Category Archives: Professional Development

Time to Get Real?

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There is something about the way we talk about our industry that has been really bothering me of late. It seems to me that we often seem so pre-occupied with throwing whatever part of SLA (second language acquisition) theory that we deem relevant to the topic, we often forget to deal with what is really happening in our classrooms, what the real hurdles are that are stopping our students achieving both their maximum potential and the goals we have set for them.

I don’t think this is any fault of ours, anyone who has done much reading regarding the theoretical underpinnings of the EFL/ESL industry will have been swamped by SLA theory, as if it is the answer to all our problems, most academic courses and journals seem to indicate that if we apply relevant chunks of SLA to our lesson planning and activities, our students are miraculously going to start acquiring the target language at a rate of knots (o.k. this may be a slight exaggeration on my part!).

My point isn’t that we should do away with the theoretical knowledge, that it isn’t relevant or that is shouldn’t enter our discussions and influence our planning, but I believe there are fundamental, day to day issues, that we need to admit to, discuss, share and deal with before we worry about how closely our activities intertie with SLA.

I’m going to provide an example here, I am only providing this example because it is fresh in my mind, I think the point I want to make can be applied to the majority of chats, journal articles, books and so on that we engage with in the pursuit of professional development; myself and some good friends (who I know won’t mind me using this example) were discussing how we can build our students fluency (yes I know, I must be a VERY exciting person to go to the pub with!), and the chat very quickly became a SLA enthusiast’s paradise, and in part rightly so, it’s important that as professional educators we are aware of how research and theory has shown our students develop fluency. But, when we had moved and gone home, I didn’t really feel we had gained anything that would, on Monday morning, really help me deal with the issues I face in improving my students’ fluency. You see, for me, the problem was that even with all the knowledge of SLA in the world, I knew a number of my students would come into class tired, not interested or engaged in developing their own fluency. SLA was not going to help me with this, and I really think this is the real situation most teachers are facing. Maybe we don’t want to admit it, maybe we feel that admitting our students aren’t engaged in what we are doing makes us look like a bad teacher, but it is the reality.

To provide another example, I was recently involved in a chat on how we can use students feedback in our classrooms, much of the chat focused on the theoretical side (and I, by the way, was moderating/hosting the chat) of when, where and why we should use student feedback and we shared the usual theoretical reasons as to why we may not have used certain forms of student feedback (or any at all), and then one teacher admitted to the group he simply hasn’t done it because he is worried about what the students might say. Now that is a real practical problem that I am sure he is not the only teacher facing, these are problems that if we don’t admit to, share and help each other with, renders the rest of the theory useless. Thanks to that teacher’s honesty we were able to deal with this issue, offer practical advice from our experiences, and that teacher probably gained a lot more from the chat that any other. I really think discussing such practical problems needs significantly more focus, attention and respect for the teachers identifying them in their own classrooms.

Such situations, I believe, are the stark reality that most teachers face. We just don’t always have students that are going to sit and do every task we ask them exactly how we ask them to do, we all face different problems within our teaching contexts and I really think it’s time we weren’t afraid to admit that half our students come in and sleep, or they just want to play games, or they are used to different, often somewhat traditional teaching styles, or that they are just not getting it. Some of us teach public school kids that just want to get to the end of the lesson, or we teach in academies with kids whose parents are forcing them to attend, or we have business persons whose company is sending them to learn English, or we teach students from cultures that SLA just wasn’t developed on or for, and in all these situations, I’m sorry, but I just think being told the relevant part of SLA theory is often very much not what we are looking for or what we need.

A good friend suggested to me this is all well and good, but we can talk about motivation all day long, however I don’t think this is necessarily about motivation, I think every topic, every aspect of language teaching, carries with it inherent problems we face in the classroom. Motivation is just one type of problem we might face, teaching, just for example, an activity practicing listening for details, for one teacher, can carry all sorts of other practical problems besides motivation, just as developing fluency can.

I really feel it is time we started talking about what is really happening in our classrooms and institutions, the real problems we face, as it is through our shared experiences that we can really start to help each other.

SLA, textbooks, journals and research just don’t always provide the answers we need, but our shared experiences often do, so let’s not see experiences and real life problems as any less important than the theory that underpins our industry. It’s time we got real and encouraged the admission of the day to day problems ourselves and our students face, and not always respond to it with a barrage of theory that, quite honestly, is often not what we are looking for.

Comments

26/09/2012 01:18

Hallelujah!

Bang on as usual Alex! I will say this to start, I love thinking, studying and learning about SLA. I am super interested in how people acquire language. BUT! There is a long, long road between academic theory and real world application. As a young teacher, theory is all well and good, but what is better is actual, practical applications that can be used on a Monday morning when the students are still half dreaming from the night before!

I wholly agree that there needs to be more discussion about what actually happens in the real classroom. More to the point, much more openness about failures and successes and how each occurred. It’s one reason why I have latched on so strongly to the RP bandwagon here in Korea. I think we are extraordinarily lucky to have that on offer here, and it has helped me immensely.

In regards to theory vs practice, I’m now in the middle of writing a blog on dogme theory and how I am actually able to apply it to a middle school classroom; with the demands of the school, co-teachers, and students included. The end product is certainly nothing like the rosy picture painted in all the books, but hey, that’s life. Life is messy. But if we are able to have more real discussions about that mess, maybe we’ll all have just a bit better ability in organizing it. In doing so we will be able to give the gift we try so hard to bestow upon our students; retained, usable ability.

Thanks for shooting straight as per usual.

Reply
John
26/09/2012 01:22

One other point I forgot to mention. As a newer teacher who does not have the experience or credentials of so many in my field, it can be supremely dispiriting to constantly hear how well everything goes in someone else’s classroom. Knowing that others struggle at times too, even far more experienced teachers, truly helps! It’s what helps me be honest about my failures.

Reply
AlienTeachers
26/09/2012 01:38

HI John!

First thing I want to say mate is thank you so much for all the comments you leave, it really is appreciated and it really makes me want to keep on blogging. Thanks!

Regarding your comment, I think the work you’re doing regarding dogme in your middle school classes (which is an awesome project btw) demonstrates a great example of when theory positively influences our teaching practices, but just as you say, we often need a little bit more than theory to get through the ‘mess’.

Also, I agree we are extremely lucky here to have the likes of Mike, Josette and Manpal making RP so open and accessible to us here.

All the best mate,

Alex

26/09/2012 03:47

I’m all for keeping it real. As with a lot of theory, it’s lovely until you get to the actual classroom. As you rightly point out in the sixth paragraph, many students are intrinsically unmotivated, that is, any motivation to learn does not come from within, but from external factors – such as parents. In terms of the reality – I firmly believe that the actual context you find yourself in can not be understated. Having just finished a master’s degree which included a module on Second Language Acquisition, I am of the opinion that until you look at your actual students you can’t begin to formulate a plan of teaching. That is not to say you can’t bring this theory or that theory into play, but it starts with the learners. To a certain extent, chat forums which discussing this or that are general and, despite relevant anecdotes, provide little more than general experience and opinion. It is up to the individual teacher, not their colleagues, to make a difference and make things ‘real’ for their learners. Phil

Reply
AlienTeachers
07/10/2012 18:29

Hi Phil!

First of all please accept my apologies for how delayed this reply is, things have been a tad hectic of late!

I think you raise a very important point that as teachers it is our responsibility to take what we can learn from forums and chats and apply it to our classrooms and our students. Although I also agree it is not the responsiblity of our colleagues throughout the world to do this for us, I think we can help each other by changing how we use SLA in our conversations, in a way I believe many people in our profession over rely on and talk about SLA as a solution in itself.

Thanks for taking the time to read and extra thanks for taking the time to comment, it’s appreciated,

Alex

Reply
29/09/2012 05:23

Evening Walshy,

Lots to think about here. Firstly, I think it’s probably a good idea to draw a distinction between ELT theory and SLA theory. The first deals with teaching language, generally in classroom settings, and the second deals with the process by which someone learns a language by whatever means. I have huge problems with SLA in that it often attempts to reduce a multitude of cultures, skills, personalities and desires to a single concept of a “language learner”. However, I don’t think you can underestimate the effect that it has had on ELT methodology, especially CLT and whatever we’re doing now.

I tend to see the role of the teacher as a bit if a mediator between theory and practice. As you say, it helps to be informed and understand what may be taking place in our students, and also to recognize that at other times that it may be totally irrelevant.

I read somewhere the other day about quite what a personal space the classroom is for an educator, and how it’s often incredibly diffcult to reveal it for fear of criticism, or not looking like a ‘real’ teacher. I think a lot of theory based discussion actually discourages teachers from sharing, as it does often paint a rather rosy picture of what goes on in the classroom. I think the nature of teaching public school classes means that as a teacher you have far more pressing problems that theory. When I was a public school teacher, I felt that my blog didn’t really fit anywhere, and #eltchats were a world away from what I was doing in my class (this also applied to my MA). Now I teach in a setting that’s more akin to a classroom, and theory feels a lot more applicable. I think this perhaps explains the theoretical bent of recent online discussions 🙂 I think it also shows what an incredible job you’re doing with this blog and your work in general.

