During this 2020, we, teachers and educational leaders, were forced to jump into emergency remote teaching from one day to the other.
The situation for 2021 is not the same. In this case, we have all the experience and knowledge we gained in 2020 to act as back up of our decisions in 2021. We have learnt a lot in many different areas, for example: We have found out how to catch our learners’ interest and attention in remote teaching, we have adapted resources and materials, we have discovered many different platforms for synchronous online teaching, we even enjoyed preparing materials for asynchronous teaching and learning, as recording videos and audio texts. As a result of the process we went through in 2020 we have collected enough experience to feel more confident to design and create innovative teaching and learning strategies and resources for 2021.
I am quite sure that next year we will have a combination of teaching and learning contexts, and in my opinion each of them has some pros and cons I want to share with you:
Face-to-face With Social Distancing
Remote TeachingSynchronous and Asynchronous
Hybrid Teaching / Blended Learning
richer understanding through teacher and other students’ body language and voice.
The use of body language and voice in asynchronous teaching is not spontaneous. However, in well designed videos, they might be much more effective to facilitate communication.Teachers create different channels to allow effective and timely communication with leanrers.
In either of these contexts, experienced teachers will take advantage of both contexts, online and face-to-face to allow learners dive freely in both contexts and from one context to the other, to make the most of the teaching and learning situation. Teachers will have the opportunity to use the most effective aspect of each contexts, online and face-to-face and organise the lessons around and successful combination of teaching strategies and techniques.
Time constraints. Learners have a given time to show up in the class or they miss it . Assignments in face-to-face lessons offer very short time to reflect, share, think and collaborate with peers.
Learners can revisit the content as many times as they want. They have more time to address the different tasks and activities.
More Flexible: in Asynchronous context, learners can choose when to participate. In synchronous, learners can watch the recording of the synchronic lesson as many times as they want.
INTERACTION WTH PEERS
More spontaneous interaction,
Allows more shy learners to participate as the teacher might have better control of the participation of more dominant learners. Gives learners time to reflect in Asynchronous participation.
lack of visual feedback is a common challenge for teachers.
Teachers are much more subject to time restrictions and therefore tend to use the “one size fits all” principle with subtle adaptations.
Allows teachers to assign different tasks or activities to the different learners according to their interests and developmental stage.
FOSTER LEARNING COMMUNITIES
Group cohesion is stronger.
Harder to foster. Social Bonds turn weaker in Remote Learning.
TEACHER CONTROL AND LEARNER AUTONOMY
Teachers have more control on what is happening in the classroom. Learners tend to be more dependent on the teacher.
Learners have mote time and opportunities to develop skills for self learning.Learners are more responsible for deciding when and where they will devote time to learning and access resources.
I hope this helps you find more support in your future lessons. I am quite sure you do not know yet which exactly will be the context in which you and your learners will be working next year, but I may say, without the need of a fortune teller, that it will be mostly online. If you are lucky, maybe you are allowed to do some Blended Learning which would be absolutely fantastic! Don’t you think so?
Please share your thoughts, ideas and queries with us, we need to strengthen our professional communities. We need support from each other. Stay tuned!
Andy Warhol, one very famous USA pop-artist. I do not like this artist very much however, when I thought of writing this post I realised his paintings reflected what I wanted to communicate: how we can have different images of ourselves according to the different contexts, our feelings and emotions, the people around us.
As most of you already know, I have been in the Teaching and Learning world for more than 30 years, now. I have been a witness of how different theories and strategies with reference to effective teaching have evolved and how learners have responded to those theories. I had the chance to study and learn how to observe my practice and share with my colleagues successful approaches and those that were not very effective. I have been lucky enough in my professional life to work with amazing colleagues who helped me reflect, learn and therefore grow and develop; and hopefully I will continue evolving in the present and future. This is all absolutely inspiring to continue working on my own professional growth and the growth of my colleagues but, if all my learning, reflection and progress does not help learners in an effective and efficient way, all my professional development becomes an item for self-approbation and self-satisfaction.
