Ah… Yes: Coronavirus. I have had to think differently about how I keep my teenage pupils learning…
…so as to make the shift to English as a Foreign Language Online Teaching and Learning as smooth as possible.
I am lucky: Here in Israel, there is much mutual support among colleagues. At the Six-Year Kugel High School, where I have been teaching since 1989, there is much virtual communication, support and exchange of ideas and initiatives at all levels. This is important when trying to keep teaching and learning going in times of Emergency.
The Ministry of Education, educational sites and companies, and various teachers’ communities have also been very supportive, coming up with different Distance Learning initiatives. lesson plans, advice on the use of Digital Tools, etc. I could elaborate on this, but the focus here is on Moodle for Home Learning in times of Coronavirus.
As for me, what has also helped me much is the work of “Mashov”, the company that provides Kugel and many schools with access to Moodle. Their support team keeps the Learning Environment running, and their Whatsaap support group has been doing a superb job at both helping and keeping us, Moodle-addicted school teachers, helping each other. This has proven to be a key to trying to do a good job.
I have been using Moodle to complement my classroom teaching for the last few years. This, of course, does not mean that all my teenage pupils have been using Moodle to learn. Mind the difference. While there is this idea that kids nowadays are Digital Natives, and they know all about tech, and “bla-bla”, the fact that most teens handle their smartphones and other tech tools well does not mean that they can handle learning with Digital Tools well. I do not take anything for granted.
To make the shift less problematic for my pupils ( and dare I say for myself?), I have stuck to Moodle as the platform where we could handle teaching and learning. When all is said and done, I had been using Moodle for Blended Learning for a number of years now, so why change? My pupils tend to joke that I have made some profit each time I have made them access Moodle. Let them think whatever they want, but sticking to Moodle has helped me (and many of my pupils) keep to a routine that I have been trying hard to establish.
Ever since school closure, I have been trying to bring more pupils into studying (and being tested!) with Moodle. While I have not succeeded with every pupil YET, I have seen much progress. There is more work to be done, of course.
Staying in contact with my teenage pupils has been another routine I have tried to keep. I no longer meet them at school, so alternatives had to be found. School Homeroom teachers have been of great help. The use of Whatsaap groups we have had since the beginning of the school year, and individual Whatsaap messaging and phone calls have been very useful too. I make it a point to have this contact in English.
I am not dealing with College or University students but with High School teens who need encouragement, clear instructions, individual support/care/attention, and, yes, clear -cut requirements (that is, high expectations) to keep them learning. I also find that a carrot and stick approach works best.
While I can be understanding of the many difficulties my teenage pupils have to face (so do I, mind you, but they are children), there is no need to make low demands on them. And yet, and no less important, there is a need to make these teens see what they get out of continuing to learn English online. I use the WIIFM (well, I mean “them”) Principle as one more argument to let them see that their effort is worth making.
We have just started teaching and learning online, and who knows when (and how) we will get back to normal. Tough times. As they say, I will keep trying to “make lemonade out of lemons”. After all, these are times of problems and opportunities, aren’t they?
Oh! And what is that about thinking differently? Well, I will think about it and if I have an answer, I might share it. Be well and healthy!