Here’s how I approached my first two LSAs
(As the Distance Delta has a lot of acronyms, I’ve added a section at the bottom which explains what they are)
I was quite surprised when I found out I had passed my first LSA for the Distance Delta. I had this preconceived idea in my head that it was going to be very difficult and that I might not be up to the challenge. During the orientation course in Bangkok I was often anxious when thinking about writing an LSA. It had been years since I wrote anything for any kind of formal assessment and I hadn’t done well on more than one occasion in the past :D.
For those who don’t know an LSA (Language and Systems/Skills Assignment) consists of two parts: a Background Essay (BE) and a Lesson Plan (LP). The background essay has a word count of a 2000 to 2500 words where you write about the reason for choosing the title of your LSA (introduction), comment on your research (analysis), describe problems students might have (student problems) and then outline some possible solutions to cater to the problems mentioned (Teaching Suggestions).
LSA1 is arguably the easiest one to do as you are fresh off the orientation course and have had a trial run (the beginning of the Professional Development Assignment [PDA] on the orientation course where you write a slightly shorter background essay and lesson plan) and therefore are still “in the zone”. It also helps that the “trial run” during the orientation course is on a grammar topic which tends to be the same for LSA1. During the orientation course candidates are also provided with an example of what Cambridge consider a really good LSA and they help you analyse it in detail and see how it matches the DELTa 5a report assessment criteria (the report that CTs use to assess your LSAs).
Here are the steps I followed for my first two LSAs and the advice I would give anyone doing the Distance Delta:
Step 1: Define your scope
The first thing you want to do is think of a scope for your assignment, this is what you will be covering in your LSA. You want to narrow it down so you aren’t overwhelmed by the amount you have to write. You also want to keep it broad enough to have something to actually write about. I know this sounds easy but believe me it can be tough! The best way to do this is choose an area you find students of a certain level have difficulty with in the different contexts you have taught in. Doing this will make the LSA more relevant to your students and to you. In my case I found that higher level students I had taught had trouble with the use of hypothetical language.
Having established an area/topic try and think of a scope by narrowing the area down by specific grammar point, context etc… Once this is done you want to run it past other teachers and colleagues, hopefully ones that have done the DELTa already and then post it on the DELTa online forum so you can get feedback from your Course Tutor (CT) and other participants.
I find it useful to also keep in mind what class(es) you could potentially teach the actual lesson to. For instance you don’t want to define your scope as “Helping higher level students use hypothetical language related to the past” if you intend to experiment with a group of lower level students. Try and visualise how the whole process will unfold.
Step 2: Find the right books – Be selective!
After narrowing your scope and getting feedback from your CT you can then start to look for books and articles related to your scope. Not all books are relevant and it is easy to go off on reading tangents that aren’t directly related to your scope. Keep to the point! It is useful to stop every once in a while and think how relevant what you are reading is to your scope. I did this every once in a while and realised I had drifted off, reading something that wasn’t entirely relevant.
A very useful thing is to just flick through books. If your school has a DELTa library like mine the best way to find if a book is relevant is obviously scanning through the index and quickly skimming through sections that might be important to your scope. This is a massive time saver when time is of the essence!
If you are finding it hard to find relevant books/information ask someone. If you have colleagues who have done the DELTA ask them what bibliography they used or authors they found relevant/interesting. If you don’t have experienced colleagues or you don’t work on the same days… Use the forums! Ask your course tutor in your group or other participants, you can also ask around in other groups on the forums people are usually willing to share knowledge and experience.
Step 3: Start writing the BE
If you are like me, you will put off starting writing for a long time. For both my LSAs I always had the idea that I hadn’t read enough to be able to read anything decent. The truth is I only recalled what I had read once I started writing. I suppose it’s like our students if you’re not doing a task while reading then nothing will “stick”.
Stop procrastinating and putting it off, just start writing! Once you start you will find that things will come to you and that it is easy to go back and change stuff if you need to. It’s good to get the core idea written down and if you come across something you want to add just tweak your essay accordingly. I found that the exercise of actually writing helped me put a lot of what I needed to write in order. It helped me see things clearly and mentally organise things in a better way.
Subheadings for this should be:
- Introduction (where you explain why you chose the topic and link to research)
- Analysis (Analyse your system [use/meaning/form/pronunciation] or skill [sub-skills]
- Student problems (these have to be directly related to what you covered in your analysis and you should try and include at least one for each point [e.g. Pronunciation for systems] providing classroom examples from your lessons and potential reasons for the problem)
- Teaching solutions (solutions for the classroom linked to literature and catering categorically to the problems listed before hand)
Step 4: Lesson plan
Having completed your background essay you want to think about your lesson plan. The analogy of the cake (background essay) and the slice of the cake (lesson plan) was one that I found very useful.
For your lesson plan you want to narrow down what you’re teaching even more. This can be done by defining a certain context or use of what you are teaching for example.
Set clear aims for your lesson. If you are not able to complete everything for your draft LP try and send in the Aims, your commentary and an outline of the procedure at the very least. This commentary has a word limit of 500-750 words. This is important as it links your lesson plan to your lesson and is the only part of “extensive” writing on the lesson plan.
