Over the last five months, I have done a whole array of consultancy jobs supporting schools to deliver online language courses. These have been private language schools right up to lanuage departments in universities. It has been a very tough time for teachers and one thing that they are continually complaining about is just how much work is involved in preparing and delivering an online lessons. It has been a theme I have addressed at several online conferences and in this blog post, I am going to suggest a few tips to save you time and possibly help you to re-think the way you prepare and deliver online lessons.
Always think about giving lessons online in terms of the synchronous and asynchronous parts. When we give classes online we normally have the ‘live’ synchronous lesson but also the asynchronous part which normally means the homework and activities we ask the students to do outside the time of the live lesson. In the past 10 years there has been a lot of discussion about the relationship between these two parts of the lesson. This has partly come about because the variety and types of activities that students can do outside of the ‘live’ lesson has been vastly enriched by the huge proliferation in the amount of content available for them to access. This has led to an approach known as the Flipped Classroom.
In the ‘Flipped Classroom Approach’ we set activities for the students to do before the lesson. In this way, the idea is that we can make better use of the classroom time, planning activities that are more student-centred. For example we might ask our students to watch a video first or read an article for homework and subsequently, to answer questions we’ve prepared to check their understanding of the content. During class time, we can present an activity to get the students talking about the video or article that they’ve watched or read. We can put the students into breakout rooms and get them working together in groups, instantly putting the focus on the them. They can talk about the questions we’d already prepared, or present a scenario – such as a ‘what if…’ situation – to get them using the content they’ve already watched or read about, in another context.
We are not only limited to assigning videos or articles to read. The same approach can work very effectively if we set vocabulary for the students to learn. For example, in the aysnchronous part, we might have asked the students to study 10 new words and to practice using those words with a few exercises we’ve prepared – preferably in context. Then during class time, we might provide activities for them to do in groups where they match definitions with the correct word and then write example sentences collaboratively using the key vocabulary. We continue with higher-order level thinking activities – outing the words into context – so that the class time is engaging and recycles all the information they’ve previously studied.
There are two big problems with this approach. Firstly, many times the students don’t do the asynchronous work (homework) and secondly, you need to prepare the material for the students to use. Some of this material might be in the coursebook but sometimes it takes a bit of time and effort to find the video, audio or article you want the students to study before class to prepare for the synchronous session. This is where the publisher’s platforms can be really useful.
Each Richmond book for example is supported by a platform that provides exercises, listening material, readings and other activities that are connected to your classroom book. This means that there is already a wide range of additional material that you can assign as asynchronous work before class time, that has already been uploaded for you. Further, the platform itself will automatically checked and corrected most of these activities. This saves the you time and means you can focus on looking at the scores and identifying areas the students may not have understood. This is vital feedback that can help you make decisions such as reviewing material or moving forward. This can be a strong incentive for the students to complete the homeowork since they know their work is being tracked.
The Richmond platform offers an abundance of material and much of it is interactive. The content on the platforms compliments the content provided in the books, whic means the activities and exercises we set as homework are tightly connected to our lesssons, making the delivery of the learning material more focused and efficient.
The important thing is to have a global vision regarding the delivery of our lessons and to make sure we are always trying to make the most of the synchronous lessons. If we can, we want the live synchronous lessons to be as student-centred as possible and provide the maximium opportunity for students to work in groups. Learning online can be quite a lonely experience and we need to make sure that the live sessions provide an opportunity for the students to feel part of a class, where they work with other students and co-operate with them. There is a danger that the live sessions are dominated by the teacher with the students passively listening and we want to avoid that as much as possible. Taking a ‘Flipped Classroom’ approach can really help in this regard.