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Online English language teaching, the ‘new normal’

On 30 January 2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19[1] a Public Health Emergency concern, and by 11 March a world pandemic. Unavoidably, this caused major disruptions and drastic changes in everyday life contexts throughout the globe affecting all areas of human interaction, the Educational context being one of them. With regards to educational scenarios, face to face classes were suspended and teachers were therefore required to find and implement immediate yet effective ways to continue delivering the mandatory curricula in order to conclude the academic year satisfactorily. Three months after the world pandemic announcement, these changes are tangible.       

Regardless of the already prevalent use of the new information and communication technologies (NTICs) within regular teaching environments, the use of the NTICs had to be rapidly standardized as the ‘new normal’ for teaching and learning. For many practitioners, this teaching scenario was not outside their practice as before the pandemic, a vast number of teachers tended to use the technological resources available to design materials and give a level of diversity to their classes. Nevertheless, for others, it resulted in a foreign undertaking as lesson planning, materials design and assessment methods would have to be designed and established in line with the new teaching context specificities. Hence, aside from requiring computer skills, traditional teaching would also demand adaptation to the new organizational and communicational systems.

With regards to English Language Teaching (ELT), it would not be any different. According to several Mexican English language teachers, initially, this adapting process resulted an uncomfortable experience as they faced difficulties such as lack of computational skills, irregular student-attendance, high levels of distraction and /or stress on behalf of both students and themselves, lack of group management, extended lesson planning hours, poor internet connectivity, electrical power blackouts, amongst other complications. What is more, not only did the pandemic affect teachers but also students, whose main struggle was the gaps in their control of self-direction and learner autonomy, abilities that were demanded from them by this ‘new normality’.      

Nonetheless, as it has commonly occurred in any type of crisis, teachers began adapting and developing digital teaching skills in order to successfully comply with their jobs but most importantly, to fulfil their students’ needs for learning. A salient point for this to happen was for educators to remember that the principles for language teaching and learning remained the same. These key principles – approaches, methods and techniques – unavoidably had to continue guiding and structuring their lesson planning, enabling them to deliver proper language lessons irrespective of the learning environment. What would require adaptation would be the modes of delivery along with the types of language practice available to students, hence, the language assessment process.  

Accordingly, English language teachers within diverse contexts throughout the country have stated the following key considerations for English Language Teaching according to their recent experiences:

  1. Different distance learning solutions
    • Get to know the different online platforms available and choose the one that best fits and suits the teaching context and needs. The most common ones for English language teaching are Zoom, Meet, Skype and Google Hangouts. 
  1. Online tools and resources
    • Make use of what is already available by curating material according to your context and students’ needs.
    • Take advantage of the authentic materials you can find online and maximize their use.
    • Explore apps that can be used on basic mobile phones when the computers break down.  Phones are much more accessible.
    • Consider tools to create digital learning content and resources (Padlet, Dreamreader, Wordclouds, etc.).
    • Exploit online courses offered by leading institutions to complement yours. The BBC, British Council, Cambridge Assessment, TESOL, etc., have provided English language teachers with a range of online courses and resources according to different language levels and ages.  
    • Ask your colleagues what online resources they are using, be keen on the advantages and disadvantages they find in their chosen resources. 
  2. The English Language teaching and learning process
    • Make sure students understand the outcome for every task assigned and the learning activities they are engaged in. 
    • Provide the students with self-directed content materials with accessible explanations and instructions.
    • Diversify activities by combining both challenging and confidence raising tasks.  
    • Establish independent study tasks (drilling, extensive reading, extensive writing, etc.) 
    • Select appropriate and effective feedback processes.
    • Foster collaboration amongst the students through different online modes, such as, video conferencing, breakout rooms and online chats.
    • Try to keep students interested, active, creative and motivated. Remember that it has been a challenging transition for students to this new online learning environment.  
    • Give your class a sense of community, where every student feels valued. 
    • Be supportive, as much as this transition to online language teaching and learning has been demanding for teachers, it has also been difficult for students and parents.
  3. Interaction with students
    • Provide time frames of availability both online and offline to deal with feedback and possible doubts. 
    • Create different communication modes to stay connected (social media apps, blogs and online chats). 
  4. Assessment for progress 
    • Language competence is still the prime goal; assessment should focus on language production in an integrated manner.
    • Do not forget to assess the process of learning.
    • Encourage self-assessment and self-reflection tasks on students’ own performance as online language learners.   
  5. Attunement with the online environment. 
    • Do not be afraid to try new tools. 
    • Set a time for your learning; that is to say, participate in discussions with other colleagues, watch online tutorials, enrol to online webinars and online courses. Continuous Professional Development is prime in these new teaching scenarios. 
    • Be understanding with your students.  Technology is not infallible. Technical issues always occur, even to yourself.
    • Accept the fact that you are also learning to both navigate and teach in the digital environments, hence, making mistakes is part of the process. 

The world has changed; as language teachers, we have found ourselves playing a privileged role in this process. Hence, in order to embrace the change and assure effective teaching and learning, we must learn to unlearn and learn anew.   

Dra. Jovanna Matilde Godínez Martínez, ELT Services & Consulting

Dra. Ma. de Lourdes Rico Cruz, Universidad Autónoma de Querétaro

[1] COVID-19: The COVID-19 pandemic, also known as the coronavirus pandemic, is an ongoing pandemic of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). World Health Organization 2020. 

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