Monday, February 23, 2015

Delta Module 3: the Git 'r Done Edition

After writing up a recommended pre-course reading list for Delta Module 3, I have some more thoughts and advice I'd like to share:

1.) Become very familiar with Word and Excel, especially creating graphs. This will save you a lot of time later.

You're going to need to be able to do things without problem such as reducing file sizes, scanning and inserting JPGs and PDFs, creating graphs in Excel and inserting them into Word, and creating page breaks or having only some pages in a longer portrait-oriented document render as landscape. Figuring it out as you go, if you're not already a whiz at Office (and I'm not - I was a terrible admin assistant), wastes time. This is especially important if you use a Mac, as the tutors for the online courses tend to use Windows and usually don't know how to help Mac users.

2.) If you think the paper lacks some construct validity, you're not alone.

My main issue has to do with word counts (below). I get why the limits exist and support that, I just think the limits decided upon are unreasonable and should be modified, not abandoned. I wrote about this regarding Module 1 as well. 

While obviously your grade is assessed based on the quality of your curriculum design, it is also to some extent assessed based on how well you can cram your individual writing style into their parameters, and how adept you are at cramming information into their teeny-tiny word counts. I have never delivered a baby, but I would compare trying to cram the amount of information I wanted to include into the word count they gave me as roughly similar to pushing a fairly large (think 10-12 pound) baby out of an itty-bitty vagina. It is entirely possible that a writer who does not have, and is not good at, creating a compact writing style might get a lower score just for that reason, regardless of how good the paper would have been without such stringent guidelines.

Maybe I'm just not very British about the whole thing, but, I do feel that the paper ought to be assessing how well we understand and apply the fundamentals of curriculum design, not how well we pack information into insufficient word counts. It does not entirely succeed in this regard as the word counts are simply not sufficient.

3.) If you think the recommended reading is a bit dated (a lot of it is from the '90s or earlier), you're also not alone, but there's a good reason for that.

I'm actually OK with this simply because a lot of really good seminal works were written in that time, after the Communicative Approach had become more of a standard thing and less of a groundbreaking new approach that, like the release of a new technology, inevitably had a few bugs to work out, but before that approach started to feel a little stale as it does today, but with nothing better having come along to replace it (rather like our End of History and the Last Man liberal democracy). And those works tend to be updated and come out in new editions. So, I'm fine with Bailey and Graves and Nunan because their publications remain relevant. The only thing to watch out for are un-updated books that haven't accounted for the emergence of computers. Like so:

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4.) Yes, the word counts and other requirements are persnickety. Whoever designed the word counts is on my permanent hit list. Either way, listen carefully and do exactly as your tutor or course leader says.

I'm not anti-word count. I'm anti-British word counts.

I'm used to an academic system where you are given wide parameters - usually font size, spacing, margins and a generous variance in page requirements (say, 8-10 or 12-15), possibly font selection itself. What this does is create some basic standardization so you don't get two-page papers nor do you get 200-page papers when you wanted about 20-page papers, but someone with a terser writing style can write, say, 8 pages and someone who likes a few rhetorical flourishes can write 12 pages. There's room for individuality and creativity, and nobody would think anything of it if the paper didn't meet exact specifications.

This is a good system because it acknowledges that there is very little difference, nor is there any reason to freak out, over, say, an extra paragraph or have a page longer or shorter. It's really okay - what matters is the quality of the paper, whatever the size. None but the most anal American would care if your paper were, say, 4503 words rather than 4500.

And yet, this is what Cambridge essentially freaks out over. Your paper should be about 4500 words. You can write as few as 4000 (but 3999 and HOLY SHIT CALL IN THE NATIONAL GUARD YOU FAIL), and as many as 4500 (but 4501 and HOLY SHIT WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE FROM ZOMBIES). It doesn't make any sense - what is the difference in quality between 4500 and 4501 words? Or 3999 and 4000?

