My issue with the one-size-fits-all approach

I have spent most of my teaching career working in the private sector. When I received an opportunity to get involved in a programme aimed at Colombian public schools students, I decided to give it a go and try something new. It proved to be a good decision because I was given a chance to work with some brilliant teenagers who are full of ideas and enthusiasm. It was also my first experience with being asked to deliver pre-planned lessons.

My issue with the one-size-fits-all approach

From what I understand, all teachers participating in the programme were given the same materials. What sounds like a convenient solution that is meant to save time on lesson planning can actually lead to some issues. I mean, you can’t do exactly the same things with all groups of learners. For example, activities that are appropriate for students with a high English level most likely won’t work well with beginners, which is just common sense.

Even though my lessons were pre-planned, I was glad to hear from the trainers that there was room for adaptation. There were some pretty cool activities the students were asked to do, such as building an eco-friendly house in Minecraft and creating a TikTok video, and each lesson was built around a main goal. I liked those tasks, so I kept them in my lesson plans, but of course I couldn’t resist supplementing the lessons with my own ideas and activities while abandoning those that I didn’t consider beneficial for my group of learners. The students’ reactions were very positive, so I believe that everything worked out perfectly fine.

When I started my teaching career, I quickly realised that I find it very difficult to follow lesson plans designed by someone who has never seen my group of students. The idea of going through pre-planned activities makes me feel like I’m in a straitjacket. I have a similar reaction to those coursebooks that expect me to follow the PPP lesson framework. Good morning! Our topic today is the second conditional. The second conditional is used for hypothetical situations. Its structure is if + past simple… Maybe it’s just some trauma caused by being taught foreign languages using this framework at school, but I really can’t think of a more boring way to deliver an English lesson. If I were a student attending such a course, I’d rather save my money and watch funny videos on YouTube instead of signing up for more lessons.

I understand that throwing away the coursebook isn’t a viable option for many teachers. In fact, some of the books actually have useful stuff in them and learners enjoy doing those activities. It’s also necessary to consider the fact that the students have paid money for the coursebook and expect to use it. I just don’t see following the book to the letter as an ideal teaching approach. When I plan my lessons, I always look for opportunities for tweaking the coursebook activities or completely skipping them and doing something more meaningful.

Speaking of the second conditional, I believe that nothing bad will happen to the learners if they aren’t told explicit grammar rules at the beginning of the lesson. I prefer it when the students have a real conversation about what they would do in case of winning a lottery, and then we focus on form and deal with grammar structures that come up. There are also other options such as the test-teach-test framework or using relevant authentic texts to analyse the language. I know that PPP lessons are easy to deliver, but I feel that my students deserve to be taught in a more stimulating way even if it means I have to spend much more time planning my lessons.

I have already mentioned on this blog that I can’t imagine myself working for a ‘method school’. In short, the teacher’s role in those institutions is to follow a script and deliver pre-planned lessons. Well, I’d rather change my profession than work like that. I presume that students learn English because they want to use it in the real world, so it makes sense to make the classroom a place where interesting things happen. Also, the teacher should be allowed to have some fun as well. Mindlessly going through a lesson plan following the same lesson structure again and again with no possibility of making any detours at all? Nah, you’re alright.

There are some really good websites with useful lessons plans, so it’s very easy to find inspiration for your own lessons. However, I think that it’s always necessary to remember that there is more to teaching than just using high-quality materials. First and foremost, we always work with real people who have their own lives outside the classroom, so it’s a good idea to find out why they study English, what their hobbies and interests are, which activities they enjoy doing, etc. Following a random syllabus imposed from the outside seems like a missed opportunity to me. I believe that building rapport with the learners and personalising the course content will lead to a generally more pleasant experience for everybody involved. Showing your students that you care about them and take them seriously is much more important than if you use the materials provided to you by the institution or not.

