An interview with David Petrie from TEFLgeek.net

David PetrieAn expert in the field of ESL education, David has been teaching for International House Coimbra for many years and has received his DELTA, CELTA and MA in applied linguistics and TESOL.

His blog TEFLGeek is a haven for teachers who are in search for tips and updates in classroom practice, teaching skills and methodologies.

Looking for resources and information on current academic trends? Then you've definitely come to the right place!

Let's welcome David who is here to share some of his insights: 

1. You have a really great blog that covers so much useful information for ESL learners and teachers. How did it all start?

I'm a bit of a hoarder – I still have the file from my CELTA over ten years ago – and I'm one of those people who keeps absolutely everything in case it might come in handy at some point in the future. 

So the blog was at least partly to put a lot of this kind of thing in one place and to share all those lesson ideas and activities instead of letting them gather dust on a shelf. 

It's been sort of deliberately unfocused and all-inclusive, because I guess that also partly reflects my approach to ELT (English Language Teaching) – I'm interested in just about everything and I love trying out new ideas and experimenting. 

The blog lets me do that, but it also lets me get feedback and input from other people on their own experiences or their opinions on my reflections.

2. How would you describe your teaching style?

I wouldn't. I don't think any teachers' view of their teaching style would be the same as that of an external observer – maybe you should ask my students? 

I think I have two over-riding principles in my classes – that the students improve in some way from the lesson and that they have fun doing so. 

My teaching style obviously changes depending on who I'm teaching, their ages, abilities and their needs.

3. You have been writing a lot about exams and proficiency tests, what bit of advice would you give students on how to prepare for one?

Pure exam practice is not an effective way of preparing for an exam. 

If you only do exam practice, your task awareness will improve, but your language level probably will not. 

If you only have a limited amount of time in which to prepare, I would say that 80% of your time is best spent on improving your vocabulary and your language awareness – only 20% of your time should be spent doing practice papers

I know this goes against what many learners who come into exam classes want, but there is a growing body of research evidence that suggests it doesn't help improve exam performance, and in my experience it is rarely what learners need.

4. Many ESL learners who want to study abroad have been facing this question:

What would you say is the biggest challenge for students taking the TOEFL or IELTS exam, and how can they overcome it?

TOEFL and IELTS are two very, very different exams – while they might be used for the same purposes they don't actually test many of the same things, so my first bit of advice to learners would be:

1) To see which exam they need to do

2) And, given the choice, which exam they feel most comfortable with.

Once that's out of the way, I'd suggest that improving language awareness and knowledge is the key:  that is, after all what both tests set out to assess and so if you aren't spending time improving your vocabulary, reading articles on the internet, listening to podcasts or working your way through a grammar revision book – you are essentially wasting your time!

5. What are some recommended courses or programs for a student looking to expand beyond General English learning?

Often, if a student has specialist English training needs, there will be teachers and courses available to help them. 

For example, if a Doctor or nurse wants to move to an English speaking country, then they might be able to find an English for Medicine course, either online or face-to-face. 

The problem is obviously that there are a large range of possibilities out there and I don't want to recommend anything that I don't have direct experience of – I've spent my professional life working with International House schools and I believe that they offer good quality language tuition in a range of areas, but I can't really speak of anything else.

6. Are there any techniques you use to teach besides direct instruction? And how have these helped in keeping students stimulated?

I associate "direct instruction" with the more traditional transmission of knowledge model, i.e. the teacher standing at the front and the students listening and writing things down. 

This does happen sometimes in my classes, but not very often and usually more with young learners as a classroom management tool than for a pedagogical choice. 

What I try to do more would be similar to the "discovery learning" model – I want students to notice language, manipulate it and experiment with it.

Many of my classes follow an output-feedback model, where the students do something and then I can give them pointers on how to do it differently next time (or not as the case may be!) 

I asked my students the other day (a new class) how they wanted their lessons to be and they all said they wanted to think in them – students enjoy being challenged and they don't mind failure as long as they learn from it.

7. What do you hope students and teachers will take with them after reading your blog?

Something to think about.

Thanks David for taking the time to share all of this great information with our readers. We hope you will be back in the future for another interview! 

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