What I learned from doing my first two LSAs

So I survived my first two LSAs on Cambridge Delta Module 2.

I *think* I’ve learned a thing or two that might help others out.


The first few points are about the Background Essay…

Choose a narrow topic.

Go specific! A sufficiently specific topic allows you to go in depth. 2500 words isn’t actually that much!

Start writing immediately.

Start writing straight away – if you read something you think is useful, go straight to your Word doc and paraphrase it and reference it (include the page number so you can go back to the source later if you need to expand or get clarification). If you’re feeling lazy, even just ‘copying and pasting’ text from sources is a good start, though not as useful in the long run.

Find journal articles.

Use journal articles (and not just published ELT books). Their scope is always narrower and so almost always go into greater depth. For both my LSAs so far (restricted collocations and lexical inferencing) I found more than a dozen research or review articles freely available through Google searches on those specific topics (in fact they were usually much more specific!).

Use Scribd.

Scribd is a great source for scholarly articles. It’s free for 14-30 day trial (but you have to provide CC details).

Use Word’s bibliography tool.

Use MS Word’s sources and bibliography tool. Don’t just manually type in authors and dates as you write. Create a source. Then just insert a citation when you want to reference that source in your writing. Then create an automatic works cited (reference list) at the end of your essay.

Link your Analysis to your Issues to your Suggestions for Teaching.

Regarding the Background Essay, the biggest guiding principle for me was that whatever issues you raise in your Issues section must have been covered in your Analysis, and that all these issues must be “solved” in your Suggestions for Teaching. In other words, nothing in your Issues hasn’t already been explained in your Analysis, and nothing in your Issues is not “solved” in your Suggestions for Teaching.

These 3 sections are intimately linked and build on each other.

A really good way to explicitly show the links between parts across these sections is to using a Style in MS Word that uses a numbering system with its Headings. For example:

1. Heading 1

1.1 Heading 2

1.1.1 Heading 3

Then you can implement Word’s Cross-referencing system and insert references from your Issues back to your Analysis, and reference back to your Issues from your Suggestions for Teaching. It makes it nice and clear for your reader.

Cover a sufficient range of learners.

Make sure you have a range of learners mentioned throughout your Issues section. Type of class (IELTS, EAP, Business, etc) age of learners (teenagers, adults), contexts (high school, university, language centres), L1s or nationalities (Japanese, Arabic, Turkish, Dutch, etc).

If you’re struggling to come up with some, be ‘creative’ (i.e. make them up – not that I made any of mine up!). If they’re from your own teaching experience, there’s no way assessors can check the validity of your claims (unless you say something illogical or obviously false for that type of learner!).

Research articles have usually performed studies on a specific group of learners – look out for these and see if you can mention them in your Issues.

Get Grammarly.

Get the Grammarly plug-in for Word. The free basic account picks up on things the built-in Word grammar and spell check misses, and a premium account gives you suggestions on a whole range of advanced issues (refer a friend and you get 1 week premium for free).


Now a few things about the assessed lesson and lesson plan…

The LSA1 lesson plan will take the longest.

The first LSA lesson plan took me a lot longer to write than the next one. I think this is because I was still getting my head around the format and required content. There’s also a number of sections that you really only write once and tweak for later LSAs. So, allow yourself more time for LSA1. LSA2’s lesson plan *should* come along more quickly.

The Aim is everything.

You’ve got to choose a narrow, managable, challenging, meetable aim for your lesson. Set up your lesson in a way that the aim is clear at every stage to you, your learners, and your assessor. Every stage in your lesson should be getting your learners closer to that aim. Nothing is done in the lesson that doesn’t get the learners closer to the aim. By the end of the lesson, it should be clear to you, the learners, and your assessor that the aim has been met. Choose activities that make it easy to demonstrate that the aim has been met (and don’t choose an aim where it is difficult to demonstrate its “met-ness”!)

Plan LESS.

I planned too much for both the LSA1 and LSA2 lessons. All of the other trainees did the same. The lessons are only 40-60 minutes. You really can’t do a lot in that time. Not when you factor in set-ups, feedback, clarification, and unexpected tangents that arise from learner questions and emergent needs. Plan a little bit more than you think you’ll need – just in case – but think long and hard about how long stages will realistically take and how many stages/activities you can actually fit in to such a limited time.

