In a recent post, I have mentioned some of the issues that teachers had to deal with during remote teaching or distance learning…whatever the term we use for that period of time when teaching/learning happened ouside the classroom. However let’s not fall in the trap of depicting a gloomy picture of education during lockdown. Many positive things happened and here’s the happy list !
1.Increased collaboration between teachers
Having been in close contact -well, as much as one can be- with teachers during this strange period, the first testimonials I got have been related to their increase in communication and collaboration with one another. It is common sense. When such an event happens working together is a great solution to share ideas, tips and ressources. I found out that teachers I knew well were eager to talk over the phone or online through videoconferencing. I also had the pleasure to create new links with teachers. What I realized back then was that there was a huge gap between teachers that already knew how to embedd digital tools in their teaching and those who simply didn’t know but who were eager to learn from their peers. Teachers that were not used to digital teaching have had to learn quick to adapt. From PPT, interactive Multiple Choice Quizzes to full video courses, teachers have battled hard to adapt their teaching to the situation.
2.Greater access to digital training
A good thing about lockdown (if there is) was the possibility for online training. When you don’t have much the choice, you need to find the tools that will help you tackle the issue. That is what teachers did : They adapted their teaching style to the situation ! Many teachers have dramatically enhanced their digital skills during lockdown and many of them are willing to keep using some of these tools on the long-term. Teachers didn’t wait for their schools for training, they took the lead and they should be proud of it. They actively participated to webinars, free online trainings to learn about the tools that would best help them to meet the needs of their learners. They used virtual learning environments provided by their schools, different apps, online resources, videolessons, online assessments softwares and much more to find ways to engage their students.
3.Good impact on active learning and differentiation
For students who do have access to the proper technology (computers, laptops or tablets and the Internet), there is strong evidence that learning online can be more effective in many ways. Some research shows that on average, students’ learning retention rates can be between 25% to 60% more than with material in a classroom. This is no big surprise because, with e-learning , students can learn at their own pace, rewind and re-read, skip, or accelerate as they wish. Technology when used as a motivational tool by the teacher and as a means towards learning personalization can be very powerful. Not to mention that many teachers told me as well that many of their normally shy students were more active and engaged because peer pressure had been relieved.
4.Improved Digital literacy
Teachers have improved on their technological skills and they have developed some keen interest in tools to develop their students’ motivation and engagement in class. And so have students. This period has also been crucial to diagnose the efficiency of students in terms of IT skills. And unfortunately, despite the fact that they are digital natives, students had to learn the hard way on how to use basic computing skills they didn’t have beforehand. Because many of them are only used to using their smartphones, some didn’t know how to write their email adress by using a computer keyboard. Others didn’t know how to attach documents or change the format of a document. These skills that we have been used to for years as adults were not common practice beforehand for our students.
5.Better communication with parents
Teachers have been the essential communication platform between families and students. They have been providing information, guidelines, tools, advice, feedback on progress through phone calls and emails even during the weekends. Even if the communication may have suffer from some lack of coordination (use of different platforms by different teachers) an important link has been reinstated between parents and teachers.
As a conclusion it is true to say that remote teaching has had an impact on the way we teach and learn but it is too early to say how this impact will be fruiteful in the long-term. What do you think about it? What are the positive aspects you have discovered though distance learning and which aspects were more challenging for you?
The Covid-19 has hit us all hard. Lockdown was unexpected, distance learning much less. In hindsight, « We were unprepared » admit most school system leaders from Western countries. Now how about getting a closer eye to what happened to avoid making the same mistakes?
1.Teaching challenges : Lack of preparation and digital training
In many countries, teachers have worked hard to provide students online lessons using a variety of tools and plateforms. Many of them have had to learn quick on how to use these technologies without any or much support. Most of them had to use their own devices and had to deal not only with remote teaching but also with the supervision and teaching of their own children. The usual class schedule was totally upside-down with teachers adapting to the akward situation by learning how to shoot their own teaching videos, prepare online quizzes while juggling with phone calls and different videoconferencing platforms to give a greater access to learning to their students. As a result, peer learning between teachers became quite common and professional meetings during the weekends became the norm for some, putting pressure on the many ones that were not familiar with technology at all.