It’s increasingly my opinion that the Korean education system unwittingly sets native teachers up to fail, by not usually including them in the (examined) curriculum, and limiting contact time to once a week, which is in itself not exactly motivating for the students, as they don’t have much chance to progress even if they want to. Sorry if this is a bit negative nancy, but having a small group of students with exam pressure that I see three times a week allows for real progress, and has opened my eyes a bit about my previous role. You yourself have pointed to the fact that in general ELT teacher training (all of which is based on theory) does nothing for public school teachers. Perhaps it’s a branch of theory that you should start 🙂

However, you’re right that experience should still play the major role in our teaching, but as it is so personal and varied it’s often not particularly applicable to our own contexts, hence the general nature of chats that Phil points to above. I think that chats often provide a space in which you can reflect on your own experience, and equip yourself with a few more tools to help in your own classroom, or a new way of looking at a problem.

Anyway, this is way too long already. I hope there’s something of some use in all that.

Alex

Reply
AlienTeachers
07/10/2012 18:48

Breathy!

First of all thanks for your awesome comment mate!

I think you are absolutely right to draw a distinction between ELT theory and SLA theory, however I think both are often used, discussed and seen as solutions in ways they perhaps shouldn’t be.

Your point regarding the discouragement of sharing what is happening in our classroom is extremely valid, I wonder if this pressure actually increases with the more experienced we get, as if by getting more experienced our students are magically going to turn into English language angels?!

I also don’t think you’re being overly negative, NETs in the public education system are overwhelmingly set up to ‘fail’. Often they are then blamed when they do fail.

Although experiences are personal and varied I think that if we spent more time sharing our experiences we would often find common ground, that often contexts worlds apart might overlap in ways we never knew or expected, but unless we start analysing what is really happening and seeing theory as a ‘get out clause’ this will never happen.

Thanks so much for your awesome comment mate,

Alex

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An Introduction to Professional Development

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I was recently asked to conduct a workshop on ‘Professional Development on the Job’. I had planned on videoing the workshop and posting it here with my reflections, but unfortunately the video didn’t work. What I do have, that could be useful, is all the materials that were given the the teachers at the end of the workshop.If anyone is wondering how they can get involved with professional development without having to pay for courses etc. I thought this may act as a useful guide to getting started.

I hope it comes in useful :-)Alex (@AlexSWalsh)

Comments

Gemma Lunn
19/09/2012 19:17

Great ideas. I’m thinking of getting some detailed student feedback as part of my Trinity Diploma coursework on motivation. May use your questionnaire (from previous post) for ideas so thanks in advance!

Assessment Part 1 – Being Cruel to be Kind!

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Before I start I should point out that what I’m really talking about here is testing in Korea, well actually testing in the two schools I’ve worked at in Korea. However, from discussions with friends working in Korea, and other teachers throughout Asia, it seems like the problem is much more widespread than the school I work in. I should probably also point out that I’m not saying problems with testing are only apparent in Asia, it’s just most of the teachers I talk to on this issue are based in Asia.

O.k. disclaimers over!

In my experience, the problem with testing and assessment here is that it is done purely to receive a score. Students go into an exam, they take the exam (in my case a 2 minute speaking test), they leave the exam, they wait a week, they are given a score and finally they complain or are happy about the score. The students often don’t see the test paper once the final bell rings, no feedback is given, no areas for improvement suggested, they are just ranked and placed on a chart so they can see how well/badly they are doing. If this was just once in a student’s career, for say, entering university, then fine, I could understand, but that’s not the case. This monotonous process seems to be happening over and over and over and over and over. All the way through a student’s school life, they are tested, given a score, ranked and then move on. What the heck is the point? It takes 1 month out of a 7 month time table every year and I just can’t figure out what is being achieved other than forcing students into undue stress.

So the students know they’re failing? But they don’t know why or what parts they are failing.

So a student knows they are doing well? Are they really going to know they are doing well in conversation class by reproducing a script that has likely been written for them?

So a teacher can see where the class needs to improve? All the teachers get is a sheet with students’ scores on.

To improve the students knowledge? The students cram for one week, don’t sleep, regurgitate the knowledge, and then promptly forget it again 24 hours later.

Unfortunately, it seems this has happened so many times that all anyone now cares about is this pointless, meaningless, score! When I introduced the new format of speaking test to my students this semester the negative response from both co-teachers and students was overwhelming because they could not think beyond the test to get a score culture that is so ingrained.

To summarise the issue, the students had always been asked by their conversation teachers to go away, prepare to answer some pre-made questions, go into a room, reproduce the script they had memorized and then get a score. What mostly happened was that the students went away with the questions, the students then went to hakwons or, if their parents could speak English, to their parents, got a script written for them, which they memorized and regurgitated. They were then told they were great at speaking English and everyone was happy! Test done, high scores achieved! This is how it had always been for them and this is how they wanted it.

The speaking test format I suggested involved copying the new NEAT exams that are being introduced by the Korean government. There are 4 types of production questions, the students don’t know the questions before hand and they would only have around 10 seconds to answer. When I explained the format to my co-teachers and students I explained the following benefits:

–          It is good practice for an exam (or similar exam) students will likely have to take in the future.

–          I will provide the students with feedback letting them know exactly what area they need to improve on for future speaking exams.

–          It is actually testing their ability to converse, or at least produce, the English language.

–          To summarize, it is actually useful for them (I think).

I was met with the following objections to changing the format:

–          But asking them to produce language is not fair as it benefits students who have lived abroad.

–          Could you (the student speaking to me) do it in Korean?

–          It’s too hard for them (bear in mind my students are almost the highest level in Korea).

–          Not telling the students the questions before hand means their answers won’t be as good so the average score will be lower.

Both my students and co-teachers were upset by the changes. The thing is, my students are first grade high school. The score does not go on their official record that universities will see and the classes are mixed ability so it doesn’t affect the classes they will be put in but it’s all they can think about. Their score, at this stage, is really quite meaningless. But, no matter how many times I explained the benefits, they could not see the test as a positive experience as opposed to a score giving procedure. From speaking to other educators it seems I’m not alone in struggling against such a test giving culture.

I really think this is such a shame. There are so many positive benefits I believe conducting a speaking test can have for our students, to provide a few:

–          It can be a useful chance to practice exam skills.

–          It can provide feedback on what they need to improve for the ‘real thing’.

–          If provided with informative feedback it can improve confidence.

–          It can inform the teacher what need working on (after just one day of tests I know I need to do more work on prepositions!).

–          If we are really testing our students, and they are successful, they will feel a huge sense of accomplishment. If my students are successful in this test (which I genuinely believe they will be as it is designed for their level) they may really start believing they can converse in English (which they can). I don’t believe students would get the same sense of achievement by regurgitating a script their hakwon teacher wrote for them.

To conclude I think testing in Korea, and from what I understand many other educational systems around the world, really need to start thinking about what they are hoping to achieve with their assessment. We need to consider questions such as: Where are the benefits for the students? Where is the feedback going to come from? What are the students’ achieving? How are they going to achieve it?

If we do this perhaps we can start swinging the test giving culture into a useful experience for all concerned.

I’d really love to hear about other people’s experiences with administering tests, especially if you’ve managed to get students or co-teachers on board with the experience over results philosophy. Also, it would be great to hear about any other ideas for implementing meaningful assessment.

 
Tomorrow I’m going to post how I went about setting up the speaking tests that do, so far, seem to have been quite successful, in other words, my suggestion for implementing a meaningful speaking test (focused on Korea).

Also, you can follow me on twitter @AlexSWalsh

http://keltchat.wordpress.com/2012/07/07/all-about-assessment/

In the meantime I recommend checking out the following resources:

http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/articles/testing-assessment

http://rhaylagar.hubpages.com/hub/The-Benefits-of-Giving-Exams

http://www.tefl.net/alexcase/tefl/young-learner-exams/

Comments

DK
03/09/2012 09:10

I completely agree with your assessment of any speaking tests that involve only memorizing and regurgitating. These tests do nothing to promote conversational skills, focusing only on pronunciation and clarity of speech (I’m assuming) rather than listening, comprehension, and responding in a timely manner. And to not receive any feedback whatsoever is a complete waste of time.

Teaching at university, I have all my students answer questions chosen at random, based on what they have learned over the course of the semester. They know all the possible question types before hand (approximately 30-40), but they will choose which ones they answer from a cup at the beginning of the test and I give additional bonus follow-up questions. Some find this challenging, but if they are given similar tests in middle school and high school, they would be much better prepared for it and be able to enter university with a far greater ability to express their ideas and opinions than they do now.

There is something broken with a system that thinks challenging students is a bad idea because it will effect their current “high scores”.
Many students in university expect A’s for mediocre work. In Canada I was happy to get above an 80, and to get a 90 or higher was awesome.

I say raise the bar and you will be pleasantly surprised at how many are able to meet and exceed your expectations.