Wouldn't someone who wrote 4570 words well be turning in an inferior work by editing down to 4500 when it really sounded better with the extra 70 words?

The variances allowed in American page limits allow for this. Cambridge on the other hand has clearly eaten too many scones and not enough vegetables and needs a nice long sit on the pot to just relax.

I'm not saying abandon word limits - some standardization is needed. Or even to change to page limits - why not keep your precious word limits, but make them more flexible? How about 4000-5000? Or (heaven forfend!) 3500-5500? Wouldn't you get better quality papers with more freedom? Papers that inject a little individual flair into the whole thing rather than a string of passable but unengaging academic crap?

Along with this, the word limits given for the information asked for is simply not sufficient. What's asked for is reasonable. For example, for Part 2 it makes sense to want a candidate to describe and justify their needs analysis and diagnostic test strategies, write about their analysis of the results, and end with a short class profile and course priorities. What doesn't make sense is to ask for this in 900 words. 1500 words is more reasonable, and you'd get better quality work from it. Furthermore, you'd be assessing based more on the content rather than how well it's crammed inside a too-small package, increasing construct validity.

It also forces any sort of individuality or unique voice from your paper - my writing style was so quashed that it barely reads as having been written by me. I had to do things like replace "and" for every closely related set of nouns with a slash (so "speaking and listening" was replaced with "speaking/listening" because it was one word rather than three). This may sound like a conceit, but Cambridge says that they prefer paper that speaks to individual experience and insight - how can you do that if you are not provided sufficient word count?

Finally, every word processing program counts words differently. Microsoft Word for Mac counted my paper at 4498 words, but Word 2007 on a PC counted them as 4570. So, we were told to note the word processing program we used to account for any discrepancies.

But if you're going to do allow such discrepancies, then why have a word count at all? What purpose does it serve to be so exact when my handed in paper is 4498 words and another candidate's is 4500, but when viewed in the same program mine is 70 words longer, but would still be accepted even though the other candidate's would not be if it were 4501 words? It makes. no. sense.

As for the requirements, yeah, they want very specific things. While that does quash individuality to some extent, I get the reasoning behind this. Just don't ignore anything your tutor says. If your tutor says "you may want to provide further justification", then do that. If your tutor says "this could be addressed later", then move the point to be addressed later.

You don't have to agree. You just have to do it. Is this realistic? No. But there you go.

5.) Is there a slight bias toward one kind of syllabus? Yes. But technically you can do anything you want as long as you justify, justify, justify.

Cambridge folk and your tutors will swear up and down that there is no bias towards any kind of syllabus - it could be a process or product syllabus, negotiated or synthetic, whatever you want as long as it suits your goals and class needs and you can justify it. With one exception: as you have to submit some kind of course plan, you can't use a totally free-form syllabus reliant on Dogme or the Natural Approach*.

But, I swear to you, I observed a bias. As assessment is a required aspect of your course, a product syllabus with "can do" statements or clear assessment "at the end of this course, students will be able to" goals is the clearly favored syllabus for this assignment. Perhaps it is because a product syllabus requires less justification generally: the end goals of that syllabus and how they line up with the class's priorities, which are why it's called a product syllabus at all, are their own justification, but a process syllabus that focuses on how and what will be taught, with assessment merely measuring what was learned without pre-set ideas of what the outcome should be requires further justification as to why that process was chosen and why it's not necessary to state your desired outcomes or achievement levels.

But, that still boils down to "you don't have to work as hard to justify a product syllabus" which makes a product syllabus easier to use for this assignment, which I feel creates a bias in favor of it - less need for justification requires less verification and agreement on the validity of that justification after all.

Someone using a process syllabus is going to have to explain why they aren't using a product one (which takes the form of justifying a lack of defined end goals) but someone using a product syllabus does not have to justify why they didn't use a process one.

