Young Learners are what we call digital natives, we may assume then that they are, let’s say, the human beings that might be more capable to adapt to virtual learning. However, we know that children from 6 to 11 years old, need other contexts and experiences to learn and thrive. How can we put this together to facilitate learning under these new circumstances? Which are the benefits to teach and learn in a remote teaching situation?
Getting into Emergency Remote Teaching:
It is a common belief among some parents, government authorities and even some teachers that online learning is of lower quality than face-to-face learning, despite research that shows otherwise. Online learning courses are planned and structured based on the fact that they will be taught in an asynchronous context and therefore, most of the resources are provided in a timely way. Generally, virtual courses are much more demanding than face-to-face courses as learners have much more time to process input, reflect, research and generate deeper productions.
Our teaching and learning circumstances due to this pandemia, are quite different to those online courses. The appropriate term according to Bond, Hodges, Moore, Lockee and Trust (2020) for the type of instruction we are delivering in today’s circumstances is Emergency Remote Teaching.
George Couros in his blog explains that “in a matter of days, teachers and school leaders have had to take curriculum, resources, assessments, and lessons that were designed for an in-person (or at least blended) experience (and without any sustained training), turned it into a remote learning experience.” The courses we are now re-creating in virtual contexts were thought, planned, and designed to be taught in an in-person class. In the case of teachers in Uruguay we only had two weeks of face-to-face lessons and then we had to move to remote teaching. We had only just met our learners and we were not able to actually learn about their strengths and the areas the learners find most challenging regarding language learning.
The Challenges for Young Learners
So, all of a sudden we became online tutors for a group of young learners. What are the challenges we might face?
- Learners who might have a restricted use of a computer, due to family organisation issues (one computer for more than one family member). This means that the tasks we assign may take varied timing to be fulfilled by all members of the class. And that is fine.
- Learners who are not autonomous in using the computer. Teachers know that parents are there, always. Most of the time parents sit with their children during the Zoom lessons, helping and guiding the child in every activity. You and your class are in a never-ending “open class” situation. But I feel you just got used to it, didn’t you?
- Learners who are still struggling to read and write. Among the skills we need to develop in our learners, we have this enormous challenge to find the way to help them develop in their reading and writing readiness.
- Learners who are under stressful conditions and who feel and absorb their family’s distress and anxiety. We have a really important role to play here. We need to find a balance between designing challenging and motivating activities that help the learners develop and not becoming another source of anxiety for the children and their family.
- Learners who are confined to stay at home. We have the chance to plan activities and tasks that promote movement and interaction with family members, with friends through the different electronic means.
Ideas to help your Young Learners keep on learning English in COVID-19 times
In addition to the use of a course book or language learning apps, we can think of some creative ways of learning the language taking advantage of this situation the learners are in. They are at home, surrounded by their most beloved toys and books, in the context they generally feel more at ease. So, ask them for permission to be a guest in the learner’s home.
Both, children and teachers need to communicate using their gestures, face expression, so it is a really good idea to record yourself talking to the children.
Videos done by the Teacher: You may want to explain the task you are setting; revise some lexis through the use of flashcards, asking questions and giving some seconds for them to answer on the other side of the screen; you may want to tell them a story or read a story book to them. If you decide to read a story book to the children, I would like to say that it would be good if you use is as if you were in class. This means, all the pre-reading you normally do in class, work with the front cover, work with the title and help them guess the story they will listen to. Throughout the story, stop and make those comprehension questions you would normally do, make the comments and clarifications you may find necessary. Remember your learners are there, and they are interacting with you but, asynchronically.
Videos made by the learners:
Teachers may invite learners to make short videos where they describe their favourite toy to their peers, show their bedroom and describe it, explain the rooms of their house, cook something and explain the process to their classmates. The learners in upper primary may want to make a video explaining their position or point of view regarding the topic they are studying as for example, “My personal point of view about the use of plastic nowadays…..”. Teachers may invite the different learners to read aloud a line/paragraph/chapter from the book they are reading or an e-book teacher sends them. If each of them read a different part of the story (line, paragraph, chapter) then the videos can be edited and put together to build up the whole story.
Invite the learners to use The Arts to recreate any aspect of language learning you are working on at the moment. They may recreate for example: their house, a story, the structure of a text genre, pronunciation aspects, a scene from a film. Teachers may suggest any specific visual art or performing art for the learners to use or leave the decision to each learner, it might depend on the age, previous knowledge and skills of the learners.
This is a good moment to ask the learners questions that will make them think about those persons or things they have in their personal context and just take for granted.
- Research about Past and Present: Interviewing grandparents or even great grandparents would be fantastic! The children can design a questionnaire about a given topic, or just start eliciting from their grandparents about a certain fact from the the past the learners would like to know about. They can make a video or audio recording of this interaction or just a summary with a drawing of the interview. They can also provide a picture of the grandparent they interviewed.
- Research about how things work: This is an excellent opportunity to ask learner to choose any household appliance or piece of furniture and try to find out how they are built and how they work.
- Research about why and how things are done: Learners may be invited to find out for example, how to keep our houses neat and clean. Therefore, they may research how to wash the dishes. They will need to get information on what kind of soap is needed, how it is used and why. Invite them not only to get the appropriate process but also to explain why each step should be done in a certain way with which tools and resources. If families allow, invite the learners to have a go and participate in the different chores and reflect on the process. A good question would be then, Can you suggest a different and most effective way of carrying out that chore?
This new teaching situation is really stressful and demanding. We feel we don’t have the skills, the tools and the resources to deliver the lessons properly and professionally as we are used to, in our face-to-face lessons. It is good to know you are doing fine. Relax. Giving your children your attention, your love and your best effort is always supportive and inspirational. If you are doing your best effort, that a is just great and sure you achieve much better results as you get used to this new teaching context. Moreover, I am sure you will adopt many of the tools you are using today in your future face-to-face courses. Actually, I do hope technology becomes much more present in the our classrooms.
I believe you should feel really proud for being able to make this transition to emergency remote teaching as successful as possible. You are teaching your learners not only language but also how to adapt to a new situation, be resilient and face new challenges with a positive mind.