After 18 months teaching exclusively online what pieces of advice, if any, would I have to share with my fellow language teachers? Here are some of the things I already knew and needed to put into practice and others I had to learn the hard way:
Equipment is key – a decent notebook or computer with a good camera and microphone. My older computer had a lousy camera – six months into the pandemic with a grainy image I had to upgrade it. Add to the equipment the necessary microphone and headset (preferably with a cord to avoid interference and power surges). Also a ring light helps your professional image. Initially I thought it was just one extra unnecessary fluffy item, … but after my sweetheart gave me one, I can’t imagine going online without proper lighting. A second screen also helps a lot. Bear in mind, I didn’t say top of the line equipment – decent quality is good enough. No need to break the bank for the top brands.
Camera positioning – try to show yourself from the shoulders up, prop up the notebook with one or two dictionaries (they’re the perfect size), a box, or a proper laptop stand but the right height will make the difference on how you will be seen. Since we’re talking about cameras – remember to look into the camera – don’t focus on the screen – the camera will give you eye contact with your audience.
Dress properly – no top hat and tuxedo are necessary but sleeveless shirts are a ‘no-no’ for men (and women in some cultures). No need to hide your tattoos, if any, but keep a clean look … very few people can get away with a disheveled appearance and you probably are not one of them. Heard many times of people connecting wearing their pajama bottoms or none (chuckles) but my advice is: put on some pants, please. Getting dressed will help you feel like you’re doing something other than eating cereal for dinner in bed.
Check your internet connection – Wifi is ok if the only option available (but preferably connect through your cable – more stable connection). Check your camera, microphone and headset before the session begins. I use Zoom for 95% of my sessions and occasionally it automatically changes my default settings for microphone and headset. Lovely, huh? More than once I’ve found myself without voice or hearing. So… once again… check it BEFORE the session starts.
Prepare and Improvise – have your lesson and presentation ready, but be aware that things may change, remember that “student-centered lessons” are not just a cliché.
Be careful when you share your screen – close all tabs and apps you don’t think your students would like to see or know about. TMI is still applicable online. That will make you look and sound more professional. Hey, I’m human, too. Sometimes I forget to close my tabs on the browser and there’s Twitter, and Facebook, and YouTube open – nothing wrong with that – but none of my students’ business. Do I need to say anything about porn tabs?
Teaching online can be a rewarding experience or a nightmare depending much on how you prepare for it.
This year ( 15 months, 7 days, 9 hours and 46 minutes into the covid-19 pandemic – yes, I refuse to capitalize you) I went back to the classroom (remotely, how else?). I needed to brush up my conference interpreting skills in this brave new world (no pun intended) of remote simultaneous interpreting (RSI – as it is professionally abbreviated by those in the know).
I knew that Zoom and other video conferencing services had an add-on feature that would/might allow for simultaneous interpreting, but now I’ve discovered that there are whole sets of platforms operating along with them. In other words, the challenge to the interpreter has risen from just knowing the vocab and terminology and having mind agility to listening in one language and blurting out in a second or third language to becoming an IT and Sound engineer – more than doubling our checklist before even uttering the first sound.
I’ll write later about interpreting – now the focus is on remote learning.
Again the very respected interpreting and translation institution, Alumni, like make other educational structures, just transferred the onsite sessions to the online environment – same teachers, same methods, same length of sessions, same coffee breaks. Any changes necessary?
The flipped classroom format is ubiquitous – the school will send you an email with your assignments and agenda for the forthcoming class and woe is you if you don’t go over them carefully. Fine.
But they take some things for granted. In yesterday’s session, our very good trainer said – “Ok – during the interpreting practice remember to record your voices”.
Ok. Questions in my mind: “Did he tell us which app to use? how should we proceed?” It’s not intuitive.
I asked a boothmate and she told me she was using the Windows recorder. Ah ok.
Instructor: “After today’s session send me your recorded audio”.
My brain: “how? email? WhatsApp? a web platform? I don’t have his number or email address. Did I miss his instructions again?”
These are just simple examples for us teachers. We can’t just assume our students know what to do on their own (you know the old saying, right? “When you assume you make an ass of you and me”). Whatever happened to show and tell? Show me how you do it and then tell me to do it.
