Working with and championing non-native speaker trainees on recent CELTAs, I have been left wondering when it comes to their own use of English.  I can get them to correct errors in written assignments and warn them to be more careful next time.  But what about spoken English?    It’s disconcerting when you want to give a trainee guidance with ‘When you next teach grammar…’ and thinking you’ve asked a question, they cut in with ‘tomorrow’. Or the misuse of articles, or when in supervised lesson planning and group ‘feedbacks’, they ask questions like:

How do you call…?

Why you say…?

Why you don’t…?

Can you tell me what is it?

I’m torn between maintaining the CELTA standard and thinking about English as an International language, which would surely hold that the absence of auxiliaries in object questions is now becoming standard in Kachru’s expanding circles of users of EIL.  Are my pleas on feedback sheets to ‘watch your English’ becoming pedantic in this context and rendering me hypocritical as a believer in EIL?  It could depend on:

  • whether or not the error is made in a lesson, and further, if it’s an error with something other than the target language – given that the criteria call for accurate models but make no mention of the trainee’s accuracy generally
  • the trainee’s career goals – it’s been said by a key figure at Cambridge that if they only intend to teach in their own country…
  • their future students’ learning goals, which could render EIL insufficient, if one is aiming e.g. for an IELTS 8

Regardless of anyone’s goals, we as tutors are sending them out into the world with an international qualification and surely I should see myself as a responsible tutor not a pedant?   Answers on a postcard please.







A CELTA in the Sudan

Working on a CELTA in Sudan is a humbling experience.   Teachers earn the equivalent of about £30 a month here and some of the trainees have taken out loans to meet the fee, if extended families weren’t able to pool enough.  A turn of the screw came between applications and interviews, with the government devaluing the Sudanese pound by over half. On Day 1 when I ask what they’re excited and worried about, two of them say ‘this course will change my life’ and one puts it ‘this is the beginning of a new future for me and my family’ and I can feel that these aren’t throwaway lines.   I know as I’ve never known on a CELTA before that no matter what happens, no-one’s going to withdraw, it means too much to them.  Having committed the fee, they need to devote themselves unfailingly to the workload to secure future income.  They’re allowed 24/7 access to the Centre and they’ve used this privilege – since they can’t work at home because of distractions in their extended families and lack of facilities – staying late and arriving early.  Some have even had to be warned that they can’t sleep there.   What if someone doesn’t make the grade?  I feel all we can do is support them and then hope for the best.   We’ve had to give two fail warning letters and on finding out about one of them, two of the others came to my office and asked if they could talk to me.   They’d heard their friend was struggling and had come for everyone in the group to know what they could do this weekend to help him.  I felt very moved, as they have their own workload and it shows the point-of-pride generosity of the Sudanese.  Though I’ve trained for fourteen years in different places, this has never happened to me before.

Insha’allah, they’ll pass and for those whose grades are ‘slashes’ that their dedication results in the Pass B or Pass A they deserve.  We’ll know within a week.

Decisions, decisions

You’ve asked all your questions and now it’s decision time. Is it a yes or a no?  Accept or reject?  Sometimes, you’ll know after the initial ‘Why CELTA?’ and one language awareness question.  They’re bright, keen, saying all the right sorts of things. More often, though, your mind is toggling between the two possible outcomes minute by minute.  And there’s no-one else to help, to tell you the right answer when it’s not black and white, when you have to pick your way through grey areas.  He could do that, but then he said this.

Through it all, your role as an effective interviewer is to help the probably-nervous applicant perform the best they can.  That, and the fact that applying for a pre-service course, they don’t need to know it all, don’t need an encyclopedic knowledge of English grammar, points in one direction: your approach will be to give encouraging prompts.  With your guidance, can they reach some kind of response that makes sense?  The reason for this is that your goal is to find out ‘are they trainable’?   Can they respond by thinking their way to ‘a picture’ or ‘it’s in the future’?    An interviewee struggling is not a problem, if that struggling is healthy thinking and you can guide them through.  This shows that they’ll be able to respond that way on the course during a supervised lesson planning session when they’re teaching the past perfect next day.  In the words of my Trainer in Training last month:

Given that CELTA is a pre-service course, the pre-tasks and the interview concerning language awareness may seem rather challenging for the candidates. The objective of the pre-interview tasks and the interview is to check the candidate’s fluency and accuracy and also explore the candidate’s language awareness. However, after shadowing three interviews, I realised that the tutor also takes into consideration how much a candidate can achieve with appropriate prompting and how their language awareness and perception of learning and teaching can help them. The interview also ensures that the candidate is aware of the requirements and demands of the course while the manner of the tutor is friendly and very supportive.

