Ben Naismith is an ELT colleague I’ve enjoyed interacting with online and (all too infrequently) face-to-face over several years. Ben’s been all over the shop – he’s one of those ELT Swiss army knives doing many things and doing them all well.
Right now Ben is doing very interesting dissertation research at the University of Pittsburg. This post is me just helping spread the word to potential participants in my network, and I thank you for the click and consideration!
So, if you are a current or former IELTS examiner, please read on. As well, if you are not an IELTS examiner but have friends or colleagues who are, please share onwards. Thank you! 🙂
Message from Ben to Potential Participants:
Dear IELTS examiner,
I hope this email finds you well. I am writing to request your participation in my dissertation research by completing an online questionnaire.
The purpose of this research study is to determine which quantitative features of writing correspond to expert assessors’ ratings. For that reason, you have been asked to complete this survey based on your own assessment expertise as either a current or former IELTS writing examiner.
If you are willing to participate, in Part 1 you will rate three learner essays and provide reasons for your ratings. In Part 2, you will be asked background information questions (e.g., about your teaching experience and education). In total, the survey should take approximately 20 minutes to complete. Please complete the survey on a computer rather than a mobile device. There are no foreseeable risks associated with this project, nor are there any direct benefits to you, and you will not receive any payment for participation. All responses are confidential, and results will be kept under lock and key. It is optional whether or not you provide your name. Participant names will only be used to ensure that there are no duplicate submissions. Your participation is voluntary, and you may withdraw from this project at any time. Here is the link to the survey: https://pitt.co1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_cYCXODEEMESPYGy
If you have any questions, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I would be happy to answer them. In addition, I would also ask that you share this request with any other current or former IELTS examiners in your professional network.
I mentioned in my last entry that after midterm the students will be coming back to campus (go Thailand, eh?). So the other day I decided to change up my routine a bit. Instead of beaming up to Spaceship Zoom from my desk I would go sit in the assigned classroom of the course and teach from there.
This is what a number of instructors seem to have been doing from the beginning, to some bemusement on my part. I couldn’t quite grok why they’d feel the need to schlep around to different classrooms only to open up the same laptop and meet students online. But the other day I had my own reasons for doing so. I wanted to know where we’d be setting up camp after a few short weeks. And as it was the first time I’d seen the students since the announcement, I wanted to highlight that I’d be there ready to welcome them back and hit the IRL ground running.
I’m not certain anything so deep got through to them, but I did spin the laptop around and give them a view of the room. Turns out it’s an old school language lab. Pics below. Still not sure how I feel about this, but I don’t hate it. Yet.
When I asked one section “How do you feel about coming back?” one student said “I’m not sure. 50/50”. “Why’s that?”, I queried. “Well…none of my uniforms fit anymore!”, they explained. Covid-19 bods. I can relate.
Here’s the lab. It’s very…full. Not all that much room to maneuver.
I do like the IPA chart in a prominent spot on the wall there. It also includes a little verb form table. Cute!
I haven’t given it all that much critical + constructive thought quite yet to be honest…but it’ll be interesting to see how the course ‘translates’ across the shift back to quote-unquote “normal”. I have found myself thinking that all the online courseware (Moodle, YouTube to host vids, Line Group) remains and functions essential the same. And maybe we’re F2F in the lab of 247 headphone sets every OTHER week? I’m not even sure what’s permissible at this point.
What I do know is nobody wants to rush away from what’s been, I think, a perfectly workable thing so far. Also, nobody wants to tear the seem of their uniform trying to squeeze between intercom audio stations vintage 2007. #COVIDbod
In other news, I sorta kinda “trolled” my students by spinning an involved yarn about an imaginary best friend at whose wedding I was best man. It was my model of a best man / maid of honor speech. I thought this would be a nice public speaking type to include in this course. These speeches can be fun and juicy! Embarrassing anecdotes, heartfelt waxing poetic, some culturally interesting, linguistically formulaic stuff like a toast at the end.
And when I eventually told them it was all a grand fiction, they wore out the Line emojis in expressing their shock and horror. Which reminds me that I considered banning or at least policing emoji (over)use in the class line groups at the start but decided against it. However, I was happy to see a handful of written replies. Including: “I knew that was gonna happen! Still. Shocked.” Nicely put!
I was just glad it seemed that I’d stoked a bit of emotional investment in the characters while demonstrating ways ways to thank the caterers, fawn over the bride (AB-so-LOOT-ly STUNning!), and slather a bit of sappy sentiment over some sections of your speech.
