Sunday, 31 October 2010

The Legend of CELTA - Quite like t'impress (Week 3)

As you may have guessed from the lack of posts, week 3 was quite a busy one on the CELTA course. It didn't help that I had a Creative Writing submission due in on Thursday.

On Monday, after the morning sessions those of us teaching on Tuesday were allowed to go home in the afternoon to prepare - we didn't have to watch the other teachers, which was a blessing. Of course, I wasted this time playing video games instead of working on my authentic materials lesson, which I mostly left for the evening.

On Tuesday, I did my lesson using a pamphlet for Edinburgh ghost tours - students had to read, answer questions on and respond to the material. The lesson went well and was followed by a tutorial with Boswell, which was about my progress in the course overall. We discussed my strengths and areas I needed to improve on.

On Wednesday we watched the other teachers in our group do their authentic materials lesson. We were also given teaching points for the following day, which was to be at the new level - Pre-Intermediate this time. This was the first instance where we'd be teaching a level without having observed the tutors doing it first. My first lesson was quite a simple integrated skills lesson - reading and listening, but I didn't have time to plan it the night before because of my Creative Writing assignment.

The Pre-Intermediate tutor had been Valmar when we started the course - the sarcastic and somewhat severe-seeming lady who I had my interview with. She'd gone on holiday from the second week, though, so another lady, who I'll call Mumsy, had taken over. I call her Mumsy because she has a very friendly, nurturing way about her, though this exterior does hide a bit of an edge. My lesson went fine, but my lack of planning showed a little bit. I was criticised for not doing a very good vocabulary analysis sheet - perfectly true, but something I just couldn't be bothered with on top of everything else we had to do. It was just frustrating because if it had been another tutor they would have known I could do the sheet but I just hadn't put a lot of effort into it that time because there was so little vocabulary in it and it was all easy to explain.

Thursday night was dedicated to Assignment 3, where we had to talk about our authentic materials lesson and change our plan to say how we would improve it, referencing a teaching resource. The whole idea seemed somewhat suspect to me - it assumed we didn't make the best plan possible the first time around. Which of course may well be true, but it wasn't putting a lot of confidence in us to be giving us an assignment saying, 'We know you're going to screw up, so here's how you're going to write about it'. I was torn for a while on what to write, and ended up erasing large chunks of edits when I realised my new plan was worse than the old one. In the end I think I did a good job, but I'll have to wait to get it back and find out if I have to resubmit. I haven't had to so far, so fingers crossed.

On Friday we had our teaching points for next week - all of them. This time we were expected to pretty much plan the lesson and materials ourselves using parts of the textbook as we saw fit. Our last lesson (Wednesday in my case) is a whole hour long, so we're firmly in the deep end on this one.

I haven't said much about the morning sessions for this week because they all tend to blend into each other. We had one on teaching a lesson devoted to vocabulary, one on future tenses and one on teaching beginners and advanced students. There must have been others but I can't remember them.

After lessons on Friday most of us went to the pub again, and we played some drinking games with the students, which was nice. I didn't get home until after 10. I'm going to miss this when it's done.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

The Legend of CELTA - Diminish Crap (Week Two Part 2)

I thought my lesson on Wednesday went quite well, considering the subject was collocation, a rather obscure aspect of the English language, but after the three of us taught that afternoon there was a lot of negativity in the comments we got from Boswell. In fact, she focused almost exclusively on the negatives, at least in group feedback. She has a habit of scowling during lessons, which is not the best thing for your confidence when you're standing in front of the class trying to remember what part of your lesson came next. But it seemed this was what this part of the course was about. Stamping out fundamental teaching errors. Keeping crap to a bear minimum.

On Thursday we started to look at what would be a big part of next week - teaching using authentic materials. On Tuesday and Wednesday we will, for the first time, plan a lesson from scratch ourselves using a real-world piece of listening or reading material. In our groups we had to decide on an overarching theme for our three lessons and then we had to decide who would do reading and who would do listening. We settled on Halloween/spookiness/fear as our theme in our subgroup, so that's what we'll be doing on Tuesday.

The Thursday teaching session with the other three teachers went fine mostly, though there was a hilarious point in Chris' lesson where he'd had the students reading interviews and then was getting them to interview each other. He demonstrated this by asking one of the questions, "When was the last time you cried?" to a student, who responded with, "At my grandmother's funeral." Chris' normally unbridled enthusiasm was given pause as he said, "Oh, I'm terribly sorry!" before it was let loose again with, "...but that's great!", referring to the student's ability to complete the demonstration. When this was taken out of context during post-game analysis we were struck with fits of the giggles for the rest of the session. In general the feedback was less negative, which made me wonder if their lessons really were better than ours the day before.

