What to Expect from the Unexpected…

Put on your oxygen mask before helping others.

Image created by Dominic Durocher

Under the circumstances of living during a pandemic and knowing that just in the last week some crazy stuff is happening throughout the state, CSC shut down early, schools closing, and who knows what is yet to come. I thought it would be appropriate to address the concerns with some starter resources. For those of you who don’t know me, I have been a language technology integration specialist for 30+ years and in the last 22 specialized in distance and blended learning for languages. Here are some tips that I hope will help you continue to breathe and get you started down a more successful path of managing expectations of yourself as an educator without compromising expectations you have for your students.

IALLT (International Association for Language Learning Technology) is currently hosting a series on dealing with the pandemic. There was one webinar last week. I’ll be doing one on 3/18/2020 at 1pm CST and there will be more in the coming weeks from experts in the field. These are all free and will be made available to the community at large. Here is the link to the webinar page. https://iallt.org/webinars/
First off, if you are using a textbook that has online resources, those are great for assessing lower order thinking skills. Start using them if you aren’t already. Other possible places are of course YouTube videos where you will find millions of videos to teach different structures. Some are great others are horrible. Give yourself a time limit, perhaps 20 min to try to find something that works for your needs. If you don’t find it in that time then make it yourself. You don’t want to lose all your time down a rabbit hole. Powerpoint does have built in recording capabilities that you may not have used but work well for recorded “lectures.” Just be sure to break up the concepts into small chunks of no more than 5-8 min. Be concise.
COERLL, the Center for Open Education Resources and Language Learning, definitely has some great resources in many languages so that is a good place to look for content. Find your language and take a bit of time to see if any of these free resources will help to supplement your instruction.
DO NOT try to adopt a 100 new technologies that you are unfamiliar with. Start with what you already know how to use. Keep your expectations real. 
All that said I think there are some really important protocols to keep in mind:
  • Communication with students needs to be early, often and open. Two-way. Provide ways for students to reach out to you. Whether it is online office hours, email, push messages, phone calls. Students are equally as concerned as instructors are about their ability to learn in an online environment if that is not an environment they purposefully chose to be in.
  • Regular daily deadlines. Set up your course for students to submit content or responses so that you are helping them to stay on track with the content and work on it daily. If you put that everything should be due on Sunday at Midnight for the week, they will likely try to start doing it at 11:59pm on Sunday.
  • Ask daily reflective questions such as, “what questions do you still have?” If they just learned a particular structure ask them to use it in a way that shows you that they can create content on their own using it correctly. Then have them explain the concept to you. These reflective questions are essential in helping inform your instruction so that you can fill in the gaps that students have. It is OK for students to ask questions and reflect in English, especially when working with novice learners. They need to feel safe and comfortable asking. 
  • Lower your expectations, not of your students, but of yourself. Nobody expects you to in one week create the prefect online course. Those who have been teaching online already took many months and numerous trainings to get to where they are. It’s OK to tell students that you are exploring new territory together.
  • Start with using the technology that you and your students already know. If this goes on for an extended period of time and you feel comfortable with it, then start adding in new technology. Use what your colleagues and district are using so you have some amount of local support system. 
  • Assign the task not the tool. Our students use their phones and apps that we haven’t heard of. Let students provide the content to you in ways they are most comfortable. We can tell them to video themselves describing what they are doing to sterilize their home and walking around each room to show us without telling them what tool to use to make that video. At the same time, give a few suggestions for tools/apps to use so those who are less techy have a place to start.
  • Rethink assessments. Recognize that your students will be using tech tools such as google so change the assessment to something that is asking for more meaningful connections that can’t just be found in wikipedia and regurgitated. There are some online proctoring tools but that is something that the district would invest in, not an individual teacher for the most part. Also recognize what you are assessing for what it actually is. You can tell with digital assignments when students are reading so assess pronunciation and fluency for example not creative spontaneity. 
  • If you are planning to use a synchronous tool such as zoom conference with your students, make sure that you are doing it with a very targeted purpose. Take a good look at your lesson plans and think about during which parts it is absolutely necessary for students to be physically together to accomplish what they need. Those are the times that a synchronous videoconference should happen. Consider converting everything else to an asynchronous task. When you hold that videoconference, plan to do so during the time that your course would have had a physical meeting. In your communication to your students you should let them know that they should be dedicating the time that is normally their class meeting time to doing work in your content area. 
As for existing resources there is more and more coming out all the time but here are some fairly current links…

Once you are ready to implement some new technologies, here are some I highly recommend looking into:

Extempore is an easy to use app for asynchronous SPONTANEOUS communication. They recently posted a great article to their blog, “We can’t become expert online teachers overnight.” They are offering some webinars on their product in early April and if you sign up you will get a free account through the end of the semester. Information on signing up for the webinar is in the blog post.

Flipgrid is more presentational communication but in the format of a video discussion board. Free and powerful.
Google has fantastic capabilities for collaboration and lots can be done for quizzing and surveys with Google forms. 
H5P has tons of options for creating self-checking content in it’s free OER version. You can embed them into your course website. LearningApps also has free self-check activity creation. Follow these up with a few questions in a google form to quiz your students on whether or not they learned the concepts they practiced.
I know there are many more resources that you may already be using so just use them more.  There are also lots being created all the time. Watch ACTFL as well for posting information and resources to help support your needs. 
Remember we are all in this together so use your support systems. Now reach up and grab your imaginary oxygen mask. Be sure to secure it in place around your face before assisting your students. If you aren’t breathing you can’t expect your students to do so.

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