DELTA Post-hoc: the good, the bad and the fugly

I’d originally planned to keep a daily journal here of my journey with Delta. It was motivated by a naive optimism which died as quickly as the assignments and reading tasks that piled up on my desk. The DELTA or Diploma in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages is a practical qualification offered by the University of Cambridge to experienced teachers as an intermediate level between the CELTA and a Masters. From what I hear anecdotally, it appears to be valued more by employers than a Masters specifically for its teaching component. The Delta can also contribute towards the credit requirements of a Masters programme so many who’ve done the Delta go on to do a Masters in ELT, TESOL or education. I’m not going to talk about the what and how of the Delta because Sandy Milin, on her blog, does an excellent job of providing a comprehensive analysis and suggestions for all aspects of the programme. Instead, I’d like to share my experiences with the Delta and what I found of value and what I found an utter waste of time.

A bit of context 

The Delta is a modular program with three very different modules. You are not compelled to take all three although it’s required to attain the full qualification.  One of my peers on the program who interviewed with a British university during the course was told by his prospective employers that they were only interested in proof that he’d passed Module 2. The course can be done as a distance, intensive or blended program.  Doing a distance module 2 is theoretically possible in India but not practically so because you need to find a local accredited tutor and arrange to have a Delta assessor fly down to observe your final assessed lesson.  It is possible to do Modules 1 and 3 through the Distance Delta program run by International House and the British Council. There are some other institutions that offer distance versions of these modules – I have an acquaintance from Poona who I think did Module 3 from some place in Poland. She adopted a blended approach doing 1 and 3 as distance programs and doing a six-week intensive Module 2 with International House, Dubai. I chose to do all three modules in the intensive format with a language school in Bangkok. This made sense to me for reasons related to cost, time, proximity and a culture (Thailand) that’s broadly familiar to me.

The actual program lasts eight weeks although I had a week off in the middle for Songkran – Thai New Year. This turned out to be a blessing because I needed some time off and was able to catch up on reading for upcoming assignments.  These eight weeks include teaching practice, tutorials and input specific to Module 2 as well as input sessions for Module 1 and 3. Module 1 is basically an exam and Module 3 is an extended 4500 word assignment.  The intensive Delta is generally done in the run up to the two annual submission dates to Cambridge (first Wednesday of June and December).  When I came back from Bangkok, I had about three and a half weeks to prepare for the Module 1 exam and write the extended assignment.  I chose to do the Module 1 exam at the British Council Delhi although in hindsight it might been easier just to go back to Bangkok than grapple with with the BC’s fumbling customer support, in addition to Delhi’s disgusting 47 degree heat.  I submitted my Module 3 assignment last night to my tutor in Bangkok who will upload it to Cambridge today.

1

The good 

Early in my career, I yearned to teach EFL – something I could never manage to do because I come attached to a non-native speaker tag and a third world passport.  I have also taught very little General English; it’s mostly been Business English and ESP. Module 2 gave me the opportunity to teach a multicultural group general English in an EFL setting. We taught lessons every other day and I couldn’t have asked for a more motivated bunch of students. Many of the learners were refugees from West Africa, Iran, Sri Lanka, China, and Vietnam – fleeing religious and political persecution. Others were the wives of Japanese expats as well as local students. I’ll really cherish my time with these learners. The lessons were initially observed by a tutor and three of my peers. So, you can imagine the amount of detailed feedback I received on my teaching. Gradually, the tutor withdrew and only observed assessed lessons which are called LSAs. However, save the last week, my teaching practice partner observed all my lessons.  This developmental feedback was my biggest takeaway from the Delta. The last time I received any kind of substantial feedback on my teaching was back at the Celta.

5

The proof, of course, is in the performance. After returning to Bombay, I taught two demo lessons at a local Celta batch that was running here. The difference was particularly palpable in the pre-intermediate class. I’ve never been particularly strong with lower-level learners because I have limited experience with them. But I was in my element this time around. I’ve also become far more effective at exploiting content to its fullest potential. I can now walk into a class with a text that’s no longer than 25 words and run an hour long engaging lesson around it.  I also think I am better at getting students to notice language features and addressing emerging needs.