2.Learning challenges : Inequalities and digital literacy
However, despite their efforts, many students have not had access to proper learning during lockdown. Researches have highligted the provision gap in learning during that tricky period. Between 4% and 15% of students worldwide have dropped out providing little if no work at all. In suburbs and rural areas, where education was already a challenge before the Covid-19 crises, the decline of learning has been noticeable. Without much surprise, students from deprived background have been hit hard.
The first problem relied on the lack of material and on its use. Many students in the poorer areas do not have access to a computer or they need to share it among their siblings and parents. Their only access to digital ressources was via their smartphones, which complicated their access to proper guidance and did not encourage the submission of work. The lack of Wifi access in some areas was also a big challenge.
The second problem is that we tend to believe that young people are tech-saavy because they spend all their time on social media. The truth is, their basic digital literacy is pretty low and teachers had not only to teach their own subject but they also became IT technicians during the lockdown providing help to their students to download files, access files from Google Drives, insert pictures etc. Not to mention the fact that teachers posted information and courses on different platforms which highly complicated the work of supervision for parents.
3.The role of the teacher : How to support vulnerable students
In many countries parents have realised one thing : they are NOT teachers. Converting yourself into a teacher is no easy task. It is even more difficult when you need to deal with your own child and when you know little about the subject ! Teaching requires some technical and soft skills and even though some media have pointed out the lack of involvement by a very small portion of teachers, overall most parents have praised the role of teachers.
In a classroom, it is usually easy to notice when students struggle and teachers have the tools to provide them the kind of support they need. However, diagnosing those needs over the phone or during a videoconferencing is much harder. Differenciation of learning was difficult to adress during the lockdown and vulnerable students are the ones that suffered most from the physical absence of their teachers.
These are just some of the issues that appeared during distance learning. How about YOU ? How did you manage it all ?
As teachers we know that our classes have become a tremendous mosaic of different cultures and languages. Just as an example, I know a secondary school where 47 languages and dialects are used by students. Does that sound huge to you? Well, it’s not uncommon now. When I was Head of languages and in charge of the ESL department I did quite a few researches about ESL learners and I was quite fortunate to be able to develop some projects to help these students reach their full potential. Working with students whose first language is not English is extremely rewarding, though daunting at first.
What are the main strategies to be used to teach ESL students on a daily basis in the classroom? First of all ESL students need to feel that they are part of the group. They shouldn’t be left alone or isolated from the group. Depending on their history some of them may also suffer from huge trauma. Many students are now coming from the Middle-East and from Africa and many of them are refugees and they may have seen terrible things for their young age. That is a factor to take into account. While some will be ready to engage and take part in classes other may be defiant or withdrawn.
That sounds quite obvious but you need to get in touch with their closest parents. You will find out that most of the time parents don’t speak English and this can lead to awkward situations. I remember that little Chinese girl who didn’t speak a word of English at her arrival. She was my student for French and I also helped her with her English twice a week. Within a couple of weeks she became the best student in French and her English had improved dramatically. When I met her parents at the parents’ evening, they really looked worried and I reassured them by showing them data and using all my range of facial expressions to tell them how well their daughter was doing. They simply hugged me and thank me for my help. That may sound a bit cheesy but I will never forget that moment. Keeping in touch with the parents and creating a link with the family is vital when you teach ESL learners.
Then I would say that a complete immersion in English is beneficial to students and there are many ways to keep you instructions clear and simple so that everyone can understand. Don’t forget to model what you are expecting of the students and use your facial expressions and body language to make things easier. The use of English Language Development is therefore very important. ELD is the systematic use of instructional strategies to promote the acquisition of English by students whose mothertongueis not English. ELD consists of five levels: Beginning, pre-intermediate, intermediate, early advanced and advanced. We generally consider that six to seven years are necessary to master a language. Four skills are assessed in ELD: listening, speaking, reading, and writing and these skills are linked to four main areas (function, fluency, form and vocabulary.Students need to be taught at their proficiency level for each skill. Saying that students will acquire English the same way as they learned their first language would be irrational but the best to learn for them is for sure to interact with their peers who are native speakers and to be immerged into the language as much as possible. This approach is what we call the Natural Approach. Students will develop basic communication and social skills through a collaborative work with their peers and they don’t have to bear the pressure. They should be allowed at that stage to learn at their own pace.
