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.
After 1 year of the Covid-19 Pandemic with companies and individuals cutting down on their expenses and labeling “language learning” as non-essential, I feel that my network of prospective students has been shrinking. New potential students don’t know me and are more focused on price than experience and great qualifications. And there is no shame in saying I need help to find new students.
Nothing better than counting on the support of an international organization with students and teachers from all over the world with expertise in student prospecting. I am sure we can both benefit from this synergy.
Part of their vetting is based on an online grammar test and writing test. Here’s my writing test:
Recount an endeavor, personal or work-related, that was unsuccessful. Provide as many details as possible. If you were to do things over, what would you do differently to ensure the success of the endeavor? *
The following will be assessed: grammar, vocabulary, and sentence construction/organization.
I have always felt that learners and teacher are partners, collaborators in the exquisite adventure of learning. The teacher will create opportunities for learners to grow and, in the case of learning a second or foreign language, to improve their listening, speaking, reading and writing skills. To learn to be comfortable in their own skin with their acquired language.
One side cannot be held responsible for everything. The student must show interest, commitment, dedicate time, money and effort towards their goal. Likewise, the teacher must be fully interested in their students’ progress.
A few years ago I had a student who was often cancelling her classes, never did any homework or any reading/writing assignments and she came up to me asking why she couldn’t feel she was making any progress.
I looked at her, took a deep breath, and said that her progress depended on her commitment and effort. She needed to, at least, try to do some of her homework and make an extra effort to show up in class.
She got furious, fuming through her eyes and nose, and said my job was to teach her. That’s why she was paying me for. I said apologetically that maybe I didn’t have the right profile for her. I expect my students to be committed.
She stormed out of the room and told her assistant that from then on I was banned from her company. Weeks later she contacted me and apologized for her attitude, she said she was going through rough personal times and my comments had been the last straw.
That just confirmed my purpose to have students as my partners and if the partnership is suffering I cannot sugarcoat it. Only that way, shall we have cooperation and growth.
I remember when I was a wee kid in a state school in a corner of this giant metropolis called São Paulo, I would be daydreaming in class about the time the bell would ring and I would rush back home so I could watch some of my favorite TV shows. I don’t recall a time a teacher used some visual resources in class other than the illustration in a book (sometimes, which would totally grab my attention).
At church they were more “sophisticated”. From an early age, our Sabbath School teachers would use flannel board bible stories that would transport us to bible times and I had a red-letter day every time I was allowed to touch the figures and place them on the board. How many stories did I learn and understand thanks to those illustrations.
Today I know that Visual Literacy helps learners to follow a story and predict what’s going to happen, activates their memory and their vocabulary, as well. Many times, visual resources were used simply as entertainment or a distraction to keep us children quiet.
Church also introduced me to the first slide projector – with colorful pictures illustrating prophecy or projecting the words to a new hymn, at a time when television was still black and white (we got our first color tv in 1978 – that was so memorable that I remember the year).
Only in college after 1983 was I introduced to the amazing overhead projector and the ability to write and highlight texts on the screen.
In the 1980s VCRs became more popular and pretty soon we started using some video lessons in the language classroom – those videos were especially prepared for the class as companions to their coursebooks (nothing much has changed today – maybe some time in the future I’ll talk about the video courses available for the ESL/EFL market).
If you knew somebody living in an English-speaking country maybe you could ask them to mail you one or two VHS tapes with the recordings of some tv shows and commercials and explore them to your heart’s content. (In my case, only in the early 90s did I come across some VHS tapes that somebody from the school where I was teaching had recorded when traveling to the US).
But videos were still seen as just a “break” from the lesson. When the teacher wheeled in a TV set and VCR the students knew they would have some “down time”. At best, the video was seen as a glorified listening activity or simply as a decorative resource giving a break to both teacher and students.
Today, however, we know we can use videos and images in a much more purposeful way. Here’s an example of a talk at the Global Teacher’s Festival on Visual Literacy and the many different approaches we can have:
Most teachers will agree that video use in the ESL/EFL classroom brings many benefits:
it exposes students to authentic materials
it provides more motivation and interest
it gives learners the opportunity to read as well as listen to messages simultaneously
But there are also disadvantages in using videos in the classroom:
video technology might be scarce or you might have connection problems
it may be boring if overused
it may encourage passivity on both teachers and learners (“the other day an adult learner said: why don’t you give me songs to listen to and fill in the gaps?” My answer – “do you need ME to give you a song to listen and get the words? Have you ever heard of MTV? Can’t you google it up on your own?”)
The appeal of visual media continues to make videos and pictures an amazing educational tool with a high potential impact when properly used. They are now more accessible and less cumbersome to use. Let us take advantage of them in our lessons.
Since March 2020 most of us have been thrown into the digital world of online classes – no matter if we were ready or not. Some of us were already teaching using FaceTime, or Skype for example – I usually used online classes when traveling accompanying my sweetheart on her business trips. But all of us had ALL our classes moved to the online environment overnight. And that was good, considering that the option to online classes would be no classes at all and consequent unemployment.
We started watching tutorials on how to share screens, take notes, set up students in virtual classrooms, play videos and other audio practices while “the plane was up in the air” as the cliché accurately portrays it.