What do I want to say with this reflection? In this post, I want to invite you to reflect honestly on how much we have actually done to keep pace with the needs of our learners today, moreover in this new teaching context, of COVID-19 pandemic. I want us to think deeply about how much of all the theory we read about learners’ development do we bring to our lessons. How many of the strategies we are offered in different conferences, webinars, and courses do we actually apply in our lessons?
I invite you to reflect on this thoroughly, go ahead and try to answer the following questions, they are just for you, nobody will read or assess your answers but you:
Have you participated in any Professional Development event in the last year?
Why? Or Why not?
What do you remember from those events?
Name 3 strategies or ideas you were able to use in class.
According to your own perception of your lessons, how effective are your lessons in catering for the needs of ALL your learners to engage in the lesson, commit to the challenge and be eager to learn?
How the changes in the teaching and learning context in this year of global pandemic, helped you improve as a professional?
If you had the freedom to choose your approach, your timing, your resources and your assessment methods, what would you change from what you are doing now to foster the effective development of your learners?
What changes do you feel we teachers have the possibility to implement today? What do we need for that?
Take your time to answer the questions above. Bear in mind that to be self-aware of your professional decisions and skills is not easy. It requires courage and a great amount of honesty, to accept and acknowledge both, strengths and weaknesses.
Just in case you want to give your opinion on the topic, leave a comment below. I would love to read your comments on this post and I promise future posts on what I consider could be positive and possible strategies to put into practice ASAP to keep improving our own performance as teachers and learners, despite the teaching and learning context.
Post 2 – Virtual Asynchronous teaching and learning.
As promised in my last post, here I am, ready to share with you some insights, ideas and resources on virtual or online asynchronous teaching. In this case, for many of us who have been teaching face to face sessions most of our working lives, how to make learning happen in these asynchronous environments is quite a challenge.
We may feel uneasy and a bit powerless in the face of the new teaching and learning situation. And as I have witnessed, many questions arise in our heads, as for example, “How am I going to present a new topic?” “How can I explain a structure to the learners or teach them how to improve their speaking skills in this new teaching mode?” “What about the socio-emotional impact in their learning? Will they be working isolated?” “How are the beginners or elementary learners going to understand the instructions of the tasks? I am not there to explain, and maybe parents don’t know English”.
In order to give you a helping hand I will address different aspects of this Asynchronous Teaching that may be good to take into consideration if we want to be successful.
What is Virtual Asynchronous Teaching?
According to Trach (2018) “Asynchronous Learning is the key feature of successful online learning programs. The word “asynchronous” means not keeping time together, which refers to students’ ability to access information, demonstrate what they’ve learned, and communicate with classmates and instructors on their own time–they don’t have to be in the same classroom or even in the same time zone to participate.”
Jones (2020) explains that “Asynchronous classes are held in a shared online space, but the teacher and the students don’t need to be present at the same time.”
As you can see, asynchronous learning provides plenty of opportunities for learners to access content in different ways. At the same time, due to the fact that they work at their own pace, they have the great opportunity to devote time to reflection, elaboration, research before they upload their assignments or participate in a forum. In these Asynchronous classes, learners have the chance to develop deeper thinking, and therefore reach better and higher outcomes.
But let’s look at those challenging areas in our asynchronous classes:
You need to take the audience into consideration when choosing choosing a platform. The platform should be accessible by desktop or laptop computer with an Internet connection, or by smartphone or tablet (iPhone, iPad, iPod, Android). At the same time, the platform you choose should offer tools that encourage interaction between your learners, such a forums. Another important tool for many teachers would be if the platform gives has the ability to generate automatic reports showing progress of learners. It should be able to export the information into another application, such as Microsoft Excel, and allow the information to be customised to include specific predefined variables. In addition, the platform should allow administrators see the recorded history of the learners’ work, the grade book and feedback from the teacher. A remarkable tools of some platforms is that they allow to create a library where teachers can upload content they have previously created as well as different resources from other platforms.
Different kinds of content may suit different teaching situations and ages.
Most of the content at this level is teacher created.