S-)

What I’ve been doing to prepare for the Delta course

I’ve been doing a lot of different things to get ready for the course. (None of it has been done as organised or as thoroughly as it might seem it does in this post – let’s just say it’s what I intended!)

Official information

I got all the official documentation from the Cambridge English Delta website that I could – this included the syllabus, the more extended handbook, and one past Module 1 exam with examiner’s report.

I read through the syllabus and handbook (the handbook also contains an example exam), annotating as I went, trying to decide what would be easiest or most difficult for me, most interesting or most useful to me, easily understood or a tad unintelligible to me. I read them several times over, actually, since they’re pretty information-packed.

I’m intending to come back to the past exam and report closer to my Module 1 exam.

Google searches and WordPress blogs

I then did a Google search for terms along the lines of “Cambridge Delta advice/tips” and came across a network of fantastic blogs from past Delta candidates with post upon post of invaluable commentary, advice, and links to even more resources. Most of these blogs were at WordPress – part of the reason why THIS blog is also WordPress.

Sandy Millin’s blog is probably the “go to” one, as she’s done a fantastic job at bringing together many other’s blogs and posts on Delta – not to mention she has also spent a lot of time and effort on producing really useful posts of her own! I think it does her justice and saves me the time and effort at repeating a lot of what she’s already done if I just highly recommend you head over there (at least, after you’ve finished reading this post!). I know I keep going back – there’re organised links to useful places all over the internet.

Full steam ahead

At this point I’d decided, without a doubt, that I was going ahead with Delta – despite some criticisms that I’d read, and how daunting the whole endeavour had begun to sound, I felt I was still going to get a lot out of it and that I could succeed (and still do feel this way!).

Reading lists, books, and actual reading

Next was finding reading lists, picking out titles, and getting my hands on them. Many lists out there have titles in common; some are more expansive than others; everyone seems to have a different preferred “if-you-only-read-one-book-then-read-this-one” book.

In the end, I grabbed these books:

  • About Language (Scott Thornbury)
  • An A-Z of ELT (Scott Thornbury)
  • How Languages are Learned (Patsy M. lightbrown & Nina Spade)
  • Sound Foundations (Adrian Underhill)
  • English Phonetics and Phonology (Peter Roach)
  • The English Verb (Michael Lewis)
  • Beyond the Sentence (Scott Thornbury)

Why these books?

Well, they’re areas of ELT that I either:

  • am most interested in knowing more about;
  • feel I know the least about; or
  • think will best support my chosen LSAs and other assignments.

My reading method

I’ve made a start on all of the above titles in some way or another.

I read the introductory chapters and then studied the contents – skimming through chapters if it wasn’t immediately clear what those chapters contained – and marked the chapters that I wanted to read first.

I have since started picking chapters and reading them each in detail. A whole chapter in one sitting, if I can. I annotate in pencil as I go. I mark words, sentences, or even whole sections as follows:

  • an asterisks (*) or star if I think something is particularly interesting or eye-opening
  • an exclamation mark (!) for something really important
  • a question mark (?) for something completely new or which I don’t yet understand

At times, I stop reading and do a Google search on a new term I’ve just come across to learn a bit more or connect a few dots in my understanding.

When I come across metalanguage or something from the ELT lexicon – something that I particularly think I should add to my active ELT vocabulary – I often go straight to Quizlet and added an entry to my slowly expanding study set(s), sometimes also filling in a short definition and example on the spot (great for consolidating understanding, since you’re now tasked with summarising the meaning of an ELT concept), or sometimes just entering the term and leaving the definition, etc. for later (not as useful, but still a point to start from).

In some cases, I get out my notebook (a traditional pen and paper one – my dreamed-of Microsoft Surface Book will have to wait…) and make summaries of particularly new or ground-breaking material.

A few general tips on reading

If there’s one thing that everyone agrees on, it’s that you don’t have time to read everything – you must be selective in the titles and chapters you take on. Everyone also agrees that just simply reading isn’t valuable use of your time: you must read in a focused and critical manner, annotating, making notes and summaries as you go. Focused means, among other things, no distractions – I had to put my smartphone on the other side of the room, vibrate off, face down.

This post is going to have to stop here (for now, at least) – it’s late and tomorrow is the first day of my course!

