By Jennifer Carson
During this time of uncertainty and school closures, many teachers have had to jump into teaching remotely without a moment’s notice. I have worked for several years as adjunct faculty at a local university, which has forced me to become familiar with teaching both synchronously online (broadcasting on a platform like WebEx, GoToMeeting, or Zoom to students at a scheduled time) and asynchronously (distributing lessons that are accessed during a range of time much like a webinar).
Depending where you are, you may fall somewhere between these two extremes. You may teach at the same time every day, or just provide a few assignments per week. You may be required to grade all student work, or none at all. If you are just grappling with teaching remotely, I am sure you have many of the same questions I initially had. How can you ensure students are learning, thinking deeply, and communicating in the target language when you are not in the room with them? Or how you can you hold students accountable for their learning when you cannot look over their shoulders? Here are my top five tips for both types of remote teaching. Pick the ones that work best for you and your situation.
You will probably be teaching using a slide deck, PowerPoint, or Google Slides and speaking to your students, with or without webcam video. Students will respond to you orally or in a chat box, Google Doc, or your Learning Management System (LMS) (think Schoology, Canvas, or Edmodo). Your LMS or online textbook may allow you to assign a discussion forum where students can write or record a post and responses to their classmates’ posts.
- Establish norms with students. Students should remain muted unless they indicate they wish to respond, either by raising their hand if your platform offers that capability, or by indicating in the chat box if available. Ideally, all participants should have a headset with a microphone. When students have webcams, they should look into the camera, avoid eating, and extraneous noises such as barking dogs. (You too!)
- Plan carefully! You may not be able to lock down their browser, so ensure your assignment is not something that can just be dumped into Google Translate. Better to ask students to apply their knowledge or compare cultural perspectives. Just like in class, give clear directions and model what you want students to do. Anticipate where they may become confused before you transmit your lesson. If you want to show a videoclip, be sure students can see and hear it on their devices when you hit play. Consider what you will do if a student is absent; this is when asynchronous teaching comes in handy!
- Include a mix of direct instruction, interactive posts, and individual student work. Your students are cooped up at home too and crave engagement.
- Harness all available free supports. For example, Google Hangouts and Zoom are offering unlimited usage. Your textbook publisher likely provides free helpful webinars and many resource vendors are offering discounts on subscriptions. See this matrix of free resources compiled by The National Council of State Supervisors for Languages (NCSSFL).
- Laugh at yourself. You may not be a digital native but do your best. Your students can help you out if technology is not your friend. And when this is all over, they will remember that you were kind and fun, not stressed and upset.
You will be planning your lesson in advance and students will have a period of time, maybe a week or two, to access the information you provide and follow the lesson. You may use a slide deck, PowerPoint, or Google Slides, with or without narration. You may share articles or assignments in a Google folder or in your LMS. Students will respond to you by completing assignments (recording audio or video, writing, or posting and responding to classmates’ comments).
- Establish norms with students. How long do they have to complete the work? How and when will you provide feedback?
- Plan carefully! Just like in class, give clear directions and model what you want students to do. Consider using a Google Form for students to complete as they move through their assignments. You could provide an image or link to a video or audio clip and ask students to reflect on what they saw or heard. It has been my experience that this works better than a synchronous class for ensuring student accountability as it is all captured in the Google Form and then converted into an easy-to-view Google Sheet.
- Just as when you teach synchronously in the classroom or remotely, be sure to include a mix of direct instruction, interactive posts, and individual student work. You can group students to complete assignments together, and they can collaborate using Google Docs, Skype or FaceTime, or an interactive whiteboard like Padlet or Lino.it. And you can guide whole group discussions asynchronously by having students post and respond to comments on a Google Doc, or record videos on FlipGrid or your LMS.
- Manage your time wisely. Students will be completing the work at their own pace, so be careful to check work as it comes in to avoid an avalanche at the due date.
- Hold office hours, if possible. To address student questions, you can offer to be available during specific hours via Remind, email, or phone. With this tip, you can be available to students for a comfortable amount of time and not 24/7, while avoiding disasters for confused students. Don’t forget that they are new to online learning too!
Finally, remember that above all else, you want students to learn, and to love learning languages. I hope that with these quick tips, you can shelter in place, teach remotely, and retain your sanity.
Jen Carson works as a Curriculum Coordinator for Wayside Publishing and resides in Norfolk, Virginia. She is currently President of the Virginia Organization of World Language Supervisors (VOWLS) and Immediate Past President of the National Association of District Supervisors of Foreign Languages (NADSFL).