Fighting problems of mini-groups. Kate’s had enough)

I’ve been having some problems with diversifying interaction patterns in mini-groups for the dominant part of my work experience. Eventually, I’ve decided to tackle the problem – the time has come!

So, we have 2 or 3 students in a classroom. How to vary the ways they interact with each other? Obviously, there are only two ways – they either talk to each other or to the teacher in turns. Thus, I see no trace of variety here. Still I’ve just had a thought that it’s the roles of students not interaction patterns that we should think about. Here is a list I’ve got, feel free to both add your ideas and criticize mine)

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One lesson before and after CELTA

I was recently covering another teacher and the lesson I was doing reminded me that I did the same one almost a year ago, before CELTA and some training sessions. I was happy to find this year-old plan and I think it’s interesting to compare these two lesson plans. Unfortunately, the integrity of the comparison is doubtful since at that time I knew something about teaching and I had the teacher’s book (winning strategy, right?). Moreover, the situations are different. One year ago I taught a group of about 6 students while a week ago it was an individual student via skype. But still there are some noticeable differences.

I decided to name the stages as they are in the book to keep it short. And I confess it’s not a really good lesson Idid a week ago, I just followed the book because I was too tired and, yes, lazy to do my  best (covering another teacher, you know – I’m not usually like that, believe me) and it’s what I regret doing now.

Before

After

Lead-in

Done because it’s in the book. Open class discussion. Real questions not asked Done because I know what the aim of this stage is. Real questions asked, discussion emerged, but timing was good.

Vocabulary

I handed out cards, cut in halves for matching in pairs, checked in open class feedback, discussed the meaning with translation. Used the exercise from the book. Discussed the meaning using CCQs and asked real questions personalizing sentences.

Checked how the student remembers the words with the book closed.

Listening

Done as it was described in the book: gist task, matching halves of sentences and checking by listening again. There were difficulties with understanding the text (to my surprise because speaking has been very good so far – it was the first time I worked with this student) so we listened twice for gist and second task we did without listening for the second time.

Grammar (Past Simple)

Explained the rules and formulas on the board. Students did exercises individually and then checked together. I used the listening exercise to get examples, elicited rules and formulas asking CCQs. We did the exercises with Demand High ELT method applied and a great deal of personalization. Much more time but better results.

Pronunciation

Did as it is suggested by the authors of the book. Skipped this stage because of lack of time (timing is my biggest problem I guess)

Speaking

Students tell each other about themselves answering questions from the book. The student answered the questions from the book and my own real questions.

Extra tasks

Discussing films about the topic (using pictures in the book) none

 

Then I thought what I would do if I had to teach a group now.

  • In Lead-in there would be pair work and open class feedback with real questions
  • Vocab – the same but personalization task would be done in pairs
  • Listening – I’d rather listen once and check the second task by listening again. There would be pair work before checking as a whole class
  • Just more pair work with grammar
  • I’d do pronunciation differently from the exercise in the book as it is too complicated there. I’d give the students 3 examples of verbs with the –ed ending and asked them to match them to transcription and then elicit the rule in open class. After that I would make a categorizing dictation followed by checking in pairs and discussing all together.
  • Speaking would also be based on pair work like one year ago, but I would ask students to come up with follow-up questions. Another option might be to transform it into a mingling task depending on the number of students.

What is significantly different?

1. I realize that the aim of each stage is important to know in order to reach it. The same for the lesson aim. So, I plan consciously.

2. I get more out of tasks and try to make them more like natural conversation.

3. Elicitation appeared instead of teacher’s speech in front of the board.

4. I’d say the whole explaining stage is different.

5. There is often some kind of linking between stages.

Personal feelings

1. I now have a kind of sense of direction while planning. If I don’t like any tasks from a course book I don’t hesitate to change them, but also I don’t try to invent something incredibly outstanding as well as very complicated spending all my free time to see it fail at the lesson.

2. I spend less time planning though I always complain that I don’t enough time for that.

3. It’s really difficult to remember how I approached planning before CELTA)

4. I believe that without the teacher’s book I would do much worse one year ago.

 

Now my question is:

Am I obsessed with pair work beyond measure or it’s bearable still?

But seriously, do you remember your teaching and planning before substantial training? What are the most visible differences?

 

What is encouraging in ELT!

I received great comments on my previous post about what discourages me in teaching after passing CELTA which was a kind of emotional outpouring. The comments made me think about how many wonderful things there are in our profession. Here is my top three.

Firstly and most importantly, it’s you. People who come, read, respond, care, contribute, suggest, advise, support, like, dislike, argue, convince, write, answer… Since I started my blog I’ve got to know so many people who have made my professional life different. And I think it’s difficult to overvalue your impact on my development.