RIP “Joke” and “Anna”. Perhaps you’ll live again if I ever teach this course once more.
Later in the Line chat I gave myself an Oscar. And told them now is the time to reach down deep for both big dramatic fiction energy and sartorial chops. Of course they don’t have to make up the scene from scratch. It could be the future wedding of people they know. Or, I suggested, they could go BACK in time and be their mom’s maid of honor. Kinda hoping some of them take this up, could be quite cool.
Right. Well it’s bedtime and what’s on my mind is now is less ‘toasts’ than ‘toast’, as in breakfast. The sooner I sleep, the sooner I eat. And that’s no joke!
It’s been over two weeks since my last confession diary entry.
Not sure what to write, so I’ll just take some nice deep breaths and try to write down the bones. First thought, best thought. No editing or at least minimal. I know that over the last couple weeks I did take down notes here and there about things I thought I could write in this series…but I seem to have lost those notes. It’s likely they are a scattered in a few different places. Annnnd well, perhaps I have not really lost the the notes as much as lost the will to relocate and organize and read them.
I don’t need to find any notes to start with this: yesterday I found myself palpably appreciating a shift that 5 months worth of fully online work has brought on within me when the colleagues with whom I share an office decided to do a major clearing out and rearranging of the space. UsuallyI’m quite into this kind of thing and conscious of/curious about the ways physical space can affect interaction patterns and comfort levels and more. But I found myself utterly apathetic yesterday. And when I noticed this and asked myself “why?” the answer came swiftly: my workspace is virtual now. The door into it is my laptop screen. To sit down at my ‘desk’ is to put my headset on and open a browser. For the first time, I’d say, this felt like much more than a conceptual metaphor. It was a grounded fact. The look on my face as people around me got all excited about moving cabinets and rotating desks and they stroked their chins considering where to place a chair…that look must have been comical. I know that at times I was trying not to frown or laugh and just blurt out that for me it all felt sort of ridiculous.
As fate would have it though, I’ve just now found out this whole “term online” won’t, in fact, be a term online (so maybe my fengshui-happy colleagues were onto something after all)! Just after midterms (a few weeks from now), we’re back fully on campus. So soon! And it’s over, it’s done! They’re all coming back! Bodies on campus at any given time during a typical day will go from probably under 1000 to, I suppose, between 10,000 and 15,000 if everyone everywhere comes fully back! Yes, with masks and maybe some face-shields in the mix. But before you know it we’ll be back in the all-too-familiar physical format.
It’s hard to even imagine right now. It’s going to feel really odd, probably rather uncomfortable for a while. I think class is going to feel something like a flashmob (remember flashmobs lol) at first; an sudden unexpected crowd, surprisingly coordinated, lurching close, wresting from the hand of social distance the crucible of contact! What..what..what IS HAPPENING right now!?!
Hmm. Damn your rule of zen writing Natalie Goldberg, I can’t delete any of that silliness!
What I will say (and surely blog about if/when this ‘diary’ series continues with a modified title) is this: I know that even when classes do shift back to F2F mode, we’re keeping a lot of what we’re doing now. Okay? Capiche? (I’m talking big to an imagined disapproving boss here, giving me a look like “I want you to pretend this never happened”). No, we’ve now gone there and a lot of this virtual stuff? It stays. We may need to rename it, because ‘virtual’ sounds a little flaky. We haven’t been flakin’ around here and just because we’re back in a room together doesn’t mean the Moodle gets the Bootle.
In other news, since my last posting I had one more synchronous lesson and then did a week of autonomy with no live sessions. Plenty of chat (though admittedly not as much as I would have liked) in the Line groups as the students in all sections read the script of my semi-fictional “best man speech” and proposed a logical order for it’s 5 or 6 sections and tried to figure out precisely what stuff like “…and the rest is history” and consider whether “making a toast” is breakfast-related or not. And they’ve been sharing rather deep thoughts in the forums on the topic of true love and whether they believe in it and why/how. It’s one of those assignments that reminds me that learners’ apparent language level depends entirely on the meaningfulness of the content they’re working with (and good conditions for full expression). When it really clicks, such L2 poetry comes forth! And on first pass you just read for pure pleasure without a single teacher-thought to distract you. I mean, whew…this kids got some profound thoughts on the matter! That was really nice.
