Connecting with people these days may seem easy because after all almost everyone uses social media and has a cell phone, right? Making new friends, then, and interacting with people should be a breeze since we have different ways to meet lots of people at the same time, and from all parts of the world, you’d think?
Now let’s go one step further. Consider connecting over the internet with a total stranger who is hiring you to teach them a language for a period of time that may take months or years. How do we do it? How do we truly connect? Is that an easy thing to do?
In this post, I want to share with you a bit about my talk “Overcoming the Distance and Delivering a Successful Online Lesson”, which I had the chance to present at BRAZTESOL International Conference, and later this year, at another event dearest to my heart: BrELT on the Road.
I’ve been teaching online since 2014, but before that, I had taken online courses and MOOCs , so I am quite familiar with both synchronous and asynchronous learning environments. One thing that has always been clear to me, is that the learning experience is not about the apps, platforms, or whichever technology we use. It’s about the teacher, the learner(s) and how we connect. Technology is, ultimately, a means to an end.
Below is a visual representation I made that shows the authors’ thoughts behind the concept of ‘presence in online learning’.
In this graphic, you can see that Technology is all around, permeating the spaces, but not interfering. It’s simply there — connecting Teacher and Learner(s). That “magic space” where you want to be with your learners is called ‘Presence’.
The longer I spend teaching online, the more I realize the importance of building this special space to connect with my learners, what Lehman and Conceição refer to as ‘presence’.
Establishing rapport is vital to build a good relationship, promote trust and lower your students’ affective filters. Unlike in a face-to-face setting, where you can directly interact with your learners, in any online environment you need to find ways to break this barrier and involve your students in the process.
How do I create ‘Presence’ in my (synchronous) classes?
I’ve been using Google Classroom to centralize my students’ materials. I personalize each space. Then, I add texts, links, videos, assign homework, tests, and send notifications. They can add materials and post too. It’s a simple and organized way for them to participate and collaborate towards their learning. (I use it with my face-to-face students as well)
Establish Aims (face-to-face students as well)
I add a Google Doc page with ‘monthly aims’ to give my adult learners more controlover their learning. There they can see what we will cover in that month, and we both assess if such goals have been met or not. It’s really simple. You can design your own progress checker doc. Think in simple terms like language, (grammar & vocabulary), skills, pronunciation, and special requests if necessary (i.e. preparing for a job interview may involve specific tasks and goals). It’s a month-long list so it’ll be easy to create and to follow. I also like to add any emerging language that comes up, or pronunciation problem/feature we need to work on. It’s about creating an opportunity for them to exercise agency.
When learners keep track of their own progress and give the teacher their feedback, a partnership is established. Presence is reinforced and the learners feel more motivated to go on.
Active Listen & Watch
This should be in any teacher’s routine, but essential in online classrooms. We must listen to our learner’s actively to understand their real needs. Many times teachers assume they know what students need. It’s a humbling exercise if you came from a teaching background where you used to be in control of everything, but in the end, “it’s not about you. It’s about your learner”, as author and teacher educator Luiz Otávio Barros reminded us in his plenary at BRAZTESOL 2018.
Another aspect of online teaching that may go unnoticed, is monitoring. It’s as important to monitor your students carefully in an online environment as in a face-to-face setting. You should pay close attention to their facial and physical expressions. Does it look like they comprehend you and know what they’re supposed to do? The same way that a student can shy away from asking a question in person, it won’t be different in an online lesson.
Only when really listen to our learners can we truly connect and help them achieve their goals.
When teaching online, I recommend during the need analysis process, to go beyond their learning needs. Talk to your students about how comfortable they are with technology. This way you can predict problems they may have and be prepared to provide solutions and make them more comfortable in this environment.
Reassure your learners that the technical challenges they experience are NOT a reflection of their linguistic skills.
Your Body talks too
You’re not tied to your chair. Move your chair away from the desk from time to time.
I like to do that sometimes as if I were giving them some physical space to think and work. It breaks that same old static image of me staring at them throughout the lesson. Just think of moments when you would take a step back in a face-to-face lesson and move your chair away a bit.
Don’t sit in the same position the entire lesson.