Add to that the tightfisted (or tight-other-body-parted) word count requirements that don't leave a lot of space to justify your choices, and there is a clear bias in favor of choosing a path that requires less justification - there isn't enough space to do justice to a more involved choice.

That doesn't mean you need to use a product syllabus - just that you're going to have to fight harder for your process syllabus, which is arguably not fair.

*I still think this sounds like the title of a porno movie

6.) Get reading done early - you will need that time to analyze and write about your results and ideas.

See my previous post, linked above.

As much as you think you can put it off, you can't. You will need more time than you ever imagined to design, roll out, collect, analyze and write up your diagnostic test and needs analysis (which should be related, by the way - your needs analysis results should inform the kind of diagnostic test you design - for example if the learners you're working with don't need to focus on listening and don't report any problems with listening you wouldn't design a diagnostic test focusing on listening, obviously). So get crackin' on that reading NOW and thank me later.

7.) The assignment itself may only be 4500 words, but the appendices you will attach bring it up to 100+ pages.

Yes, that's how much supporting information you need. Remember, for everything you write about in parts 2, 3 and 4 of this assignment, you'll need a buttload of data or sample materials supporting your choices. You're not writing a 17-page paper. You're writing a 117-page paper, even if it's not considered such when you submit.

8.) It's easier to choose a standard class with standard needs. However, doing this may also make it hard to be creative.

Brendan and I ran into this.

During the assignment, I was definitely the more stressed-out spouse, with my unusual class who didn't want to do role plays, communicative activities, games or take any sort of tests and which, while being a Business English class, didn't really want many of the topics commonly associated with Business English with the exception of presentations. When they talked about what they needed - to be able to socialize with coworkers, higher-ups at work and industry peers, for example, the common Business English methods for that were not interesting to them. They weren't there, as most BE students are, to improve in specific ways for work purposes: they were there for a reason not commonly found in BE - to have fun.

It was very hard to create a class for them within the BE parameters - and yes, there is a bias in favor of using a class that to some degree fits a typical profile of a class in your chosen specialism (there kind of has to be - otherwise how can you be assessed at how well the course you've designed fits within the specialism you've chosen?). Although, what this bias does is compartmentalize learners into classes that fit into specialisms that may not reflect them well for reasons that may be arbitrary. (I could see, however, Cambridge parrying this with "a Business English class doesn't fit in the BE specialism simply because it takes place in a business for colleagues and paid for by the company, that class may well be General English despite superficial similarities to Business English", and they wouldn't be wrong).

This gave me, while not real ulcers, definite ulcer-like pains. For the longest time it was unclear whether my class fit the BE profile sufficiently, but I didn't have another class to fall back on.

On the other hand, because my class was so unusual, I had a lot of room to be extremely creative in how I approached it. I had to be: I couldn't do the standard stuff as they didn't want it. I suspect this creativity-by-necessity may have contributed to my getting a Merit on the assignment.

Brendan had the opposite experience: his class fit the exam class mold perfectly. He was far less stressed during the assignment as the needs of the class were clear and well within the parameters of the specialism profile. The path was clear for him and he got to use a product syllabus (as above, it is its own justification!). I chose a process syllabus because it made sense for my class, and had to justify up the wazoo why I didn't choose a product one. He chose a product syllabus because it made sense for his class but at no point had to explain why he didn't choose a process one.

And yet, because his class was so straightforward, it was easy and smart to use well-established, straightforward approaches and materials. There isn't a lot of room for creativity and change when the norm actually works, after all.

So, despite his paper likely being better situated within the Delta Module 3 rubric, it may have actually been harder for him to have achieved a Merit.

We'll never know.

Advice? Try to be creative - if you do it well and justify it, it pays off.

9.) If you think you have enough charts and graphs, you don't.


When I did my first diagnostic test result appendix, I was told that for assessing speaking, I did not need to type out transcripts of what was said and then analyze every little grammar, lexical, pronunciation etc. error, that I could mark based on overall impressions and then give some examples of how I came to those impressions. I thought I'd done a pretty good job with that, when I was told it was not sufficient.

