Helene Combe

Through my journey as an English teacher and a language learner

Month: July 2019

Still I rise

This week was all about Experimental Practice; as you may remember, I am currently doing DELTA module 2 and as part of the PDA Action and Research, I decided to focus on a specific point: poetry.

Before going further, I have to add that despite the fact that I studied French literature in high school intensively, I always despised the poetry part of it. I never understood the point of explaining, stanza per stanza, what the author was trying to say. But that was in French.

Since I became an English teacher, I studied literature differently, for my own pleasure. I have realized the power of literature, how it provides a strong context to the learners, how it can be used to introduce a complicated topic. I have always read a lot in English, but I started to read poetry in English only a year ago, thanks to Maya Angelou. I read Me & Mom & Me while at Yale, and pretty much read her entire work after that.

For most of my learners, English is a simple way to communicate; and there is nothing behind it. English is way more than that, but the magic is hidden behind grammar rules and lexical patterns. I decided to focus on poetry during my EP to show how powerful language can be, and I chose Still I rise by Maya Angelou.

Bear in mind that my multilingual class is composed of five different nationalities (Ecuadorian, Czech, French, Saudi and Venezuelan), from age 29 to 56 and are intermediate. I started the class by quickly introducing Maya Angelou (As a learner, I really do think it’s helping to know who wrote the piece before actually reading it) and today will be about poetry (I could see right away who would be interested and who would be on Snapchat during the entire lesson)

I then explained the different poetic figures: hyperbole, metaphor… (teaching how to pronounce “hyperbole” was actually funnier than I thought it would be) and put them in pairs to read the poem. While they were done reading it (and very puzzled), still in pairs, I asked them to underline each hyperbole, or metaphor or imagery they could find in a stanza (each pair had a different stanza) and to write what they thought the author wanted to say. I did the first stanza with them, to provide a model.

Some of my students were just looking around like “what the hell is she asking us to do?!” but my older ones were really into it. Everybody tried their best, even the one who literally asked me what I was trying to do with that damn poem. We discussed the several topics Maya Angelou mentioned in the poem and I ended the lesson by showing them a video of the poet reciting Still I rise at Clinton inauguration.

The whole point of that lesson was to force me out of my comfort zone, but to make my learners realize that by learning another language, they were entering a new world. Learning a language is not about putting words next to each other in order to be understandable when you order in a restaurant. Learning another language, any language, is sculpting your own door to another way of thinking.

That is why I teach English and not French. This week, I have seen that Facebook post which was literally “dear non-natives, why don’t you teach your own language?” Languages are beyond passports and nationalities, and the only reason we categorize people over these insane criterions is purely marketing. I cannot teach French because I don’t feel a connexion with it, I teach English because I love it with every fiber of my being and that detail change everything when you are a teacher.

Delta, week 2!

Wow, what a week that was! I am currently sitting in Coffee #1 on Winton, Bournemouth, preparing the lesson plan for my LSA2, which will be about multi-word verbs. But I thought that it would be nice to update you guys!

I had a nice surprise this week, which was not (entirely) Delta related: it appears that I passed my first year of my MA Applied Linguistics and TESOL. I honestly thought that I had failed (I did fail a paper though) but turns out, I am still good to go! I still have two modules to take, and a dissertation to write, but I needed that good news to keep going! I really thought I was done, I was pretty sad about it, but I can apparently use my braincells from time to time. And that’s quite nice.

Week 2 of Delta means LSA1: the background essay was due on Wednesday, the lesson was scheduled on Thursday… And I passed both of them! I can’t believe it myself, especially since I had to resubmit every damn CELTA assignment, but hell, it’s done! I feel so relieved, it’s hard to transcribe how I feel right now. Honestly, I quite liked the subject for LSA1, which was Reading for global understanding and I feel less confident about LSA2, but I am way more relaxed now than before.

I’ll keep you posted about LSA2 next week, I guess 🙂 Enjoy your weekend!

Delta Module 2: first thoughts!

If you have been following my Twitter feed lately, you might have realized that I started my DELTA (Module 2) this week at ITTC, in Bournemouth. I did my CELTA there in 2017, and had an amazing experience (I didn’t think this way every day while doing it, but two years later, I can confidently say that it went great) thanks to the amazing team of tutors. I have written a bunch of articles about it, if you feel like browsing this little blog 🙂

So, it only made sense to come back there for my DELTA. I started my MA last September, distance-learning, which is not exactly what I was expecting (see my previous article), and doing a DELTA was always in my plan anyway. I did not take the Module 1 yet, not because I didn’t prepare it, but because I didn’t feel ready in June to try it. I am working on it by myself (let’s be honest, adding the cost of a DELTA course – module one- online was also impossible for me this semester), but I was not confident enough to take it in June. Nonetheless, I applied to do Module 2 anyway, got in, and arrived in Bournemouth last Sunday.

I found exactly what I was looking for: a great cohort, amazing tutors always ready to help us and answer our numerous questions, and motivated students to practice on! I don’t know if I have been brainwashed the first time I came to ITTC, but there is a particular feeling there, which can make you feel at home. It’s extremely comforting, especially when you are doing a course as demanding as DELTA.

Key word of the upcoming six weeks: organization. We have a million things to do during DELTA, between the assignments (language, skills, professional development) and the teaching practice. Hopefully, I’ll manage to focus on a precise point (or two) to work on every day, so I won’t get lost. If I look at the larger picture, I might be sick at some point, so I’ll try to avoid that!

What else to know about starting DELTA module 2: read! Reading is a huge component of DELTA and I am glad that I had read pretty much the entire collection of How to… (I just ordered the last one, How to teach listening by JJ Wilson), How languages are learned, A-Z of ELT, Learning teaching… Honestly, half of the list provided by my tutors was already on my MA list, so don’t think that I am a weirdo who spent her entire winter reading ELT books (half winter only, I read a lot of Bret Easton Ellis the other half)

To finish, a few words about my diagnostic lesson… I have the tremendous chance to have responding students (6 of them, multilingual) and a great tutor: I challenged my inner Kirk (my former writing teacher back at Yale, aka the best teacher I ever had but also the loudest person alive) during the lesson (I was stressed as well, that didn’t help the volume), which means that I am pretty sure some of my students heard bells after the class (like, literally, tinnitus). But on the other hand, all of them felt comfortable enough to talk and to ask questions, which is quite positive, especially after only one lesson.

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