Interview with Martyna Linkiewicz………about remote teaching in the 2020 lockdown.
Where do you work, Martyna?
I work in ZSOMS (Zespół Szkół Ogólnokształcących Mistrzostwa Sportowego nr 1 im. Marii Konopnickiej) in Białystok. There are 2 schools – Primary School No. 22 and High School No. 13.
It is a sports school, which means there is one sports class, per each year, where students have an extended sports programme in a short-track discipline. We actually have some European champions and Winter Olympic Games representatives who grew up at our school.
What type of classes do you teach?
I teach only high school level students. Most of the class profiles have an extended Matura exam programme, which means I spend quite a lot of time with each of the classes I teach. What is interesting, is that sports classes have a lot of sports camps during the school year, and they actually have lessons during the camps, because the teachers of the most essential subjects travel with them, in order to keep up with the material, and cover it more or less at the same level as regular classes.
What levels? – Elementary, Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced, Upper-Intermediate, etc.
Most of my students begin school at Intermediate or Lower-Intermediate level (A2+), and finish it usually at Upper-Intermediate or Advanced level (B2/C1). For example, this school year (2019/20), I worked with 2 classes preparing for the Matura exam – both of them were preparing for the extended version of this exam – about 75% of the students actually took this exam at this level. We are still waiting for the results, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed. I also worked with 3 first grade classes, and all of them are also working, according to the extended level curriculum.
What are the sizes of your classes?
Most of my classes contain between 10 to 17 students. Sports classes are usually quite small, and they are not divided into groups for language classes. Classes with the regular programme are divided into 2 groups at the beginning of their studies (1st grade) – they write a placement test, which helps the teachers to put them into two groups. Both groups work with the same course book and use the same material, but at their own pace, language fluency, and ability. This way it is easier to manage the flow of the learning for both students and teachers.
For how long were you teaching remotely?
I worked remotely from the 12th of March, till the end of the school year. Only at the beginning of June, just before the Matura exam, did I conduct some ‘live’ consultations for the students who were supposed to take it.
Did you cope with and enjoy the experience? If not, why not?
I would call this experience ‘bitter sweet’. I’m quite literate concerning all of the computer stuff, social media, and so on, so it was not a big problem for me to ‘switch’ into that kind of teaching mode. Besides, our school quickly moved into using Microsoft’s Teams platform (we have an amazing IT guy who guided us into it smoothly), and in that matter, it was not challenging for me. We actually had an opportunity to have live online classes, so it gave me a sense of being in control of my work. I also took an online course connected with online teaching, where I gained a lot of knowledge and tips for TIK lessons, designing these kinds of lessons, and many Internet resources I could use, while working remotely with the students.
What were the main problems you encountered?
The problems I encountered were mainly with keeping the students active during the lessons. The beginnings were great, yet as time passed, the students tended to ‘skip’ classes, and pretended their cameras or mics were not working properly. I tried to diversify my teaching style, in order to keep them interested, from: YouTube films, all kinds of quizlets, online games, and that sort of stuff. Yet the reality of fulfilling the curriculum, and of course, preparing my Matura classes, was constantly hanging over my head.
Would you prefer to return to traditional classroom teaching?
Oh, definitely. I’m a teacher, who is also an actor. I love teaching ‘live’. The interaction and the flow of the lesson for me is different. I move around the classroom a lot. I need real people in front of me. I don’t mind working, using online devices, but only for a short amount of time. However, if the upcoming school year brings remote teaching back, I think I am ready for it.
What were the main differences for you between teaching remotely and face-to-face teaching?
As I said earlier, I need to ‘feel’ the classroom. It is my natural territory. During the online lessons, I sometimes looked at black circles or non-moving photos of my students, and it made me feel uncomfortable. Grading students’ work and taking tests are also a problem with remote teaching. Even though Microsoft Teams has an option for online testing, it still is not applicable to most of those students, who actually cheat and do not work by themselves. This is the most problematic issue I would say.
How did your colleagues cope with the situation?
Pretty much the same. The time we all spent in front of the computer is huge. All of us managed to organise our work, and we did our best. Of course, there were ups and downs, but the whole world is having the same rollercoaster ride at the moment.
What was the best feature about teaching online?
The best thing about it was that I learnt a lot of new methods and ways of getting the learning material through to my students. I also tried to be more accessible to them, and I tried sending them positive quotes each and every day, e.g. I created a Messenger group for each of my classes, and I sent them a motivational quote, and some fun facts about the English language and culture, every morning.