In the end I did actually type out transcripts of what was said - although I chose snippets of conversation that exemplified my impressions rather than analyzing the entire 3 hours of spoken discourse, and analyzed those for the above issues. I had been told I did not need to, but I did.

Then I graphed those issues, comparing the number of grammar errors, lexical errors, register errors and pronunciation errors in a pie chart to see which were the most prevalent, separated out for monologues (such as a presentation) and discussion (a group conversation), using the total number of non-target forms to inform my assessment of their overall level.

I originally had maybe 5 or 6 graphs for the spoken part of the diagnostic test. After rejiggering it with the additional analysis, which took an entire working day, I had graphs and charts in the double digits.

And I still only got a Merit, not a Distinction, despite doing more than I was told I would have to do.

You need more graphs.

10.) Advice and guidance for Module 3 generally tell you to set aside a few hours a week for it (I think in the range of 7-10). This is not true. Treat it like a part-time job: 20 hours a week or thereabouts is what you'll need to do well.

Not much to say here. Expect to spend several hours a week and at least one entire weekend day on this, and toward the end expect to devote entire weekends to it.

11.) I definitely recommend taking the three-month online course over the two-week crash course after which you write your paper.

I can't say much about the two-week course - perhaps if it comes with post-course tutor support as you devise your curriculum and write the paper, it won't be so bad. But considering the amount of reading I had to do, and the level of detail of the requirements and how to meet them that I had to understand and apply, I really don't feel two weeks could have done anything other than confuse and terrify me. Doing it over several months means that you don't have to worry too much about the next part of your assignment: you do each one in turn, and breaking it down like that and connecting them as you go makes a complex project easier.

12.) I'm not encouraging you to be a pirate per se, but I just want to point out that you need a lot of books to get a healthy number of citations and have a good number of sources informing your ideas, and if you don't have access to an ELT library at work or school, well...

...I mean, it's not good to pirate intellectual property. But without some form of access, doing this on your own could cost you literally hundreds if not up to a thousand dollars in books, especially if you buy all new. Not a lot of these books are available in e-book format at a discount.

First, try to buy used. Second, save on shipping by having orders consolidated by a friend or relative in a country with cheap shipping, sent to you as one box. Third, pay full price but order from Book Depository where shipping is free around the world, or in Taiwan, Bu Ke Lai which will deliver to a 7-11 near you (Caves also has an extensive ELT offering and is a pleasant walk to the corner of Minzu and Zhongshan Roads from Minquan W. Road MRT, as does Crane which delivers). AbeBooks is also a good resource but hard to use for maximum savings.

If none of those options helps you bring down the cost of books, I'm not telling you to pirate so you definitely should not check out all of the titles available as PDFs online, nor should you seek out help even though there are people out there with PDFs who are willing to help a serious teacher out.

I'm just saying. It's really not right how expensive books can be for some candidates without access, which creates a system of privilege between the haves (British Council teachers?) and the have-nots (freelance Business English trainers?). I discussed this regarding Module 1 reading in a previous post. I don't like such systems, and mum's the word if you decide to tear down some walls. Knowledge shouldn't be something only accessible to those who have enough money to pay for it.

13.) Be ready for some culture shock if you're not British or "close enough" British (like Australian or Kiwi*). Basically if you're American.

Partly the word counts, partly the British English, partly the foreign and somewhat baffling qualification and award system, and partly the way they use language. I don't think Cambridge ESOL intends to come across this way, but something about things like "stronger candidates provided a correct definition" and "weaker candidates had weak arguments" or "candidates are recommended to spell terms correctly" (page 7) just...come across as a bit snobby-posh to Americans, I guess.

