The outbreak of the Coronavirus was first heard about in December 2019 in Wuhan, China. The first time it was mentioned in the British news was at the end of January 2020. Since then it has become a pandemic and spread worldwide causing intermittent and extended national lockdowns throughout the world.
The result of COVID-19 has meant that shops, services, businesses, entertainment and schools have been shut (locked down) on a regular and continuing basis over the last 15 months. Business men and women have had to work from home on government directives which has led to an increase in popularity and indeed necessity of conducting business online including Zoom and Google Meet.
This has also meant that globally more than 1.2 billion children have not been attending school and consequently have had lessons sent home for completion. There has been money raised here in the UK to help those children without access to technology and the internet by buying computers and tablets which has taken several months to implement. The results of this were that some children who had tablets and computers at home for their own use were able to keep up to date with online learning whereas other students fell behind with their learning. There is talk in the UK about trying to extend the school day to help these students catch up. External exams at 16 and 18 have been done by teacher assessment or tests or a combination of both.
The pandemic has made some students (adults and children) more focussed on online lessons as they see it can be an effective way to improve their English. Online teaching can be hard on eyesight when adults and children spend so much of the day in front of computer screens. Other adult students have taken on too many online courses and then had to juggle their time to ensure they can do both work and study.
For those students learning English for a specific reason (whether for studying abroad, taking IELTs or TOEFL exams or moving to an English-speaking country) then they have stayed really motivated and have worked really hard to improve their spoken English.
Here are 5 things that I have learned teaching English online during the pandemic:
The lock down, as a result of the pandemic, has had a particularly disruptive effect on children’s daily routine. Consequently, they have struggled to stay motivated, many have become disheartened and failing to concentrate sufficiently resulting in their learning faltering.
Some students (especially children) have suffered from severe isolation causing mental trauma whilst being deprived of their usual ability to mix in their school or working friendship circles. This has meant that they do not have as much to talk about during online lessons. Lock down has restricted playing sports which balances children’s’ learning
Out of necessity children have had to become more familiar with computer technology and the internet and will probably require a longer school day to help them catch up with missed one to one education. This has necessitated a need for a greater understanding by all teachers to the disruption of the educational system caused by the pandemic.
The benefit of this better understanding is that it has ensured a greater take up of technology advantages for Skype, Zoom and Team calls for adults and children having online lessons whilst at the same time giving all students greater familiarity with the workings of the internet. This is a commercial benefit for everyone whether student or teacher in the modern technological digital age.
Try to adjust the lessons to students’ needs.
Normal lesson routine has been disrupted because parents have had to work from home themselves, make allowances for child care and fitting in online English lessons into their daily routines. Parents have also had to supervise online school learning for their children as well during this time. Obviously being flexible is the watch word for trying to ensure that they manage all these functions on a daily basis and try to reinstate a routine to their day.
Keep it simple, give feedback and try to add variety.
Try to ‘think outside the box’ to talk about other topics. I have also suggested reading practice during lessons to give variety. Being in lockdown gives the opportunity to read more widely which gives both children and adults a greater vocabulary and an improved source of topics to ensure that the lessons are as interesting as possible considering life’s restrictions.
Give plenty of encouragement if and when needed
It is essential to give all students, both adult and children, as much encouragement as possible to keep them active and enthusiastic in their learning and continue to want to appreciate the subject matter to help them improve their spoken English.
Written communication as a back-up to lessons.
Use Chatbox in Skype for explanation of new words and to send photographs to help with meaning of new vocabulary. I have used Chatbox in Skype for suggested reading both on topics discussed in lessons or as follow up articles. Adults have appreciated news articles in English from what is happening and what has happened around the world and also in the UK .
Although continuing to improve speaking English through online lessons during the pandemic, it has required self-discipline on the part of all students whatever their ages.
The pandemic can be seen as both an advantage and a disadvantage to the process of learning. The disruption to the school day has encouraged students out of necessity to resort to online learning which has its own social difficulties brought about by students being isolated from their own peer groups. However there has been commercial advantages to many firms in all sectors of the economy including Spoken English Practice to widen their online business which has caused greater efficiencies in the national economy. However as in all walks of life there are winners and losers with many businesses particularly in the retail sector collapsing as the pedestrian flow in town centres dwindles.
A quote from the Brazilian pedagogue Paulo Freire in his famous book “Pedagogy of Freedom (1996) who wrote “Whoever teaches learns in the act of teaching and whoever learns teaches in the act of learning”’.