Mike Cattlin worked at IH Budapest Teacher Training from 2002 to 2005. His new e-book The Art of Lesson Planning is published by Matador. The book overviews a wide range of skills that underpin effective lesson planning; it offers a useful distillation of the tips and techniques Mike has acquired during more than 20 years in the business.
I sat down to ask him more about The Art of Lesson Planning – including who it was written for.
NA: When I read the reviews of The Art of Lesson Planning by people such as Scott Thornbury, Tim Bowen and Michael Carrier, it seems as though the book would benefit a wide range of teachers. Who do you believe it is most useful for – pre-service, in-service or DELTA-level teachers? Who did you have in mind when you wrote it?
MC: When I started to write it, I was thinking pre-service, as I knew how useful it could be for trainees on my own courses, and in-service, to revise much of what teachers learn on initial teacher training courses but then forget and often need for in-service observations and future developmental courses. As the process went on, I started to add more detail and I believe there is now useful pre-course revision for DELTA candidates as well. I like to think there is something there for everyone and different levels of teacher can take different things from it; it was interesting to note, however, that Tim Bowen thought pre-CELTA and Scott Thornbury thought it was more for pre-DELTA.
NA: You start the introduction by considering some images (cliches, as you call them) concerning lessons and lesson planning. For instance: a lesson is like a journey. Which images of lessons and lesson planning are most valuable to you as an experienced teacher and trainer?
MC: I always have the final destination in mind – what I want the students to do at the end of the lesson, and then gear the rest of the lesson to building up the context and providing the language, skills and strategies students will need to be able to do that task.
NA: Do you think a course such as the CELTA puts too much emphasis on lesson planning? Should more time be spent on equipping trainees with tools for reacting to and working with what comes up in the lesson? Or do you feel this is the domain of a more experienced teacher?
MC: I’ll start off with one my cliches – behind every good lesson is a good lesson plan – and this is something I think holds true for many teachers. The majority of trainees on a CELTA course either don’t have the linguistic knowledge to react appropriately on the spot, or don’t react in a fully useful way, e.g., they may provide an explanation which the students don’t understand. Part of the rationale for my book, however, was to provide trainees with a lot of depth on lesson planning ideas so that while on the course, they could devote more mental capacity to practical classroom teaching techniques, and learning how to react can be included in that. In my experience, however, reactive teaching (which is covered in the first appendix in the book) and dealing with emergent language is more for experienced teachers.
NA: In chapter 5, you offer some suggestions concerning what should go into a lesson procedure. What, for you, is the optimal balance in terms of how detailed a procedure should be? Related to this, I’d guess most teachers probably don’t write procedures in any detail, except for formally observed lessons. Are procedures redundant for teachers who use coursebooks?
MC: On the DELTA course I am running at the moment, there aren’t any coursebooks so teachers are planning with a lot of authentic or supplemented materials. Such lessons require quite detailed procedures as I have already seen several lessons let down by bad timing which has more than once been due to teachers not putting enough detail into their procedures and therefore not seeing how much there is to do in each stage. A procedure for me has to be useful for the observer to get a picture of the lesson (thank you Steve Oakes for that phrase) and for the teacher to follow easily in the lesson – it is important that the procedure can be referred to in the lesson and can be followed without a teacher having to search desperately through dense pieces of text trying to find where they are. As a rule of thumb, I usually tell trainees that a procedure should be clear enough for someone else to teach from in case of need. The coursebook question is an interesting one – if a teacher is going to follow the book as written with no adaptations made for the context or group, then the need for a procedure is perhaps minimal; one could argue in these circumstances that the need for the teacher is quite minimal as well! Coursebooks are written for any teacher working with any student / students in any part of the world and a good teacher needs to adapt it to their own teaching and learning context – procedures in this case will still have value.
NA: In chapter 12, you offer a series of useful pointers regarding, for instance, teacher talk / instructions, monitoring / feedback. One area that proves difficult for many teachers, that is arguably not fully addressed on many CELTA courses, is how to deal effectively with mixed ability classes. What are your top tips for planning for a mixed ability class?
MC: This really does depend on the level and experience of the teacher. At DELTA level, I might expect activities which are flexible depending on the individual students doing them. In-service teachers might have a bank of spare, hopefully relevant, exercises to keep everyone purposefully occupied. At CELTA-level, I like to see appropriate pairings for an activity (either strong-weak pairs where support is helpful, or strong-strong and weak-weak in activities where completion is possible at students’ own level) and also the use of early finishers for peer-support / peer-teaching.
NA: Finally, what do you miss most about working in Budapest and – dare I say – IH Budapest Teacher Training?
MC: I miss the city a lot, principally for its restaurants, bars, cinemas and other aspects of social life. I miss the people in the school a lot, particularly for wine-tasting and football, even though the majority of the people I know have now left. But regardless of the personnel, there was and still is always such a positive vibe about the place.
The Art of Lesson Planning can be purchased now from the Kindle Store on Amazon, and from the iTunes Store.
Mike has been in the English Language Teaching profession since 1994 in various capacities: as a teacher of all ages and levels of students, as a Director of Studies in Poland, Indonesia and Hungary, as the Academic and Teacher Training Co-ordinator of the International House World Organisation, as an academic consultant in Lebanon, as a materials writer and editor of face-to-face and online courses for International House, as a task-writer for the ‘Cambridge English Teacher’ website, as an inspector of language schools in Europe, Africa, North and South America and Asia, and as a Cambridge CELTA and Delta trainer and assessor in Europe, the former Soviet Union, the Middle East, South East Asia, South Africa, Latin America and Australasia.