Virtual classes pose unique challenges. To design successful lessons, teachers must find new, creative ways for students to collaborate with each other. They need to help learners stay motivated from behind the screen, and give personalized feedback in real time from afar.
This can be especially challenging when it comes to preparing students for an exam.
Billie has been working in ELT for more than eight years. She is a teacher trainer and exam materials writer, who has contributed to Cambridge English qualifications, IELTS and PTE Academic.
Here’s a summary of the webinar with her top tips:
1. Find ways to motivate online exam students
One of the ways in which online learning differs from face-to-face instruction is that students may find it more difficult to stay motivated. In an online classroom, there’s less interaction with the teacher and less collaboration between students. Instruction is less focused on individuals, and lessons are not as personalized. Students are less likely to be taking notes or working in a coursebook, so there’s no physical evidence of their learning.
As a result, students may be less motivated and feel as though they’ve made little progress towards a successful exam. This is why it’s crucial for teachers to ensure students feel inspired to learn.
Billie recommends teachers try some of the following:
- Ease students into each class by asking how they are and talking about real-world topics
- Build intrinsic motivation by encouraging students to set their own goals so that they become less dependent on teachers and start learning for themselves
- Encourage students to collaborate when the teacher isn’t available in order to discuss tricky exam items.
- Give students reflection exercises, such as asking them to come up with 3 way to improve a certain task
- Create a calendar of assignments or tasks for students to complete (with deadlines) so they see the progress they’re making
- Make yourself available during virtual office hours to offer help, support and advice
That said, many of these actions require some tools. In the webinar, Billie provides an extensive list of mostly free resources for teachers and explains how to use them:
- Habitica: an app to set goals for the day in a fun, gamified way
- BookWidgets: a tool to create tasks for students to complete on their own time or as homework
- Twiddla: an online whiteboard to mark up web pages and explain tasks
2. Encourage self-directed learning (SDL)
The goal of self-directed learning (SDL) is to give students ownership of their own education, so they’re not just passive recipients of knowledge. SDL works especially well in online environments, where instruction is less personalized. It gives students the option to choose the way they want to learn – which is important, since students so often have different learning styles.
To foster SDL, Billie recommends the following:
- Involve students in independent goal setting at the beginning of a course, allowing them to take ownership of their learning and encourage self-study for an exam outside of the online classroom
- Provide a bank of online resources for students to challenge themselves and to reinforce previously learned tasks or grammar structures
In the webinar, Billie talks in-depth about the 5 different teaching styles teachers can apply with to achieve SDL. She also presents a list of self-study techniques to encourage students to take initiative and be more autonomous – like the Pomodoro Technique, for example.
3. Provide reflection opportunities
Feedback is often delayed in online classes. Unlike in traditional classrooms, teachers often don’t have the time or the means to provide feedback in real-time from behind a screen. But, waiting too long to chat with students about their work can be detrimental to learning.
Billie recommends providing small bits of feedback to students in chat boxes during video calls, then sending a follow-up email right after the class to reinforce students’ knowledge of the lesson. Teachers should also always aim to provide feedback that’s as personalized as possible, so students know their professors have a real interest in their success on the exam.
Some useful tools that can help teachers give instant personalized feedback include:
- Snagit: an app that lets one screengrab errors and discuss how to correct mistakes in a short video
- Vocaroo: an app that allows one to record your voice online (like a mini Podcast), upload the recording to a shared drive and email it to students.
4. Plan your lessons well
While teachers may be well-prepared for traditional lessons, they may not have as much online material. To make sure online lessons go as smoothly as possible, teachers must invest a little more time into preparing for them. Here are some things you can do to craft effective lessons:
- Rehearse your lessons to avoid wasting time with technical issues, which can affect your students’ motivation
- Plan how to keep students motivated throughout the lesson; consider that usual classroom fillers and activities may not work online
- Include short, quick-fire quizzes spontaneously throughout the lesson to maintain focus and interactivity
- Have brainstorming sessions with topic-based vocabulary that students can contribute in real-time through chat or audio
- Play question volley to practice spontaneous speaking: choose a common exam topic and get students to bounce questions off each other
5. Allow students to provide input into the course or lesson
Online classes for exam students provide teachers with the flexibility to adapt lessons according to students’ needs. Mid-way through the course, ask students to anonymously assess three things they’re enjoying about the classes and three things that they’re not. This will allow teachers to consider methods of instruction, and think about how to incorporate a variety of resources to better suit student learning styles.
Watch the full recording of Billie’s webinar now!