The challenge of teaching online in a time of the COVID-19 pandemic: What might we learn for the future?
By Ana Cláudia Rodrigues de Negreiros and Ricardo Rodrigues Marques
The coronavirus pandemic was an unexpected event that caught everybody unawares. The whole world did not have enough time to reflect on what to do in different areas of activities, including in education. Because of this, students and teachers had to face and deal with some technologies that they did not use to have in their school routine before. Teachers had to find answers to questions like “How can I teach online effectively? What web tools could help us?” So, this reality forced us to adapt and create strategies and methodologies to keep education going and overcome the COVID-19 crisis. Teachers had to reinvent the way of teaching and take advantage of the web tools available to them. Regarding this, the present article aims to offer two successful experiences related to the online classes given in the coronavirus pandemic period in a Brazilian reality. In the same way, it will reflect upon the activities and strategies that could be applied to improve the learning of students and help teachers with the teaching process beyond the crisis-response environment.
Figure 1: An Online Learning Call (by mmi9 on Pixabay)
The activities took place in three teaching environments:
1. Centro Cearense de Idiomas – CCI (Language Center of Ceará)
This language center is the one where Ana Cláudia Negreiros works and applied her English language activity available in this article. It is a public school devoted to the teaching of languages (English and Spanish) financed by the state government of Ceará.
2. Centro de Línguas de Maracanaú – CLM (Maracanaú Language Center)
CLM is one of the language centers where Ricardo Marques works and applied the online activity which will be shared in this article. It is financed by the municipal government of the city of Maracanaú. It is also a public school which offers the same languages as CCI but, in addition to this, it offers LIBRAS (Brazilian Sign Language).
3. Youth Idiomas (Youth Language Institute)
Finally, Youth Idiomas (YI) is a private institute in the city of Fortaleza, Ceará. It is the other context in which Ricardo Marques works and applied the activity of this article. YI offers instructions in English, Spanish and French.
Ana Cláudia Negreiros´ Experience at CCI
The coronavirus pandemic was an unexpected event that caught everybody unawares. The whole world did not have enough time to reflect on what to do in different areas of activities, including in education. It was very difficult in the beginning of the pandemic and during these days we tried to adapt to this in different areas of life.
In order to begin study at CCI, students have to take a placement test and after this they take a language course for about three years and then conclude the language course. They have classes at school and, after or before this, they go to CCI. When the pandemic commenced, everything was completely disrupted. I did not go to give my face to face classes anymore and the students had to get used to studying at home with the help of technology. Teachers had to learn how to give effective online classes. In this pandemic moment, we lived an experience in education like changing the tire of the car while it is still in motion.
We decided to use a Google tool – Google classroom to post student´s activities, give classes, and share videos to help them. But after a time, the students told to us that most of them did not have internet access; in spite of this, the teachers tried to improve more options to them to access and participate in the classes. Having class only on Google classroom was a little bit boring. We tried to use other tools to help us to improve their knowledge. We tried Zoom meetings and later Google Meet. Using these two tools, we could see each other. Students felt more motivated when they saw the teachers and changed ideas about the lessons they were studying. In addition, we used Whatsapp to talk during the week and to post some extra videos to help them to better understand better the future lessons. The classes happened very often on Google Meet. I had difficulty using this tool at the beginning of the pandemic because I had never used it before and suddenly I had meetings with teachers to plan our classes. I had to prepare different classes on it. We tried to prepare Synchronous English classes because students feel more motivated when they see other friends and teachers at the same time.
We asked our students to do some activities after classes and these activities could be oral activities that they had to record a video about a specific topic that they were studying. It could be answered in their student´s book. They could write about a specific topic or they could listen to an audio and answer some questions about it. We could check their English evaluation asking them to prepare some activities and post them on Google classroom for getting grades to help them to pass to the next level of English. I was so surprised and happy with their results. They were so creative to improve their final results. In general, students like activities that they develop by themselves. This results in their autonomy. They were very excited with these activities. They sent me many Whatsapp messages with questions about vocabulary and pronunciation. It must be remembered that, nowadays, we live in a positive time to learn in the “web atmosphere”: post, like, enjoy it, comment, etc. (Figure 2)
Figure 2. Oral Test Students
Ricardo Marques´ experience at CLM and Youth Idiomas
One of the most challenging actions to develop during the migration of the face to face classes to the online classes during the beginning of the pandemic was to adapt activities that we used to do normally in our class routine to the new environment of teaching: the internet. This action requires sensibility, strategies and methodologies in order to make the process take place.
