I’ll start this post by saying what a well organised and inspiring conference Innovate is! I’ve wanted to go for many years, but have never been able to travel during term time to Barcelona. So when I saw that it was online this year, I got my session proposal in straight away.
One of the best things about the conference is that it’s just the right size. There were four sessions to choose from with each timeslot, which offered choice without overwhelming and it was easy to network in the Zoom garden.
On Saturday morning, I woke pondering the run scheduled in my marathon training plan or Fiona Mauchline’s session. The memory of how great Fiona’s previous sessions have been aided my choice. That, plus it was all about the senses. It sounded brilliant. And it was. Here’s my sketchnote:
I took a few hours off in the afternoon to feel guilty about my run (but not actually do it) and add a few drawings to my own session on Engaging Learners Online with Simple Drawings. Sandy Millin did me the wonderful service of taking these wonderfully detailed notes, if you’d like a summary. Thanks, Sandy!
After my session, I couldn’t miss Tyson Seburn’s plenary. It’s amazing how much equality and diversity advice he squeezed into 15 mins! Using the metaphor of a dirty river, he explored the journey ELT has taken. Our metaphorical river is flowing in a cleaner direction now than before but we still have a lot of work to do before ELT Footprinters would deem it ecologically safe! I especially loved his reference to the ELT ‘coursebook closet’. A term coined by Scott Thornbury. Here’s my sketchnotes:
Today I’ve had the good fortune to attend some amazing sessions at Innovate Online 2021. Four hours on Zoom can take its toll but sketchnoting helped me stay focused and avoid the many distractions that my computer has on offer.
As these are a visual record and summary of the talks, I’ll leave this as a visual post.
Katherine Bilsborough and Ceri Jones discussed all things Ecoliteracy.
Harry Waters gives advice on Becoming a Lean Green Teaching Machine!
Nergiz Kern brought Environmental Topics to Life with Virtual Reality.
The number one aim of the online language class is for our learners to learn English. Teaching digital skills online can distract from the language objectives of the lesson, so it can be wise to start with a platform they already know (e.g. Whatsapp) and check-in frequently with learners individually to encourage them ask any questions or raise any concerns.
Drip feed the digital
So you’ve started on familiar territory. Students feel calm and confident about their learning, but ideally, you want to add variety to their learning experience and develop their digital skills. In a wonderful webinar for MN ABE Professional Development in 2020, Amy Van Steenwyk advised teachers to keep online tasks simple and allow students to master one online activity at a time.
This is very much my recommendation too. Think about a skill and break it into smaller sub-skills. These would be my steps in Zoom:
Start with downloading Zoom > logging in > click link to login > turn on/off sound > turn on/off video > use chatroom > use annotation tools > use breakout rooms > share screen in break out rooms > conquer the Zoom world.
Use familiar language
One of the first things a trainee English language teacher learns is to modify their language so that students understand their instructions. This should also be the case when teaching digital skills. Consider using the colour of the button or its location on the screen rather than the jargon. For example, Amy Van Steenwyk advises telling students to ‘click blue’ rather than ‘join’ when using breakout rooms, a word which they may not know. The need for this can, of course, be avoided if you automatically assign students to breakout rooms, but the principle applies for giving instructions.
Teach unknown language
The digital world is full of jargon: breakout room, sign-in, register, join, annotate, comment. Teaching these terms is often the first step in teaching digital skills. Before asking learners to perform a task online, think about what language they might need for it. I like to keep a Google Slides doc full of helpful icons and vocabulary that I can quickly refer to during class. I drew this visual to teach the term ‘Breakout room’. You may recognise it is from my previous post on Tips for Online Teaching. Feel free to use it with your own learners, or better, copy the simple drawing yourself.
Use instructional videos and screenshots
Instructional videos can be super handy when training learners with technology. When making these, I find it helps to focus on one thing (e.g. annotating) as it’s easier to find and share the one you need at the time you need it. If a learner just needs a refresher on accessing the annotation tool, there’s no need to send them a 40 minute epic on how to do EVERYTHING on Zoom – a screenshot with a comment or a short video will do. One skill at a time. Even better if it’s in their first language. In general, videos should be less than ten minutes. Think TED Talks. There’s a reason they are short and sweet.
Encourage first language & peer support
If you wanted to learn digital skills, would you do it in your L1 or a language you are learning? I’d certainly do it in my L1! Allowing learners to access devices and instructional videos in their L1 can be immensely helpful. Encourage learners to support each other in their first language when and if necessary. This could be in class, or asking students with strong digital skills to support their peers. I’ve also found family members living with students to be incredibly helpful.
Refer to digital skills courses
The world of digital skills training is not just in English. There are plenty of courses available for learners to access in their first language. My previous blog post has a list. If you know of any more, I’d be happy to add them!
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.
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:
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.