Category: basic training

So you want to be a Celta Tutor? Part 4: Set…

image of Cambridge Assessment Celta Trainer in training Handbook cover

This is a series of posts on the ins and outs of becoming a Celta trainer.  You can find the previous posts here: part one, part two, part three.

Pre-course?

The purpose of the pre-course training phase is to familiarise you with the bulk of administrative and regulatory documentation produced by Cambridge Assessment and your training centre.  You need to be familiar with these documents to a very high degree, and you also need to become aware of any changes to these documents in a timely fashion.

This will involve a lot of desk study of handbooks, timetables, rotas, application forms and other paperwork.  The tasks your centre asks you to complete while inspecting these documents should get you to appraise them critically as well as relate them to each other.

Having said that, bear in mind that you are the novice in this relationship and it is generally better to ask for the reasons why something is arranged the way it is if this is not apparent to you, than it is to assume that the arrangement could be improved; there may be restraints of which you may not yet be fully aware.

In the TinT Handbook, Cambridge outlines 9 areas of study for the pre-course phase, each of which is linked to a task.  I won’t repeat completely what you will find in the handbook here, but instead make a few comments and give some tips of my own in relation to them.  Your own training supervisor may have other advice and if this is the case, follow their lead and see where it takes you.

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So you want to be a Celta trainer? Part 3: Ready…?

image of Cambridge Assessment Celta Trainer in training Handbook coverThis is part three of a series of posts on the ins and outs of training to be a Celta trainer. You can find part one and part two by clicking on those blue links you have just read past. Go ahead and catch up; we’ll wait for you.

The training plan?

So, you have found a Celta centre who wants to train you, and your application to start training has been approved by Cambridge Assessment: what next?

Basically, you embark on a training programme. How long this takes varies, but here are some variations:

  • You shadow a complete course (full-time or part-time) and towards the end start to do some of the work of a tutor under supervision
  • You shadow a complete course and then start to do some of the work of a tutor under supervision on a subsequent course
  • You do the above over a longer set of courses

When I trained up, I did it over one intensive course. I started by sitting in on everything – I basically attended and participated in a Celta course as if I were a trainee. I joined in discussions at times, and at others I sat apart and took notes. Sometimes my colleague in charge of the session would ask for my opinion as a trainee, sometimes as a peer, and sometimes as an observer. This happened mostly during input sessions but also during Teaching Practice (TP) guidance and feedback sessions. So I gained a very powerful sense of the course as it unfolded for a candidate.

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So you want to be a Celta trainer? Part 2: getting your feet in the starting blocks…

image of Cambridge Assessment Celta Trainer in training Handbook coverThis is part two in a series of posts describing and giving advice on the process of training to become a Celta trainer.  You can catch up with Part 1 here.

The training process?

How you are trained will be the same whichever centre you train at.  There will be a difference in how this training is assessed and how your work during the training process is moderated depending on at which centre you complete it.

Cambridge Assessment allows training that is either internally or externally moderated.

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So you want to be a Celta trainer? Part 1: getting to the starting line

image of Cambridge Assessment Celta Trainer in training Handbook coverWho says so?

You do.  You have been asking for help and advice on social media about the ins and outs of getting trained up as a Celta trainer.  This gave me the impetus to collect what I know and what I think about this area in a series of blog posts.  This is for you.

Why listen to me?

I have been a Celta trainer for 13 years and a Celta assessor for 10 years.  In that time, I have acted as a training supervisor and trained Trainers in Training (TinTs) in my capacity as a Celta trainer, and I have conducted external moderation of TinTs as a Celta assessor.  I have been through this process as a trainee, trainer, and assessor, in other words.  I think I know what I’m talking about.  I think I have something useful to say.  Take the following information, opinion, and advice for what it’s worth.

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Unplugged Radio Episode 5 – teaching without terminology

Hello! This is Anthony Gaughan for Teacher Training Unplugged Radio. In this episode I’d like to talk about focusing on form in the language classroom, and how not to waste time on it. Let’s get started…

Quite often when people try to teach grammar, they make one or two things hard for themselves, and their students. One of these is thinking that in order adequately to analyze a grammatical structure, you need to label its component parts, particularly using jargon or technical terms.

This isn’t true.

Let’s assume that students need to know two basic things about any given new structure in order to start to use it: what it means and how it’s made (we could add how it sounds, but that’s a kind of subclass of how it’s made, so let’s leave that for now). Let’s further assume that what it means has already been clarified and understood.

The next job for a teacher is to help the students understand how to construct this structure, how to replicate it.

india_basic_wb

For many teachers, this begins with an example sentence on the board (e.g. I have been to India), which they then proceed to break into its component parts, labeling them as they go along: subject – auxiliary HAVE – past participle/3rd form verb.

india_syntax_wb

The process is usually repeated for the three basic structural variations: positive utterance, negative utterance, interrogative utterance.

In a “student-centred” classroom, instead of the teacher simply declaring this information, the students may be involved in this process, with the teacher pointing at each item in the example in term, and asking “and this is (the)…?”, in the hope of eliciting these technical labels from the students.

This approach is frequently successful in eventually generating a formally accurate analysis of the target structure, but it tends to take a long time, be quite repetitive in terms of the information elicited, and crucially, it does not seem to contribute a great deal to students actually performing any better in subsequent controlled practice.

There may be many reasons for this, but for now I’d like to simply ask why it is that teachers, especially novice teachers or those on initial training courses, feel that this kind of thing is necessary at all.

Firstly, and most obviously, it is because a candidate’s ability to “clarify meaning, form and phonology to appropriate depth (criterion 2e in the Celta framework) is something they are expected to be able to do and must therefore demonstrate. But there is nothing in this criterion that demands a labeling of form, merely a “clarify(ing)” of it.