Reply
AlienTeachers
03/09/2012 17:27

Hi DK!

First of all, thanks for your comment, it’s always appreciated. That’s really interesting to hear that you employ similar productive speaking tests at university. I wonder if you meet any kind of resistance from the students when you explain the procedure to them?

I completely agree that by raising the bar and challenging our students people might be pleasently surprised at what they’re really capable of.

Thanks again,

Alex

Reply
ioana
04/09/2012 09:27

hello, Alex!
I partially agree with what you’re saying about assessments.yes, right, for the test papers students just get a score, but it’s essential for them to write correctly. and this is the only possibility we have to check their spelling and partially their grammar. I had some surprises with my high school students. some of them have a good pronunciation, fluency, vocabulary but when it comes to writing they have serious problems. there was such a big difference that I couldn’t believe the test papers belonged to the same students that were able to speak in English for hours. each test paper has more parts and it’s easy both for you and your students to identify where the problems are. though it’s difficult to discuss with each of your students we usually tell them where the problems are. regarding the speaking tests, you’re right, we have to focus on encouraging them to react to some challenges and not just reproduce the phrases they have learn. I tell my students to try using English while speaking to their friends, their colleagues, their penfriends because this is the best possibility to get over their shyness and produce instant messages.

Reply
05/09/2012 03:39

Being cruel to be kind,

Is the same make me feel how we were born under edu-system, with no more applicable at all,
Meanwhile, this article discussed seems what is likely to happen in our country.
Naing

Students, the harshest teacher trainers?

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This semester I decided to compile as much data as possible from my students and co-teachers regarding my performance and effectiveness over the past four months. The results have been invaluable as a tool for my own professional development, but I also believe that, despite the variation in contexts, they can provide some useful tips and insight for other educators too. Here are my reflections on the feedback I received and the lessons I’ve learnt.

I’ve embedded the full document with my students and co-teachers feedback at the bottom of the blog.

My Reflections

The feedback from both my students and co-teachers has been unexpectedly positive, my co-teachers have enjoyed being a part of the lessons and my students seem to have really appreciated the structure of the lessons and my passion for their education. I’ve been overwhelmed by how constructive (both critically and  favourably) and honest their feedback has been, it has provided me with an invaluable opportunity to improve as a teacher.

I’m going to split my reflections into three sections: firstly, I’ll look at things I need to keep doing (that I have started doing and have worked well), secondly, I’m going to consider things I need to start doing and finally, things I need to stop doing!

Things I Need to Keep Doing (I’m going to concentrate here on things I don’t feel I did so well in previous semesters.)

i) Use of Short Films

The student response to the use of short films in class (usually between 1 minute and 10 minutes in length) indicates that students are really enjoying them, that they are seeing the benefit of them and that they have been extremely important a motivating and holding the concentration of my students. I think there are a number of reasons for this:

1) Teenagers now live in a much more visually stimulating world. Everything is on computers or T.V’s, and this is what the students are used to.

2) Some of my classes are very mixed ability. Short films allow my low level students to understand the general gist of what is happening, the information they get visually can help them understand and contextualize the language that is being taught. For my highest level students videos often come with very natural pronunciation and expressions, this presents a great opportunity for them to hear language how it is naturally used and challenges them to pick out language and expressions they wouldn’t find in a text book.

3) Videos allow students to absorb culture as well as language. I find my students genuinely interested in other cultures around the world and video present a great way for them to explore that.

ii) Praising the Students and Displaying Their Work

It has really become apparent to me this year just how important praise is to the students. My girl classes visually show how much they want positive feedback and so it is easy to find opportunities to provide them with positive feedback and praise. At this age boys can’t really be seen to desire positive feedback from the teacher, I think this is especially apparent if the teacher is male. This means it is harder to find opportunities to provide them with positive praise and feedback. From the student feedback it seems I have done this successfully with my first grade boy classes, but not my second grade boy classes. The classes are much larger and the boys are naturally much louder and more boisterous, so it is harder to find opportunities. Next semester I really need to actively find opportunities to provide them with positive feedback.

We’ve done two activities this semester purposely designed to give the students opportunities to make some really great work that can be displayed all over the class. The feedback shows the students have both acknowledged and appreciated this. Other than this feedback I have noticed the students really taking a keen interest in other classes’ work that is displayed around the room. It seems to have created a kind of competition between the classes.

iii) Having Clear Rules

Although I have the same rules this semester as last semester, I am working at a different school that provides more levels of support when enforcing rules. This semester has shown just how important the support of the institution is in enforcing rules. As an example, last year if a student walked into class 5 minutes late eating cake nothing was done about it, although I disciplined them, the institution itself took no interest in this. This semester there are clear consequences, both from myself and the institution, regarding the consequences of a student’s actions. It has become very clear how important having your institution on your side regarding discipline is.

iv) Catering to Multiple Intelligences & Learning Styles

Something that has been made absolutely clear in the feedback from the students is the variety of learning styles and preferences the students have. The students indicated that they recognized the use of many different forms of activities, but when asked what they would like more/less of next semester and what they enjoyed/didn’t enjoy, other than wanting more short films, there was a huge variation. For me, this clearly shows the importance of providing students with a range of activities and stimuli in order to keep all students motivated and interested in class.

Things I Need to Start Doing

i) Giving Students More Time to Complete Activities

Although the students rated me favorably for this it was still one of my lowest scores, and I have to say that on reflection I absolutely agree with them. For the majority of the semester I was at conflict with my institution. They wanted me to teach key expressions every class, I wanted to teach skills. This meant I was trying to fit both into a 50 minute period and the classes felt a bit too rushed. I’ve now reached a compromise with my school; we are going to have spread topics over two classes, meaning half the compulsory amount of expressions and more time for skills. This will hopefully result in the classes being less rushed. It’s amazing just how observant and sensitive the students are to issues such as this.

ii) A Better Introductory Lesson

I started at a new school this semester and my directives were to start teaching my syllabus from the very first class. They asked me to only take up 10 minutes for introductions etc. and I used this time for making the rules of the classroom clear and introducing myself. I think this was a mistake and something I should have strongly objected to. The students have shown in their feedback that they weren’t sure exactly what they were supposed to achieve from the course, something that should have been made clear to them in the introductory lesson. Although almost all the classes adapted well I think this could be partially responsible for the behavioral problems one class faced at the beginning of the semester. Quite simply they weren’t sure why they were there. This is a mistake I won’t be making again.

iii) Explaining the Reason behind Activities

On reflection something I hardly did this semester is tell students why we were doing the activities we were doing, what skills were we practicing, what could they achieve from the activity, how is it useful for them in real life etc. This is shown in the relatively low score for ‘providing students with opportunities to practice creative thinking, divergent thinking and critical thinking’. Although I strongly believe these skills were practiced in almost every class I didn’t make the students aware of this. This is definitely something for me to bear in mind next semester.

Things I Need to Stop Doing

i) Compulsory Homework

Feedback from the students is quite clearly against homework, and on reflection I think they might be right!

Why am I giving them homework? The honest answer is ‘I’m not sure.’ Maybe because it’s what my teacher did when I was at school, maybe because I want them to see my class is serious, maybe it just felt right.

What did I achieve from it? Probably not much, the students who wanted to do it did it, and I hope gained from it (it was usually to interview someone, in English, on the topic we had done in class), but by forcing students to do it who didn’t want to meant that all they were probably doing was either copying their friends answers or making it up. Next semester I will make students aware of the reasons for doing the homework, but make it optional. This will also mean I have fewer to grade and so can do a more thorough job.

ii) Presuming I Can Motivate 2nd Grade Boys with Stamp Sheets!

The 2nd grade boys have made it very clear to me this semester they really don’t care about stamp sheets (a technique that works very well with my other classes). So, I’m going to have to think of something new, something sports related. At this point I’m not sure what, but I have a month to figure it out! For me this was a really clear reminder that we teach students, not lessons, and all students have different needs we must adapt to.

Notes

i) This is the first time I have performed such an extensive self evaluation and the amount I have learnt from it has been invaluable. I wasn’t required to do it by my school or regional office, and it took a lot of time to put together all the data, but I highly recommend doing it. The main reasons I have never done this before is firstly, because I’ve never been required to do it, and secondly, because I was nervous that the feedback might be negative. However, I really encourage teachers to do this once or twice a year as you will be surprised how much you will learn, both about what your co-workers and students appreciate in your work, and what you can improve. In terms of professional development, it seems essential.

ii) The low score for the ‘level of the exam was appropriate’ is something I haven’t mentioned as it is not something I had much (or any) control over. The results of that question have been fed back to the institution I work and it is something that we are going to work closer together on next semester to rectify.

If you took the time to read this I really hope it was useful for you. I would love to hear any comments regarding these reflections, especially if you’ve got any tips for motivation 40+ 17 year old boys 😉

You can follow me on twitter @AlexSWalsh

Comments

Gemma
08/07/2012 19:27

wow a very brave and honest post! This was really useful for me and probably something a lot more of us should do but are to scared of doing, so well done!