TAKEAWAY: If simple and clear instructions and directions were essential in the in-person environment they are crucial now in the remote classroom.
Most of us have been teaching exclusively online for over a year by now and it’s always good to review and refresh our personal approach when teaching on a virtual platform:
Positioning: Try to position yourself in the center of the screen, unless you’re showing a “whiteboard” or some other image. Keep the camera at your eye level so that students won’t be looking up your nostrils or down your balding spots 😉 . Remember to maintain eye contact – don’t be looking at your own image or your students’, rather, look into the camera (usually that little dot on top of your screen).
Appearance: make sure you’re dressed professionally – I’m not telling you to wear a tuxedo or a dress fit for a night at the opera. Just keep it neat and as wrinkle free as possible. Remember students can’t smell you but they do expect to see you. Pants are optional as long as you’re not planning to stand up. Should I wear a shirt or t-shirt? In my in-person classes I mostly wore shirts (and a jacket in colder weather) and on casual Fridays a polo shirt. Since the beginning of the pandemic I’ve gone down a notch by mostly wearing T-shirts , but trying to avoid brand logos and indiscreet messages on them. I know I’m going on a limb, but count on your common sense and anything with F*** would be deemed inappropriate. Of course check your teeth – nobody likes the embarrassment of seeing “a deer in the garden” or something else stuck in one’s teeth.
Background: Choose something neutral – a white wall or whiteboard would be perfect. A bookcase is fine but the simpler the better – a tv monitor switched on behind you could be very distracting, for example, as well as your pet(s) and toddlers. they’re lovely once or twice but they’re not included in your agreement pack with your students. Keep them away whenever possible.
Timing and Pacing: Some studies have showed that group response rates can be up to 20% lower online than in person, especially in a group setting. Remember that your voice is important but students’ talk time must be higher than yours. Don’t go lecturing when your students could be using that time to practice THEIR communication skills. Keep track of your class activities and always have one or two activities up your sleeve in case you go over all tasks and there are still 10 mins left. But that’s quite unusual. Usually it’s too much for such a little time. I have a student who has two 45-minute classes per week – and I always go overtime with her… that’s not good business sense or academically and I have to cut back on the activities and focus on key points. Remember that sometimes students (or yourself) might be having connection issues. Don’t lose your temper and be accommodating to the situation as it presents itself.
Reflect on your courses from the first session on a regular basis, make sure you’re delivering content that is useful and attractive to your students while keeping them satisfied. After all they’re your customers.
As a teacher of English and Spanish as Second or Foreign Languages for nearly 30 years one thing that will make students get highly motivated and pay attention to every word you say is when they have to undergo a job interview process. Some will break out in a cold sweat or start crying in the bathroom. What advice would I give them?
I don’t know if you will get the job but you will most certainly have had the chance to network and build your own confidence towards the next job interview.
Yes, the comic strip in my desk calendar was quite right – considering it was originally created in 2019, that the new year (2020) would be a LOT different from last year.
Exactly one year ago we prayed and gave thanks for coming to the end of a year, which hadn’t been easy financially and welcomed the New Year: 2020. What did I expect? A good year – an even number – representing balance and prosperity (at least in my thoughts and wishes, mind you). But then… Covid-19 happened. The year 2020 became an odd year.
In fast succession cities, states, and countries started shutting down – in Brazil (as everything else) we awoke after Carnival in March to the sad news that tropical and happy Brazil hadn’t been spared from the virus, contrary to what our clownish president J. Bolsonaro (a.k.a. Bozo) mockingly had promised would happen.
Companies, retailers, schools of all sorts were told to shut down and self-isolate. Initially social distancing was successful in some parts of Brazil – in March or April – when social distancing or stay at home campaigns reached the adherence of roughly 60% of the population. But as the days went by, and the virus didn’t seem to be THAT lethal, more and more people started wearing their masks under their chin instead of mouth and nose and getting more relaxed about large gatherings and crowds with people staying at home hovering at around 30%..