On Thursday we also got back Assignment 1. I passed, but I was in the overwhelming minority there. I think we were all surprised at how many of us had to resubmit. Some had more to do than others, but the whole thing is kind of a weight round everyone's necks while we have Assignment 2 for tomorrow (Monday), and we have to prepare our authentic lesson and then do Assignment 3, which is on how we would improve our authentic lesson.

Friday meant another lesson for me. This time Boswell instituted a new approach to feedback. She would write notes on pieces of paper and pass them along for us to write comments on. They were about things like whether whoever was teaching at that moment was doing things in the best way possible. When it came to my lesson I found it a little off-putting because there was some giggling going on as notes were passed, but it turned out to be about Chris being thorough with multiplication. When we got to feedback, mine was largely positive, which was a great relief, since my ego had taken a mild beating on Wednesday. I stayed on late-ish at the school to photocopy something from a textbook for the second assignment before going to the pub with some of the others. Alberto, a student from the Intermediate class we finished teaching on Monday, approached me asking me where I was from. He said he'd told his friend about a teacher he'd had who he didn't think was Scottish, didn't think English, maybe Australian or American, but very clear and easy to understand. I was flattered, and told him that I was Scottish really, but that maybe I watched too much TV as a child and Japan probably also messed up my accent.

This weekend I worked through Assignment 2 and still need to work on my authentic stuff tonight, because I have an assignment due for my Creative Writing course at the end of the week. Here commences the week of hell.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

The Legend of CELTA - Error-cull of Pages

Day 1 of week 2 started with a session on error-correction, and it was like the weekend had never happened. The school is starting to feel like a second home. We went over when it's appropriate to correct students' mistakes and different ways to approach correction, taking into account the target language (vocab/grammar) for the lesson and the feelings of the student. Our second assignment requires us to correct a piece of writing by one of the students from our classes.

The other session on Monday was a return to the phonetic alphabet, and we watched a video of a guy teaching how to teach the phonetic table, focusing on the physicality of producing sounds.
Sounds to the left of the 3x4 simple vowel set at the top-left involve the tongue/jaw dropping as you move down, and the mouth narrowing as you move from left to right. From now on when doing lesson plans we have to write things out phonetically so we have to be familiar with this chart. It's still fuzzy for me.

In the afternoon, those of us who didn't teach on Friday taught the last session with the Intermediate class. This was the first time that someone had a major hiccup during a lesson - they couldn't find their photocopies of a handout which led to delays and confusion and running out of time. Meanwhile, Roger and I doodled on our handouts again.

Last night was spent completing Assignment 1, which involved analysing the use of the present perfect in the sentence, 'He's been to Paris, he's eaten snails and he's done lots of things.' We then had to analyse the differences between future tense forms using 'will' and 'going to' and study the use of 'to fit' and 'to suit'.

This morning we had more on error correction, a session on teaching vocabulary and a bit about different practice exercises. In the afternoon we were in our new classes for the first time. My group has moved to the Upper Intermediate class, and we watched the tutor (Boswell this time) teaching for two hours after we discussed our lessons for tomorrow/Thursday with her. We got a lot less direction in dealing with the task we had been given this time round, which may have been because it was a new tutor, or may have been to make us more independent. This evening I planned my lesson, which is on collocation - the way we use certain words together for no other reason than custom (dependent on, obsessed with, saying 'wreck your chances' rather than 'break your chances'), which counts as a language lesson, but is more complicated than teaching vocab or grammar because it's about many different sets of words. Anyway, it's prepared, I just have some photocopying to do tomorrow and I'm set.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Japan meets Sukottorando

I almost forgot!

I got an email from the Scottish JET Alumni Association yesterday morning about a Japanese-themed event at a high school in town with food and workshops and stuff. Since I'd been wanting an opportunity to meet Japanese people but hadn't done anything about it, I decided to go along.

There were no signs or other indications outside the building that there was anything going on inside, so I wasn't sure if I'd got the information mixed up. There were people showing up intermittently, though, so I followed behind a family of four. They went up to a reception desk that was manned by none other than the my old high school headmaster, who'd retired in the year or year after I finished high school. My first time back in a school in Edinburgh and it's my old headmaster who's there to greet me. We chatted a bit (he seemed to recognise me after I asked if it was him) and it seemed the reason for his being there was that his sons have connections to Japan - both have taught there and one is married to a Japanese lady.

