When coronavirus hit, we all had to adjust. For many ESL teachers, this meant navigating uncharted territory – teaching online.
I was used to teaching in class and interacting with my students in-person. My literacy class had over 40 students, while my CLB 4 class had about 14. How could I get all those students online and provide a program that addressed their needs?
The issues for the literacy learners included their language barrier as well as their access to technology and experience using it. Video conferencing was out of the question, as were some learning sites. After trying several things, I found that if I provided a link which took them directly to a lesson or exercise, they could respond.
So, I made simple lessons on Google Docs. They explored vocabulary using pictures—house or living room—then copied, filled in terms, chose from options, or practiced pronunciation. Initially, this took me some time to create, but later, it was quick.
My CLB 4 class was different. It was a smaller class, and students seemed motivated to join the Zoom sessions. Resolving all technical issues—sound, video, how to access things—took at least a week. But they were all there, and attending regularly. This made my online teaching a lot easier. Once we got going, things ran smoothly, and I enjoyed myself. It was a fun class to teach.
Each morning, while waiting for students to trickle in, I would screen-share a video. Live news from CP24 was a popular choice. Later, we would discuss and I would put summary notes in the chat box. Sometimes I’d show a mindfulness video to keep everyone stress-free. They also enjoyed videos such as how to properly put on a coronavirus face mask.
Then came roll call, this gave students a chance to say “present”, while also checking their mic and audio.
Technical issues were often difficult to diagnose, and I didn’t want them to take up a lot of time. I had my go-to responses or just asked them to log out and then log in. That sometimes worked, but if not, I stayed calm, talked the students through the issue, and gave them time to resolve it themselves, while continuing with the lesson. This required a bit of multitasking, experience, and patience.
Luckily, no one was prevented from participating in the class due to technical issues. One of our classes was “Zoom bombed”. I shut down the meeting and sent everyone a link to a new one. We got back on track in 10 minutes.
About 15 minutes into the class, we would do housekeeping or have check-in questions (“How is everyone doing?”). I wrote sample dialogues in Google Slides and had students act them out. I used breakout rooms to allow group discussion of a topic. It was important to create groups with the right chemistry, then mix them up for variety. Popping in was also crucial to make sure everybody was on track.
When it comes to speaking exercises, it is important to use the mute all and unmute functions seamlessly, which is easier said than done. But once I got the hang of it, I could teach and have the students respond without long interruptions.
One of my favourite lessons was searching online for recipes. We discussed ways to do that, the vocabulary used, and watched a Jamie Oliver video. The highlight was having students email me links to their favorite recipes. Now, I know how to make Japanese cheesecake!
Taking all of this into account, I now feel I’m a much better online teacher than when I started out, and I improve with every passing day. You always learn something new.
I think the case is the same for my colleagues, who I got to know a lot better as we connected through Zoom groups and shared ideas. An added benefit of online teaching is breaking down classroom walls when it comes to sharing our experiences.
How have you liked online teaching? What are the lessons you learned? Please share.