Over the last couple of months we have extended our Teacher Support Programme to L’Hospitalet de Llobregat and so far we have held two seminars there. The first seminar was Strategies for Teaching and Assesing Writing at B2 level and that was followed soon afterward by A Topic-based Approch for Young Learners Movers and Flyers. Both seminars were very well received and we are very happy to now be operating in L’Hospitalet de Llobregat.
In this month’s blog, we have interviewed Sarah Johnston who presented our first seminar in L’Hospitalet de Llobregat last month.
Sarah started her teaching career in Barcelona in 1985. She completed her CAP (Certificat d’Aptitud Pedagògica) and then went on to do her RSA (now DELTA). She is the DOS at Big Ben Idiomes Barcelona where she has been working since 1987. Sarah is a Speaking Examiner Team Leader for CPE, CAE, FCE, BEC, PET, KET and YLE and has worked with Cambridge Exams for almost 25 years. She has also recently become a WE (writing examiner). She has been teaching exam classes for many many years to students of all ages and has prepared students for all the Cambridge English exams.
- What do you most enjoy about teaching and teacher training?
Well I enjoy different things about both. With the classes I teach I love to connect with people who are learning for all sorts of different reasons. I love working with people of varied backgrounds, ages and levels. It’s great to really be able to see them progressing and particularly with the young ones, you can see their little faces lighting up when the penny drops and they finally understand something. As far as teacher training goes, I really enjoy being able to contribute to teachers’ development. When you come out of an initial training course, there is still so much to learn – it can be a bit of a shock! When I was first teaching (many moons ago!) you were very much thrown in the deep end with very little about in the way of workshops or seminars and what there was wasn’t particularly relevant to the EFL classroom. These days there is much more on offer and I enjoy being a part of it and passing on some of the tricks and tools that I’ve picked up along the way.
- How do you think the Cambridge exams help to motivate students?
I think preparing for the exams helps them to become more mature and responsible learners. With young people it also helps them to focus on their dreams and ambitions for the future and opens their minds to all sorts of possibilities. There’s plenty of variety as the exam covers all four skills and as well as learning the language they are honing techniques and tools that they will be able to use for the rest of their lives. The exams serve to mark important milestones in the learning journey. I was reminded this the other day in the waiting room at the physiotherapist where a lovely lady in her 60s, having realised that I was an English speaker, asked if she could speak with me in English to get some practice in – she told me proudly that she’d done the FCE in her 30’s and it was obviously an important goal that she’d achieved which had given her the confidence to speak English.
- What do you think teachers find challenging about teaching and assessing writing?
It’s tricky to know what to expect of students at different levels and what language they will need to help them progress. Teachers have got to be taking into account the communicative message that is being conveyed in spite of errors in grammar or vocabulary. It’s also challenging to make writing lessons engaging and to motivate students to actually get down and do it! Changing teachers’ perceptions can also be important… they often view writing lessons as boring or time consuming – but it doesn’t have to be!
- Tell us about your favourite activity for teaching writing in the classroom.
My favourites are often the students’ favourites! Jigsaw activities work well, where students have to put together two writing texts which have been cut up and mixed together… they need to look for clues to the genre – is it a letter of apology, a narrative, a review etc.? Games where students have to match phrases to functions (like suggesting, greeting, inviting and so on) are very popular – the element of competition is always a motivator!