Recordings of learners’ interaction with the teacher, and with peers. Documentation of learning process might turn into interesting content
Mainly storybooks, videos and authentic materials
6 to 12 year olds
12 to 18 year olds
Activities and Tasks
Sometimes, choosing or designing the proper activities is a tough task as we will not be there with the learners to explain the activity, check understanding or elicit examples. The strength of the pedagogical and didactics knowledge of the teachers will be at stake when designing the different tasks and activities. At this point, when the teacher has to choose, design and plan the different paths through which the learners will build knowledge is when the teachers have their “teaching moment”. The different activities or tasks should be thoroughly chosen but more importantly, they need to be carefully explained in accesible written language according to the stage of development of the learners’ command of the language. Teachers need to add a written example for the learners to see what the teachers expect learners to do.
It is advisable to design a marking criteria and a success criteria and share them with the learners on the platform you are using for all of them to see. As learners’ progress will be registered on the platform, and it should be quite easy for the teacher to evaluate it, using the marking criteria. But the most productive aspect of the evaluation is not making the learners’ work but giving them timely feedback so they can improve their performance and strengthen their learning of the language. Therefore, it is here that teachers have the chance to provide all the necessary guidance and support to each learner according to their demands, and weaknesses. In addition to the teachers’ feedback which is absolutely essential, teachers can invite learners to assess their peers work and even teach them how to self assess their performance using both, the marking criteria and success criteria.
Here I share a chart from Hartinsky (2007) that compares Asynchronous e-learning to Synchronous (Live) e-learning.
It is important to remember that learning in an online environment might be quite challenging for some learners as well as for teachers themselves. So please, don’t worry if you go slowly, as long as you move on. Be open to feedback from learners and parents and don’t get disappointed if you have to struggle a little bit at the beginning. Just keep learning, keep trying and remember, practice makes perfect.
So, my dear colleagues, here we are facing a new challenge, to make teaching and learning possible and effective for all learners from our homes. Once more we are responsible for keeping ourselves alert and updated to allow schooling to happen under any condition. How are you coping with this situation? Are you being able to communicate with your learners? How are parents supporting teaching and learning? Are you being able to find a place at home where you can concentrate, relax and enjoy this new way of teaching? Are you taking care of yourselves? Is this confinement affecting you or maybe you are enjoying being at home?
From my place to your place, live.
It does not matter much if it is state or private education, or if we work with Early years, primary, secondary or even university level, we are all turning into online teaching. And what makes matters worse is that we are teaching from our home to the learners in theirs. This might mean that if you have online live lessons, parents will certainly be watching. So there you go, Open Classes for the learners and their whole family to enjoy. Of course you may be recorded by the learner, you may have your lesson played a hundred times and even shared with other learners even if a confidentiality agreement is signed. But just let me tell you that once all of us, parents, teachers and leaners get used to this new way to approach the teaching and learning process, things will flow much more stress free.
The online live lessons on the other hand can be really amazing if we develop the skills to handle them, so here go some hints to let magic happen:
Remember to schedule the online meeting in advance and communicate it to the learners as soon as possible, at least 48 hours before. Families may need to organise their schedules at home to make sure your learners will have the computers available (to used by another member of the family at the time of your online lesson), prepare a silent room for the learners to be, and any other needs the learners and their families might take care of.
Prepare and plan your lessons thoroughly. As in any class, you need to have a plan with a warm up activity, the development of the lesson and a closure. Tell you students what to expect from their next online lesson, which materials they would need. When students have time to prepare, they are often more invested in the discussion and willing to participate. And you will feel better about calling on them.
Make the session relevant, and make this relevance visible for the learners. It would be a good exercise to ask yourself: Is this topic meaningful for the learners? Will they find it interesting to learn more about the topic? Why should learners care about this topic? Keep these questions and the answers next to you during the session.