Beyond that, make sure by the end you know their expectations of CELTA and that their aware of CELTA’s expectations of them.  For an intensive course, check they’re not planning a weekend away and for any course, that there’s nothing about their health or homelife that’s going to affect their chances.  Tick a box to confirm you’ve asked this.

You’ve still got to decide and it’s tricky when it’s in the grey area.   Did they do enough? Another way to think of this is ‘Do they have a reasonable chance of passing?’  You’re about to assist this applicant in parting with a four-figure sum and need to be able to do that with a clear conscience.

What would another trainer say?  If I’m really deliberating and I don’t have to give the outcome there and then, I’ve occasionally gone to a colleague and given a thumbnail of the interview.  I haven’t actually needed the colleague to tell me, I can usually hear it in my voice, in what comes out and end up saying ‘I should give her a chance, shouldn’t I?’ or ‘Ahh, it’s just not enough is it?’

It’s easy to give the good news ‘I’m happy to accept you’.  If you have to reject someone, hopefully the centre will allow you to say ‘you’ll receive an email with the outcome of this interview’. Otherwise, if your reasons are to do with trainability/ professionalism/character/sanity, then rather than rely on this subjective data, stick to facts and announce your decision based on need for development of language awareness.   Applicants will find it difficult to challenge your professional take on this, but it could be inflammatory to tell an interviewee their personality doesn’t fit.  If, in spite of your best efforts to be sensitive and deliver the message carefully, the response is anger, you have the confirmation you need that ‘reject’ was a good call.

Lose literacy?

I’m running a CELTA this month and looking ahead to Week 4 and the input sessions we might include.  Literacy is there on my draft as a ‘must have’ and has been for ten years and more, since Cambridge made that compulsory.  This was to meet a requirement in the UK and other countries which welcomed refugees and asylum seekers where English classes were provided in reception centres.  It was considered important for teachers to be aware of literacy needs in an ESOL context.   Not to get too political, migration and the language need continues, but the policy on teaching provision has changed. Where does that leave us with the Literacy session? Recently, I can say that other tutors have doubted its call on precious time on a busy input timetable and have combined it with another session reducing, the time to half an hour, or not offered it at all.   Assessors, to my knowledge, have made no comment on this and I wonder – should it remain mandatory or could it be a decision handed over to the tutors?  My co-tutor and I have discussed this and decided not to include it this time.  Your experience/comments would be welcome.



Working as I have been for a few weeks this summer on in-service training courses, I keep hearing the xquestion ‘can we have a session on how to cope with burnout?’ – and it’s not just from the course participants, it’s been heard in the staffroom, too.

I sympathise, feeling grateful for weekends to catch up on myself and find enough energy to be able to give in the classroom for another week.

Could we have an IATEFL talk about this?  Or a workshop where any of who are doing more than survive, might share?


Please choose from the following options….aargh!

My mantras with trainees include ‘We need to make our lessons student-centred…they’re the most important people in the room…let’s give them a choice of what to focus on!’    Of course, for integrity, I also do these things myself when planning my training sessions.  This week, on Day 1 of a two-week in service course called Language and Methodology Refresher, I proudly showed the group of ten trainees a menu of possible sessions.  They diligently followed my instructions to discuss with their partner and write which would be most useful for them.    The expression ‘if you don’t want to know the answer, don’t ask the question’ came to mind when I saw the outcome.  No single session attracted more than five votes, and most had been chosen bZy only two or three.

As a professional wanting to provide course participants with a model of what to do in the classroom, I ploughed on, asking the two or three who had chosen these to write their names next to where I’d written the sessions on the board.   The result was 1. what you see in the photo and 2. me ending the session in despair.  My plan had seriously backfired and my breezy assurance to them that I would run parallel sessions ‘buzzing from one side of the room to another like a happy bee’ had me on the computer for most of the evening trying to work out how to combine sessions and then moaning that I’d have to plan them scrupulously so that only one group needed my attention at any one time.   I might have been tempted to pull the plug on the parallel idea, but didn’t want to take from them something I’d promised.  So here I am, summoning the energy to buzz around the room – wish me luck!

Future Proofing CELTA

Following my post from IATEFL Brighton in April, here’s an interim update on my follow-up to Clare Harrison’s talk on making CELTA fit for purpose in the 21st century.