Reply
AlienTeachers
15/08/2012 01:24

Hi Gemma!

Thanks for the kind comment! If you do feel like doing something similar just let me know, you’re welcome to use the form I created.

Sorry for the late reply, just back from holiday!

Alex

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Iona
04/08/2012 06:52

Fantastic. In my second year of teaching I did a much simpler version of the same thing and I was blown away by what I learned…it was so powerful that I continued it during my teaching career and now use it to have my staff evaluate my performance as Principal. I love your format and will crib some bits from it!

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AlienTeachers
15/08/2012 01:28

Hi Iona!

First of all I’m sorry for my delayed response, I’ve been away for the past few weeks spending some time with my family!

You’re welcome to use any parts you like, and I couldn’t agree more, this is the first time I’ve done this (in my third year of teaching) and like you I was blown away by how much I learnt and how receptive the students are to what is happening in the classroom!

Thanks for your comment,

Alex

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jorgelina-carlassare
06/08/2012 05:18

Congrats! Excellent ideas! Thanks for sharing them with us!

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AlienTeachers
15/08/2012 01:29

My pleasure, thanks for reading 🙂

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20/09/2012 20:37

Hey Alex,

This is fantastic, and an excellent example for other teachers to follow. I am more than half way through my second year and have yet to do anything approaching this. It’s not so much because I am afraid of negative responses, as much as it had not come to my attention as to how important and helpful it really can be.

Thank you for showing us that it is integral to our development as teachers.

In addition, I would like to say that your provided example of evaluation gave me many more thoughts about what I do in class and without even asking for feedback can see things I need to improve.

All in all it is more proof that there is no cruising by in this job. If one wants to improve one must truly care about what one does and go at it full steam. You are an exemplary model to follow, and I feel incredibly fortunate to have met you, along with so many other incredible teachers, so early in my career.

Cheers!

John

PS…I will definitely be coming to Seoul, for the conference in October, with a boat load of questions! Would love to take you up on your offer for assistance!

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28/09/2012 02:46

I think the things you covered through the post are quiet impressive, good job and great efforts. I found it very interesting and enjoyed reading all of it…keeps it up, lovely job.

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Nicola Perry
31/03/2013 02:26

I picked this up from the teachingenglish website. I have scooped.it as I think it has some really useful ideas about getting feedback and how to use it. Thanks.

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Alex (AlienTeachers)
03/04/2013 00:47

Hi Nicola, thanks so much for the comment. I will certainly be trying my best to keep it up! Haha, thanks again!

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31/03/2013 04:50

Hi Alex, thank you for sharing with us! I have been using something similar ( a more general type questionnaire) mainly in the higher level classes and I have to admit I always get quite impressed with the results! Something my youngest students really enjoy is the mime game. I give each one of them the name of an animal (they choose) and they try to sound like it 🙂 Every week they choose a different animal so we all have a good laugh and they never forget the name of the animal!

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Alex (AlienTeachers)
03/04/2013 00:48

Hi Ellen, it’s my pleasure, thank you for taking the time to read it! I used to teach very young learners and they also loved the mime game, or anything that got them out of their seats and jumping around for that matter!

Thanks again for reading and especially commenting!

Alex

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Saima Gul
02/04/2013 00:21

You have shared a wonderful experience which can help teachers develop more and make their teaching more effective. As a master trainer I will share your document with teachers of my country’s schools.

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Alex (AlienTeachers)
03/04/2013 00:49

Hi Saima,

thanks for taking the time to comment, it is always appreciated! I really hope it can help other teachers develop.

Thanks again,

Alex

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02/04/2013 06:47

Thanks for sharing, this is something I’ve been contemplating for a while. I’ll certainly be using your experience as a model for developing my own feedback forms.

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Alex (AlienTeachers)
03/04/2013 00:51

Hi Abdul,

completely randomly I stumbled upon your blog this morning on the way to work and really enjoyed it! Amazing coincidence! I had no idea until I just clicked on the link you provided with this comment and recognised it.

Anyway thanks for taking the time to comment, I will certainly be returning the favour soon! Do you use twitter?

Alex

Are Current Teacher Training Methods in ESL/EFL a Waste of Time?

This morning I got a text message from a friend attending a ‘teacher training’ conference that resonated with a lot of my experiences with ‘teacher training’:

“guess what? Yet again all the activities they are telling us to do are for high level, motivated kids, what a surprise”

Personally I’ve had very mixed experiences with teacher training, only last week I had a great experience (thanks to @michaelgriffin), but more than its fair share has, unfortunately, been very negative. I feel that ELT as an industry suffers from genuinely believing that there is a ‘best way’ of teaching, and that many of the training courses, such as the CELTA (which I will probably unfairly focus on here as it is the benchmark of entry level teaching qualifications and something I have firsthand knowledge of), compulsory teacher training workshops and ‘assessed lessons’ amplify this problem.

From my experience it seemed to me the entire point of the CELTA and similar courses was to train teachers to teach in a certain way, to lesson plan in a certain way, and to deal with students in a certain way. You are set up with a group of no more than 20 adult students and asked to deliver a lesson that allows the examiner to tick a certain number of boxes and then tell you afterwards in the ‘feedback’ session which boxes you did or didn’t tick and why. Well that’s great and I learnt a lot of great techniques, if for the rest of my career I’m going to be in exactly the same situation. But how about when you leave your one month training course and the teaching methods you’ve been trained to use don’t work? What about if your first job is in a public school with 35 1st grade Korean elementary students? And, what if I didn’t tick those boxes? Does that make me a bad teacher that doesn’t deserve an entry level qualification? I could have a very good reason for wanting to deal with a situation differently to my CELTA instructor, but that wouldn’t matter, it wouldn’t have been the ‘CELTA way’, at least this was my experience.

It’s not that I necessarily dislike the CELTA or other similar course, or that I don’t think they teach some excellent techniques for teaching in certain contexts, but it, as all training courses, have a responsibility to make it absolutely clear to the participants that this is ONE way of teaching, not THE way of teaching. These highly regarded qualifications are completely misguiding their customers and the industry in sending them away from the course with the belief they have just learnt the right way to teach, and there is no wonder this misinformed idea is then getting passed on to other training seminars such as the one my friend has attended above and I’m sure almost every other teacher in the industry has attended at some point. For me, what these courses have a responsibility to do is encourage reflective and post-modern practice as being absolutely essential to the teachers’ further development once they leave the course, and this is where they are shirking their responsibility.

Reflective practice encourages teachers to question what they are doing in the classroom and why they are doing it. By doing this it helps teachers find their own answers, become their own expert and develop their own pedagogy to fit their context. Something I’ve really enjoyed about my M.A course (with University of Nottingham) is that it has never suggested that there is a best way to teach, but has challenged us to consider our own teaching beliefs. For me, if a teacher can become competent in reflective practice they will continually develop and improve. I was lucky enough to attend a reflective workshop seminar with Dr. Thomas Farrell last month in which he challenged us to question how we teach and why we teach the way we do, he had us question the very concept of method and even (but this was beyond me) second language acquisition. It helped us draw on all the knowledge we have as teachers, knowledge from our classroom, knowledge from reading blogs, knowledge from training courses, knowledge from research and knowledge from our instincts and experiences to create and continually develop our own pedagogy. We were encouraged to try new things, who cares if they weren’t in a trainers ‘core’ textbook, if it doesn’t work at least you tried it and can learn form it.

I think my feelings and experiences strongly resonate with Kumaravadivelu (2012) when he described the methods such teacher training courses, compulsory workshops and assessed lessons advocate as being’

“non location-specific, not derived from their classroom; it is artificially transplanted into it; it can not be implemented as is”.

We are the only people that really know our true teaching context, and so for me teacher training should be about training ourselves to improve ourselves, it literally drives me mad to be at compulsory workshops such as the one my friend was at today with someone I have never met preaching to me what I should be doing with my students that he or she has never met. I absolutely agree with the work of Kumaravadivelu (2012) and the 5 statements he makes about current teacher training:

a) any meaningful, context-sensitive pedagogic knowledge can emerge only from the classroom;

b) it is the practicing teacher who is well placed to produce and apply that knowledge;

c) current approaches to language teacher education are mostly aimed at preparing teachers to become consumers, not producers, of pedagogic knowledge;

d) the fast evolving global society with its incessant and increased flow of peoples, goods and ideas across the world is placing huge responsibilities on the shoulders of student teachers, practicing teachers and teacher educators; and therefore;

e) we need to re-view and re-vision language teacher education if we are serious about helping language teaching professionals become strategic thinkers, exploratory researchers and transformative intellectuals.
(Kumaravadivelu, 2012).

Do the people that design the CELTA and other similar courses know my students, my school, my materials or the learning goals of my institution? I believe teacher training should concentrate on providing the skills for teachers to create their own pedagogy, not follow that of others. Courses such as the CELTA and compulsory training sessions such as the above can undoubtedly and essentially increase a teachers’ knowledge as to the options available to them as teachers, but they are shirking their responsibility to the industry by failing to inform the participants that this is only one way of doing things, not necessarily the right way of doing things.

