Tips for passing Delta Module One without taking a preparation course

Professional development plays a very important role in my teaching life. Having a CELTA is all well and good, but you can’t live off that for the rest of your teaching career. After all, it’s just a pre-service certificate that gives you a very effective formula for delivering classes, though using some of those techniques doesn’t work in all teaching contexts. If you wish to keep improving your teaching skills, it’s necessary to have an open mind and be dedicated to continuous learning.

Delta and DipTESOL are advanced certificates that will take your teaching to another level. They can also open more doors for you in terms of career prospects. If you are considering moving into management or teacher training, you’ll probably need to get a relevant Master’s degree or one of these two certificates. I chose to pursue the Delta because of the fact that there are a few places Latin America where it can be taken. That said, you should bear in mind that many employers in Colombia have never heard of it, but don’t get discouraged by that! You’ll grow as a teacher and your students will definitely appreciate that. The most prestigious institutes and universities here are familiar with this qualification, so getting a Delta could lead to new job opportunities.

Delta Module One

The Delta is composed of three parts that can be taken independently, and you get a separate certificate after completing each module. When you have passed all of them, you will officially become a Delta-qualified teacher. There are numerous ways to take the Delta, but one thing is certain: you have to work hard to get the certificate. Getting ready to tackle Module One took me four months of preparation while working long hours in my full-time position. It wasn’t a very pleasant experience, but I am very happy that I did it.

Delta Module One is a three-hour written exam, which takes place in June and December. There are numerous course providers offering preparation courses and I wanted to sign up for one of them, but my payment didn’t go through, so I decided to prepare for the exam individually. You can simply contact an authorised centre and register as an independent candidate, so I decided to take my exam with the British Council in Bogotá. Not spending money on a course proved to be a good decision because I managed to pass the exam with a good grade. There are tons of resources available online, so if you are a disciplined and organised person, you can prepare for the exam by yourself.

My exam preparation consisted of three phases. I spent the first two months reading ELT books and taking detailed notes. I had read only a couple of titles during my CELTA course, and I felt that I needed to read literature that goes beyond tips for teaching practice. I selected the following eight books:

Adrian Underhill: Sound Foundations
The CELTA provided me with some basic ideas on pronunciation without going into details, so reading this book proved to be extremely useful. I finally managed to learn the phonemic chart and features of connected speech, and it gave me confidence to focus on pronunciation in my own classes.

● Scott Thornbury: About Language
This is a crucial title for Delta Module One because it will help you prepare for the language analysis section, which represents 50% of the points you can obtain in Paper One. About Language is a must-read!

● Patsy Lightbown & Nina Spada: How Languages are Learned
Language teachers should be familiar with the main theories related to second-language acquisition, so this is another very important title. I really enjoyed How Languages are Learned because it is well-written and refers to relevant research.

● Jack Richards & Theodore Rodgers: Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching
This book provides an overview of various methods that have been used to teach English. Even if you never try them out your own practice (Suggestopedia says hello), knowing what they are based on is very helpful for the exam.

● Scott Thornbury: Beyond the Sentence
One of my favourite ELT books ever! Beyond the Sentence deals with discourse analysis, which is a fascinating topic for me. Thornbury uses relevant real-life examples, and there are some genuinely funny passages in the book to make your studying a little more cheerful. I wrote about it in more detail in this post.

● Arthur Hughes: Testing for Language Teachers
Assessment is another important element of Delta Module One. This book does a great job of explaining how testing works, and you will need that knowledge for the first task of Paper Two.

● Jeremy Harmer: The Practice of English Language Teaching
This book is worth reading because it covers numerous ELT-related topics. It’s a comprehensive resource written in a way that is easy to understand, and it points you to other titles that will help you study specific areas of teaching practice more in depth.

● Scott Thornbury: An A–Z of ELT
You are expected to use correct terminology in the exam, so this is another title which should be read from cover to cover.

After all that reading, I went down the rabbit hole called ELT Concourse. I have already written about this amazing website in this post. ELT Concourse contains a very helpful Delta section, which provided me with a lot of detailed information related to the topics I had read about in the books. I also brushed on my knowledge of grammar thanks to the tests available on the website. I am really grateful for the fact that the content is available completely for free.

I allocated the last month for getting ready for the exam itself. First, you should definitely read the Delta handbook because it gives you clear advice for answering the tasks. I also bought How to Pass Delta written by Damian Williams, an experienced Delta tutor who is familiar with the grading criteria. Sandy Millin and Lizzie Pinard provide valuable tips for tackling the exam on their blogs. Module One isn’t only about your knowledge, but you need to learn how to answer the questions as well. I guess many of the candidates who fail the module (38.8% in 2018) underestimate this part. You have to use precise language and include information that may appear obvious to you.

You should also download sample exams (One and Two) with an examination report from Cambridge’s website. There are also older past papers with correct answers available here thanks to some kind strangers from the internet. The 2016-19 past papers (without answers) can be found here. Please note that the exam was tweaked a little in 2015, so you need to pay attention to this list of changes when checking the older papers.

It’s also a very good idea to go through the past papers under exam conditions. I gave myself 90 minutes for Paper One, a 30-minute break, 90 minutes for Paper Two, and then I compared what I wrote with the correct answers. I found this strategy very effective because it gave me a clear idea of what to expect during the exam itself. You may also need to train your wrist to cope with writing by hand for 3 hours! My past papers practice yielded promising results, so I travelled to Bogotá feeling quite optimistic.

