By Singapore Teaching Centre, British Council

12 May 2020 - 17:46

Trainer with headphones and a laptop

Online teaching brings new logistical, technical, social, and pedagogical challenges to an already complex decision-making process. However, online teaching also creates opportunities for us to shake up our practice and experiment with new strategies. There are many different formats for online teaching. Currently, the most popular is video conferencing to replace face-to-face lessons supplemented with a Learning Management System like Google Classrooms, Moodle or Schoology.

If you’ve done any video lessons, you will have quickly learned from the bored faces on your screen that lecturing doesn’t really cut it. The challenge of online teaching allows us to shift into facilitator mode and students to take responsibility for their own learning. Here are four tips for online teaching. 

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  1. Maximise your ‘face-to-face’ time

    Use a flipped classroom approach to maximise the time you spend with your students in a video conference. A flipped classroom means that students are introduced to new topics before they come to the lesson and use the lesson to deepen their understanding, rather than introducing the new topic in the lesson. This approach helps make video conferencing a more dynamic environment and allows you to support students through the messier application phase of learning. 

  2. Edit, Edit, Edit 

    Without the physical presence of a teacher and classmates, it is best to assume that attention spans and task persistence will be short, even in our most motivated students. This makes it essential to have clear and realistic objectives for each lesson. A clear learning objective makes it easier to select the best resource materials to present and support student learning. Keep it simple! More is not better and can ultimately cloud your message. Providing one or two clear, helpful, student-friendly resources (videos, readings, audio recordings, images, etc) with a clear task can help keep student motivation up and improve learning. Remember, you don’t have to make all the resources. There are many free, professional developed resources available to teachers. Bonus! This an opportunity to see different presentation styles of the information you teach. If you are an English language teacher, check out these free resources from the British Council

  3. Reflection tasks 

    Reflection helps students to develop the skills of self-monitoring learning and making connections to deepen their understandings. Some simple reflection tasks can be set after your initial presentation before class. Reflections tasks should use open questions. 

    A few strategies to try: 
    Triangle, Square, Circle 
    Triangle - What are 3 important learning points that I want to remember? 
    Square - What is one thing that squares with you? (You agree with) 
    Circle - What is one question you still have circling through your mind?

    3, 2, 1

    3  new words I learned 
    2  questions I still have 
    1  connection I have (This is like …) 

    Also, try Visible Thinking strategies 3, 2, 1 Bridge,  Colour Symbol Image (CSI), and Headlines. 

    Students can post these summaries as text in a Learning Management Platform discussion thread or post videos of themselves allowing students to develop writing and speaking skills. Posting gives you a record of student learning and lets you provide formative feedback, as well as  address student misconceptions. 

  4. Explicitly teach discussion skills 

Discussion skills are important for every classroom. Online discussion can be a powerful tool for learning, but discussions need be carefully curated and the skills explicitly taught. Some basic principles to remember for discussion are that you must not only clearly express your ideas but respond to and build on others’ ideas. Ask or Add is a quick and easy way to teach students to keep a conversation going and students either ask a question or add a piece of information/ comment related to a post. Sentence starters can model thinking and help students get started. Teach students: 

  • to express their opinions with phrases such as 'I think/ I believe'
  • to make connections and build on others’ ideas by saying 'This reminds me of … / This is like … '
  • to encourage others to participate by asking a question.

Find out about more advanced resources here.

Your feedback on student contributions will make or break the quality of discussions. Make sure to get in early with lots of positive comments and ask descriptive questions to encourage students to think more deeply. Try these questions as a start:

  • 'How do you think this relates to … ?'
  • 'Interesting point. What makes you say that?'
  • 'What does this remind you of?'  

Quality use of discussion threads allows students to deepen their content knowledge and develop writing (or speaking) skills. 

As with any new skill, be patient with yourself as you are learning. Keep asking your students how things are going for them to find out what works and what might need tweaking. 

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Stay tuned for our next article on how to spice up your video conferencing lessons!