S-)

 

What I think the Delta course is going to be like

So, I’m doing the 8-week face-to-face Delta programme offered by International House Bangkok. I’ll be taking it from mid-March to mid-May this year. By the end, I will have completed Module 2, had some preparation for Module 1 (most of it indirect, I believe) and been primed for Module 3.

The Module 1 exam will be on June 1st, so I’ll have about a half month after the course finishes to prepare solely for that.

Module 3 can be submitted June next year.

Of course, I could also do the Module 1 exam in December, or submit Module 3 next year in December, instead.

As I said, the course at IH is going to be 8-weeks. Monday to Friday, 10am-5pm.

Mornings

As I currently understand it, we (me and up to 6 other trainees) will be given a group of learners that will be “ours” for the whole course. Every morning from 10 to 12 we take turns teaching or observing this class (I believe we can also spend some of this time preparing assignments, too).

This gives us the opportunity to get to know the class and its learners well, as a teacher normally would with any class. It also gives us lots of opportunity for observing each other – something that I seldom get a chance to do but believe has immense value.

Just four of each of our lessons will be assessed, and each of these lessons will be linked to a specific Language Systems/Skills Assignment (LSA) that we write. Each of these includes analysis of a specific area within a language system (phonology, grammar, lexis, or discourse) or language skill (speaking, listening, reading, or writing); a lesson plan; and a lesson evaluation of the lesson.

I hear that we have a large amount of freedom in what we decide to teach and how we teach it.

The deciding factor in whether I pass an assessed lesson or not is if the learners have made progress in the area I intended and that I can justify everything I did in a lesson (no matter what it was that I did!).

I like this learner-centric view of assessment – after all, the purpose of a teacher is to improve his or her learners. There’s no greater sense of achievement when we observe our learners adeptly producing the language goals we (or they!) set them(selves!), right?

I also like the non-prescriptive method of teaching – having the freedom to teach how we like as long as we can justify it and it works.

Anyway, getting back to teaching and observing lessons: After a lesson, there’s a feedback session, with the trainee teacher, other trainees, and trainer.

Afternoons

Afternoons are designated “input sessions” where we delve deeper into the various areas of ELT. I’m really looking forward to deepening my understanding of how the English language works and how learners learn languages.

Like many EFL/ESL teachers, a big portion of my teaching skill development and knowledge of the English language has been rather informal, opportunistic, and unstructured: picked up through the teacher’s book or notes that come with a student’s course book, for example.

The following might sound familiar: Have a page coming up in my current course book on the present perfect simple? Better learn (or these days review – I’m not a complete novice anymore!) the meaning and use of that form and ways to teach and have learners practice it.

Ironically, the other major input source has actually been from doing the exercises in my learner’s course books! (At least, this was very true back when I was still starting out – but still holds true from time to time, especially with new materials!)

Anyway, needless to say, I’m really looking forward to these formal, structured “input sessions”.

So, that’s what I hear most days on the course are going to be like.

Weeknights and weekends

Weekday evenings and weekends will be spent reading, preparing assignments, or getting some much-needed R&R.

Apart from the LSAs, there’s also a Professional Development Assignment (PDA) that has us evaluate our current state as English language teachers and set goals for development, culminating in teaching an Experimental Lesson (a lesson where we try a methodology that’s completely new to us).

In summary

I believe the next 8 weeks will be…

a lot of teaching;
a lot of observing;
a lot of reading;
a lot of writing;
a lot of paradigm shifting;
a lot of eye-opening;
a lot of self-development;
a lack of sleep;
a lack of everything non-Delta-related;
and last, but certainly not least, hugely rewarding!

S-)

My Delta modules plan

Here’s my plan thus far:

First: Module 2

I’m doing this face-to-face in an intensive 8-week course at International House Bangkok, March 14 – May 13, this year. (That’s next Monday, Argh!)

Second: Module 1

Exam on 1st June, with preparation during the course at IH Bangkok.

I also have the option to do the exam (again) in December.

Third: Module 3

Some priming for it done during the course at IH Bangkok, with submission the following June.

I’m really not even sure which of the two options for Module 3 I want to do yet, but if I go with Option 1, it’ll probably be in EAP or exam preparation. But that’s down the road, for now, not needing my attention until after June 1st.

S-)

 

Why further study? Why Delta?

Why further study?

It might seem like a question with an obvious answer, and it partly is: I want to increase my employability and have better career opportunities. It’s more than just this, though.

