Observing the behavior of some participants in our Zoom class session – it is worth remembering some good manners:
ATTENTION: Best Practices for Zoom sessions:
Punctuality (some students connect 1, 2, or 10 mins after the sessions started. No, no, no! Be connected to the meeting a few minutes BEFORE it starts).
Find a quiet place to attend the meeting (barking dogs, meowing cats, cracker Pollies, etc won’t help your session).
Keep the microphone off when not speaking (and remember for the 1,000th time to unmute WHEN YOU ARE SPEAKING.
Keep the camera on WHENEVER POSSIBLE.
Turn off the camera if you’re doing something that might distract others (some stay the entire session reading something else on their cell phone. No, Virginia, I don’t admire your multitasking skills. Stop it).
Show interest in the meeting so that it becomes more interesting (avoid lying on the bed or sofa during the meeting, although it can be more informal session, no one needs to see that stain in your sheet)
That’s it… so online meetings will be less boring and more productive.
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.
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.
“2020 looks like it will be a great year” – or so I thought back on January 01 – unaware that the world would grind to a halt and be turned upside down.
New year, new students signing up on the professional level and 25th year wedding anniversary celebration scheduled for April with a lovely reception scheduled to take place by a lake shore with over 1 year bookings and preparations.
Well, … Covid-19 happened.
Right after Carnival (of course, nothing should get in the way of the beer, drugs and sex event) we learned that the virus was here brought by a traveler returning from Italy – or so that’s how it was officially labeled. Today, June 01, there are half a million Brazilians infected with the coronavirus, and 30,000 Covid-19 related deaths.
In early March we found out they were starting to restrict access to some office buildings – including where I used to teach some of my business students.
March 16 – I told wife, “I’ve just cancelled my classes for the day – let us go take a walk on the beach before it’s too late”. Lovely. A sunny Monday on the beach.
The following day we knew quarantine was coming and since March 17 we’ve been in Quarantine. No malls, no schools, no churches, no coffee shops, no restaurants, no museums, no parks – even if totally in the open air – that reminded me of last year’s closures of many parks in the city of São Paulo because of yellow fever mosquitoes. Confusing information:
Don’t wear masks. Wear masks. Don’t drive. Drive. Stay indoors. Go outdoors. Hydroxychloriquine. No hydroxychloroquine.
One constant was the advice to stay home and leave it only if you’re part of the “essential workers” in-crowd. Of course, education and entertainment are not part of that crowd. But that’s fodder for another blog post.
Well, everybody thinks I’m doing fine financially because I’ve migrated my f2f classes to online.
Easy there with your assumptions. I already had a few students having classes exclusively online but 80% of them were face to face students.
When I told them of the “temporary” migration, some 70% agreed and started having classes right away, or at least were willing to try the online classes.
Is teaching online similar or different from face to face lessons? Yes! Of course the body language is different, the physical energy is missing but on the other hand the same content can be used both ways – different approaches at times, but… with the same goals.
However, 30% of my clients said they were not interested in having online classes. The lessons wouldn’t be the same, so they said. One elderly learner said she wouldn’t know how to connect with Zoom and was not willing to try to learn. Another student – a highly respected economist at an International Bank – said he doesn’t like that “sort of class” – without even trying – and he would rather wait for the end of the quarantine.
Another Student had a 30% cut in her pay, so in order to keep her on I agreed to a 50% cut. Another was so stressed dealing with her work that she decided to take some time off since she wouldn’t find any time to have lessons (in normal times she already didn’t have time – always feeling tired and stressed). Student A still had 2 classes that he had paid in advance so he made sure to have those lessons online and then, Hasta la vista, baby. Take care of yourself.
I’m used to losing students who have a family emergency or lose their jobs – that happens, life throws you lemons while you’re not even looking… but I still felt a little hurt when the students who claimed they loved my classes were so quick to drop me off at the first corner.
But, thank God I still kept some of my students- the well hasn’t dried up totally. Yet. (Touch wood). But my income has been down by 30% so far this year. Tightening belt ? yes.
All my life I’ve gotten students by word of mouth and observation. By that I mean every time I walked into a company, people were watching me. They saw that X, or Z were having classes with a private teacher and they would ask for references and my phone/email contact.