Alright, also…well, I was actually feeling vaguely embarrassed about having such live class-focused courses going. Was I forgetting to flip? Ignoring independence? Attached to immediacy? Well I did let go, and of course it was quite nice to have the bit of extra time to catch up a bit on marking. But actually, just because I didn’t deliver a live lesson didn’t mean I worked any less on course-related stuff. It might have been more. Perhaps this is a potentially anti-intuitive truism about modes of online teaching ? Asynchronous delivery does not necessarily = less work/time spent.
One more thing, I think. As a teacher I definitely pay attention to how I might maintain a positive and potentially motiving presence with groups of learners. Not even sure I actually take it as a maxim that I ought to in a very principled way (I mostly feel that ‘resultative’ motivation is the most compelling type, and that’s not necessarily affected at all by my saying encouraging things), but going fully online has really made me notice that/how I do this habitually. For example, this morning I sent this out on the Line chat for each section of a class:
I then stopped and thought, “hmm..was that weird”? And after just a second answered, “not for me…pretty sure I’ve done that each and every Monday of the term!”. Lo and behold, tis true. Each Monday I send a little ‘mom note’ type of thing.I think I’m trying to make up for what feels missing from the physical classroom. Just these expressions of care that would automatically come out of my mouth as a new week was starting, or as a class wrapped up, or whatever. And perhaps in the weekly live Zoom sessions those don’t cascade so naturally either as I’m distracted by toggling buttons and such. We do have a pretty good ‘everyone wave goodbye!’ moment to end each online class, but then POOF! people just instantly disappear. Also…well, I think Thai students certainly get some expressions of care from their Thai instructors but they tend to be more formalized. And I know from feedback that my students are in classes with other instructors who are really challenged by so much tech and going online, and because of this don’t have mood and/or time for this as much as they might. Something just tells me “these students could probably use some positive vibes” over the line, I guess is what it comes down to.
I also tend to send them something like this the day before their Zoom class:
It’s just something about there being an entirely casual positive voice saying these totally casual, normal things during a virtual course where just maybe that very human, probably pretty inconsequential element is easily to drop out. And the positivity in the voice translates, maybe, through the colorfulness/cheerfulness of the little graphics. Maybe. I dunno, I’m just reflecting on it now in my diary! Are you happy, Goldberg? Writing! Just writing!
Dear diary, today I’m going to keep it very elementary. So here are the ABCs of 31 July, 2020:
What are a few things I’ve learned about managing Zoom lessons this week? I can think of these now…
1. If you’re using an old laptop (I am!) always RESTART your computer before starting your Zoom lesson. Especially if you anticipate the kind of 2-hour, multi-modal, 7-webtool, screenshare-heavy, 40+ people with video & mics on lesson that I’m teaching. It seems to nudge the percentage chance that things slow down and freeze up quite a bit lower.
2. I’d like to have been a bit clearer from the beginning about etiquette. Specifically, ‘no lying down’! I mentioned previously in this here diary the issue of students coming into class while driving, and in various stages of washing up. Today I had a handful of students who were…horizontal in class. Lying down, often folded into sheets and blanket! Cozy for sure! But distracting and ultimately inappropriate. So, here’s my maxim: be clear from the start about expectations about “stance”. Basically, they need to be positioned in some kind of “setting-nicely-in-a-desk-chair” near equivalent. Just…upright. Be clear about this. I think, perhaps, some of their other online lessons don’t involve as much camera-on time. So maybe they are used to just listening to the instructor while in full-on lounge position. To be honest, part of me LOVES the idea of being able to be in class in a dirty-laundry headstand. But as the instructor I’ll simply need to adult (v.) and dissuade this.
3. A really simple thing: if you’re using a Mac, select ‘hide dock’. When I’ve got the zoom whiteboard open with its toolbar, the main toolbar, the chat box, some webpage or google doc, a sticky note, and maybe the zoom participants list all crowding the screen, having my applications dock out of the way frees up that much extra space.
I’ve seen some folks sharing pictures of their teaching (online) workspaces. I snapped this photo of mine just before things got going this morning:
And here’s the (anonymized) after-class infographic message I sent to one group re: the requested/required “stance” to take when online in MY classes:
That’s about as harsh as I ever get. LOL. Like I said above, part of me hates doing this but it’s for the best.
My issue above was foreshadowed, it turns out, in one of the webinar sessions from last week’s online symposium from https://twitter.com/EdTechSIG! Second bullet point! And have a look at the rest of them. A good array of sound advice. I’d like to use the “private chat for peer feedback” idea sometime soon. Not sure I’ve done it at all yet.
Finally, a suggested to my learners about a specific use of YouTube when working on speaking. Please note that I will always and forever unconsciously spell the word algorithm this way. It’s just a fact of life I’ve learned to accept.
