TeachingEnglish website editor Paul Braddock shares his advice for teacher educators who are supporting teachers to take their classes online.
Set realistic expectations and collaborate
Teaching online is unfamiliar to many of us. That includes managers and trainers, whose job it is to help.
Consequently, many of us will learn as we go. We'll discover together what is effective, and work toward an acceptable level of competence (and confidence).
Teacher trainers and managers can help by supporting teachers to share their experiences as they learn.
One simple way to do this is to set up a regular weekly meeting for teachers, using a synchronous (real-time) platform such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams or Skype.
Have an agenda that allows colleagues to share ideas that have worked well, or things they have learned that week. Try to record the meeting or have someone take notes, and share a summary in a shared online folder (Google Docs, for example).
A more informal approach is to create a Padlet wall for each age group or level. Teachers and teacher educators can share links to useful articles or videos on the wall, or lesson ideas.
Answers often come with experimentation. So, create a positive working environment, which includes feedback and learning from mistakes.
Rehearse virtual classroom management with colleagues
Give teachers a chance to rehearse an online lesson, with colleagues acting as students.
Practise speaking activities with the rehearsal class. You can do this by:
- muting microphones and allowing one person to speak at a time
- using the ‘raise hands’ function
- writing in a chat box instead of speaking.
- practise using breakout rooms, if these are available.
Share your experiences of pairing stronger students with weaker students, or differentiating tasks in the breakout rooms for different groups of learners.
Rehearse receptive skills like reading and listening tasks in real time lessons, and show how this might affect the flow of the lesson.
Talk about alternatives: ask students to read a text before the lesson on a shared platform like Google Docs. Then, identify skills work that students can do in the real-time lesson.
For example, if students read a text with multiple paragraphs before class, ask them to match the paragraphs to their headings during the class in a breakout room activity. This will encourage speaking and critical thinking.
Make a safe and inclusive online environment
How will teachers work effectively in the new online environment with students who have specific educational needs or disabilities (SEND)?
This is equally important in both synchronous and asynchronous lessons. It is an extra challenge, but all students must have the same opportunities.
The UK government Department for Education (DfE) has a list of websites and resources to help children with SEND continue their education during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The US Council for Exceptional Children have resources for teaching remotely, and offer free membership until 31 May.
You can also find a webinar by Joanne Newton and Furqan Bashir on teaching English remotely to students with SEND.
The South West Grid for Learning (SWGfL) have guidance on safe remote learning, available for free on their website.
Evaluate resources and curate a list for teachers. Then, share these by email or in a shared online folder.
Reassure parents that their children are learning in a safe online environment. Use external experts to help develop e-safety and clear guidelines for child protection.
Tell parents and students about the changes they will experience
Methods of teaching and learning will change. A lot of the work will happen on asynchronous platforms. Students will access documents and recordings using tools like Google Drive and Dropbox.
Teachers might also send work by email, messaging services, telephone or SMS. They may need to collaborate online to complete tasks and activities asynchronously.
Students might also have a reduced timetable, with less one-to-one support from their teachers. So, parents should be prepared to help their children where possible.
High-stakes, summative testing, such as end of year exams, may not be an option. Many schools will give grades based on coursework. Projects will be for formative assessment, and teachers will make decisions based on past exam results.
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Use online resources to develop online teaching skills
Some of these might be:
- how to use breakout rooms for spoken interaction
- how to use Google Docs for collaborative writing tasks
- which tools and platforms work best for sharing tasks and collecting students’ work
- how to balance time for real-time interaction and out-of-class activities
- how this affects the order of activities and how these may need to be adapted for online teaching
- whether pedagogy is leading the choice of technology, or technology is dictating what happens.
Our weekly webinars on TeachingEnglish focus on all of these issues. We also have a new collection of remote teaching tips, written by British Council experts around the world.
Our social media team run weekly Facebook Lives to answer questions for online teachers, and have lesson plans for the online classroom.
The IATEFL Learning Technologies Special Interest Group offer LTSIG Fridays, a series of webinars to help teachers work effectively online.
NILE are offering their Take Your Teaching Online course for free.
Follow up with workshops for teachers, to consolidate understanding and talk about how to use new ideas.
Audit skills and give regular support
- what skills they think they have
- which ones they need help with to teach online
- which resources and skills they need support with.
Some examples might be:
- lesson plans
- online games and short activities
- assessing learners online
- guidance for online safety
- using tools and platforms effectively
- setting homework tasks.
Give support according to the survey results. You can use your own expertise, or point teachers to resources in the previous section.
Skills will change as teachers spend more time teaching remotely. So, hold regular meetings with teachers as they gain experience, and be available for individual support.
In a recent survey by the British Council, online teachers needed most support with:
- platform and technical support
- identifying and using online tools effectively
- assessment procedures and support (formative and summative)
- activities and classroom management support in online classes.
Practice classes can help with the first two needs. Collaboration with teachers who are working with the same level and age group can help with the second two areas. This is a good way to reduce duplication and to build collective expertise.
Many skills that teachers use in face-to-face teaching can be applied, with some adjustment, to online teaching. A recent online training session for British Council teachers in Spain concluded that teachers are ‘reframing their expertise’.
Teaching online is still teaching. Our experience is a valuable resource that should support our development as remote teachers.
Understand what you need as a teacher educator
In the same survey, teacher educators identified these areas where they needed the most support:
- developing resources for teachers
- giving training sessions online
- finding out what support or resources teachers need
- how to be inclusive online.
Communities of practice are a great place for teacher educators to develop expertise and confidence, by sharing challenges and good practice.
Join our online teacher educator community with approximately 3,000 active members.
Thanks to Kirsteen Donaghy, Ellen Darling, Maggie Milne, Neenaz Ichaporia, Beth Caldwell, Radhika Gholkar, Maja Mandekic, Jo Budden, Ana Garcia-Stone and Andy McMullen for their contributions to this article.