Celta assignment “Lessons from the classroom”: A-Grader tips

Celta assignment “Lessons from the classroom”: A-Grader tips

This final assignment is sometimes believed to be a walk in the park, after the terminology-loaded “Language related tasks” and “Focus on the learner” assignments. Don’t let the somewhat belletristic title mislead you. This assignment is no less demanding than the other three. It might also seem that this assignment is a chance to eventually let your feelings show. In fact, evaluations and some emotional information are eligible here only being backed by factual and precise information. Here are some tips to have in mind from the very beginning of your CELTA course, which might help you to actually sail through this final task and probably even use it to your advantage. 

In this assignment, the candidate is asked to evaluate their experience and progress throughout the course, as well review the lessons obtained from the observations of peers, tutors and other experienced teachers, including the course videos of the Cambridge teachers in the classroom. There are four points to cover, let’s walk through them to see how to ensure having the information at hand when the time comes for the final assignment.

  1. Your teaching strengths (at least three). 

That’s the part to focus on the progress. The emphasis should be laid on the areas that you have improved your performance considerably within the course. For example, if you had a good understanding of language terminology from the start, owing to previous education, and it enabled you to do profound language analyses in your teaching plans, it’s great. But if you have managed to use this previous knowledge to find ways to introduce language in a learner-friendly way, that’s the outcome that would be worth mentioning in this part.

  1. Areas for improvement (at least three).

These are the things to keep on working at. Mind that they are not called “weaknesses”, and it is not a matter of political correctness. Every teacher has areas for improvement, regardless of qualifications and years of experience. It may concern your persona, your manner, your classroom language, the variety of tasks and their meaningfulness; basically, whatever, especially if you are new to the profession. 

It’s vital not to indulge into self-chastising here, confessing how “bad” you are in some areas. (Likewise, the first part is not the place for self-celebration or bragging). The thing is to demonstrate your awareness of the aspects that hinder your performance and — the crucial point — to present that you know the practical ways to keep on working on those aspects on a regular basis. 

In my case, one of such aspects was adjusting classroom language. By the time of starting my CELTA course, I’d had eighteen years of teaching experience at the Department of Interpreting, which meant dealing with advanced students mostly. It was challenging for me at first to give instructions to pre-intermediate learners. Here is an excerpt from my assignment (evaluated highly by the stricter tutor, so I feel it’s worth quoting): 

“In lessons five and six I didn’t set all the activities efficiently, namely, I used structures that were complicated for pre-intermediate learners and I didn’t set examples of how to do some activities. Following my tutor’s advice, I’ll keep on focusing on eliciting instructions from learners, demonstrating and setting examples. I am going to include this in my plans until I develop a habit to “elicit, not tell”. At one point of lesson eight, I could not put an idea across to a student. To improve this, I’ve started practising explaining complex notions in a plain way. I do three-five concepts daily, thinking of synonyms, ways to demonstrate it by visuals, miming or short situations, etc.” 

(For the record: I do still have “Elicit, not tell” and “Less is more” notes on my desk and I still do “explain like I am five” exercise when I can across a complex notion or a challenging grammar concept that I might need to teach to a Pre-Intermediate student. I mean, when I was thinking of the ways to improve, I was devising realistic ones from the start, not just fabricate something to get done with the assignment). 

As you’ve probably noticed, I mention the specific lessons and the comments I received. This degree of precision is expected from a candidate in parts 1 and 2 of the assignment. 

That’s why it helps immensely if you make a habit of writing a detailed self-evaluation right after each TP. The structure of a self-evaluation form enables you to place on record your own impressions of your performance and the evaluation you got from your tutor and fellow-trainees during feedback sessions. Even if what they are saying does not sound as pearls of wisdom to you at the moment, do make notes and do put in on the record. CELTA course makes your professional outlook change considerably, so you may see the same comments in a different light in a couple of TPs already, not to mention at the end of the course. Eight detailed self-evaluations combined with eight feedback reports from your tutors would be a great help for the first half of the assignment. 

One of our tutors provided us with a great way to collect the information from fellow-trainees. We were to make notes on a shared Padlet page while observing a candidate teaching. Each session we were to focus on 1-2 specific aspects (language clarification, classroom instructions, error correction, etc.). I would save the page as a pdf file at the end of the session, and it contributed much to my seeing my teaching from different perspectives and enriched my understanding of own strengths and points to consider. 

Another thing is to make sure you are using the proper terminology. By default, in each assignment, you are expected to use the teaching jargon and demonstrate your awareness of the specific ways to label teaching-related concepts. It will help to refer to your CELTA 5, namely Stage one and Stage two progress records (and Stage 3, if you happened to have gone through it). The descriptions there are too numerous, quite laconic and formal to serve as the basis for your assignment, but they may help to gauge your writing for the teaching jargon use.

  1. Observations of other trainees and experienced teachers

This part is also all about specific examples and techniques you have observed and noted down for yourself. It would make sense if those resonate with your areas for improvement. From what I could notice, it’s appreciated if you pinpoint not only the experienced teachers’ / tutors’ merits but your fellow-trainees’ ones too. It’s not an exercise in observing hierarchy rituals. On the contrary, a teacher is viewed as a team player by CELTA, so showing that you have been considerate to your colleagues and interested in what they have on display, would pigeonhole you as a good asset for a pedagogical community. Again, taking elaborate notes while observing other candidates in TPs helps a lot for this part of the essay. 

  1. Further development after the course. 

In the rubric for this assignment, you will find numerous ways of continuous learning for teachers. It’s not the point to try to embrace them all (fortunately, the word count restricts such impulses). Being realistic and using common sense helps. No one in their right mind would believe that you are going to read methodology books every day for the rest of your professional life. It makes sense though, to pick a couple of specific immediate reading goals outside the scope of compulsory reading. Pick a free or an inexpensive course on teaching some specific aspects, subscribe to a relevant blog with quality information, etc. Again, be very specific, provide factual information and ensure that some of your picks resonate with your areas for development. The more specific and relevant the plans, the bigger the chances that they will be implemented. 

All this boils down to three main points: 

– Keep records of everything. It may seem tiring and excessive, especially in view of the reading and TP preparation. But it pays off at the stage where you have to view your path retrospectively. No memory can keep the precious details, and you will spend more time trying to remember things you were said two months ago (sometimes to no avail) compared to ten-fifteen extra minutes after your TPs. 

– Be specific, realistic and focus on what is meaningful for your teaching to continually improve.

– This assignment, in my view, shows your attitude to the process of learning throughout the course, namely, if you have been really involved and motivated or only had getting the certificate in mind. Because the one who is immersed in the process for the sake of the activity itself is attentive to meaningful details and spares no time or effort to collect and contemplate on the specific information that may help them grow and perfect and grabs every opportunity to learn from mistakes and examples. 

My giving advice on CELTA issues is justified by my CELTA A certificate obtained last summer online from an Athens-based CELTA centre. 

Speaking activities are, obviously, essential for English language speaking classes. A lot of students join classes particularly to develop their communicative competence, become more fluent, versatile, adaptable, and confident communicators in English. However, designing speaking activities might be time-consuming and nerve-wracking for any teacher. We have prepared a memo with superb ready-made speaking tasks that will make your student talking. Download it here.

Celta assignment "Lessons from the classroom": A-Grader tips
Галина Смирнова

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