Remember to attach all the materials you plan to use in your lesson.
The lesson plan includes:
- Course overview
- Student profile (personal information and strengths and weaknesses related to your lesson specifically and what you’re teaching).
- Relevant links to past and future lessons
- Assumptions about learners
- Potential Problems related to lesson content (potentially not all the same as BE), equipment, learning context, materials and resources.
- List of material and brief description
- Commentary (mentioned above)
- Description of procedure
Tip: Write as much as possible for your draft
I was always told that the more you write for the draft background essay and lesson plan means the more feedback you get. This is totally true! If there are parts of the LSA you don’t submit with your draft, you won’t get direct feedback on them. It’s true that you can ask for advice on the forum later but if you send it in the draft your CT can see your exact layout and content and be able to give you more accurate feedback.
Writing as much as possible can also mean that if a lot of it is well written, well organised and the content is good, you might not have to change very much for your final draft.
Aim to hand in what you consider to be the final version of your LSA.
Step 5: Make the needed changes
When you receive your draft back make any necessary changes. If there is something you are unsure about post it on the forums and get an answer – Don’t be shy! When I was looking through my LSA feedback I would post questions on the forum as I glanced through them to try and get further clarification on what needed to be done. This is what the forum is for!
Step 6: Checklist/5a Report
During the orientation course your tutors will show you where to find the guidelines to writing your LSAs. On these guidelines there are two checklists: one for the BE and one for the LP. When you feel you have definitely finished writing go through these. Better still, if you have time go through the DELTa 5a report that you will have been told about on the OC. This is the document your CTs will use to mark your LSA so if you try and follow this you can’t go wrong!
Step 7: Teach your class
If it is your first LSA it can be quite nerve racking. In my case I kept thinking about what could go wrong “I might not have enough students” (Cambridge requires that there be at least 5 students in an LSA class) or “I’m going to forget this part of this stage”. I was quite nervous at first but got better after about 15 minutes into the class and forgot that my Local Tutor (LT) was actually there.
Before the class try and remain calm and remember how much work you have put into this lesson. It’s not going to go badly because you know exactly what you are doing. You have written a background essay on the topic and a lesson plan on it that has a commentary on how your research links to the lesson you are about to teach. You have asked questions about it and received feedback on it. If anything it will probably be an easy class to teach because of all the work you’ve put in.
However if you are like me and find it hard to calm down because you might forget to do something, bullet point the stages of your lesson. I ended up writing down queue cards for the stages of LSA2 so that I wouldn’t forget what they were and I had my ICQs and CCQs clearly written on them so I wouldn’t muddle them up if I got too nervous. There are many different techniques, in the end it comes down to whatever works for you – find your cruch!
Step 8: Reflection and Evaluation
Once you have taught your lesson you need to organise a time with your LT and then type up your reflection and evaluation. I found it helped to put a day or two between the lesson and this meeting. This gives you time to reflect and think about what happened in the classroom.
After the lesson I wrote down “hot feedback” but over the following day or two other things would pop into my head or I would change things I had written in my hot feedback because of other factors I thought of. For example if you write down that a stage of your lesson was unsuccessful in your “hot feedback” but then later on think that students successfully achieved this in the final stage it is possible it wasn’t that unsuccessful.
You should then receive your feedback and grade within a week or so.
Summary and tips:
- Bounce ideas off as many people as possible in work, at home, the forums and so on… It’s good to get a variety of opinions to get you thinking “outside the box” about different aspects of your lesson. Just verbalising what your thinking can help sometimes. However ultimately follow what your CT has to say about your draft.
- When researching stop regularly and think about the relevance to your scope
- As soon as you come off the OC get to know ALL the students you’ll be teaching as much as possible. Try to find out their strengths and weaknesses in ALL systems and ALL skills during the term. This will be useful as it keeps your options open as to which classes you can teach your LSAs to and will help you when writing student profiles. In my case I had some classes in mind but then didn’t have enough students so my options were limited. Keep your options open!
- As mentioned above use the draft facility and the forums. They can be very useful.
- It’s helpful to occasionally look at the assessment criteria on the DELTa 5a Report. This will guide you in adapting your LSA to fit what is needed if you miss something. If you don’t have time for this (the report is quite long) use the checklist in the guidelines (probably more manageable).
- Look at your feedback from previous LSAs before writing the next one.
- Know your deadlines well and manage your time around them. I was told by a colleague to get a template of the month’s calendar and write down what I would do in each week. I found this quite useful as it divides your work up (e.g. day 1 – write the introduction; day 2 and 3 – write the analysis; and so on…)
- If you’re anything like me, find a place you like to write with little distractions and have plenty of coffee around 😉
LSA – Language and systems/skills Assignment
BE – Background essay
LP – Lesson plan
CC – Course Coordinator
CT – Course Tutor
LT – Local Tutor
OC – Orientation Course
RE – Reflection and Action
PDA – Professional Development Assignment (starts on the OC)