Finally, a bit of a non sequitur. A cultural note of interest, at least to anyone unfamiliar with everyday Thai culture:
I began one class today with a very simple “what do I have?” game. I slowly describe something I have on my desk or in my hand and the first student to guess it wins the round. One of the items was the below menthol inhaler thing. Now, if you’ve lived in Thailand this won’t surprise you…but if not it might. As soon as someone got it and I revealed it on the screen, out came the yaa dom (aromatherapy)inhaler sticks in nearly every single little Zoom window in my gallery view. Ha!
I mean, they could have given Billy the Kid a run for his fast-draw old west pistol showdown money! I was impressed.
Was it because my Zoom class makes them dizzy that they all had them so much at the ready? I think I’m going to ask them this, jokingly, next time we meet. Stayed tuned to see if they answer yes, and seriously, next week.
Smell ya later.
PS – if any of that sparks thoughts or experiences, please monitor your mind and identify what’s popping up. Second step, CRUSH that small but powerful voice you hear in there that says “nevermind posting that in the comments section below” and go on ahead and post about it in the comments section below.
Dear diary, I just thought I’d “fill in the picture” a bit regarding the online teaching I’m doing this term. Actually, not only what I’m doing this term, but where I’ve been, where I’m at, and where I’m going soon (hint: it’s all nowhere but this computer screen; this is where I’ve been, where I live, and I’m not going anywhere else, at all, at any point in the near future). Heh.
Here’s the rundown:
Current: A listening & speaking course for +/- 150 3rd year English majors in 4 sections at a Thai uni. 2 hours/week. Via Zoom, with forums and other bits on a self-designed Moodle, plus an active Line chat app group. This is the course I’ve been writing about so far.
Starting soon: a fully online test preparation course (IELTS, TOEIC, etc.) for uni students (2nd year, I think). Supervisor of this course tells me not to expect doing live lessons for it. Instead, web-based supervision and support as students move through online practice tests and input materials.
Starting soon: another uni course: “English for Job Applicants”. Delivery likely to be closer to the listening & speaking course with live online classes via Zoom. Includes a course book co-written by faculty here. Will follow their lead, but expect deviation from CB-dependent practices.
Potentially starting soon: a university institute-based self-designed course called “English Vocabulary and Grammar through Thai News and Culture” open to the general population. I plan to used news articles and content from English language books, websites, and other media dealing with Thai culture and news to deliver engaging text-based language lessons along with skills development practice.
Ongoing: private lessons on Zoom in the evening. My main clients being a husband and wife team of Thai ophthalmologists who became by students back in 2013 while in a a year-long residency at a Boston hospital and I was a CELTA tutor downtown near the condo they were staying in. Of course then I met them face-toface. But now on Zoom, because they live by the river in the city and I’m on the outskirts, and we’re all busy. I mean, technically I’m in a whole other province. But it’s a neat relationship now spanning fleshy brick and mortar and virtual bits and bytes, all within a continent-spanning global private language tutoring karma connection, yippee!
Recently, now ended: ACT on a couple of fully-online CELTA courses. This is what really got me sincerely ‘into’ teaching online. Without that experience, I’m not sure how I’d have fared; I certainly wouldn’t have hit the ground running to the extent that I have. Much to learn, so much to learn – but having been thrown into the deep end of being required to teach people how to teach synchronously on Zoom and doing a fare few training course input sessions online, I got that spin-up. Thank goodness. What was missing, though, was the asynchronous aspect. Which is a big chunk. A huge chunk. If the CELTA is going to evolve to include a serious focus on training for online teaching, it’s going to have to recognize this. The ‘stuff in-between’ part of teaching has always been ignored on that and similar courses. “No, you can’t give homework!”. TP lessons are vacuum-sealed one-off events. Even offline, this is a poor representation of the actual workspace of teaching and learning. And now with online teaching, screaming out, as it does, for ‘flipping’, project-based work, learner autonomy, etc…even more so.
Also recently, now ended: I taught a Thai-Japanese 10 year old who attends an international school in downtown Bangkok where his mother, my former colleague and good friend, teaches Thai. About 12 years ago I was the voice on a CD that came with an English phonics book she wrote. That was unpaid work of a sort though my tummy would disagree; for compensation back then, I got a really nice sushi buffet lunch. This time its barter work. I teach her son on Zoom while he’s on summer vaycay, and she will provide me with Thai language lessons (my focus is on reading and writing). This couple of months was the extent of my TEYL online experience. It was really fun, actually. But I think that was mostly based on the kid and our relationship.
