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Saturday, 5 June 2010

New Teachers? Read This!

This posting is a bit random, I admit. I was watching our current TEFL Certificate trainees do their first ever teaching practice and was noting down a few things I noticed, and suddenly thought it might be interesting to post them here.

So in no particular order, with no-one in mind specifically, here are some of the things that went through the mind of this teacher trainer on week one of our teacher training course. Some of these observations are things I liked, and some are things that worried me. I didn't actually tell the trainees any of these because we like to be positive, especially on the first day of teaching. But they could be useful to consider nevertheless. Here we go.

Listenings: "See what you understand" is a very woolly reason for listening to a recording or dialogue. Give them an easy, concrete question to answer, such as 'Does he like football?' or 'What does the man order?'. And if the answer is towards the end of the listening - bingo! - they will need to listen right the way through to get the answer, which has to be better than them getting the answer after two seconds and contemptuously throwing their pens down and semi-surreptitiously checking their e-mails.

Grammar Points: Watch out for long, boring 'explanations' of grammar points by the teacher with no interaction or eliciting of patterns and rules from the students. An average grammar exercise book like English Grammar in Use from Cambridge or Practical Grammar from Heinle would probably do a better job.

Approach: Nice and friendly is definitely the way to go as far as I'm concerned, in the context of our 'guinea-pigs, who are coming of their own free will and for many of whom English is simply their hobby.

Voices: A nice clear voice, possibly slightly slower and crisper than usual, is something to aim for. You need to both be understood by your audience and also make it clear that you are the boss, after all. Many teachers have developped a special 'teacher voice' for this purpose, but watch out that it doesn't sound too babyish or patronising, and don't forget to switch it off when you're with your friends, or they'll think you've lost it.

Drilling: Good to see some first attempts but the thing that strikes me is... two things. First of all, only say what you want the students to repeat, in a crisp, clear voice. Avoid mumbled phrases along the lines of 'Right, what I'd like you to do is if you could just repeat 'I come from Spain', ok, 'I come from Spain', all right, so can you just repeat that...?' like the plague. Silence and incomprehension will follow. Secondly, the students must know when they are supposed to start. This calls for some quite dynamic conducting skills and tons of enthusiasm from the teacher.

Spelling: Not always easy to spell everything correctly when you're on the spot, but try to watch out for silly mistakes which may confuse the students - this gets easier with experience and confidence.
Grammar: Watch out for slightly unnatural sentences due to nerves or interference from other languages, such as 'I would like for breakfast some bacon and eggs'. Sounds like some French word order creeping in there I reckon.

Teacher Talking Time: Vastly too much of this from certain trainees. This is absolutely normal! Many people seem to equate talking with teaching. However, I consider teaching to be more about asking questions and getting people to work things out for themselves. A greater variety of student-focused activities will quickly remedy this.

Boardwork: Try to plan board layout before the lesson: clear writing, organised and not falling off the wall with the weight of the words all over it.

Checking Understanding: "Does everyone understand?" is not a CCQ (Concept Checking Question)! Nor is "Do you know what 'syrup' is? - Good." Ask yes and no questions such as 'Is syrup a liquid?' 'Is syrup a solid?' 'Can we eat syrup?' 'Can we swim in syrup?', where some of the questions demand the answer 'No' to prove that students are getting it, and not just saying 'Yes' to keep you happy.

Pronunciation: Don't forget to correct dodgy pronunciation during the Practice phase. That's what this phase is for before leading into the freer Production phase.

Questions: What is teaching about? Is it fundamentally about asking questions and making  people think for themselves? What do you think?

Student Spelling: There should be a moment when written exercises are checked somehow (even by the students self-checking with a text) to avoid things like 'straigt on' and 'nexto' installing themselves in the students' notebooks. Wandering around and indicating mistakes over their shoulders can be effective and not too disruptive or teacher-focused.

Rapport: "You!" complete with stabbing finger indicating the next student to contribute is a bit aggressive. If you have forgotten the name then substitute it with 'Yes?', a smile and a friendly open-hand, palm up gesture.

Drilling: "Let me see. -One two three..." The aim was to get the students to repeat 'Let me see.' Personally, I would have make the 'Let me see' function almost as the 'One two three' and throw it over to them with a suitably dramatic open arm gesture towards the students just after the word 'see', and an appropriately expectant look, oh, and shut up too! By that I mean that as soon as you can, try to turn your volume down and the students' volume will increase to fill the silence. Many consider it rude to speak while the teacher is speaking and the tendency for panicky teachers is to fill the silence of the non-repeating students with more teacher talk - not the greatest drill in the world!

That's it for now - an A4's-worth of quick notes from a very respectable first attempt to stand up and teach from this months batch of trainees. Of course there are millions of things that could have been pointed out but I hope that this little list is of some use to you. Let me know what you think!

