CELTA: 25% down, 75% to go

We made it. First week of CELTA complete. 25% down, 75% to go!

The Wikiepdia description is turning out to be spot-on:

The full-time four-week course is very intensive, and students taking it must be prepared to dedicate all their waking hours to it for the duration. Even the part-time version of the course can take up more time than a full-time job for many students, especially those with no teaching background.

The first three days were the toughest. Studying intensively for over 8 hours a day is not something I’ve ever done before, and my brain felt like it was under siege. So much so that I had to think of a way to give it some relaxation therapy on the way home – if I just did nothing when sitting on the bus it would just be buzzing with the days learning, and aching. First off, I tried the audio book I’ve been making my way through over the past month (Colin Thurbron – Shadow of the Silk Road), but after two days of that I realised I just kept on tuning out, my brain was complaining about having to process even more data; it was hard work to listen.

Music Therapy

I think it was Wednesday that I remembered the power of music. A few weeks back I’d bought the new Coldplay album, sort-of listened to it once or twice, and then forgotten about it.

Why not revive that? – if it was suitable, I could even turn it into one of those key soundtracks to a distinct period in my life (a technique mentioned halfway through this mumble).

It’s turned out to be ideal. With my big headphones on I’m not bothered by the sound of the chatter on the bus, the stress of the shock absorbers when we hit the speed bumps, the squealing of the brakes. The music does not demand my attention, but rather just offers itself as a place that I can relax in. I can drift in and out of it without feeling that I’ve missed anything.

Just 30 minutes of music therapy after a long day in the classroom sets me up for further study when I get home.

CELTA course classes

We’ve covered a huge variety of topics during our first week of classes, including: learner styles and levels; needs analysis; lesson planning; many different teaching methods; grammar; ELT resources; error correction; classroom management …and much much more.

The thing that really strikes me about this course is that we are deliberately being taught how to teach through loop input. That is, our tutors are using the teaching methods on us that we will be using in the classroom (so, in effect, we’re kind of getting 80 hours of teaching in a forty hour week!).

Simple example: We might be put into pairs to do a timed brainstorming exercise on aspects of classroom management, followed by a feedback session in which all students are asked to contribute an idea to a table on the whiteboard – in that lesson then we will not only have learnt classroom management techniques, but will also have picked up more ideas on ways in which to elicit information from students / check understanding of meaning.

Sometimes, our tutors will stop at the end of a mini-exercise and ask us things like, “did you notice that I gave you the instructions before handing out the question sheet…?” (students [myself included] often tune out when given a piece of paper – they just have to read it!). In this way, we are being fed a wealth of little tips that will help us make small improvements to our teaching.

Teaching Practice

The hardest aspect so far has been preparing for our teaching practice. It’s not that it’s been a particularly difficult activity in itself – being week one, we have basically been told what to teach it, and to a large extent, how to teach it. The issue has been time – or a lack of it. Whilst ideally we would be writing lesson plans in the evenings, the exhaustion has left me feeling unable to do much except read sections of my ‘How to Teach English’ text book, and thus yesterday’s (for example) was created between 8am and 9.30am, and then finished off at lunchtime (I think lunchtime for everyone yesterday turned into “Teaching Practice Planning”!). It’s a good lesson in the importance of time management for teachers!

This will of course change the more that we do it. At the moment everything is new, and takes a lot longer than usual.

We’ve now had three Teaching Practice sessions, attended by students from all over the world who are happy to act as guinea pigs in what are for them free English lessons.

The first one was pretty nerve-wracking. It went Ok though, although I did a very poor job of introducing the vocab, and found myself telling a joke which no-one understood (I’m learning though trial-and-error about the extent to which humour can be used – it’s always a bit of a gamble. Keep it simple, or avoid it altogether!).