Oh, and get used to British indirectness. "You may wish to revisit this" means "this sucks, fix it". "This is a good point that could be improved with further discussion" means "okay, but you're going to have to say more". "Are you sure this is the best strategy?" means "this is a bad strategy". "How does this connect to what you said earlier?" means "Either this doesn't connect to what you said earlier, or I don't see how it does". "I'm not clear on this" means "you were not clear on this". "I'm not sure" means "you are wrong".

Also I'm not sure if this is a culture difference thing but some of the examiner's report comments on Delta modules strike me as odd. For example, the 2011 report for Module 3 says that weaker candidates started with a course in mind and chose the specialism later, letting it act as a kind of title, when it needs to be front-and-center. Which, yeah, you need to keep the specialism in mind at all times, but the only way I could see to avoid that issue would be to choose your specialism and then choose from among a selection of suitable learner groups. And that strikes me as quite a privilege - I wish I'd had that option. But, I only had one reasonable option for my learner group, and if I had to choose Teaching English to Poopydinguses because it was the only specialty that fit my only real choice of group, then consarnit I was going to choose Teaching English to Poopydinguses. Not everyone has the luxury of choosing a specialism first and a course that fits it later.


Calm down.

14.) At some point you just have to go all "Git 'R Done". 

I reached a point in my paper when I was devising a class that, while mostly good, I knew would in some ways be unacceptable to my learners. They would never want to do the formative assessment I devised, nor would they want to do any sort of homework, for example. They would be far more interested in discussing the media I chose rather than doing any sort of specific language work with it. In most classes you can make them take their medicine, that is, give them what they don't want so they can achieve what they do want. But with my class, they didn't have any specific goals for what they did want other than "speak better English", "be more fluent" and "have fun". The last was a very specific and strongly-stated goal. As such we'd been using Dogme, and it'd been working. Their employer was fine with this - implicitly encouraged it, even! But, I needed language work and other activities in my course plan - filling it with discussion would not have been acceptable as it would have been rather formless. So, I designed activities and language work I knew they would never want to do, and I would never make them do (even though I might make a different class do them).

I kind of felt like, "if I'm supposed to design a course that learners will both be happy with and benefit from, and I have to include these sorts of things, but I know they won't be happy with it, and I would never actually teach it that way despite this being a course tailored to those learners, then why am I doing it at all? What is the point of a course tailor-made to learners to Cambridge's satisfaction that the learners themselves won't want to do?"

My learners knew that I was using them for Module 3, and overtly said that they did not want anything to do with the formative assessment that I was required to design. They said outright to put it in the paper to pass but please never give it to them, or if I devised an observation-based assessment, to never tell them about it as they didn't like the anxiety of being observed that way. I knew I would never deliver the formative assessment as written.

But, you know? Git 'r done. I put it in there and got my Merit. A merit for a great course, tailored to specific students, who would prefer that it not be tailored in quite the way Cambridge expected it to be.

Whatever. Git 'r done.

15.) In the end, it's worth it.

You'll be stressed and full of suppurating ulcers, and you'll start feeling really stabby toward the end, but you gain a lot of insight into what goes into planning a solid course, and practical knowledge of syllabus and curriculum design that would be harder to pick up as quickly or practically in any other way. One thing I can say is that I improved a great deal and that has informed my teaching. That makes all the ulcers worthwhile.

Delta Module 3: The Reading Rainbow

So, I've had a terrible few months, but would prefer not to dwell on it here (as longtime readers know, I lost my mom in December), and will get right down to business.

As the magnificent shitstorm that was my life ramped up in October and November, I was also working through my Delta Module 3 extended assignment with The Distance Delta. For those who don't know what this is,

I chose Business English as a specialty and used one of my more unusual classes as the group of learners (I didn't do this purposely - they were the only Business English group class I had at the time). In the end I got a Pass With Merit (yay!) but was extremely stressed out (boo!).