Review: 100+ Professional Development Tips for Post-CELTA Teachers

When I was writing my post on the shortcomings of CELTA, I was delighted to receive a notification about a new ebook dedicated to professional development of newly-certified teachers. The book was written by Pete Clements, the author of the excellent blog ELT Planning. He has posted many reviews of books, apps, and other resources on his website, so I was curious to see what his own product looks like.

100+ professional development tips for post-CELTA teachers

100+ Professional Development Tips for Post-CELTA Teachers can be bought for 4 US dollars on Amazon or Smashwords. I chose to get it from the latter because I have already purchased several books through the website. In his ebook, Clements recommends other self-published titles such as Sandy Millin’s ELT Playbook 1 and Phil Wade and Anthony Gaughan’s Teach Reflect Develop: A Month of Reflective Teaching Activities (this one is for free). I find the idea of publishing an ebook really intriguing because I guess it feels a little more serious compared to blogging. At the moment I don’t feel ready for that, but maybe I’ll explore this option at some point in the future.

It seems that the book is available only in the EPUB format at the moment. I’d prefer to have the option to download it as a PDF file because that would make it a little more convenient to read on a PC. You can use one of many free online converters to help you change the file type, so it’s not a big deal. When it comes to the book itself, there are no unnecessary gimmicks and it’s all about the content, so let’s take a look at what you can find there.

At first, Clements suggests checking out some useful resources. It’s nice to see Scott Thornbury’s book About Language among the recommended titles because there isn’t enough time to study grammar on the CELTA course, and that book will help you gain more knowledge in the area. There are also plenty of links to helpful blogs, Facebook groups, podcasts, etc. In addition, the author provides a few tips for developing on the job.

Most of the ebook comprises practical tips for your teaching practice. For example, there are useful sub-skills and strategies that you can teach in a conversation class (e.g. backchannelling, hedging, and vague language). The author also mentions helpful techniques for building speaking confidence with teenage students, which is sometimes challenging even for experienced teachers. Other sections extend the knowledge gained on the CELTA course in relation to classroom organisation and whiteboard work.

There is also a chapter dedicated to writing formal lesson plans. While that ability is undoubtedly important when taking a course with assessed teaching practice, I wonder how often teachers in entry-level positions actually have to do that. When I landed my first proper job, I was relieved to find out that I didn’t need to produce detailed CELTA-style lesson plans in my day-to-day practice! Yes, it’s important to consider many aspects of the lesson you are about to teach, but I think this topic could have been made a little less daunting by emphasising that you don’t need to write everything down when you plan your lessons. When it comes to being observed, I’d recommend sticking to the lesson plan template provided by the employer or course provider in order to avoid getting bogged down with trying to include as much information as possible.

My favourite part of the ebook deals with teaching pronunciation. Novice teachers often struggle with this area due to not receiving sufficient training. Understanding phonology requires a lot of studying from the teacher’s side, and gaining confidence to use that knowledge in the classroom takes some time. Clements provides some pretty cool ideas and pronunciation activities. Of course, it’s important to go beyond individual phonemes and focus on features such as connected speech or sentences stress since they play a crucial role in terms of intelligibility.

If you are familiar with the ELT Planning blog, you’ll know what to expect from the ebook. The author’s writing style makes everything clear and easy to follow. When you read the book, you feel like you are receiving useful advice from a supportive experienced colleague, which is exactly what newly-certified teachers need. The ebook is available for a reasonable price, and I highly recommend it to those who have recently started teaching. I wish I had read something like this immediately after finishing my CELTA because I spent the following 18 months learning to teach through trial and error, and it took me a long time to discover resources that pointed me in the right direction.

As the author himself points out, 100+ Professional Development Tips for Post-CELTA Teachers isn’t a comprehensive guide. For example, I think that newly-qualified teachers would also benefit from learning more about teaching listening skills or working with children. The ebook doesn’t explicitly deal with online teaching either even though being able to do that is now part of our professional lives. Clements suggests that this could be the beginning of a series, and I hope that he publishes more titles on professional development. New teachers don’t always receive enough support from their employer, so looking for advice elsewhere is a very good idea. I believe that reading this kind of publications can help them a lot in the first few years of their career.