Self reflection: understanding what you’re doing in class

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Not as simple as it sounds!

Teaching is the ultimate multi-tasking context: you need to check your plan/coursebook/ worksheet, keep an eye on multiple students at the same time, check your watch, monitor your voice and your language, problem-solve on the spot…  I could go on, but we’ve all been there and there’s no need!

In that light, the idea that teachers should observe themselves and monitor their performance while they are teaching can look like an unreasonable expectation.  Yet, being able to reflect on what you did in class is a consistent assessment criterion on teacher training courses, like the CELTA, which requires you to teach and observe others teaching, as well as give feedback to other teachers and get feedback from both your peers and your tutors. Unsurprisingly, some trainees feel that there is no point in evaluating themselves as well and can even be annoyed that they are required to do that on top of everything else.

But let us try and address some common points raised on courses regarding reflection and self-evaluation.

Why should I do this if my tutor is going to give me feedback after my lesson anyway?

The feedback you get from your tutor will be kind, constructive and detailed but its impact will be limited if you remain blissfully unaware of what happened, what worked and what did not work in class. Becoming aware of your own actions and decisions, and the students’ reactions to them, provides an opportunity for growth and development which you should not deny yourself! In other words, this is where actual learning takes place for you. For example, if you believed that explaining grammar in great detail to a class who already knew what you were talking about was a strength of your lesson, that says a lot about what you need to still learn and develop in your teaching.

How can I do this when I’m so engrossed in my teaching that I hardly remember what exactly I said or did afterwards?

Composing a self-evaluation report is not about training you in holding the minutes in a meeting, but rather about honing your teaching instincts (more about that in a minute). For a minute-by-minute analysis of your lesson, if you really need one, it makes more sense to turn to your tutor and colleagues, who were observing you and had the time to take detailed notes. What you are really working on when doing your self-reflection after the lesson is putting into words your own feelings about the lesson, the learner reactions that you perceived and your impression of the overall effectiveness of your teaching. You can do this after the lesson, at different times. What works best for a lot of teachers is making a couple of brief notes immediately after the lesson, recording feelings and first impressions while still fresh; then, revisiting these notes later, when several hours have passed, and re-examine initial ideas as well as decide what the main strengths and weaknesses were. At that point, it helps to try and remember concrete examples from the lesson to support your impressions.

But I cannot do this, no matter how hard I try! I feel I have nothing to say really.

This is more common than one might imagine. Although offering trainees the opportunity to realise how they are progressing on a course is a fundamental principle of most teacher development courses, the ability to do so is by no means an innate talent: it is a skill that needs to be practised and learnt, like most things about teaching. In order to do that, you need to:

  1. be aware of the learner reactions and contributions during the lesson.
  2. realise which tasks worked and which didn’t
  3. be able to distance yourself from the actual process and observe it objectively

Concentrating on these three points, you should be able to make some headway in your reflection process. (If you would like more about how to compose a reflection report, we’d be happy to take that up in another post.)

TIP: Record yourself teaching once or twice – please do not cringe – and see what happens. You’ll be amazed by what you can learn by observing yourself teaching. I still find it fascinating after decades of experience; there are so many things I hadn’t noticed I was doing!!! And seeing something for yourself beats the tutor trying to draw your attention to it every time.

It is very disheartening to have one picture in your head about your lesson, and then, during feedback, be proven wrong in key points.

Although not all self-reflections are proven wrong like this, it does happen often, and it can be disappointing. Needless to say, the reflection process itself is not to blame for that, but it does draw attention to our own misconceptions or even shortcomings. And as much as this can be quite unpleasant to feel, it is an essential part of the growing and developing process.

Imagine we held training courses only for perfect teachers, who are never wrong! That would go well! First, we would not have any trainees, and second, even if we did, they would not have much to take from the course, thus defeating the whole point of taking one.

Accept making mistakes as the best thing that can happen to you on a learning course.

I have to prepare and teach a lesson, observe my peers teaching and offer them feedback, and then I have to reflect on my own lesson, all within a few hours. Can’t I just skip it?

