The eagle eyed among you will have noticed it’s been a while since my last post. I have even earnt the tag “defunct” on one or two sites. In truth I’m really only posting this because a friend messaged me to ask if I was still blogging….. Yes Ben, I am. Every now and again…. 🙂

Not so much defunct as dormant perhaps.

Like many of you, life has been turned upside down. Or inside out, or given the circumstances perhaps outside in is better. I’m not just an English teacher any more, I’m dealing with mathematics, Portuguese, history, science, geography, and music – often at the same time. With three kids in the house, supervision of all the homeschooling means jumping from question to question: how to divide formiga into its constituent syllables, to the king of Portugal when Vasco de Gama arrived in India, to the area of a parallelogram. The mental gymnastics is exhausting, not to mention maintaining motivation, trying to remember the importance of it all and battling all the “I’m bored”, “I’m hungry”, “I’m tired”, and “I don’t want to”. And that’s just me…..

I am lucky, in that my employer, after some initial teething trouble in finding a system that worked for students and teachers alike, has been pretty damn good about it all. To me at least it feels as though there is an understanding that we are expected only to do our best under the circumstances, we are not really expected to try and do more than necessary. Our admin and reports have never been that much more tiresome than admin and reports I’ve met elsewhere, and at the moment we have simply shifted much of this to digital. In short therefore, I’m doing pretty much the same job I did before, but just online and without the commute.

It’s not exactly the same, doing the online thing instead of face to face. I miss the mingles and the board races, the running dictations and the round the room jigsaw readings. I feel as though once the initial novelty wore off, and also once EVERYTHING went online – work and regular school alike, so that life itself went digital, what happened in my classes went much more passive. My students have started to sit back, not to speak unless called upon, not to volunteer, not to converse. There is less spontaneity in the interaction when pairwork or groupwork has to wait for the server to allocate a breakout room. The online format also affects conversational microskills like turn taking – I notice much less overlap, longer utterances, fewer pause fillers or demonstrations of active listening. It’s all gone a bit ping pong, but played at glacial speed.

Which in turn affects the interaction. Bearing in mind that it’s not possible to monitor discreetly (I throw a cloth over my camera to minimise my presence), and so you can’t really get a proper sense of what the students might be saying or doing if they didn’t know you were listening. But what I do see from my position as obvious observer is that the conversation in breakout rooms does tend to work ok, that students do feel as though they can get on with the task, and generally seem to enjoy doing so. Outside the breakout rooms though, any work I try to do open class, seems to end up being very teacher led.

The classroom of the future?

Are you bored of Kahoot yet? I try to use it judiciously so that not every YL lesson is crammed full of that psychotically jolly bingly-bongly-beep music, but the kids do like it and it is a good way of revising irregular past simple verbs for the umpteenth time. And it’s a good way of adding a bit of variety into proceedings for other classes – “There’s a game for reported speech?” asked one of my adult students. “There is now!” I replied.

Bored much?

I’m feeling very tired by it all. I see it also in the faces of my students, those of whom have their cameras on anyway, a fairly deep rooted passivity and ennui. The waiting for it to be over both specifically in terms of the lesson and generally in terms of the situation. Here in my context I know that I am lucky, I still have a job, my wife still has a job, we live in a low risk area of a country with sensible and practical approach to the problem. Things could be worse. But I feel as though this is still something that has to be waited out, something that “this too will pass”, but that no-one knows when or how, or how things will look on the other side. And that is probably the most tiring thing of all.

Let me know how you’re doing, especially if you have any decent alternatives to Kahoot…..

Stay safe.