Back in January I had gloated that wife and I would never spend a Sabbath without going to church and just the thought sickened me to my stomach. Suddenly, in March churches were closed and now nine months later I feel like questioning myself -“why did I really make a point of going to church?”
Our English Sabbath School class went online and there it has been a source of fellowship and joy in the midst of all the bad news taking place.
All companies where I used to teach at shut their doors – if not to all employees – most certainly to all “nonessential” service providers – such as language teachers. Another hurtful 2020 keyword: “nonessential”. Are the Arts, Music, Education, physical contact not really essential?
My migration to Zoom was rather smooth – only one “Zoom bomb” incident – by the way, whose fault was it when the moronic teacher posted the meeting’s Zoom ID on Twitter – what was I thinking? (or not thinking? LOL) – I hadn’t used it before, but had already taught using FaceTime and Skype; had to learn some of the resources but at the same time I was reminded that “face time” is more important than all the gimmicks and tricks with PowerPoint or any other gaming gadget. Students need to see the teacher’s face more than a slide or special effects. The teacher must be focused on listening instead of looking at the next button to press or feeling turned on by their own image on the screen (chuckles).
Yes, a couple of students dropped out of classes because they didn’t “enjoy” online classes – (mind you, they not even bothered to try) but some new students joined the roster of my excellent learners and I was able to filter out those who need to find themselves before finding a teacher/tutor.
Hopefully I’ll be able to better use digital coursebooks in the coming year, honestly I didn’t come across any that grabbed my attention – I resigned myself to using PDF files of books I already knew. By the way, publishers will hopefully awake to the fact that learners need more than flashy photos with bells and whistles. Interactivity with the coursebook must involve vocabulary, pronunciation, listening, writing with resources to self record and verify accent and pronunciation; correct and explain grammar errors, etc.
Well, … it’s December 31 and what does the future hold? On a personal note, wife, and I and Luther will be moving to a new home in the countryside sometime in the first half of 2021. New place, new house, new people, new things to discover. I think that’s what the new year should invite us to do: Start 2021 with a purpose – to be different (and better) from who you were in 2020. If I can fulfill this resolution the dividends will be immeasurable.
Racism in Brazil shows its ugly face in some subtle ways – white people like me many times don’t even realize it. I grew up in a white family but at least one of my grandmothers was brown skinned (fruit of white and indigenous relations, I’m told) but she passed when I was seven and I don’t remember her very much. A cousin of mine married a black man back in the 60s and the family despite the initial shock welcomed them (to the best of my knowledge) and they had 3 children – with their own families today. My older brother sometimes would say that black people were lazy or something to that effect, but even he had a very close black friend (who also criticized black people – but that’s another whole story). My wife is light skinned but her father was black and her mother Italian – her siblings are darker than she is – so where does one’s race begin and another’s start? What color is one’s soul?
But talking to one of my students this morning I was made to think about my own experiences as a teacher regarding racism.
My niche market has been for the past 30 years in the business and corporate world, coaching and teaching executives and helping them to brush up their language skills and presentation skills, for example.
In all these years I can’t recall a time I taught a black person, not because of their color, but because of their absence in the corporate world I circulated in. I never had a chance to teach them.
When I had a language consultancy office back in the 90s we hired teachers and translators and 90% of them were white – it’s true but we did have an English black teacher (born in London to Brazilian parents). We also hired two Nigerian teachers and I can’t recall having problems with them due to racism from clients. Sometimes there would be academic or punctuality problems but nothing related to their race, methinks. (Or was the clients’ racism disguised in comments like ” they don’t have a clear accent”, “they’re usually late”, etc).
Now, black or white is a just a matter of skin pigmentation, but the fact that they are not selected to higher positions besides cleaning offices and being the kitchen help is quite disturbing. … Coming to think of it, even the waiters and waitresses working for the boards of directors at different companies and banks tended to be light skinned.
I’m told that in some countries just the fact that a person has one black ancestor (one drop of “black blood”) already makes them black, no matter their skin color. In Brazil that’s not so. Thanks to the miscegenation of races in our country you can find at least “50 shades” of blackness or “negritude”. One can be light-skinned with white facial features and straight hair and their sibling may be darker with curly hair and both although coming from the same social, economic, and educational background, may have had entirely different experiences with racism.