So anyway, those are the things in my purview these days or in recent days. Mind you it’s late and I might be forgetting something. Nevertheless it’s a-plenty. Fellow teachers probably recognize it as pretty normal. 🙂
I just thought it’d be good to get it down here. I’m going to continue to train in on the one class, I think, here in my online teaching diary. But it’s part of a larger set of related things. Just like everything else.
Okay, diary. Before I go I’m just going to throw some ‘clippings’ in your pages for posterity. Hold onto them. I may want to look back later.
Here’s something I was just now doing with one of the ophthalmologists. We do medical English and stuff often, but sometimes we just wanna do something fun and different. Human interest. Or in this case feline interest. A lesson based on materials freely shared on Rachel Roberts’ great old site https://elt-resourceful.com/downloadable-lesson-materials/:
And another sort of random clipping, but it’s a snapshot of my online teaching life right now so it lands in these pages. It’s from some recent focus on pronunciation with ophthalmologist #2 (clearly I love repeating the word ophthalmologist in my blog, it’s got such…tangled gravity, lol):
Now that’s interesting material, is it not? It comes from my TESOL MA program professor at Boston University, Dr. Marnie Reed.
…now, farewell dear diary. I shall write in your pages again soon. Tomorrow I have both morning AND afternoon sections to teach, so I’m just a bit pessimistic that after all those hours, on Friday’s late afternoon, I shall address you. But stranger things have happened.
PS – it might not be true that I’ll be stuck at this computer screen for such a long, long time, in fact. Because Thailand is kickin’ COVID butt. These uni classes may indeed not last the full term as fully-online thangs. They might come back. Soonish! WUT! No, really. It’s in the air. I hear tell of such things. Many universities here, in fact, did not go fully online in the first place. Oh, diary. I’ll still love you even if that happens. I’ll still write in you, we’ll just have to make a few adjustments.
If you read my previous post/entry you’ll know I was really happy with yesterday’s lesson. Well, I taught the very same lesson to another section today and it wasn’t as good. I’m not bothered; only vaguely disappointed. But mainly I’m paying attention to how some of the differences can help me understand the contrasting group dynamics and characters of the two 41-member cohorts and what I should keep in mind to keep the second one more on pace with the first. Mainly I think they just need more (maybe a lot more) explicit signposting and even clearer task instruction prompts and models.
Okay, so some reflecting here: am I truly comfortable teaching online via Zoom?
Physically, not always. I notice that my laptop tends to slide forward on my desk and I end up reaching further than I should. This bends me over my desk a bit as I reach. I need to put something solid as a backstop so I stay more upright all the time.
Mentally, I think more so. I’m generally ‘very online’, for better or for worse. I like the dynamic of so many text volleys, the multi-media, the chance for my ADHD brain to do its level best in large swaths of quiet activity and far less physical awkwardness interfering.
Here’s something specific that I’ve recently become far more comfortable with: the on-board Zoom whiteboard. I realized last week that I still didn’t REALLY know my way around its toolbar features, so I spend some time with it – literally practicing ‘reps’ writing and erasing things quickly, moving things around and then changing the color of something, all kinds of combinations of things at speed. Left, right, duck, uppercut, cross the body!, dance, float like butterfly, insert arrow, screenshot, sting like a bee! It’s actually not all that bad, the whiteboard in Zoom. I would not have said this a week or so ago.
Following on from something I wrote in entry #3, one thing I’m happy with is the quality of my task model. It’s a video. A “how to” tutorial type thing. The kind of thing all over YouTube. And specifically what I like most about what I’m doing is simple: I made it. I can say to my students “this is what you’re going to do; here’s my example” and the ‘my’ there is really true. I did the thing, from scratch, first. Why do I like this? A few reasons (and if you like it too and have different reasons why, please do share those reasons why in the comments below!):
Yes, it’s relatively time consuming (it took me about 2.5 hours to shoot and edit my video). But it seems like a very worthwhile use of time for the above reasons and surely more than those.
I guess I also like the task because it feels..um…what do they call it? “21st century”. Everyone’s a “YouTuber” these days aren’t they?! (Actually only one out of 150 students confirmed this in my survey about their YouTube usage). ;P DOH?!
Oh and here’s a somewhat random note: I liked that the opportunity to teach “soi dog” to this class arose this morning. They had no idea this is how foreign residents and visitors to Thailand refer to the stray dogs all over this country. They were quite interested in this…what do you call it? A word that incorporates two language into a single lexical unit? And I sent them this link to both consolidate the thing they learned and hey! be a good doggo-lovin’ citizen: https://www.soidog.org/.
