THE NEW NORMAL – LEARNING TO TEACH ONLINE

Standard

By Sarah Barr

In the spring of 2020, as Covid took hold, I watched my class get smaller and smaller. By the middle of March there were only about 3 people who came to my lessons. They all sat apart trying to follow this new “social distancing”. I remember standing in front of the classroom and saying, “Well, looks like we are some of the bravest people still willing to come to class.” Then one student quite astutely said, “Or we are the stupidest.” That was the last day I taught inside a classroom.

Figuring Out Zoom

As we all hunkered down in our houses, my work offered online learning. I enlisted some friends and family to be my practice online class. All was going well until we entered the breakout rooms. My 11 year old son thought he had to “break out” of this room so spent his entire time trying to escape. A few days later with my real beginner ESL class, things were going well until I created the breakout rooms. I joined virtual room #1 and no one was there. Until I figured out how to automatically send my beginner ESL students to the breakout rooms, I kept turning up in virtual rooms all by myself.

Confined to a Zoom Box

Next on my list of things to solve was how to teach while stuck in a Zoom box. Since people could only see my head and not much more, my usual technique of walking around a room trying to act out explanations was out the window. My miming and hand gestures were now confined to a small box only showing the top third of my body. Once a student asked what “crossed legs” meant? I demonstrated by crossing my fingers, pretending they were legs. This is the new normal – teaching in a square box.

Crossed-legged.

Screenshots Galore

Miscommunications happen to the best of us but throw in beginner ESL students with sometimes limited computer skills and it’s certainly no picnic trying to get everyone to follow instructions. I found the best way to combat this problem was to take screenshots or photos to demonstrate what needed to be done. For example, I showed everyone that you need to click on the white dots/View in the upper right corner to select Gallery View, if you want to see everyone’s faces. In the old days I could have pointed at my smartboard and showed everyone what to do. Now I’m stuck on the other side of the computer screen unable to help like I used to. 

Screenshots

So my usual bag of goodies with hands on materials: flash cards, games and anything involving dice is a distant memory. However, although online learning has been forced upon us, it’s not all bad. I no longer have to battle with my nemesis: the photocopier which always seemed to run out of paper whenever it was my turn to use it.

Question:

How has your teaching changed since teaching online?

Bio: Sarah Barr immigrated to Canada in 2015 from Christchurch, New Zealand. She started teaching ESL over 20 years ago and has worked in England, New Zealand and Canada. Currently Sarah works at the North Shore Multicultural Society and volunteers at North Shore Emergency Management giving presentations on how to be prepared for emergencies.

Meet Ms. Unicorn and her Class of Stuffies: Creative Teacher Education Practices for Pandemic Times

Standard

By Christie Fraser      

I am a “teacher of teachers” and that is extraordinary! When you teach teacher candidates (TCs), EVERYTHING is a teachable moment. TCs watch your every move—every word—as guidance for when they are in their future classrooms. But what does exceptional teaching look like in virtual course delivery? How do I model teaching strategies for my TCs from behind my computer screen? How do my TCs practice new teaching strategies when they are alone? How do I prepare teachers for teaching in a classroom when they are not currently able to do so because of pandemic restrictions?

The Inspired Idea

Last summer as I sat at home planning for the pandemic term, something caught my eye. In my daughter’s TV show were little children role-playing with their stuffed animals. That’s when it occurred to me: why not create a virtual classroom of stuffies that I could use to model instructional strategies? Et voilà! (“And there you go!” in French): meet Ms. Unicorn and her class of stuffies. 

Ms. Unicorn and her class

This modeling epiphany was a game-changer in my virtual teaching practice. I was able to use the stuffies to demonstrate teaching strategies and to role-play the various parts of what teachers can do in the classroom (and how students might respond). I recorded myself and posted these videos in my asynchronous virtual course. Click HERE for an excerpt from one of my videos.

The Inspiration That Followed

What happened next was really where this practice took off. In an activity that followed, the students were asked to record themselves reading a story as they might to a class of students. My expectation was that I would get just that – a view of the TC and their chosen book, reading to the camera. But what happened was amazing. The students took the strategy they had seen in my video and ran with it. I met classes filled with all kinds of stuffies! I also met live cats and dogs, small plastic animals, a blow-up giraffe, a gigantic stuffed rabbit, GI Joe figurines, and even a whole class of pumpkins all named “gourd” and a Lego school. I modelled and they followed!

