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Same-same, but different: the more things change...

Updated: Apr 19, 2021

My three-week honeymoon – also an opportunity to catch up on missed backpacking experiences – took place in Thailand, where my shiny new husband and I toured a few spots in the land of smiles. It wasn’t a holiday; it was an experience and an experience where I learned the Tinglish phrase (Thai-English) ‘same- same, but different’.

Amidst the global pandemic that has continued to shut schools and colleges, the debate around how to teach online remains as prevalent as it did in March and it’s that old Thai phrase that I keep coming back to. When practitioners ask about the move from face to face to online? It’s same same – but different!

The nature of what we do and why we do it remain. The fundamentals of what teaching and learning look like remain. The need and importance of human interaction remains. The medium we use to do this and the way we present it? That has forever changed.

Following that March lockdown (and beyond), the ingenuity of educators has been evident at every turn: some have offered home learning packs; some have uploaded task-based learning; others have thrown themselves into live delivery and there are those who use yet more strategies or mix all of the above. It differs from school to school, from primary to secondary, from FE to HE. Never has teaching and learning changed so significantly in such a short space of time. But ultimately, the foundations of teaching remain the same: what are we learning? How are we learning it? How can we demonstrate it? Why are we doing it?

Those fundamentals never changed.

I remember a pipe bursting when I was at school (very exciting) and being moved to the dining hall. After the initial excitement and disruption died down, we got on with the lesson. Some of the resources were removed (the board had gone and our resources were soaking wet) yet there we were - discussing a topic, sharing ideas within our groups and getting feedback from our teacher. It was same-same, but different!

So, what remains the same?

The ‘same-same’

  • The reason you got into teaching! Now, more than ever, our students need as much consistency as possible. You are that consistency.

  • The fundamentals: sharing objectives; engaging starter activities; checks for learning; assessment. They are all still there and aren’t going anywhere.

  • YOU are the most valuable resource there is! There is no better value a student will get from their education than being in the room at the time of the session for the learning that’s on offer. Don’t expect that online resources uploaded – without any delivery (whether face to face or online) will replace this.

  • Relationships. Although the general chit chat and classic conversation diversions that occur in class are stagnated in an online environment – they are as important as ever.

What’s different?

The how. It’s the only thing that differs. It seems so simple. ‘How’ do I still follow my lesson plan? ‘How’ do I do groupwork? ‘How’ can we do peer assessment? ‘How’ do I show them what I want to show them? Take a look at a few practical tips to help you out.

- Assessment: use the technology to your benefit. Have students upload screenshots or files into online platforms, so that it’s all in one place. Using Microsoft Teams to set assignments means that not only is there one place all the work is kept, you can also create a rubric that can be used over and over again. Your rubric could include a specific question criterion; or a selection of statements for what has gone well / what could be improved. Once the rubric is created (a ten-minute job) you can then offer feedback to individuals by simply selecting the relevant statement. If you have several classes, this can be reused as many times as you’d like. #timesaver #gamechanger

  • Resources: amend them to suit a remote learning environment. Are your power points text heavy? Change them. Mobile phone users struggle to see anything below text size 24. Using this rule, if it does not fit – don’t use it or find another way of presenting. Worksheets - can they be typed on? If not then take its content and put it onto a word document with the functionality to type, and those who would put pen to paper can still do so. Your planned resources for the term ahead will most likely need amending in some way, but they would have anyway. Top tip - use an ‘info’ and ‘task’ icon that you can add. The ‘task’ icon makes it clear there is something for them to do.

  • Maintaining / building relationships: create alternative opportunities to build / maintain relationships using giphys or emojis (with a warning attached about appropriate content). They are a great way to gauge how people are feeling. Spend the last ten minutes of a session doing a pop quiz. Ask them about new releases on Netflix. They can pop their responses into the chat facility.

  • Group work: use the breakout room features now on Zoom / Teams or identify groupings and have them create their own call. Even with clear expectations, students may spend a minute or two chatting off task, but they will soon get down to business knowing the clock is ticking and that you can drop by at any time!

We are all NQT’s again and I’ve found myself and colleagues chatting about our sessions with the same excitement and sometimes disastrous outcomes as when we were training. Is it easy as it sounds? Not at all. Is there a lot to learn quickly? Most definitely! When it all feels overwhelming and your brain is clouded with what there is to do – just remember; it’s same - same, but different.

Suzanne Coulson is a TLA Coach and English teacher and tweets @TLA_SuzyC


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