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Introduction

Choosing this specialism


I teach a wide range of classes and age groups, using a wide range of books and other
materials but like many teachers, I have always found teaching one-to-one more challenging
and intensive than teaching a group especially at first. This could be because the one-toone teachers task is much more to respond to changes of mood and demands imposed by
the student, rather than to act as manager and controller of the classroom (Wilberg 1994:
6).
Another possible explanation is the teacher is always on. One common comment is When
else would we spend ninety minutes talking constantly to one person? (Meldrum and
Clandfield 2012).
Wilberg contradicts this idea when he says Class teaching is essentially artificial; we do not
spend much of our lives addressing and controlling groups! One-to-one is essentially
natural, the basic unit of conversation. Its essence is lack of artifice (1994: 1). If teaching
one-to-one is natural, this should surely make it easier than teaching groups? I imagine the
truth lies somewhere in between. In my opinion, neither scenario is particularly natural.
Wilberg also says that one-to-one is perhaps the oldest way people have chosen to learn a
foreign language (1994: iii). I believe this to be completely true. All these differences and
difficulties were a major factor in my choice.
The final reason for my choice of specialism is one-to-one teaching offers the teacher both
a considerable challenge and an unrivalled opportunity to accumulate observations on
individual learning processes, needs and difficulties (Wilberg 1994: i).
Researching the subject
One-to-one is often overlooked in ELT literature, and Meldrum and Clandfield even cite the
startling lack of published ELT material (2012). For example, In Harmers How to Teach
English there are just two paragraphs covering the topic. He does give a positive the
teacher is able to tailor the lesson to an individuals specific needs (2007: 12-13). A valid
point but is one-to-one just the same as teaching a group of one?

Wilberg obviously doesnt think so when he writes that much conventional teacher training is
devoted to class management issues such as organizing time, setting up group work and
developing relationships within the group. I agree when he says these skills are not directly
relevant to one-to-one teaching. It is incorrect to assume no group dynamics are involved, or
that only a single relationship is involved in classroom activities. Instead one-to-one has a
comparable and equally important set of skills (Wilberg 1994).
The teacher still needs to control time and classroom management issues and the course
notes from the International House World Organisation (IHWO) 1-2-1 course define no less
than 12 teacher roles in the one-to-one classroom including assessor, facilitator,
investigator, participant, resource and tutor (Wilden 2006). Wilberg (1994) and I support this
theory and it is obvious really, as the teacher does not only teach the student.
An advantage mentioned by Kaye is the learner can develop a real and productive
relationship with the teacher (2007). Not only this, the teacher can develop a real and
productive relationship with the learner. I find most one-to-one students value
thefriendship element of the classes, and I still have regular contact with some of my
previous one-to-one students.
One teacher neatly described the teacher role as being blurred between teacher,
psychologist and friend (Meldrum and Clandfield 2012). This sounds negative but I have
rarely found it a disadvantage, as I think these elements give you the opportunity to build
rapport and trust within the classroom. It gives the learner a need to use English and
motivates them to use English for a real reason. Even a high-flying executive will probably
need to discuss personal issues and small talk with their customers at a business lunch. I
have also found most one-to-one learners appreciate the opportunity to share their
professional knowledge with the teacher.
Implications
One-to-one is different to teaching groups because there are no tried and tested methods
that guarantee success with every student, or with every teacher (Wilberg 1994: 9). We
need to be especially flexible in one-to-one, and Kaye writes Be very flexible. You will need
to be flexible over time, lesson and course aims, and material (2007).

