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Re: PGCE teachers doing the CELTA and failed?
Posted By: Martin McMorrow <firstname.lastname@example.org> In Response To: Re: PGCE teachers doing the CELTA and failed? (The Critic)
Date: Friday, 5 March 2010, at 7:11 p.m.
In Response To: Re: PGCE teachers doing the CELTA and failed? (The Critic)
It’s hardly surprising that ‘the critic’ has formed a rather negative view of Celta programmes if all he/she has heard has been complaints of unfair treatment, pettiness and bias or exaggerated claims from ‘know-alls’ who’ve done the course. However, this is not the general impression in the ELT world of what goes on in Celta courses – if it were, the programme wouldn’t be widely respected and frequently recommended by participants who've actually taken the course - from all kinds of national and cultural backgrounds.
Celta participants who do have concerns are not consigned to internet discussion forums or blogs to have their voice heard. They have the opportunity to raise these during the course itself with the visiting moderator. This person has no connection with the centre where the course is taking place. Obviously, the moderator is a Celta tutor somewhere else – otherwise they wouldn’t know enough about the course to carry out the moderation. But none of the assessors is beholden to Cambridge or any particular centre – and the fee for doing assessments is truly modest. The whole purpose of their involvement is to ensure that the course is being appropriately managed and assessed. The visiting moderator will spend time with the trainees, away from the course tutors, and will also invite any individual to come and talk to him / her on a confidential basis. Complaints about bias or harshness are taken very seriously indeed. The visiting moderator also sits in on one teaching practice and feedback session – a key feature of Celta moderation that doesn’t happen on other TEFL training courses. What it means is that the moderator is able to report first-hand on how feedback is conducted, as well as the fairness or otherwise of the assessment.
Over the years, I’ve either conducted or observed hundreds of feedback sessions on Celta courses. I’ve not yet come across the ‘highly antagonistic methods of feedback’ referred to in the anonymous posting above. I’m not denying the emotional truth of any of such accounts – no doubt, these people have written or said these things because that was how the experience felt to them. Not having been there myself, it’s not my place to comment further except to say that the whole truth about human interactions is rarely simple. I'd want to talk to all the people involved before reaching any view as to what happened in that case - never mind generalising this to the thousands of other Celta feedback sessions that take place every month. I’m sure I’ve said the wrong thing myself on occasion – it's not easy to achieve the necessary balance between clarity in relation to the performance and respect in relation to the performer. But is 'antagonistic feedback' anything to do with Celta training? No. There's nothing in the syllabus, in my experience or in anything I've heard or seen to suggest that is the case.
In my observations, typical Celta feedback sessions are managed with a high level of interpersonal skills by knowledgeable, caring and culturally-aware trainers. Being able to observe teaching and feedback sessions is actually the main reason I'm still involved as a course moderator - it's a fantastic privilege. That's not to say it's necessarily a smooth and polished performance. Obviously, when a lesson has been successful, it’s a simple thing for a trainer to give positive feedback; but when a particular lesson has fallen short in various assessment criteria, it’s more challenging. In these cases, the plain truth of the matter is that feedback cannot be entirely positive – and I don’t see anything wrong with that. I can’t see that you’ll ever learn anything by pretending that everything is wonderful all the time. This would be an ideal preparation for teaching in a fool's paradise - and no doubt there are vacancies to be filled there like everywhere else. But anyone who thinks they might end up in the other kind of classroom - the one that doesn't suffer fools gladly - will be glad they did a course where feedback consisted of more than a group hug.
Let's make no bones about it. There is a job to be done in teaching practice and feedback has to make clear if it’s been done or not. As well as learning from the experience, observation and reflection on teaching practice, trainees need to show they can meet the stated assessment criteria. These assessment criteria are all listed in the published syllabus and each teacher has a couple of tutorials during the course in which their progress on every one of the assessment criteria is noted and discussed. Criteria include, for instance:
* analysing language with attention to form, meaning and phonology and using correct terminology
* adjusting their own use of language in the classroom according to the learner group and the context
* managing the learning process in such a way that lesson aims are achieved etc
In other words, the basics of language teaching. Each teaching practice session is an opportunity for teacher to raise their awareness of these criteria and to show themselves and others that they can put them into practice. They do this by focusing on them in their own planning and performance and by observing their colleagues having a go – and then by reflecting on that experience in a supportive environment.
When I say ‘supportive environment’ that doesn’t mean that everything everyone says or writes about your lesson will be glowing with praise - as I think I made clear above. Group hugs are strictly optional. What it means is that the trainer will encourage the teachers to focus on key issues that were highlighted in the teaching practice of the day. The trainer aims to facilitate reflective and group learning among the trainee teachers themselves. Each teacher will be asked to focus on what they’ve achieved that day, as well as identifying aspects of their lesson which were less successful – and looking at practical ways of addressing this next time around. More often than not, the person who is harshest about a lesson will be the teacher him/herself – and their colleagues will rally round and point out positives in the lesson. This will allow the trainer to pick up on general themes – often linking them to input sessions that are taking place around the same time. That’s what normally happens.
The most challenging feedback sessions - but also the most illuminating - are when the trainer needs to highlight weaknesses of a lesson which no one else has noticed. It can happen, for instance, that a particular trainee has taught confidently and their students seemed to be having a whale of a time. The fellow trainees are effusive in their praise - ‘Oh, if only I could be like that’. And yet the lesson still fails. Why? Well, effective teaching is not a popularity contest. In the long run, it is true that effective teachers generally end up being popular. The reverse is not always the case, however. Fun and learning are great together, but if you’re only going to have one of those in a class, make sure it’s the latter. Lessons will fail if the basic criteria for assessment are not achieved – and this message is one which the trainer is sometimes called upon to convey – tactfully and clearly – because the trainees themselves may not be aware of the problem.
Most lessons are not like this. Most achieve their aims and allow the teacher to meet a whole range of assessment criteria. Many feedback sessions dwell on what’s been achieved rather than what’s been lacking – and most trainees complete and pass the course. But not all. Failure can be a hard message to receive – particularly if it goes against the way the teacher feels about their lesson and gives scant reward for the hours of sleep-deprived preparation they’ve put into the lesson. Is this emotional torture? Some might feel it is. Others will call it learning the hard way. Not the way you’d necessarily choose to learn. But a whole lot better than not learning at all.
Massey University, New Zealand
Member of IATEFL Teacher training and Education Committee and TESOLANZ Executive
International Student Podcast (tinyurl dot com/6xy9hy)
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