Chocolate Teapots and Tantrums

So there it is. The last of my big ESOL “I don’t want to do that” moments has come and gone. That’s right – I have finally been persuaded into a 16-18 ESOL class, and, even more astonishing not teaching them actual ESOL but teaching them ICT and PSD.

it’s a long story how I came to do this, but a major part of it was around not reading emails properly and thinking about their implications in enough time – or, as you might prefer it, my own silly fault. It’s also a long account, which has spread over several unpublished and unpublishable blog posts, of the challenges and the barriers that I faced when planning for this particular course. To ease your brain and to keep myself in check, I shall reduce it to bullet points:

  • some minor concerns about the age group and behaviour issues – in itself not a big issue, but the prospect of dealing with a group this emotionally complex was worrying for a fairly laid back teacher, who has never really had an issue with the wearing of caps, chewing of gum, and all those things, and certainly never had to deal with major emotional moments and arguments resulting in learners having to be removed from class. I am, it must be said, a great big softy, and this sort of thing is very new to me. But this, in itself is not a problem. You learn, you try things out, and I know the theory and have some ideas around behaviour management, so it’s a fine time to put some of them into practice.
  • ICT: The exam content for the functional skills ICT is, well, very functional and not a little dull. “Open file X, copy and paste data from file X into spreadsheet Y, use this data to make a menu for your friend’s new cafe, sit in an appropriate position so that when your you fall asleep out of boredom, you don’t cause major injuries”. Don’t get me wrong: I like technology and enjoy using it as a teaching tool. But the idea of teaching IT in and of itself is really not exciting for me, it’s not fun or attractive in the same way that social media is exciting, or the subtle distinctions between the ways in which we use the present perfect are exciting, or the brilliant way in which learners learn language is exciting.  There are questions here as well about identifying levels and skills in ICT, including my own, hotch-potch, suck it and see approach to IT learning (informal and mostly self taught would be a good summary of my IT learning). This means, simply, that I don’t know, really, what the requirements are for each level, and am not intrinsically motivated to find out. I will, of course, for the sake of the learners, but it’s not going to be an exciting read.
  • PSD – possibly even less interesting than ICT, this part, frankly, is awful. It’s not at all something I would ever come to teach while knowing what it is, and I find some of the topics and content a little patronising, and definitely not, for me, engaging. I have another post about this aspect of ESOL brewing in my head, but if we leave it at that – that I simply find it hard to engage with the content. Not to mention the irony of someone like me getting learners enthused about personal action planning and being healthy…

So these, then, were the things niggling me through the summer break, like a spot just out of sight. And like a spot, I niggled and scratched at the worry, and made it worse and it became less a spot and more of a suppurating sore.

So I approached this week with something in between nerves and dread, amidst a cloud of grumpy tweets and Facebook updates and occasional (internalised) temper tantrums.

And now the first week is over, and how was it?

Photo 11-09-2013 16 23 45


In an amazing display of predictability, it was alright. Indeed, one of the two groups was, in fact, a pleasure to teach right up to the point where we all realised that the key to the laptop trolley had gone missing (for understandable and unavoidable reasons, it later transpired) and that therefore the IT session was more of a “how many fillers can you pack into a 4 hour lesson” exercise (Answer: lots). Even then the learners showed remarkable restraint in not asking to go home for at least an hour. We all admired the laptop trolley sitting in its corner like pilgrims at some sort of technological equivalent to  the Kaaba, but the technology not so much wasn’t working inasmuch as it was simply not available. It was a wonderful, very expensive chocolate teapot. Unfortunately the activities I had planned were not the kind of thing one could easily do in a more open, less directly supervised location like the college learning centre, so it was getting to know you and discussion stuff all the way. There were some activities which I might have been able to use, but which would have then needed repeating, or at least recapping extensively the following week so they could link to the next activity.

The other group was also hindered at times with technical problems, but fortunately this group largely had access to the technology, meaning they could make PinBoards to talk about themselves, type up a document as a means of assessing their word processing skills, and generally do the lesson I had planned.

Very few of my concerns raised themselves: both groups being well behaved, quite motivated, and generally interested. I’m told that IT is the exciting one which everyone loves, and mentions of Facebook pages, moderated open house on mobile phone use, and an opportunity to play with Pinterest (which was new for most of the group) bore this out. The groups were on task, and I succeeded in my main outcome for the lessons: to get them not to call me “sir”. (It was a simple case of refusing to respond unless they called me Sam, and it worked.) It also gave me a focus for some later lessons – not least a lesson on online security and privacy after one learner showed me his Facebook details without having to log in.

I’ve managed to come to a compromise on the ICT & PSD content as well – a series of projects which will generate most of the tasks they need to complete for the PSD assignments, all delivered and assessed online with minimal paper based resources, rather than leaving the two strands discrete and, let’s be honest, a bit dull. With any luck, the PSD elements will be complete by March, meaning we can focus on the exam elements of the ICT.

So. Not that bad then, and, much to the annoyance of summer holiday me, I can feel just a teensy touch of excitement and curiosity to see how this will go. PSD is still so much personal development fluff but my own internal compromise has been reached meaning I can start looking forward.

Challenges remain, of course, and these seem to be common to most teenage learners I have taught, to whit:

  1. The “sir” thing. Yuk.
  2. The tendency to treat each task as a race, focussing on product and outcome and not on the processes needed to get there.
  3. In conection with the last one: endless cries of “Finished”. I’m going to devise an activity to catch learners out on this one. Not sure what but I’m working on it.
  4. A love of competitive activities (I hate them)
  5. The relentless pace. Oddly, this wasn”t an issue for me this week, but I will need to be tighter in my planning for these groups in order to maintain focus. cf. challenge 2.
  6. Keeping the interest of the learners on the course.


As I grudgingly admitted above, it’s OK, in fact, and I’m actually looking forward to the challenge. There are things here I am familiar with, and prepared for, but there will be new experiences and challenges as the year progresses. It’s going to be a steep learning curve, but , I hope, an interesting one.

Mind you, I might change my mind in a few weeks…



  1. Hi Sam,
    An entertaining post as always. So these students of yours – are they local kids, not from families who have moved here? No ESOL involved at all I mean?
    The reason I ask is that I’m teaching some similar stuff to you this year – units in what we call core skills in Scotland – ICT, Working With Others and Problem-solving, which sound very similar to what you describe. The difference is that I’m doing them with my ESOL learners, and trying to build them into a cohesive syllabus that allows them to learn language at the same time. As the content is geared towards the achievement of non-language related outcomes, I likened it to CLIL in a post the other day –
    I’m finding it a lot of work, but I agree that if it was only about passing the units the course would be incredibly dry. For that reason I’m grateful to have the need to focus on language as well, despite the extra workload this entails.
    I’m sure you’ll manage to adapt or personalise the content of your course so it’s motivating and stimulating for your learners.

  2. These are also ESOL students doing the ICT & PSD as part of a wider programme of ESOL. It was the lack of my own personal knowledge which was my main worry I think, but I’m aiming to have electronic portfolios and as I said above run it as series of projects which will develop IT skills and also provide a structure for the PSD assignments. So, for example, to generate the assignment tasks for “working as part of a group” I am going to get them to plan a vist to the Media museum in Bradford (which has a great exhibition at the moment on the history of the web and personal computing!). I do carry my own latent prejudices against this kind of course dating back to my own secondary school experiences of doing what we called HHC (Health, Home and Community) and later PHSE – two or so hours a week of dreaming about Katy in 5D,..

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