If you have the space, stand up and make use of the room. I like to use what’s around me and ask the student to do the same. For instance, when teaching an A1 lesson about there is/are, or this/that I asked the students to tell me where things were in my room and then theirs. Another time a student had his lesson at a cafe in a shopping mall and we talked about what was around him as a warm-up. He moved the camera so I could see it. Those are simple and effective things that we can easily do which will narrow the distance between your learners and you. You become part of their environment and vice-versa.
That’s the gist of my talk. I hope my tips will help you. Please share your thoughts if you try any of them.
And how do you connect with your learners in an online setting?
We had presenters from many parts of the country, as well as from other nations, and I was one of them.
Being there meant a lot to me because it is the culmination of a series of steps I’ve carefully taken in my career and education to develop and grow.
5 years ago I was not even teaching English. I was living in the US doing something completely different; I had been away from a classroom for years and teaching seemed like a distant memory . Now fast-forward to 2018 and here I am: presenting at an international conference, sharing what I’ve learned and learning from some of the most prestigious names in ELT in Brazil and abroad.
My talk was about how to bridge a gap between teacher and learners in an online setting. My focus was on how to build rapport and make sure your lesson is successful. By successful I meant connecting with your students as if you were face-to-face. I also talked about how we teachers have our own prior beliefs and biases regarding online teaching and how we can overcome that.
Now, let me take you to the last day of the conference when I gave my presentation. I arrived early and I’d made sure I had saved the presentation to the cloud (Google Drive & Dropbox for good measure), plus I had it in my email, and in a memory stick. Everything was perfect until I found out that I lacked one thing: a cable to connect my Mac to the school’s projector! *Gasp*
You’d think I would be panicking, but I wasn’t. I guess I knew that someone in this great community of teachers would help me. Do I advise coming unprepared? No! Not at all! But at BRAZ-TESOL I knew I was among friends. In the end a teacher I had just met the day before offered to lend me a cable _and_ clicker! He not only lent me his equipment, but installed everything and I was ready and set 15 minutes before my talk! Thanks Hulgo Freitas!
My final thoughts and advice
Don’t count on someone like Hulgo, because you may not be as lucky as I was. (I already bought cables and a clicker!)
Ask More Experienced Speakers for Advice or Feedback.
After my talk I was a bit upset because I had to rush a bit towards the end. The reason that happened was that I had 40 minutes total and I didn’t account for that. I thought I’d have extra time for Q&A. Another reason is that people started asking questions towards the end and that was was because of the way I presented the information. I started with the theory and moved to practical and real examples last. So I talked to an experienced speaker, Luiz Otávio Barros. He told me to trim the talk to about 30′ so I’d have an extra 10’ to account for questions, rehearse it until I nail it and to start with what the audience wants to hear: the practical and real examples. Once I have their attention and interest, the rest of my talk should go smoothly. The theory can come last to support my examples, and by the end of the talk everyone will have asked their questions and gotten their answers. Great advice, isn’t it?
Don’t Be Afraid to Make Mistakes or To Look Silly.
Your proposal was accepted because you have something worthy to say. Don’t worry if something goes wrong during your presentation like a glitch with your slides, the Internet or if you stutter. Be authentic. You know your stuff. That’s why you’re there! So long as you prepare for your talk and possible questions, no one will care about those things. Your posture, your confidence and how you handle yourself will matter most.
For me, I’ll get a second chance! I’ll be presenting the same talk in São Paulo on September 7th, at BrELT on The Road 2018. How great is that? I’ll listen to Luiz’s advice. He said he’ll try to watch my next talk! No pressure there, huh?
How about you? What advice do you have for presenters?
Thanks for reading & ’til next time!
PS. Here’s more about my talk and if you’re interested, there’s still time to register! It’ll be a great event. Hope to see you there!
Online Teaching: Overcoming The Distance and Delivering a Successful Lesson
In this talk, I will share tips to overcome the most common problems in synchronous learning: adaptability, struggle (teacher and students alike), computer literacy, discipline and motivation, and credibility.
Teachers will be presented with solutions to choose and adapt the right material to their learners; the most common platforms used for online teaching; tips on how to build rapport, engage students and bridge the distance gap between them.
One of the things that kept me from blogging for years was fear of exposure. Once your words are out anyone can hear them. Some ears will be kind but others won’t, and that’s OK.