Check you timing! This is crucial. I find it really important that you take into consideration the amount of time you expect your learners to stay watching you, concentrated. My advice, for secondary school learners would be not more than 30 to 40 minutes. In the case of Upper Primary School learners, I believe it would be advisable between 20 to 30 minutes. In the case of lower primary and 4 and 5 year olds you can try between 10 to 20 minutes. And for the very little, 2 to 3 year olds I would say 5 minutes is a lot! But maybe as they get used and if your lessons are quite active, they may stay tuned for about 10 minutes. These time frames may look too short however, remember that online lessons go fast. The time will go much faster than you think. As you know, you will cover less teaching content than you would like, because part of the job will be done by the learner later, once the class has finished. Remember please as well to leave enough time for process and for questions.
It is important that you open the online meeting 15 minutes early to give your learners the chance to log-in before the class starts and check their video and audio equipment. Always start and stop the meeting on time. Make sure your synchronous session offers original and novel content, insights, or tasks and avoid duplicating what is covered elsewhere in the course, e.g., readings, videos, discussion boards. This can be done later, during their offline time. On the other hand, synchronous sessions should, connect to the syllabus and expand their knowledge. These sessions should be motivating, inspiring and there should be added benefit to attending the synchronous session, such that students don’t like to miss class.
The Teaching Environment
Prepare the setting. Be careful the background you show. Too much information about your home is not necessary. Try to sit or stand with a wall behind you to prevent the appearance of any member of the family who may not be aware you are going live. Check your outfit. You may be at home but please, stay professional. You might be wearing a plain T-shirt or dress, but keep a home outfit that shows a balance between comfort and purpose in equal parts. It may show you are at home, a bit more relaxed by still professional motivated and ready to tackle your day.
Please, check the light source comes from the front and is not from behind you. The light source should come from behind your webcam. Sit in front of the camera and if possible raise your computer so the camera is at the level of your eyes. This will help avoiding showing too much of your chin and nostrils.
During the session
Invite learners to have their webcams on, as showing their faces, and seeing yours. creates a sense of connection and accountability that can help to overcome the disconnectedness that virtual meetings so easily engender. Invite the learners to take turns to speak and allow them to turn on their microphones at the moment of speaking, not before. Please, make a speaking list to be sure everyone willing to participate, has his/her turn. Give learners enough time to speak and check everyone is listening. You will get experience in breaking out groups, differentiating tasks and many other strategies these online sessions allow you to do. Be enthusiastic, motivating and inviting.
I hope these guidelines help you make the most of your online teaching sessions and invite you to move on the 2020 syllabus. We might be in this social distancing mode for a while, so just in case, be prepared.
In my next post, I will be sharing my insights on the asynchronous online sessions and how to make the best of them. Please, stay at home and be safe!
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.
Those of you who know me from other arenas, you know I have always been especially worried, but proactively worried about children. All of them, those in the English Language field we call Young Learners (YL, 6 to 12 years old) and the Very Young Learners (VYL, 2 to 5 year olds). Therefore, I cannot stay silent in this new teaching and learning situation our children have been -or maybe not only invited but asked – to participate. In this post I will not question if there should be or not an Emergency Remote Teaching (ERT) situation for the very young, but share some ideas and strategies teachers may use to make your remote teaching as fruitful as possible.
The very little ones
In the case of VYL we need to reflect a bit on why children at those early ages go to Nursery-school or Kindergarten, at least here in Uruguay. There are many reasons, that may include from parents needing to find a safe and motivating place where to leave their children while they go to work, to families looking for an enriching learning experience for their child. However, I would like to concentrate on the child’s learning and developmental benefits.
The importance of the community
There is a lovely old African proverb that says “It takes a village to raise a child”, this refers to the importance of the interaction of children with their community. In this interaction they have the chance, to experience and grow in a safe (in most cases) and healthy environment. In this sense, Nursery schools provide this sense of community and allow the children to broaden their interaction with peers and other adults apart from their family members. We know then, that children need this community which provides an enormous variety of visions, of cultural backgrounds and exposure to different contexts. Therefore, one of the main goals we need to try to reach in these times of social distancing because of COVID-19, is to sustain the community we generated when we were still in face-to-face school days.
