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Planning an Online Lesson

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At -40C, schools are closed here in Siberia, but teachers work regardless, both at school and online.

I have been writing e-lessons for English-to-Go and many other virtual and paper publications since the 1990’s. The past year has shown me as a teacher trainer/instructor/author that today’s online teaching and learning are vastly different from everything I knew previously. I summarized the questions and requests from my colleagues to the best of my abilities, added my own recent experiences with webinars and conferences both as participant and coordinator. Here they come.

If we work from home, there are several important considerations to take into account. Do we have all the hardware and software needed? Did we check that everything is working as it should? A rhetorical utopian question: do we get compensation for our increased electricity bills and traffic? What are our new hours, how long is our working day? “Blended” or combined teaching sounds good on paper. At times teachers are advised to conduct lessons at school when students are allowed to come to class, or with those students who do come. Then teachers are asked to do the same work from home with those who could not come, or when school is again closed. My colleagues counted that this means 13-14 hours a day.  What about teachers’ families? Are they allowed to have any?

Teacher Work Space. What and how much do we wish to show? Check that little window in your skype or zoom, find an angle that satisfies you. A blank wall is probably the best background. If you have children of your own, or a room-mate, or a relative staying with you, try to arrange it with them so that your lesson is not suddenly interrupted or your students get distracted. Recently I attended a webinar where the instructor showed us new books and online resources. I noticed that during those forty minutes she occasionally checked something outside our field of vision. Being a mother myself, I was not surprised when at the end she picked up her infant son from his crib and showed him to us. Miraculously he slept all through the webinar. He bestowed a radiant toothless smile on us; we all applauded. That’s a positive example. How do we arrange it if your partner also has home office, if your university student child has online courses and your younger kid has online lessons? It means they may need your help and supervision. All this requires extra planning, time and effort which are not listed in the educational authorities’ guidelines.

Student Work Space. Be sure to tactfully remind the parents and students that certain rules are to be observed. Attending a lesson in PJs is definitely a big NO. Coming up to the screen suddenly, bending down and talking loudly at the child while they are trying to cope with the tasks is not to be done either. Surprising but true: many adults still do not realize or do not even think that if they bend down and peer into the screen, or suddenly loom behind their child (sometimes in their pajamas or shirtless), every attendee can see and hear them. We know that a lesson is a lesson by any other name, but we have to drill it into students and parents alike, same as we do with some difficult grammar rules.

Be Ready for the Unexpected. When in a real classroom, we have more choice because we can see and hear our students, consequently we can stop if we notice that an exercise or a topic causes problems. We have a plan to follow, so we may for instance notice that there are several tasks which are similar, yet we may decide to fulfill them all. An online lesson is very different. We may see all our students but we do not have our usual control over the situation. A teacher recently told me that when she turned on her computer, she saw only one student in her zoom. She asked where the other ten teenagers were, and they immediately materialized on screen, not in tiny separate windows but bunched up together around one computer! It turned out there was a power outage, so they all rushed to the one house where everything was fine. Naturally it was inconvenient for them all to remain on top of one another during the whole period, so they settled around listening, and at the end of the lesson showed their faces one by one.

Choose the Essential Elements. You know your classes, or you are getting acquainted with a new class in the process. When you have a mental picture of their level, of how much they need and how much they can achieve, you can adjust your lesson plan accordingly. When you get a strong class, maybe you do not need to do all five similar exercises if you can see that they understand the topic well and one or two exercises may suffice. This will help eliminate the monotony and you will be able to keep up their interest by the variety of tasks. On the other hand if your students struggle, you may leave some extras for a future date and concentrate on those same five-six exercises which help them consolidate their grasp of a topic or activate their vocabulary.

Give yourself and your students some respite. Adults and children get tired from sitting by the computer. It is not the same as sitting the same time span in a real class where they move around and interact with their teacher and classmates. Use the textbook, give them some tasks which require using the book. Have a two-three minute break in the middle of a lesson, play a song, do some physical exercises. Show them some simple activities for the fingers, make a fist then straighten up your fingers quickly a dozen times in a row.

Last but not least: an online lesson is definitely NOT a regular face-to-face lesson! It pays to repeat this simple fact to oneself when planning a lesson.

Nina Koptyug.

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