In case I have a bad day and hate the idea of making my brains work I can always get inspired by you. Today I got up really early and by the middle of the day I felt worn out but after reading wonderful and inspiring Hana Ticha’s post not only have I done half of my ‘to do’ list but also I’m writing this post, though I usually have time for writing only at weekends. What’s interesting, Hana might also be tired and unwilling to do anything (it happens to everybody I guess) at the same time as me, but still I found some encouragement in what she does.

Secondly and also very important, there is endless room and means for improvement. Right, the amount of information is sometimes a bit intimidating, but bearing in mind the fact that perfection has no limits I reconcile with my unsatisfied perfectionism and embrace the idea of life-long learning.

Thirdly and as important as your support, I am over the moon when my lessons go well and I see that my students have achieved something, I get the results I have been expecting for a long time, students overcome their difficulties and fight their fossilized mistakes, they reach a tiny bit higher level, they exit a classroom with a smile on their faces satisfied with what they have just done. There is no need to continue the list as you all know it well.

So, I’m just writing to say that I have a good day and I’m satisfied with my morning lesson and I’m happy to be in this huge worldwide teaching community.

P.S. People of other professions must have gone greet out of envy after reading this post.

What is discouraging after CELTA?

It is a spontaneous post and the list is obviously not complete, but here are some issues that drive me crazy.

  • I don’t have time to plan properly therefore I encounter various problems due to insufficient planning and feel awful exiting a classroom. Since CELTA it has been a couple of times when I was more or less happy with my lesson.
  • I spend all my free time planning and feel overwhelmed by work. My acquaintance has recently asked me what I do for entertainment, I said “Work or read Tweeter (that is about work as well)”. Frankly speaking, I love my job, I enjoy teaching, but sometimes it’s too much.
  • Tons of information including non-CELTA-way of teaching shatter my unstable foundation, unstable – due to the lack of proper experience. By ‘proper experience’ I mean lessons which I am satisfied with. That leads to the feeling of trying to build a house on wholes. I am trying to say that it would be brilliant if I could become confident in CELTA-way teaching first to be able to move on, but I can’t due to the reason listed above.
  • There occur situations which I wasn’t prepared for during the course. One of the most frequent situations with Russian students (don’t know about others but my colleagues and I face it) is that they stubbornly resist trying to infer meaning through picture/example/text/situation/explanation/whatever. For instance, I need to explain the word ‘a pot’. I show a picture and say ‘This is a pot’. Believe me, I found a good picture! And some students still claim to say what the Russian translation is. It’s like trying to break a wall using your head – painful and unproductive. Some of them even get angry and I know why – they feel insecure and afraid of looking stupid, they are used to different teaching approach (grammar-translation I mean). So what shall I do?
  • Small groups is another problem. I have a very limited range (if it can be called so) of interaction patterns when I have a group of 2 or 3 people. I am collecting ideas and tricks on how to vary interaction in such groups. It’s one more ‘entertainment’.

What were you anxious of frustrated about shortly after CELTA? Or maybe what are you disappointed with now?

Teaching business not Business English

I must say that the idea of this experiment was inspired by Michael Griffin and his wonderful post.

I thought about my Business English students who actually are far from being interested in business. I teach them Business English because their company thinks it’s more useful for them than a general course. So I’ve decided to try teaching business not Business English instead of teaching Business English adapting it to more familiar situations.

Firstly, it is really difficult to get rid of the usual CELTA-way templates as they seem to be not completely suitable for my aims.

What are my aims?

I want to inspire and make my students interested in Business and teach them/ elicit/ help to find out/encourage to look for… business ideas/phenomena/ laws. I want them to understand business world better and be able to talk about it in English.

Isn’t it something natural what we really need Business English for?

Till the moment I read the post I used to think that my goal was to teach students some business language and they will find an opportunity in their business life to really use this language. I mean, not in classroom conditions. But having reflected about it I understood that my students hardly ever use Business English at work, they just need General English to talk to their German colleagues. That is the reason why they are not interested in the situations offered by the authors of the book. Moreover, Business English coursebooks try to provide varied topics so that students from totally different departments could discuss something together, but, actually, they can’t, because they hardly have an idea even in their mother tongue what the hell this outsourcing (or anything else) is necessary for and why they need to know it.

Another thought is that if we imagine some native speakers discussing something at their workplace or in any business situation we will get the right picture of what we want our students to be able to speak about or understand. So we might try to aim at creating such conditions in our classrooms which are similar to it not only in case studies and activities.

