changing the things you can’t accept and accepting the things you can’t change is also true. Sometimes things will go wrong. Sometimes decisions will be made that affect you negatively. Sometimes you’ll be able to see how things could be improved. In these situations, talking (calmly, sensibly) is infinitely better than bottling things up. Maybe the person you talk to will listen, maybe they won’t. Maybe things will change, maybe they won’t. But at least you tried. And sometimes a good school won’t be a good school for you, in that particular moment. If that happens, don’t be afraid to move on. You’ll find your place eventually.
  10. Above all, you’re so lucky. You’re about to have the most amazing opportunity. Be yourself and enjoy it!