It is true that a teaching practice day can be quite heavy, especially if you are doing an intensive course. And it is also true that many trainees “switch off” after their own teaching spell takes place. This may be because they are genuinely tired, or because they find the whole feedback/reflection process quite boring, feeling that all they need is be given a grade for their lesson and go home. Or it can be both! This is what usually happens in those cases:

  1. Trainees use vague formulaic expressions both in their own self evaluations and in their feedback to their peers, e.g., good elicitation, used CCQs, great rapport, etc. They even repeat the same points lesson after lesson, but they are unable to offer ONE concrete example of these points when asked.
  2. The whole group spends 3 or more hours teaching, observing and giving feedback and all this time is not really taken advantage of.
  3. The tutor remains the main source of feedback, which is neither fun nor as constructive as it could be.
  4. Trainees may leave the session without a clear idea of what they should or should not do in their own lesson, or, even more importantly, no idea of WHY they should or should not do X or Y.

The whole reflection –  feedback – re-evaluation process breaks down and a core part of the course does not really function.

If you take one thing:

Please regard self-reflection as important as planning your lesson: if you do not do it, it is like throwing your lesson plan out of the window. You will not know whether the plan worked or not, why, which parts need changing, etc. Train yourself to reflect on what you did and use the conclusions as the basis for your next step.

Alexandra Koukoumialou
Alexandra Koukoumialou

Alexandra is a CELTA and DELTA trainer with ACE TEFL. She has been a teacher trainer for over 10 years now, doing both online and face-to-face courses, while working with hundreds of trainees both locally and internationally. Her background in teaching makes her training style practically oriented, as she enjoys designing her own materials and sharing classroom tips. She has been passionate about teaching for most of her life and she brings that to her training courses, together with her enthusiastic personality.

Use feedback like the tool it is …

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… and make the most of your training

Taking the decision to invest in a teacher training program is not an easy one – perhaps it never was. Leaving your comfort zone and testing your limits in search of growth is never easy, but it takes even more courage to do so in a global environment of fear, uncertainty and huge financial insecurity. So, if you are considering this or you have already committed to it, kudos to you! 

What we want to do here is to share some insights gained from our training experience, regarding how you can benefit the most during the actual training phase. Some of it may seem obvious and self-explanatory but it is easier said than done! We hope to help with the done part.

Approach this with an open mind

If you have invested wisely, then you are sailing to unchartered territories. That means you have selected a reputable course, run by professional trainers, and gauged at your actual development needs. What you are looking for is going beyond what you have known – or think you have known – so far, and extending your professional abilities, your craftmanship and your perspective on the teaching/learning process.

            Do not hamper yourself by sticking to stereotypes, pre-conceived ideas, or rigid expectations. Let yourself free to absorb what the journey has to offer.

DO

  • Bring your own personality into the course, with your learning preferences and your individual needs
  • Bring your professional and cultural background: as long as they are not tying you down to a set mentality, they can be invaluable.

DON’T 

  • Start on a defensive mode: the course is not designed to question your principles or your effectiveness

Understand the trainer-trainee relationship

It is very much like your relationship with your learners. It is neither a superior-subordinate relationship nor a service provider-customer one; or at least it should not be. It is primarily a relationship targeted towards growth. Both parties have a lot invested in it and they both stand a lot to gain from it. And it is to both their interests to work together as smoothly as possible.

DO

  • Regard yourself as a willing participant on this journey which should be enjoyed at every opportunity
  • Regard your tutor with the same respect and positive attitude that you expect them to regard you
  • Expect your tutor to get you to question the validity of everything we do or do not do in class and think out of the box.

DON’T 

  • See yourself in a passive role. This may lead to a passive-aggressive stance. 
  • Expect to be given ready-made solutions that magically fit all occasions

Be an integral part of the feedback process

Many hands-on, practical courses centre around the reflection-feedback process. This may come in stark contrast to more traditional educational theories or clash with beliefs cultivated in more traditional educational systems or cultures. Considering that our educational background, including that of the author’s, is often traditional, one may start to see why many trainees’ attitude towards the reflection-feedback process can be sceptical. 

