I don’t think that I’m alone when I say that being in quarantine for the past month has been stressful and lonely, doing many things from home. One of the things that keeps me going is seeing the students I’ve worked with, and gotten to know over the past couple of weeks, months, and in some cases, years. I was happy to see that we’ve all been able to continue right from where we left off, without losing a single day. How is that the case? What was English Teaching like a hundred years ago? Did TEFL Teachers have access to the technological resources that we have today? If we were forced into quarantine in 1920, would we have been able to continue working the way we can now? If there is a silver lining to this whole experience (and I can honestly think of a couple of those, by the way), it’s that there are several ways for English Teachers to continue working with their students. If you’re reading this article, you probably have a good internet connection. Chances are, so do your students, and their parents are likely to be working from home, as well. I know that whenever I go to a student’s home, I make sure to have digital copies of all the materials that I work with to ensure a successful class. I also make sure that my students are able to do the work that I assign to them. How can we do that? What are the essential pieces, that when brought together, can ensure an uninterrupted flow of work and relations between the teacher and the student? How can they be used to help a student continue to develop their skills as English Students? In short, you need three things: Hardware, software, and the right accessories. What are these things specifically? Let’s jump in.
So, hardware. In other words, computers. We, as English Teachers in Spain, likely come with our laptops. Unless you bought it over twenty years ago, it will likely be very lightweight, and packed with a lot of cool features, like screens that project images in High Definition, screens that have touch and pen interface, processing units and graphics cards that allow for some very interesting exercises. What are some of the necessary elements that teachers should think about when they’re thinking about hardware. Studies have shown that people learn a lot quicker when they’re capable of interacting with content in a very natural way. In other words, while the traditional clamshell laptop has been revolutionary in how we’ve been able to take our work with us as we travel, what they initially put into laptops restricted how we were able to work. Over the past two decades, processors have become faster, graphics cards, touch and pen interface has become more instrumental to productivity and education. When you’re thinking about computers, think about how people are likely to learn. What are some of the ways that people effectively absorb and understand content when they’re being taught? Arming yourself with a tablet that has a more than acceptable touch-and-pen capabilities allow a student to get even closer to the work that they are required to learn. When you, as an English Teacher, demonstrate the content for them, and give your student a pen to be able to effectively work with the content to ensure understanding, you’re giving them the opportunity to do more than get work done. You’re giving them the opportunity to interact with content as if it were on a sheet of paper. Dynamic form factors that make computers look like notebooks and three-ring binders make it exciting to hold and carry, while the machine on the inside does a lot more than what we came to expect from a laptop. It can be the laptop that you want, but it can also be a notepad with which you can make those important notes, and it can be a canvas to draw pictures. All of this came from re-inventing form factors that we were all familiar with growing up. Binders, books, notebooks… who would have thought that remaking these in a digital world could make all the difference to the way that you deliver a class, and expand on possibilities. For English Teachers, even English Teachers in Spain, we are now capable of more because of people’s re-creations. When you’re thinking about buying a new laptop, ask yourself what form factor you know and understand that can easily be transmitted to your students. If you’re familiar with the clamshell laptop, go for it. If you like clipboards, notebooks, and binders, which product best presents itself as such? Another thing when it comes to hardware is to not go for the cheapest option. If experience has taught me anything, if you don’t pay for it now, you pay for it later. Take a little more time, and save a little more money. You’ll thank yourself when you have a machine that’s still reliable after four or even five years.
Software, like all forms of technology, has advanced to the point where we’re capable of doing more with classroom teaching than we’ve come to know. Let’s take Skype, for instance. At TE Madrid, one of the things that we did to ensure that we were able to give effective Online TEFL Classes was that we were not only able to share screen content, but also video and audio content, and that’s something that Skype has done very well. Since we’ve focused our delivery to classes online, we could still ask the same questions to the same students. With screen sharing, we can make sure that students can actually see the class that we have prepared for them. Screen sharing is a gateway to various other interactive programs and applications that create an interactive learning environment. It’s important to know a couple of these programs before you start actively conducting classes online. An application that I’ve been using for classes, both online and in-person, is Xodo. You can upload all of your digital material onto the app itself. When you open it, you’re able to zoom in, zoom out, annotate, and make corrections. For the student who’s taking notes (which, by the way, is something all TEFL Teachers in Spain can certainly instruct their students to do), this can be an efficient method of helping them not only learn, but understand important language points as they’re being taught. A couple of other good options include Drawboard and Adobe Reader. With all three options, all manner of digital content can be uploaded and corrected. Another possibility lays in the dynamic questions that could certainly come up in each class. Think about it. If you’re in a classroom, and one of your students asks a specific question, perhaps not related to the target language initially being taught, what would you, as the TEFL Teacher, do? You might grab a marker, and go to the whiteboard. With the creation of more interactive hardware in the technological marketplace, whiteboards were sure to be among the real-world platforms that would find their way into our Online English Classes. Microsoft Whiteboard and Sketchbook are two popular whiteboard apps that can certainly be used within a moment’s notice. The good thing about Microsoft Whiteboard is that it’s also an interactive whiteboard. Through cloud-based technology, you can share a whiteboard with your student, and if they’re trying to get through a problem, you can elicit the answer from your student, who will demonstrate their understanding through prompts that you write on the screen. It’s a revolutionary advance based on a classroom practice that all students and teachers are familiar with. It has expanded what is possible in the Digital Classroom.
What do teachers need to make notes? To point and click? To correct and elicit? With hardware and software progressing to make learning experiences more interactive, it’s only natural that you think about what goes with these essential pieces when you’re delivering your class. If the hardware resembles a notebook, or a clipboard, and there is software available that replaces a physical whiteboard, then when we think about accessories, what do we need when we’re delivering a class? The answer to that is the stylus. One of the best things about the progress in technology is that major companies are working hard to make the advances as familiar to physical counterparts as possible, thus making the learning and working experiences easier and as natural as possible. If you’re carrying a tablet, and you have a stylus with you, you can make notes directly on to your tablet. If you have an attachable keyboard, you can take that tablet and make it function as a workable laptop. It makes both options possible. It also reflects the versatility of new technology, which is definitely something that could justify price tags of a thousand, or even two thousand dollars. You’ll definitely see the value of premium options when your students are more active in the class through your choice of accessories. If you’re giving a student an exercise to do on a whiteboard, wouldn’t it follow that you need to give them a pen? If they’re in a classroom, and they need to answer a question that’s on a physical whiteboard, wouldn’t a TEFL teacher give them a dry-erase marker to write their answers?
English Teachers in Spain have many options in front of them to help them deliver an Online English Class. Think about all three essential pieces of the puzzle, and you’ll be able to deliver effective Online English Classes, even in Spain. Even in the days of the Coronavirus, we can still deliver the classes that they need to help them succeed. Simply remember what is brought into the physical classroom, and count them as essential when you’re ready to bring them into your Online English Classes. You’ll continue being an effective TEFL Teacher in Spain, even under the shadow of a global pandemic. It’s definitely not the ideal situation for anyone to be in, but this is one way that we can continue working together to not only ensure that we’re staying safe, but also that we’re working hard to achieve the goals that we set for ourselves when this is all over.