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Concourse 2

Delta Module Two: the really critical criteria

judge

Delta tutors and many others will tell you, understandably and rightly, that all the criteria for Language Skills or Systems Assignments are equally important.
In a sense that's true because failure to fulfil too many of them adequately or at all will lead to a fail overall.
However, careful examination of the reports issues by Cambridge concerning Module Two reveals a pattern you should not ignore.
Some criteria are more frequently and more routinely seen to be a reason for failing an assessment than others.
What follows is based on those data and is drawn from External Assessors' reports.


writing

The Background Essay

There are 15 criteria under which a Background Essay is assessed.  Of those, 6 are seen not to have been met in failing essays in over 50% of cases.  The final four of the following criteria are not met in nearly 40% of cases of failed Background Essays.
These six criteria are:

Criterion 2b:
This criterion demands that candidates show they are defining the scope of the area they will analyse with reference to e.g. learners, teaching approach, method, learning context, learner needs or text type
The trick here is to write the introduction very carefully, drawing on your research and your experience, and making it quite clear what the scope of your essay really is and why.
It is not enough to say what you will include and what you will exclude.  You must do that with reference to types of learners and their needs, teaching approaches, contexts and so on.  Don't state; explain.
Criteria 2d and 2e:
2d requires you to show that you are making all parts of the essay relevant to the topic and coherent.
2e requires you show you are following through in later parts of the essay on key issues identified in earlier parts.
There are two parts to achieving these criteria:
  1. relevance:
    As you write each part of the essay pause occasionally and ask yourself:
        Am I writing about something that I have excluded from the discussion in the introduction or title of the essay?
        Am I giving an example which is relevant to any level not the one I have limited myself to considering?
        If I am writing about speaking, am I giving an example typical of written language or vice versa?
        Am I writing something so vague and generalised that it could apply to almost any skill or system and any type of learner?

    If the answer to any of these questions is Yes, it's time to stop and do some serious re-writing.
  2. cohesion:
    As you write each part of the essay pause occasionally and ask yourself:
        Is what I am saying here related to anything else in the essay?
        Does the problem I am describing for learning and teaching relate to something I have previously analysed?
        Is this teaching suggestion directly and explicitly related to a problem for learning and teaching that I have identified previously.
        Does this example actually concern the point I'm making?
        Does what I am writing here relate to the subheading I have used?

    If the answer to any of these questions is No, it's time to stop and start re-writing.
Criterion 3b:
This criterion requires you to show that you can show awareness of a range of learning and teaching problems occurring in a range of learning contexts
To do that, make sure you have included a range.  The Background Essay is not the place to discuss individual learners or the class you are proposing to teach (that's for the plan).  You need, therefore to discuss a range of contexts such as multi-vs. mono-lingual groups, levels of learners, learner needs, teaching in and outside an English-speaking environment and so on.  This is where you can show the breadth of your experience and, crucially, that you can apply it.
Notice, too, that the criterion specifically requires you to consider teaching as well as learning problems so make sure you do that.
Criterion 4a:
This states that you have to demonstrate that you can outline and show familiarity with relevant key procedures, techniques, resources and/or materials
That means you have to describe the procedure, resource or materials sufficiently well for you to be clear (and without demanding the reader goes to the appendices because that is cheating on the word count).
Then you need to convince the reader that you have actually used what you have described and can say how, why and for what purposes (and relate these back to the issues you have identified).
Criterion 4c:
This states that you can demonstrate how the procedures, techniques, resources and/or materials address points raised under 'Analysis and issues'
As you saw above, under maintaining cohesion and relevance, this is a matter of explicitly stating what issue your procedures or materials target and how and why they help.  Do not force the reader to make the connections for you.

As you have probably noticed, 2d, 2e and 4c are closely related criteria because they all address coherence and follow through.  That's important because a lack of coherence will mean the essay will fail.

Criterion 1a, ensuring that the essay is written in language which is clear, accurate, easy to follow and is cohesive and clearly ordered has not been the focus here but you should be aware that essays which do not fulfil this criterion almost always fail.
Proofread carefully.

For more, go back to the Delta index and follow the other guides concerning the Background Essay.  They contain specific examples.


plan

The Plan

By the end of a Delta course, most people are able to produce a proper plan which meets most of the criteria.  For the nuts and bolts of that, refer to the guide.
A few criteria are still problematic, however and these are:

Criteria 5f and 5g:
5f refers to whether the plan anticipates and explains potential problems in relation to the lesson’s aims and learning outcomes, the learners and the learning context, and the equipment, materials and resources to be used
5g refers to whether the plan suggests appropriate solutions to the problems outlined in 5f
When either criterion is not met, the reason is usually that the problems are unrealistic, do not cover issues other than equipment or the language and the solutions are unrealistic or too generalised.
It is, for example, not enough to state that "some learners may have trouble with the target lexis" unless you say which items and what sort of trouble they may encounter.
It is also inadequate to state, e.g., "I will explain with more examples" unless you say what the examples are and how they will help to clarify the issue.
Criterion 5h:
requires that the plan adequately describes suitably sequenced procedures and activities appropriate to achieving the stated overall aims and stage aims.
If it doesn't, there's a problem.
The single trick to meeting this criterion is to look at the procedure you have written and ask, for each stage of the lesson:
    How does this phase follow on from the last?
    How does this phase prepare for the next?
    Which of my target aims and objectives does this stage address?