On a brighter note, people know that money is color blind and Brazilians have been discovering that dark-skinned fellow men and women can also spend money in services and goods.
But we still are far from Martin Luther King Jr’s dream when he declared: “let us judge one another on the content of our character rather than the color of our skin” .
We tend to like lists so I decided to present my adapted commandments (from https://www.shiftelearning.com/blog/bid/297719/The-Ten-eLearning-Commandments-Infographic) from what I’ve been learning as an online/remote teacher of English as a Foreign Language. Until 3 years ago, my wife and I used to travel a lot (she on business and I as a great travel companion) so I got used early on to teaching online using especially FaceTime – let’s say 5 or 6 years ago. Now with the pandemic, of course, both teacher and learners lost their choice of face to face or online classes. Of course, choice is still out there. One student moved from face to face to telephone-only classes. A few others decided that to pay for online classes would be a waste of time and money – like paying for a virtual sandwich – you can see it, even see its creation step by step, but not taste it, chuckles) – and they had Netflix and YouTube. Dump the teacher.
These commandments are nothing new but still relevant and mean to remind my students and I of what we are doing, the benefits of following them and the risks of breaking a single one of them.
Commandment #1: Thou Shalt NOT Put the Learner On a Pedestal
Now, that doesn’t mean learners are not important – without them – you cannot teach, right?
Ensure that your learner feels in control and well-oriented. The learner has to know what, why, and where learning is taking place.
So this is commandment #1. Make sure the learner experience is put first and foremost, but remember they’re paying you to be a teacher not their pal or confidant. For that they’d have to pay much, much more.
Commandment #2: Thou shalt not multitask
Thou shalt not multitask. Modern technology makes it easy to do many things at once, but that doesn’t always mean you should. If you’re communicating with others, focus on them, and them alone. Minimize the other tabs on your screen, silence your phone, and never eat or go to the bathroom during a call (unless it’s an emergency). Being on mute or having your camera turned off is not an excuse. You can wait. If you’re desperate or the meeting is running long, ask for a 5-minute break.
Commandment #3: Thou Shalt Plan, Plan, and be ready to throw the plan out of the window
Behind every successful man there is a woman, or so the saying goes. And behind every successful eLearning project, is a well-devised and detailed plan.
Beautiful idea but in practical terms the learner is not interested in whatever time and plans you have. It is THEIR agenda. Have your plan but rest assured that more often than not you won’t be able to implement it.
Commandment #4: Thou Shalt Respect Thy Learner and Thy Teacher
“R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Don’t know what it means to me” – Aretha Franklin
Ms. Franklin was right. Relationships require respect.
You’ve got to respect your learner’s intelligence and respond to their needs. Make sure you understand their background, how they like to learn, and what style of learning appeals to them. If you hit the wrong tone, your learners may feel demeaned and even insulted.
Commandment #5: Thou Shalt Not Rely Only On Technology
Yes, you read it right. You’re working with another human being. Focus on their needs not the equipment and tricks.
In today’s multi-screen world, it’s easy to think of learning in different platforms, with desktops, tablets, and smartphones each with different compatibilities and operating systems. Elearning has to change. It has to be responsive, multi-format, and look good on whatever device it’s used on.
Commandment #6: Thou Shalt Use an Agenda
When hosting or participating in a meeting, respect the attendees’ time and other obligations as much as possible.
eLearning is a practice of restraint and balance. Remember to use useful design, not decoration, and give breathing room. Just like in photography, negative space can sometimes make all the difference; there’s no need to fill every little space.
Commandment #7: Thou Shalt Focus on Competence, Not Grades
Competency-based learning lets learners move through a course at their own pace. This is a more valuable approach; the focus isn’t on completing a training program within a specific time, it’s about doing it slow, and doing it right. Competency-based training doesn’t randomly “dump” tons of knowledge on the learner, it lets the learner choose. They know when to move on, and when they’ve absorbed the material. This makes learning more effective than the “dump and run” model and the learner feels more satisfied and leaves no gaps in their skill set.
Commandment #8: Thou Shalt Show, Not Tell.