My current job has had very little active professional development, and I felt like I was stagnating a little in this area. I wanted input. I’m looking for Delta to give me a much desired “jump” in my development as an English language teacher.

There are further, more specific reasons within the scope of professional development, and perhaps easily communicated by quoting a part of my Delta application to IH Bangkok:

Why am I interested in this course? I have ten aims in two areas:

My career progression:

  • To increase employment opportunities in general
  • To be able to expand my role/move into different roles within the ELT industry
  • To identify exactly in which direction I would like to progress my ELT career
  • To foster a deeper passion for ELT

My ELT knowledge and abilities:

  • To clearly identify my strengths and weaknesses as an ELT teacher
  • To fill in my gaps in the understanding of how the English language works
  • To deepen my existing understanding of how the English language works
  • To become familiar with ELT methodology
  • To understand how learners acquire languages
  • To prove that I have reached the Proficient level of English teaching and demonstrate clear potential to move to the Expert level

I know that sounded a tad snooty, but it was part of my official application to IH, after all.

Why Delta?

Well, many people who are thinking of taking Delta are probably aware of the other options out there (a master’s degree in TESOL or the Trinity Diploma in TESOL) and their major differences. The general word on the street is that the Cambridge diploma (the Delta) is more highly regarded than the Trinity one and that a master’s degree is more theoretical and research-based while Delta is more practical. While Delta is considered “just as good” as master’s in the UK and Europe (I believe it’s at the same level as a master’s in the European Education Framework, or whatever it’s called), it’s not as well known or as “sort after” in Asia or North America, as well as in Australia. I’m sure it depends on individual institutions and locations, but I believe that’s the gist of things.

I wanted to do some kind of professional development that would prove and improve my teaching skills and knowledge (I thoroughly read through the Delta handbook, available at Cambridge’s official website), and I think the practical nature of Delta will do this better than a master’s.

I’m from Australia and wanted whatever qualification I went for to be as useful as possible back home since it would be high on my list of places to work. I’m interested in ELT in the university setting and I gather that a master’s degree would be of more use to me.

My issue with a master’s is that there are just too many options! Too many choices of university, location, length, courses/subjects, research. At this point in my life, I’m really not sure what I’d want a master’s degree to be in – maybe not even TESOL! So, master’s for another day (well, year or decade!).

What I really liked is that Delta is standardised, and standardised by Cambridge, of all places. A diploma from Cambridge University – fancy!

And it’s HARD. I’ve heard a 50% fail rate at some centres. I need a challenge and something that’s going to push me to the next level. If I passed, I’d have a sense of achievement the likes of which I have not felt in a long time.

The multiple ways to do Delta

(and which option did I choose?)

So if you’re reading this you may already have some idea of how Delta can be done. There are 3 modules that each standalone and can be done in any order. All 3 can also be done either online or face-to-face (with the exception of attending the exam for Module 1 and the observed teaching and tutoring component of Module 2).

I made a little spreadsheet and compared and contrasted different options, keeping in mind my personal context (current finances, work commitments, and preferred learning environment). You can take a look at this spreadsheet on Google Drive here: Stewart’s Cambridge Delta Option Comparisons.

This was my conclusion from the spreadsheet: “From an education perspective, the IH Bangkok intensive course is clearly the better option – and I get much more value for my money. However, I do lose a substantial amount of salary, which means that The Distance Delta is financially a much better option. Although I can do the Bell online course this year, it’s still at the end of the year, and the course is only 1 month longer than the full-time face-to-face course and 6 month’s less than the other online option, although it doesn’t require a face-to-face orientation like The Distance Delta does.”

So, I chose to do the 8-week, face-to-face course at International House Bangkok.

Basically, my thinking was that there is going to be more ‘educational’ value in doing the course full-time and face-to-face: no work to distract me, enabling 100% focus on the course; doing a lot in a shorter period of time, meaning I will hopefully “connect the dots” more quickly and more deeply; and having peers (face-to-face ones!) that I can observe, work with, and get help from – not to mention the face-to-face trainers! The price of one the online courses was comparable, too!

I also did my CELTA at IH Bangkok, and even know some of the trainers who will be training me on the Delta course (which is a good thing, since I like them!). I’m also familiar with the location, and it’s convenient for me to travel to and from.

S-)