Thinking about all these aspects, it was decided to adapt the tradicional written activity we used to develop during the semester to the new reality we faced. It was developed in two 2nd semester groups. Instead of asking the students to write their texts, take pictures and send them to me in order to correct them, I suggested that they create a blog and develop a blog post on it. The activity was basically to create a blog account using the webtool Google Blogger and post on it a blog post with a report of their own experiences during the pandemic or some issue they were interested in. The teacher oriented the students to use pictures and explore aspects of their lives which they judged interesting to write about.
In order to orient the students on how to create a blog on Google blogger, I used the website WikiHow (It is a website which offers guidance of about to do a variety of things for lay people.):
After the students had read the instructions on WikiHow, they had a reinforcement of this regarding Google Blogger with his/ her teacher.
This strategy to ask them to write about their own life and experiences is based on what is said by Short and Mendonza (2020) in “Principle 1. Know Your Learners” of “Using The 6 Principles to Support Language Learning in Times of Crisis”:
This principle encourages us to learn basic information about our learners: their families, languages, cultures, and educational backgrounds. With this knowledge, we can engage students in class, use the background experiences as a resource, and prepare and deliver lessons more effectively
Taking into consideration what is said by the authors, this activity allowed the teacher to collect basic information about the students´ lives and engage them in a more pleasing activity. In a time of pandemic, it is crucial to develop not only the educational and pedagogical process, but the human aspects of students: feelings, mental health and well-being. This thought is reinforced by Scott (2020) in research conducted in the state of Kansas in May 2020, about two months into the pandemic: "The survey results give voice to the experiences of Kansas educators and underscore the need going forward for policymakers and administrators to address the mental health and social-emotional well-being of both our students and educators. It is critical.". Hence, giving special attention to mental health and well-being of the learners is a worldwide concern. So, it would not be different in Brazil.
Finally, students posted the links of the final blogs they created in order for the teacher to evaluate them. They wrote about a variety of topics. Following are samples of some students´ blogs and the corresponding links below each picture which illustrates the samples.
Figure 3: Midnight Blog--Let's Talk about Twice
Midnight blog - Let's Talk About Twice: This student opted to write about his favorite band, a South Korean one.
Figure 4: Old Cars vs. New Cars
Old Cars vs. New Cars: In this case, this student chose cars as a topic to develop.
Figure 5: One Day for Each Thing
One Day for Each Thing: This student wrote about her life in a time of isolation.
Conclusion: what might we learn for the future?
There are a variety of answers for the question which guides the present study. However, we are going to focus on only a few of them.
- The first important answer to point out is to realize that we have the webtools to help us to teach in an effective way. So we need to learn how to use them in our favor.
- Second, we need to instruct our learners so that they can become autonomous and responsible for their own learning.
- In addition to all these things, it is crucial to mention the mental health and social-emotional well-being of both our students and educators.
After pandemic times, we might learn that the learning process is not just related to the teaching of content. It is more than that. It is a continuous exchange of experiences between teacher and students. This way, we should transform learning in a more significant mechanism to involve students´ lives.
Diretrizes para unidades de ensino durante período de suspensão de aulas presenciais. Secretaria da Educação do Ceará (Seduc), 2020.
Scott, Patrice. College of Education study finds top challenges of Kansas K-12 teachers in COVID-19 crisis. K-State News, 2020.
Short, J. Deborah J. / Mendonza, Grazzia Maria. Using The 6 Principles to Support Language Learning in Times of Crisis. TESOL Connections, 2020.
About the Co-Authors
My name is Ana Cláudia Rodrigues de Negreiros, and I am 49. I am from Fortaleza, Ceará, BrazilI. I am an English teacher. I have been an English teacher for about 10 years. I graduated at Universidade Estadual do Ceará - UECE (State University of Ceará). I finished my post graduation at Candido Mendes University, RJ, Brazil. in English Language Teaching. I worked at CLM - Centro de Línguas de Maracanaú (Maracanaú Language Center) for seven years. I taught English language for teenagers and adults too. Actually I have taught English at CCI - Centro Cearense de Idiomas (Language Center of Ceará) – CE, Brazil. I have taught teenagers in high school there. I participated in the exchange program of professional development for teachers at Kansas State University - Kansas / USA in 2019.
Her email is email@example.com.
I am Ricardo Rodrigues Marques. I am 31 years old. I Graduated in English Language and Literature at Universidade Federal do Ceará - UFC (Federal University of Ceará). I have master in Translation Studies in the Audiovisual Translation area (subtitling) and Intercultural Translation at UFC. I am a specialist in English Language Teaching at Universidade Cândido Mendes - UCAM (Cândido Mendes University) - RJ, Brazil, in the field of Psycholiguistics. I participated in the exchange program of professional development for teachers at Kansas State University - Kansas / USA in 2019. Currently, I have worked as an English language teacher at the Municipality of Maracanaú at Centro de Línguas de Maracanaú - CLM (Maracanaú Language Center) - CE, Brazil.
His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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