DO

  • Take an active part in feedback: 
    • give your own opinion
    • ask questions
    • compare different perspectives
  • Go beyond the surface:
    • search for reasons behind success or failure
    • look for what can be tweaked next time
    • dig for the underlying beliefs that made you take this or that decision
  • Ask for feedback from your colleagues and offer them some as well. When doing the latter, be as specific as possible; vague comments or solely positive ones do not help your colleagues improve any more than they would help you.
  • Celebrate your wins! Even if there were problems, there must have been several things you did right in a particular lesson: list them, paying special attention to the ones that used to be problems earlier on the course. Then pat yourself on the back!

DON’T

  • Regard your reflection process as separate from feedback: realising what you have just done in class is something your tutor cannot help you with – only you can.
  • Just wait for your tutor to tell you how your lesson went
  • Automatically reject any negative feedback: ask for reasons and then examine them carefully. 
  • Beat yourself up if your lesson was not perfect; there may be setbacks but just because everything was not positive about your lesson that does not mean you should give up entirely!

Take the next step

The biggest mistake you can make regarding the reflection-feedback process is to see feedback as the end of the line; as a definitive assessment of your worth and progress that defines what sort of teacher you are (going to be). Many trainees are trapped in that sphere of negativity and are unable to move on. 

DO

  • See feedback as a tool: one you have purchased at great cost in terms of time, effort, and money. Use it as such.
  • Base your next steps on the action points you got from your feedback. Feedback should be translated to practical, actionable steps you can follow immediately. If you feel this is not the case, please inform your tutor promptly.
  • Give it time to sink in: you may need time to process the feedback you have received, leave behind any strong emotions the whole process may have generated and look at the action points coolly and objectively. This is especially useful with intensive courses, provided you have at least two days between teaching practice sessions.

DON’T

  • Hesitate to ask your tutor for support, especially after an unsuccessful lesson. Any professional tutor should be happy to discuss your concerns, listen to your ideas for the next lesson and generally be as helpful as possible.
  • (On the tail of the previous point) Expect your tutor to plan your lessons for you! This is NOT conducive to your own development: professional tutors should know that and avoid doing it. 
  • Do not be afraid to check whether you have understood what the feedback included: ask for or offer specific examples from your lesson to support a specific point.

If you take one thing…

Please don’t give up the effort after repeatedly failing to meet your action points: it takes time and a lot of effort. In any case, most reputable courses allow for a couple of failures along the line. Keep trying not for your tutor or just to get the certificate; do it for yourself and your own personal satisfaction. Nothing compares to the sense of achievement you feel when you have overcome a weakness or even turned it into a strength.

Alexandra Koukoumialou
Alexandra Koukoumialou

Alexandra is a CELTA and DELTA trainer with ACE TEFL. She has been a teacher trainer for over 10 years now, doing both online and face-to-face courses, while working with hundreds of trainees both locally and internationally. Her background in teaching makes her training style practically oriented, as she enjoys designing her own materials and sharing classroom tips. She has been passionate about teaching for most of her life and she brings that to her training courses, together with her enthusiastic personality. 

A, B, C, DELTA

What is the DELTA?

The DELTA is the fourth letter of the Greek alphabet, so it’s what follows ABC. It’s also the name of the modular Cambridge Diploma in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, which makes sense, as that’s a qualification that defintely goes beyond the ABC of language teaching methodology! However, the name of the Cambridge DELTA has nothing to do with the Greek alphabet – not everything was invented by the Greeks! DELTA used to be an acronym for Diploma in English Language Teaching to Adults, but as the scheme evolved over the years, it naturally became more context-sensitive and is no longer limited to teaching adults; the brand name, though, was retained, so the names of the two popular Cambridge qualifications for English language teachers, CELTA and DELTA, continue to rhyme!

Who is the DELTA for?

