*This article is to be featured in an online magazine.
In the days of COVID19 in which governments around the world have required us to work at home to save our lives and the lives around us, we have seen an unprecedented number of schools and teachers transfer their classrooms online. This has brought about tremendous stress on both students and teachers. On a larger scale in Greece, two main factions have arisen, the one says that online schooling should not be done without proper pedagogical insight and the later have started online teaching already. The question that arises amongst those who have opted for online teaching is do they have the proper training to support such an endeavour?
When we look at online schooling, it is not about knowing how to use digital tools that are needed to conduct such lessons. It is a whole lot more and is mostly about how you as a teacher can keep the teaching style that you have in your physical classroom before the coronavirus outbreak and instil them in your digital classroom.
How do you support your teaching style in an online environment?
This is where your knowledge of what can be done online and what not is most valuable. This expertise can be attained by either your personal learning network (PLN) that you already have or through a plethora of online sites giving you such information. Sure, one solution is to gather your students online and do your lessons. Saying that you could also do your lessons online without trying to use any of the available features of these such tools like breakout sessions and the use of the digital whiteboard. Sure it is ok not to find other digital tools to create engaging activities for your students as the core of your lesson plan or even as warmers or fillers, but how engaging and effective will that be for your students? Will your students’ motivational levels be high enough to keep them engaged in your lesson? Will you tap into their higher-order thinking skills by following the coursebook page by page (This applies to both online and off). How will they feel when you are at the centre of the classroom all the time and not them? If that is what you do anyway in your physical classes, then that is what will happen to your digital classes, but if you want to have that same magical effect you have when you are in your physical classes and keep your teaching style the same both online and off, then you have to be a lot more prepared when you get online.
What methods of delivery do we have for online teaching?
Pedagogy is the science of teaching and is the method or approach we as teachers adopt for the delivery of our instruction. In practice, there are a variety of strategies to deliver instruction, whether online or offline; here a few strategies that teachers look at in the service of digital and blended learning environments.
For one thing, teachers use flexible grouping strategies in their classrooms and commonly decide on who will sit with whom before class. In general, ‘flexible grouping’ is used to differentiate instruction to cater to all levels of students by grouping them into small groups, pairs or using the whole class instruction model. This strategy gives us the chance to focus on certain issues some students might have in the use of certain skills by differentiating instruction. Thus, keeping this strategy for your online classes is very important too.
Typically, online you can achieve flexible grouping by using breakout sessions. Most serious online synchronous meeting tools do have this option. One example where you could apply flexible grouping is the think, pair, share routine in which you pose a question to your students, get them to think about it for a few minutes, having them take notes, and pairing them into breakout rooms to discuss and document results for about 7-8 minutes. Upon their return, they will be asked to share their discussion with the rest of the class. Indeed, you can not view all your breakout sessions at the same time. Yet, because this routine is known (or at least easy to teach) and you have planned your staging, your students will not let you down. Not to mention that you could always call on the option of popping in on them or adding an element of competitiveness to your task by getting them to police each other while in pair mode.
Also, taking advantage of collaboration strategies in your classes will work towards maximising your class time and eliminating the ‘one hand at a time’ discussion. This is even more prominent in online lessons where ‘one hand at a time’ becomes even more tiresome which adding to poor quality of internet connection could involve ample time loss. To plan collaborative tasks you might have to take advantage of a digital collaborative tool for a class discussion which could maximise class participation even to 100 per cent. This would even allow students who are not comfortable engaging in physical class discussion the opportunity to be heard.
Thereafter, there are other strategies that one could use to apply to online learning but these also apply to physical classes. There are options like Project-based learning (PBL) or Inquiry-based learning to choose from, but again choosing these methods boils down to the teaching-style you have in physical classes. One choice that is more of an approach than a structured method is the use of Flipped learning strategies for language teaching. This approach relies on the notion of saving valuable class time by taking out the teacher ‘chalk n’ talk’ time from the group learning space putting into the individual learning space or in other words the students own time; taking advantage of the group learning space to make use of more collaborative and communicative tasks. This by nature will get students using the language for extended periods of class time resulting in the reduction of students passively listening to the teacher.
No matter which pedagogy you apply or which strategy you embrace for your online classes, the most important thing you should keep in mind is that you could get away with not adequately planning your lesson in your physical classes and improvising your way through, due to experience. In online classes, there is a big chance that you might not only lose a noticeable amount of time due to technical issues but because of a lack of preparation, this time might multiply and lead to your students becoming disengaged resulting to loss of focus and connection.