Now, I am clueless about how to get students online. Yes, I’m visible on Twitter and Instagram and YouTube – but I can’t compete with teachers charging peanuts for the “same” class I charge premium. Of course my students know I’m an excellent and knowledgeable teacher, highly qualified and experienced both in Brazil and abroad. But how will I convey that online? One way to do that is by specializing in a segment or segments -beyond “business English” – such as Exam preparation, writing etc.
We are living in unprecedented times … April 2020 – we are going through a virus pandemic that no one (doctors, scientists, politicians, business leaders) cannot guarantee what the world will look like in one month’s time, let alone in one year’s time. At times my imagination travels as if there is a green, noxious miasma outside ready to grab anyone who ventures out.
Schools have been suspended, offices and malls closed. People told to stay home and safe. Actually, “Stay Safe” has become the most popular leave-taking expression of the year in English – forget about “goodbye”, “farewell”, “see you later”, or even “take care”.
We must stay home and be distant socially, but not socially isolated – we can communicate with our loved ones online, on the phone, shouting from the window (if they live next door or in the apartment block across the street).
Teachers worldwide have been told to stay home and start teaching their lessons online – some record their video sessions, others go live using Zoom, Skype or their institution’s choice, while others still have to do both.
But from the get-go, the problems started to arise – of schools and education authorities are not interested in how the teacher will do it… They just MUST do it.
Some frequent problems:
equipment – old cellphones, no computer, no access to broadband, prepaid services (which are way more expensive)
Wifi – poor or no wifi access
digital skills – many teachers may use their mobile phones for passive consumption of social media, WhatsApp and make the odd phone call. But to upload their lesson plan?!
lack of confidence – I’m not good with gadgets. I don’t know where to start.
fixed mindset – see some of the excuses above.
complexity – come on… some teachers can’t adjust the clocks on their microwave ovens – do you think they’re gonna be willing to learn something new?
That leads me to a quote I read last week – don’t remember the author (too lazy to try to find out) but still true: “teachers don’t like to learn”.
What’s the solution?No magic bullets but, as teachers we must develop more tolerance for ambiguity, and willingness to learn.
Grow in self-awareness, self-management, and problem-solving.
Our online classes will not likely be ready to be shown on national educational TV programming but they will make the difference to our students.
Here we are, March 2020 – Only 3 months into the year. Back on January 01 I said to myself: “2020, what a beautiful number. This year promises to bring optimism, economic recovery in Brazil (we have been limping since the recession started in 2016), new ideas, 25 years of Wedding Anniversaries, etc”.
Now it seems that most of the world has been brought down to their knees by a virus. It started in China, but quickly spread to other countries until it was officially labeled a “pandemic” by the WHO. Now Italy is shut down. Many countries are considering to follow suit while all others are encouraging telecommuting and online learning.
Companies and workers will be trying to follow those recommendations, even though many working parents would rather leave home for the peace of their offices. Online classes for younger people – how would they work? would they be pre-recorded or live sessions? A blend of both? Who would make sure that learners are following with their studies? How different would be the learning environment without its social aspect? Would video chats replace face to face interaction?
There seem to be more questions than answers before this new normal sets in… will a “quarantine” take place whenever a new virus appears?
I have been teaching online for years, initially because I traveled a lot accompanying my wife on her business trips and it was wonderful to enjoy such flexibility, to be able to continue classes initially by phone (we are talking here mid- to late 1990s) and then via video chat. FaceTime (it doesn’t usually work very well), Skype and Zoom (my favorite platform) allow my students to prepare for the upcoming classes by practicing listening, vocabulary, grammar exercises (talk about the flipped class concept) and it doesn’t require much technology, you don’t need special VR goggles and sound effects. Even if you have a piece of paper or a mini whiteboard, that will be enough for you to interact with your student. Duration of the lessons varies according to student needs and cash availability (hey, it matters), so it can range from 30-minute to 90-minute sessions.
What could ensure a better flow of the classes? Preparation (by both teacher and learner). It’s a class – not a free chat session (which incidentally may occur) but a structured session with warm-up, review, speaking time, listening time, objectives, etc will yield better results.
Now I’m considering developing a language learning app for Brazilians – including pre-recorded videos with a teacher (me, who else?) and drills on grammar, vocabulary, social skills, etc. Initially it would be a general English app and later expand to a Business English context.
At the end of the day, crises must not be the end of the world. Let us think up of new possibilities. Any suggestions or recommendations?