I went downstairs into the bowels of the school, where a stage of sorts was set up in what I guessed to be a foyer-cum-cafeteria. There had been a fashion show and there was some singing of Scottish folk songs and Japanese folk songs, with explanations about how many Japanese ones came from Scottish ones that made their way over after Japan opened after the Meji Restoration. They also sang the theme from Laputa: Castle in the Sky.

There weren't actually many Japanese people manning the stalls - the majority of them were staffing the kitchen (apparently Japanese playgroup mums) so I didn't know how I was going to get any J-hongo practice in. Eventually I plucked up the courage to randomly talk to a guy wearing a red happi coat and we chatted a fair bit. He's a consul working at the consulate (duh!), but not the main consul. I don't really understand how it works. It says consul on his business card. He seemed disappointed that I didn't have any of my own. Gotta get on that. After CELTA. Business cards are cool.

Anyway, he said he hadn't had a chance to get into studying English and his wife was the same, so I sent an email offering my services. Networking ftw.

I didn't stay long after talking to him since that was my main objective: talk in Japanese. Mission Accomplished.

Ongoing Frustrations

I've been getting annoyed at my old supervisor in Japan. I want her to send me the money that was in my account but she's been really weird about it.

First off she apparently wanted to wait until she could also send my tax refund, which is a thing that I should get after claiming back the pension money I paid while I was there. However, to get your pension refund you have to send a form to the Japanese Inland Revenue people, and it can take months for a response. In my case it's already taken around two and I've had nothing. After it arrives I can send another form back to my supervisor who can claim back the tax that was taken from the pension refund, which will take additional time. I know a JET whose pension refund took a year to arrive, and since I have bills to pay I couldn't wait that long, so I explained this to my supervisor. She finally agreed to send me my money and asked how much of it to send (since some would need to be kept to pay for the other money in future being sent...supposedly).

She told me the maximum that could be sent via postal money order is £2500. Not really knowing what a postal money order is, and thinking it sounds a bit retro and potentially unreliable, I asked if she could use a money wiring service that I'd used when I was in Japan. She refused to do that, but didn't give a reason. Maybe it's JET Programme policy or something. I said fine, just send £2500 now then.

Her next email read, " I sent your money through money order today. However, they are not supposed to send money by money order. They can use wire to do so, which means I'm not going to send the paper of money order. You are going to get ten 250-pound checks in two or three weeks. You had better change them into cash within three months."

What does that even mean, seriously? If they're wiring the money, how am I getting cheques? And is this going to increase the number of times I'm paying for currency conversion?

I really wish I'd just given Emily my bank card and transfer card and got her to send it. If my supervisor had sent an email saying, "A lot of money has gone from your account!" my response would have been,

"Deal with it."

Saturday, 16 October 2010

The Legend of CELTA - A Preener Off-Time (End of Week 1)

After my lesson went well on Wednesday I was able to relax a bit. I didn't have anything really to prepare for Thursday since I wasn't teaching - I just had to look over the instructions for my lesson on Friday so I could dicuss them with the trainer. Our morning session included analysing the concept behind parts of language. The example was "managed to" as in "I managed to open the window", which is split into "I tried", "It was difficult" and "I succeeded". One reason for doing this is that when we do lesson plans in future we have to write up language analyses and file them with our other materials. We also learned about the basic stages of the two types of lesson (language and skills) which we also have to write for our plans.

The afternoon was a little boring because I wasn't teaching, and we had to watch the lessons of the other three trainees. Not that it was particularly boring, but when you have to sit still without participating for two hours you can get a bit antsy. Me and kindred spirit Roger passed the time by filling in silly answers on the handouts our classmates were using, though always aware of the threat of the teacher-trainer, who had warned us that she would have stern words for anyone laughing or talking during other trainees' lessons.

That evening I was feeling a bit like I'd drawn the short straw along with the other two who had been teaching on the same days as me. Not only had we had the first 40-minute lessons of the group, the day after our first 20-minute lessons, we also had 3 lessons in the first week and for the first time had to write lesson plans for them and hand them in by 2pm of the day of the lesson. The other three wouldn't have to do a lesson or plan until Monday, so got the whole weekend to work on them. I got my stuff together for my reading lesson okay, but I had trouble writing the plan, mostly because we hadn't been given an example of a lesson plan for a skills lesson. I did half of it and left the rest until I could ask a trainer.

I wasn't as nervous on Friday morning as I had been on Wednesday, but in a way my lack of nerves itself was a cause for concern. I thought my lesson was a good one, perhaps even an easy one to pull off, so I started to think that it would all just blow up in my face for my cockiness. I'd gotten good comments for my Wednesday lesson so it was almost inevitable that things would go downhill.