I think that’s gonna be it for today. I have another private lesson on Zoom this evening that I’ve not feeling fully prepared for. There’s also the issue of dinner. And traffic on the way home. Twas ever thus!
Um, to wrap up, Sarah P tweeted this:
So, this is for you, Sarah! 😀 They were full of…ahhh…bright ideas:
Oh! I should add one more note to this entry. By happenstance, shortly after this lesson ended I caught most of a Rod Ellis (TBLT guru, him) webinar hosted by another Thai uni. Because I’m thinking about TBLT(ishness) more than usual right now this was kinda cool. And it made me feel good, again, about my task selection in this class here and indeed my choice to use some sort of TBLTish approach for this term online.
I’m just about ready to spring-bounce off of this chair and fly away from this desk. Gotta get my ass off campus and back on home right now. You know the feeling.
BUT I’m going to make myself write a quickie ‘diary entry’ before I do because…well…I made it a damn ‘diary’ and that means you need to throw down entries. Frequently! Even if sometimes rushed, short ones.
That’s the nature of a diary/journal, right? And I know I’m not going to have the time or energy later. I’ve got errand running (gin), dog walking, dinner making, dinner having, garden watering, and a private lesson to do before 9pm and after that…well…let’s just say I’m probably* going to want to have a drink (that gin) and hit the hay after that!
Getting to it: I had my first 3rd lesson of the term this morning (I teach four sections of the same course) and it was by far the best online (Zoom) lesson yet. Why? It may have actually been because I was *the least prepared*! What do I mean by that? I mean it in a few connected ways. I mean….
I didn’t spend much time planning it out until the last minute
Because of #1, I didn’t over-plan. I ended up with a very simple, streamlined sequence of things
My students having already been given a pretty thorough orientation on Zoom, things went smoothly there (audio, video, breakout rooms, using annotations, etc.)
Not being over-prepared nor having over-planned, I felt a bit more ‘light’ and free to be responsive to the students
The students seeming a bit more comfortable today in this third class (is 3 the magic number? Yes, it is, it’s the magic number), there was more to respond to.
So that’s good! Feels good to leave work (I’m giving myself 10 more minutes to complete and publish this!) without any nagging regrets connected to my live teaching today.Whoo-hoo!, he exclaimed in his diary. Cute. Maybe also all the time and effort I put into being uber-responsive in the forums and on the chat just got ’em feeling good. Or maybe they were always this cool and I was just in my head and paying attention to little negative things. It’s probably that, because it’s so often that.
Actually, I’m terms of planning and the amount required: the day before (yesterday) I’d produced a quite rich video text (a task model for videos they’ll be submitting 2 weeks from today). So really the name of the game (the aim) was simple: deliver the package (the model) so really a full hour + of today’s lesson I was able to plan in about 4 minutes using the ol’ PDP framework (pre-, during-, post-) around the video. And voila. If the text is rich and your P, and then some D, and then the other P are basically okay in relation to it…voila* indeed. (Too lazy to get the accent mark on that word).
(Lucy, my beagle, was in fact the star of my video – it’s almost cheating, she’s charming in any language).
With that in mind, here, dear diary, is my self-reference lesson plan for this floating cloud of a lesson. Written shortly before class on a blank piece of paper.
And here is a mostly out-of-context bit of lesson content – what the Ss generated when they predicted what might be included in my ‘How to walk a dog’ tutorial video. And in red, some things I later commented on. In order to show this live during the lesson, by the way, I plugged in my phone, clicked ‘share screen’ and selected the phone. The phone then becomes a streaming document camera, and I trained it on the hand-written notes I’d made. I meant to ask the class for feedback to see if this was actually clear and working well on their end, but I forgot! Note to self: check up on that, because using my phone as a live document camera in Zoom could be handy in a number of situation (I also would like a..whatsitcalled..digital slate tablet thing to write on).
That also shows that I had 8 groups in 8 BRs. It’s about 5 students per group, 40 students more or less in these classes. It’s…enough. 😉
Now I’ve got three minutes according to my self-imposed time limit here. What else? I think I got more speaking out of them today because I emphasized the post-BR activity time – when speaking in whole-class was largely referencing something they’d already worked on and thought through, etc. and less on more challenging quick-fire prompts that required students to jump ‘forward’ into sharing an opinion, etc. I think I realized last week that I was expecting too much of them in the latter dynamic. I chalk this up to having recently been on a couple of online CELTAs with students from all over in a context that lent itself to more of that.
