If I ever have to teach via Zoom again, what will I do differently?

The first thing that comes to mind here is the workspace. It may seem superficial and quite unimportant given the seriousness of the circumstances we found ourselves in, but to me, it was one of the crucial aspects. At the beginning of the whole lockdown situation, I delivered my classes from my office at school. Later on, we were obviously advised to stay at home. The latter scenario felt more comfortable at first (and definitely safer at that time), but it had a few drawbacks too – there was a fine line between work and my personal life (not that there was much of it). In other words, this situation invaded my and my family’s privacy and eventually ended up feeling incredibly confining. So, next time, if possible, I’d definitely like to stick to going to my office and delivering the lessons from there.

One of the most controversial and generally highly debated topics would probably be the use of web cameras (or rather the lack thereof). There were groups where it was not an issue at all. However, some students were hesitant or absolutely reluctant to turn on their cameras, which caused a bit of friction between us, especially in the beginning. But I finally surrendered (especially after some personal experience of reluctance on my part) and even though sometimes I was the only one visible on the screen, I didn’t mind. What would I do differently next time? Well, I’d probably try to set some clear rules regarding cameras right from the start.  

Now, I should say that there were some things that worked quite well, so I’d like to keep them up next time around. First and foremost, I’d definitely like to keep the flipped learning format. Let me explain what I mean here. Flipped learning was born out of general education long before Covid-19. The key principle is that the learners do the input part of the lesson at home, on their own. Flipped learning takes advantage of technology and lets learners use their own time and technology for lesson input. Class time is then used to do further exercises or controlled practice, to revise main ideas and key points and to work on a project in groups or as a whole class. In practice, this means that I wouldn’t teach 4 out of 4 lessons a week synchronously but 2 asynchronously and 1 or 2 synchronously, for example. In other words, my students would study the content on their own, through materials such as videos and texts I would create for them, and then we would go over the content together in a Zoom lesson. In some schools, the teachers had to deliver all the lessons synchronously. This must have been exhausting for all parties involved (the teachers, the students and the parents) as well as ineffective, in my opinion. The Ministry of Education advised against this layout anyway.

As far as asynchronous lessons are concerned, I think I went out of my way to create interesting and engaging materials. This was the part I enjoyed most. I learned a lot in the course of time and I believe my students truly appreciated my zeal. Still, I realize one needs to be really careful and not overdo it. Too much of a good thing may sometimes be overwhelming. Balance is important here. For instance, escape games may be fun if you include them occasionally but a bit of drill has its place in an online lesson too. Anyway, another tip I’d like to share with my future self is to prepare all the materials in advance (which I basically did) so that I can publish them right in the morning. This brings me to the next point…

The Zoom (synchronous) lessons always had to overlap with the actual timetable, which, in my opinion, was a sensible requirement from the administrators. However, the asynchronous lessons could literally span over the course of the whole day (or longer). It means that I published homework at 8:00 am and the submission deadline was 8:00 am the following day before the next English lesson. If the next lesson was two days later, the students actually had 48 hours to complete the task. This is how I liked to do it. Some students did the assignment as soon as they could while others did it at the last minute. This was not a big deal once they did submit the homework on time. Nevertheless, it made things complicated for me; in the attempt to make sure that each and every student received immediate feedback, I ended up peeking at the submission table all day long. My bad. You get what you ask for. Anyway, next time, I guess it would be wiser to set a strict time limit and get students to do the assignments within the frame of the actual lesson, e.g. from 8:45-9:30. I’m aware that it would be quite restrictive for some (the night owls would not be over the moon) but it may prevent procrastination and make things easier for the teacher. However, all teachers would have to make sure that their assignments don’t take longer than 45 minutes (the length of a typical lesson in the Czech Republic). This might actually prove quite tricky.

Well, if this generally dreaded scenario is ever to materialize again, I would like to be well prepared – mentally as well as physically. That’s why I’ve drafted this post anyway. 🙂

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Hana Tichá

I'm an EFL teacher based in the Czech Republic. I've been teaching English to learners of all ages and levels for almost 30 years. You can find out more about me and my passion for teaching here on my blog.

6 thoughts on “If I ever have to teach via Zoom again, what will I do differently?”

  1. Hi Hana,

    It feels like it’s been ages since I left a comment on your blog! Well, it’s probably true. 🙂 The last 18 months have been trying for all of us, in more ways than one.

    I loved reading this post and nodded in agreement many times. Yes, the flipped classroom – totally agree that there should ideally be a blend of individual, asynch work and synchronous sessions. I remember listening to a podcast last year in which the teacher said their institution imposed the requirement of teaching a single group for 4 hours!! synchronously and I thought that it was simply awful that this should be a requirement. I had to teach a group for four hours in a F2F setting for a year (or two, I can’t remember now) and it wasn’t a good solution. The students had trouble concentrating. It was okay for the first 90 minutes; then we’d have a break but instead of the usual 5-minute break, it would last for 15 minutes and eat into our second 90-minute session. The students would come back visibly unable to concentrate and basically nothing we tried would make this second session as good as the first one. We would inevitably end 10-15 minutes earlier, which meant that we would have a 60-minute session instead of a 90-minute one. And this was in the “perfect, nothing-ever-goes-wrong” F2F environment.

    The feedback – I just wanted to comment on this briefly. I completely understand the desire to give feedback to those who have worked hard as quickly as you can, but one of the biggest advantages of asynch (for the students) is the opportunity to do the work you’ve been set whenever it suits you. I am often “behind” on my feedback, but I wait for everyone to submit (or rather until the deadline) before I start marking. It’s good practice to give feedback within 48 hours, but often impossible if you’re doing all the marking yourself.

    Anyways, I understand that teachers teaching online in elementary and high school during the pandemic had to follow quite strict guidelines from their institutions/ministries with regard to the mode of delivery and hats off for managing to find a balance. I’m sure your students were very lucky to have you as their teacher in this trying time.

    And now I’m off to read your other posts – I see you’ve been going through another productive spell! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Vedrana. I’m happy to see another thought-provoking comment of yours here on my blog. Yes, It’s been ages since I blogged or commented on other blogs, too (but I’m proud that I’m slowly catching up). But who can blame us? We all had so much on our plates, right? Some time ago, Anna Loseva told me that she also had to teach 4 lessons synchronously each day (at least, maybe it was even more!). I remember thinking: “Oh, dear! That must be so exhausting for her and the students.” And now you’ve confirmed it; it is exhausting as well as ineffective to some extent. Well, hopefully, we won’t have another lockdown because I suspect our administrators would be stricter this time; they would want more synchronous lessons and there would be more formal observation, etc.
      Fingers crossed! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Now that you’ve said it, I think it may even have been Anna on that podcast! But I’m sure there were many teachers who ended up having to do most of their teaching synchronously because this mirrored their offline schedule and was thus easier to keep track of from an administrative perspective.

        Liked by 1 person

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