In the morning session we did a bit on language lessons where the target language (the grammar point, vocabulary or construction) is introduced through a text (listening or reading) as the context before studying it in detail. We then had a lesson on phonology, and spent a lot of time on the phonetic alphabet (that thing with the upside-down 'e's). At the end we were given either the question or punchline to a joke written in the phonetic alphabet and we had to work out how to say it and then find the person who had the other half of our joke. Mine was the old classic, "What do you call a deer with no eyes?".

I was last to teach in the afternoon lesson, so I was a little worried the students might be worn out, but I managed to get them interested in my lesson on holidays quickly with a picture of my trip to the Great Wall on my ipad. Using the technology for the win. They had to talk about different kinds of holiday, then had to guess the winners of five categories in the "100 places to visit before you die" survey. I put their predictions on the board before giving them the handout with the article on, and they had one minute to check their answers. I really enjoyed this part of the lesson because they were really into it. The problem was that I'd expected to have to go over more vocabulary, but they seemed to understand everything. At least, they said they did. In retrospect, I should have gone over it anyway. At the very least I could have helped with pronunciation. Anyway, after speeding through the first half of the lesson it became evident that the last parts would be stretched a little. After the second reading exercise (which they managed, but they didn't do the 'scan reading' as well as I would have liked) they had discussion time in pairs, but there was still 15 minutes left in the lesson so they had a LOT of time to do it. I got a "to standard, with strengths" for the lesson so it wasn't as good as my Wednesday lesson (according to the trainer) but maybe it's better I don't get overconfident and cease to learn anything.

After the day's teaching we went, as per CELTA course tradition, to the pub with the students so we had the chance to freely chat with them. It was nice, since we didn't have much time to talk to them in class except where it related to the lesson. I got home after 8, but I didn't mind since it felt worth it. The first week of CELTA was over and I was still alive, and having gotten my third lesson out of the way I didn't have as much to do over the weekend as some of the other trainees.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

The Legend of CELTA - Legs A-Shakening (Days 2 and 3)

I didn't post last night because after a day at the school and prep in the evening, I needed a break. But I have no prep to do for tomorrow (other than a little checking over of Friday's lesson) so here's my second two days on CELTA summed up.

The morning sessions at the school follow the same pattern. After everyone's arrived we have a class about either an aspect of teaching of an aspect of language. Yesterday, Boswell, who's one of the three teacher-trainers who's running the course told us we were going to cover the present continuous form, and we should take out our notebooks and copy down what she was saying. She spoke quickly and went over the uses and construction of the form and then told us to write ten example sentences. Most of us had had a hard time keeping up with the explanation but everyone was going along with it until Carol, who's in my teaching group asked, "Are you having us on?". "Yes, yes, I am," was the reply. The point of the exercise was to show us everything that was wrong with that style of teaching, how it alienates the students by giving them no involvement and how 'teacher talk' should be kept to a minimum. She then started again and used a scenario drawn on the board to introduce the grammar, and got most of the information from us. In a good language class, teaching should be about almost getting the students to teach themselves. It's a bit like when Socrates coaxes the slave in the Meno to answer his mathematical questions. It's a far cry from anything I was doing in Japan.

Yesterday afternoon all six members of all groups had a 20-minute teaching session with our classes. Mine involved going over the grammar of answering questions of the forms, "Did you...?", "Have you...? "Are you...?" etc and then playing a game with cards to practice. It went well, the students were engaged and I got good comments (a "to standard, with strengths" according to the course criteria), though I was nervous the whole time, despite my three years' experience. I was also told to stop "echoing" - repeating what the students (or I) have said. I never saw it as a problem before, since in Japan I was teaching 40 students who would answer very quietly, so I would repeat the answer so everyone could hear. Repeating instructions was usually necessary because the students' level wasn't so high. Anyway, it's a habit that I now have to try to get out of.

I got home late yesterday after doing photocopying at the school to prepare for my lesson today, which was 40 minutes on grammar. I spent an hour or so writing out exactly what I was going to do in the lesson in addition to preparing my handout. I went to bed at a reasonable hour, and my dreams were filled with people from the course and lessons and planning and waking up was a bit of a relief.

I was nervous and for the second day in a row I struggled to eat breakfast while watching the Chilean miners on tv. The stomach butterflies won out and I couldn't finish my cereal, and I had to head to the school so I could do some more photocopying. I finished my two-sided handouts and made a transparency for the OHP (how retro is that?) before the morning session started.