Regarding use of digital media, I have considered using interactive versions of coursebooks.  Where coursebook sets for TP are often older editions, and where not all places have interactive whiteboards, happily at Bell we have  IWBs and Cutting Edge 3rd edition available.  I have had the following ideas:

  • the tutors need to use the digital material in at least one demo lesson
  • trainees use this for 1 or 2 TPs
  • to catch both ends of the scale, i.e. trainees who are ‘techy’ and those who are not, they teach at least one lesson with the digital coursebook and one without
  • as our classrooms have very small traditional whiteboards, we can make a wheely board available to allow this
  • the tech and the low tech lessons should not coincide with Stage 2 or Stage 3, so that we avoid any problems asking trainees who are struggling to experiment

With the other strand from Clare’s talk, providing desired input on YLs/teens and large classes, I plan to offer these as two optional ‘flipped’ sessions, with a long-enough deadline to allow the trainee to fit their chosen one around the demands of  assignments and lesson planning.   The flipped session can be an integral part of the 120 hours and the f2f cascading session will allow trainees to share what they have seen and ask questions, and also benefit me in ensuring that they do watch the material by the end of the course.

Watch this space in the autumn for more updates.



Ever Decreasing CELTAs


IMG_7082The four people in this photo are a CELTA course in its entirety – the two tutors in the centre, flanked by the two trainees.  This was in 2015 and the centre, the MoD’s training academy in Oxfordshire, were keen not to be seen cancelling a course which promoted friendly diplomatic relations.  When I sent in the Entry Form, Cambridge replied with ‘Has the course started?’  I was happy to write that we had already begun input and TP, as otherwise I think they may have shut us down.   We were confident that those trainees gained more than they lost by not having more peers to watch – oodles of contact time and support from us on a tailor-made course.

More recently, I’ve noticed that numbers on CELTA have often been low of late – in the place I work during the summer, at another Centre in Cambridge, and when I’ve been assessing.  A centre in Berlin recently advertised for a tutor, saying that the course would run with four trainees.

Is this a trend? Are there too many CELTA courses on offer in certain regions compared to the demand for them?   We each want a piece of the pie, and I wonder whether:

  • Centres should compare their dates with other centres’ in the same city/area and try to differentiate, maybe even liaise with each other when planning?
  • The comment made by the assessor of my last course, which started with four trainees and with withdrawals, ended with two, is pertinent: ‘maybe centres should avoid running a course when there are this few trainees and one or two of the applicants are weak’
  • Cambridge, who currently require only that centres provide ‘a viable training situation’ should come out and tell us what they think of all this, maybe give us a minimum number and avoid approving new centres when there is already sufficient provision in a place

As always, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

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.


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:

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


  • 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


  • 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.

Brighton Breezy


IATEFL has been as good as ever this year, my annual CPD shot in the arm.  Not only that, every day I feel part of a community that’s interesting and interested.  As I sit on the train back to Cambridge I want to share ideas on the ‘threads’ I’ve followed and you’ll see stuff below on:


– CLIL, to pass on during CLIL training

– developing NNS teachers, which I can include in the message I deliver to NNS trainees who feel ‘less than’ and which I could incorporate in input on CELTA courses where we have a significant NNS contingent.

– trainee-led seminars


Clare Harrison, head of the Teacher Development and Curriculum team at Cambridge, so responsible for the academic aspect of CELTA, gave a pivotal presentation of where they’re at with CELTA and where they’re going.   CELTA’s still the one, 72.4% of employers surveyed worldwide require it, and perhaps because it was ahead of its time when John Haycraft devised it over 50 years ago, it hasn’t needed to change much.  But the world is changing, with early learning, digital and the increase of specialist teaching areas e.g. CLIL and EAP, Cambridge want to ensure CELTA is fit for purpose in the future.   A survey of employers, centres, tutors, and candidates revealed that most are mostly happy with the status quo, but there were suggestions:

  • Half of the employers want CELTA for YLs
  • There’s a need for support on use of digital elements with coursebooks
  • Support for teaching larger classes

Clare was honest enough to say that Cambridge are unclear on where to go but did say:

– CELTYL and the extension were withdrawn due to lack of demand

– ICELT is little used (please promote it, Cambridge!)

– Cambridge are aware the NS – NNS ratio is now 50-50

The CELTA syllabus document gives centres and tutors lots of freedom and we look at that to work within it to design input for this cohort of trainees, whoever and wherever they may be (mentioning that the breadth of the CELTA reach successfully includes all-NNS courses such as Ural Federal University and ones embedded in a BA (Oxford Brookes) and an MA (IH London and Kings College).  Then Clare asked if we should have a fully-online option, assignments and plans submitted electronically, a flipped learning approach?   Jason Anderson who attended Clare’s session wonders whether some of the niche needs re YLs and large classes could be included on CELTA but offered as online input…which would synch with the flipped idea. As I reflect, I think of Ben Beaumont of Trinity talking about constructive alignment of what we ‘teach’ on training courses with the needs of teachers.  Of course all of this generates more questions than answers and gives us a lot of work to do.  I’m thinking of cascading to my colleagues at Bell, a contribution to the TT Sig journal, experimenting on my CELTA courses this year…maybe an IATEFL proposal for Liverpool? Watch this space.

