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How to be Successful in Teaching English Online




Teaching online is the new normal after the Coronavirus lockdown, whether you are a travelling TEFL teacher whose plans for 2020 have been thrown into disarray or, someone who has been keen to sidestep into online teaching for a number of reasons other than Covid.   

Taking TEFL online requires an understanding of some considerations which just don’t apply to face to face in the classroom. These can make or break a successful online TEFL career.  For many TEFL teachers, their focus is often all about how to deliver effective online content but there are other aspects which are less obvious and which are worth considering if you really want to make a success of your digital teaching career.

Be aware of the separate concept of digital literacy

The level of digital literacy is going to vary from student to student based mainly on their age and where they are in the world.  You may find they are much less familiar with online tools or, in the alternative, have a knowledge that far exceeds your own.  It is important not to pitch the digital input from the student too high or you will just ultimately end up in putting them off and losing customers.  It can be easy to get wrapped up in techniques like asking pupils to annotate on the screen, add their own images or upload other things which may simply be beyond them.

Some researchers say that too much emphasis on technology can actually distract from the learning so maybe just introduce one tool and let that bed in before you move onto something else,  Use a demonstration if you think that would help by sharing your screen or pre-recording a short clip.

Always understand what the learners are seeing on their devices; compatibility is important and you also need to make sure students know how to edit, annotate, share and save documents whether they are using a phone, tablet or laptop – never assume knowledge.  If you are pairing students together in an online classroom setting, try and match students who are similarly placed from an IT perspective so that one of the two is not placed at a distinct disadvantage.

Engaging online learners

When you are teaching online, the usual classroom dynamic is missing, this is the time that students would normally chat to each other before and after lessons when they are physically in the same location.  It can be really helpful to foster these social interactions so that the class can relate to one another – learning will be significantly enhanced as a result. Here are some helpful techniques:-

  • Use ice breakers and personalisation tasks to create an online presence for each student – these activities are often used at conferences and conventions where a group of people are introduced to each other for the first time.  This can work equally well online and is probably even more essential to the separation imposed by remote learning
  • Be enthusiastic about your students and the different topics – it can be easy to let the screen become a barrier, work hard to create a real classroom atmosphere
  • Know your students and refer to elements of this knowledge during the tasks and activities on the curriculum – this fosters empathy and inclusiveness
  • Find out what is worrying or concerning your students and address their fears and suggestions positively
  • Give ongoing feedback which is continuous and regular
  • Make space in the sessions for humour and social interaction

Understanding the digital medium

For book purists, a Kindle or indeed any screen will never replace the real thing.  Apart from the feel and scent of a new book, the concept of turning the pages and handling the book is totally different from reading the same words on a screen.  We process the information differently which is why writing and presentation for the internet are completely different from how the same information may be presented in a book, magazine or hard copy document.

Blocks of text will blur the eyes of your students and switch them off.  Keep sections of text and the length of sentences much shorter than you might otherwise.  Introduce varied digital techniques but don’t introduce too many new things at once otherwise it can become muddled and confusing for the students.

Students’ progress needs to be checked more frequently

It is harder to read body language online than when you are sitting in a classroom so remember to check with your pupils how they feel they are progressing and learning.  Concentration also dips faster online than in a real classroom so the structure of lessons may well have to alter to reflect this.  Test learning through fun quizzes which are interactive and break up the teaching sessions.

Feedback methods may need to change to reflect the virtual classroom

The usual cues of body language from the physical classroom are absent in the virtual setting, indicators such as body language or simple gestures.  Feedback in the digital setting can be done collectively and still name individual students or it can be done in private chat messages and groups.  Use video feedback if you are marking assignments rather than necessarily a paper response; this personalises your lessons and invites learners to ask questions, building the dynamic of two-way trust.

Mix synchronous and asynchronous tasks

Synchronous tasks happen within the whole group with the teacher so essentially the online lesson situation whereas asynchronous tasks allow students to work at their own pace either on their own or within small study groups.  Using asynchronous tasks allows learners more time to reflect and prepare.  The concept of the flipped lesson can work really well for digital learning as this combines both synchronous and asynchronous tasks with learners completing individual activities before the synchronous lesson.  This is particularly effective at managing a broad span of learning abilities without some people feeling they are floundering because they lack understanding and speed of learning.

Teaching online successfully involves a holistic understanding of how people learn in the digital environment and the unique challenges and also benefits which this medium presents.   Teaching in the virtual world can bring new and fresh techniques to the online classroom and introduce teachers to innovative new tools which they can make use of in a physical classroom as well as online.

Michelle has been a part of the journey ever since Bigtime Daily started. As a strong learner and passionate writer, she contributes her editing skills for the news agency. She also jots down intellectual pieces from categories such as science and health.

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