The Delta provides some exposure to relatively unfamiliar and unexplored areas of ELT such as English as a Lingua Franca, discourse, pragmatics and phonology (although phonology has always been an area of focus for me) but this is largely a matter of individual initiative. The topic of the LSAs are left up to you and a lot of my peers chose the easy, well-worn routes of lexis, grammar and speaking that they’re comfortable with.  I think it’s far more stimulating to select an area you’re not familiar with although your reading load will increase.  I investigated vowel sound distinctions from an ELF perspective, deixis in blog posts, pragmatic aspects of spoken discourse and critical reading.  Sure, it was challenging but it compelled me to read books and authors like Jennifer Jenkins, David Crystal and Brian Paltridge, who I would have never ventured to  explore.  My knowledge of ELT terminology was fairly decent before but on account of all the reading and studying, it’s far deeper and I can use specialised lexicon to describe aspects of ELT such as testing and conversation analysis.

2

The bad 

There’s a lot of work and you only have 8 weeks (thankfully I had 9) to do it all, well less in reality since the deadlines are spread over this time so you end up with just a weekend to write your background essay and plan your assessed lesson. Writing the essay wasn’t as time consuming as doing the amount of reading required to support it. I suppose this is where the Distance Delta wins out because you get more time although the fact that you’re probably working at the same time partly cancels out this advantage.  In her post on tips for the Module 1 exam, Sandy Milin recommends not doing the Module 1 and Module 3 submission at the same time. I would disagree – I think it’s entirely possible albeit challenging to study for the exam and write the extended assignment simultaneously particularly if like me you are not working full-time.  In our group of eight, one person had already taken the exam, and of the seven others, one opted to defer both module 1 and 3 and and another decided to do only the exam in June. So, five of us ended up submitting both.

6

Tutors are given considerable flexibility in what content they choose to cover and how they decide to approach it. There is an inherent risk in this because tutors may select content based on their own preferences. For example, both my tutors seemed uncomfortable with technology and one was dismissive of edtech. As a result, we barely discussed tech trends in ELT at all – if it came up all, it was because my peers and I suggested it as a solution to a problem we might have been discussing. Other approaches such as the use of corpora and concordances were discussed peripherally as if they were accessible only to publishers – quite perplexing at a time when a range of tools make it possible for individual educators to construct and analyse their own corpus.  I’m not sure how much of this is specific to just this centre and this batch. I hadn’t seen an OHP in years and while I can see the merits of being skilled in running a tech-free classroom, it’s completely divorced from my usual teaching context which is filled with gizmos. Nonetheless, these are still superficial, manageable aspects of the course – I think what’s far more serious is how the Delta is somewhat out of step with the times. I feel that my usual cocktail of professional development of MOOCs, webinars, blogs, eltchat and Twitter is far more powerful, relevant and directly useful in my work than the sort of PD offered by the Delta.  The Professional Development Assignment (PDA) is a slightly crude form of action research – it’s really just an extended reflection exercise and the way the whole thing is set up nudges you into reporting on very banal aspects of your teaching. The experimental practice is only experimental if you decide not to play it safe. The course allows you to choose approaches such as task based learning and test-teach-test and deem these experimental. Half of my peers did TBL when our regular coursebook – Cutting Edge – had a task-based lesson in each unit – hardly experimental. My tutorial group was a little bit more unconventional in selecting suggestopedia, silent way and NLP.

3

The fugly

A lot of the input sessions resembled exam prep classes because time constraints and the volume of material that needs to be covered compel tutors to go through things rapidly in a lecture format. They tried to incorporate some discussions, tasks and activities but this was not consistent.  I found some of these sessions very disengaging. This sentiment was shared across our group and was a regular subject for a bit of a whinge over coffee. The Module 1 exam is the least practical and purposeless component of the course. The exam attempts to evaluate your ability to assess issues underlying ELT materials but I think the ability to complete some of those tasks is no indicator of a person’s skill in selecting or developing materials.  The ostensible aim is to encourage the candidate to read widely but anecdotally I hear that most people simply try to mug up Thornbury’s A to Z of ELT and regurgitate it in some form in the exam. The last comment I want to make is about the type of essays you are required to write. I believe the Delta handbook refers to it as a hybrid genre where you bring your own perspective into an academic essay. But it is not an essay at all; it’s merely a research report with a rigid structure. From the examples I see on Academia.edu and those of my peers, the Delta criteria seems to reinforce ‘let’s just check the box’ variety of writing. My perspective is limited to the examples I read but it appears as if you don’t require much insight into a topic to pass the essay and mediocre writing seems to do the job just fine.

4

My experience with the Delta is based on my own background and the specific course and centre that I attended. I know there are many out there who have found the three modules to be of value. My own experience, as you can see, has been mixed. I believe the course has less to offer to those who read extensively, regularly invest in their PD and are on top of developments in the field. I have come away with some insights but fewer implementable ideas than I’d imagined.

