A post from teacher Sue Piper about how the mix of online and face-to-face classes, known as blended learning, can have surprisingly positive results.
There’s no doubt that recent months have been a challenge for all teachers. When I got my new ‘blended learning’ timetable for September I thought it was a cryptic puzzle that I had to carefully de-code. It showed different groups doing different things at different times. Some online, some in class and some distance learning.
I work in Oldham, a very deprived area in Greater Mánchester. My students are on benefits and none of them have regular work. Many have endured long and difficult journeys to be in the U.K and many are separated from their families. Many of them don’t have laptops or internet access from home. How was I going to teach online?
Most have a smartphone so the first thing I did was set up WhatsApp groups. I then telephoned each student and talked about Zoom and how they could download it on their phones. Sometimes this took many conversations with various family members who happened to be home at the time! At last, I was confident that most had the app. I sent out the link and hoped for the best……
Many of our first sessions were about getting to know the technology- muting/unmuting, video on/off etc. The first few were a bit like seances- Is there anybody there? Can you hear me? Gradually they became more confident and we could actually get started learning some English!
I saw the online sessions as a great opportunity to develop speaking and listening as we have to sit two metres away from each other in class- partner and group work wasn’t possible. I would use the class room sessions for independent, grammar based work.
Over lockdown, classes were closed and myself and my colleagues worked from home mainly making resources for various levels we teach. Three of us did a course with wonderful HUP volunteer David Heathfield who inspired us to tell stories in our classrooms. We all then set about making a whole bank of storytelling resources for our Intranet Platform-Moodle so we could access them for online learning.
Each of us recorded videos of stories. Some of us did folk tales, some of us did personal stories and some did simple stories about everyday topics. We then devised a lesson plan for each story and a bank of follow up activities to go with each one. This included getting learners to re- tell the story in simple sentences, answering questions about the story, a simple writing task and a quizlet task to reinforce vocabulary.
So far, they’ve been really popular! Learners have enjoyed discussing the themes and topics the stories have raised. The first two I looked at were ‘ The Lion and the Mouse’ and ‘The Ant and the Grasshopper’. We had some great conversations as a group about the themes of the stories and learners responses were recorded and then used as ‘speech bubbles’ for a display.
In recent weeks we’ve got to grips with using breakout rooms and recording responses in the chat box. Sons, daughters, neighbours have all been helping and sometimes our story-times really are a family affair!
I’ve also learned how to make the most of these sessions too by using targeted questions, typing as I’m speaking and using high frequency vocabulary throughout. All small steps for me but giant leaps for some of my learners, who, a few weeks ago would never have thought they’d be taking part in online English classes.