That’s it! I’m off commuting home now. Thank you, diary, for catching this end-of-thee-day entry. Maybe tomorrow I’ll even try this again, it could truly be a ‘diary’ then! We’ll see. We’ll see.
Two weeks ago, just as my term’s worth of fully-online courses were getting started, I began this “diary” series about teaching online. I was hoping to be more active following up with it before two weeks, but hey. Here I am now.
The bulk of that 1st entry was simply reporting on how some of my students responded to a survey I sent out. One positive response to the question “how do you feel about learning English online this term?” was:
I feel great because you have fun teaching.
That response was given shortly after the very first class, one in which I put a good deal of attention and effort into modeling and eliciting enthusiasm for the course. So now I’m prompted to ask myself if, two weeks in, am I still having fun with it….
The answer is yes. And I think that student and any others who may find it motivating are likely still perceiving this, so that’s good. How? Well, first: now we’ve had two live online classes and both had similarly high energy. And second: our Moodle forum and class Line chats have been active and I’ve taken a good deal of time to respond in a personal way to nearly every submission (with specific responsive feedback and using the students’ name as much as possible, among other things).
This slide from a presentation at English Australia’s Ed-Tech SIG Symposium (a 2-day online thing I was able to attend only some of live, but now have all the recordings, yay) sort of gets to the spirit of it:
I saw that on twitter and replied with something like “yay, I think I’m doing something right then!”.
HOWEVER! However…I think this level of personalization is mainly a ‘phase 1’ phenomenon. While I’ll like to keep it up throughout the term, we’re now getting into the thicker forest of course content (Week 1 being zoom training, GTYK activities, and a light course orientation and Week 2 being an intro/overview of the topic which is, in broad strokes, public speaking). Now comes, for me, the harder part in terms of generating material and managing students’ work. So, I think I’m going to be generating a bit less “shared fun” myself. And of course this is okay…I think overall ‘mission accomplished’ for these first couple of weeks if, in general, my 150+ students have a positive mindset and feel some happy vibes when it’s time to log on.
One logistical thing I’ve done that I’m also hoping contributes to good group dynamics is open my Zoom room a full 30 minutes early. I announced this and mentioned explicitly that (to paraphrase) “this is for you guys to hang out together – like you would in the classroom on campus before your teacher shows up…of course you should also chat about class work, share advice/ideas, ask and answer each others’ questions about the class, etc. but please, do use that time to just connect with your classmates and friends and I’ll show up at class time!”.
Both weeks, maybe half of all 4 class sections were very much settled in on Zoom when I logged in. Sometimes they were playing with features, sometimes they were just chatting, sometimes they were showing off their pets. Seems like fun. Seems like some good group social time that might otherwise be lacking. So this is why I cite it as a potentially good influence on student satisfaction and perhaps ultimately student success on this course and therefore will keep doing it.
What else…so, after Week 1 and 2 doing orientation and introduction, we’ve arrived at the main show and this is how it flows:
Now, if you’d really like to tell me all the ways I’m “doing TBLT wrong” please, PLEASE share your feedback in the comments section below. I realize it’s an old-school, basically a PPP approach but yes, yes that’s exactly what I’ve determined should be done here with this course and these students and this Matthew. 🙂
And with that, an admission: this week is Week 3…class is tomorrow..and…I have not yet produced my model task video.
And with that, an escape: see you soon, I hope, for diary entry #3!
Diary entry #3, I predict, may have something to do with the issue of “video on or off?!” in Zoom with 40+ students. It’s been a thing. And the below slide is from the very first webinar recording I’ve got to watch! Just after I make a tutorial video for my task model…
Anything you’d like to share – comments section below!
PS! – ahh one more thing I just remembered I’d like to jot down here in my ‘diary’: one of the best things that happened last week was I had some moodle issues and instead of spending the time and energy trying to work them out myself AND instead of sending off a pseudo-anonymous email I hiked to the IT department, asked where I could find “the people who run the moodle”, followed their directions to the top floor of the university library, and found the most pleasant and helpful handful of women to answer my questions. They steer the ship of moodle, and now I’m in with them and they rock. Most importantly, this system I spend so much time on has changed from a big, bad tech tool to something with a human face on it and I know anytime I have an issue I can stroll over to that office, have a blast getting it heard and addressed, learning something, and probably having a shared snack with my new moodle manager friends. So remember, not unlike soylent green, the tech we use is people.