My second class went a lot better, and I actually enjoyed it; I started to find my confidence. The third class (yesterday) was even more fun, despite a section of my lesson plan inadvertently being made redundant by a colleague who, when teaching the session immediately prior to mine, adjusted their plan so that they ended up doing an exercise that I was going to do! I decided that this was an opportunity to learn about the importance of having a plan B, and it seemed to pay off.

Following our final class last night, we popped off down the pub for a celebratory drink – we’d completed our first week! Looking back on it all now, it’s great to see the progress we’ve made. I’ve not taken an intensive course before, but I’m impressed by just how much can be covered with a well-designed course and dedicated students (who have no life outside of it). It seems to me to be a pretty effective way to learn, and I feel sure now that CELTA is worth every penny of the not-insignificant sum of money invested in it.

Anyway, this weekend I’ve got an awful lot of homework to do. Reading, lesson planning, oh, and I have my first written assignment too… best get on.

joseph

Merhaba! Nasılsın?

In this morning’s first class we were treated to the most extraordinary experience. It was absolutely captivating, and made me forget all about the scary half-naked man at the bus stop 30 minutes earlier who had thrown bricks at a carpet-delivery van containing three men, one of whom had briefly emerged with a long iron bar and said some rather rude words to the half-naked man.

We arrived in class, only to be greeted by a woman we’d never met before who immediately started to talk to us in a made-up language. It was complete nonsense, a few of us couldn’t help but laugh.

Then someone remembered – we were time-tabled to have an ‘unknown language lesson’, to give us a sense of what it might be like if we go to teach English in a foreign country where the students have absolutely no prior knowledge of English.

And we had none whatsoever of this ‘language’. During our interviews we had been asked to list all the languages that we spoke – even if it was just a tiny bit. Our course directors then found a teacher of a language that appeared on none of the resulting 16 lists.

Having gathered from her gestures that she wanted us to go into a different classroom, we moved next door and sat in the chairs that had been arranged in a semicircle. She then started repeating strange-sounding phrases to us. We gathered that this was a drilling exercise, and so played along.

She’d say a sentence several times, we’d repeat several times. This went on for some time, gradually building up to about 7 phrases. Nothing was written on the board, and we were banned from writing anything down ourselves. It was all just these sounds in our ears that we copied, not knowing what they meant.

We were then shown a short video of two people saying these phrases. At certain points the people indicated towards a picture of a shop, then a house.

Slowly, the sounds started to mean something. “Merhaba!” must be ‘Hello’ in whatever this language was.” Sen” appeared to mean “you”. Ah… and “Nasılsın” must be “How are you?”

After thirty minutes of watching, listening and repeating (and nothing else), the meaning started to become clear.

Hello!
Hello!
How are you?
I’m fine, how are you?
Fine thank you. Where are you going?
I’m going to the shop (or was it an office?!) Where are you going?
I’m going home.
Good bye!
Good Bye!

We were paired off, and practised this new strange language.

(We later found out that it was Turkish that we were speaking).

This exercise struck me as being absolutely remarkable, and afterwards I felt positively elated.

Why?

It had given us the chance to do something we could never normally do. We were allowed to return to babyhood and experience the first year or two of language development within the space of one hour!

It really felt like that. We had no other ‘language’ that we could fall back on, all there was was these new strange sounds that we tried to emulate with no concrete idea of what we were saying. It was only through use over time that we figured out the meaning – although not all of us did, with some only finding out in the feedback session afterwards.

It was so exciting to be learning to communicate all over again, from scratch.

A brilliant exercise. Thank you ELTC.


We had our second teaching practice today. I really enjoyed it. After I’d finished my bit, one of the the students passed me a note “You’re going to become a great teacher” – this was was very encouraging, and much appreciated. Still a long long way to go though.

Of course I’m absolutely shattered again. I’ve made my packed lunch for tomorrow and will go to bed shortly. I know I really should do my teaching plan for tomorrow’s course – I’l start it, and see how far I get before falling alseep!

night night

p.s. coursemates really are bloomin wonderful.

a brief hello

The way things are shaping up I think there will be very little in terms of blog activity from me this month. Or any other kind of activity, other than working towards gaining my CELTA certificate.

