Review of Distancedelta.com Module 1

Course outline

Three months of study covering all areas of teaching and learning tested in the new updated Delta exam. A study schedule, exam training, practice and feedback, regular contact with a tutor, three or four input topics per week or fortnight and a forum for discussion with other course participants.

Website and forum

The learning space never offered me any problems. They website always functioned, the links worked and it was easy to navigate. The forum is a great idea. As is usually the case with a forum for discussion, most people don’t contribute. However those that did provided plenty of threads that got to the heart of many of our language analysis issues. The tutors were always involved in these threads to help out and provide answers. I have to say, despite some pretty devilish grammar questions from yours truly the tutors were always able to provide an answer. I really enjoyed the forum and will miss having a place to ask my questions.

Input and learning reflections

Of extreme importance to me was the access to material and level of input from the course. Each unit consisted of 3 or 4 pdf documents dealing with all the required areas of ELT knowledge for the exam. Integrated into the pdfs were quotes sourced from material on the recommended reading lists. Each pdf had suggested and further reading list for those wishing to delve a little deeper. I was one of those, however I think reading and revising the pdfs from the Distance Delta alone would be enough to get a high mark on the exam. However I wanted to encounter the concepts covered in more than one source to help remember them, rather than re-reading the same material over and over again. The reading lists were helpful in directing me where to go for this.

There were tasks throughout the pdfs, which I didn’t always complete. I spent such a long time when reading About Language doing tasks that I was more concerned with taking notes from the pdfs. I didn’t see too much discussion of the tasks in the forums. I decided to spend more time reading from other sources rather than doing the pdf tasks. Can’t do everything.

One small qualm about the pdfs was that there were times when the hyperlinks to appendices didn’t work, so you had to scroll up and down and find your place in the text again. Slightly annoying after a while.

Other input from the course was in the form of the IH Library, which all participants had access to. There was a large search engine and downloadable links to many journal entries: ELTJ, MET, ELTP, IHJ. I got a lot of out of this and it was one of the best things about the course. Journals are a great way to augment your reading on a topic and I devoured a fair amount of the recommended journal entries.

The course coordinator put up links to videos and revision games amongst the weekly course updates. I can’t say I spent much time looking at them though.

The other major input was of course the exam practice. In each unit we were given an exam training pdf with detailed reading and tasks to prepare for the exam. This is what we all signed up for. And they didn’t disappoint. As long as you actually read them and did the tasks, you can have had no doubts about what was expected of you for each part of the exam. Each unit also provided 1 or 2 exam questions for practice. To begin with there was no pressure to do these under exam conditions. However later on this was the advice, and it is something I would heartily recommend as the course goes on.

The exam revision pack was all about extra exam practice and a revision of exam technique. That plus 2 full mock exams plus guideline answers for you to mark yourself on top of the official mock exam, which was marked by the tutor. For me, this was pretty much a perfect amount of exam practice. It fitted nicely into the final couple of weeks leading up to the exam. I did re-do some of the earlier exam practice tasks on some of the more difficult questions, but that really was just to make sure.

I learned A LOT from the course pdfs. Are they enough to pass the exam? Yes they are. If you have the time, energy and interest in reading around the subject areas – through the reading lists and the IH Libarary – you will not only feel confident about all parts of the exam but you will learn things about our profession that you had never considered before. This is certainly true in my case, with three years of experience and not a great deal of reading. Maybe these things will plunge your teaching into a state of chaos, however, I am hoping (!) that at some point they will realign in such a way that I will not be in the same mental space I was for a before the DELTA exam, but now possessing a far more critical perspective of what goes on in my classroom and at my school.

Did the exam practice and training prepare me for the exam? Absolutely. I knew what I needed to do, how much time it took and I had enough practice to train myself to be able to perform in the exam. I dedicated serious amounts of time in the revision period to doing practice tasks, mock tests and re-doing exam training tasks.

Was I demoralised by trying to analyse coursebook exercises in the exact words presented in the previous exam reports? Pretty much.

The last month of study was pure exam revision and making sure I knew how to tick the exam boxes. That’s the nature of the beast, I guess.

Did the whole course feel more like a means to an end (“getting the Delta”) rather than a learning curve that had a profound effect on my views of language and ability to do my job better? I’ll take a bit of both. I certainly feel much better prepared to deal with any language related questions that pop up in the teacher room and in the classroom. My declaritive grammar knowledge has certainly improved no end – I still am struggling to find a way of looking at grammar and ways of teaching it that satisfy me.

This feeling of knowing more mixed with a heightened sense of confusion about what is the best way to teach it sum up quite well how I feel about the English language, post module 1.

I have much greater awareness of methods and the difficulties of explaining the acquisition process in a way that everyone agrees with. Great, but again this enlightenment is set in a landscape in which there looms the overbearing influence of PPP and profit over substance. I do now feel like I know what should be good for my students, but there are many obstacles preventing me from implementing these things: counter-productive culturally engrained ideas of of the classroom and instruction in Vietnam, limits on my own knowledge of best practice (hey hey Module 2), construction of the syllabus and the school – testing, re-enrolement, keeping bums on seats, short-term learning expectations and promises, all of which have the same point of departure and arrival: profit making.

Anyway, that is a digression onto a different topic which won’t be developed here.

Syllabus and calender

I do seriously feel much more knowledgeable about all aspects covered in the course. Each unit of the course had a few focus areas and it seemed to flow together nicely. My advice: Take the reading seriously from the get go. I was a bit lacklustre in my note taking and reading during the first two units – “meh, I’ve got 3 months before the exam” – and subsequently wasn’t quite so hot on those parts of the syllabus and had to make up for that later.

Any changes I would make about the syllabus are probably just down to personal interest and preference, however I think a more detailed history of language acquisition theory in the form of a pdf would have been beneficial. There was of course reading about SLA and theories of learning, however I didn’t feel confident about them until I read some other material on the topic and made a really pretty mind map.

The course calendar was very simple. It would have been handy to have a more detailed calendar when it came to revision time, just to make it quicker to go back and find the necessary place to study from. The pdfs could be named better. ‘Unit 2_Phonology 1’ instead of ‘Unit 2_section 3’ would make finding information easier.

Exam practice feedback

Tutors provided personal feedback to each of my exam practice tasks. I never had any issues here, though a fellow participant who I actually work with wasn’t happy with the marking of his mock exam which turned out to be valid as he had it remarked with a notable increase in his score.

Any questions I had about the practice I turned in or any other questions on the forum were answered quickly and, I felt, honestly and sufficiently. Anything that wasn’t totally clear only served to make me find out for myself, which can only be a good thing.

Value for money

Running at a cool £450, this was always going to be pricey when you make Vietnamese Dong for a living and your employer doesn’t offer any assistance in the costs of your professional development. Why did I do the course? To have the confidence and skills to do well in the exam. Did I acquire those things? Yes, I did. If you can afford it and aren’t already well versed in language analysis and theories of learning, it’s worth it.

 

So

It’s done now, just waiting for the results. Whichever way they go, I won’t be changing my review – the course gives you the input and leads the way, how much of it you take on board is up to you.

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