© 2010 Sab Will / Hotch Potch EnglishWill Power English : New Teachers? Read This!
Sab Will is Course Director at TEFL Paris, a TEFL Certificate Teacher Training Centre validated by IATQUO


Sab Will said...

Hi, I'd love to hear about your own observations, as new teachers or experienced trainers, in the form of little nuggets of wisdom. If we get enough we can do another page just on them - so let's have 'em! :-)

elena bolia said...

Thanks Sab, finally some constructive criticism in a subtle form, I really appreciate it. We do need to keep it positive but we also learn from mistakes so I see no problem in actualy discussing them and drawing useful conclusions.
Each trainee is different and their teaching styles vary greatly. Some of them are close to mine and there are things I would have done differently. I think variety is great and also benefits the students from the hall.
Everyone is trying hard to implement and consider the main points of methodology and grammar lessons, to maintain that warm encouraging atmosphere and I think it's great testament to the fact that your own teaching techniques are not lost on us :)
I learn a lot from everyone on the course and I would like to have more feedback on the "improvement-needing" point of my lessons, feel free everyone to tell me.
I can relate to most of what I read here, thank you Sab. I do find it extremely useful, I hope the list will be updated frequently.

Anonymous said...

Hi Sab and Elena,
Totally agree with Elana,s comments and
i also like the feedback sessions.
In a way, i find them great as a measuring stick on our progress as students. I find the "i intend to work on......." part for our next lesson plan(bottom),one of the most useful tools because, thats the area for me anyway,that is the part of the lesson thats always in the back of my mind as i go through the hour.Especially last night teaching with our PRO Maurice. Both he and Louise gave me great feed back for next week, even though i had a good lesson. Part of the lesson plan has to be actually timing it out----before giving the class.
Postnote for Cale,Alex and Maurice, i will be looking for you over the next two weeks for my timings help, i,ll of course be there for yours.

Anonymous said...

Hello all

I agree that constructive criticism is a useful tool to improve teaching in front of any kind of audience. I think that the positive vibe in the group is making the whole process more human and I am really enjoying the atmosphere 'in da house'!


Alex said...

Well, we had already been taught these things by Sab, or they were fairly why did some of us still make these mistakes? Then I remind myself of the consciousness/competence matrix and it makes more sense.. If I can move from conscious incompetence to an acceptable level of conscious competence by the end of the course, I would be happy!


Anonymous said...

Thank you very much Sab. I agree 100% with you and the others. This constructive criticism is very important for us at the moment. Cale :)

Anonymous said...

Cheers for this Sab... and just so the wide range of nationalities in our group is not confused, that is 'cheers' as in thanks, not 'cheers' as in encouragement/congratulations... although I suppose the latter works too. But I digress.)

Like the others, I too found (or perhaps that should be 'do find') this post useful. In regards to teaching - I and mean teaching anything - my experience has been that if you have, they'll have fun!

Cheers (again), Edwin

Jessica said...

Thanks for all the useful feedback. There is so much room for improvement! So many important things to address as I prepare for my lesson tomorrow.


Anonymous said...

Hi Sab,
I agree with all of the above comments. The feedback sessions are really important and they allow us to reflect on our own teaching techniques and those of our peers.
After a rather bad lesson on friday i am ready to attack the final week using all the techniques that you have taught us. Thanks for all your advice, Sab, and thanks to the group for all your support and making this TEFL course special.

kate said...

I read this post and starting laughing at how many of these things I actually did! It's so interesting to see how many of these mistakes we all made on our first teaching sessions! Hopefully with the constructive criticism we received we can start to improve with practise and give our students lessons that that will be beneficial and ones that they will remember

Niall said...

I know a lot of these apply to me, especially too much TTT. It's good to have them spelt out in a clear list. I'm going to try and keep them in my mind so that I don't fall back onto bad habits whilst teaching in future. Thanks, Sab. Niall.

Lindsay said...

Someone once said "If only God the gift would give us - to see ourselves as others see us." Well Teaching Practice certainly comes close to that, and the advice offered does help us to see ourselves as we're seen by others -especially our students.

Marie said...

I recognize myself in here. What is frustrating is knowing that you still make some of those mistakes but you can't actually stop yourself from doing it ....
Thank you for the nice way you comment. It's so objective that it's easier to progress from it.

Anonymous said...

Free help becoming a teacher here:

No strings, just take a look around.

korla said...

Thanks a lot for useful information every teacher has to read.

Irene Cros said...

Thank you for your positive and very sound comments. It's good to see a post that doesn't just deal with the stress of CELTA! As you said - a CELTA trainee is not alone!

Cambridge say that over 10,000 people do the CELTA every year, and I'm sure that a huge majority of those succeed and go on to be good teachers.

Anonymous said...

very helpful. thanks

Jimboy Huerto said...

Thank you for the very relevant ideas, people. I really found everything clear. Very clear. By such comments, I can improve myself and avoid committing such the same mistakes again.


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