We should also be ready to change if we sense that things are not working out as we
planned, our learner is not in the mood, or our methods dont seem to be working. Flexibility
could also be described as doing things in class which you might not normally do to keep
the learner happy. For example, to help create a better atmosphere with a frightened
beginner, I occasionally used my bad Czech in class, which helped reassure him and
therefore lower his affective filter (Krashen & Terrel 1983).
For these reasons, as well as having only one learner to focus on, a thorough needs
analysis in one-to-one is especially important to establish needs, wants and lacks (Bowden
2006b). However, according to chatters on ELTchat.com Students dont always respond
and it was noted that they dont always know how to identify their needs. They agreed that
needs analysis has to be ongoing and that needs and wants change during the course,
sometimes in response to new approaches and materials introduced by the teacher,
sometimes through a growing student awareness of possibilities (Constantinides 2011).
This hints again at teacher flexibility.
As Wilberg (1994) states, and from experience, we can tailor the course to suit the
individuals learning style and all this without having to compromise for others in the class,
but as highlighted above it is also important to be willing to change the plan.
It is also crucial to create good rapport, in fact a comment on ELTchat.com states The
success or failure of the course can often depend on rapport (Constantinides 2011).
Finally, in my opinion, it is important to create a learner-centred learning environment
(Thornbury 2006) and to learn what you can about the student to better adapt activities to
suit their needs and interests, i.e. to create a negotiated, evolving syllabus.
Needs Analysis and Commentary
The learner
Deleted contained personal learner details.
Identifying needs
To identify Pepas needs, I designed a questionnaire (Appendix 3) which helped formulate
further questions to ask in a later interview to get more information.

The first two sections of the questionnaire were to gain some basic information, such as
name, age, job, education, needs, and wants.
The third section was to find out about previous learning and experience. This is especially
important because Pepa may be unaccustomed to communicative teaching methods due to
his age. As Nunan says, If teachers are planning to follow a non-traditional approach, they
may need to negotiate with the learners and modify the syllabus to take account of learner
perceptions about the nature of language and language learning (Nunan 1988: 18).
The final section was to find out what he most wants to improve. When discussing syllabus
design, Humanistic education is based on the belief that learners should have a say
in what they should be learning and how they should learn it, and reflects the notion that
education should be concerned with the development of autonomy in the learner (Nunan
1988: 20). This idea reinforces the need to know what and how the learner wants to study.
In my experience, a learner is more motivated if they feel they are in control of their learning.
This also encourages them to be more autonomous.
Diagnostic testing
When discussing what information to get about a students language ability, Bowden writes
Everything (2006b: 4). This implies how important a thorough diagnostic is.
To assess Pepas level, I used the placement test from IH ILC Brno (UCLES 2001), which is
suitable for all levels (Appendix 3). The test is a discrete item test including lexis, collocation
and grammar with graded, multiple choice questions from easy to difficult. When used with
a speaking and writing assessment, this test has proved to be reliable, quick and easy to
mark, objective, and students are usually placed in the correct class.
Bowden suggests getting samples of the students spoken and written language, possibly by
recording them speaking and getting them to write a piece of connected text (2006a).
The interview mentioned above in Identifying Needs also allowed me to assess Pepas
speaking and listening skills. I felt this would give me enough information to assess his
strengths, weaknesses, level and needs, without the stress of formal listening (See
transcript, Appendix 4).

I gave Pepa the option of 3 short writing tasks to ensure he would find a topic to write about
(Appendix 3). I think it is important to assess a written sample even if writing is not a course
priority to help assess his level and learn something about him.
For Pepas learner style, I used a VAK (Visual-Auditory-Kinaesthetic) test (Chislett and
Chapman 2005) I have used with one-to-one students in the past (Appendix 3). I decided to
adapt it because the language was likely to be difficult due to Pepas level. Using a
published VAK test should be more reliable than creating my own because it was written by
professionals and has been field tested. It will also have more face validity.
Results and priorities
Pepa scored 16 in the placement test making him elementary (Appendix 3). When
speaking, he makes typical Czech mistakes (Millin 2011) and has a number of fossilized
errors (Appendix 4). His speech is fluent and generally understandable but often with some
effort from the listener. His pronunciation of sounds is generally good except for and i
Taking overall account of the diagnostic results (Appendix 2), I placed Pepa as preintermediate.
He is using New English File Intermediate with another teacher. However, according to his
placement test result, this is too hard and may contribute to his listening difficulties. I was
surprised he has experience with different teaching methods, but showed no preferences.
While listening and speaking are his highest priority he also mentioned his need to be able
to use grammar and vocabulary more accurately to understand people and be understood.
According to his needs analysis questionnaire, he occasionally needs English for social
conversation, answering the phone and reading articles or journals at work, but this is
secondary to his main reason for lessons. He needs English most for communicating with
English speaking friends and family members. He also wants to use English for travelling. It
was clear from Pepas needs analysis and interview that writing is not a priority.
The VAK test (Appendix 3) showed Pepa doesnt have any particular learning style bias. He
found some of the questions difficult to answer due to their nature, which could make it
unreliable and lower its validity. He told me he remembers things best when he writes them
down, therefore showing an awareness of how he learns best. However, I am unlikely to

completely restrict myself to activity types lending themselves to certain learning styles (or
methodologies) because it may not allow Pepa to make the most of the learning process
(Young 2000).
According to the interview results and Pepas needs, the priorities are:
1)