Learning from Ms. Unicorn

There are so many pieces to what I have learned from this experience. I learned that it really isn’t about how a course is delivered, classroom or virtually. It is about how you teach in that delivery. I was reminded again of the value of taking risks and being vulnerable in teaching. I certainly felt very silly playing with the stuffies and recording myself the first time around! And finally, maybe together isn’t always better? Well maybe it is, but this practice can be the next best thing when we can’t be together. 

Great teaching requires opportunities for creativity and taking risks, both of which have been presented for myself and my students in virtual course delivery. With great risks can come great rewards in learning and teaching, even during a pandemic!

Bio: Dr. Christie Fraser has been an educator for over 20 years. Currently, she is an Assistant Teaching Professor in the Faculty of Education and Social Work at Thompson Rivers University in beautiful BC. 

Questions

Have you taken new risks in your classroom because of the COVID19 pandemic? How have pandemic restrictions unexpectedly inspired your practice? Leave your comments below.

References

Woolfolk, A., Winne, P., & Perry, N. (2020). Educational Psychology: 7th Custom Canadian Edition. Toronto: Pearson.

Navigating the New Classroom

Standard

By Tanya Cowie

Let’s take a deep breath, be flexible

and find joy as best we can.

Tanya Cowie

As EAL instructors, we are used to dealing with intercultural challenges, such as students not wanting to work with each other and misunderstandings. This is stressful, and given we are now teaching and learning online, even more intense. Students are also dealing with tech stress and those with disabilities can have an even tougher time. I was fortunate to attend some online events that promoted mindfulness in intercultural communication and the realities of the new classroom, and wanted to share what I learned.

Being Mindful

Last October, BC TEAL/SIETAR BC’s Self-Studies in Language and Pedagogy included a webinar on Mindfulness and Intercultural Communication with Amea Wilbur and Taslim Damji. This was a great reminder to be mindful in all our interactions with students (and colleagues!). The key is to be aware of yourself and notice your physical sensations, your emotions and feelings, and your thoughts and behaviours. Follow this cycle in times of communication breakdowns: breathe, suspend judgement, take a step back, reflect on what happened, and then decide on a goal and how to get there. Many times, if we are mindful of our responses and find curiosity in the moment, we will handle things better. 

Handling Tech Stress

We especially need to be mindful of tech stresses involved with switching to online. Our students have not only had to learn new technologies, but getting the actual devices is also difficult for some. True inequalities are apparent. Some students can only use a phone to connect, some are without wifi, and many are without a video cam. In the webinar Digital Equity (a SIETAR/ Langara event), Dr. Suzanne Smythe recounted that the CTRC found that 31% of Canadians who earned less than $33,000 a year did not have access to the internet, and 37% did not have a working home computer. This includes many of our students.  I have to remind myself to assess English, not tech skills.  Being flexible helps. I give students multiple ways to submit assessments, such as sending videos via email or an app; I reset listening assessments if there are wifi interruptions and give extensions if possible. 

Learning Technology for Students with Disabilities

For students with disabilities, moving online can create even more difficulties with course materials and digital platforms. In another BC TEAL/SIETAR BC  self-studies webinar, Seeing Beyond Vision Loss, Anu Pala talked about students with vision loss navigating online platforms. Anu has complete vision loss, and due to this lived experience and her being tech savvy, she helps teachers and students learn what technology can be adapted. (Watch for Anu at our next BC TEAL conference!) 

Finding Joy

If you have not tweeted with #CdnELTchat you should! It is such a great platform for discussions about all things EAL and tech. While participating, I always feel inspired. Recently they had a twitter session on the stresses of teaching/learning online and we talked about finding joy in these difficult times. For me, teaching with my dog sleeping at my feet helps me to see some happiness in these times of the pandemic.

Surviving Covid

Acknowledging that we have extra stresses now, and being mindful of all our interactions, can build understanding. Let’s take a deep breath, be flexible and find joy as best we can.

Further Study

If you would like to take part in discussions on diversity and equity in the classroom,
come to the next BCTEAL/ SIETAR BC Self-Studies! 
Come tweet with #CdnELTchat.  

References

Smythe, S. (2020, April 21). Digital equity and community solidarity during and after COVID-19. Retrieved January 17, 2021, from https://www.policynote.ca/digital-equity/

(n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.a-nuvision.ca/

Author Jen, & Jen. (2019, October 04). #CdnELTchat Summary for September 24, 2019 (Self-care for teachers). Retrieved January 17, 2021, from https://bcteal.wordpress.com/2019/10/03/cdneltchat-summary-for-september-24-2019-self-care-for-teachers/

https://www.bcteal.org/bcteal_event/self-studies-in-language-and-pedagogy-october-2020/. (n.d.).

https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/self-studies-series-2020-tickets-129064618749. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/self-studies-series-2020-tickets-129064618749

Bio: Tanya has been teaching EAL for over 25 years and teaches in the Pathways program at VCC. She is a lifelong learner and has interests in Intercultural Communication, Anti-racism, and EAL Pedagogy. Tanya has a certificate in Intercultural Studies from UBC, is an IDI Qualified administrator and is a SIETAR BC board member. Tanya currently works and resides on the lands of the Tsleil-Waututh, Squamish and Stó:lō.


