Geoff Tranter: ‘The Old and the New and the New Old? Classroom and Zoom room’.
Armed with a tantalising title, Geoff set out to present a webinar considering the issue of transformation from the (class) room to zoom’…..to what degree has the transformation changed us, and our approach to teaching? Crucially, could I keep to the approach I normally adopt? This was described by Geoff, as the key challenge. He was right by outlining that the transformation in March, 2020, was sudden (so sudden that I received the essential training after the on-line classes had started! Ed.), and we were like a new group of learners for a swimming class, thrown in the deep end.
He went on to ask 2 survey questions at the beginning of his talk: 1. how much experience did the audience have of on-line teaching? 55% said they had some experience. 2. How effective is on-line teaching in your experience? 59% found it to be effective. The answer to question 2, could, of course, be the subject of an entire webinar discussion.
In what was a very structured presentation, Geoff raised some important statements that underline the necessary ingredients for effective language learning on-line. Firstly, language learning is a collaborative activity, and secondly, the motivation to learn entails work. Four essentials for effective and successful learning were as follows:- 1. Autonomy (students being involved in the process), 2. Awareness (students feeling that they are in charge), 3. Recognition/Respect (students feel they are part of the group), and 4. Relevance (content is in line with the needs and interests of the students). Geoff underlined the point that a ‘Partnership of Learning’ was vital for the new situation, for the key statements to work.
Initially, the role of the teacher is very important to initiate and set up a formula for success. However, Geoff also showed that the role of the learners is also crucial. They are required to be actively involved in lessons, but he warned that they are not usually proactive learners, relying on the teacher too much. So, these processes were extremely challenging for both teachers and students to overcome.
The highlight of his webinar, in my opinion, came with his treatment of what has changed, and what hasn’t. Let’s look at the latter first, to see what Geoff felt had not necessarily changed much. His main points were:
*** The teacher still has his/her own approach.
*** The teacher still teaches the 4 skills.
*** The teacher still widens the students’ repertoire of vocabulary.
*** The teacher still corrects inaccuracies in the use of language.
*** Pair and group work is still possible.
*** The teacher still gives and corrects homework.
***The teacher can still play videos and audios.
*** The teacher can still base his/her lessons on topics.
*** The teacher can also use a whiteboard.
*** The teacher can still address students by their first names. (Geoff felt this was easier via the internet, than in live teaching). One pertinent concluding statement he made was that publishers often give new activities, but rarely a new kind of lesson plan.
Well, that was a long and impressive list, but the other list is probably even longer! 12 of Geoff’s ‘what has changed?’ list – are as follows:
*** there is no longer a group of physically present students;
***no longer informal interaction between students;
***there is the risk of students ‘hiding’ (Zoom Ghosting) – (Geoff told a story of students covering two courses at the same time!)
***it is easier for students to lose concentration;
***it is less easy for students to ask questions;
***there is the risk of isolation, which could, in turn, lead to a loss of motivation;
***there is also the risk of students not following what is going on in the lesson;
***there is the risk of less out-of-class learning;
***there is a lower degree of relevance of content;
*** there are often technical problems, of course – (Geoff stressed that more re-assurance from the teacher is, therefore, needed);
***students may not see progress being made;
***more risk of the lesson speed being too high or too low.
Geoff then came, like a knight to the rescue of a damsel in distress, by outlining how we can remove some of the problem areas. Feedback is vital, even more so when teaching on-line, and is all part of the assure and re-assure process. Providing structure and orientation is also important, so the students know their roles, what to do/how to follow the lessons, and in what direction the course is headed. The issue of preventing isolation, a major one, as Geoff suggested, is best tackled by activating and involving the students as much as possible.
In a lighter moment, Geoff briefly showed the Hamburg Grog recipe for teachers to implement in their teaching, to be successful, as it involves two key questions: a. what should I use? and b. what must I use? He also recommended offering on-line surgeries to students (similar to duty hours).
A few more tips Geoff put forward included: dividing lessons into small steps; summarising what has been learnt at the end of the lesson; presenting the agenda for the lesson at the start of the lesson; giving easy-to-follow instructions; and creating a bridge between lessons by re-processing language from the previous lesson. For home-study learning, Geoff felt that we should utilise the students’ preferred learning styles. He also sets them the task of keeping a ‘Learner’s Diary’, which is part of their overall E-Portfolio. He asks them to apply some self-evaluation to their work, and insisted that he does not look at their assessments, which would be a hindrance to their expressed opinions.
Geoff stressed the need for regular pair and group work, e.g. 3 times in a 90-minute lesson, and also urged his audience to regularly change the members of groups to maintain momentum and increase overall involvement. For individual students, it is also important, he added, to ask questions on a random basis to ‘keep them on their toes’.
In summary, Geoff concluded that methods and content haven’t changed much. However, he was confident that teachers will become better in the classroom due to Zoom, as well as better on-line teachers. If you ever want to see a classic example of structure, and its value in a presentation, I would strongly recommend that you watch the video of Geoff’s webinar….go to www.youtube.com and type in capital letters, the title in the search box: ‘THE OLD, THE NEW AND THE NEW OLD? Also available via: https://www.facebook.com/iateflpoland/videos/388240645541318