During this year I’ve learned some things about dealing with online classes and trying to control /avoid the so-called Zoom Fatigue.
We’ve all already felt the effects on us of extended spells of online classes – headaches, tiredness, red eyes, backache, tired legs, etc. Here I outline 5 ways to combat Zoom fatigue:
Don’t multitask during the sessions – I know it’s tempting to google up something, check Whatsapp, etc while something else is happening, but it will take a toll on your mind.
Alternate speaker view and gallery view.
Turn your video off sometimes (when showing a video, for example).
Take breaks. Yes… I know we do a great job making students feel they are the only “special” ones – but actually we have more than one student and back-to-back classes will cause you stress – if necessary end your class 2-3 minutes earlier and start the next class 2-3 minutes later (punctuality will suffer but your body and mind will thank you for that; and your students too – a teacher who’s feeling well will be conducive to the wellbeing of their students).
Make sure your “class” space feels different than your “relaxing” space. Get up and go to the bathroom, get a cup of herbal tea (coffee is not the best option but if it helps you who am I to deny you this comfort drink), drink water (keep yourself hydrated). Look out the window. If possible, relax somewhere else.
Of course, there will be days you will get more tired than others but by following these simple tips you may prevent burnout.
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.
First I would like to define in-company teaching: teaching of a specific course or program inside a company. It can be fully paid for and sponsored by the company itself. In my case, usually one VP or senior director would get in touch with HR and request English languages courses for himself or someone in their team. Then other VPs or directors would start requesting the same benefit and it would become part of a company’s benefit policies.
Other times, the company would allow teaching within its premises but the costs would be paid partly or in full by the students themselves.
Ideally a company would hire a language consultant/language school to assess the language level of the students and set up a language program with frequent evaluations in order to gauge the progress and the return on the investment.
In practical terms, many companies, for different reasons, would start the language teaching program in a more serious way, but gradually they would flex up their controls, and language classes would be considered one more benefit like lunch vouchers, for instance – the company does not want to know how or what the employees use their vouchers for. Are they eating healthily or only eating junk food? Are they selling their vouchers out for cash at a discounted price or passing them on to someone they know?
In order to give students a sense of control, companies would set a time limit. For example, those selected to attend English classes will have, let us say, a 2 year limit for English lessons. After that they would automatically lose their benefit so that another team member could start with classes.
Of course, there have been students who applied themselves and would make progress in their language learning process, I had students who started at intermediate level (B1) and ended up at C1/C2 levels.
But quite often there would be those students who would not take their learning seriously. They wanted the “benefit” but wouldn’t benefit from it. Lots of class cancellations (work-related or not); no commitment to studying outside the classroom; no motivation to have a class but rather a moment to chit chat and shoot the breeze in the midst of their busy schedule.
The material mostly included a business English course book. I personally liked Business Class and Market Leader especially Upper-Intermediate and Advanced programs. Intelligent Business is pathetic with typos in almost every unit. Shoddy quality. In the late 1980s and early 1990s I enjoyed using We Mean Business.
Of course, if the teacher had some business experience – he had lived across an office building, for example (just kidding – sort of) he or she would be a plus in the school’s in-company teaching program.
Now with Covid-19 and the Pandemic, in-company teaching has all, but disappeared, at least physically. None of my corporate clients in IT, Manufacturing, Banking or Law Firms are open to service providers. The requirements and expenses of frequently testing their staff wouldn’t warrant additional costs testing teachers as well. I half-heartedly joke with my now online students that “pigs will be flying wearing masks” before I get access to their companies’ facilities. So, online we stay.
Will it prosper online? Will companies prefer local language schools or schools located anywhere cheaper? Will language progress be effectively assessed? Will employees be allowed to have their lessons during their working hours? Will they be held accountable for their learning and the investment the company has placed on them?
Videos in class are great, right? I mean – if you didn’t plan anything for class – just tell students they’re going to watch a tv series or film and there you go. Ready for your next class. I’m not gonna lie that I’ve seen teachers (including myself) who used a video presentation to breaking up the monotony or the lack of interest the students had, or just to get a respite from having to be the “center” of attention.
You may ask me: center of attention? Teachers aren’t supposed to be that. Agreed. But at the end of the day, your presence there draws attention to yourself.
But, no, Virginia – that might even be a side effect but just killing time should not be the main reason for using videos in class.
Videos are a great way for your students to practice their language skills. Having said that a 3 to 5 minute video will have plenty of material for one or even more classes. So scratch that idea of having your students watch a serialized Dr Zhivago for a few weeks.
The trick(you can use these steps with any short film, commercial, interview or Ted Talk)
First, listen to the story – check their comprehension. Ask them to describe what they see: Who is doing what? What do they look like? What objects do you see in the video? Summarize what they are saying. What is the problem/challenge/idea presented in the video? Ask your students: “Have you, your family, or friends ever experienced the problem? Describe what happened. What do you think might be the causes of the problem? What solutions could a person get on their own? What solutions could people get working together? Would one be better than the other? Why or why not? What was the message?”
There are tons of ways and materials online with full lesson plans and other suggestions, but I hope these pointers will get you started using videos with your learners. Remember, there’s nothing wrong with entertainment, so the videos should be at least minimally interesting to your target audience.
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’.