CELTA: Day 1

The posts coming up will likely be of even less interest to anyone but myself than usual, but I need to keep a record of the events of the next few months for myself so this is where that will be. The writing may be marginally readable, but the intent here is to preserve my notes for my own recollection (just because, and also just because a future assignment asks for an overview of my experiences). This will eventually evolve into a more reflective journal, but it will begin quite tediously while hopefully becoming less so …

Today was the first day of my first formal teacher training and development class: CELTA. I was not only concerned about the class, but also the transportation logistics. These fears were unfounded, as the tutors and fellow trainees are delightful, and the MRT to the Toa Payoh branch of the British Council actually had seats available since the direction I have to travel is opposite to that of most of the human mass during my commute time.

The class will have written assignments (4) and actual (9 observed classes). The will be in the mornings and the afternoons will be filled with input, tutoring, and planning. The evaluation of, and feedback upon, our progress will be continuous so there’s no chance of being caught suddenly unaware of impending failure.

We started out with a mingling activity where we were given a list of questions and had to talk to people individually, asking up to three questions, to determine who had stated life experiences such as having “met the Prince of Wales.” We then went into a session where one tutor asked us to talk about our hands after describing different aspects of his own. This sort of activity is low resource with easy setup and allows lateral (unique) expression of commonalities in the past (memories and experience), the present (facts), and the future (use of conditionals). The spontaneous use of adjectives, comparisons, and likes/dislikes creates a good atmosphere and acts as an ice breaker. The activity works well for every level of speaker and makes use of a personalized classroom since “the best resource is the student himself.”

We then moved on to techniques: individual/choral (circle) drilling, visual aids, context setting, gestures, picture prompts (to stop students from reading), self/student miming, demonstration, praise, role play, and error correction. It was constantly stressed that TTT (teacher talking time) should be absolutely minimal – hight student focus and not teacher centered. I learned about the communicative approach, which never translates (since language works in different ways), and never explains. An explanation is a sort of failure and one should always elicit information and clarify it before explaining (only as a last resort). It was interesting to put a name to the process whereby students learn the language of the classroom (as opposed to the focus language) such as “open your books to page 63” through speech and gesture – incidental learning. It can be beneficial to use the same language for all of these incidental utterances, but also useful to vary the wording for different levels of learner ability (good, great, excellent, perfect, wonderful, etc). Basically all student interaction should be fluid and involve speaking, movement, and imagery to activate different thinking patterns (whether a student is a visual or a kinesthetic learner).

A framework for lesson focus would be to be sure to have a clear aim: “By the end of the session the students will be able to _________.” Planning is important to maintain focus, know the target language, maintain proper flow/structure, for time management, to be organized, to meet expectations, to educate oneself, and to anticipate and prepare solutions to any foreseeable problems. In planning, it’s important to take into account the activities, timing, and the motivation and characteristics of the students. One way to gauge the level of a new group of students would be to have a look at the language level of the course book.

At the end of class I was assigned slot two of a series of 20 minute lessons with a mingle activity before me, and a group planning of deciding what type of restaurant one would open after. My task is to create a lesson plan with complete staging for a running dialogue where the students will be grouped and asked to read a posted text (mine is about Wild Honey restaurant on Orchard Road), relate it to the other group members, write down what is remembered, and compare their text with the original. The purpose here is to provide practice in reading, speaking, listening, and writing.