When life gives you lemons, make lemonade

 

By the time you read this, you’ve probably started teaching online, watched multiple webinars on how to use Zoom, and also exchanged some ideas with your colleagues on what works and what doesn’t. I’m not sure how you feel about it, though, because it depends on what type of person you are.

People who thrive during uncertain times, tend to be creative and enjoy departing from what is well-known, to experiment with novel ideas. On the contrary, those who like the ‘safety net’ of their comfort zone, tend to stick to old habits and they have a harder time coming up with alternative practices.

In reality, with every problem and every disaster often comes a set of opportunities. We just need to see them, and take advantage of them. This doesn’t mean that the challenges of online instruction aren’t real; they happen and they come with discomfort and even suffering.

The field of language pedagogy, in my opinion, is specially well positioned to make a smooth transition into the online sphere, mainly because there’s a large number of educators who have been teaching online for years; and now they are sharing their experiences openly and honestly.

Whether the COVID-19 Pandemic has unlocked your creativity or your frustration, the following activities are aimed at enriching your online classroom and the conversation on effective online pedagogy. I’ve compiled some ideas that can work well in Synchronous and Asynchronous modes.

 

SYNCHRONOUS TEACHING

Some call it ‘live’ teaching. Synchronous activities happen during class time; or in real-time. They are essential in building a sense of community among our students, and they help us bond with them. The examples below require careful planning.

Things we can do

– Warm-up activities

– Elicit and generate vocabulary lists

– Brainstorm for ideas

– Explain grammar points (briefly)

– Share slides (no more than a handful)

– Check reading/listening comprehension as a group (briefly)

– Provide individualized feedback to students (through Zoom chat)

– Make notes on the Whiteboard (students and/or teacher)

– Watch videos/listening exercises (if files are saved on & streamed from the computer)

– Group discussions (Zoom allows for breakout rooms)

– Collaborative writing (on Google docs)

– Role-plays (in breakout rooms)

– Mini-presentations (2-3 minutes)

– Live polls/surveys (through Zoom or mentimeter.com)

– Meetings with invited guests

– Cultural Clubs (cooking class, music/singing)

 

ASYNCHRONOUS TEACHING

Asynchronous activities do not require participants to be online simultaneously. They also require careful planning. From a student perspective, they allow for deep thinking, reflection time, and collaborative work, as well as individualized feedback. This means that students have the opportunity to produce high quality work when guided adequately.

Things students can do

– Write essays, blog posts, reaction papers, a diary

– Read a novel, articles, blog or social media posts

– Watch Youtube videos, movies

– Listen to podcasts, radio interviews

– Conduct interviews with native speakers (via WhatsApp, Skype, Zoom)

– Work on video-projects (mid/end-of-term)

– Participate in forum discussions

– Video-record an oral presentation

Things teachers can do

– Record & share detailed instructions related to a particular task or project

– Record & share grammatical explanations and summary videos

– Record & share feedback that’s helpful to the whole class

 

The list is far from being comprehensive, but it hints at the many possibilities that can keep class engaging. A key component here is diversifying the type of activities and tasks that you conduct. By now, many students are tired from screen time and, in truth, 45-60 minutes of pure interaction are enough for a virtual language class. So if your typical class is longer than this, consider leaning towards asynchronous activities. It’s a great way to promote learners’ agency.

Face-to-face classroom interaction cannot be 100% replicated in an online environment; and that’s why it’s essential to invest in digital actions that foster a sense of community. In addition the synchronous activities previously mentioned, having everyone’s camera on seems to me crucial in creating proximity (if expectations about classroom etiquette were set early and clearly). Another thing to keep in mind is humor: This is an effective antidote to moments of stress, it keeps students alert, and it maintains social bonds.

None of this is easy; but we are all going to take away something positive and we’ll bring it back to our classrooms. At minimum, we are rethinking how we normally teach. As Arabs say رُبّ ضارّة نافعة ; in other words, ‘every cloud has a silver lining’.

Please, share below more ideas, tips, and webinars that helped your online teaching. (The best Zoom webinar I have come across is this one.)

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