E-learning tips for the Language A teacher
How can we take our current difficult learning situation and make it meaningful? I’m not going to give you the rundown of balancing time or all the tech tools you can use with your students. Instead, here are a couple of tips for teaching from home (that can also be used in the real classroom).
We probably all have ways of synthesizing work or reading content. Teaching students to summarize and recall in their own paraphrases is essential to student progress. Writing summaries is an art form and an essential skill. A variety of tools to orally recall and synthesize information are also useful in a physical classroom.
But with e-learning you might want to use more creativity to help students engage when teachers are not present to verbally motivate. We can do some of these things as normal on our virtual class discussions or with written work that students turn in. However, self-motivation at home might be easier when a little more creativity is involved.
To illustrate the key points of a text, you can instead ask students to: use tableau photographs of themselves (or their pets), tell the story with emojis, write in a different language, create a storyboard, or make a playlist/video mash-up. Any of these can easily be brought together on a collaborative slide show whether the student’s work is on a computer or on paper and captured with photograph. In a virtual meeting, students can explain their slides and respond to each other’s work.
Choices, choices, choices!
Most of us use some student agency in the classroom. Whether this looks like allowing students to self-differentiate some of their work or reading, decide as a text to read as a class, choose among several assessments to demonstrate their learning, or all of these things depends on your classroom and your students.
However, e-learning is a time when student agency can especially help with motivation. Additionally, you may find it easier to manage students who work at different paces or want to pursue different aims during this time. Without peer pressure, constraints of a classroom, and perhaps without the need to cover certain content (depending on your school), you may find more freedom in allowing choice:
- Allow a choice of methods to communicate (email, Hangouts, voice recording, etc.)
- Give options for class reading related to a conceptual idea
- Let students choose online platforms to showcase their learning, and therefore learn about these tools together (consider the pros and cons)
- Create virtual navigation through a unit with opportunities for different guided inquiry approaches
- If assessment requirements have been eased, allow more choice in expression of an idea
We have an opportunity to reinvent for new methods of student learning. Allow yourself and your students to experiment and you may find that some of these more progressive choices become your new normal.
We all offer extension and optional work; sometimes this is done in the classroom under our guidance and other times it is something that highly motivated students do at home. However, you can trick students into wanting more and taking extension in their own directions by using a small part of something online that offers other great resources. For example, the BBC has some great mini lessons. Something both useful and funny is the character song for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Students might then access the other great resources on this website. Or direct students to a current article related to the concept you are exploring, for example from Quartz Ideas. Then, suggest students explore the website for ten minutes after the lesson.
The lesson doesn’t have to be online. Instead, you might ask them to explore the bookshelves at home to search for something related to the concept or walk the nearby streets (if it’s safe to do so and age appropriate) in order to write a pastiche of poetry (Baudelaire, Yesi, Dickinson, etc.). In these instances, students are sure to make other discoveries on the bookshelves and the streets around them. You might ask for related photographs, journaling, or a quick comment to start your virtual lesson. Turn them onto great stuff without it feeling like a lesson.
In our classrooms, we try to make mindfulness a part of our classes: balance, presence, meditation, or even yoga might enter the communal space. In the e-learning environment, it is even more important to help students relax their minds, get out of their chairs, and tap into the current learning moment.
We can start a lesson by asking students to do simple movements (not necessarily yoga) or by listening to a song to set a mood or intention. We can start live classes by asking each student for a word to describe an intention for that lesson or the entire day. We can even use movement as metaphor for something we are teaching to engage with the mind-body connection. For example, dancing freely to a song (perhaps embarrassing in the classroom!) can help us understand independence or creativity in a certain way. Learning ways to differentiate Tree Pose can help us think about our learning styles or different perspectives in a text.
Personally, the first three weeks of e-learning were just about surviving. With loads of information (often changes, and changes again) from admin or the government, an eighteen-month old boy to take care of and juggle with my husband, and trying to process the transition and pandemic, I didn’t have the head space to think carefully about what I wanted my students’ home learning experience to be. Teachers on my team each had their unique challenges, whether isolation, single parenting, vulnerable relatives abroad, or simply anxiety – about the disease, about e-learning, about the future. I just got through what I had planned and started listening to feedback from the kids. But in the time that followed (including a much needed spring break after the first three weeks), I was able to more clearly consider how we could use this time for good.
I think it’s important that we always teach our students to both acknowledge the problems in our world (personal or universal) and look on the positive side, look for the hope and “look for the helpers” (Fred Rogers). In the same way, e-learning can be seen as a hindrance, a lack, a pain in the butt just as a lack of exams can be seen as unfair and problematic. But it is what it is. We have to work without what we’ve got. Yoga teaches us to let go of what we cannot control and find balance and positivity through what we can. Hopefully these four key areas can help you to think of how you approach e-learning with your students and take advantage of it as a unique time for their learning.