Putting it to You

What are you doing to make your new classroom work?

Share your ideas in the reply section below! 


“Pandemagogy”

Standard

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.

The Revealing Shift to Online Tutoring

Standard

By Kari Karlsbjerg

An Eye-Opening Experience

At Vancouver Community College’s (VCC) Learning Centre, answering student questions is our business, and ever since the abrupt move to online instruction last March, our students have had A LOT of questions. Overnight, our usual focus on providing English, job-hunting and study-skills assistance for our students dramatically expanded to include answering questions about the new logistics of accessing their classes, questions about their kids’ schools, plus listening to their fears about the daily rising COVID-19 numbers and worries about the future. The hundreds of hours of online one-on-one EAL tutoring sessions we have done with VCC’s students over the last eight months has truly been an eye-opening experience. We have discovered firsthand the isolation of so many of our immigrant students, the challenges of the deepening digital divide, and the substantial changes required to effectively tutor students in an online setting.

Some Background

For some background, VCC students can sign up for three 30-minute online tutoring appointments every week. We provide English, career and study skills tutoring to any VCC students taking English courses from LINC to Pathways to University Transfer and all the career programs, like Hospitality. To ensure that our students received a continuity of support, we moved all tutoring services online in mid-March. We shifted to using the WCOnline video tutoring platform, which allows us to have video chats with students while simultaneously looking at their questions and papers posted on the shared Whiteboard. 

Isolation

The blurring of boundaries that naturally resulted from the location shift from campus to private online meetings in our homes resulted in students sharing far more about their lives. As the months went by, a concerning issue came to the forefront – the deep loneliness of many of our immigrant students who had few local connections and felt cut off from their homeland. It was not uncommon for us to hear that speaking with us was the only conversation they had in a week besides their limited online classroom time. On the lighter side, online sessions in their homes also lets student show us other aspects of their lives and personalities by showing us their beloved pet or special piece of art or decoration in their home. 

The Digital Divide

Online tutoring also exposed the two vastly different digital worlds of our students: one group accessing our services through the latest expensive devices using speedy Wi-Fi connections and the other group struggling to access our session using ancient used computers and unreliable, dodgy internet connections. Unfortunately, the second group rarely signed up more than once for online tutoring sessions as it was just too frustrating and discouraging for them and almost impossible for us to give them any meaningful assistance. In addition, many low-level students simply lacked the basic English skills required to book an online tutoring session. As a result, the change from face to face sessions to online ones has meant that we have sadly lost much of our LINC four and lower level students. 

Adapting

Online appointments have resulted in a few changes to our regular tutoring practice. One of the most significant is in the way we start our sessions. In person, we could incorporate body language and indicate our welcome by smiling and pulling out a chair for the student while making small talk. However, online, it is harder to give a warm and personal welcome, and it feels so cold and robotic to directly move to asking how we can help them. Therefore, we make a point of looking directly in the camera and give them a smiling welcome using their name. We use the reader-response method of tutoring writing and insist that the students make their own edits during the discussion, but their slow typing speed can make the process frustratingly slow in the online setting. On the other hand, online video chat tutoring has been revolutionary for tutoring EAL students with their pronunciation and speaking skills. The private nature of the sessions completely removes any of their previous embarrassment of practicing sounds and doing minimal pair drills in a public library setting and there have been some stunning improvements as a result. 

The Final Word

All in all, online tutoring is working out and the English tutors have been fully booked since March. We are grateful that we can continue to be the backdrop of support for our students as they progress through their years at VCC. 

A Question

How has your institute dealt with transitioning online? Share your ideas in the comment section. Let’s work together!

Kari Karlsbjerg has been an English Tutor with the VCC Learning Centre for over 12 years. In addition, shenew best-selling bilingual guidebook, Everyday Vancouver (https://everydayvancouver.ca/) which contains practical cultural information about regular daily life that Korean newcomers need to feel at home here in Vancouver. Previously, she wrote similar books on everyday life and culture for Chinese newcomers that were published in both Canada and China in: “My New Life in Vancouver “and “Vancouver 365” which are also  bilingual (English and Mandarin).