Changing assets in ELT classroom culture: Reflections on teaching during the pandemic

· Teacher's Experience/anecdotes
Author

Gyanu Dahal

Introduction: Changing contexts of teaching

The COVID-19 pandemic has posed unprecedented challenges for people around the world. Due to this crisis, we all are locked inside the home and no one can deny that life has suddenly and unavoidably become more difficult and complicated for everyone, including language teachers. All the schools and colleges are closed. So, these days regular face-to-face classes have been switched to virtual (online) classes. Conducting virtual classes is a new mode of teaching and learning for both teachers as well as students. The school closures have not only threatened teachers and students, but also parents to cope up with the entirely new situation. It has become a matter of anxiety and a nuisance for all of us.

Teaching is often said as one of the most stressful professions, even before the pandemic. Response to the Covid-19 pandemic has created a long list of new stressors for teachers to deal with, including problems caused by the emergency transformation to online language teaching. During this crisis, everything has happened so fast that it does not seem realistic to adopt a holistic solution that is easy to implement, and that works for everyone (Moorhouse, 2020).

I always realized that teaching and learning is a social and dynamic process. Teachers and students used to get enough time to be social in face-to-face classes. Students’ attendance was good. They seemed happy with teachers and there were personal connections between teachers and students. We could use facial expressions, body language, a physical gesture which is used to motivate students to work on time and to create a positive classroom environment, but there is a distance between teachers and students in virtual classrooms. They are deprived of physical closeness. The main negative aspect that was predicted and experienced in online teaching was the lack of interaction. The pandemic caused many teachers and educators to rethink and reshape their educational practice. These are the issues from which every teacher is suffering.

In many countries, teachers were given very little time to convert their face-to-face classes to online teaching via synchronous and/or asynchronous methods, often despite challenges concerning the availability of necessary digital devices, prior training in online teaching techniques, and/or effective online learning support platforms. In most cases, teachers have not been trained in the necessary technical and pedagogical skills to integrate digital technology instruction.

The typical days for language teachers around the world have been stressful enough, given their heavy workloads, time pressures, and difficult juggling roles. These days, we are not only stressed due to the reasons mentioned above but it’s because of sudden adaptation to online teaching. Furthermore, teachers are unhappy with the indifferent behavior of students, their passivity, and less enthusiasm in the online classroom. Students used to be very active and participatory in those days in comparison to now. The teachers indulge in the thought as to how to make students active and energetic in the class. There are concerns about low students’ attendance, reasons behind not submitting their assignment on time, and effective ways of assessment. In what follows, I have discussed my own experience of running online classes smoothly and effectively.

My learned experiences and suggestions to fellow teachers

Based on my personal experiences, I have listed several suggestions that might help fellow teachers to hold their virtual lessons effectively and successfully.

Prepare a lesson plan

Every teacher should develop the habit of making plans before starting their lessons. Allen (2003) explained that a lesson plan is a route map or mind map of teachers designed for a specific topic of a specific day. A plan helps to run classes smoothly without being distracted. It helps to become confident and mindful of what is to happen in lessons. When teachers are equipped with a lesson plan, they never find themselves mislead and likely to reach their teaching goals. Unlike the face-to-face mode of teaching, I would recommend fellow teachers to plan their lessons shorter for online teaching and try creating more opportunities for interactions.

Develop multiple classroom activities

In face-to-face classrooms, teaching was easier and more comfortable. We could quit or add some activities by observing students’ motivation and engagement. But now, before conducting online classes, we should set a plan with a variety of activities that can keep the students active and interactive. For this, we can use break out rooms, we can let the learners use the microphone, turn on the camera, and allow them to use a chatbox. It helps learners be active, interactive, and collaborative. Collaborative learning encourages understanding, fosters relationships, builds self-esteem, reduces anxiety, and stimulates critical thinking (Panitz, 1999). We should encourage our students to share their ideas, inspire them to participate in all the activities actively and enthusiastically, motivate them to be interactive in the classroom asking open questions.

