Unplugging Day Two

So what does day two look like? Just to recap: on day one, the teachers have observed, listened and reflected; they have observed their tutors giving them feedback on the language they used when getting to know their colleagues, they have experienced being an absolute beginner (perhaps had their first Old English lesson) and they have observed their tutor teach their TP group and listened to their students and what they have to say.

When designing our new course, Anthony and I quickly realised that we need to dedicate more time in ‘input’ to practising. So this is what happens on day two…

The trainees get out their notes on student language from the previous day, compare and pool these in their TP group. Once they have corrected them they then categorise the students’ errors according to whether these are issues relating to meaning, form or pronunciation. To help them do this the tutor works with them on some examples.

Trainees typically end up with something like this:

Meaning Form Pronunciation
My name is difficult for Germans to … how do you say aussprechen?My name is difficult for Germans to pronounce. The name from my grandmother is Hilde.My grandmother’s name is Hilde. It’s a normalname in my country.It’s a normal name …

This is not necessarily a straightforward task and interesting discussions can arise about the distinction between problems of meaning and form – it is often not that clear cut.

The next step is to help trainees prepare to give students feedback on these bits of language. This is where we introduce the whiteboard plan. What we normally do is demonstrate giving feedback at the board using one of the bits of language that we heard in class. We have previously prepared a series of whiteboard plans showing in very small steps how we would get from the error to the correction. On my boardplan I have also noted down things I would say to help get there.

Trainees are given blank A4 paper and coloured pens (if they like) and then choose one bit of language that they would feel confident giving feedback on. We felt it is important that they choose something they feel happy about approaching; this should be as comfortable a first try as possible. Trainees then spend some time preparing how they would go about it.

It is important to remember that on day one trainees have already started to notice the techniques that are open to them such as:

  • using gapped sentences
  • different colours
  • substitution tables
  • underlining / boxing off words or phrases
  • symbols / simple drawings
  • marking stress
  • arrows
  • teacher talk such as ‘look at this’ ‘this is something interesting I heard’ ‘what other word can come here?’ ‘listen … where’s the stress?’ ‘does this mean X or Y?’ ‘can you think of other examples?’ ‘what is the ending on the verb here?’

Preparing a board plan gives students the chance to think about techniques which would be suitable for dealing with the particular issue they have and of course techniques that they would feel comfortable using. They may have noticed Anthony and me using technical tools like phonemic script and, while some may be familiar with it, of course many don’t know it and are scared of it. It is important to reassure trainees that at this stage we just want to give them the opportunity to experiment and experience standing at the board to focus on a bit of language – they should only choose a bit of language which they feel confident dealing with.  These are examples of what they come up with:

This is what a trainee prepared to help them stand up at the board and practise giving language feedback
trainee whiteboard plan
… and here’s another one!

This reflects what will happen in class. In TP 1 all the lessons are speaking lessons and trainees have no control over what language students use (although they may have an idea of what language might be helpful for students). We emphasise that we would like trainees to listen, make notes and then choose perhaps 3 bits of language to give feedback on. They have control over which bits of language to select and so they can feel more confident in helping the students to use them better.

Once the trainees have practised their feedback at the board we invite them to share how they felt, what they thought worked well and which challenges there were. Lots of interesting things come up here:

  • importance of maintaining eye contact
  • legibility/size of board writing
  • how much the teacher needs to talk
  • usefulness of simple questions which have a clear answer
  • smiling and giving praise
  • listening to and responding to students’ contributions
  • …and of course lots more.

We often finish this session by asking the trainees whether they can imagine doing this kind of thing at the end of their lesson tonight / tomorrow. Of course, we know and they know that they won’t realistically have time to do such an elaborate board plan for their delayed feedback but the process of planning it and testing it is a great way to allow trainees to see what is possible and it is a chance to experience in a secure environment what it is like to stand at the board and teach.


  • I like this. It seems as if you’re trying to develop some of the more nebulous skills involved in being a successful teacher, such as having a degree of confidence in front of a class. To what extent have you had to expurgate some of the more mechanistic features of the CELTA, the knowledge stuff, such as learning grammar, in order to do this, or do you still have to have that in there for the sake of the external assessors?

    • Glad you like it! Yes, I suppose we do think that confidence-building is an important thing. We used to try to do it by providing lots of support which probably acted like stabilisers on a bike; they’re great as long as you leave them on – you can hare around like billy-o, but as soon as you take them off, you wobble uncontrollably, fall off, hurt yourself and feel like a failure for not managing “on your own”. Obviously, on reflection, providing the kind of support which delays trainees being thrown back on their own resources can be counter-productive and our current approach avoids this.

      I’m not sure I am interpreting your question about “the knowledge stuff”, such as learning grammar. Do you mean, have we reduced the amount of language awareness input sessions (like “today we’re going to teach you trainees about modality and how it works, pay attention…”)? If this is what you mean, we haven’t had discrete input sessions on specific aspects of grammar for years, so this is not an “unplugged” development for us. We reasoned a few years back that the CELTA is a methodology course and such low-level knowledge acquisition could (should?) be done before the course started (we have pre-course tasks for this) or on a case-by-case basis when there is a need for trainees to teach something. In terms of language awareness, we try to develop general analytical skills which trainees can use to analyse any given language example. This seems time better spent than scrutinising a few random parts of the jigsaw.

      Was this what you were getting at? I suspect there was something else behind the question!

      • No, there was nothing else behind the question beyond my lax use of terminology! Anyway, I’m glad to see that you’re getting support from the CELTA hierarchy, tacit or otherwise. Maybe the world is changing.

  • I’d like to add something to Sputnik’s question regarding the CELTA. You mentioned the Cambridge ESOL external assessors and moderators in your first piece about ‘throwing down the gauntlet’ so I would be interested to know how they are responding to your experiment!

    • Hi Matt, thanks for joining in!

      The external assessors have all been very positive about our new approach to the course, which please (and surprised) us. We are starting to suspect that there is a lot more flexibility and openness to other approaches than we initially felt there would be. Perhaps we are fortunate in the assessors who have visited but they have all found our new timetable clear, appropriate and suitably phrased for a novice (some have fallen in love with the session titles, which we have tried to make as funny as possible).

      Of course, what assessors don’t do usually is observe input, and this is where, more than anywhere else, chances would be evident. I would like to invite them to do so in future, but visit schedules and workload make this difficult (but not impossible).

      As far as planning is concerned, assessors have commented that the freedom we are now giving trainees in how they document their lesson preparation is making their job harder in that it is less easy to skim through the documentation and locate salient information. This is because we don’t require a specific template to be completed a certain way, though we do have one available for those who want it, and we do ask for specific information to be planned out for us for specific lessons during the mid-stages of the course. We agree with them that this makes their (and our) lives harder, as we have to adapt our thinking and approach to accommodate the trainee’s approach, rather than the other way round. However, we argue that this is better than placing the trainee, who is already under pressure to simply get good at teaching, under more pressure by asking them to do this while conforming to someone else’s cognitive framework (i.e. squeezing their thought processes into someone else’s lesson plan template). This used to be the number one comment about TP – completing the lesson plan was time-consuming, confusing and tiring. Trainees say this less often now. The process of planning – the thinking through of all the salient issues – this is naturally still effortful, but the drafting of documentation has lost a lot of its sting, apparently.

      So assessors so far have no issue with what we are doing, and so we feel comfortable in continuing!

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