A jump into the digital deep end – a chance?

“Extraordinary times require extraordinary action”. Just like Christina Lagarde describes the economic difficulties ahead of us, the challenges to cope with the situation in terms of e-learning for German schools in the next weeks and months are similar. It seems unlikely to assume that schools will be running on a regular basis throughout Germany in a few weeks of time. Which means teachers have to search for possibilities to teach in “digital learning” spaces. If we make use the opportunities provided by existing web services, video-sharing platforms and if we rediscover phone calls as a means of communication, remote learning can be successful.

My class

The group which I taught digitally is a 6th grade English class of a “Gymnasium” in Leverkusen, Germany. The class was taught for five lessons during the first week of school closure in Germany. The course book used is named “Green Line 2” published by Klett. Before the restrictions came the students had never worked in a digital classroom before. 

Google Classroom: practicality

Google Classroom is a free web service which enables teachers to distribute assignments in a paperless way to students. When doing so the teacher can communicate with the students via a chat function called class stream. The most important point for me to use Google Classroom were its practical qualities. My school and a majority of schools in North-Rhine-Westfalia, Germany are not connected to any kind of learning platforms. It seems to be a big plus that the platform provided by Google can be used easily for both teachers and students. Thus, it is easy to upload and use materials and the web service is running without technical constraints. Likewise, it seems fairly easy to communicate with students by using its chat function during the lesson. It enables teachers to stay in touch and clearly control the chat content, too.

Data protection

Data protection has been an important and relevant issue brought forward by critics in the past years. This being so, the most important argument for using google Google Classroom remains to be the ready-to-go structure. Time pressure is a reality now and issues in data protection can at least partly be solved by the individual teacher, e.g. by not using the function gradebook

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A sample page of the learning platform

Everyone is in

By receiving a code and signing up for a google account students become part of the digital classroom. It came as a surprise to see how fast it was possible for students to join the platform. Within two days over 90% of the class signed in and within five days (Wednesday, 18th March) all students joined the classroom. 

Fixed days and times for a daily learning routine

It seems of great importance to provide a certain level of a daily learning routine for students and families. In order to provide a certain level of a fixed framework I decided to keep the scheduled times for the English class. 

On-call roster for the teacher

Der Lehrer ist während der gewohnten Unterrichtszeit sowohl über den Chat-Verlauf im classroom  als auch per Telefon für die Lernenden zu erreichen. Diese nutzten die Möglichkeit im Verlauf der Woche zunehmend. Es ist nach meiner Auffassung nicht ratsam, die Schüler/innen mit den Aufgaben für Wochen alleine zu lassen; dies führt bei ihnen schnell zu einer maßlosen Überforderung. 

Presentation of assignments and the course book as a key

During the first week one of the main teaching objectives was to learn how to conduct an interview in English. While the students found out about interviews they were introduced to the differences between simple past and present perfect. In Green Line, Unit 4 the guiding topic is “Sport is good for you”. At the beginning of each lesson students open a file which summarizes all of the assignments in a powerpoint presentation or a pdf. The document is available in the folder classwork for the stundents. The package of assignments also includes the solutions and serves as a sign-posting device in the digital lesson. It seems to be of particular importance that the material provides visuals and clearly written-out directions to avoid misunderstandings. One idea I introduced to guide my students is a “watchdog” which asks the students whether all assignments have been completed before they look at the solutions. Furthermore, I identified the coursebook as another key for a successful completion of each lesson. All students are used to the exercises in the coursebook which means that assignments can be completed with a certain sense of security. 

The watchdog slides
The telephone buddy

Each week all students are connected to a classmate on the phone – a telephone buddy. It makes sense to assign the classmate and not to let students choose in order to mix different abilities. To show an example from last week, students prepared an assignment by writing down questions they would ask a fictional rugby player called Nick Ashton. After completing the preparatory assignment students called their telephone buddy. Once connected one is Nick and one the reporter. After one lap roles are changed. 

Differentiated instruction

Just like in a usual classroom a teacher has to respond to a variance among learners in the EFL classroom. Working in the digital classroom shows enormous potential providing for all. In one of the assignments at the end of the week students were asked to create a poster to attract students so they join a sport club. Students could choose between a handmade poster or try out an App called AdobeSpark. The App enables students to design visuals. One of the functions lets students create posters too. 

Youtube Videos

As mentioned above it is possible to stay in touch with each other by using the chat function or by phone. However, each teacher should find their own way of addressing the whole class. A great advantage of posting videos is that these are available 24/7. Especially in the Corona crisis this is of particular importance as some families might be short on electronic devices.

This video explains the use of AdobeSpark.

Videos can be used to give instructions, explain grammar or cultural phenomena as well as giving introductions or summaries. This is why I decided to make use of videos or a recording of the screen. Underneath you find the links to two videos. One explains the use of AdobeSpark. Another video gives students an introduction to a task which aims to teach student how to write reports

This sample video gives students an introduction to a task which aims to teach student how to write reports

(Preliminary) conclusion

After a week of work in the digital classroom I have discovered a lot of potential in using the ready-to-use systems provided by google during this crisis. A user friendly surface makes it possible to concentrate on creating good digital lessons which is enough of a challenge for all teachers.

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Copyright © 2018 Wolfgang Hallet