Out of the Dip, Part 1: Unit 4

To round off the series of reflections on the Trinity Diploma course, I am going to take a look at each of the four units individually. Having reviewed my online preparation course with OxfordTEFL and reflected on my personal experience of the face-to-face component, these posts will form (hopefully) brief overviews of what I felt the strengths of each part were, advice for those who are taking/will take them in the future, and a suggestion or two for how Trinity might make improvements.

Naturally, I will kick things off with the final unit - Unit 4: Teaching Practice.

What it entails
  • Three weeks in a teaching centre during which you teach five one-hour assessed lessons, plus a mock observed lesson, and a 'get to know you' lesson.
  • Many late nights planning in minute detail.
  • Stress, frustration, moments when it almost gets to you, moments when you get the rush of it all seemingly clicking, relief when it's over.

  • The pressure - it may sound bizarre but I felt this was a good thing. Experienced teachers have to cope with all kinds of pressure. While the lessons may not be ideal, we still do our best under the circumstances. It is stressful but a Dip candidate should be able to cope. It is a Level 7 MA equivalent qualification after all.
  • Pre-lesson interviews - a good chance to back up your lesson plan and explain anything that did not seem clear to the assessor. Also, a good chance pre-lesson to articulate your ideas (I had a couple of revelations pop up as I talked through things and was able to insert them into the lesson) and talk about problems you have anticipated and how you intend to deal with them should they arise.
  • Post-lesson interviews - the assessor does not just walk off leaving you hanging. You get time to collect your thoughts, make notes, and (crucially in my opinion) discuss those aspects of the lesson that didn't an out as you expected and why that might be. It's also a good chance to highlight the things that went well ("Don't hold back," as one tutor told me. "Tell me what a great idea that was!")
  • Timing - three weeks passes in a flash and it's all done. Those are a hectic three weeks but it's over before you know it, you survive, and life goes back to normal.
I already touched on some of these points in the last post, but here they are again:
  • Know the assessment criteria well - familiarise yourself with them long before you do the Teaching Practice, reflect on your regular lessons in terms of the framework (what would I say to the assessor post-lesson? How would I rate myself in each component? How could I do better next time?)
  • Focus solely on the task at hand - I went to my face-to-face course with grand ideas of working on my Unit 2 projects at the same time, particularly the observation instrument. Bad idea. That made an already busy and stressful period worse and I eventually abandoned my research and had to start all over again when I went back to my regular job.
  • Don't pull out any of your "lessons that always work" - you will get more credit for responding to the immediate needs of your temporary class than trying to make a couple of tweaks to a ready-made lesson...
  • ...but also don't stress about coming up with something mind-blowingly original. The simplest ideas usually work best.
  • KISS (Keep it simple and straightforward) - beware of planning too much. The detailed lesson plan pro-forma easily leads to the trap of planning a multitude of stages and tasks. My first plan had nine stages planned for sixty minutes and it sucked. My best lesson had only a brief introduction and then four main stages and, while not perfect, it was much better.
The romance of the Dip! Image from pixabay.com

Suggested Improvements
Who am I to tell Trinity what to do? Well, even if these ideas are unlikely to ever come about, I think they would make the face-to-face component a more realistic assessment of our teaching.
  • More variety of assessed classes - teaching adults formed maybe 5% of my teaching time in the couple of years before the Dip. I was able to relate my teaching experiences with kids and teens in the exam essay questions, Unit 2 research, and the phonology interview. It would have been nice to get to teach them while being assessed as well.
  • Unseen observation - another way to ensure some familiarity would be to do a post-lesson interview without the observer having been in class. This could be done on-site or online and wold involve a chance for the teacher to speak candidly about how their lesson went without the stress of observation. Of course, this should be weighted to have less of an impact on the overall score than regular observations but it would be good for long-term teacher development by encouraging post-lesson refection.
  • Teaching journal - expanding on the above idea, have the candidate keep a reflective journal of their own lessons over a period of time. This could be done as a project with a fixed number of lessons and criteria for assessing the quality and impact of the reflections, perhaps backed up with an interview after the assessor has reviewed the journal.
  • Teach every day over three weeks - yes, I know I have already mentioned the stress and the workload of the face-to-face course so why suggest more contact hours? Well, precisely because of more contact hours! More time to get to know the students, more time for them to get used to you, more time to establish routines of work, and more lessons in which the pressure of being observed is non-existent.
  • One random observation - there are five assessed lessons so if you teach every day, why not have one of them randomly observed? It happens all the time in the world of work with managers and HoDs doing drop-in observations. If that were reflected in the course, it would give a more accurate impression of what the teacher is like.
  • Ready, steady, teach! - this is pushing the limits a bit more but how familiar is the following situation? You turn up to work expecting to have a couple of hours to plan only to be told someone is sick and you are the only one who can cover their class which starts in 15 minutes! You get some information about the level and number of students, some books and/or a worksheet, a few notes about what was covered last time and off you go. This would give a great impression of the ability of the teacher to adapt and improvise. Simulate this situation and send them into a random class. They would know it was coming, they just wouldn't know when!
Have you completed the Dip? What advice would you add? What do you think of the suggestions and what else would you add? Leave a comment and share your thoughts. :)


  1. Couldn't agree more with the importance of knowing the criteria for both the observed lessons and teaching journal and I would also suggest remembering to take the lead in the post-lesson discussions.
    You're right as well that it would be incredibly beneficial to spend more time with the group(s) you're being assessed with, though I imagine this depends more on the centre running the face-to-face module than on Trinity. I don't know whether things have changed now, but when my colleague and I did our Diploma, we could be assessed with any age groups, though as I mentioned before, we were being assessed in our own school so this was an option.

    1. Right you are about taking the lead in the discussions Teresa. In my externally assessed one, I went through the assessment criteria as I made my notes. The 'discussion' was then all me. At the end my examiner simply said "you've already answered everything I was planning to ask you." Still not sure if that was a good thing or not! ;)

      Once again, I forgot the teaching journal. Mine was very rushed and done mainly as an afterthought I'm afraid... If I could do it again, I would take more time (from where I don't know!) to do it properly.

  2. I really like these suggestions. I have wondered about doing the DipTESOL to compare it the Distance Delta, but it's quite a lot of money to get another qualification at the same level and with the same status. In many ways, I feel like the Dip is the more practical course, especially for somebody who wants to move towards management.
    Thanks for writing these posts Dave.

    1. Yes, there would be little point to taking both beyond a different perspective for self-directed professional development!

      The main difference seems to be the phonology unit in the Dip vs. the experimental practice in the DELTA. Thatw as an aspect of the DELTA that put me off. Over the course of 15 years, I had done PPP, TBL, dogme, the lexical approach and many more... I didn't fancy trying out the silent way or suggestopedia!


Post a Comment

Thanks for commenting! Your comment will appear after Dave has approved it. :-)