What have your experiences of teacher training been? Do you think we need to develop the way we look at teacher training or have I been waaaaaay to harsh? I welcome all comments!

If you like, or I guess dislike, this, you can follow me on twitter @AlexSWalsh

01/06/12 – Some minor edits as I feel I had unfairly tarred optional teachers conferences, paid for training courses and compulsory teacher training workshops with the same brush. For me, optional conferences are exactly that, they are a chance for teachers to choose to hear another teachers opinion on a certain topic and learn from that, and as such I should have distinguished them as separate from paid for training courses and compulsory seminars/workshops throughout this blog.

References:
 
Kumaravadivelu, B. (2012a) Language Teacher Education for a Global Society: a modular model for knowing, analyzing, recognizing, doing, and seeing. New York/Abingdon: Routledge.

Kumaravadivelu, B. (2012b) The Word and the World. Marcoele Revisita de Didáctica [online]14: 1 – 9. Available at http://marcoele.com/descargas/14/kumaravadivelu-interview.pdf

Comments

CABS
31/05/2012 04:03

Okay I’ll bite
Firstly I think you miss understand what CELTA tries to do. I often compare it to a learning to drive. In my driving lessons I learnt to reverse around a corner, (a skill I have never used since) but I didn’t learn to drive on a motorway, (a skill I needed to teach myself.)
Initial training courses are exactly like that. Intended to give you an introduction and some basic skills.
Secondly you ask – Do the people that design the CELTA and other similar course know my students, my school, my materials or the learning goals of my institution? and say teacher training is training ourselves to improve This implies to me that teacher training should only come from within one specific environment. It is extremely closed minded and not opening the eyes to other environments we can learn from.
Thirdly i run a lot of teacher training and I admit that when demoing an activity a lot of it is ‘perfect world’ scenario. But I also question the participants and challenge them to think how it is best applied to their own teaching environments.

Reply
31/05/2012 04:58

To answer your comments, I’d first like to address your analogy, when you learn to drive and you pass your test you are made fully aware that you are by no means a fully competent driver, you are expected to display a green P sign (at least in the U.K), I don’t take any issue with the skills that are developed during the CELTA course, I am myself thankful for them and still regularly choose from the knowledge I have of teaching some of those techniques if upon reflection I feel they fit the context.

What I do take issue with is how many courses advocate it as often the best way to teach and thus discourage reflective practice in the future. Teachers need to be trained in how to instantly reflect on what is happening in their classroom at that time. It is certainly a way to teach, and often an effective way to teach, but participants have, in my opinion, to be made aware that there are other methods that may be more suitable and the skills in choosing the said methods be developed. This in turns allows continual professional development throughout their teaching career. In this I find myself in agreement with Tomlinson (2002) that such courses can result in participants either being “so convinced of the value of their new wisdom that they rush back to their schools with revolutionary zeal and unthinkingly impose methods and materials from their in-service course on their bewildered students before having to revert to their “old” approach when the received supply of materials and ideas runs out; OR become total converts to the new approach and fail to see the inappropriacy of some of its aspects to the realities of their teaching situation.”
Tomlinson (2002: n.p.)

Regarding your third comment, I wish you were my trainer during the CELTA course I took many years ago and the many teaching workshops I have attended since, I was told during my course that in absolutely no uncertain terms should I question my CELTA instructor about whether the methods I was being told to use were really the best for the given situation, and one other person on my course was warned that he may be asked to leave for doing so. However I believe that most teacher trainers are in no way like this.

But please don’t get me wrong, I learnt some valuable teaching tools during my CELTA, but I wish they had made me aware there were more out there.

Reply
31/05/2012 05:08

Sorry the comments system knocked off the top of my reply I just posted, I think I need to fix my website a bit!!! Anyway it started like this…..

Hi CABS,

First of all thanks for taking the time to read and post such constructive comments on my blog, it’s much appreciated.

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31/05/2012 04:40

I’m taking CELTA this summer to open my eyes a little. I’m not new to teaching obviously but I think it’s about time I got some criticism from people that want me to present material in a different way to hoe I normally would– I know I need better CCQ awareness, I’m also taking CELTA outside of Korea where I can’t rely on my Korean crutch in the classroom when my teacher talk gets lost in translation.

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31/05/2012 04:46

(comment box is not mobile friendly…)
My experiences with teacher training have been varied.
– My undergrad TESOL was vague but allowed freedom and constructive feedback.
– My grad school primary education was rather more rigid and I disagreed with a lot of the rigidity and lack of freedom to conduct leasons how we see fit… I gather this was because I marginally experienced so ‘thought’ I knew what was best….

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31/05/2012 04:49

– My masters program was basically a full-time version of the Farrell workshop… so, you can imagine having a close network to question you and bounce ideas off everyday.. best educational experience of my life!

Andee
31/05/2012 04:51

Oh, and I learnt to reverse around a corner and drive on a motorway during driving lessons, and use them both almost daily 🙂

Reply
31/05/2012 05:13

Hi Andee!

Really nice to have a teacher of your experience commenting here mate!

I completely agree in that I think most teachers have had mixed experiences, I think a lot of it might depend on the trainer involved. During your CELTA you might have an instructor that encourages questioning why he advocates the use of certain methods for certain contexts. Unfortunately mine very much didn’t!

Regarding the M.A I completely know where you’re coming from, when mine finishes I’m going to feel completely lost to be honest, I might ask if I can retake and the other optional modules! Despite my rant above I’m also strongly considering doing the DELTA as I’ve heard good things about it.

I hope you weren’t reversing round a corner from a minor to a major?!

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Jason
03/06/2012 19:49

Hey Alex,

This is Jason, living here in Malaysia. I remember well when we did our CELTA together. I thought that I was coming out of that program ready to tackle the world. But on first opportunity….useless!! Well, I shouldn’t say that. The CELTA method is for what you described, the “dream scenario.” I’m now doing teacher training myself here in Malaysia and agree 100% that reflective practice is needed. Many of teachers have no idea why they do things, they only know that’s what’s expected of them.

Great blog and observations!

Jason

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06/06/2012 16:46

Hi Jason,

It’s great to hear from you mate! I had exactly the sentiments upon leaving our CELTA course, and I also agree that when I entered a Korean high school classroom most of it was quite honestly useless for my context.

How are you enjoying Malysia? There is a possibility that I might be looking to leave Korea in the next year or so, so I’d be really interested to hear what you have to say about it. Maybe you drop me an email? walshy210284@gmail.com.

Really nice to hear from you,

Alex

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Manpal
14/06/2012 22:01

Teacher training workshops by nature be can’t be very specific since teachers are coming from different schools and no two teaching contexts are exactly alike. I think the problem may lie with how the teacher trainer presents his/her ideas to the workshop participants. If they show an activity and say “this is an awesome activity and you should do it this way” then I agree they are at fault.

Teacher trainers would serve their audience better by showing some activity/method/technique, discuss why it can work well and also disclose some potential pitfalls, and then get the participants to discuss variations on how they could adapt and use the ideas in their particular teaching contexts.

For your friend who said:

“guess what? Yet again all the activities they are telling us to do are for high level, motivated kids, what a surprise”

I would say “Ok, do you have low level, unmotivated students? How do you think you could adjust the activities to make it possibly work in your classrooms?”

Many people say they are “adaptable” in job interviews… perhaps they should prove it in teacher training sessions.

I agree that reflection is lacking in many teacher training courses around the world (particularly CELTA). I wish more administrators would see the benefit of reflection and make it an integral part of their programs.

I can understand the frustrations of going to teacher training workshops and feel it was a waste of time. I’ve been there before as well. But if we truly believe in reflection, we don’t we try to be uber reflective and reflect on how we take the trainer’s ideas and mold them into something viable for our own teaching contexts?

By the way… in case you were wondering I saved Michael Griffin’s career.

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14/06/2012 22:45

Hi Manpal,

First of all thanks for such a specific and constructive comment.

I believe we are thinking on very similar wavelengths here. Regarding the teacher training workshops, the one I have had with my current employer (who you know) used a process very similar to what you have described, and it was very productive. Unfortunately, my experiences with my previous employers (who you also know!), which was the same employer as who organised the workshop my friend was attending, did not provide such opportunities for reflection on how they can make the activity useful for their context.

Often such workshops are for entry level teachers who may not be aware of the benefits of, or trained in the skills needed for, reflective practice. For me, this makes it the responsibility of the trainer/employer to guide the participants into reflecting on the ideas being shared with them.

Regarding the CELTA and other similar courses, something I’ve found very interesting is that a lot of them (including the CELTA) claim to be reflective due to the nature of the ‘feedback’ sessions. For me, this isn’t the true nature of self reflection, as, in my experience it was forced reflection to try and say the right things to the trainers who often encourage a certain way of teaching and thinking. I was wondering what you think about such courses claiming to be reflective in nature?

Oh and just so you don’t have to worry about him, I’m saving Michael Griffin’s career as we speak, someone has to!

