I’m extremely happy to introduce Gisele Cruz in my blog, an EFL teacher who works in a private bilingual school (Arabic-Portuguese) in São Paulo. She works with students from the age range of 5 to 11, and with classes that varies from 20 to 30 students when in school. This is the first time, I have collaborated in writing a blogpost with another teacher for my blog and I have to say that the process has been really enlightening.
As I have always thought that connecting to teachers is really an important part of my PD, connecting to Gisele added another level to it. I met Gisele through the Active Learning Inner Circle on Facebook. Check it out if you are a Young Learner teacher. Claire Venables and James Taylor are doing a wonderful work there.
After connecting our accounts and having a long chat on FB messenger, I invited her to write a blogpost with me. I was delighted when she said “YES”. It is really nice to share this moment with other teachers. It makes me feel I’m not alone. Our chat over messenger, covered some topics, including managing learning using only Whatsapp and Zoom. Our aim, as teachers, no matter what context we are working in, is to keep learners improving their linguistic knowledge and developing their skills and competencies in the target language, as well as managing that effectively. But we both feel that there is a limitation with the tools we have at the moment. So, we are going to share a bit about our contexts and reflections so far, and we hope that it helps you reflect on yours. Let us know if you relate to any of these situations and how it is being for you.
Regular bilingual school context
Regular schools administrators are playing “the administrative part” on choosing the online platforms for teachers, not always giving their faculty a choice, which can mean a weight lifted from one’s shoulders or a new challenge in an unpleasantly situation already.
One of the schools I work for has decided to work through two main apps – Whatsapp and Zoom, since they believe that would be the fastest and easiest way to reach all families. So, assignments are sent every day, via text message and learners are to meet their teachers once to three times a week via online meeting.
As days go by, listening to other fellow teachers within the community, it was important to adjust as well as lower expectation since the learning curve now includes the means of learning and teaching. Lesson planning plays a huge part in reaching new goals and expectations. So, in preparation for my lessons, I found really useful to anticipate problems and possible solutions, as well as look at groups as unique, with unique needs.
Even though there’s a new environment teachers may not be comfortable in, old strategies may apply. Establishing rules and letting learners and families know what goals for learning are seems to be a good way to go. Also, especially during live sessions, concept questions (ICQs and CCQs) will come in hand in groups of 20+ students at once. Also, as in real life, there’s an affective factor to teaching that shouldn’t be left out. My most successful sessions were the ones I showed interest in learners life during quarantine, before starting the today’s lesson, after all, as I have listening many times during these hard weeks, sharing is caring.
Working on Zoom specifically, there’s also a really useful tool called “breakout rooms” in which learners can be split in smaller groups and teachers can enter those to monitor and give feedback. Mind you that learners should have a task as they go on these smaller groups. Tasks can be something really simple as compare your answers, read to others, dictation, or else, Also, with really young learners, 5-7, it will work better if it’s fast and well-guided. Feeling the group you are video-conferencing with will tell you to use the breakout rooms or not.
On a different aspect, but still talking about Zoom, learners ought to benefit from the use of the chat too, especially the shy ones, since they can talk to you privately, avoid exposure, and we teachers should encourage that.
Teaching and learning remotely will bring groups close together and it feels good. However, teachers might really benefit from a written record of their lessons and impressions as they go, because that may lead to more intentional, purposeful and assertive interventions towards designing future lessons.
Finally, speaking personally, I must say that, although, I am keeping in touch with learners on a daily basis, via text message, sometimes I wonder if I am reaching my goals, mainly because the production that is often sent to me doesn’t actually reflect how much support they are getting at home. I understand I can look that one’s assignment and often tell if they did by themselves or not, but considering our social situation, I must convey that’s likely to happen. For the time being, I think it’s ok, but I shall write this down and check on that when we go back. And we will! Hang in there.
- Do not only care ONLY about teaching your lesson, care for the learners well-being. Create space for learners to share their concerns, needs, fears and beliefs;
- Plan well your lessons by predicting the problems you might have in a live session and write a handful list of possible solutions;
- Learn as you go with your lessons by reflecting on it. Your class today can bring insights that help you prepare even better the next one;
- Teaching face2face is not the same as teaching through a webconference tool. Do not take it for granted. Watch webinars, participate in a community, connect with people who has some experience in teaching online and take courses. But remember, we are talking about kids. Kids have very different needs, wants and competencies. Take all that into account.
- Managing learning effectively depends on a well-planned course, not lessons alone. There is a need to consider a number of things, from medias and tools available to learners and teachers, to digital competencies and the educational objectives to be reached. We are not dealing with a distance learning course but trying to deliver, to the best of our abilities, lessons that are engaging and meaningful to students for the time being. Patch yourself on the back, teachers. You are doing the best you can, be kind to yourself. But also, continue developing and taking care of yourself.
- Managing learning online requires much more than just a communication tool combined with an videoconference tool. It requires a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) and teachers with digital competencies to make the most of it. Interactions in a virtual environment, be it synchronously or asynchronously, require learning more than just the technical aspects of the tool.
- Keep a journal or another form of record of your impressions on lessons and learners during these time. It would be a valuable tool when you go back to school and have to refer back to this experience.
Although we use the same tools and the contexts are different, the challenges we face are similar in a time like this:
- What is more important right now? The syllabus or well-being?
- Is it really possible to effectively manage learning with the tools we have right now?
- How to overcome the challenge of keeping children engaged and learning in live sessions?
- How to support others in a time like this while taking care of our own well-being?
To read my previous post about moving to remote teaching, click here.
Recommended reading/vídeos section
Getting started with teaching English online webinar with Hellen Allen and Ollie Wood. Cambridge English Channel, Youtube. 2020
English teachers, are you asking the right questions? article written by Declan Cooley. British Council. Website. 2015