Although they are a while ago now, I want to reflect on the lesson plans (and lessons, as far as I can remember them!) that I produced on my CELTA course, from October to December 2011.
In particular, I think there are some real strengths of the CELTA course, that will help me in my maths teaching career. For example, the communicative language approach of the CELTA, whereby we emphasise teaching language that allows students to communicate in the real world, has a strong parallel with the functional maths agenda.
Also, CELTA has a really strong emphasis on AfL (although it’s not called this) and so reflecting on how I incorporated different elements of formative assessment into my CELTA lesson plans will, I hope, be valuable.
I’ve picked out two of my favourite CELTA lessons, along with one that didn’t go so well (the rest are included below for reference).
My favourite lesson, by quite a long way, used a well-known local surfboard maker and a fictitious shark to explain a particularly thorny point of grammar: the difference between the present perfect simple and the present perfect continuous. It was probably my favourite lesson ever, and still is I think.
In terms of the communicative language approach, the key thing here is that grammar, and particularly grammar such as this, is a bit like algebra. It’s really important, but not particularly interesting in and of itself.
However, by incorporating a grammar point into a funny story, and showing how it can be used to communicate, this really sparked the students’ interest. Or, at least, it engaged and amused them sufficiently that they paid attention for the rest of the class. In a similar way, incorporating algebra into a real-life problem will invariably make it more interesting and, if I can make the functional maths element amusing and personal as well, so much the better.
In terms of AfL, like in all CELTA lessons there was a really strong emphasis on pupils demonstrating the learning of the lesson objective. Also, by incorporating mixed-ability pairs work I was able to differentiate the activities and encourage peer teaching. The main AfL approaches that I used were directed questioning, monitoring and feedback activities to ensure learning.
Perhaps the most interesting model to consider for the maths class, though, is the guided discovery. This was a really easy way to assess existing knowledge amongst the class before teaching the grammar point. Had the students really struggled at this point, I could have spent more time going over the grammar point itself. However, when most were able to cover the guided discovery with few problems, I knew I could move on more quickly. Careful monitoring of pupils’ answers to the guided discovery allowed me to do some directed feedback and adapt my lesson as a result e.g. I could have asked more able pupils to explain the concept to less able pupils.
The other good lesson I’ve picked out was the first one for which I received an ‘above standard’ grade, a reading and listening skills lesson.
The best thing about this lesson for me was my planning. Looking back now, fitting in what I did into 40 minutes was a real challenge, but will be useful in trying to cover a packed curriculum for maths. Meticulous planning meant that the transitions were really good, and the lesson flowed very well, enhancing learning.
In terms of the communicate language approach, I think the key thing here was to put the skills work into a context that was interesting and relevant i.e. discussions about films. In CELTA they drilled into us that the context was always vital – too often I feel maths lacks such a context, and it needn’t really – there is always a context and a real-life application for things.
In terms of AfL, this was an interesting lesson, because it was my first lesson with a new group. It required a really quick initial assessment of individuals’ abilities, in order to pair those of similar ability. I achieved this through lots of peer checking of answers, with careful monitoring, to avoid the danger of showing pupils up or embarrassing them in open class.
The lesson that didn’t go so well is one of my earlier ones, teaching about the weather.
It wasn’t a terrible lesson, but I made a number of errors that limited the learning that was going on, most notably having visuals that were too small so that they were hard to see, and in instructions that weren’t clear enough.
In terms of a communicative language approach, it was a funny one because I was teaching about all different types of weather whilst on the coast of Ecuador, which only ever really sees two types of weather, hot and sunny, or warm and cloudy. Thus whilst the language had a real-life application, it wasn’t really relevant to the students. In terms of functional maths this is a useful learning point – not all real-life applications are equally relevant, so I need to think carefully about what will engage pupils most.
In terms of AfL, it actually wasn’t too bad – I remember I used a test-teach-test approach, without really knowing what it was. This approach is classic AfL – test what students know, teach what they don’t know, then test them again to check they’ve learnt it. All great, but I think the problem in this lesson was that I didn’t have the experience to vary my actual teaching to take account of the outcomes of the initial test i.e. it was formative assessment, without actually impacting on my teaching or students’ learning. A learning point from this, therefore, is to ensure I think about what I’m going to do with any information I gain from formative assessment, either in the lesson itself or in future lessons.