TEFL in the time of COVID

Laptop; text on screen 'TEFL in the time of COVID'; heading to image 'New webinar series'

This year, we have all adapted to new teaching environments: some continued to teach online in the new academic year, others are teaching behind a mask in the socially-distanced classroom, and other people are working with a hybrid format. We are all navigating these new challenges and this introductory webinar looked at some of the issues teachers are facing, with tips to support them.

The hybrid classroom

Some schools have adopted a pure hybrid format, in that some learners are in the physical classroom and others join from home. With this format, everyone knows who to expect in their physical or online classroom each day. However, many teachers are also experiencing the ‘window on the classroom’ or ‘Zoom window’, as learners join from home for one or two lessons during a period of quarantine, rejoining the physical classroom afterwards. The following ideas are suitable for both situations.

One of the potential difficulties of the hybrid classroom is managing your interaction with learners and not being drawn into only teaching those in one of the two environments. One idea to help you balance interactions in the hybrid classroom is to set up a buddy system. This is suitable for older learners who are able to bring their own devices to the physical classroom. Each lesson, have all learners join the online classroom and then pair up a learner in the physical classroom with a learner at home during activities. Send each pair into a breakout room and then you can monitor all the learners from your computer, meaning your time is more equally divided between those in the physical classroom and those at home.

On the topic of monitoring, it can sometimes be tricky to interact with learners on a personal level during their online lessons and sending each person into an individual breakout room is a good way to tackle this problem. Just as you monitor individuals in the classroom, it then becomes easier to check in on each individual at home.

Perhaps most importantly, we should be looking for ways to make life easier for ourselves as we deal with the challenges of a hybrid learning system. Each lesson, nominate a class scribe – someone who’s responsible for adding vocabulary to the chat box after you’ve written it on the board. Similarly, it can be helpful to have a class spokesperson as although you may wear a voice amplifier or use another device to ensure the learners at home can always hear you, the mics in the class may not pick up what other learners say. A class spokesperson, who’s on hand in the physical classroom and logged into the lesson on their own device, can easily repeat answers and comments from classmates to those joining from home.

The online classroom

Leading on from the earlier idea of using individual breakout rooms online, it’s also worth making use of the private chat function. It’s so imoprtant to keep building our relationships with our learners and making sure that we devote a little of our time to each of them as individuals, so a quick personalised check-in can go a long way.

Another idea for the online classroom is to make the most of your virtual background. When learners come to the physical classroom, we have more options to vary the environment by changing the posters, or (in pre-COVID times) changing the layout of the desks. Having a virtual background at the start of class can keep engage your learners and there’s different ways you can use it:

  • have a close-up image of something related to the topic and have learners specualte as to what it is
  • have a picture of somewhere local and have learners tell you where it is, what they know about it, when they go there and who with
  • have a picture of somewhere else in the world and have learners guess where it is, then ask if they’d like to go there and why (not)
teacher with virual background of a leafy square
Any Active Language fans recognise this spot?

These are ideas which the learners can also do themselves – even with the first idea you can nominate a learner at the end of the previous class and tell them privately what topic their picure should be related to.

A final idea for the online classroom is to make the most of your mute button! We’re thinking specifically for when drilling, as there’s always some lag in an online environment which can be really off-putting when you’re trying to drilll new lexis and structures. Whilst in the physical classroom, there would be a glorious chorus of individual voices in harmony, the danger of the online environment is that one or two voice straggle behind the rest, which could be upsetting for our less confident learners.

The socially-distanced classroom

There are a lot of positives which have come out of all this and one is that we’re now minimising paper much more – using less handouts and definitely cutting out all those activities we used to do where each group had bits of paper to organise or order or categorise or…

We’re also looking for tech resources to substitute in for those bits of paper and during the session we talked about Triptico (which is now a subscritption service) and the Tools Unite wordwheel (which is currently free).

colourful wheel with topics
An example of the Tools Unite wordwheel – unfortunately it has a character limit on each slice!

An issue which has come up in chats with teachers is around learners’ energy levels and one of our teachers, Carmen, said she felt that with her VYLs it was much more obvious nowadays who were the learners who needed to be up and moving. It’s definitely worth building brain breaks or some other physical activity into your lesson plan, rather than be reactive to the learners’ needs in the classroom. Making them a regular part of the lesson also gets learners into the habit of doing them, so it doesn’t need to be a full-blown activity. For example, after correcting an activity, you could have all the learners stand behind their chairs and do five jumping jacks before they move onto the next task.

A final point for the socially-distanced classroom is to think about teacher care and, perhaps your most important tool, your voice. We’ve invested in some voice amplifiers in the language school – a 15-18 watt one wil cost around 25€ and can really help you to avoid strain as you’re trying to teach behind a mask. Another idea is to look for opportunities to record yourself and other teachers before the lesson, particularly as this will mean learners are able to see your mouth moving clearly. Any target language you know you’ll be introducing during the lesson can easily be pre-recorded, and using your colleagues will also introduce learners to different accents.

the TEFL Development Hub

Finally, we shared some details about our new online community, the TEFL Development Hub. We’ll be posting more about it in the future, but you can visit this page to find out more details about what it is and how to join.

Logo for the TEFL Development Hub - faint geometric shapes and the Active Language logo below
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