It’s incredibly intense. from 9.30am to 6.30pm (7pm yesterday) the 16 of us are either in our classroom being taught how to teach, or, just up the road in another classroom, teaching.

When we get home, we have a considerable amount of homework to do, including lesson planning for the following day’s class, and the study of English grammar.

My brain doesn’t know what’s hit it! Eight hours+ of constant input is very draining, and leaves me feeling pretty out of it when I do get home. The weekend is only 2 days away – but then we have the first of four assignments to complete (for the Monday).

Not that I’m complaining – It’s a fantastic course, and we must be learning an awful lot. I’ll appreciate it when it’s overm I know 🙂

There’s the camaraderie too, couldn’t have wished for a nicer bunch of CELTA classmates. It’s only day three – but we’ve already spent a whole 24 hours working together in a group, and thus know each other pretty well.

Our students are nice too. They’re our guinea pigs, getting their lessons free (I guess I’m actually paying to teach them!).

I’m glad I have a comfortable home I can collapse in. I’m staying at my friends’ house whilst they’re in China (nice bit of synchronisity there). Part of the deal though is that I deliver sushi to 5 outlets four times a week for their catering company in return – thus it’s up at 6am on those days.

I think i’ll need a holiday when I get to japan!

xxx

Degree result

information commons exterior_8500
Google Alert: Information Commons, Sheffield (tee hee)

I worked out what I got for my degree the other day. Whilst grades aren’t officially published until the 14th July, with the results for all but one of modules (language) having been announced, it’s not hard to tot it up. I’ve guessed my mark for the language module based on my previous results and my feelings about how it went (it went very well!)

I got a 2:1, approximately 66~68%. That’s what I was aiming for, so I’m happy with that. Well done me. 5 years of study have paid off.

I remember Earl Nightingale talking about how we react to reaching our goals. Reaching goals doesn’t give us half the sense of satisfaction / happiness as working towards them does, and I’d say that that’s certainly the case here. I have this idea that I ought to ‘feel more’ about this result, but the truth is that the real achievement was in doing it. For me, the happiest days were those when we were in class, doing stuff. Those were the days of real accomplishment.

After all, what do we do when we reach a goal? Set a new goal! I find that knowing that now helps me deal with the unexpected a little better than I did in the past. With no goal ever being ‘ultimate’, if plans do go eschew, I know that that’s ok, that the goal was just a guide, and really it’s all about the journey.

That was certainly the case with my degree. It’s all been about the journey.

inverse vapour trail_8512

Inverse vapour trail – I’ve never seen one of these before

Today was my last day working at CILASS. The morning was spent with a group of staff from Hong Kong who are on a study-space research trip. That was good – the vegetable samosas were particularly tasty, and I’m always a sucker for those cheese and tomato stick things. :-p

This afternoon I created a few screencasts for next year’s webgroup (is Screenflow the sexiest Leopard app in the world or what?!), and spent some time with Emmy. I like hanging out with her (I mean, how could I not – she has the same Macbook as me!). After that it was off to the pub, drinks on the house. I did enjoy that. Such a groovy bunch those CILASS folks. I will miss them.

Leaving the University Arms I was well and truly lost. It was the first time since arriving at Sheffield in 2004 that I’ve had no ‘place’ at uni. Two pints of beer had to be factored in as well: they’d made me feel desperately lonely and in need of *Twinkle* – confirmation that not drinking has possibly been the cleverest thing I’ve done this year.

Ho hum. I’m off to London tomorrow, staying in a capsule. Best get some kip.

xxx

LTEA Conference 2008: Long Live Inquiry-based Learning!