Listening

2)

Speaking (including pronunciation, connected speech, etc)

3)

Grammar and vocabulary to aid the above

Course Proposal
As Pepa seems flexible about the content of the course and mainly wants to learn English
for communication and general English, I decided to base the course on Straightforward
Pre-Intermediate (Kerr 2005) as from the interview I believe he may have used English File,
and this is an alternative available at school. It suits his needs because it provides semiauthentic material, graded listening tasks and grammar practice on a number of general
topics (e.g. family, neighbours, and school days) which should all be useful when speaking
with his family and in other social situations. A grammar round-up and vocabulary list is
conveniently located at the end of each unit for easy reference to help promote autonomy
outside the classroom.
A structural syllabus is something Czechs are familiar with from school and my experience,
like Urs is that:
A set framework helps me to regulate and time my programme; and perhaps paradoxically,
provides a firm jumping-off point for the creation of imaginative supplementary teaching
ideas. Moreover, in my experience learners too prefer to have one; those classes which I
have tried to teach on the basis of a selection from different sources have complained of a
sense of a lack of purpose, and, interestingly, that they feel their learning is not taken
seriously. It seems the possession of a coursebook may carry some prestige (Ur 2011:
193).

Additionally, Pepa mentioned he is badly organized without a coursebook (Appendix 4).


Learning aims and objectives
The main aims of the course are to improve Pepas ability to communicate with his son-inlaws family members in a range of social situations and to be better able to communicate in
English when travelling. To do this, I intend to focus mainly on pronunciation, vocabulary,
grammar, speaking and listening.
This will also indirectly help him with speaking on the phone and in person at work.
The VAK test proved inconclusive, but considering Pepas weakness with phrases in the
placement test (test results: Appendix 2, test: Appendix 3), his lack of attention to details
and his focus on communicating the big picture (Thornbury 2006) during the interview,
(e.g. I can spoke bad, and you understand me) I believe he is a holistic learner so noticing
chunks of language could be particularly beneficial.
Even if I am wrong, Lewis implies language is holistic, and therefore any learner can benefit
from focussing on language as chunks (1993).
Lewis believes introducing chunks and encouraging learners to identify and use them is a
central part of language teaching (1993). Wilberg also notes the importance of making
students aware of language forms and training them to identify and extract language for
themselves (1994).
It could also help Pepa listen more effectively and train him to listen for phrases, rather
than words.
Content, organisation and approach
The twenty-hour course plan (Appendix 1) will form the start of an extensive course over a
year. The coursebook will be followed quite closely with irrelevant content omitted and more
relevant content extended, providing Pepa with a balance of language systems and skills,
and used as a springboard to freer speaking activities and discussion. An eclectic approach,
outlined below, will be used to draw the best from Pepa in each activity.

Discussion will provide a valuable part of the course and my plan is flexible to reflect this.
Discussion is important because the student provides the content, the input. The teacher
provides the form, the language that meets the students communicative needs (Wilberg
1994: 3). The form can be provided by directing correction at those errors impeding
communication and addressing them using both delayed and immediate correction, and by
reformulating or recasting Pepas language.
The discussions will be extensions of coursebook content and will allow me to personalize
the course by relating the topics to Pepas life.
Discussion will help build Pepas confidence when speaking and listening and give him
experience expressing opinions and talking about a range of topics in English. It will also
fulfil most (if not all) criteria for effective learning outlined in Krashens Natural Approach.
According to his hypotheses, I infer during discussion and conversation acquisition is taking
place (in its natural order), the teacher is providing input above Pepas level (i+1), the
affective filter is lowered, and Pepa may be monitoring language for accuracy (Krashen &
Terrel 1983).
Finally, discussion will help build rapport and trust in the classroom.
The Straightforward series provides some very good listening practice, but is often long and
the language is not fully exploited. I intend to adapt listening tasks to make them more
rewarding and exploit the language much more as described below.
Ridgeway states that Practice is the most important thing. The more listening the better,
and the sub skills will take care of themselves. (2000: 183). While I agree with this point
of view with younger learners or people who have had contact with English from a young
age, I have seen many cases where this is not enough. This is particularly true when we
consider that Czech is a syllable-timed language and has only 5 vowel phonemes (Millin
2011). I believe some learners simply do not know how to listen to English.
White suggests during a typical listening procedure not much time is spent listening and
not much time is spent on analyzing what went wrong (1998: 5), among other shortfalls.
Field continues a conventional listening comprehension lesson simply adds another text to

