The week started with a discussion with the school Director in which we decided to switch to working from home. Our teachers had been working from school for the first week of online teaching, and Poland is not (yet) on full lockdown, but it’s safer for all of our teachers to make that shift. Tuesday was about getting everybody set up at home, including me.
I don’t think I’ve ever used my phone as much as I did on Thursday – 7 or 8 calls, none of which was shorter than 15 minutes, plus texts, WhatsApp messages, facebook messages, emails, and a Zoom call. It was really hard to know what to focus on! In between all of that, I did manage to update everybody’s timetables and get them sent out, but it took all day. It made me appreciate how much I benefit from being able to just pop to the staffroom or reception to pass on messages or ask questions when we’re at school. Thankfully on Friday things had settled down somewhat. We ran our weekly meeting and workshop via Zoom, looking at examples of online dictionaries and corpora.
I feel like the biggest management challenge for me in the coming weeks will be loneliness and a lack of balance in my interactions, missing informal chats in between bursts of work, as most conversations I have during the working day will inevitably be problem solving. That’s something I’ll need to actively seek out. On the plus side, it was nice to eat lunch in my own kitchen 🙂
Yet again, I’m incredibly grateful to the rest of the management team (Grzegorz, Ruth, Emma) and the office staff (Mariola, Sandra) for all of the work they’ve put into making the transition smooth and keeping lines of communication open. And to the teachers for all of their hard work!
My Zoom lessons
This week, we practised weather phrases and introduced comparatives. I’ve stuck to using the chat box, screen sharing, audio and video this week. That’s enough, I think, as I don’t want to overwhelm myself or the students too much.
I taught my first Polish lesson online too. There were three students and we did parts of the body, making use of teddies to show the parts of the body that are more challenging for the camera to get to, like ‘back’, ‘foot’, and ‘legs’! It was pretty entertaining 🙂 After every few words, the students predicted the spellings in the chat box, so we did more work on sound-spelling relationships, and looked at some plurals in the process too.
I feel like I’ve been able to do a lot more focussed correction than I can in the physical classroom, and my teen students have definitely had a lot more writing practice in the last two weeks.
I started using nomination chains, with each student saying who the next one to speak would be. This is something I generally avoid in the face-to-face classroom – I’d always associated it with feedback stages that go on for too long and in which students lose interest and the pace drops. In Zoom it worked really well for creating prompts for activities that everybody could participate in, as in the two examples below.
Drawing activity on Zoom
To test what weather students knew, they looked at a weather map of Poland and wrote their ideas in the chat box. I then filled in a couple of gaps by referring them to their coursebook and checking problem phrases.
Once I knew they had the basics, they all got a piece of (real) paper. I said a kind of weather and they had to draw it. We then had a nomination chain of what to draw next, and I joined in. After each one, they put their paper to the camera once they were done and I helped anybody who didn’t understand and commented on any similarities, for example “Look, N, we’ve both drawn a sad flower for ‘It’s dry'”. If their camera wasn’t working, they just had to say they’d finished.
I elicited the questions ‘What’s the weather like?’ and ‘What are you doing?’ by drawing a gapped sentence on my paper and getting words from the students. They copied it to their paper and again showed me when they were finished.
Equipped with the question and their pictures, students went into breakout rooms. They showed each other pictures and asked the two questions. If they didn’t have a camera, they asked ‘What are you doing?’ and the other student guess the weather ‘Is it sunny?’
This worked quite nicely for an activity I made up on the spot, but could probably do with a clear communicative purpose if I did it again.
I choose two things, for example ‘summer’ and ‘winter’. The students wrote their ideas for ways to compare them in the chat box. I praised their attempts, especially if they tried to write more complex sentences, and corrected those who needed it, mostly using prompts: ‘W, how do you spell ‘than’?’ ‘T, you need an extra word.’ The students wrote the corrected sentence in the box without prompting. Once everyone had a couple of ideas, a student chose the next two things to compare.
This also worked well, with students being quite creative with their ideas. It was a good game to focus on the form of the comparative structure, but didn’t really have a clear communicative purpose again. Definitely something I need to focus on in next week’s lessons.
Zoom learning and tips
In breakout rooms, students can share their screen with each other. (Thanks Jude!)
Last week, Ash mentioned putting all of the Google Docs your students may need into a single folder and sending them one link. This week, he’s updated that to suggest numbering them in order to help you and the students work out what’s next. It seems like such a simple thing, but hadn’t occurred to me!
If there’s one thing we’re not short of right now, it’s links to further development (sorry for adding to them!) Anyway, here are a few you may want to explore.
- Teresa Bestwick has a series of visualisations you can use with students – this works well as mindfulness and a break from the screen for them: the park, going to school, going shopping, the beach
- James Egerton is posting a series of relevant lesson plans, including one on coronavirus myth busting
- Jennie Wright has a coronavirus find someone who activity, particularly good for adults and business classes
- Lots of activity ideas from Rachel Tsateri
- Jim has advice on how to make sure you’re developing all four skills, including activities for each, and also has a whole ton of other links to explore.
Tips and advice
- Susan Lee Scott works in Vietnam, where she’s now been teaching online for 8 weeks. Here’s her advice.
- Russell Stannard has a full set of Teacher Training Online videos connected to using Zoom, including a 12-minute guide to using breakout rooms.
- Julie Moore has tips on ergonomics when using a laptop to work from home, helping you to reduce the aches and pains which I know I’m already feeling.
- I shared Phil Longwell’s Covid-19 Mental Health and Wellbeing post last week, and will continue to share it – so much useful advice here.
To finish off, here’s an infographic from Angelos Bollas about how to plan and run activities in breakout rooms:
The rest of the series
Each week I’ve summarised what our teachers and I have learnt during the transition to online teaching. Every post includes some tips about using Zoom, activities we’ve tried out (many adapted from the face-to-face classroom), and reflections on how my teaching and management have been affected by working from home. Here are all of the posts so far:
- Ideas for adapting group lessons to working on Zoom
- Moving a school online: reflections from week one of using Zoom
- The transition to working from home (this post)
- The world is changing
- The new normal?
- Half a week
- Calmer seas
- What we do
- There’s always a story
- What a difference a week makes
- The end of normal teaching
You may also find some other posts on my blog/which I’ve written useful:
- Separating work and life when you’re quarantined in one room
- Adding movement to online lessons (a guest post by Olga Stolbova)
- Adding movement to your online lessons (crowdsourced from IH Bydgoszcz teachers)
- 4 tips for teaching teens online
- Online activities that really work when teaching teenagers online (a compilation of activities used by IH Bydgoszcz teachers)
- Using NearPod for asynchronous online teaching (a guest post by Katie Lindley)
- Moving teaching online (IATEFL panel discussion recording – I was on the panel)
- How do we teach when we’re teaching online (a guest post by Laura Edwards)
- Mentimeter and word clouds
- TEFL (online) Tantrums (a guest poem by Jenna Edmondson)
- Fortune teller decision maker
- A post-corona SWOT analysis
Stay healthy. Stay safe. Stay kind. And stay at home (if you still have to!)