So, one effective way to hold together and develop this community is to generate at least two or three video conferences a week with the whole group or if they are too many you can divide them in groups. However, if you divide them, do not make static groups, change the members every week or better, each session. Those amazing video conferences will allow them to see and talk to each other again, talk to you and many times the families will be part of the session, too. Then, my opinion is that you make the most of this situation and use it to develop the child’s communicative competence. Let me then share some hints on how to develop language learning in this new context.
Designing and planning video conferences for very young learners.
Planning, as usual, is absolutely essential. Plan your sessions taking into consideration that parents will be there, next to the child or even in some cases with the little one on their lap. So, you are having an Open Class every time you have a session. In addition, you need to be prepared to deal with the unexpected, an unstable internet connection, a child going back to play with his/her toys instead of focusing on the screen.
What to include in the lesson through video conference:
Timing: remember parents and children may have difficulties in getting to the session. Problems with the link, the password, late arrivals. So plan the lesson adding some minutes to be sure you cater for all children to join in the session.
Keep your classroom routines or create new routines for the online sessions. Open the lesson with a song or routine, follow the lesson with the ice-breaker or lead in, then go to the development of the session and always round it up.
The importance of Story Telling: Stories are huge sources of input for the learners. You have the story itself to discuss and talk about, the characters, the context, the illustrations (something you need to pay special attention to, the art work in the stories you choose). You will find below some links to interesting story telling sites for VYLs.
Children have their toys at hand, so you can bring those toys into the session when planning the lesson. Use their stuffed animals or dolls to describe body parts, use adjectives, action verbs; you can use their construction blocks to work on colours, shapes, teach prepositions of place. Sentence construction by using patterns, as for example “ My teddy bear has two brown eyes” “He has two arms” “ He has…..” . There are many possibilities where to choose from, thinking outside the box.
Verb Tenses: Yes, verb tenses in Nursery School. But not the traditional scheme of teaching: Form, meaning and use. We will be working on Verb Tenses naturally and in a non-linear way. Children will need different tenses to tell you things about their daily routines at home. Teachers, in my opinion, should provide the structure just as that, provide the correct form so the children can keep on talking. So, if we want them to tell us what they did yesterday, they might need some verbs in the past. They might say for example “ I play with my father” so the Teacher will say, “played, you played with your father, well done!” And so on as the different children participate. This will happen one day after the other, and you will see that children will get it. Trust me! Another good idea is to ask them to make a list of the things they did the day before or even that very same day of the session. In this case, the learners will need past tenses, present continuous and even future. A good idea, taking advantage that the learners are at home, would be to ask children to collect different pictures of their family members they might have, and place them in a time line, or let’s say, in a proper sequence, following the order “ first, then, after that, and now…” .
Invite the children to cook, to classify fruits and vegetables, to follow guidelines on how to set the table for lunch or tea.
Take advantage of the learning environments: By learning environments I mean, the learners’ home, that includes each of the rooms in the house and the activities you carry out in each room, the online sessions with their peers and teacher, possible apps you may suggest them to use. Moreover, some teachers have recorded videos where they show an activity, art work, tell a story, sing a song. Once you share the video with the learners, it becomes a tool with the teacher’s voice where they can practice their listening skills, be exposed to a wide vocabulary, learn grammatical patterns and chunks of language.
Advantages of this new teaching situation.
To round up, as in every moment of our lives and of our history as human beings, in all dark times, there is always a bright side. We just need to focus on that and make the most of this ERT situation.
Take advantage of the possibility you may have to make your teaching visible to families so they can understand how you work and try to follow your steps at home. Use this sort of Open Class sessions to allow children to bring to the session their favourite toys, stories, their baby brother or sister. Invite them to cook and share images, to design a hut or cabin where to play, ask them to show their bedrooms, describe them, make a map. You have an enormous range of teaching possibilities. You just need to let your mind fly, try to remember what you loved to do when you were little, and bring all that as a resource for your language lesson. Come on, they sky is the limit, or maybe not!
My next post will be on ERT to the 6 to 12 year olds.
