Different contexts, same tools: sharing the floor with Gisele Cruz

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.

MANAGING LEARNING com fundo (2)

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.

#staysafe #stayhome

Gisele

  • 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

Moving Local Classes to Online Spaces: Part 1

Teachers are moving their classes to an online environment, either provided by their schools or on their own. Some will be able to choose the online spaces they want to use and the resources that come with them, others might not. Whether you have a say in this matter or not, I hope this post becomes useful when coming to make decisions about your own teaching.

Different contexts (1)

Remind yourself that you are doing the best you can with what you have, so BE KIND to yourself.                   

After all, this is not our usual days and no one really had  a choice.

So, take into consideration the emotional state that you and families might be with this situation and TAKE IT EASY.

 

The number of students plus the learning objectives and pedagogical view of learning define the pedagogical strategies and resources that will be implemented. For example, in a setting where we work with a group of 15 students in a classroom and the aim is to develop their oral communicative skills, it is possible to develop their speaking skills through pair/small group work. In a regular school, the emphasis is much more on understanding language through texts and grammar than develping their speaking skills. Thus, teachers have other goals. At least this is what happens in most regular schools in Brazil. Therefore, can you actually go online and replicate what you do in physical spaces, face2face classes you are used to?

Apparently, in regular schools one of the strategies that teachers are using is recording video lessons and sending out activities. Lecturing is delivered face2face in class, so through video recording or live session, they can be delivered too. But how about engagement of learners with the content and with each other? Decisions should be taken based on what you know about your context, your learners and the learning goals you are trying to achieve. But right now, most importantly, is the connections we can create with the students and parents to support one another that matters. I agree though, that keeping teaching and learning right now can be an opportunity to keep moving forward and take our minds off the problem. But let’s not create new ones by doing so. School should be mindful of how much they are trying to send home and not put the responsability on parents. Cooperating with parents is key now. Use this opportunity also to create a community, where sharing and caring matters more than the content.

Keep in mind when planning your lessons

  • Each group of students is unique. Be it in a regular school or language school, even in the same school. Don’t take that for granted.
  • For each group you have, think of how many students you had in a physical class and lower your expectations. Don’t expect to have the same number of students attending a live session, for instance. Or doing all the tasks you assign. Depending on the number of students you have, the technical problems they might have and how them and their families are dealing with the confinement. The number of students attending a live session will vary.
  • Communicate with students and/or parents to check what devices they have and whether they can access certain platforms or tools before choosing them. Also check the best time to have live sessions and if they have internet to support it. We also need to consider that some parents are working from home and we have to negotiate with them. Sometimes, students don’t have computers at home or a cellphone themselves. Some of my students only have their parents’ phones.
  • Taking into consideration the points that had been stated above, don’t over assign tasks/activities. Define one or two objectives, strategies to achieve them and how you will manage the process. If you are going to record or share videos, decide what the learning outcome will be and what else learners will do based on the video/text/audio you have sent.
  • If you are recording or selecting videos, keep them short and apply sound principles. Take a look at this video to learn more about the 12 principles of multimedia learning design. 
  • Decide how you will manage the teaching/learning process. Will you use a learning management system (Google classroom, Edmodo, Teams, etc)? Or will you just have live sessions and a communication tool like Whatsapp or another messaging tool?

I highly recommend this webinar by Angelos Bollas. The webinar gives you a great overview of transitioning from face-to-face to online teaching.

As an English teacher, I know the challenges we are facing with this transition and I am trying to keep all that in mind myself to simplify the process.

As a specialist in Educational Design and Information and Communication Technology, I know the process of designing, delivering and assessing online course is much more complex. So right now, I’m just trying to deal with the emergent need to move the classes to online spaces and support other teachers. I’ll share my lesson plans soon and share what my context is right now and how I have moved my local classes. 

If you want to discuss your own experience or give your own opinion about the points mentioned above, go ahead. Feel free to drop a comment. I look forward to it.

Boardgame: Expressing preferences and opinions #ELTgame

Expressing preferences and opinions boardgame prototype

 

It’s been a while since I created any game.. and I so missed it. I enjoy the creation process very much, but what I love the most is playtesting time. When students have a chance to play it and add their own suggestions to the game. Last week, I came up with a boardgame for students to practice expressing preferences and opinions.

The game had a race to the end dynamic and was a turn-based game. The core mechanics were quite simple. Players placed their avatars at the beginning of the track. They decided who was going to be the first to roll the dice. Then, the player that rolled the green dice moved their piece on the track and asked a question to any other player in the game. If the player who had been asked for the opinion/preference justified their opinion/preference well, they were rewarded with the chance to move on the board faster by rolling the red dice.

If any student used L1, the punishment was to go back one slot. 

giving opinion game

My A1-A2 teens playing the game 

To the board itself, it was added the language structures needed to ask and answer. The game could be played only by having a track drawn on a large piece of paper, couple of dices and avatar piece to represent the player. However, cards were added to the game. The cards also contained hidden mechanics that could mess with their game.

Players will draw cards and the question structure they will have to use depend on the number of options the card has. 

Cards with two options: SUMMER or WINTER => Would you rather …………..? / Would you prefer to………….? Do you prefer………..?

Cards with one option: NETFLIX => What do you think about …………….? What do you think of……………….? What’s your opinion about ……..?

The gameplay was a combination of chance and skill. In order to get a chance to roll the red dice and move towards the end of the track, those responding had to explain why, giving a more elaborated answer. The dice added the chance to move faster on the board, giving weaker players an advantage.

In addition to the option topic cards, there were also: go back 1 or 2 or 3 slots cards, lose a turn card, move forward 1 or 2 slots and Dance Macarena card (another teacher suggestion).

*This prototype was designed in 30 minutes or so. As I was trying to come up with the boardgame, I quickly ran my ideas through some colleagues in the teacher room, and their suggestions were really helpful. A big thank you to Juliana, Kelita and Mafalda. 

What do we need:

2 dices of different colors, a large piece of paper and pens to draw the track and add the Q&A structures as useful language, avatars to represent players and index cards (5×8) to write the options and other game mechanics (lose a turn, move forward, etc.). 

How to play:

Players will roll the question dice, move their avatar and draw a card.  If the card contain an option or two options, the player asks a question and choses another player to answer it. If they get another instruction, other than option(s) cards, they just follow the instruction of the card. 

The other player answers the question. If the answer is good enough, they get the response dice, roll it and move their avatar on the board. 

Whoever speaks in L1 go back one slot. 

The winner is whoever crosses the finish line first!

At the end of the gameplay, I asked students what they thought about the game: “Fun”, “Cool” and “I really liked it” were the words used to describe their experience. I have also asked them for suggestions on what we could change or add to the game mechanics. They gave some interesting ideas to redesign it.

Stay tuned for the next post!