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30/07/2012 22:54

I have read the article, and I want to say thanks to you for exceptional information. You have provided deep and easily understandable knowledge to us.

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Russ
13/09/2012 04:18

If you can get hold of swan’s article “why we need methods” you might enjoy it.

Reply
AlienTeachers
25/09/2012 19:53

Hi Russ,

first of all thanks for the taking the time to read my blog and also thanks for the recommendation, I’m going to try and find it now,

Alex

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Siow Chin
20/09/2012 08:43

You are speaking my language! Recently, my school went into this ‘revolution’ of teaching method and our current methods are being viewed as outdated. I am utterly puzzled by this expiry date issue of teaching method.

I totally agree with you on reflective practice. This is definitely one of the most effective ways of improving our teaching. Our audience changes constantly and not one method we can apply exactly the same way. Only through our own reflection can we realise the actual need of our teaching.

Interesting to note that you did your masters with University of Nottingham. That is what I am currently doing and struggling. I started my course in June this year at the Malaysia campus. After 20 odd years of absence from academic study, I am struggling to complete my first assignment mainly due to the horrific workload caused by the ‘revolution’ in school. My biggest difficulty is finding and reviewing literature. Again, I asked myself if this is really what I want to do as I find it very theoretical. From your positive remarks about the course, perhaps, you could give me some advice regarding this.

Thanking you in advance.

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AlienTeachers
25/09/2012 19:58

Hi Siow Chin,

That’s really interesting regarding your institutions decision, did they back it up with a reason or evidence as to why they thought the current methods are ineffective?

Regarding the M.A, I haven’t quite finished yet, but ye at the beginning I also really really struggled with time management and lack of practice with formal academic writing etc. I have to say it has got much easier now, so hang in there! I’m on my last optional module before starting the thesis and I actually find it quite relaxing these days which is a huge change to how I felt in the first couple of units/modules.

Regarding the theoretical side of it, again, I felt exactly the same as you at the beginning of the course, I’m very practical in the way I think about teaching and the way I think we should speak about teaching, I don’t see SLA as an answer to our classroom problems, and this did bother me, but it does get more reflective in nature, although it would have liked a more practical side to the course myself.

Thanks for taking the time to read my blog, I would love to know more about your situation at your institution,

All the best,

Alex

Reply

Really very good and I appreciate it. It’s hard to sort out between good and bad sometimes; you write very well which is amazing. I really impressed by your post.

Reply
20/10/2012 04:18

Thanks for your interesting post. I agree that initial training such as CELTAs may be problematic in many ways, but I’m not sure to what extent this is due to lack of reflection. I mean, it seems to me your friend reflected on the teacher training session he received – that it wasn’t for him / low level learners. Is that ‘good’ reflection or not? I don’t know. I also find the quote from Tomlinson amusing becuase, although I actually agree with some of his views on materials, he always strikes me as quite a dogmatic and self-referential writer. Is his beef simply that the ‘new wisdom’ that is imposed is not his own?! What would an initial training which encourages divergent reflection look like – especially when the teaching practice is in one context (for which presumably the chosen pedagogy works) and where trainees have limited knowledge of ELT? These are genuine questions which I’m trying to find an answer as I’ve been developing an alternative course to CELTA myself. At the moment I’m wondering if we should just abandon the idea of reflection and just me more upfront that a) this is one way, though it’s shared by others and b) be clear on the rationale which may be later challenged.
In contrast, for me the biggest issue with these four-week courses is that they persist with a grammar-dominant view of language and consequently they don’t teach enough about giving good examples of vocabulary in use, noticing patterns, asking questions to students that generate more language etc. This is compounded by both the shortness of the course itself and of the individual lessons which inevitably lead trainees to be reluctant to engage with students and language.
However, even if we had courses that were better at this, the real, real problem is not with the initial training course, but with the schools who believe that a four-week course is sufficient training. Cambridge makes clear that a pass grade at CELTA (approximately two thirds of the candidates) means that teachers require further training and support: they are NOT independent teachers. Yet how many receive that support?

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Khudri
14/11/2012 08:12

Well said! Of course, we can’t deny that every one of us would have totally different classroom environments and students. Because of this, there’s definitely NO best teaching method. But yeah, we’re from Gen-Y (I’m 26). So, I can imagine learning reading comprehension in secondary school (for example) would be very boring when my teacher would ask the whole class to read for 5 minutes and find the answers. From my observation in a few schools and universities, teachers would apply conventional methods to teach, mostly chalk-talk. Well, no. It should be marker pens and talk. I realized something bad about myself – I could see myself doing it! So I chose ‘teaching reflection practice’ for my M.Ed.‘s project paper to ‘repair’ myself.
OK, maybe schools or other learning institutions nowadays already have their own evaluation system or something like that. But, the way I experienced it, it’ll just become another habit in a day’s work. Teachers would fill in the progress reports/analysis/etc. at the end of the day/week and do nearly nothing to improvise. Another factor would be Malaysian school system is highly exam-oriented. So, improvisations will only take place during the intense preparations for exam-taking skills rather than proper L2 skills. So I came up with my own reflection checklist, fill them up and analyze them every time I ended my classes, and construct countermeasures for my problems a.s.a.p. I’d ask for help from my colleagues and not from conferences or trainings, simply because ONLY WE KNOW how our students are like. Just like how you stated it.
That is why for now; I’d definitely incorporate the use of technology in my classes whenever possible because they love it! It’s the most suitable countermeasure so far. They would instantaneously pay attention/think critically/engage in discussions the moment I ask them to take out their handphones to be described with adjectives or used with verbs/tenses, or compare-contrast on two latest models of laptop to initiate academic argumentative skills, or discuss about the latest Japanese comics’ (scanned-and-translated manga) development, or even if it means only a minute or two of browsing/skimming the highlighted news at Yahoo.com. They hate books and speaking out loud in class; I don’t blame them. I can’t blame them, in fact. Maybe it’s a family/tradition thing, culture/religion thing, personality thing, who knows. I don’t have the time to do research on every student comprehensively. So the best way is to do research on myself.
p/s: Don’t really know about other countries, but most Malaysian teachers who came out from national teacher training colleges will definitely use conventional methods. This is because one of the compulsory requirements to become a lecturer in these colleges is they must have at least 5 years of teaching experience in government schools. Say you taught in universities for years, you have Master or PhD, but you had never taught in a government school for full 5 years, then you won’t be accepted. Simply put, the conventional cycle doesn’t end. Most teacher trainees are hardwired with conventional methods passed down from the conventional ex-teachers in teacher training colleges.

Reply
26/12/2012 03:38

Hi Alex,
And here I was thinking I was the only one ranting and raving… especially in my “left to hang” and “empty vessel” posts. Diverting from plans and what one is taught is kinda frowned upon. And in my course, nothing about CPD or Reflective practice was mentioned at all. I enjoyed the course more than I enjoyed learning to drive 🙂 but still lots can be done to update and improve the programme (mentioned in my empty vessel post and subsequent comments).
Cheers,
Chiew

Reply
31/12/2012 02:56

Hello Alex,

Great post. Thanks so much for the mention as well. That workshop seems like it was ages ago. I guess it was. I now noticed there are lots of great comments here so I worry that I don’t have much to add.

As you know, I was not a super satisfied CELTA customer. I think part of it came from the idea that the trainer knew and had “the way” of teaching and our job was to follow and discover this way.
(I fully realize that not all CELTA courses are like this or that all trainers are like this. That was my experience. As you know, I felt that questioning this way (which I know believe is a great way to learn) caused me to be perceived in a less than favorable way.

This is actually one of the reasons that I am such a believer in the SIT TESOL certificate (permit me to share a link? http://www.sit.edu/graduate/6882.htm

I think it is wonderful that reflection is at the core of the course.

I think you have already seen this article but a lot of it hit home with me http://wrap.warwick.ac.uk/3242/1/WRAP_Mann_2_Copland_Ma_Mann_rev.pdf

Anyway, I think that part of what you were talking about is the problem of trainers (or presenters) presuming to know the way and trying to pass on this knowledge wholesale to trainees/audience members. Of course there is a a lot more to it!

I also think that the idea of simply sharing activities in workshops is problematic in this regard as well..

Ok I will stop there before it becomes 2013.

Thanks so much for the insightful blog posts throughout the year.

Cheers,
Mike

PS1- That interview with Kumar is great. Thanks for sharing.
PS2- I didn’t manage to find the article that Russ mentioned. (Did you?)
PS3- Nice alien logo. Very nice.

Reply
Kate
21/04/2013 09:49

OMG i’m sooo glad to have come across your page. Okay, I gotta calm down here.
I have had exactly the same feelings and opinions. I’m doing Tesol, and now i’m in the TP part and I’ve decided to call it a day. While I had enjoyed the methodology part, I think it gives me more options and more variety of different ways to teach, but if you ask me to follow exactly the procedures of each lesson type, to ‘perform’ the checkpoints for the sake of the checkpoints- I just can’t do it- I feel so artificial and forced on a personal level as a teacher. Tesol is based on idea of SLA, and who says SLA is unquestionable? Anyhow, thank you for your article. I’m glad I read it now I know I’m not the only one who thinks this way!

