Learning Round the Edges

This week’s post is by long term Hands up Project volunteer, Sara Wood. Over to you Sara….

Learning Round the Edges – the potential for natural communication in team teaching

All teaching is learning, and this opportunity is too good to miss.

Have you ever thought about the meaning of remote?  Here’s the first definition I found this morning “Far, distant, having very little relationship with or connection to”. Now try pairing it with the word “teaching” or “learning” and ask yourself if it bears any resemblance to what you, your colleagues or your students experience during a Hands Up session, be it story-telling, drama or curriculum based.  The relatively new initiative of team taught curriculum based sessions is already proving just how inaccurate that adjective is.

Teachers are worried about the retrogression in education supposed by  COVID-19 – it’s happening world over.  Parents and teachers going crazy to catch up with what’s been missed, focusing on results, exams, assessments and evaluations.  Target vocabulary, class objectives, focused input  – all of these take their rightful place in language practice.   But we have an opportunity here.  Unrehearsed, unscripted communication is happening right before our eyes accompanied by the gestures, facial expressions, intonation and occasional hiccups that make it so  fascinating and complex. There’s a different kind of teacher input going on.

During each session there is a drip feed of spontaneous communication between the co-teachers. It’s the learning round the edges of the lesson plan.   It’s what might just help students to understand a real human being as opposed to the mythical native speaker who never digresses, never forgets what they are saying in the middle of a sentence or stumbles over their words.

I am from the south of England with a good estuary accent.  Perhaps it is the first time that my students and co-teacher have ever heard such mangled vowel sounds.  There’s a great potential for misunderstanding but it’s nothing to be afraid of.  What happens when we misunderstand each other?  We clear it up of course, just as we would if we were in a room together, with some explanation, a dose of good humour and hopefully, a bit of a laugh. 

What happens when my co-teacher tries to teach me some Arabic?  There’s a good possibility that I’ll get my tongue tangled in a knot, find it slightly embarrassing and have to ask her to repeat it several times over.  What could be more natural than that?

And there is an intrinsic joy and a lot of fun to be had with the incidental English.  Not only are students exposed to functional language in a real-life setting, but they see that their teachers are life-long learners too.

It’s a part of how we stay true to the values and the interactive, creative ideals of the Hands Up project whilst teaching the curriculum, and it’s  about as far from remote as you could possibly get. 

With thanks to my co-teacher Rinan Jamal, and all the inspirational members of the Hands Up community, and yes of course, that includes our dear students.

2 thoughts on “Learning Round the Edges

  1. Thank you Sara for sharing this!
    This is a golden chance to give the world a brilliant model that language can perfectly be learnt through being really immersed in an interactive -spontanuos context. And yes , everything took place between the two screens is a puerly learning experience placed in a teaching tamplate .
    Greetings , gap fillers , various responses between the two teachers coming from different backgrounds and belonging to different cultures , are really what our.students miss in the their own classrooms.and they need to see it live !
    Right!Teachers are life-long learners and they always make.their kids flourish ❤❤
    Hats off Nick , Sarah , Rinan and all the Hands.up teachers and volunteers around the world ! You are literally changing the world 🙂


  2. Thanks Sara for writing such a great post. Like you, I think that the term ‘remote’ doesn’t doesn’t do justice at all to what we do. The opposite of remote is ‘close’ and in some ways this way of working is more about closeness, intimacy and connectedness than a lot of face to face teaching. There are so many benefits to team teaching, especially when there is one local teacher working in collaboration with a ‘remote’ (don’t know what else to call it) teacher, and I thin this will need a whole new blog post of its own! The aspect you focus on here – that of natural models of conversational English is so important in my opinion, and something which is sadly lacking from so many language classes around the world.


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