I am not saying that Business English coursebooks are useless. Far from that! The authors usually do their best to make the tasks as close to real life as possible and they succeed in it. I like the tasks, but I would just shift the accent from teaching language to trying to understand concepts using the language (they need the language to be able to express themselves correctly).

That’s how I came to the idea that I can provide my students with some information on different topics including necessary language to enable them to speak about that. Am I not too unexperienced in business to ‘teach’ them business? I think it doesn’t matter. I think authors of many course books are not considerably much experienced in running a business. What’s more, I doubt it that they write all the articles themselves. I have the Internet with unmeasurable amount of relevant and just thought-provoking information to find necessary material. I came to an idea that even material given in a coursebook may be used differently so that it teaches Business, not only Business language.

As you can see, I don’t have a clear idea of what everything should look like, but I feel that the way it goes isn’t the best way for my students. Or maybe they just don’t need this Business English and people who choose such a course themselves (not their HR) are more motivated to learn Business vocab and don’t get bored with it? Am I just making a mess because my students didn’t have a choice?

I just feel that for this very group something could be changed to make them interested, motivated and more knowledgeable in Business English. It’s kind of strange that I have to fit business language in everyday situations to practice it because my students don’t know what to say in a business situation and brainstorming sounds like silence.

As you can see I haven’t devised a win-plan yet. I actually don’t even have a clear idea what it all should look like. I just want to try going the way of trial and error to see what outcomes I may get. I’ll write a kind of report with my observations and conclusions in some time.

Saying goodbye to your students. Is it better for students to have a new teacher?

Some days ago I said goodbye to one of my groups. We agreed to have tea during the last lesson. I planned some relaxed speaking activities and students brought a cake. Before the lesson I had been thinking about some kind of present for my students since I wanted to leave them with something pleasant. In my view, some material things are not appropriate in such a situation, so I came up with an idea to write some wishes and motivating words for them and made it look more or less presentable.

 

My motivating words for my students

My motivating words for my students

This is what my 'presents' looked like.

This is what my ‘presents’ looked like.

What do you leave your students with? What do you prepare for last lessons?

There is also a profound question of carrying on with the same group. I have recently been convinced that students should be taught by different teachers since they have different styles of teaching and their pronunciation varies that leads to improving students’ ability do understand. I have never thought of that before my DoS pointed it out to me. After that I became interested to look deeper into the topic.

When students have one and the same teacher

Thinking positively we may suppose that students feel less stressed with a person they are used to and therefore they are more eager to take risks and use some difficult language without being afraid of producing bad impression.

The teacher knows students’ strengths and weaknesses and may effectively make assumptions and anticipate problems.

The teacher knows which techniques work better with the students and which of them students dislike. Therefore lessons may be planned more effectively and students may achieve higher results.

At the same time the teacher has to come up with new ideas and activities which have never been used with the group because students might get bored with one and the same usual tasks.

When teachers are covered by others and change after each course

As it was already said, students don’t get used to one and the same accent and may have less difficulties in understanding other people. This issue alone seems to be able to outweigh some others.

Students see different styles of teaching and maybe even polar personality types. In some time students may figure out what kind of teaching style and what kind of teacher is better for them, so they may be able to give feedback to their teacher saying what works best for them, I mean, kind of moulding a teacher to their learning needs. Does this idea sound stupid to you? I am not sure that it may happen like this, but my gut feeling says that diverse ways of teaching (I’m not speaking about frameworks and approaches here, but teacher’s behavior) do students good.

There might be a point of motivation to produce a good impression on a new teacher, but I’d rather say it may influence more accuracy than fluency and risk-taking (that doesn’t mean that students’ striving to sound more accurate isn’t important!).

Some students may tend to do more homework with a new teacher. Or just do it)

A new teacher also wants to produce a better impression and get on with students, so they might want to find some outstanding activities. Also a new teacher won’t think that students may excuse something like being badly prepared, not knowing a word, being boring, being late or other things a teacher may allow themselves relying on their good image.

I have some other ideas as well, but I don’t want this post be very long. I’m also more interested in reading your point of view? Which side would you take?

Let me know the reasons of your answer. May be you have some other crucial issues in mind which I have missed.

 

 

Third Reflective Practice and positive outcomes

This is the third try of Experiential Learning Circle and I’m happy to share some positive results with you.

It’s still the same Upper-Intermediate Business English group consisting of 3 people. The coursebook offers functional exponents for presenting factual information within discussing outsourcing. I won’t write the tasks because considering my students’ knowledge and sphere I’ve decided to substitute the topic of outsourcing with something more familiar bearing in mind previous action points.

So, let’s start with Continue reading