Alastair Douglas shared new approaches to what trainees do when they observe TP, to improve their engagement.  Among his ideas:

  • having an extra column on an observation task, so that having commented on what the teacher’s doing, they suggest an improvement/alternative
  • the trainee choosing what to focus on based on either their own action points or the focus of the lesson they are watching.  Within this, possibilities include a book of tasks they select from or them designing their own observation tasks with prior guidance and supervision from the tutor
  • using the chat forum Slack, suggested by Marie Therese Swabey, so that tutor and observers are in ‘conversation’ during a lesson and can  silently comment and prompt discussion

Trainee feedback was positive, including ‘I usually fill in the sheets depending on my mood, but this helped’.

Olga Connolly of BKC Moscow reported her MA findings on giving oral group feedback.  Where tutors on CELTA have two roles – assessor and developer – which is prominent after TP?  She recorded feedback sessions of 8 colleagues and found that they were mostly developmental.  There were two points that interested me.  First, the positive element of balanced feedback was given in a list ‘you monitored well, rapport, grading…’ while focus on what didn’t go well included exploration.  Light bulb!  We should stay with the positive a little, exploring what made the rapport and how other trainees might be inspired.  Second, that knowledge about the TP students was given little prominence, as was the effect of the lesson on them – a good reminder!    Plus, if ever I’m involved in the CPD of a group of trainers, I’d do what Olga did.


Manuela Kelly Calzini of Trinity College London in Italy talked about ‘The Mantle of the Expert’ as a way for primary CLIL teachers to encourage learning through drama e.g. a pupil becomes Einstein and answers his classmate’s question in an info gap.  She emphasised that it’s ok to move from L1 to L2, maybe asking in L1 and pupils answering in L2 or vice versa, and that a CLIL course shouldn’t be about a chronological grammar syllabus but language using.  This point came up in Jane Willis’ session, too: ‘focus on meaning…free use of language.’

Silvana da Camilli of CATS school in Cambridge also mentioned the role of language in CLIL, priming her A1-A2 level secondary class with task-specific language.  Then when they do the task, it’s less likely they’ll have a ‘can’t do’ feeling that leads to a switch to L1.

Rachel Kirsch and Rena Basak of Docentis shared their training experience working with Kazakh CLIL teachers.   They improved their course by making it blended, using an LMS for course participants to upload pre-course reflections on their current practice, which was more informative than the usual needs analysis.  They will use it next time to also incorporate flipped work, input being processed before a f2f session, and to ask CPs to upload clips of their teaching both pre- and post-course for tutors to view.

Andrew Walkley gave us some great approaches to incorporating critical thinking in lessons. Give students a voice by showing them the language to:

* question facts ‘the figures don’t stand up to…’

* describe ourselves ‘as a [man], I believe…’

* highlight prejudice and show stereotypes ‘just because I’m a [man], I don’t…’


It was heartening after my talk reporting on my experiment teaching soft CLIL with my English students that delegates came up wanting to share their experiences.

NNS Teachers

Katherine Martinkevich’s talk on supporting NNS teachers presented a problem in her Kiev school, and their solution.  With 2/3 of their teachers NNS having an IELTS 8/9 level of English, they’re in an enviable position…but not so.  Students’ perceptions were based on their nationality not language competence or experience, and the teachers themselves doubted their own ability in relation to the 1/3 NS.  So the teachers asked for language support sessions and Katherine ran a successful course.

Ross Thorburn gave us trainers another message for NNS trainees: the YLs and teens at EF schools in China that he interviewed, and importantly their parents, think NNS teachers are better at teaching grammar and vocabulary. Not only that, but he found that where both groups value NS teachers when it comes to pronunciation models, students don’t often recognise the difference between NS and NNS pronunciation.   His survey also showed that the school’s own sales staff were more pro-NS teachers than the parents were.  Delegates suggested that this could be addressed by workshops for both sales staff and external agents, focussing on NNS teachers’ many strength

Trainee-led seminars

Jane Mandalios told us about her trainee-led seminars in an English Medium university in Greece. Her students are trainee teachers and the seminars ‘made the trainees the facilitators of the learning of others’.  The benefits of this include:

– ownership of the material…making it memorable for the seminar leader who’s researched and is leading

– empathy with Jane in the teacher role, realising the teacher doesn’t and can’t know everything

– spin offs in terms of motivation and confidence

Looking forward to IATEFL 2019!