It’s now the day after the closing of the LTEA (Learning Through Enquiry Alliance) conference 2008, and my head is beginning to clear. I attempted to write about my experience of this event last night, but I was “all conferenced out” as fellow student ambassador Barbara put it – my mind was just a sea of tags:
conference tag cloud
It was an intense week. In the days leading up to the event’s opening on Wednesday, I worked with the CILASS core team to help prepare the conference Wiki, a virtual space in which delegates could share, discuss and reflect upon their experiences of Inquiry-based learning. Aside from passive use of Wikipedia, I had no prior experience of working with Wikis, and thus found myself engaging in an intense IBL activity on my computer. Once I’d familiarised myself with the basic structure, I was surprised by how easy it was to manipulate; this has encouraged me to contemplate how I might include a wiki within my own website (another project to add to the IBL-inspired list!).

In addition to co-ordinating the wiki, my duties (most of which were of course shared with my amazing friends in the Student Ambassador Network) included: taking photos (that was a self-assigned role! Thanks for indulging me, CILASS), processing and uploading them to Flickr throughout the conference; ensuring that the technology was working for those presenting; uploading powerpoints to Slideshare (still a lot to do there); facilitating sessions; being available for delegates should they have any problems; watching over the luggage, drinking coffee, and eating chocolate.

Thinking about it all now, a few episodes come to mind. I’d like to share those with you.

It’s Wednesday morning, 9am. As the other Student Ambassadors arrive there’s a feeling of great excitement and happiness in the office: the months of preparation are over, and it’s too late to worry about anything. We’re blowing up balloons to tie to lamp-posts in order that delegates don’t get lost on their way to the Keynote in Firth Hall. Turns out that Jamie is a Balloon-mungster, and prior to joining the CILASS team was at the forefront of a new movement which campaigned to promote the simultaneous blowing up of multiple balloons. Jamie’s love of balloons spreads across the office, and before long the balloon bath is the hottest attraction in Sheffield.

jamie sabine natalie and the balloons

natalie balloons balloons_8061

11am, and the delegates are now arriving. They are greeted by the blue T-shirts and big smiles of the Student Ambassadors – a welcome sign of the kind of atmosphere that will embody the entire three-day conference.

Photo: James Gould

It’s now Wednesday afternoon and I’m facilitating a presentation by four members of Sheffield Hallam University’s CETL. They’ve all been using Inquiry-based technologies to help enhance the learning and teaching experience. As I sit there hearing about their successes I find myself getting tremendously excited and inspired – the work that these tutors are putting in to help students become autonomous learners really is something to be shouted about. When bringing the session to a close, I think it might be appropriate to offer a quick bit of feedback as the only student in the room:

“I’m very happy to have just completed a four-year degree, and am looking forward to moving on into the workplace. But I tell you, hearing what you’re doing with IBL inspires me to such an extent that I’m thinking I’d like to start another undergraduate degree!”

And I meant it. I am so impressed by the effort that is being put in by IBL-orientated staff to help students engage with their subjects, and by the positive results they are achieving. People must be told about IBL! It should become a norm for prospective graduates attending university open days to ask, “Could you tell me what inquiry-based learning techniques are employed within the department?”

We’re now between sessions, the busiest time for me and my USB stick. Myself, Pam from the CILASS core team and Pepe the penguin have to make sure that the presenters in all five of the simultaneous sessions hosted in various spaces around the IC have their presentations/videos lined up and are ready to roll. Remarkably, there’s not a single problem with the technology at any point during the conference – it all goes like clockwork.

pepe and the conference flash drive_8470

The next parallel session has begun, and I’m back in the office processing photos and slides. We’re all buzzing – things are going really well. I’m starting to think about what a great team we make, students working with the core CILASS staff. I reckon we could be hired out (at great expense, of course) to dazzle and amaze conference delegates around the world!