There were no surprises in the exam. I found Paper Two pretty straightforward and completed it a few minutes before the time limit, but Paper One was a bit tricky. Many people recommend doing Task 5 first and I should have listened to their advice. I spent too much time on the previous four tasks, which meant that I didn’t manage to write as many details as I would have wished in the last one. Anyway, two months after the exam I found out that I received a pass with merit, so I didn’t lose that many points because of my flawed strategy.

Delta Module One was a very demanding experience, but I feel that I really benefitted from it as a teacher. It pushed me to re-evaluate some ideas that I had held at the beginning of my teaching career, which led to positive changes in my own practice. I highly recommend this exam to every English teacher interested in professional development.

There is no magic bullet

A new academic year is upon us, and I can’t wait to teach again! It remains to be seen if or when we will return to physical classrooms, but I feel cautiously optimistic about 2021. It can’t get any worse than the previous year, right? The unexpected switch to remote teaching inevitably caused huge issues in the ELT industry. A lot of students decided not to join online courses for various perfectly understandable reasons, which inevitably led to economic problems and job losses in many institutions.

Private language academies now have to convince potential students that paying for English classes is a good idea. Colombian economy has been hit hard by the pandemic and many people need to think twice before spending their money. Businesses are looking for ways to dig themselves out of a hole, and those involved in education are no exception. Some may consider copying their competitors’ practices or even trying something completely new. When it comes to ELT, I have encountered a few ideas that definitely wouldn’t represent a step in the right direction, and I’d like to write a few words about them.

There is no magic bullet

Hiring unqualified teachers
Giving a teaching job to someone whose only qualification is being (or looking like) a native English speaker is usually a recipe for disaster. If you want to avoid the risk of poorly delivered classes full of incoherent rambling, you should hire someone with relevant teaching qualifications. I mean, this is just common sense.

There are plenty of experienced teachers in Colombia looking for work right now. They are ready to hit the ground running, and they deserve to be given a chance to do so. Local teachers are the backbone of any ELT community, and that’s why supporting them should be their employers’ priority. In fact, I believe that providing existing teachers with incentives to get their CELTA, Delta, Master’s degree or other qualifications would be a better long-term strategy than looking for quick fixes from abroad.

Relying on a magic method
I can’t imagine myself teaching from a script. Schools that claim their unique method is the best way to teach aren’t my cup of tea. It’s certainly useful to be familiar with different teaching methods and techniques, but having to use only one of them seems like a missed opportunity to me. Why would you restrict yourself to repeating the same thing again and again? It must get boring pretty fast.

I really don’t think there is just one way to teach. It is imperative to take your teaching context and students’ needs into account instead of applying global solutions. Building rapport and personalising your lessons is much more useful than following some random ‘method’ imposed from the outside.

Peddling debunked myths
I spent most of my life believing the theory that says the left side of the brain controls logic and the right side is responsible for creativity. I heard about it at school and accepted it as something that is true. When I started teaching, I noticed the theory again in some coursebooks, so I decided to read about it a little more. It turns out that the whole thing isn’t true and there is hard data to prove that.

While the left/right brain myth is relatively harmless, some theories are actually applied in teaching practice, and that’s where problems arise. The theory of multiple intelligences is quite attractive, but even its Wikipedia page says that it isn’t supported by evidence. According to the article Each to their own, which was published in The Guardian in 2005, Howard Gardner himself made some damning remarks about using his theory in teaching.

The Harvard professor never intended his book on multiple intelligences (MI) to be a blueprint for learning, but he was aware that many educationalists were adapting his ideas. The shock came on a visit to Australia.

“I learned that an entire state had adapted an education programme based in part on MI theory,” he says. “The more I learned about this programme, the less comfortable I was. Much of it was a mishmash of practices – left brain and right brain contrasts, sensory learning styles, neurolinguistic programming and multiple intelligences approaches, all mixed with dazzling promiscuity.”

One idea that always seems to pop up is called learning styles. Again, I understand the theory’s appeal, but the problem is that it has been debunked many times. Asking your students to fill in a learning styles questionnaire and then building your classes around the results could actually have detrimental consequences. I recommend that you read The ‘Learning Styles’ Myth: Don’t Spread Fake News by James Egerton. It’s time we stopped wasting our time with this.

It would be unfair to blame the people who came up with these ideas. They thought that they were onto something good, but their theories turned out to be incorrect. That’s quite common, so we should simply move on and focus on something more useful.

Adopting fads and hoping they work
There are some ideas that need to be researched more in order to determine how effective they are. Take growth mindset, for example. I can’t deny that its premise sounds good because self-improvement is undoubtedly a good thing. The issue is that it still isn’t completely clear how growth mindset can be used in the classroom. It all seems to be based on wishful thinking. You should read Philip Kerr’s post A measured approach to mindset interventions for more details. I am not in favour of utilising new ideas in our teaching practice just because they are popular at the moment. Shouldn’t we be primarily concerned with finding out if our students will actually benefit from them?

I understand that it’s tempting to look for simple solutions, but that can lead to losing track of what is truly important. If you want to provide high-quality classes, you have to support your teachers. They need to have access to books and academic papers and be encouraged to read them. They need to get relevant training, be observed, and receive individual feedback on their performance in the classroom. Professional development is a long-term commitment, and I don’t think that taking shortcuts is likely to produce positive results.