Quite often when we think about anything related to the 21st Century, including teaching, we think of the use of technology, gadgets and the internet. We feel we must have Smart boards, tablets, online classes, video sharing, social media, and the list goes on and on. But what every teacher must remember is that his main working material consists of brains inside living organisms labeled as learners, students or pupils.
I’ve just finished studying a book published back in 1997 but with ideas still relevant today for every language teaching professional: Psychology for the Language Teacher (CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESS) by Marion Williams and Robert L. Burden.
Undoubtedly some advances and finds have taken place in psychology and the human science of teaching and pedagogy over the past 20 plus years, but some things never change and must be remembered, reviewed and implemented. Sooner or later we will stop referencing to “21st century” and just say ” Teaching”.
The book presented 10 key points on Language Teaching, this first part of my post will work on the first three items:
1. There’s a difference between learning and education.
Learning: the acquisition of knowledge or skills through experience, study, or by being taught.
“these children experienced difficulties in learning”
Education: the process of receiving or giving systematic instruction, especially at a school or university.
“a new system of public education”
A quick look at these first definitions present a great distinction between both processes, which intersect in many areas … both involve receiving knowledge or instruction, but a key distinction is that learning involves the development of skills through experience.
Joi Ito beautifully summed it up: “Education is what people do to you. Learning is what you do for yourself”
Here it is graphically represented:
Now that we have the distinction we can move to the second point.
2. Learners learn WHAT is meaningful to them.
I can try ad nauseam to inculcate in my students the state capitals of the US, the beautiful wording of the Declaration of Independence, the Scottish Calvinist values, etc… but they will not profit from that if they don’t see a purpose or meaning in that. I always ask my students at the beginning of their course about their goals, current activities, hobbies and dreams so that the lessons may be geared towards intrinsic motivation resulting in effective learning. I’m not saying that students
who live in the favelas in Rio should only be taught vocabulary about getting water from a well or snorting glue… (yes, yes, it’s just an example, don’t get up in arms about it) They must learn based on their reality and context but also from that point the teacher can and must build a path where learners will be introduced to a better way and a broader world.
3. Learners learn IN WAYS that are meaningful to them.
I love reading but if my student is interested in speaking “only” I must adapt the course so that any reading they do is impregnated with the spoken language – it can be an interview, a novel rich in dialogue, even part of a play … as long it’s language relevant and appropriate to their level. If they like movies, or sports, let them search and learn about what interests them. Here again Language is a tool not an end unto itself.
Writing is really important for learners to process and review their language acquisition but instead of asking them to write a 500-600 word essay (unless they’re preparing for an exam where such activity is required), why not have them write a business related email? Or even a text message including abbreviations, emojis and shortcuts?
Please, bear in mind that my students are adults who have already gone through their academic process and now need English or Spanish mostly for employment purposes and career advancement opportunities. Actual Fluency in English will be a plus for any CV or Résumé in a non-English speaking nation. The point is that it must be true not just wishful thinking; hence the person’s awareness that they are no longer “students”, but “learners”
Can anyone learn a foreign language online and free? Yes, you can!
“Wait a minute”, you might say … are you telling me I can learn any language online? For real? Yes, you can.
But …. of course, there had to be a BUT! The internet is full of free pages to learn a foreign language, but not all are reliable, either because they don’t offer a program structured to your level, or because the method presented doesn’t suit your learning personality. Moreover, online learning is not the ideal medium for everyone, let alone those who are not disciplined and organised.
As a teacher, of course I stand for classes with a teacher. That’s the best choice. But not always the feasible one.
How can you learn at home?
Firstly, find a way of motivating and organising yourself. Tell others what you’re doin; that should keep your accountable, at least initially. Secondly, set up a list of resources for your learning process.
Google up easy reading texts in your target language. Read a paragraph of a news story. A fairy tale. A piece of the transcript of an interview of a politician, artist, footballer or any other you might fancy and find interesting. Check the pronunciation, the vocabulary.
YouTube has tons of videos in your target language, not necessarily about learning the language. But clips of news or documentaries are great starting points.
Focus on listening to news and documentaries that have a clearer speech. Podcasts are a great source of listening material that you can download and listen to anywhere, anytime.
This requires some courage. Dare to speak. Skype provides a language exchange forum for you to connect with people around the world.
You see? As I told you before, free online language learning is posssible but no magical solution. You’ll have to apply yourself to it regularly, especially if your goal is to learn “fast”.