WHAT: fully-online semester-length English courses
WHO: 2nd year Thai students, mostly English majors
WHERE: a large public university near Bangkok.
Classes started just this morning. I thought I’d start this “teaching diary” to catch some of the experience as I reflect on and refine what it is I’m doing (or at least attempt to). In the parlance of the title of this blog: as I…engage with the muddles and mistakes I encounter/create along the way and emerge (we hope) with some functional maxims and methods to follow the next time around (tomorrow’s class, next year, whenever time is a flat circle).
Probably just a quick one today…the start of the term is always extra busy, isn’t it.
First, a happy note: some encouraging student feedback following class #1 of this “English Listening & Speaking” course:
I like your accent sounds like turning on the radio.
[Class] made me feel like studying online is not too boring just like I think. Your class is very fun.
I feel great because you have fun teaching.
*That last one is kind of interesting conceptually, but is also just one of my favorite bits of student feedback in a while on a personal level!
Students also had some good critical thoughts about learning online:
It’s more difficult to [communicate] because I can’t do my gestures to help me explain things.
I think studying English should be face to face. Studying English online, it’s feel like watching video on YouTube so it’s not that much different.
I think someone who is less courageous can express their opinions in online class more than face to face class.
What do you think about our university study online while most of Thailand let student go to class?
I feel that it’s convenient and fun but some subjects i think we have to learn by face to face.
So difficult…but I think it’s better than normal class.
My survey was mostly collecting info about their familiarity with the various online tools and platforms we’ll be using, what devices they’re using, etc. But the prompts to opine on online learning led to some of those thoughtful responses.
Here’s a picture from this morning…of one of those times during on online lesson when things just start to PILE UP on your screen. I’ve gotten MUCH better at mindfully managing these moments during online teaching over the last few months, but occasionally they still fry my brain. Not today though!
According to the survey they completed, a very small percentage of them had ever used Zoom before prior to our class this morning. This was a vaguely surprising to me, because in general they seemed pretty comfortable in there.
The biggest glitches were due to a couple things I’d overlooked: having recently upgraded to a ‘pro’ zoom package (happy birthday, self!) I needed to set up the new bells and whistles like breakout rooms and ‘non-verbal feedback’ buttons before having my first scheduled meeting. I only realized this right before I was set to shuffle them into their first BR, and had to pause to fix my settings and relaunch a brand new meeting. They rolled with it all nicely though. Must be my ‘radio’-style voice keeping them calm as drive-time smooth jazz on AM 91.9.
Another setting I failed to toggle ahead of time was about the ‘waiting room’. When a few of my 41 students got dropped off of Zoom for whatever reason, when they came back in I was forced to click ‘accept’ after they showed up in the waiting room. This was distracting, of course. These things are sorted now though. All things I knew needed to be addressed; I just hadn’t had (okay, made) the time to do so until this class forced it. Smoother sailing ahead. Ah, but this one did give me the notion to have a rotating ‘co-host’ role where a student (or a couple/few) could perform some of these Zoom classroom management tasks for/with me each week. Maybe I’ll keep the waiting room after all. I’m a “job creator”! (God I hate that term).
The last thing I’d like to get down here is something a bit different. This morning one student came into online class while driving his car (and using phone app). So after the class I sent the bleow message to the class Line group. After all, online learning should be SAFER than usual, not more dangerous! I hope they all get the point. I also thought to myself after sending the first thing “hmm I might have to tell them the story of when my wife and I almost died driving in Khon Kaen last year because a young guy was looking at his phone and crashed into my car at high speed!” #scaredstraight
I grabbed this off Google and mocked it up a little:
Finally, after a few student responses in the chat, I did indeed post this:
It’s been a couple hours now. Nobody has responded or posted anything to the chat. Not even the typical Line character animated emoji shtuff. I’m counting this as success. #scaredstiff 😉
To wrap up, I’m looking forward to posting about this stuff on a semi-regular basis. It’s bound to me mostly like this post – more a simple ‘dump’ than any kind of deeper analysis into pedagogical principles. But you never know when reflection (hell, just reporting/recording/repeating something) can lead to insight can lead to a good new idea. For me or for you. Or for both of us, if we share sometimes.
…which you can always do in the comment section below. 🙂
The Warwick ELT, an ELT-based ezine run by a group of MA ELT students in the Centre for Applied Linguistics, University of Warwick, promotes informed discussion of developments in ELT and draws attention to research and innovative practices related to English language learning and teaching and teacher education.