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Category Archives: certification

>By Jennifer Wallace – Anhui Gongye Daxue, Ma’anshan, Anhui, China

In my first year in China I was really disappointed in how my students (mostly college freshmen) were doing group activities – or not doing them! I was stumped as to how to manage the classroom to achieve anything better. Various people gave lots of suggestions, and I want to say thank you again for all the help.

This semester all my classes are college freshmen – many barely able to say anything. This semester I got the college to get us the Cambridge Skills for Fluency Speaking (2) book, which I’m now using with them. It’s a task/activity book, unlike anything they’ve ever used or done before, and there are lots of group activities in it. I have 7 classes, all of 30 to 35 students. Each class is now divided into 5 groups, on the basis of their exam marks from last semester’s oral classes. Each group has a manager, a secretary, a monitor (responsible for collecting and returning any written work, etc), a timekeeper and a coach. For a couple of weeks this all felt a real uphill struggle, but suddenly they’re getting their heads round this way of working and the classes are working much better. I’m asking groups to do many activities ending up with a presentation to the whole class, which I tape and mark, and which they’re getting better and better at both doing and listening to.

During the activities I can spend a few minutes with each group, and a bit more time with one particular group. But what’s really nice is that I’m able to relate much more to the students as individuals this way – even though there are exactly the same number of students in the classroom. In their small groups, I can relate to them much more personally, and even though it’s only ever for a short time, it seems to have much more effect than when they were either in the whole class group, in pairs, or in changing groups (i.e. different people in a group from week to week). I feel that they’re developing a different sort of working relationship with me now, as well as my getting to know each of them better. This has been an unexpected bonus and helped me greatly to start to get my head around how to teach using group-work as well as using task-based activities as the dominant method.

This experience has also made me think about some of the recent discussion about our various training courses and qualifications (or lack of them). I did a CELTA course and have about 7 years teaching experience, most of which has been TEFL. I’m in my second year here in China. On reflection, I think my CELTA course assumed group activities would work, it certainly didn’t go into any depth about how to literally train students to work in this way. I think I’d have only got that sort of depth of training on a one-year full-time sort of teacher training course. In Europe I’d used group work and used it successfully. I’d never before had classes entirely of students with no experience of this as a way of working, and didn’t really appreciate how alien it would be to them. My students are not high-scorers in the college entrance test, so will possibly have taken longer to get their heads around this than maybe students will in some of the places other people are teaching. But nevertheless, I’m having to learn as much as they are as regards methodology – and I do wish I’d got more training, not less.


>By Dick Tibbets – University of Macau, Macau

A teacher asked: “Did anyone find their background prepared them well for teaching in China – especially for the first time?”

It is the knowledge that is important and organised courses are probably the easiest way to get some of this knowledge. The letters [MA, Phd], well, they’re just for the CV.

If you take a course then you are accepting someone else’s syllabus and, to some extent, someone else’s ideas of how you should use that knowledge. You just have to hope that they know what they are doing. After all, this is what your students have to do. You are their ‘someone else’.

If you design your own course of self study then you need to know which topics will be useful to you. It can work but you are a little more in the dark.

As for my background, yes it’s helped me all along. When I left computer programming all those years ago, the post grad cert ed I took really did help prepare me for the classroom and once I got there a series of courses by Rinvolucri helped even more. The experience I gained over the next 10 years teaching various types and levels of English to learners from some 70 or so countries then fed into my MA and both the experience and the ‘extra’ knowledge from the MA helped when I came to Hong Kong and Macau. I’d say that the experience is the most valuable part but it was those bursts of learning (I won’t call it training as a fair bit was independent) on courses that put the experience into contexts and made it all much more useful. Teaching in this part of the world IS harder than teaching in, say, Spain or Germany. Knowledge based experience was worthwhile for me.

>By Daniel T. Parker

I had a graduate school professor who taught “Teaching College Writing”, among other (non-TESOL) courses.

He continually reminded us about the “affective triangle”, i.e., the classroom chemistry formed by the mixture of teacher, students, and materials/methodology. His usual point was to remind us not to put too much faith and/or dependence upon a particular textbook… but basically he was saying that the same methods won’t work for different teachers, and different classrooms will have different reactions to the same methods and/or the same teacher. The “disciplinarian” will be effective in some classes, the “mother” in others, the “sarge” in others…

It’s frustrating. But I can’t argue with his conclusions. And I would say, maybe I’m going out on a dangerous limb, but I would say that ANY teacher who says the same text and the same approach works for every class just isn’t paying attention.

He was the first professor I ever heard who scoffed at degrees. He said we needed the documents (“gotta know the secret handshake”) for employment reasons, but he saw teaching as an art, and would say that giving a guy a few art classes and putting a brush in his hand won’t turn him into Picasso.

He wouldn’t advise us to ignore cultural differences, or be careless about methods & materials, or refuse to listen to other teachers… but he would, and did, point out that every classroom we step into, every single day, is a laboratory, and we’re not the cheese or the rats… we’re the maze.

>By Jennifer Wallace – Anhui University of Technology, Ma’anshan, Anhui Province

I used to worry a lot about creating lessons my students would like, and that would hold their interest, but my focus has now changed. And it’s changed, I think as a result of training. I taught for several years (starting back in the 1970’s) with no teacher training qualifications – not unusual back then.

To get my present post in China I had to get a teaching qualification, so did a one-month intensive CELTA course. One of the best pieces of advice I had on that course was to work less hard – to do less for my students. One of my supervisors advised me to always keep thinking about how little I could do and how much I could get my students to do.

As un un-trained teacher, replicating many of the teaching habits of my own teachers, I would always tend to try to take full responsibility for all and everything in the lesson. And now I don’t. I try to focus on my aims and objectives for each lesson – the learning and practice opportunities being offered to the students. I try to think through exactly what processes I’m asking them to go through to get to whatever the goal of the moment is. And I expect them to work hard. And usually the lessons are judged successful. Or successful enough.

But if someone’s having a bad day and doesn’t want to participate (and I teach university, not school students), as long as they don’t inhibit others participating, I let them do that. I don’t think it’s my job to be an entertainer, though I know that teaching something in an entertaining way can help. My most entertaining contributions in a lesson always seem to be the unplanned, spontaneous ones.

My blackboard drawings often produce smiles and chuckles. My examples and illustrations tend not to be over-serious. But I don’t think my college students expect entertainment – I think they value far more actually learning and practicing and sensing their own progress. If that can be achieved by pleasurable means, all the better, but they always seem well content to get on with the tasks as long as they understand what’s wanted – and why. And I do explain more and more why we do particular types of activities, what the point of them is, to encourage the development of more self-aware learning.

So, for me the better lessons do often come from trying new things, but not in terms of trying to entertain or hold the interest of the students.