This blog was going to be about slides and bullet points, and I’ll attack that topic next, but when I read Montse’s article about adapting to teleworking, I couldn’t resist the chance to add my perspective as a teacher. Converting our classes to a remote format saved our business last year, and we will always be grateful for the technology, but it also gave us some headaches. I’m going to try to summarise the problems we encountered and what we did to try to solve them.
The technicalities of setting up an account, sharing a screen and using the chat box were a bit scary at first, but we learned quite fast after a few embarrassing mistakes. However, having got the camera angle just right with nothing scandalous in the background, I realised that my classes still weren’t working so well. Exercises that always got my students chatting happily in traditional classes were generating awkward silences and misunderstandings online. Somehow, the atmosphere had evaporated and I knew I had to get it back.
Personally, I think we have to accept is that a virtual environment is just not as attractive to people as a regular meeting room. Previously, in-company trainers benefited from the fact that our classes gave workers a break from their computers. Suddenly, we were asking them to spend yet another hour on Teams each day, with none of the benefits of physical movement and real social interaction. I had to find a way to make my classes fun again without losing sight of my students’ long-term learning targets.
I started with a hard analysis of the materials I used to isolate the stuff that really helped students to learn something new or encouraged them to speak. This meant cutting a lot of “padding” elements like reading texts, which were interesting in principle but which generated those disruptive silences that stopped the flow of the class. Each class was streamlined to focus on limited but useful targets and to maximise opportunities for my students to speak and develop their fluency.
As always with teaching, it’s still a work in progress, but results have been very encouraging. I feel the time flying by as fast as it used to in my contact classes and the students seem to look forward to the sessions like they did before. Maybe an old dog can learn new tricks after all…