Although my materials writing hat is well versed in zoom calls and delivering webinars, my ESOL lecturer hat still took some getting used to teaching online when COVID hit. Teaching online is great, when your learners are self-directed, tech savvy and have all the devices and connections required to attend classes.
Teaching online is somewhat more challenging when your students have little or no educational history, limited IT skills, devices whose best feature is a game called ‘snake’ or who need to save the meagre 3G they can afford to stay in touch with their loved ones overseas. That’s before considering their housing provider may think it’s a good idea to take their weekly allowance from them and house them in a hotel during lockdown. Learning ESOL during a pandemic may not be top priority.
But, us ESOL Literacy Lecturers don’t let impossible situations stop us. We plough on through and do what we can with what we have. And what we had was Whatsapp. Not ideal in terms of giving out personal numbers, but this was crisis and I trusted my students and was well aware that anything involving having to correctly type login details would result in multiple students being locked out of their learning.
Whatsapp is actually quite an undervalued teaching platform. You can share and find links, videos and photos easily, provide audio support to all texts, correct students work using the draw function and use the emojis to illustrate vocabulary. You can also upload documents, have audio recorded conversations and even video call to up to eight people. Plus, when your aim is to get students to read and write in English, Whatsapp encourages them to type messages to each other and respond.
The very first lesson was simply handwriting a few sentences, illustrating them with simple graphics and recording a video of me reading the text whilst pointing to each word. Students then had to record themselves reading the text, answer some comprehension questions, then personalise it. Over the weeks these lessons got more sophisticated and included things like YouTube videos, Padlets, Quizlets, EdPuzzles and quizzes on Google Forms, yet what I always got the best response from was a simple handwritten text with audio support.
Then I figured it was time to move on to the big scary world of email. When we started teaching online, probably around 50% of the class didn’t have an email address. So I created a walk-through video of how to set up an email address and shared it with the group. I started to get a trickle of emails but I wanted 100% of students to be emailing by the end of term, so I asked a friend to send the link to set up a gmail account in Arabic and forwarded that to the students. Genius. Every student now had an email address. But I knew I had to keep them using it. I didn’t want them to email me once and forget how to do it, or forget their passwords. So every single email that I got, I replied with a simple question, then students had to email me back. I had a lovely conversation about yellow flowers with one student and about Glasgow parks with another.
One of the main challenges of teaching ESOL Literacy is that it’s extremely hard to find suitable materials to teach reading, writing and phonics to adults. Most are aimed at children and have delightfully childish pictures of apples, books and cats to accompany the alphabet. This made teaching online more challenging. While my peers had the luxury of coursebook e-packs, I had to create most things myself. Here are some sites which I am eternally grateful for:
Bow Valley College – Graded Readers for ESL Literacy learners
LanguageGuide.org – Very basic supported vocabulary learning
Lisa Karlsen ESOL Literacy resource pack – worth every penny
I AM YOU Humanitarian Aid – Facebook page with lots of ESOL Literacy videos
Education and Training Foundation – New to ESOL Literacy pack – tips and activities.
Diglin – phonics and skills activities
Citizen Literacy app – City of Glasgow College app to teach phonics to adults. Still in Beta, but you can trial. Watch this space!
If you know any more, please share them with me. I’d love to add them to this post.
Overall, my main tip of teaching any students with basic ICT skills is never give up. The more students use tech, the more confident they’ll be, even if your learners can barely type their passwords into the computer.
In many ways, I think COVID has had some positive impacts on ESOL. I’m sure it catapulted some learners with low levels of study skills into being more self-directed learners. Students who previously needed (or had) their hand held have been effectively forced into taking ownership of their learning and getting to grips with tricky ICT. Plus, we now have a whole load of lovely interactive materials which future learners will be able to use in their own time.
If you’d like more information on how to teach ESOL Literacy, check out my courses on Language Fuel ELT Training Library. Each course takes less than twenty minutes and is full of practical hints and tips: