Technologically and linguistically adventurous EFL teacher, trainer, writer and manager

Calmer seas

The title of this week’s post is inspired by Zhenya Polosatova. I’ve just read her post comparing the current situation to being in a boat – you can’t decide how the sea behaves, or what the weather conditions are, but you can decide what’s happening in the boat. I feel like this is the first week that’s been anything approaching a standard 5-day work week since the middle of March when all this started. The seas are definitely calmer now. About 90% of what I did was what I’d normally be doing at this time in the year: teaching, helping teachers, admin work for this point in the year, and some forward planning for next year. I feel like most of us have now reached the acceptance stage of the change curve, and some are moving to the problem solving stage.

1. Blame others. 2. Blame self. 3. Uncertainty/confusion. 4. Acceptance/Rationalisation. 5. Problem solving. 6. Moving on

Away from work, I’ve been going back to some of my favourite books in the past few weeks. I read Winnie the Pooh again after a gap of at least 20 years. I’d forgotten how full of wisdom it is. Here’s my favourite, a reminder not to worry about things you can’t do anything about:
“Supposing a tree fell down, Pooh, when we were underneath it?” “Supposing it didn’t,” said Pooh after careful thought. Piglet was comforted by this.

My Zoom lessons

Testing times

Our first elementary teen lesson this week was a test lesson as we’ve reached the end of the unit. Revision was creating sentences from pictures using all the different forms we’ve studied, and a few minutes playing collaborative Quizlet Live with a bumper set of vocabulary (I described how to play this on Zoom here). The test was done through Google Docs, as described in the ‘Testing’ section of last week’s post. These were some of the problems I had and how we resolved them:

  • Before they started, I shared my screen and demonstrated how to fill in the test.
  • One student couldn’t copy and paste the link, then was pasting it in the search bar, not the address bar (she’s 11). The other students explained to her in Polish, and I managed to get her to share her screen to check she was pasting it in the right place.
  • Another student couldn’t open the link at all. I sent her a version of the link I’d shortened using bit.ly so she could type it out more easily. (Top tip: you can edit the link so it’s words instead of a random string of letters and numbers. Don’t use capital letters as the links are case sensitive.)
  • The same student then couldn’t edit the document. She hand-wrote the answers in her notebook. I saw her notebook and know she did this, but am waiting for her to email them to me!
  • Speaking to students to solve problems disturbs the others. For the second class, I created three breakout rooms. You can rename rooms, so I called them ‘Doing test’, ‘Problems’ and ‘Finished test’. Once all students had their tests open, I moved everybody from the main room into ‘Doing test’. You can move students from one room to another as needed during the test by clicking ‘reassign’ next to their names. This is also a good way to keep fast finishers engaged.

Problems, Finished, Doing the test

  • I had all of the tests open in separate tabs so could see that everyone was working, and roughly how far through they were. This is a low stakes unit test, so I’d asked them to put their books and phones on the other side of the room, but wasn’t too worried if they cheated – at least they’d learn something that way (I know none of mine did though – the test was well within everyone’s capabilities!)

With the first group, dealing with the test problems meant it took almost the whole lesson. With the second group, they had a few minutes at the end. When asked what they wanted to do, they said play Quizlet. Half of them played Match, posting their fastest time in the chat box, and the other half played individual Quizlet Live. This worked really well for 10 minutes, and I know they were all actively engaged, though I wouldn’t do it for much longer than that in a lesson as both of those are receptive, and there’s no productive practice there. It was a nice reward for getting through a whole unit of the book while being taught online 🙂

Pacing makes all the difference

We started a new unit in the second lesson, Entertainment. The first set of vocabulary is TV programmes. I thought that since the students enjoy Netflix, this would be very motivating for them. This was true, but it was too much so in the first group! It felt like chaos at certain points, when they all shouted over each other debating which shows are good and bad entirely in Polish. This was entirely my fault: I’d let test feedback drag on for too long in the first part of the lesson (20 minutes instead of the 10 I managed in the second lesson), and they’d lost interest, which meant that it was hard to get their focus back, and chaos ruled for most of the rest of the lesson. One student out and out told me he was bored!

As part of the test feedback, I experimented with annotation tools for the first time, having seen a teacher use them successfully during a drop in observation on Tuesday (thanks Ash!). I only realised I could do this once I’d already lost the first group, so it wasn’t very efficient as I tried to work things out on the spot. With the second group it worked like a dream, and I could hear them asking in Polish ‘What’s teacher doing to the screen? How’s she doing that?’ 🙂 I’ll definitely use annotation tools again, but plan more carefully how and when.