This morning, we watched a DVD that looked to be from the 80s where a teacher taught a class on the past perfect tense. She did it by telling a story about her car breaking down on her way to a Simply Red concert (LOL) and through lots of questioning managed to turn the students towards the 'marker sentence' "When I got to Wembley, the concert had started." It was impressive how much she got the students to do themselves and how late in the lesson it was before she actually wrote anything on the board. After this session we had one with Sabadi on using texts, and about different kinds of reading and listening. There was then time in our groups for those teaching tomorrow to discuss their lessons with the trainer, while the rest of us stressed about our after-lunch lessons.

I was second to go in our group after all, and I was able to fulfil the aims of the lesson in the 40 minutes I had, though some stages perhaps ran too long and others didn't have enough time. I got the only "above standard" in our group, which I was really happy about, though I was aware that I was still echoing some of the time. Those of us who taught today got our lesson instructions for Friday to look at and ask about tomorrow, but other than that I don't have any prep to do tonight. Phew. It gets tougher from hereon in, though, because in addition to lessons we will soon have to start handing in proper lesson plans, and we also have four assignments to do over the four weeks. Still, it's a relief to know that tomorrow I don't have to do any teaching.

Monday, 11 October 2010

The Legend of CELTA (Dawn of the First Day)

I set my alarm for 6.45 this morning, which was a bit of a shock to the system after months of long lies. I played it safe by getting a bus just after 8, and I got to the place about quarter to nine, the second one there of the eighteen doing the course. While waiting for everyone to arrive we chatted amongst ourselves, and at 9 we started.

The first half of the morning was taken up doing ice-breaker activities. We threw a stuffed parrot around until we'd learned each others' names, then did the classic 'Find someone who...' game. Later we were taught Lao by one of the teachers to show us some of the things we need to be aware of when teaching a foreign language. Sabadi! Later we were split into the three groups in which we would be teaching for the rest of the course. Each group spends about a week with a class of one of three levels before changing round. I'm teacher number 1 of group 2, and so we're starting with the intermediate class before moving up to upper-intermediate, and finishing the course with the pre-intermediates. Being assigned number 1 means that I'm down to teach first when we do our first main teaching sessions on Wednesday, which is for 40 minutes. We all also have to do a 20 minute session tomorrow, for which I have to do a little preparation tonight.

In the afternoon we met the students for the first time, though for most of the 2-hour session we just watched the teacher-trainer teach the students. After teaching in Japan for three years I was comforted to see a class that was active and interested, able to communicate in English and eager to contribute. I'm hoping teaching in this situation is going be easier than the blood-from-a-stone experience of being a JET at non-academic schools.

We finished around five, and by the time I got home a little before six I was completely exhausted. I was starving but I barely had the energy to eat. I had a bit of a power nap earlier, though since I still have to cut out some things for my session tomorrow. Will post a report of how that goes.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Big Changes

So I've slowly been easing myself out of the complacent torpor I'd been living in since I got back from Japan. The main reason has been the starting of my Creative Writing course, which has begun to activate my brain in news ways, which is exciting. I've been writing something (nothing really that will develop into anything, but things that are good for exercising creative muscles) every day, and I've been more eager than usual to stay ahead of the workload. Of course, there's another reason for being more than up to date with the creative writing course, and that's because my Cambridge CELTA starts tomorrow. I did two pre-course tasks designed to brush up on my knowledge of English, so I now know the difference between simple past tense and past perfect, I know what register and collocation mean in relation to word use, and I know what a modal auxiliary verb is. Sort of. I'll need to keep going back to the reference material every now and then until I have it down properly.

Anyway, the course starts at 9 tomorrow morning, and runs from 9-5 for the next four weeks with additional preparation work at home, so it's a bit scary to be on the brink of it all. I hope it will be fun and that I'll be able to share some stories and experiences here, for people interested in the field or just for giggles. If I can find time in the busy schedule.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Flies on us

Taking advantage of an unexpected resurgence of warm weather, I went for a stroll along the convenient stretch of countryside that's in walking distance of the suburban area in which I live. It would have been completely lovely, but apparently it's larva hatching season and the flies were out in serious force. And not just along the river, they were floating around the main road as well. They had no qualms about landing on clothes, faces and in hair. It was not nice.

I wanted to take some nice pictures, since there's likely to be more dull skies and rain for the foreseeable future, but because of all the flies I ended up just taking the one. Enjoy.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Japan Mess

Just as I was settling into my life back home and getting used to the possessions and space I had, guess what arrived at the door!
 It wasn't long before my room turned into this:
I had a whole life in Japan's worth of stuff to fit into my life back home. It wasn't easy, but after a few days I managed to get everything under control. Now everything's nice again.