More information on the Delta is available at Cambridge’s site and Sandy Milin’s blog is an excellent guide to the Delta. Her exam tips were particularly useful.  A suggestion that I can’t underscore enough – work your way through the prescribed reading before you land up at Module 2. Make notes and select areas that you want to explore for your LSAs  –  it will ease up your stress levels enormously.

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9 thoughts on “DELTA Post-hoc: the good, the bad and the fugly

  1. Yes I share many of your views about the qualification here.

    I think the biggest flaw of the diploma is that it doesn’t practise what it preaches. Authentic language use? Well how authentic is an LSA as an example of a discussion of language in use?

    Respond to the needs of your learners? How many courses have you heard of that are tailored around the interests of needs of the candidates?

    Learning is non-linear? Why do you need to demonstrate progress within the 60 minutes of an observed lesson?

    Observations should be developmental? What’s that? No feedback on LSA4?

    Professional Development Assignment? I don’t have enough fingers or toes to count the number of people I know who fudged their entire data collection and discussion.

    Respond to emergent language?! Well, only if it doesn’t distract you from your prescriptive language aims, and certainly not in an assessed lesson!!!

    We should change the name to DELTAH: Diploma English Language Teaching and Hypocrisy

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    1. You’ve covered a lot of the stuff that I was too polite to include 🙂 You’re right – there is this odd duplicity in Delta criterion insisting that candidates demonstrate the ability to cater to learner needs when the course itself does nothing of the sort. The real issue is the role of qualifications in career progression in our profession. Being skilled is seen as an outcome of certificates, diplomas and masters but I’ve seen plenty of folks with specialized degrees who can barely put together a course design document let alone develop a course (and the lengths some go to avoid time in a classroom is downright admirable). But, as an alleged NNEST, suggesting to prospective employers that I have any sort of competence is challenging in the absence of these qualifications (but I’m glad we’ve started talking about these things viz. http://teflequityadvocates.com/).

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      1. Hi Adi,

        Interesting post. I’d just like to reply to a couple of things from the post itself and subsequent comments from a tutor’s perspective. It seems that you and James did not have overly positive experiences on your respective courses (though it was great to read how much you enjoyed working with the learners), which is certainly a shame, but I’d like to highlight one or two points as food for thought. I’m also not simply defending Delta, as I agree with some of the points already raised.

        1) Delta doesn’t cater to candidates’ needs but wants teachers to cater to learners’ needs

        I cannot comment on individual courses, but find this slightly odd for two reasons. The first is that Delta is teaching content (along with practical skills) and language teaching is teaching language, which in turn makes it necessarily content free (hence the success of various forms of Humanism, arguably). This means that Delta follows a syllabus, but the teaching practice does not; or, more accurately, it can follow an emergent syllabus. So, if needs arise, they can be met much more flexibly than if content is to be taught. In individual lessons, there are aims and learning outcomes, but within that there will be points that arise that the teacher needs to flexible in dealing with, and if the teacher is not and sticks rigidly to a plan, then that’s less than ideal. Moving back to Delta itself and candidates’ needs, when I timetable a course, we rarely get past week 2 before the published timetable starts to change, which is based directly on the emerging needs of the candidates (in terms of content, practical skills (gleaned from observation of TP – what’s that if not flexible?) and affective factors. Within the confines of a specified syllabus, that’s about the best we can do.

        2) The background essays do not allow for freedom of expression

        These are a very specific genre (for they are) of writing and differ from many people’s experience of academic writing (particularly those from any sort of humanities background). They are by no means perfect, but do demonstrate whether a candidate to analyse an area relevant to English language teaching (theory, research), discuss common learner problems (experience, a blend of theory and classroom-based insight) and find potential solutions to these problems (classroom-based, experience, research, insight) in order to show that a candidate has a rounded understanding of moving from theory to practice, basically. At least, that’s how I understand it.

        3) You just need to tick the boxes

        You can conclude that about any form of criterion-referenced assessment, but remember that “nuns fret not with their convent’s rooms / and hermits are contented in their cells”. There is no real solution here as, take out the criteria, and you’ll get much more subjective assessment (not that the application of criteria is not at least partly subjective, but any form of assessment is).