the learners experience. It does little or nothing to improve the effectiveness of their
listening or to address their shortcomings as listeners (1998: 111).
To remedy these problems, we will focus on listening strategies at sound and word level, for
connected speech, and use tapescripts to provide opportunities for Pepa to mine them for
phrases and collocations. I will use dictation and dictogloss activities to help further develop
Pepas listening skills. Integrated tasks will be employed, moving from listening to
pronunciation, drilling and role-play. By making the tasks enjoyable, I hope to make them
even more memorable to aid retention.
I will use the one-to-one environment for reading aloud activities because sooner or later
students must face and overcome the problem of misleading spellings, and distinguish their
image of a word as it is spelled, from their recollection of its sound. In reading aloud, the
challenge is confronted head on (Wilberg 1994: 133).
To build Pepas range of vocabulary, we will create a word bank with any words, phrases
and chunks of language he finds useful, interesting or difficult. Research shows it takes
from 10 to 20 repetitions to really make a word part of your vocabulary (Sheppard 2012), so
various classroom activities will be necessary to recycle vocabulary. An online version on
Quizlet (a website where you can make flashcards) will allow him to test himself at home or
at work.
Institutional requirements and constraints
We must consider room and teacher availability. Depending on the time of lessons the
school may be quite busy. Pepa has requested me as his teacher, so the lessons must fit
into my timetable. He would prefer lessons in the morning so there should not be a problem
with my timetable or classrooms at school.
The choice of coursebook is limited to what is available at my school.

Assessment

Monitoring progress
Formative assessment will take place during each class, and each activity, including routine
checking of homework and class work tasks. Allan says As language teachers we assess
all the time. We do it unconsciously in every class we teach (2000: 4).
This informal assessment could be described as observation. Hedge says observationdriven assessment has the potential to provide the level of detail that the teacher, learner, or
parent can use as a basis for constructive action (2000: 389) such as providing extra
support for difficult listening activities.
Listening is a main aim and a Post Listening Reflection form (Appendix 5) influenced by
Harris and McCann (1994) will form a self-assessment aspect after each listening to help
inform Pepa and me of his strengths and weaknesses and help me decide what learner
strategies to include or what remedial action can be taken to help Pepa listen better. Extra
listening activities planned in my syllabus may be omitted if he finds a listening easy.
Unit tests from the Straightforward Teachers CD (Appendix 6) will be a useful resource to
assess Pepas grasp of the grammar, vocabulary and functional language taught in the
previous unit. The unit tests will be done as homework, and there will be no pass grade to
minimize any negative impact of testing and maximize class time for communicative tasks.
If test scores are low, the plan can be modified to include extra support where Pepa requires
more practice.
Writing is not an aim on the course and will only be used for Pepa to practise the
grammatical areas and chunks taught on the course. It will not be formally assessed.
Assessing outcomes
Summative assessment will take place at the end of each unit using a communication
testusing one of the teachers book tasks (Appendix 7) and assessing it using a marking
system incorporating Hedges ideas on assessing speaking tasks (2000) with those used in
the Cambridge PET (2008) and FCE (2008) exams (Appendix 8).