We’ve all been there. Bored in a presentation or taking an eLearning course. Checking the time every few seconds, wondering when it’s going to end.
Why do we feel this way? Usually because eLearning is designed as just conveying information, just telling. Just being spoken at.
This is one of the least effective ways to share information. If you want your audience to remember your content, you need to show, not tell. This means you should tell more stories in your course, give examples, create scenarios, you have to give the audience something they can relate to, and help them find connections between the learning content and their roles.
In a nutshell, this is how to do it: less exposition, more action. You’ll see how your learners react in a completely different way.
Commandment #9: Thou Shalt Be Respectful of Time
eLearning has to be more sociable, but Never assume you are anyone’s highest priority. Be flexible when possible but always remember that TIME IS MONEY. When you’re remote, you must be intentional about keeping a time frame.
Commandment #10: Thou Shalt Plan for Sprints, Not marathons.
I know, this sounds counter-intuitive. But hear me out. Nowadays, learners struggle with information overload. We have stuff coming at us from mobile phones, email, the web, and good ol’ fashioned verbal communication.
Learners have too much going on already – if you bombard them with information they’re going to tune out quickly. They might retain scraps, a key word here and there, or they might retain nothing. Don’t risk it. Organize your content into small, bite-sized ‘sprints’.
Wow. A landmark. 30 years of Teaching English and Spanish as foreign languages. And counting. But honestly speaking, English has always taken the lion’s share of my teaching hours.
Out of those years, over 25 have been teaching one on one so I can say a thing or two about changes in language teaching in this segment.
1. Accessibility: when I started teaching cable tv was limited. Students could watch videos of movies in English but subtitled in Portuguese. No radio programs in English…lots of English songs but how could they understand what was being sung? Limited access to lyrics. Now they have all the English speaking world at the touch of a button on their cellphone.
2. Technology – when I started teaching I not even had a cassette player and the school followed their own coursebook without cassettes. If I wanted to play a song I had to take my portable turntable and vinyl record. From cassette – to CDs and we moved up from VHS – to DVD’s and now to streaming and millions of channels on YouTube. Not to mention the hundreds of language learning apps.
3. Pedagogy – teachers were the reference in pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary. If the teacher didn’t know it how could a simple student know that word? From teacher-centered the language courses have moved on to a learner-centered approach (at least in speech). Learners can do way more than what their teachers might tell them to do (well, it doesn’t mean they’ll do it).
4. Resources – from coursebooks and the occasional imported magazine or newspaper now we all have Doctor Google. There are loads of apps for students to practice vocabulary, pronunciation, even using AI for actual conversation. They can record themselves and self evaluate their progress.
5. Creativity – that’s changed but still the same if you get my gist – I mean, we teachers have always had to resort to creativity from role playing to imaginary conversations to using tv commercials recorded on a VHS tape as part of our class material.
Despite all the improvements in pedagogy and technology some things still continue wearily unchanged.
Many students still think that a native teacher is better than a teacher who HAD to learn the language as they are doing now. After all, if the teacher says, “come, come, it’s not that difficult”, they can always argue, “not for you”. Still language schools give priority to a teaching candidate who’s spent 2 years washing dishes or cleaning houses abroad over a local language college graduate.
Many students also think grammar should be taught first even though they hate it… so it must be good like the bitter taste of medicine, right? Still controversies over teaching pronunciation and cultural values of the English speaking countries. Even those who defend the teaching of a global English accept the fact that some parameters must be defined, otherwise the English someone is learning in Indonesia might be incomprehensible to someone learning it in Ecuador.
The future will present even more changes, but some things I’m sure will remain the same: the importance of knowledgeable, committed and caring teachers working along students who have developed or discovered their own motivation.
Sempre tem gente me perguntando como fazer para estudar inglês ( ou qualquer outro idioma) sem a ajuda de um professor ou tutor.
É possível? Sim. Eu mesmo aprendi muito do meu inglês estudando sozinho. Também estudei francês sozinho – nunca tive uma aula sequer e atingi o nível intermediário (B1) que é suficiente para os meus objetivos. Posso aprender mais? Sim… mas tenho preguiça. Não me julgue rsrsrs.
