How the CELTA Improved My Teaching
Guest Blog: In the third of our guest written blogs and the second and final instalment from Lewis Tatt we find out more about what is taught on the CELTA and how it can improve your teaching.
Marking writing assignments can be a bit boring. I sometimes do it in the office at Baiyun campus and that way I at least have a scenic view of the mountains as I work my way through the mountain of papers. There is also a coffee machine and a teapot in the office, which helps me maintain the caffeine levels required to concentrate on marking.
I used to correct every little mistake students made in their writing assignments. Not only was this very time consuming for me, I’m also not sure how useful it was for the students. Now I just focus on the target language from class and correct mistakes related to that. Basically, if students make a mistake with past tense after a class on past tense I’ll correct it, but if they use a vocabulary item incorrectly and we haven’t covered that vocabulary in class I’ll just ignore it. This way students get focused feedback related to the class content I taught and they have a clearer idea of what to focus on in order to improve. That and it saves me a lot of time, so I can go for a stroll in those beautiful mountains before catching the school shuttle bus back home.
Image: Baiyun Campus, China
Whilst taking the CELTA course I learnt an even better way to save time when marking assignments – don’t mark them at all! This isn’t lazy teaching; gallery feedback is a great way involve the students in peer correction. I display (anonymously) some of the students writing around the classroom and then set a couple of gist questions. The students then walk around like they’re in an art gallery, reading the assignments and discussing the questions with each other.
I find gallery feedback works really well. The writing is always at exactly the right level for the students (because they wrote it!) and they usually seem a lot more interested in reading each other’s work than reading the textbook. Sometimes they stick around and continue to read the assignments even after class has finished. Picking out errors in other students’ writing is also useful peer correction, and in some ways perhaps more effective than having the teacher point out what mistakes they themselves made.
In China teaching is usually lecture style and very teacher focused. Standing up, walking around the classroom and talking to each other as the teacher unobtrusively monitors is often a new experience for students. And they like it. Breaking down the formality of the typical Chinese classroom also helps the student open up and speak more.
The CELTA course gave me lots of ideas for lessons like this, but more importantly it gave me clear ideas about what to focus on to improve my teaching. Recently I’ve been focusing on error correction. I decide in advance what type of error correction is best suited to each type of activity make sure I stick with it. I’ve also been focusing on not echoing students, which was something I used to do a lot. Once I have these personal goals nailed I will set new ones and continue to improve my teaching one step at a time.