Here are some other tips you may find useful. In your classroom, on top of gestures, use visuals to support your teaching. Do not rush when delivering instructions. Take your time, speak slowly and articulate. Uses pauses and adapt your speech, you may also need to create greater emphasis on intonation. Keep your enthusiasm high; it will help release the pressure from your students. Last but not least I would suggest the building of a profile for your ESL learners where you will keep all their data regarding their progress. This will help you define their needs and help them to further their knowledge.
What are learning disabilities?
As adults we are quick to categorize people according to their skills or intelligence. As teachers we must be cautious about categorizing our students. What some may perceive as laziness or lack of intelligence may be instead explained by professionals as a learning disability. A learning disability has nothing to do with intelligence or motivation and people with learning disabilities may be as smart as anybody else. What makes the difference is that people with a learning disability will learn things differently simply because their brains work differently.
The range of learning disabilities that can affect students is wide. It can affect their reading, writing, communication, understanding skills etc. The earlier we spot our students’ difficulties the easier it will be for us to help them and find appropriate strategies to support them in their learning. However it’s not always easy to identify children with learning disabilities as it can vary a lot from one student to the other. Nevertheless there are some signs that should raise some concerns. For example here’s a list of signals that should help use diagnose some possible learning disabilities: the difficulty in pronouncing words, trouble finding the right word, difficulties with learning simple items, issues with directions, troubles with simple motor skills, inability to make connections between sounds and letters, confusion when reading, difficulty in memory skills, trouble with numbers, poor organizational skills, difficulty in understanding and following a discussion, poor handwriting etc. If some of your students present these signs it doesn’t necessarily mean that they have a learning disability but it should alert you.
Over the past decades, acronyms to talk about learning disabilities have flourished and it’s sometimes difficult to get to know which acronyms refer to which learning disabilities. Here’s a simplified list where you should find the most common acronyms with a brief definition:
ADD – Attention Deficit Disorder. Students find it hard to focus in lessons
ADHD- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
ASD- Autistic Spectrum Disorder
AS- Asperger Syndrome
BESD – Behavioural, Emotional, Social Difficulties
Dyscalculia inability in maths reasoning
Dyslexia inability to read properly
HI – Hearing Impaired
IEP – Individual Education Plan
LSA – Learning Support Assistant
MLD – Moderate Learning Difficulties
PMLD – Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties
PRU – Pupil Referral Unit (short stay school)
SA – School action
SA+ – School Action+
SEN – Special Educational Needs
SENCO – Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator
SLD – Severe Learning Difficulties
SpLD – Specific Learning Difficulties
TA – Teaching Assistant
VI – Visually Impaired
When it comes to learning in the classroom you will find that students with learning disabilities are quite unable to manage their time efficiently, therefore they don’t work at the same pace as the group and they tend to finish their assignments late. They may also have issues copying from the board and writing in general and it may take them more time to understand instructions. They can get confused with numbers, spelling etc. The consequence of this is that their learning is affected but also their motivation and self-esteem. Students with learning disabilities are aware of the fact that they learn differently and realizing their inabilities often results in low self-esteem and this usually affects their social skills and behaviors.
Providing efficient support to students with learning disabilities is challenging for all teachers. Despite our trainings we may often feel overwhelmed by some situations with Special Education Needs students. It does take time to understand how to adapt lessons for the benefits of each student but it’s worth trying. You won’t operate miracles in the first weeks but with perseverance and the help of your Learning Assistant you should see some improvements in the learning of students with learning disabilities but also in your lesson planning in general. The strategies that you will use for your students with learning disabilities will have a positive impact on your teaching in general as you will acquire some automatism. Here are just some key strategies that work for teaching students with learning disabilities: First remember to use short and clear instructions. Second, have them to repeat the instruction in their own words. Then, outline the progression of the lesson on the board and tick every time you have completed a task. Adapt the work to their needs and abilities (change the font for VI students), vary the types of activities to suit their styles (for e.g. ADHD students will learn better with kinesthetic activities). Last but not least, pay a visit to your SEN departments, review the IEPs and get in touch with the parents. They will be able to give your some valuable hints for your teaching.