Anarchic Lesson Planning (Part I)

Is the CELTA too Prescriptive?

One of the most common complaints I receive from CELTA candidates is that the course is too prescriptive. Like most complaints on the course (and most complaints in life too, for that matter), the main function of these is, most often, to give excuses for one’s own shortcomings.


Exceptional Practice

These complaints often come from candidates with many years of experience who are convinced that if they were allowed to teach as they had before coming onto the course—disregarding frameworks, fixed lesson aims, task staging and the like—we would immediately see just what excellent teachers they really are. More often than not, these are teachers who had been mediocre at best before coming onto the course, but who took their students’ (relative) satisfaction with their lessons for signs that they were, indeed, excellent teachers.


But what about those teachers who really were excellent before coming onto the course? Certainly there are some—after all, not all of these complaints about excessive prescriptiveness could be groundless. Could it be that not following the set guidelines we like to give candidates on the course—or, as I like to call it, teaching anarchically—can be an effective method?


I Never Got the CELTA

I received my first training as a teacher fifteen years after I’d started teaching, when I went for my DELTA. When talking about my career, I often tell my candidates that for the first five years or so, I was a pretty bad teacher, although, at the time, I was convinced that I was doing a smashing good job (see above). To be clear, my students were happy with my lessons, and my bosses were happy with my lessons (though considerably less so with my record keeping). So was I really doing a bad job?


The short answer is, no—which is why I was convinced I was an excellent teacher. I had charisma, I was friendly, I sincerely wanted to help my students, and my linguistic knowledge was quite good. But the real question isn’t how good a teacher I was, but how much better a teacher I would have been had I had some proper training. In particular, it is quite likely that the use of accepted lesson frameworks in my planning process would have transformed my teaching from good into great.


From Lesson Frameworks to Bruce Lee

Lesson frameworks are basically patterns that we use to structure our lessons, and a large part of the CELTA course is devoted to helping candidates master them. The most common ones used today are:

  • Test-teach-test

  • Text-based (also called language from a text)

  • Language skills (receptive and productive)

  • Situational

So is it possible to teach an effective, or even masterful lesson without following any one of these frameworks?


To answer that question, let’s look at a master from another domain, Bruce Lee. By the end of his career, Bruce Lee’s style was entirely unique, because he had picked up bits and pieces from a number of different martial arts techniques, and was mixing and matching them to amazing effect. Shouldn't it be possible, therefore, for teachers to use a similar approach—sometimes called the eclectic approach—to become master teachers (besides which I’ve always wanted to imagine myself as a kind of classroom-bound Bruce Lee)?


But as they say, in order to throw away the rule book, you first have to have read the rule book. So in our next post, we’ll be looking at the frameworks we’ve just mentioned in more detail.


See you next time!


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