My Cambridge Delta Experience

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By Alex Inglis

[This article was first printed in the Winter 2016 issue of TEAL News.]

Only now, a few months after completing the Delta am I fully able to reflect on what I learned and did, and now I am beginning to implement some of the new techniques I learned. It is a huge relief it is all over, but now I would like to share my experiences with those who want to learn more about the course or those interested in taking it. The Delta is a diploma in teaching English to speakers of other languages developed by Cambridge English Language Assessment, which is a part of the University of Cambridge. I won’t give a description of the course itself as this information can be found on the Cambridge English website (www.cambridgeenglish.org), but I will briefly describe what I learned, how my teaching beliefs and practices have changed, and give some suggestions for those interested in doing the course.

I took the course over a three year period from December 2012 to this past summer. One advantage to taking the Delta is that you can complete the modules in any order you want and you can take as long as you need. I completed modules 1 and 3 straight away while I was managing a local school in Vancouver. However, to be ready for the second module, I travelled and went back into the classroom. Two years later, I enrolled on module 2.

It is here where I got the most out of the course. This is not to say I didn’t get anything out of the other two modules. Module 1 gave me the opportunity to brush up on current research, methods, and theory. I also loved the textbook analysis aspect of the module. It was fun dissecting exercises and activities to learn about the aim and theory behind them. I also fell in love with pronunciation and discovered a new found appreciation for the IPA. Module 3 gave me the opportunity to design a course, which was both challenging and interesting. One thing it did teach me was that knowing your learners and completing a thorough needs analysis is vital to any successful course plan (and any class for that matter). Both modules 1 and 3 were tough but the toughest was to come.

Everything I had heard about Module 2 was true. It was a monster, and it certainly pushed me to my limits. I went in with my eyes wide open and was well-advised before embarking on the course to see this module as a process. Module 2 really challenged my ideas about my own teaching. I thought my teaching was learner-centered and that I created a supportive learning environment in which all students thrived. I thought personality, energy, and building rapport were hallmarks to good teaching. I thought I was flexible and able to adjust my teaching and lessons to the emerging needs of my students. I thought all these things, and they were true to some degree, but they alone were not enough. The Delta has a good way of pushing you beyond your comfort zone.

A portion of the course is dedicated to a professional development reflection paper. I found this to be a very rewarding process. It allowed me to see that my biggest problem lay in my ambitious planning and the quantity of material I wanted to get into a lesson. This had a knock on effect with everything that happened in my lessons. Because I planned too much, this made timing tight, which didn’t allow the students and I to study the language or skill with the necessary precision and depth. It also meant I rushed through activities, which meant I was not working at the pace of every student, but moving with the fastest ones. To compensate, I ended up speaking too much, thus shutting down potential learner contributions and emerging language. Doing module 2 forced me to both recognize and find ways to resolve these issues.

Upon completion of the course and after taking the above areas into consideration, I have tried various techniques in my lessons. I have tried to be more inclusive by asking for broader input from different students in order to stop me from moving on after the first response. I have also engaged the class in whole discussion sequences, where different responses and answers are discussed. I have noticed a slightly slower pace in my lessons, thus making sure the whole class moves as one. I have also tried to keep my instructions and explanations more concise by scripting these beforehand. Most importantly, I have tried to relinquish some control and lessen my role to slow down and focus on the learners’ needs as they are happening in the moment. To summarize, I have attempted to allow the learning to happen instead of forcing it to happen.

Revisiting my core beliefs as a teacher from earlier stages in the course, they have not changed too much, but the way I use these to inform my teaching has. I do believe teaching should be learner-centered, engaging, and dynamic, but how I do this now has become clearer. It means slowing down, not being over-organized, balancing participation among learners, but at the same time knowing when to intervene on behalf of the students to bring out their best and to demand more from them.

Finally, and most importantly, the Delta has taught me to look closely at why I do things in class and to always have a reason for doing something. I also try new things on a more regular basis. For example, Cuisenaire Rods and drilling are underrated teaching tools, and if done appropriately can add great value to any classroom setting. I certainly feel more confident in my teaching. My advice to anyone wanting to take the Delta is to make sure it is what you want. There will be some tough times and you will have to remind yourself as to why you are doing the course. Next, read, read, and then read some more! Also, be organized. And finally, build a network of family, friends, and people you know who have completed either the Delta or an MA. They’re most important and they’ll help you get through. I know they helped me!

Biographical Information

From the Winter 2016 issue of the BC TEAL newsletter:  Alex Inglis has been working within the field of EAL since 2008 and has experience in both teaching and management. He holds a M.Sc. in Comparative and International Education from Oxford University and has taught in Vancouver, the United Kingdom, Chile, and Uganda.  He is now teaching at a language school in Vancouver.

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Original reference information:

Inglis, A. (2016, Winter). My Cambridge Delta Experience. TEAL News. Retrieved from https://www.bcteal.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/BC-TEAL-Newsletter-Winter-2016-FINAL.pdf

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