If you don't have good answers, it's time for a bit of redesigning.  Never include stages which do not target aims.
Criterion 5k: The Commentary
The Commentary should provide: a clear rationale for the lesson plan with reference to learner characteristics and needs and the candidate’s reading and research in the background essay.
When this criterion is not met there are usually some of the following faults:
    No reference is made to the background essay or research.
    You have justified some individual activities but made no mention of the overall approach.
    You have not referred to the learners' characteristics and/or needs.
    You have simple simply described the procedures for the lesson with no justification or discussion.
If you avoid these things, the criterion will be met.

teacher

Teaching

There are 17 criteria in this section but four of them are particularly important in terms of a lesson's perceived success or failure.  You have to get these right.

Criterion 7d:
This states that you must: give accurate and appropriate information about language form, meaning/use and pronunciation and/or language skills/subskills
The most common reason for this criterion not being met is that you have not provided accurate information (including what is on handouts etc.) or provided too little information, too late.
If your handouts, prepared slides and so on contain lots of typographical errors (or simply errors in language), you will not meet this criterion and you will almost certainly not pass.
If what you tell students, whether off the cuff or as in your plan, something which is not true or misleading, you will not meet this criterion.
You need to consider what your learners need to know about the language or skill you have targeted.  Too little information about, say, meaning and use or pronunciation, will mean they are unable to handle the language communicatively and too little information about form means they will be unable to produce it accurately.
In skills lessons, particularly, the criterion is not met unless you have explicitly focused the learners on what they are learning to do and how they are doing it.
Too much information, a rarer problem, usually means you have gone into lecture mode and are telling people about language rather than helping them acquire it.
Criterion 7e:
This states that you must: notice and judiciously exploit learners’ language output to further language and skills/subskills development.
Mostly, this means listening carefully and incorporating what your learners produce into the lesson.  Don't simply correct, lead and investigate in company with your learners.
If you do not engage with what the learners produce or do in the lesson, you will not pass.
Criteria 8a and 8b:
These are closely connected and failure to meet one usually means failure to meet both adequately.
They state that you need to demonstrate that you can:
a) use procedures, techniques and activities to support and consolidate learning and to achieve language and/or skill aims and
b) exploit materials and resources to support learning and achieve aims
If these two criteria are marked as not met the lesson will almost certainly fail.
Mostly, this is a planning issue, not one of classroom management.
You need to check very carefully at the planning stage that all your procedures, techniques and activities contribute to achieving the aims and learning objectives you have set for yourself and the learners.
Include nothing which is not relevant to achieving the aims and objectives (however engaging and entertaining it is).
Make sure that all your aims are met by activities and procedures in the lesson.  That's a check-list procedure matching the aims to the phases of the lesson.
In terms of exploitation, make sure that you are thorough in taking and giving feedback on the procedures and activities you are using to achieve the aims and objectives.  Again, this is a planning issue.
Look at the plan and see if you have included a way of getting / giving feedback and have allowed sufficient time for it.  You need, in the lesson, to make sure you work with the feedback from your learners to extend and develop their understanding (and that affects 7e, above, too).
Plan how you will do this and you won't be accused of not supplying sufficient feedback, getting adequate feedback or failing to notice what your learners are saying, writing and doing.

reflect

Reflection and Evaluation

While it is rare that failing to meet the criteria in this section leads automatically to a failing lesson, a good Reflection and Evaluation may rescue a borderline failing performance and may also convert a Pass into a Merit or a Merit into a Distinction.
You only have one chance to impress the External Assessor with your ability to reflect on and evaluate what happened in the lesson, and this is it.  Use it.  There is a full guide to writing this document.
There are three criteria here:

Criterion 10a:
This requires candidates to reflect on and evaluate their own planning, teaching and the learners’ progress as evidenced in this lesson
It is rarely not met.  It is often partially met, however, by people who don't read it carefully.  You need to address all three parts: planning, teaching and learners' progress.
Make sure you do that.
Criterion 10b:
You need to show that you can identify key strengths and weaknesses in planning and execution
And that means prioritising the strengths and weaknesses in terms of how they affected the learning that happened, either positively or negatively.
If, for example, you misspelled a word on the board and corrected it quickly, that is a weakness to be sure but not a key weakness because it is unlikely that it had any effect on the learning that happened.
If, on the other hand, your timing was so poor that you never got to the free practice stage, that is a key weakness because the learners were unable to demonstrate to you or themselves that they had acquired the lesson's targets.
Criterion 10c:
Here, you need to explain how they will (would) consolidate/follow on from the learning achieved in the lesson.
This is not to do with you, it's about the learners.
Make sure your ideas are explicit, relevant and explained.
It is not enough to say, "I will continue to focus on this area."
You need to say how, with what materials and procedures and why.
You are building on what has been achieved, not simply supplying more of the same.

It bears repeating that this short guide is focused on the most frequent reasons for lack of success in the External Assessment.  There is no implication that the other criteria are not important, simply that these are critical.

If you have not already done so, you should now follow the guides in the Delta index to meeting all the teaching criteria and getting a Distinction for an assignment.