At my school, we are now into month three of remote learning. With our usual summer break beginning in July, any return to the classroom before September now seems highly unlikely. Once we do (hopefully) return, that will mean students who have spent 6 months away from school.
While we have continued lessons online, using a combination of live lessons and asynchronous activities with plenty of feedback, my students have remarked to me that they miss the opportunities for interaction that school provides – chatting to each other before class and during breaks, interacting with other teachers and students around the school, attending clubs and societies as well as other school events.
As the lockdown began and as it has continued, my students (I teach IGCSE ESL and IB English B groups in the international section of a secondary school) have taken the lead in using English to record their thoughts and share their experiences with each other. In this post, I will share some of the ways they have done this and how it is helping them maintain their English while away from an English-speaking environment.
You may recognise some of them from previous posts (especially my recent one on study skills). It has been interesting to revisit those ideas and see how they have been refined (often by my students) in practice. As ever, please share your ideas as well in the comments below.
An obvious thing for a blogger to say, but I really believe in the power of writing. Committing thoughts to paper is a great way to organise thoughts, refine ideas, process reflections, and create a record. An unprecedented global pandemic provides a compelling reason to write as well.
I have promoted this idea to my students throughout the year but with little uptake beyond set tasks. However, as we prepared for the closure of schools and the beginning of lockdown, I used my final lessons with each class to urge them to get writing again.
I am happy to say quite a few of my students have really taken to the journaling idea while they have been under lockdown at home. One commented to me that it is amazing how much he finds to write about when the days pass with nothing much actually happening. He has shared some of the writing with me and he has been reflecting a lot on how life has changed and has started to rethink his plans for the future.
Other students have talked about how they are building a record of these crazy times, and how it might be interesting to look back on it as an adult (I resisted the urge to tell them that when they look back on anything they have written as teenagers, they are more likely to cringe than anything else!)
Normally, I would suggest blogging but at this time, with lessons online and the other usual teenage pastimes (gaming and YouTube) accessed digitally, it is good for them to write in a notebook., and get away from the screen while putting their English to use.
Vlogging and Recording
Another version of the above (and a more instantly shareable one) has presented itself in the form of recording. One of my students who is a reluctant writer asked if he could keep a vlog instead of a journal. As this was never a compulsory task in the first place, I was happy to accommodate. He has recorded a variety of videos and audio clips documenting his life at home under lockdown.
This idea has also appeared in the wider school with our international students recording ‘digital postcards’ for our virtual assemblies. It has proven not only a great way to keep them speaking while documenting their experiences, but also a fantastic way to maintain a sense of community in the school.
In class, a few students have started to share regular voice and video clips on the class blog. As the other students comment, we manage to stay in touch in a way more personal than our live lessons offer.
Virtual Book & Digital Media Club
I also used the final few lessons before lockdown to urge my IGCSE ESL group to read. They all took at least one novel from the department with them when they left (I have kept a record so I know what to remind them to bring back after the summer!) and a list of suggested reads (see this excellent list from Kieran Donaghy for a few ideas to get you started).
Using our class blog, I encourage them to post reviews and summaries of what they have read. A couple of students, upon realising they were reading the same book, self-organised and started a thread where they exchanged reactions to and theories about the novel they are reading (The Giver by Lois Lowry).
Building on that exchange and moving onto the next level from our individual collections of digital media on Google Keep (see my study skills post for more details), we now have a space on our class blog dedicated to sharing links to podcasts, YouTube videos, and other media my students have been accessing. They share a brief write-up of what it is and why they chose it, and then the space is available for comments from classmates.
My favourite thing about this is that I simply moderate it. The content (sports podcasts, interviews with celebrities, explainer news items, and more) is selected and shared by the students themselves, and the comments flow freely despite this being a group of only six boys. I get the feeling they see this as more of a way to keep in touch than a language development exercise but I think both benefits are there.
An off-shoot of the above from my IB (International Baccalaureate) English B students on their class blog has been a thread in which they share news articles about current events with a particular emphasis on the language used. It has been very interesting to follow their discussions on phrases that are often used by people in the news as concrete concepts but are, in truth, open to all sorts of interpretation (“following The Science,” “stay home v. stay alert,” and “reasonable exceptions” have all generated discussions of this sort). As a last minute insert as I produce my final draft of this post, they are currently discussing the reactions in favour of and against Black Lives Matter – plenty of interesting material to refer back to when face-to-face lessons resume again, and great to see upper secondary students engaging in this level of social linguistic discussion!
It remains to see how/if they will keep these ideas going over the summer but I will certainly be encouraging them to do so.