Conference GCHQ:

Conference GCHQ

Tom, Barbara and Nat point delegates in the right direction:

the road to the keynote_8356

It’s nearing 7pm – time for the conference dinner at Whirlebrook Hall. Myself, Nat and Sabine have a true Inquiry-based learning journey to the venue as we don’t know where it is: we stop at two pubs and a private house to Inquire as to where we might find it. Finally we locate it, and we’re actually almost the first to arrive (further proof of the effectiveness of IBL)! Champagne in hand we move out to the terrace, where I soon whip out my camera once again to try and capture the atmosphere. Dinner is then served: a melon slice creation, soup and then a main dish of goats cheese wotsit on rice. Delicious. Finished off with a dessert, and more wine. I must come to these conferences more often… I’m really happy to have the chance to talk with Pam and Sabine. I learn about giving birth, and breastfeeding, things I feel I ought to know about in preparation for the birth of our children in 2010 / 2011.

Nat, the new CILASS Student Co-ordinator for the Student Ambassador Network

conference dinner_8267

Tom, and Laura: Clearly the stress of being the outgoing SAN co-ordinator is getting to her

they weren't always that way

Day two of the conference, and we’re on the coffee. It’s going to be a long one, but with a timetable in my pocket detailing what needs doing when, it’s actually pretty relaxing. It offers reassurance that things are going to happen as planned anyway, just do your bit: the power of teamwork.

Now and then someone will come into the office raving about this AMAZING session that they’d just been to – onto the award winning CILASS student blog it goes.

The delegates are happy. The keynote address, given by the President of the University of Miami, is both relevant and thought-provoking. As the day moves on so notifications of changes to the Wiki increase in number – it’s being used as hoped!

Thursday evening sees us take a coach from the IC to The Edge, the new student village where the delegates are staying. I’m happy, relaxing with friends, eating olives and parsnip crisps, chatting with a member of Sheffield Hallam’s CETL. We’re then ushered through to a large room adjoining the bar: time for a bit of entertainment and reflection with Playback Theatre (York).

conference playback theatre_8387

Playback Theatre are quite remarkable. Consisting of teachers, counsellors and actors, they literally play back to the audience thoughts and feelings that have arisen from the conference. An academic might express her feeling of fear that arises from embarking upon new adventures in IBL, and the joy of then seeing students come into their own through the new module. The actors listen to the story, and then spontaneously create a short performance that sums it up. There’s little in the way of ‘lines’ as such,rather, movement and sounds take centre stage. I was delighted, amused and entertained by their production. Others in the audience were deeply touched; tears were shed. For me, it highlighted just how much passion the delegates had for what they were doing, how, at the end of the day it’s about doing the best one can to make a difference, and finding satisfaction though helping others.

The closing plenary saw us once again in Firth Hall, summing up the questions and ideas that had arisen through the conference. Thanks were then given, with special mention made of the CILASS core team, and the Student Ambassadors. My mind flicked back through the previous few days, and indeed us SA’s really had had a positive impact upon the entire conference. By participating to the extent that we did, we were able to not only paint the place with bright happy blue t-shirts, but also to provide the student point-of-view in many of the discussions – this of course is vital as students are half of the equation when it comes to Learning and Teaching.

I feel that this conference was a model for what a conference should be, and I hope that everyone who attended from other universities goes home and sets up their own Student Network!

Me, demonstrating the brand new CILASS student website – made BY students, FOR students

san skills session_8408
Photo: Sabine Little

The overall feeling I have looking back on the LTEA Conference 2008 is one of gratitude. Gratitude for having been able to take part in such a fantastic event. Gratitude for having been a part of such an amazing team made up of such genuinely lovely people.


Photo: James Gould

There was very much a feeling of partnership between students, staff and visiting delegates throughout, with little sign of hierarchy. I felt very much valued and appreciated as a student: this makes me feel incredibly positive about the future of higher education in the UK, and I won’t hesitate in moving back to the UK from Japan 10 or 15 years down the line in order that my own (as yet to be conceived!) children are able to benefit from it.

Long Live IBL!

This post is cross-posted on the CILASS Student Blog