Secondly, a self-assessment checklist will be used to assess Pepas feelings about the unit
we have covered. I modified the checklist on the teachers CD for this (Appendix 9).
Principles
Ur defines a test as an activity whose main purpose is to convey (usually to the tester) how
well the testee knows or can do something. This is in contrast to practice, whose main
purpose is sheer learning (2011: 33) whereas assessment is the more inclusive term: it
refers to the general process of monitoring or keeping track of the learners progress
(Hedge 2000: 376). For this reason I have tried to use the word test sparingly.
Hedge says good tests provide the opportunity for learners to show how much they know
as an indicator of their ability (2000: 378). I feel a good test is one Pepa will believe in,
giving it face validity. Czechs are used to discrete item tests and the unit test includes
sections on grammar and vocabulary which were identified as course priorities, and
functional language, which is also very useful to improve communication and therefore
directly related to my course aims. This should ensure the tests have face and content
validity because they cover the same material covered in the unit. By using the published
tests from Straightforward I also hope to ensure reliability.
Speaking assessment will be a criterion-referenced communication test with each criterion
scored on a 1-5 scale. For these tests, I decided to use information gap type activities
based on an example from Harris and McCann (1994: 43). The assessment provides an
integrative test of listening and speaking similar to what Pepa is seeking to improve, giving it
construct validity (Appendix 8).
I included self-assessment features on the course because self assessment can be a much
more direct and efficient way of getting information than teacher assessment (Harris and
McCann 1994: 63). However, it must be used with other methods to be considered effective
(Hughes 2003).
Evaluation
Evaluation differs from assessment because it is concerned with evaluating the
effectiveness of the overall course or programme, rather than the progress of the individual
learners on it (Thornbury 2006: 18).

To evaluate the course, it is important to obtain feedback from our learners. The school
does this formally using a mid-year and end-of-year feedback form (Appendix 10) where
Pepa can make any notes about things he (dis)likes without needing to discuss it openly
with me. This will be used in the twenty-hour course.
Sharp (1990:135) gives a number of reasons why this may be unreliable. In my opinion, the
most important in a one-to-one context are:
1.

The effect that asking students for their opinions may have on the
relationship between teacher and student

2.

Students may not give an honest reply to questions

3.

Students may even feel that adverse comments may have some future
negative effect on their grades

I feel a more reliable way is to ask Pepa informally how he feels about different aspects of
the course. After building a rapport, he should feel more comfortable giving me honest
answers.
Another method is to self-evaluate the lessons and material retrospectively to measure
whether it is suitable for future use, although arguably no less subjective or unreliable than
student feedback.
The criteria below, listed in order of importance (for this course), can help do this:
1.

The learner enjoyed the lesson, was motivated.

2.

The student seemed to be learning the material well.

3.

The student was attentive all the time.

4.

The learner was engaging with the foreign language throughout.

5.

The language was used communicatively throughout.

6.

The learner was active all the time.

7.

The lesson went according to plan. (Ur 2011: 219)

An alternative way to evaluate a one-to-one course is to invite a third party to observe a


lesson. In my opinion, this may be the only way to receive a truly unbiased view of a one-toone course.

Inviting a third party has obvious constraints. DoSs are busy and peers usually prefer to
observe groups, so at best we can expect one observation to evaluate the course.

Conclusion
The main principles discussed in one-to-one teaching in part one were rapport,
flexibility,tailoring the course to the students needs and learner-centredness. I feel my
course proposal manages to encompass all of these principles.
The large amount of discussion and conversation planned into the syllabus, and extending
activities for speaking will give plenty of opportunities to build rapport, trust and friendship
during the course. This was discussed at length in part one and is so vital in one-to-one.
This will help lower Pepas affective filter and allow him to learn to the best of his potential.
By implementing a self-evaluation Post Listening Form after listening activities, having a
range of post listening activities available to help Pepa develop his listening skills, and
allowing flexible time for activities shows how I have included flexibility into the course. The
flexible nature of my syllabus further demonstrates this. It also shows how I have tried to
tailor the course to Pepas needs.
All of the above features contribute to the learner-centredness which is such an important
part of one-to-one teaching. The willingness to further tailor the course according to Pepas
performance in unit tests in class and creating a word bank of vocabulary which he
considers important to learn are further examples of this.
Benefits
With the focus on communication and listening as well as extending Pepas vocabulary
(including collocations and phrases) and grammatical accuracy I expect Pepa will become
better able to communicate orally both more accurately and fluently with his family and
friends. I also expect him to become more confident and therefore better able to survive in
any situations where he is likely to need English, for example when travelling.

Limitations
The proposal is limited by the fact that Pepa only wants one lesson with me per week, and
he is only willing to spend about twenty minutes per week on homework.
Another limitation is that the content is largely dictated by the coursebook, although I feel
the benefits of the coursebook outweigh this limitation as previously discussed in part three.
Due to the nature of my syllabus, which I am willing to adapt as the course progresses to
better cater for Pepas emerging needs, I hope any other limitations which arise can be
addressed.
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