        4) Technology is not covered and not welcome

        This will depend on the course and the tutors, and I agree it is often a weak point with much of initial and post-initial teaching qualifications. However, I would add that I have worked in numerous centres in nine countries round the world, as both a teacher and trainer, and I have never worked anywhere with an IWB. While VLEs, edtech, apps, m-learning and so forth are clearly valuable to some, they cannot as yet be part of mainstream teacher education as there are far more teachers who do no use, cannot use or do not have access to, these recent additions to the ELT (and education in general) scene. To spend a significant amount course time with the tech, then, is still not pragmatically possible and those interested in such things (like yourself) already have a good deal of knowledge and talent using them (for the most part).

        I’d also add, simply as a point of debate, the following paragraph I read in the paper this morning:

        “By contrast, the second kind of disruption has been hailed as a mostly positive development. Everything is simply getting digitised and connected – a most natural phenomenon, if venture capitalists are to be believed – and institutions could either innovate or die. Having wired up the world, Silicon Valley assured us that the magic of technology would naturally pervade every corner of our lives. On this logic, to oppose technological innovation is tantamount to defaulting on the ideals of the Enlightenment: Larry Page and Mark Zuckerberg are simply the new Diderot and Voltaire – reborn as nerdy entrepreneurs.”

        http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/oct/25/darker-side-pay-per-laugh-innovations-silicon-valley

        5) No feedback on LSA 4

        I don’t think I’ve met a tutor yet who doesn’t think this is ridiculous. There are clearly logistical and practical issues for Cambridge here, which remain opaque to everyone. A report from LSA 4 can be requested in the event of a referral, but it’s scant consolation.

        6) The PDA is a waste of time

        This is always an interesting one and not an uncommon observation. The PDA is basically intended as an introduction to reflective practice and action research, and that’s exactly why it doesn’t suit everyone, as not everyone can do, or is interested in, those two things. What’s interesting about it from a tutor’s point of view is that you can often spot Merit and Distinction candidates (not with 100% accuracy of course) before they even teach really, as you can see depth of reflective practice from the PDA Stage 2. The fudging of data-collecting methods/evaluation/results is entirely up to individual candidates, but if you want to make the most of the PDA, is perhaps not the best idea (though if it gets you through it, by all means do it).

        My final point would be that I hope candidates know that tutors are there to try to help. I don’t do the job, with all its headaches, stresses and paperwork, for any other reason than I really enjoy working with and helping teachers. As a teacher, trainer and learner myself and cannot thank enough the institutions I have worked in, and tutors and teachers I have worked with, for all their guidance, support and help over the years. I simply want to help other people have the learning experiences I have been lucky enough to have. I find it a real shame that some candidates cannot see that about their tutors (but then, I can’t speak for all tutors or candidates, just in my own experience).

        Anyway, I hope this (incredibly long – sorry!) post has at least provided some food for thought and I wish you well in your future teaching career(s).

        Chris

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  2. I passed DELTA module 2 last summer, and from a practical perspective i.e. getting a better job, it was a total waste of time. I wouldn’t disagree that it was interesting and improves your teaching, but that’s not much consolation when you’ve spent a lot of money for something that doesn’t help you. I would advise anybody who is considering the DELTA to save their money and do a master’s degree instead.

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  3. Hi to all,

    Cambridge Delta seems to be a thrilling journey with lots of hidden treasures. I have recently completed Module 2 and I’m sublimely happy to have scored a “Pass with Distinction” grade. Delta opened up a whole new perspective to me regarding Second Language Acquisition. To start with, I read more than 20 books cover to cover throughout my course which made me more aware of some of the basic principles underlying language learning and teaching. In addition to that, I was exposed to different teaching approaches that I was unfamiliar with. The magic moment of discovering things you didn’t know is FANTASTIC!! Furthermore, It was awesome that I was given the opportunity to exlore topics of my professional interest in my LSAs offering key insights where I could. During my course, I also learnt how to write realistic, meaningful and comprehensive lesson plans helping my learners achieve their full potential. Lesson planning increased my belief that we have to cater to our learners’ linguistic and social needs being sensitive to them. With regards to the PDA – Part A, I quickly became aware of how to notice my strengths and weaknesses making a thorough action plan to improve the latter. Part A of the PDA increased my self-awareness as a teacher and helped me reflect on my teaching practices. The EP (Experimental Practice) gave me the chance to experiment with something I was utterly unaware of (“teaching rhythm to young learners through music and songs”). I endeavour to place a great emphasis on phonology ever since.

    Overall, it was an unrivalled experience that should I had the chance, I would like to repeat.

    Now I’m working on Module 3 with the aim of submitting my research paper in June 2016. Hope for the best result.

    Best regards,

    Konstantinos Kemparis

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