To introduce 12 items of vocab, we broke it down into 4 groups of 3, with the following sequence:

  • Look at four pictures on the slide. What kind of shows can you see? Call out.
  • Reinforce any they already know. e.g. Yes, well done! 4 is a reality show.
  • Fill the gaps by introducing the other words, combined with the drilling below. If they were confused, elicit Polish examples of each type of programme.
  • Drill the words a few times. Go backwards and forwards to keep reminding them, in as fun/pacy a way as possible. e.g. word 1, 1, 1, word 2, 2, 2, 1, 2, 2, 1, 1, word 3, 3, 3, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, 1 2, 3 2, 1 3, word 4, 4, 4, 4, 3, 3, 4, 3, 2, 3, 2, 1, 1, 2 3, 4 3, 4 2, etc.
  • They copy the four words into their notebooks, along with an example of that kind of show (in Polish if necessary).
  • Repeat the cycle for 5-8. When drilling flick back to the 1-4 slide sometimes and re-elicit some of the words. Then repeat for 9-12, going back to 1-4 and 5-8 sometimes.

This kind of sequence works well in a face-to-face classroom, and I think it was passable in Zoom, but I feel like there are probably other more efficient ways to introduce these words. Let me know if you have one!

I held up a mini whiteboard and demonstrated step-by-step the creation of a TV guide, inspired by another drop-in observation (thanks Jodie!). The students made their own in their notebooks as we went along, ending up with something like this:

Sandy vision: Tigers on TV, Tram time!, Science today

They then copied two questions into their notebooks: ‘What’s your TV channel?’ ‘What’s on at 6?’ This enabled them to go into breakout rooms and get a fuller TV guide. I realised afterwards that I should have added ‘What’s that?’ to give them a clear question for the genre. Both groups were engaged with this task, and there were some very creative TV programmes.

With the second group, there was time to drill this conversation and for them to practise it in breakout rooms:

What are you going to watch? I'm going to watch _____ What's that? It's _____. That sounds great! Me too! / That sounds boring! I'm going to watch ____. It's a ______.

This is their first encounter with the grammar we’re going to (!) study next week. Thanks to Jude G for suggesting the use of pictures and colour-coding to make the turn-taking clearer and to brighten up the slide.

Polish

In our Polish lesson we had a similar short dialogue between a victim, a police officer, and a thief. As well as using pictures and colour-coding, I also held different toys up to the camera who was speaking as I introduced then drilled the conversation. We all agreed that this made it much clearer which student (there were only 3!) should be speaking at each point.

Bydgoszcz bear (the victim), an IH money box (the police) and the penguin from the Wrong Trousers (the thief)

Bydgoszcz bear (the victim), an IH money box (the police) and the penguin from the Wrong Trousers (the thief)

Mini reflection

If nothing else, teaching on Zoom has finally got me into the habit of providing very clear functional language and making sure students write it down, something I’ve only ever done sporadically before.

However, yet again there was no movement in any of my lessons (apart from at break time!). I’m finding it challenging to incorporate movement seamlessly with these groups, and the activities I’ve used previously involving movement meant me speaking a lot, and the students not really producing much (an 80-20 ratio according to the observer who saw me run it). Something to think about more for next week…

Management

The only major thing that came up this week was figuring out a way to test the youngest students’ progress (beginner/elementary 7/8 year olds). We realised that if you display the questions one at a time on slides, the students can write the answers in the chat box and you can then download the chat to mark later. For students with minimal literacy, they can be given two options and just type 1 or 2. To push them a little, you might have a choice of words for an item, or you show them the vocab and they type the word. (Thanks Char!)

Of course, this is also an excellent time to re-consider the place of testing in our classrooms, and decide how necessary it actually is. This ‘long read’ from the Guardian is worth it to see what one family have learnt from two months of home schooling in Italy, and how it’s changed some of their attitudes to education.

Useful links

Lots of teachers are sharing their reflections on the current teaching situation. Here are a few I know about:

  • Rose Bard in Brazil, teaching small groups in Brazil
  • Hana Ticha, teaching secondary in the Czech Republic
  • Emma Johnston, teaching private language school students in Chile
  • Rachel Tsateri, teaching private language school students in Spain
  • Naomi Epstein, teaching deaf and hard of hearing students in Israel

I’ve linked to one post per blog, but it’s worth exploring: there are lots of useful things on all of their blogs. It’s interesting to hear how different people are adapting to the situation, and what they’re learning in the process.

If you prefer to listen rather than read (well done for getting this far down my post!), TEFLology created a podcast episode with the reflections of Anna Loseva (in Vietnam), Rob Playfair (in the UK) and Mustafa Nazari (in Iran). TEFL Commute have started a new series of short podcasts called Who’s Zooming who?

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:

You may also find some other posts on my blog/which I’ve written useful:

Stay healthy. Stay safe. Stay kind. And stay at home (if you still have to!)

Comments on: "Calmer seas" (1)

  1. What an insightful post!

    Liked by 1 person

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