Be vigilant in assigning and correcting work

Teachers assign homework to the students to practice the content and language they learned during the class. However, it’s not a good idea to assign homework at the end of the lesson because you may not have enough time to explain how to write it, and also students may not have enough time to ask questions if it is not clear for them. For doing homework correction, one effective way can be to display the corrections in PowerPoint slides and encourage students to do self-correction or in small groups in break out rooms. Sometimes, teachers can ask students to write answers in the chatbox and read their responses mentioning their names. At this difficult time, it is important to give compliments to students regardless of their failure to produce correct and sufficient work as it keeps them motivated. However, teachers need to correct their work and offer positive feedback.

Use of students’ L1

Researchers believe that the use of students’ L1 facilitates the teaching of a target language (Cook, 2001). Teachers use students’ L1 for various purposes like facilitating communication, conveying meaning, facilitating student-teacher relationships, and scaffolding, and peer learning (Cook, 2001). It also maintains confidence and self-esteem because it is linked to the learner’s identity and emotional wellbeing. At this challenging time when the instruction may not be delivered effectively during online teaching, it is important to use students’ mother tongue or the languages they are more comfortable with. The use of English-only may create difficulties and frustration for them.

Develop a positive classroom culture

Creating an environment where students feel safe and free to take part is equally important. Every teacher should love to have their students waiting to come to class every day to learn, feel safe, and have a sense of family with their classmates and their teachers. For this, I’m always mindful of creating positive classroom culture. It is a space where everyone should feel accepted and included. Students should be comfortable with sharing how they feel, and teachers should be willing to take it in to help improve learning.

Every student, teacher, and parent needs to be involved in playing a part in creating a positive classroom culture. Teachers present in class not only to teach for academic success but also to preserve student’s physical, social, and emotional needs. Teachers should never forget students’ variations, in the classroom, there may be students who have a troubled home life and do not get the motivation or emotional support from their family, but coming to a very friendly classroom culture and understanding is very beneficial in changing their views on themselves and other adults.

Teachers must be aware of the classroom culture they develop before starting new sessions. We need to take into mind what each student needs to feel comfortable in the classroom and give them a safe space to be themselves. Having a good classroom culture in starting days will give children a positive and friendly connotation with the teachers and learning. If students experience a bad classroom culture in the beginning, they will be less motivated to continue on their learning excursion with the best mindset.

Conclusion

Today’s teachers should be equipped with some specific skills that help teachers to succeed in their efforts to teach a language: for example, designing and implementing appropriate instruction for classroom assessment and student engagement, organizing and facilitating students’ participation, and providing guidance and support. We should motivate students and show enthusiasm and interest in learners. We can support our learners to promote group interaction, collaboration, and teamwork by setting some activities. We can also use different communication tools (e.g., email, video chat, text messages, etc.), for active communication and social presence to engage online learners. We can personalize our instructions, stories, messages, and feedback to make our class environment livelier by adding the appropriate sense of humor when possible. We can maintain a warm, and friendly, atmosphere by creating and developing respectful relationships by showing sensitivity and empathy when communicating online. We can offer some advice and suggestions from our learners for betterment. All these skills, tasks, and competencies can help us to be highly respectful online educators. Moreover, teachers should try these to possess some personal traits such as being highly motivated, supportive, visible, organized, analytical, respectful, approachable, active, responsive, flexible, open, honest, and compassionate.

About the Author: Gyanu Dahal is an English language teacher in Little Angels’ College of Management/School. She has also worked as a trainer and mentor in British Council projects. Her scholarly interests include mentoring, exploratory action research, and teacher education.

 

References

Allen, G.T. (2003). Important points about planning lessons. California: Philadelphia.

Cook, V. (2001). Using the first language in the classroom. Canadian Modern Language Review, 57, 402–423.

Harbord, J. (1992). The use of the mother tongue in the classroom. ELT Journal, 46, 350– 355.

Moorhouse, B. L. (2020). Adaptations to a face-to-face initial teacher education course ‘forced’ online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Journal of Education for Teaching. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/02607476.2020.1755205

Panitz, T. (1999). Collaborative versus cooperative learning: A comparison of the two concepts which will help us understand the underlying nature of interactive learning. U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED448443.pdf

Cite as: Dahal, G. (2020). Changing assets in ELT classroom culture: Reflections on teaching during the pandemic. http://eltchoutari.com/2020/10/changing-assets-in-elt-classroom-culture-reflections-on-teaching-during-the-pandemic/

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  1. Bolape Olaosebikan

    A step to step guide to teaching students in the new normal. Enlightening!

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