What was the greatest frustration about working online?
I don’t want to sound clichéd about it, but the struggle with the technical stuff, the problems with the Internet connection (I live outside of the city, so it could be rough, sometimes). However, I also found the struggle of some of my students and their parents with coping with this whole situation, disturbing as well. Some of my students come from large families, with 3 or 4 siblings, so accessibility to the computer was a big issue for them. Some parents also had problems with work themselves, and it overlapped with the financial and health problems in some of the families.
Do you think online teaching has a big future? If so, why?
It sure does; but I would say it will come with a great loss to the human-to-human interaction.
How did your students react to online learning?
I would say they were like on a ‘rollercoaster’, with constant ups and downs. The reactions were from excitement to indifference and neglect. Sometimes, they were very eager to interact and sometimes, they were withdrawn. I totally got it – as that is how the human body works. They were put into the position of being much more responsible for their education, since a lot of work had to be done, only by themselves.
In your opinion, is online teaching more restricting than classroom teaching?
No, I think many students are not mentally prepared for such responsibility. It requires a systematic approach, self-discipline, and integrity from them. For us teachers, it is also time-consuming, because things we would do quickly in the classroom, take much more time to prepare, conduct, and give feedback.
Many people claim that online teaching is far more time-consuming, and I would agree with that, but what, as a 42-year old busy mother, would you say? Did the quest for preparation time cause you problems?
Definitely, I have 2 daughters – one a 15-year old, and she actually was preparing to take the 8th grade exam, and she was ‘fighting’ for good grades, in order to get to the high-school of her choice. Luckily, she is a good and highly-motivated student, so there were no worries about her education, yet I have some issues concerning the way her school handled the remote teaching-learning. My younger daughter is 5-years old, and she didn’t attend kindergarten (for obvious reasons) and it was quite challenging to keep her organised and quiet during my online lessons ;))) What is more, she actually had a lot of homework from the kindergarten herself, so I was pretty busy with doing all the artistic playing with her, capturing it with the camera, and sending it back to her kindergarten teacher. And finally, of course, there was also my husband, who was working remotely himself. TOO MANY PEOPLE AT THE HOUSE!
Remote teaching is time-consuming. As I mentioned earlier, I had 2 classes preparing for the Matura exam, so checking their essays (a lot of them), plus writing back the feedback to each of the students, and preparing the lessons for the first-graders - OMG!!!
Which applications did you use, and which ones would you recommend?
The main one was Microsoft Teams – the one required and provided by my school. It worked flawlessly and I liked it.
I also used Youtube films for some grammar and lexical lessons. I am also a great fan of Arlena Witt and her “Po cudzemu” channel, so I used it quite often. I used Nowa Era, Macmillan, Pearson and other language publishing companies’ ready-made materials. Kahoot, online quizlets, and quizzes were also used by me, but to be honest, I’m not a great fan of them.
Here are some websites I used:
Onestopenglish.com, English is Fun, BBC Learning English, eslforums.com, Learn English Through Pictures, languagelearningbase.com, effective-english.pl, eslbuzz.com, 7esl.com, loveenglish.org, Englishshake – blog o języku angielskim, TED Talks films, angielskizawodowo.blogspot.com and many more, which I cannot remember right now.
It generally depended on the class I taught, the material to be covered, or simply the mood I was in.
What effects has the lockdown produced, in terms of your students and their results?
Still waiting for the Matura exam results, but to be honest, my students were pretty well-prepared for it. The lockdown education should not have a great effect on their results. As far as my other students, it was different for different students. Those who were diligent and hard-working before the lockdown, stayed the same during the online learning. Those who were not so devoted to studying, also remained the same. I surely know I did not manage to cover the whole material as thoroughly as I would like it to be done.
How do you think the system could be improved?
There should be experts who think of the best solutions. There should be consultations conducted among teachers, students, and parents. Teaching is a process, and students have different needs, abilities, as well as disabilities, so making it all work needs time.
Do you think that having one national platform for e-learning is a good idea? If so, why?
Would it work flawlessly? Won’t it be overstretched? We have a national curriculum, and that is enough. How it is followed, should be left to the teachers, themselves. The more this process is controlled, the less creativity will be used by the educators.
From your experience of the last few months, what would you say you have learnt?
Patience, patience, and patience once more. I also appreciate human-to-human relations more.
Thanks, Martyna, for all your detailed and interesting answers. Peter.