I also used to ask myself these questions: What am I going to write about? There are so many blogs about teaching, ELT and freelancing, already.
There is another version of that. When there was an ELT event approaching, and colleagues asked me if I would submit a proposal, that same inner voice would strike again: What am I going to talk about? Who will want to listen to me? Or, what could I possibly say that hasn’t been said before? Etc.
Have you had these thoughts? Have you heard other teachers say that?
This way of thinking can be more harmful than it might seem. When we ask these questions, we are usually comparing ourselves with other people. What we fail to realize is that we each have a voice and our own experience to share. When we teach a lesson, it’s never the same no matter how many times we do it over. So, why would that be different than when we write from our perspective or give a talk?
When someone writes about a topic, or gives a lecture, they’ll bring into light not only the theoretical aspects about it but also their unique view on that subject. We each experience teaching differently. Some made that a career choice before College, while others embraced it later in life after graduating in a different field, such as myself. For this and many other intrinsic reasons, we will have different stories to tell.
Your story, impressions and views on a subject will be yoursonly.
Don’t wait any longer. Get ready!
Here’s a list of pros to give you that push so you can start writing and submittingproposals to that conference, or event you may be shying away from:
The world can benefit from your knowledge. You may say: Oh, but that has been said many times! Maybe, but has it been said by you? Your way, from your perspective? What if you see it through an angle that no one has seen before? How can you know it if you don’t try? It’s like the saying goes, you’re failing before even trying!
Promote your business or services to a broader audience. If you hide, who will know about you besides those close to you, your friends and family? You can potentially reach anyone on the planet who sees your website, blog or hear you at a conference, webinar, etc.
Advance in your career. By writing or participating in events as a speaker, you will be taking your teaching career to another level. The good news is that you can find support from experienced teachers to assist you with all the steps from writing your proposal to preparing your first presentation. Check with the event’s organizers.
Let me share something with you. I gave my first talk in 2017. Yes, last year! Here’s the opening slide that started it all.
I had total support from experienced colleagues from BrELT who organized this wonderful event called BrELT on the Road bringing together teachers who only met online on Facebook to a live event held in Rio de Janeiro.
I was a first time speaker, so I was helped during the entire process. From writing the proposal, to rehearsing my presentation and getting a personal call from Bruno Andrade, the Group’s founder himself who watched my talk and offered me his feedback! How wonderful was that!? In the end I felt energized, happy and accomplished. Some of the teachers who attended my session were beginners, but some were experienced as well. They came to me after the presentation and asked me questions. It felt great! And to think that I almost didn’t do it because, oh well, what could I possibly say that someone hadn’t said before?
My advice? Choose a topic with which you’re familiar. Something you know very well, and have tested again and again. It’ll give you the confidence you need.
By sharing what we know, we can help other people avoid making the same mistakes we made. We can also shed new light onto an old issue.
OK, we all know that sunny days won’t last forever. Some clouds will move in eventually. There will be rainy days. It’s just part of life. In order to succeed as a writer and speaker, you will need to hone your skills like any other professional, but you’ll also need to work on your emotional intelligence. With exposure, comes constructive as well as destructive criticism. There are all kinds of people out there reading what we write and watching us. That shouldn’t stop us. If you receive destructive criticism, it should serve as fuel to make you write even more! If that happens to you, don’t get bothered with that. Carry on!
Constructive feedback on the other hand is great and should be welcome! It’ll make you a better teacher, writer, lecturer and so on.
We should think the same way when we get to a position when we can offer feedback. First of all, we must ask ourselves, was it solicited? We shouldn’t assume the other person wants our feedback! Instead, we can reach them via inbox if we really mean to help. Remember the feedback I received after my first talk? My colleague contacted me in private and asked me if I wanted his feedback. That’s the way to do it.
I’ll leave you with a picture from my first talk, and it would make me really happy to hear that you have taken the first step to write, or to submit a proposal. I will be giving my 2nd talk this July at BRAZ-TESOL International Conference in Caxias do Sul, Brazil. I couldn’t be happier. I’ve had the support of friends and colleagues to have my proposal accepted yet again. I took the first step, but I also asked for help. Don’t be shy. This is my advice. Teachers are generous. Ask and you shall receive!