“Pandemagogy”

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By Linda Peteherych

One LINC Literacy Instructor’s Experience with Emergency Remote Teaching (ERT)

While many LINC teachers have been incorporating an online component into their courses over the past few years, I have felt that it would not be a good idea for my LINC 1 literacy learners.  After having been forced to teach literacy solely via the computer for 4 months, I can say that my suspicion about face-to-face teaching being far superior for literacy students was correct.  However, I have also learned that low literacy students not only can learn to use e-mail and online learning but that they should, and I will continue to incorporate computer literacy into my curriculum.

Ups and Downs

Having to do emergency remote teaching so suddenly, without the skills, and with students who did not have the skills, was what made it so difficult.  At times it felt impossible.  There were ups and downs, but some good did result from my experience with emergency remote teaching.

The Ups:

  • My students and I learned new tech skills.
  • Most of my students became more independent and made noticeable progress in all four skills.
  • We completed 7 assessments.
  • I learned that my students and their support networks could take on more responsibility.

 The Downs:

  • At the onset, a lot of time was wasted obtaining correct student e-mail addresses.
  • I spent far too many stressful hours learning new technology that would enable me to send some useful content to students each day.  The time spent preparing, replying to e-mails, and record keeping was too great relative to the amount of effective teaching time.
  • As many literacy instructors experienced, teaching writing via ERT was very difficult.  Effective reading and writing instruction for literacy learners involves moment to moment careful observation, skilled eliciting and prompting, and allowing learners time to figure things out by themselves using the skills you have taught and modeled.  I could not do this with groups of students during video conferences.  
  • Also, teaching printing was out of the question because I like to watch my new printers carefully to ensure they form letters correctly instead of fossilizing bad habits.  This may not sound important, but correct left to right directionality during writing does help with beginning reading.
  • Worst of all, a few students had to abandon online learning because nobody in their households had the skills to help them. 

Face to Face Again

My students and I were very happy to begin a blended learning format this past September.  Instead of two classes of 10 students, I now have four groups of 5 students: 3 LINC 1Literacy groups and a Foundations group.  Each group of 5 is in the classroom two days a week and learning via e-mail on the other two days of our 4-day school week.  Masks, visors, sanitizer, cleaning products, and a daily COVID 19 survey have kept us safe so far.

Strategies for Remote & Blended Teaching

Literacy students need to be taught to use a balance of: reading for meaning; using an awareness of correct English sentence structure – or what ‘sounds right’ ; and noticing the details of the print itself.  In order to teach these skills, the following strategies work well for both emergency remote teaching and blended learning:

#1.  Use Images, Audio and Videos

All literacy lesson content needs to be taught with images.  During ERT and blended teaching, images as well as videos and website links are necessary for ensuring students understand the meaning of the target language and can master it in listening and speaking before reading and writing.  I made a number of videos using either my camera or PowerPoint.  For those who would like to make PPT videos, see this helpful YouTube demonstration.  Short PPT videos can be attached to e-mails, and regular videos can be uploaded to a private YouTube channel and sent to students via a link.  I also found some useful listening and reading practice activities at Learning Chocolate.  Videos can be so wonderfully helpful for practicing new language that I will continue making videos and e-mailing them to students for homework after this pandemic is over.

If you use vocabulary practice websites and videos to skill-build new vocabulary, make sure to spend most of your teaching time helping students use the new language in complete sentences so that learners develop an awareness of correct English structure.  When students begin to learn what ‘sounds right’, they can use that to predict words while reading.

#2.  Add Visuals to E-mails

I help students understand the meaning of my e-mails with icons, symbols, and photos.

I use full sentences that my students have become familiar with, in order to build structural awareness.

I also use double spaces between all words in my e-mails and handouts to help students notice the details of print.

#3.  Video Conferencing

 The students met me on Zoom twice a week during emergency remote teaching for instruction, student questions, practice, and eventually assessments.  I did not give out paper packages.

#4.  Homework

I gave homework assignments each school day.  Along with studying videos and links, my students were usually required to write on paper, photograph their papers, and e-mail the photos to me.  There were some keen students who did the homework immediately, others had to wait for family members to help them, and some only submitted about half of the assignments.

#5.  Links for extra practice and learning

I often sent links to easy digital readers, such as some of the easiest books from  Unite For Literacy .  I hope to be using the Reading A-Z website soon. For a general knowledge and family literacy activity, I often sent Mystery Doug video links and instructed my students to watch the videos with their children. 

To Sum Up

The COVID 19 pandemic and the resulting online teaching and learning forced my students and I to learn some valuable skills.  I will continue to communicate with my students via e-mail, to send them links, and to make videos that help them practice our target language.  However, online teaching should not become the new normal for literacy learners.  There are a growing number of wonderful educational websites, but teaching basic reading and writing is far more effective with face-to-face instruction.  For this reason, I look forward to the day when we are addressing the root causes of these viral pandemics.  Whether it is COVID 19, the H1N1 Swine Flu, SARS, or Ebola, vaccines will not protect us from new versions of these viruses.  However, real hope can be found in improved worldwide literacy and science education.  Whether we teach face-to-face, in a blended situation, or – as a last resort – fully online, literacy instruction is an invaluable and rewarding job that is becoming more necessary in our interconnected world.

Linda Peteherych is Burnaby School District’s Literacy Lead and a LINC 1 Instructor. Over the past 27 years teaching LINC, Linda has become a skilled adult ESL literacy instructor. She recently audited a 2-year in-service course for elementary school teachers in a reading and writing intervention program for grade 1 learners. Linda applies this to her LINC literacy instruction with great success.

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