Is a CELTA worth your time or money?

It’s just over a year now since I took my CELTA course, and so I feel this is a good time to reflect on how much it has changed me as a teacher. I also remember weighing up whether or not it was worth the investment of $1600+ and a month of my life, I hope this will make the decision easier for anyone who is thinking about it.

Just in case you don’t already know, a CELTA is basically a 120+ hour TEFL course designed and regulated by Cambridge University. It is undoubtedly the most widely recognised and highly regarded of the entry level EFL/ESL teaching qualifications. However, it is widely touted as being extremely stressful and demanding, they even warn you not to take the course if you have any medical conditions or other stress in your life!

I’m going to break down this review into two parts; 1) The Course 2) Is It Worth It?

1) The Course

Each day lasts between 8-10 hours. Each morning you will be involved in a theory session where they will concentrate on a certain aspect of teaching. It is pretty much a lecture, with some activities at the end. Some of these are interesting, some of these, quite frankly, aren’t. I think this can really depend on your tutor. Each afternoon will be spent doing observed teaching. You will do 6 hours of observed teaching over the month. The rest of the time you will spend observing and evaluating other teachers. The observations of these lessons and corresponding scores will form the backbone of your final grade. After the lessons there will be feedback sessions in which you will discuss, with your tutor, what went wrong, how it can be improved, etc. I think this is supposed to be an introduction to some reflective practice, but it needs to be a lot more focused in my opinion. Your evening will be spent lesson planning and completing the 4 written assignments you have to complete.

All in all it is a large work load, but I didn’t find it anywhere near as tough as they would have you believe. It is time consuming, but it’s not exactly difficult. Out of 24 people on my course one failed, because he couldn’t speak English. The fact is they should never have let him on the course. The tutors will make you believe there is a high risk of failure, they will actually encourage you to feel stressed and worry, but the reality is there is nothing in the course that is really that difficult. Just take it easy, do the work, go with the flow and you will pass (if you can speak English). Without a doubt the thing that will take up most of your time is lesson planning, the level of detail they expect you to go into is quite incredible and, in my opinion, unrealistic, though I understand their reasons for demanding such details.

2) Is It Worth It?

In short yes, I think it is, but proceed with caution. I will explain more….

First of all, as I mentioned, it is the most highly regarded of this type of qualification. It is likely that having it will boost your pay (for me by $200 a month) so you will make the course fee back. It will also open up doors to a lot of jobs that wouldn’t have taken a look at you if you didn’t have it. It’s a brand at the end of the day, and it will get you better jobs. Money shouldn’t be the only reason for doing it, although, if we are honest, it is a reasonable one!

Let’s talk about professional development. The course will teach you a lot of techniques and approaches to teaching that are useful in the classroom. They very much focus, in my opinion, on promoting communication among your students, not a bad thing, right? They will train you in giving instructions clearly, the importance of giving students the correct level of support, how to monitor your students correctly, etc. BUT, go into the course open minded. These methods are not the best methods for every teaching situation you will find yourself in, they may try to convince you they are, as it’s their job to teach you how to teach the ‘CELTA way’, but they’re not.

The methods are aimed at small groups of highly motivated adult students, where you have 4 hours to prepare every lesson. How many of us actually find ourselves in this ideal teaching environment? Not many. Many of the practices they are critical of and mark you down for can be utilized in other teaching situations. To be fair though, they do encourage further professional development beyond the course, although they will most definitely try and sell you the DELTA course! Don’t be fooled, it is all about the money!

Also, many of the methods do make sense, you will never have the time to lesson plan in the detail they encourage you too, but that’s fine, when you learn to drive a car they expect you to do things that will go out the window as soon you rip the ‘L’ plate off, it’s the same theory here. They will be highly critical of your lessons, same theory here. The workload is unnecessarily big, but you know, a lot of TEFL jobs out there are highly demanding of your time and energy for little reward. They’re preparing you for the real world as a TEFL teacher in private academies. In retrospect, they were being cruel to be kind.

There’s no doubt in my mind the course made me a better teacher and made me think more critically about how to teach. My advice would be to take the course, learn as much as you can, but when you come to applying it to your lessons, experiment. Pick and choose what works best in different situations. Don’t presume that because you learnt it on the CELTA course it is a universal ESL teaching truth.

In conclusion, I would say most definitely proceed, but do proceed with caution!

Follow me on twitter @AlexSWalsh

edit: one thing I would like to add is research very carefully the institution in which you will do the course. The tutor you have will make or break your experience. Ask around for recommendations.

 

Comments

20/10/2011 23:57

Thanks for this post. I think I’ll share it with some friends who are debating whether to jump in or not.

I didn’t do CELTA, I did a 130-hour Trinity TESOL which markets itself as identical to CELTA. This is probably true in every way except for the global recognition factor. Both have equal rating by the British Council but most employers don’t know this.

Anyway, one thing I would add is to consider how long and in what context you intend to teach English. For example, teaching in Korea for just a year? You can do an online ITTT certificate for a lot less money and time.

I don’t think the preparation with the online certs is anywhere near the preparation with a location-based certificate that includes observed classroom teaching time, but if you’re just looking at getting hired, then the ITTT is sufficient and will give you a basic crash-course in how to teach. Beneficial no matter what. However, if you’re looking to make TEFL a career or even a longer-term pursuit, or if you have absolutely no prior teaching experience, the heavy-duty location-based TESOL certificates are a better idea.

Also, there are parts of the world where online and lesser-known certificates are seen as inferior to CELTA and other more prestigious qualifications. If you are job-searching in a particularly competitive environment, online certs are probably not the greatest weapon unless you already have a lot of other strengths (like prior experience teaching in a similar situation, or a teaching degree).

No matter what, I feel like my certificate was worth every penny. As you said, a lot of the preparation is unrealistic for the actual job environments we end up in. But I entered my TESOL cert program having already earned a teaching degree and having already taught ESL to kids for a few years. I still learned a ton of truly useful techniques and ideas that changed the way I taught. I absolutely recommend it to anyone seeking a career in TEFL.

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Colin
21/10/2011 00:16

I’d highly recommend the CELTA to anyone who wants to be a teacher outside of Korea. Without it, you’ll have a much smaller chance of getting a job, and will be paid a lot less. Korea is pretty unusual in that it is possible to get a job without one. So pretty much exactly what Amy said! And as she alluded to, the CELTA name carries a lot of weight- a Trinity TESOL or an ACELS CELT are identical in content, but a lot of schools will only take CELTA.

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Steph
21/10/2011 00:36

I did the course in NZ. Yes, it was incredibly time consuming, I did it during my last year of Uni, but I still managed to pass. I am not the smart/studious type of person but I am really interested in languages and linguistics, it was sure the toughest time out of all the years of my studies, but it was also enjoyable. The lecturers were really professional and experienced. It is much, MUCH better and practical than an online TESOL course, which also explains why it’s so time consuming and expensive, but it was totally worth it. I would totally recommend it! If I can pass, anyone else can!

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Rachel
01/07/2013 18:46

Hi Steph, just out of interest where did you study you’re CELTA course? I’m currently in NZ and looking for the best place to take the course. Any recommendations would be great. Thanks!

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Lee
21/10/2011 01:10

I did my CELTA in July at Bolton Community College in the UK. Prepared me unbelievably well and prepared me far too much for what I need in Korea but it is perfect to take to other countries. It is extremely intensive and you have to create all lessons from scratch so preparing materials is very time consuming once you get home in the evening. You literally have no life for a month. In the UK we received an extra qualification alongside the CELTA as well which goes towards a teachers licence in the UK. Maybe other countries will do this?? Also, if anybody is interested in working for the British Council around the world (you don’t have to be British) they only accept applications from people with CELTA (I think certTESOL is equivalent) and 2 years experience, unless of course you have full teaching licences in ESOL.

I also have to agree that the teaching methods are the ‘CELTA Way;. There are lots of other methods out there that you should use and that you will acquire in your different teaching positions.

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Rachel
01/07/2013 18:39

Hi Lee, thanks for this! I’m considering taking the CELTA course but I just read your comment about that extra teacher’s license qualification. Excuse my ignorance but could you provide me with a bit more detail? I’ll be studying CELTA abroad not in the UK, so I don’t think that the course will provide the license. Thank you.

