This is a guest blog by Dr. Clara Vaz Bauler is an associate professor of TESOL/Bilingual Education at Adelphi University, New York. Thanks to Clara for writing this and for the ideas shared here.
Typical, face-to-face learning environments offer advantages that online learning does not. The same can be said for online learning. This year, in the midst of the chaos of the pandemic and the rushed changes I had to make, I was pleasantly surprised by the many new opportunities my students and I had to communicate and share ideas. I could see all my students’ names and learn how to pronounce them by having students share on Flipgrid. This same video platform also allowed me and my students to share about ourselves without worrying about class time or period ending, as we could post videos and comments on our own pace. Above all, I could see and hear my students’ thinking in online discussions as ALL contributed their ideas.
As “Zoom classrooms” can be very frustrating with distracting noises, intrusion to privacy, and wifi interruptions, it is only natural that we blame the online medium for everything that went wrong in education during the pandemic. However, if we stop and ponder about what fundamentally constitutes the educational experience, especially the relationship between teachers and students, online spaces have much to offer. Online pedagogical practices have the potential to amplify student participation in ways that typical face-to-face environments cannot. So, it is imperative that we take this opportunity to engage in deep reflection about the possibilities technology can offer as we transition to physical buildings and face-to-face environments. Here are a few of my own reflections.
Multiple “Entry Points”
One of the main dilemmas I faced during remote learning was the use of cameras in my class. At first, I quickly condemned the online environment for my students’ apparent lack of participation. However, in digging deeper, I realized that the disruption of typical classroom practices aligned with the stressful conditions of the pandemic might have been a source of anxiety to my students. Instead of focusing on what my students could not do, I started rethinking how I was organizing my virtual synchronous meetings, paying close attention to alternative ways my students could actively engage. This reflection prompted me to reimagine what participation might look like given our difficult circumstances. I found out that helpful alternatives to cameras on included multiple “entry points” for participation based on choice and non-verbal modalities. I started experimenting with multimodal tools, using Jamboard to share emotions and brainstorm and Pear Deck to express ideas via drawing, labeling and polling.
Digital media also helped me foster and support self-expression by allowing students to post images, GIFs, memes, and videos on Padlet. Visuals are widely used for “comprehensible input” or for language receptive tasks. However, there is tremendous power in also using images, drawings and charts for language production. These symbolic tools afford students multiple possibilities to express meaning. Flexibility is key. Below is how we used Padlet to share a create a multimodal class glossary.
Equity and inclusion demand re-examination of our practices. It can be hard to teach with cameras off or to change the ways we organize spaces for education, but allowing multiple entry points to the lesson enabled ALL students to engage. In the face-to-face classroom, students should also have the option of “turning their cameras off.” As teachers, we can focus less on the (often) few students who raise their hands and more on providing a space for EVERYONE to share input, either via writing, drawing or choosing from the many languages students speak. Multilingual learners especially benefit from this rich multimodal environment as they are able to tap into both their linguistic and semiotic resources to engage with varied types of literacy. This flexibility helps in developing reading, writing and vocabulary (Ascenzi-Moreno, Güílamo, & Vogel, 2020). To me, making slides interactive, manipulating and actively using texts, images and symbols to communicate have become indispensable for fostering an equitable and inclusive environment.
A Room for Emotions
One of the most important things I lost in typical face-to-face teaching practices was the ability to connect and immediately attend to students’ feelings by just approaching students or saying hello. Although dramatically different from physical spaces, the virtual environment also became a place where my students and I could connect. In particular, Flipgrid was very helpful in providing a platform for community building. We shared weekly journals about ourselves, our languages, and our cultural practices. I also used Flipgrid to create a question corner where my students and I could drop videos about anything, from actual questions, to saying hello or provide comments on the topics for the week. When posting on Flipgrid, students could choose to keep cameras on or off. Below is one example of a weekly journal where we shared about our favorite idiomatic expressions.