One of the most important foundations for learning is that learners feel safe and have a sense of belonging. In remote teaching learners are not in the same classroom physically or perhaps not even in the same country so the distance created by the technology can have an impact on your classroom dynamics. Learners don’t automatically build the same relationship with each other that they might have developed in a face-to-face learning environment, so it is paramount that we help them connect in order to feel that they are part of their learning community.
1- Connect to you and their peers. Allow time at the start of your new classes for learners to get to know you and each other. You can use familiar GTKY (Get to Know You) activities, as most of them can easily be adapted to the online environment. Build up a rapport with your learners will allow them to feel connected to other learners in their learning community, they need this to feel safe which is a necessary requirement for learning. If you want to create optimal conditions for learning, get to know your learners’ interests, readiness, strengths, and lesser strengths as well as their learning preferences. Ensure that learners can keep connecting with each other during the course; ideally, provide some synchronous teaching on a platform where they can see each other and share ideas together in break out rooms. Helping learners to establish a good rapport with each other will help them feel more confident in sharing and enables them to enjoy their lessons more fully.
2- Connect to prior learning. One principle for effective learning and teaching is that learning is only meaningful when it is relatable, connected, to the learners’ prior knowledge. This is no different when teaching online; we still need to find out what learners already know about a language area, skill or topic before we start teaching them something new. Simply because it is impossible for the brain to link, let alone store, new learning if there are no neurons readily available to connect the new information to. We interpret and remember information by building connections in the brain to what we already know, so allow time to activate learners’ prior knowledge; gauge what they already know for example through short Think-Pair-Share discussions, quizzes, T/F activities, error correction tasks, anticipatory guides and exercises you might use later on in the lesson to practice the language item.
3- Connect to their life experiences: For some using technology is already connected to daily life and makes learning more authentic, for others it might well be the opposite. It is worth pointing out how tools you have selected for use in the classroom might be useable in daily life, for example Zoom, Slack and Vocaroo. But also when teaching online, think about how you can connect to their daily life to make these new tools more meaningful. Why not ask your teens to suggest some short youtube videos they want to watch on Zoom in class (whilst writing 5 questions for the lesson) or ask your young learners to use mini-whiteboards whilst drawing your instructions and showing their work to the camera? These activities are familiar to them which makes learners feel safe and enhances meaningfulness and authenticity of learning. It causes learners to feel more engaged and connected to not only the lesson, but also their online learning community.