TEFL Tip Tuesday: 5 Things I’ve Learned Since Teaching Online.

At the beginning of May my school here in Yangon, Myanmar moved some of its classes online. Despite having been an ESL teacher for two and a half years now I had no experience with teaching online and I was honestly dreading creating my first lesson plan! Now one month in, I finally feel like I’m getting the hang of it. So what have I learned over the past few weeks?

1. It’s not just copy and paste…

It’s not a direct copy and paste from your in-class lessons to online lessons. This past month has been a steep learning curve for me and I’m sure many other teachers would agree with me on this. What works in your classroom at school is not guaranteed to work in your online classroom, that goes for everything from classroom management to games and activities. The resources for planning a two hour online class based on one or two grammar points just do not exist right now! Every worksheet and activity that is readily available were designed for a completely different world and need to be adapted before you can put them to use in whatever online platform your classroom has now migrated to. It’s a whole new world of teaching and almost everything is different, but it’s not all bad. I have found that I am now using resources in my lessons that I wouldn’t usually be able to use in my regular classroom, such as interactive videos and games which have been a lot of fun!

2. Teaching can, and will, always be done (even in the dark)!

My second week into teaching online I woke up to a power cut… I thought class would just have to be cancelled. With no WIFI, no light source (my bedroom is windowless and the other rooms in the flat don’t really let that much sunlight in) and potentially no students; how could it possibly still go on?

Well, class went ahead at the scheduled time and it actually wasn’t even a disaster! I did have to scrap my entire lesson plan and prop a hand held tiny torch up on my lamp above my phone which was precariously balanced on my jewellery stand. And wow, did I have to improvise. Luckily enough I had a half hour lesson plan on phrasal verbs that I had prepared for a Facebook live class a few day earlier and, even more in my favour, none of my young learners had seen it! From there I built on previous lessons we had done together and managed to pull together a pretty successful lesson.

Teaching in the dark!

More recently I witnessed a power cut wave take out my students one by one over the course of the two hour lesson. First one student was ten minutes late due to no power, then two of my students disappeared at the same time from my screen as the outage hit their area and finally one more student vanished from my screen while another was simultaneously plunged into complete darkness about fifteen minutes before the end of class! People were dropping in and out the whole lesson and one girl’s mother even ended up holding a torch over her head for the remainder of the lesson! But we made it to the end of class with almost everything done and even had time to sing happy birthday to one student who was turning eleven!

The powercut strikes again…

3. Technical Difficulties are Unavoidable

When it’s not power cuts, it’s malfunctioning microphones or students going to the wrong Zoom meetings. The technical difficulties list is seemingly endless and there isn’t a day where we haven’t had some sort of glitch to distract us from the lesson plan. While these things are annoying it has become part of the routine in our classroom now. We know which student’s feed is going to freeze halfway through the lesson, which student is going to be more focused on their virtual background than the task at hand and what to do when the webcam suddenly decides not to work! I have developed a new way of asking questions which I am sure all teachers now have their own version of; “If you know the answer raise your hand, unmute your mic and wait until I say your name before you answer.” Sometimes listened to, almost never followed but definitely part of the plan… I’ve never been great with technology and a lot of my problem solving skills this past month have been reduced to; “Let me just turn my laptop on and off again.” Making sure to choose a responsible student to hand over hosting power to before I leave the meeting to ensure control is in fact handed back to me upon my return! There have been a few moments where the laptop has been close to overheating. Given that it is almost seven years old and I’m asking it to stream several students video calls while playing an interactive video quiz, game or worksheet this is not exactly surprising; in all honestly I am in disbelief at the fact it hasn’t burst into flames yet. My aircon unit has to be kept on full power in order for it to function properly, leaving me to work in what is essentially a walk in freezer. I think we will all be glad when things go back to normal and we are all back in the classroom (my laptop included).

Zooming on my phone and laptop at the same time because the webcam decided not to work…

4. Student feedback is even more valuable than ever before.

Getting student feedback forms from adult students has always felt a little daunting for me; you never know what they might have to say about the course or you as a teacher. At the same time I have always tried to welcome constructive criticism of my teaching as I am determined to continuously improve as a teacher and often suffer from a bad case of imposter syndrome! Teaching online was like starting off as a new teacher all over again, I had no idea if what I had planned was going to take up the entire two hour lesson, if the students would feel excited or even interested in the materials and whether or not my teaching style was going to translate to the virtual world. For all of these reasons I have taken to asking my students two simple questions at the end of every lesson. This is, after all, as new to them as it is to me and I want to ensure that they are getting the most out of their experience. So before the end of class I always ask them to tell me one thing they learned and one thing they enjoyed. This helps me to see what the students are responding to in the lessons and also allows me to check in with them and make sure that the lesson has sunk in. I have enjoyed and learned so much through this process over the past few weeks and I will definitely be bringing it into my classroom once the schools open back up again.

5. It gets easier.

When we first launched these online classes I was up until midnight trying to plan a lesson that was both interesting and beneficial for my students. Even then, when I forced myself to go to bed I would be worrying about how it was going to go in class the next day! I am happy to say that after a month of chaos I am feeling more confident in my process and have found what works for me and my students so far. I am by no means an expert on teaching online but I can say it gets easier. It helps to create a pattern for your lessons and I’ve been working loosely around the PPP method of ESL presentation. This has worked well so far with a few minor tweaks to adapt it to the online setup and I will post in a bit more detail about my lesson plan structure soon.

Sometimes you just can’t beat a whiteboard

We’ve now come to the end of May and while it was a bumpy road it did in fact get us to where we needed to go. Things have changed again with June, we now have the textbooks from our school to work from and this has provided a bit more of a universal structure to our online lessons. This new structure means a lot less lesson planning time which is definitely a relief. Hopefully by July we will be back in the classroom but at the moment we are still waiting for an official announcement here in Myanmar so we really can’t say for certain. The past month has been interesting to say the least but I am excited to take these experiences with me into my ESL career going forward.

For more TEFL Tips check out these posts:

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