Leia um texto curto em voz alta. Verifique o vocabulário, a pronúncia das palavras. Reconte aquele texto em suas próprias palavras. Ouça-se e ouse.
Só isso? Claro que tem muito mais que vc vai descobrir aos poucos. Na verdade, embora eu seja um professor excelente – não posso inculcar em você o que eu sei – vc terá que fazê-lo. O meu trabalho é oferecer oportunidades para vc aprender e orientar, corrigir, incentivar, alertar para o seu desenvolvimento.
O aprendizado de um idioma continua durante a extensão da sua vida – e isso é bom – sempre você vai aprender coisas novas. O que não quer dizer que vc deve ser intermediário para o resto da sua vida mas que vc precisa estar constantemente revendo suas prioridades e motivação.
5 Tips to Self-Study English
There are always people asking me how to study English (or any other language) without the help of a teacher or tutor. Is it possible? Yes. I myself learned a lot of my English by studying alone. I’ve also taught myself French – there was never a single class and I reached the intermediate level (B1) which is sufficient for my goals. Can I learn more? Yes … but I’m lazy. Don’t judge me lol
Each person has their own characteristics, preferences and goals but,in general, I liked the tips that Denilso de Lima do Inglês na Ponta da Língua listed, follow the link: “https://www.inglesnapontadalingua.com.br/2016/02 /101-dicas-para-aprender-ingles-sozinho.html “>
It’s ok that he wrote over 80 tips… but I’ll limit myself to only 5:
Take it easy! Don’t try to learn everything at once.
Engage with the English language as much as you can. 3. Make time to study English every day.
Listen to English – music, documentaries, interviews, series, etc.)
Read a short text aloud. Check the vocabulary, the pronunciation of words. Retell that text in your own words. Listen to yourself and dare.
Only that? Of course there is much more that you will discover little by little. In fact, although I am an excellent teacher – I cannot instill in you what I know – My job is to offer opportunities for you to learn and guide, correct, encourage, alert to your development. Language learning continues throughout your life – and that’s a good thing – you’ll always learn new things. Which is not to say that you should be an intermediary for the rest of your life but that you need to be constantly reviewing your priorities and motivation.
Now over 70 days into my Quarantine – (since March 17) – what can I say? With the announcement that within the next two weeks some of the restrictions will /may /might (choose one or all three) be lifted or at least there could begin an easing out of the quarantine, some people are starting to think about their mid- to long-term plans.
Considering that I had already been teaching f2f lessons at home prior to the Quarantine measures “enforced” in São Paulo where I’m based – I already had an office – simple but convenient and comfortable – the only inconvenience is that my back is to the window – so the camera faces the window (gotta keep window and blinds closed) Feel free to suggest a different layout for my desk in my office.
Before the pandemic I had to get up to answer the door, other times I would go out and teach somewhere else. Now I stay in front of a screen – time goes by faster and more slowly at the same time (hard to explain it) – you feel more tired – you have no distractions or too many distractions. See what I mean?
A great risk while working with your computer is that you can be distracted or look for distractions even with the best of intentions. For example, a student mentions a song – I immediately go to YouTube and look up the song (with lyrics, of course) to use during the class. This multitasking may sound cool or imply how efficient I am, but actually it causes distractions, and energy spent on something that could have waited.
Never ignore the importance of drinking water (hydration is king), and stretching every 60 minutes of so. Don’t deceive yourself that teaching classes sequentially back to back will do you good. They won’t. Allow breaks between classes so you can breathe, exercise (even if going to the bathroom) and stand up – to bring more oxygen to your brain.
Business in the pandemic
This week alone, two new people looked me up to ask about classes – one has already seen my work and decided to start classes as of next Monday. The other one is a 19-year-old 1st semester International Affairs college student – daughter of a former student of mine – I remember him, but not that he had once been my student – guess I’m growing old. Considering that for two months not even the phone had rung with prospective students – 2 calls in one week show resumption (hopefully) of business.
Braz-Tesol has been making available a wide range of webinars which are a boon to teachers everywhere offering a great lifeline and bringing a sense that things are starting to happen again. Check out their YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/