After this challenging class, I have some thoughts and words of advice. I started out with a recommended pre-course reading list (as in, what to read before the module even began so you'd have more time during the module to design and analyze your course and learners) with advice after it, but the reading list grew so long I decided to turn it into its own blog post.

So, here's the reading, stay tuned for the advice.

1.) Pick a specialism early and read up on it before you start. 

Some common specialties are:

Exam Classes
Teaching Young Learners
Business English
Teaching One-on-One
ELT management
English for Academic Purposes
Teaching Monolingual Classes
Teaching Multilingual Classes

...and more.

I can't recommend what to read in every specialism, but I can speak to Business English (my choice) and Exam Classes (my husband's choice). For Business English, before you start the module, read either or both of these:

How to Teach Business English by Evan Frendo
The York Associates Teaching Business English Handbook by Nick Brieger

The former is shorter and easier to digest for someone who has never taught BE than the latter. The latter will be meatier fodder for the experienced BE teacher. Both are worth reading as both will give you the citations you need when writing the paper. Used copies are fine, no need to get the latest edition.

As English as used for business is pretty solidly in EIL (English as an International Language) territory, you may also want to get your early reading party on with Teaching English as an International Language by Sandra McKay. I read this late in my work for this paper and wish I had read it earlier.

There are also tons of articles you can read in ELT journals - most classes will give you access to their subscriptions so unless you have one or have access to one already, these can wait until the course begins.

For exam classes, start out with  Exam Classes by Peter May - Brendan found this a bit pedantic but it's useful for anyone new to the specialism, and great for citations.

Both BE and Exam Classes fall under ESP (English for Specific Purposes), and I do recommend reading the seminal work in that area by Hutchinson and Waters. It's reasonably engaging as academic works go and is fantastic for citations.


Because you will have to do a lot of reading for this course, we're talking a few books a week. Most of them you can skim or read shallowly, but it's still a mountain of material. If you know you're going to do this and you know what your specialism. In addition, if you are not experienced in your specialism, this will give you an inkling early on regarding whether it's right for you.

2.) Module 3's written assignment is in 5 sections plus appendices. Read up on some areas covered in it before you begin.

The 5 parts of your main assignment are:

1.) An overview of your specialism (specific to the specialism but not the class)

2.) A description of your needs analysis and diagnostic tests of your class with a short class profile, including results.

3.) A description of your designed syllabus including justification for your choices

4.) Formative and summative assessment and how it will be carried out

5.) A conclusion tying everything together

All of these areas require a minimum number of works cited and all fall within strict word limit guidelines, which were designed by sadists who will burn in Hell. You can find all of that information here. 

Again, will greatly reduce your reading list down the line, giving you more time to create, administer and analyze diagnostic test and needs analysis results, devise a class and write about it. You want that time. You need that time. Take that time by getting the reading done early.

Some recommendations:

Part 1: See #1 for two specialisms, I can only say so much here

Part 2: 

Syllabus Design by David Nunan (there's a chapter on needs analysis)
Designing Language Courses by Kathleen Graves - great for needs analysis

I would not recommend reading the entirety of the final three books - pick and choose your chapters. The first book is short and easily digestible, though a bit dull (David Nunan knows his stuff but isn't, shall we say, the most engaging writer).

Part 3: 

Actually, what you might read in Part 3 is similar to Part 2 - move on from the chapters on assessing needs and read the ones on creating syllabuses.

Part 4: 

Learning About Language Assessment by Kathleen Bailey - some solid info on diagnostic testing
Testing for Language Teachers by Arthur Hughes

Part 5: 

This is a conclusion - no extra reading required or desired

Again, this isn't a comprehensive list of what you will have to read, this is a pre-course list of books you might consider. You may not have time to read all of this - I know I didn't. If I were to put together a shorter list for someone with a BE specialism, it would be:

How To Teach Business English (Frendo)
Syllabus Design (Nunan)
Testing for Language Teachers (Hughes)