So if using jargon is unnecessary for assessment purposes and ineffectual in revealing useful patterns, what alternatives to it are there?

One is to think in terms of drop down menus, like a computer program menu bar. At each point along the utterance, imagine a drop down menu opening up wherever there is something that could be varied or exchanged for another example of the same type. So, taking our earlier example, and assuming the various personal pronouns are already strongly acquired, our attention would stop first at HAVE, and we would open up a drop-down below this to include HAS.

india_has_wb

Thus we end up with S + HAVE/HAS

Then, when we move to the main verb, here in its past participle form, we open a drop down list and add 2-3 further examples (say climbed Mt. Everest/gone shopping in New York/eaten lobster/worked for an international company) By choosing 2 regular verbs and 2 irregular verbs, we present adequate data to suggest the underlying rule of form, which we can then check with simple questions, unless we haven’t already tacitly done so by eliciting the participle form from students by cuing with the base form, thus killing two birds with one stone.

india_examples_wb

Once the positive form has been unpacked in this way, the negative only requires those slots to be covered that are different. So in our example, we only have to establish a slot for the negation – all else remains equal so there is no point in ploughing the same furrow over and over again.

india_negation_wb

The same applies for the question form – once the inversion has been established, the work is essentially done.

india_wb_complete

In this way, an analysis of form should usually be a matter of diminishing detail, rather than increasing.

Once students have noticed the kind of thing that needs to go into any given slot, assuming they are clear about the overall meaning that the completed structure conveys, there is no need for them to know or to enunciate the technical label for it. Much like competent drivers have little to no idea what most of the technical markings on the roads are called, they are still able to respond to and interact with them perfectly safely and effectively.

(This is why road theory tests with questions asking for road features to be labelled are a total waste of time, and why it was grossly unfair that I failed my theory test first time on the basis of getting such a question wrong. But I digress…)

Apart from the relative economy and lack of need to be au fait with jargon, what other benefits are there to this approach? Well, as I see it, there are a couple:

1) instead of non-generative labels, students get more ready-to-use language
By providing 3-4 possible utterances, we are adding to students’ resources in a useful way. These utterances can be put to use in controlled practice or communicative practice later in the lesson, if well chosen, and thus serve at least a double purpose, of illustration and arsenal.

2) it emphasizes the concrete nature of language, not the abstract algorithms underneath
While I appreciate the elegance of a syntactic tree diagram as much as the next man, I’ve never found them especially useful for learning language, because they look so little like language doing its normal thing. A straightforward set of examples, with the key elements highlighted and presented so that the patterns stand out works much better for me, and I suspect for most people.

So if you are one of those teachers who, like me, sometimes feels like the focus on form stage in a lesson gets a bit too abstract for anyone’s good, then give this a try and see how it works for you. Any comments, queries, disagreements or death-threats, feel free to leave a comment below.

In the next episode, I’ll be talking a little about some of the challenges in understanding published materials, and how to overcome them.

Til next time, this is Anthony Gaughan, for Teacher Training Unplugged Radio, saying thanks for listening, and goodbye.

(Note: I will add whiteboard images to illustrate this shortly, so if anything isn’t clear from my description, check back later!)

Unplugged Radio Episode 4 – this time, it’s personal

In this 15 minute episode, I talk about my teaching career and the developmental opportunities it has afforded me along the way.  I recorded this mainly for my current trainees but if you like what you hear, give it a thumbs up, or leave a comment.

Celta hamburg podcast episode 3 – practice made pointless

I took a few minutes to record some thoughts about the past week on my current Celta course for my trainees, focusing on the question of what makes good controlled practice.

I focus mainly on the problem of making controlled practice more than a mechanical exercise, and how to make it easier to check whether students really understand what they are doing.

It’s under 8 minutes long, audio only, so make yourself a cup of tea and let it run in the background.

If you find this useful, give it a thumbs up, and feel free to leave a comment.  Or just do the old fashioned thing and talk to me about it on Monday!

Celta Hamburg Podcast Episode 2

I just made a short podcast for my current Celta trainees up here in Hamburg, where I talk a bit about our general approach to training, teacher talk, language grading, task-setting, work management (less generally interesting unless you are on the course) and tips for passing the Focus on the Learner assignment (these tips may be generally useful for anyone).  It was recorded for a very select audience (you eight people know who you are!), but perhaps it’s interesting for anyone who likes reading my posts.

Shortcuts:
00:00 – introduction
01:27 – Using problems to drive learning
05:25 – teacher talk, keeping instructions simple, and task before text
11:50 – workload management and tips for passing the FoL first time
14:23 – closing

I’d be interested to hear what you think if you give this a listen (especially about whether you would like an audio version to accompany any future blogposts), so drop me a line if you do!

grammar for language teachers

In the following four short videos I attempt to sketch out what grammar is, and how it is variously perceived.  I then present the broad elements of phrase structure, and then explore the verb phrase in depth, discussing along the way tense and its shaky relationship to time, aspect, mood, and voice.

A second theme running through the videos is how some of these concepts may be misunderstood, misrepresented and mistreated, especially within published courseware and in orthodox advice to trainee teachers during their initial training.

Total run-time is just over half an hour.  I hope you find these videos clear and useful; I’d welcome comments and discussion so please leave a reply.

dogs, disasters and dodgy grammar rules – teaching the passive

A 20-minute exploration of how conventional treatment of the”rules” for using the passive voice (as, for example, presented in coursebooks or standard student grammar books) misses the chance to introduce learners to a simpler, more elegant and more generative rule.