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Levi
16/10/2012 21:52

Hey guys, thanks for the great info. I would, however, like your advice. I am graduating this May with a MA in teaching Spanish as a second language. I have also been teaching here as a grad assistant for 2 years. Do you think that the CELTA would still be worth it for me to pay for and go through. I am a native English speaker and I understand that it’s focus is on English (and not another language, which is advantageous) but do you think it will be necessary for me in the long run? I’m actually leaning towards doing it but it is a nice chunk of cash to throw out without thinking it through. Thanks for any advice and/or thoughts on the matter. 😀

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Michael
27/11/2012 20:26

Great advice guy, thanks a lot. I have been toying with the idea of doing CELTA. I have also been a tad worried about the alleged intensity of it all. A friend who did it told me that one of the other students had a two-hour commute to and from where the course was being held and as a result she had no time to do the necessary work. She broke down and left after a week. So, if you’re going for it, proximity should be a major factor, it seems. Poor girl. I’m just finishing a PhD in Philosophy right now and (being a Philosophy student in recessionary times) I am looking to branch out into different areas in universities. Does anyone know if my PhD will bear any kind of support to a CELTA certificate when looking for a university job in teaching English as a foreign language? Any thoughts you might have, I would love to hear them. Thanks guys.

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Jimbo
09/04/2013 01:31

CELTA methods have been designed for a very specific classroom environment and are completely inapplicable anywhere else.

When English-language schools were first set up, teachers were faced with large classes of students with no common language. This led to two problems.

1). It was effectively impossible to explain the grammar in a way that everyone could understand. Students who speak languages that use the definite and indefinite articles will not need to be taught when to say “the”. Asian students, by contrast, find the articles very hard to master.

2). There were so many students that it was impossible to give each one personal attention.

How can you effectively teach a class containing 30 Spaniards and 20 Chinese. The short answer is you can’t. CELTA is a way of pretending that you can so that you can continue to charge fees. It’s a giant con.

Most CELTA graduates will go to countries where the majority of students will have been taught English grammar in their own language. Your job is to be the native speaker. If you have reasonably sized class then you should do what you are there to do, which is converse with the students. They can speak to each other in English in their own time if they wish. Split the class up into groups and have some of them do exercises while you engage with the others on a one-to-one basis.

CELTA courses need to justify their existence and so they can be a little like a military boot camp and the instructors are often a bunch of frustrated drill-sergeants. My experience was doubly unpleasant because one of my fellow students objected to my background and so insulted and threatened me for the entire duration of the course. I felt as if I had regressed to primary school. My case was extreme, but expect to be bullied particularly if you are male.

There was also far too little emphasis on the mechanics of the English language. At least two of my fellow students did not know what a past participle was when they arrived and they still did not know when they left. A grammar test at the end would have been a nice idea. CELTA is a case-study is why continuous assessment does not work.

You need accreditation these days to be a teacher and it’s easy see why. Twenty years ago language schools in Japan were full of semi-literate hippes. CELTA is the certificate that opens the most doors, and so it’s worth having. Grit your teeth, treat the teachers with the respect they seem to think they deserve and be very humble. Then use your common sense. Each class is different and different techniques will be required in each case. CELTA is infected with all the usual educational fads and so should probably be treated with the same contempt as a every other teaching qualification.

Think of CELTA as something you need to get through early in life, like the mumps.

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vi
19/09/2013 09:45

What are you talking about? Sounds very horrid. Where did you take your course – Institution, country?

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Phil
19/05/2013 10:03

I’m considering applying for the CELTA in a few months but I’m still undecided where to go first. My original plan was to take the course in NYC, but after having taken a look at how much I’ll have to shell out to cover expenses, I’ve decided to look for alternatives. So my question is…how relevant taking the CELTA in a country where English is not the native language is? Would I get “extra-credited” by institutions if I take it in NYC or London?

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Nick
02/07/2013 15:47

Great post Jimbo, absolutely spot on.

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Farheen
27/07/2013 11:42

Is celta recognized or valued for teachers of other subjects.
?I’m an insurance science grad hate with stats n maths as my expertise but I want tlo have a endorsed certificate as a teacher

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Marie
28/07/2013 15:40

Interesting post. It’s a little bit daunting the way they put it, like a life and death situation. That would turn so many ppl away! Question for everyone is: Can I – with a CELTA certification – get a good paying job, full-time, that can pay my bills and allow me to have a living and support my family? A lot of colleges want part-time intructors only so they don’t have to pay health insurace. Can I work in the U.S with such a certification and be able to basically be in a good position financially, have no idea what such teachers get paid…Your insight is appreciated.

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Jill
04/09/2013 13:10

Will CELTA help to teach in the US?

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M.
12/09/2013 12:20

I totally agree with both the writer of this post and Jimbo’s comment. The ‘CELTA way’ will be of no use once you step into the real world. The way they tackle the teaching of English is pretty much a once-size-fits-all kind of approach, like there’s only one kind of student and one kind of teacher.

By the way, any Spaniard who is entertaining the idea of doing the CELTA, think twice. Good luck in finding a job in Spain if you’re not a native speaker of English.

Learning from the Perils of Student Feedback

At the end of last semester I asked my students for very structured and detailed feedback on their feelings towards their course and my teaching style (to see the blog click here). This semester I decided to approach the task of obtaining student feedback very differently. I simply gave the students two pieces of paper and asked the students to write on one piece of paper ‘one thing they liked about the course that we should keep the same for 1st grade students next year’ and ‘one thing they think we could change to improve the course for the 1st grade students next year’. Their only other direction was that I only wanted to know about my course, not the other native teacher’s course. As you can tell these questions are extremely vague and also very subjective, I designed them like this as I really wanted to know the first thing that popped into my students heads.

They feedback from these questions has been…… interesting and exemplified many of the issues we must take into account when learning from our students’ feedback.

Without a doubt the most common feedback given for ‘a thing we should change’ has been that I should give less homework. That would be fine, apart from the fact I have only given one VERY short homework activity this semester! The other native English teacher has given homework every week though, so I can only imagine the students have got confused regarding where the homework has come from. They have simply thought conversation class = homework. So this presents my first issue:

1. Often students may not be giving feedback specifically on the course we ask, but (consciously or unconsciously) their general feelings towards English, our institution, their feelings towards life or anything else at the forefront of their minds.

For the next few classes that day I purposefully mentioned to the classes, before the feedback activity, that they had not received any homework this semester. I hoped that by slyly getting that in there I might encourage students to think about something other than homework, I was wrong. More than half of the feedback slips then said “give more homework to the students next year” often justified by adding “because it will help them improve and practice their English”. That is a good reason, although I’m sure that somewhere in the back of their minds they just want the new students to have to work even harder than they did! This presents another problem with student feedback:

2. We have to consider the motivations for a student’s feedback. Their comments may not always be motivated by wanting to achieve the same goals as we are.

Another very common comment for something I could change centered around a certain type of activity I have regularly used this semester. This activity involves students having to summarise pieces of information and then share their findings with others in the class to complete the whole task. It’s a very standard mingling activity, one that I find extremely effective and results in a large block of constant speaking and listening practice. Some of the student’s don’t seem to like it as they don’t like getting out of their seats and they don’t like having to speak to so many people in the class in English. It is, however, a fantastic activity for practicing a large number of skills, I find it very effective, but the students suggested removing it. This brings me to a third problem:

3. We are the professionals, not our students (or their parents for that matter). Sometimes we have to go with what we think is best for our students whether they like it or not, this can include curriculum design, classroom activities, rewards and punishments. We should not take negative feedback literally.

Many students also made comments regarding the logistics of the classes, such as that we should have a lesson outside when possible, that they would prefer it if there was no Korean co-teacher in the room or that classes should be mixed. Most of these things I actually agree with them about, apart from the co-teacher suggestion, as I am fortunate to have extremely professional and effective co-teachers at my school. These suggestion are, however, logistically impossible, for legal reasons a co-teacher must be in the class, for safety reason classes are not allowed to be taken outside without permissions from the vice-principle and having mixed classes is a decision that would be made by the school not me, which brings me to the final problem with students feedback:

4. Students are often unaware of the logistical reasons as to why certain decisions are made and why certain limitations are put in place and the boundaries we have to work within as teachers. Unless these issues are discussed with the students after they have given the feedback they may think they are simply being ignored.

Of course I am not suggesting ( even for a nano-second) that we shouldn’t engage in student feedback, for me it is one of the most invaluable tools for professional development we have, but we have to be aware of the limitations in order to make the feedback as useful and meaningful as possible. By being aware of the problems above I can narrow down what I should be learning from the feedback.

To provide very brief examples, from the first couple of suggestions I can learn that homework is obviously a sensitive issue to my students. This is understandable considering they are in academies until 10 p.m every night, so I must make sure that next year I make students aware of exactly why they are being given homework, what the benefits to them in completing it are and give them ample time and support in completing it. From the third suggestion I can learn that I need to spread these types of activities out so they don’t over-burden students, this year they were heavily concentrated in the second semester, next year I will plan the syllabus more evenly. The fourth problem can help me realise not that I should ask my co-teacher to leave the room next year, but that her role and how the students can benefit from having her in class must be made clear to the students at the start of the course.

Student feedback is invaluable, but only if we are aware of the difficulties involved with collecting and analysing it. Unfortunately, it is not as simple as getting some feedback and making the changes. Student feedback isn’t always as objective or clear as we would like, but there are always important lessons learn.

Don’t forget you can follow my slightly more concise ramblings on twitter @AlexSWalsh or to keep updated with AlienTeachers ‘like‘ us on facebook!