Resolution update

This month, I’m reporting on two of my three New Year’s Training Resolutions (see January post) – challenging stronger CELTA trainees rather than using my time only supporting struggling ones, and being more techy.

First, the one about challenge.  I started running a four-week CELTA with a very small group last week and it’s become clear that we have two who are going to do well, while one has weak language awareness.   One of the stronger two, who graduated last year with a 1st in English from Cambridge, asked to talk to me with the message ‘I want to do well, I’m used to working hard and like challenge, please tell me straight what I need to do’.   This paves the way to me easily achieving my resolution with her.  Then yesterday my co-tutor and I decided that, doing some grammar analysis with them using third conditional, she would differentiate the task, asking the two to look at MFP and the one to identify parts of speech.  That met everyone’s needs and has made a start on something that I need to continue, later on this course, and also meeting the greater challenge of broadening support in this way when I have a larger group.

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On the tech front, and inspired by trainers in different centres, I’ve introduced the online platform ‘Flock’ as a way for tutor and trainees to comment in TP on the lessons we’re watching.   The idea came first at Sheffield with Marie Therese Swabey talking about how she’d used ‘Slack’, a similar programme.  Then at International House in London when assessing a course and being impressed by the quality of observation as the tutor I observed was using Flock.  Latterly, Alastair Douglas discussed this in his talk at IATEFL in Brighton: https://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/i-can-see-clearly-now-rethinking-teacher-training-observation-tasks

How we’ve been doing it:

  • An account is easy to open – Google ‘Flock’ and you’ll get onto the site
  • You need trainees’ email addresses and then Flock will invite them to join
  • You can create a ‘new channel’ so comments on each day’s TP are saved separately and can be reviewed by the observed teacher later
  • Tutors and trainees variously use laptop/netbook/mobile and all work well
  • I let trainees assume I’d used Flock before – this is their CELTA and I don’t want them to feel experimented on

Benefits

  • What I write on Flock becomes the running commentary that I’d normally write on a trainee’s plan
  • I can prompt trainees to look at something happening at the moment, better than a traditional observation task, the theme of which is decided in advance
  • I can send a private message to one trainee if I see e.g. concise instructions in the lesson and I know that’s something that trainee needs to work on, or if I’m concerned they look tired/disengaged.
  • I can also send a private message to my trainer in training, or the assessor, rather than passing a note as I might normally
  • I see trainees’ comments, where I would usually only hear selections read out in group feedback from a paper task
  • Those comments are often pertinent and thoughtful and show good awareness, which counters my initial concern on seeing an emoticon that the feed might be reduced to a kind of social media chat
  • The comments and questions on Flock can then feed into the group feedback session

Problems

  • New to this, through habit I still gave out a paper observation task for TP1 so trainees had two things to do in TP – I must try harder next time
  • One trainee’s battery ran out mid TP one day and I need to make sure my netbook’s fully charged as in our TP room I can’t be near a socket and see the board
  • Introducing Flock to the trainees, I found myself saying that whoever’s teaching shouldn’t worry about us typing, we’ll be pointing out positives. So how do I get their peers to think about different ways of doing something when I notice something ineffective? This week, I’ve handled this by asking questions rather than being seen to criticise, but the feed shows that trainees are reluctant to answer, presumably not wanting to appear critical themselves
  • One trainee appeared ‘fragile’ on Day 4 and withdrew on Day 5 for multiple reasons including his accommodation and the intense nature of CELTA. He’d also had issues with downloading the software for the interactive white board, and commented about Flock that he felt ‘co-opted’ onto it and ‘for me it’s just another thing’.  His withdrawal email mentioned ‘the tacit requirement to adopt new technology’ and as the tech aspects are not just ‘my thing’ but have been emphasised by Cambridge in the new Syllabus and Assessment Guidelines applicable from this month, I worry about other trainees treading the fine line between ‘the technology’s there’ and ‘you don’t have to use it to pass your CELTA’.   This particular trainee is in his forties and, I hope I don’t appear ageist (being fifty something myself) when I say this is surely not atypical?   I think it’s important at least to stress that they’re being invited to Flock and that it’s an

Interim conclusion

There are more benefits than problems and one week is not enough to report findings convincingly so more to follow in my June post.

Your thoughts and questions would be welcome.

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