Article for Juliana Tavares, Teach-In Education – MAY 2020
Cecilia Cabrera Martirena
“Let’s not pretend that things will change if we keep doing the same things. A crisis can be a real blessing to any person, to any nation. For all crises bring progress. Creativity is born from anguish, just like the day is born form the dark night. It’s in crisis that inventiveness is born, as well as discoveries made and big strategies. He who overcomes crisis, overcomes himself, without getting overcome…
Here we are colleagues, doing our most to keep on teaching our learners in these difficult times of social distancing. Due to this COVID-19 pandemia, we have been forced to develop an emergency remote teaching plan. We have also been exposed to develop the skills to work through online platforms, make videos for our learners, deliver live lessons through platforms as Zoom or Google Meets. We are doing our best but sometimes we find it is not enough to cover the prescribed syllabus. As a consequence, we might feel discouraged and at a loss. However, having in mind Einstein’s words, this is the best time to become creative and decide to accept the challenge to innovate in our teaching.
Among the different teaching and learning approaches, we may have at hand, the one I find most effective is Project-Based Learning (PBL). It is by far the approach that can be more successfully adapted to either face-to-face or remote lessons.
What makes the PBL approach ideal for our times?
PBL fosters the construction of knowledge through the development of higher-order thinking skills, visible learning techniques, and metacognitive processes. The development of language skills (reading, writing, speaking, listening) that enables the consolidation of Communicative Competence is promoted through the whole process of inquiry and creation. Inquiry-Based Projects are the backbone of the course. This means these projects intend to teach significant content. The objectives and goals for student learning are explicitly derived from the syllabus, content standards, and key concepts in each of the disciplines that participate in the project. “Projects are intended to create the need-to-know content and skills, and the opportunity for students to learn them in an authentic context.” Miller (2014).
The main features of PBL that make it so suitable for these Emergency Remote Teaching (ERT) situation that we are having are:
PBL projects promote effective Communication
In this ERT situation, learners have the need and the possibility to communicate
through different means. They are invited to produce many more written texts of
different genres and well planned oral texts.
PBL projects are learner-driven investigations, where the teacher becomes a guide in the construction of knowledge. In the ERT context, learners need to become much more autonomous with the guidance, again, of the teacher. Autonomy needs to be scaffolded.
PBL projects invite learners to be involved in problem-solving, negotiation, and decision-making processes on real-world matters. This makes learning authentic and much more meaningful to the learner. In an ERT environment, the process of inquiry, questioning, reflection, creation, and collaboration may be enhanced.
PBL not only allows but also promotes the interaction and collaboration between different areas of knowledge. In PBL as I mentioned in the previous point, we work with real-world matters, and therefore, in those contexts, the situations we go through are not divided into subject areas or disciplines. Our everyday life is a fantastic effect of the conjunction of facts, emotions, and beings that may be classified in different areas of knowledge. However, if we study the different areas of knowledge in isolation, we may not be able to grasp how deeply and magically intertwined things are.
PBL projects invite learners to work through different dynamics also in an ERT context. Whole class, teams, or one-on-one meetings can be done with different reliable cloud platforms for video and audio conferencing such as Zoom or Google Meets.
We may consider that there might be students who cannot work on the internet or do not have a computer. In these cases, PBL may also be a good helper in allowing learners to keep on learning. In the case your learners are in this situation, you could:
Invite learners to do some research through interviews, process data.
Ask them to read some articles, diagrams of similar research projects or topics, to inform their peers.
Invite the learners to document the research process the group is going through.
Design a model, prototype, or draft of the final product that provides the possible solution or solutions to the problem they decided to research into.
Prepare the videos, written texts or podcasts, PowerPoint presentations the team needs for the final presentation.
Provide Art-based project books for them to inspire their team members.
The possibility to teach and learn through PBL has proven to generate the interest of the learners in their learning process. They also become much more aware of their needs to reach the performance standards they are aiming at and become more skillful in describing their learning process.
From my experience as an English teacher in all performance levels and most age groups from 2-year-olds up, I can tell that Enquiry Based Learning through PBL is one of the most effective approaches, with or without COVID-19. It is high time we give it a chance.