It seems there is no stopping the new normal in Philippine education. In a month or two, classes will start across the country in way that has not been experienced by anyone before. Learning and teaching shift online, or, at least, a good part of it. It has taken a global pandemic to get the Philippines to reconsider migrating much of public education online. Whether this is good or bad in the long run only time can tell.
I’m sharing my experience as a online language teacher back in 2006 and some of the issues I faced in the line of duty. I taught online English to Koreans using a toll created for that purpose (not for socializing on social media) , which according to colleagues took years of research and testing. It wasn’t used in the same way as classroom tools such as a books and toys and visual aides. It was clear that in making the teaching tool for teaching spoken English, it should be designed to meet the learners’ target skills.
The tool we used was designed to compel and polish a learner’s speaking skills. So minute aspects of the tool, from its name, shape, color, and content, revolve around speaking. We used folders containing photos and visual scenarios covering a wide-range of situations,. These folders were shared with students during class. They could browse them in advance, and these folders were sent to students and their parents according to their level of proficiency. The teacher used a teacher’s version of the same folder, with annotations on what sort of questions to ask, expected answers, etc. There were also suggestions on enrichment activities, (to be done at home) and topic of discussion for next meeting. Since our focus was on conversation, we didn’t have a formal / graded evaluation toward the end of a chapter. Instead we gave feed back in which we sum up our students ’speaking strengths and weaknesses. The feed backs were saved both in the teacher an student’s folder. When we gave feed back, it had to be based on specific sentences said by a student, so it had to be accompanied by a quote so it would be easy for the student to review.
Unlike a traditional classroom class, in an online English class (at the time) it was a one-one-affair, for a maximum of 20 minutes, daily, with Friday classes given over to free talk. People would be wondering how much can be earned in 20 minutes, or an hour and 40 minutes in a week. This question can only come from someone who has been exposed classroom learning all his life. The assumption is that if you don’t learn things like grammar and mechanics of writing, then you don’t acquire a second language. This is antiquated. Keep in mind that our class was conversational English, which meant that we wanted to learn English in real life situations. People don’t think about gerunds and participles and verb tenses in real life conversations. What we went to great lengths teaching our students were choosing the simplest and clearest words to use to be able to have a nice conversation with native speakers, and be understood by them at all cost.
In an online learning set up, class length in relation to content is an issue. If we had trouble teaching a class longer that 20 minutes with one participant, how would that play out in a class of 60 students going for an hour? Stress level would certainly be low with fewer number of students, such as our case back in 2006 (we had a maximum of 12 per shift), but some teachers did complain about making taylor-made student-performance annotations per class. In making comments and corrections, our teachers could not use generic statements such as “that’s good!”, “great job!”, or “excellent sentence!”. These had to be accompanied by sentences the students actually said during the class. To many of us, this got in the way of preparation because student tended to make the same mistakes anyway and one comment sort of covered for the rest. However, they didn’t realize how precious these specific comments were: We used them to bring our students’ parents up to date about their kids’ progress. And knowing how their kids fared with the English language weekly gave them so much pride and loyalty to the school.
I’m not sure, how deep the DepEd has gone into dissecting these issues (and it’s only language teaching here more or less). There’s so much ground to cover yet: math, science, art, PE, and a whole lot more. But above all, health.