As we continue our celebration of online learning, we wanted to take a moment to check in on your at home classroom. Setting up a space in your home that is comfortable and productive for you and your students (or viewers!) is an essential part of making the most of learning online. Many teachers felt like back to school came quickly this year with so many new adjustments to make, so we thought we'd take a minute to help you ensure you are getting the most out of your teaching from home space. If you have any questions about how to bring your language school or language classroom online, feel free to contact us at Demiks. We specialize in helping language schools with school management software which includes integrated Zoom calls (so you don't have to worry about sending out links to all of your students), so there's nothing we love more than talking about teaching online!
Let's start with the basics. Since the beginning of the year, we have seen people investing in ring lights, webcams, clip mics, and all kinds of small gadgets to turn their home offices into small scale TV studios. Of course, if you have invested in these things, great! But the gadgets aren't what's important, it's the attention to setup that counts. In order to make sure your at home classroom is the best online learning space, you need to make sure your students can hear you and see you clearly at all times. So ask yourself these two questions:
1) Where is my microphone?
2) Where is my source of light?
If you are working in a room with a window, make sure the window is in front of you, not behind, in order to avoid being a backlit shadow teacher. We all know how important sound and sight are for language learners. Your students are still getting to know the shapes of their target language, so they need to be able to clearly hear all of your syllables and, ideally, to see your mouth moving.
Position your camera (or computer, if it is built in) so that you are close enough that your students can see your mouth clearly. If you are using a light or lamp, remember a simple rule: light behind the computer and pointing at you! Also, keep in mind what time of day you are teaching. For night classes, it is somewhat easier because your lighting will always be the same.
For afternoon classes, Canadians know the position of the sun will change over the course of these chilly months, and you may find yourself needing lamps at an hour where a week prior you had the daylight! Be prepared for dark grey days and sunny ones!
As for your microphone, with some built in microphones, they will pick up whatever sound is closest. This means if you are tapping your fingers on the desk and leaning back in your chair to speak, your students will hear your finger percussion, and not your lesson! Do a test call with a colleague or friend to see how far you can move away from your microphone and still be comprehensible. I suggest doing a Zoom call so you can record the call and listen for yourself afterwards. One of the difficulties of online learning, is you are not always aware of what your students are seeing and hearing. If you are not careful, you can get deep into a lesson only to realize that students heard the coffee grinder in the next room instead of your explanation of question structures in the simple past!
Let's start with the most obvious: a water bottle. I know you know, but sometimes the most basic reminders are the most easily forgotten. There is something mysterious about the way your throat will suddenly get scratchy when your body knows you don't have any water near by. Before you start your class, think about how you would tell students to prepare for an exam: bring a few pens, some blanmk paper, and a water bottle.
When you are teaching online, remember that you are going to spend a lot of time in front of a screen. This can sometimes be a little difficult for the eyes. We recommend having a notebook at your desk and either writing out or printing out your lesson plan so that your eyes can move between the screen and paper. Of course, if you are following a slide show or an on-screen lesson plan, this is also fine, just remember that if you are on screen while reading through, your students can see your eyes scanning the screen. Also, beware of typing while teaching - there are moments when this is a very helpful way of sharing information with the class (for example, using the Zoom whiteboard), but if you are working with a laptop, it can also cause your camera to shake!
The screen time issue is important to consider for your students as well.
Where possible, we recommend you ask your students to have a physical language dictionary on hand. During class time, you can ask them to look up words in their dictionaries, giving them a break from the screen and exercising their research skills.
If you have activities that involve drawing, making lists, or circling options, you can ask your students to take a picture on their phone and send them to you during or after class (of course, this will depend on your students' access to technology).
Teachers are wonderful people contributing so much to our communities - but teachers are still people! So just as much as our students, we need to make sure we keep at home distractions at bay. Let's start with the biggest modern concentration-stealing offender: the cellphone. Of course you know not to look at your cellphone when you are teaching, but sometimes it's on the desk and it lights up, and for just a moment your eyes are caught looking at the message from your friend who had a terrible date last night. You don't open the message, of course, but now part of your mind is wondering, why did he write TERRIBLE in capital letters? How bad was it? We recommend not only keeping your phone away from your desk, but having a specific place you keep it during class, so that it is part of your set up ceremony. For example, maybe before every class you plug your phone in in your bedroom. Or maybe you put it on the kitchen counter beside the coffee pot so you can go enjoy both when class is over!
If you are living with roommates, a partner, children, or some combination of the three, consider printing out a schedule and taping it to the door of your at home classroom.
This way, if someone in your household wants to speak with you while you are teaching, they can see that you are busy until such-and-such a time and know to come back then (without peeking into the room and mouthing "When are you done?"
One great advantage for language teachers teaching online and teaching from home is that you have a whole world of referents available to you. Even the most well-equipped language classrooms will rarely have as many different real-life items as you have in your home. Instead of using flashcards for Fork, Knife, Spoon, pull some cutlery out of your drawer and have it ready to show! Look around your home before a lesson and think of what different objects you can integrate into your lesson to make it more dynamic. Practicing phrasal verbs? Turn on the lights, turn off the lights; pick up your pen, put down your pen. Think about the ways in which you can continue to teach as you did before, but also the ways in which you can bring a little more to your digital classroom!
Don't forget your students are likely sitting in their own little world of props.
You can create a scavenger hunt for them to test their vocabulary (ex: Find me one spoon, three socks, on pair of socks, two buttons, a cushion and something green!) You can focus on themes, textures, colours, shapes - whatever will help bring the physical world and the language into contact. Ask your students to point around their house (ex: my bedroom is that way, the kitchen is over there, the hallway is behind me, my window is to the left).
Check out our article for more tips on teaching with Zoom. Keep an eye on our Demiks Instagram and on this blog as we continue to celebrate teaching online. And of course, don't hesitate to drop us a line if you have any questions about how to grow your teaching practice online, or how to manage your school online.
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