As an advanced, Level 7 qualification, the DELTA is not intended for those with little or no previous experience or training in ELT methodology. It is, indeed, a qualification for experienced teachers, who are already familiar with the principles of ELT methodology and have a high level of language awareness.

The DELTA is, therefore, in many cases a requirement for more senior (and better paid!) ELT-related positions internationally, such as EAP Tutor or Director of Studies. It can also be an important step to becoming a teacher trainer – in fact, a DELTA (or an equivalent qualification) is a Cambridge requirement  for those who wish to train as a CELTA tutor.

What does the DELTA consist of?

For the majority of teachers who decide to begin their DELTA journey to professional development, the first step is DELTA Module 1. Module 1 is assessed by external examination and the syllabus covers all of the background knowledge an experiences teacher should have: a detailed knowledge of grammar, phonology, lexis and discourse, a very good understanding of the four skills, familiarity with language acquisition theories and language teaching approaches and methods, a good grasp of assessment and testing principles and practice, as well as the ability to analyse and evaluate teaching materials, techniques and resources. Module 1 then provides the background that you need to design and teach different kinds of lessons as well as plan and implement a professional development plan as a teacher, which is what Module 2 is about. Finally, Module 3 gives you the chance to focus on an area of specialism, such as teaching exam classes or teaching academic English, and design a whole course, thus extending your knowledge of teaching and learning principles and putting everything you’ve learnt in Modules 1 and 2 into practice.

How can I start my DELTA journey?

Module 1 is, as I explained above, an exam-based qualification. You don’t actually have to attend a preparation course – theoretically, anyone can take the exam, whether they have attended a course or not, and if they pass it they will be awarded the DELTA Module 1 certificate. In practice, though, most people choose to follow a course to prepare for their DELTA exam and personally I think it’s necessary, not only because you need to ensure that you have covered the exam syllabus, but also because you need to understand how the exam works and what kind of information you are expected to provide in answer to each of the exam questions.

The problem, however, is that anyone and everyone can claim to offer a Module 1 preparation course, whether or not they have the background, knowledge and experience required. So if you’re thinking of doing a Module 1 course, I would suggest that you spend some time researching and evaluating the options you have.

What should I consider before choosing a course?

Having designed and taught DELTA Module 1 courses ever since the modular DELTA was first offered, more than ten years ago, and having heard from a lot of colleagues with both positive and negative experience of DELTA Module 1 courses, I would suggest that you consider the following before you make a decision about which course to enrol on:

  • How many hours is the course and how many of those are contact hours between tutors and participants?
    Check exactly what the course provider means when they say, for example, that the course is 100 hours; do they mean 100 hours of contact or of self-study? I have found that 50 contact hours and another 50 directed study hours is the absolute minimum,
  • What is the course schedule? Does it clearly cover all areas of the DELTA syllabus? Does it contain an exam taking skills component?
    Ask to see a sample course schedule or timetable before you enrol. Make sure that the syllabus is covered comprehensively and that input is included on areas such as language acquisition theories, error analysis, approaches and methods, assessment, materials evaluation, skills development. Check also that the course includes a heavy language analysis component covering all areas of grammar, phonology, lexis and discourse. And finally, check that exam taking skills are also covered and that at least one DELTA mock exam is included.
  • Who are the tutors? Are they qualified? How familiar are they with the DELTA? 
    These are obvious questions, but often we assume that because someone has the nerve to offer a DELTA course, they must be qualified; unfortunately, that is not always the case. So do check that the tutors are Cambridge-approved DELTA tutors and that they have experience of teaching Module 1.
  • What materials and resources does the course use?
    Most DELTA Module 1 courses are offered online these days. But ‘online’ can mean very different things: from a Moodle-based course with limited contact between participants and tutors to a live online course taught on a platform like Zoom or Blackboard, where you can interact with other participants and with the tutors on a regular basis.
  • How much does the course cost?
    A DELTA Module 1 course doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. There are courses out there with a very limited number of contact hours that cost 1000 Euro or more! The question to ask yourself here is “does that look like good value for money?” But don’t forget to do your research before you make a decision!