This pandemic has prompted the education sector to develop online learning, appreciate its advantages and deal with the disadvantages. One of its main advantages, of course, is the ability to study from the comfort of one’s own home; the main disadvantage is that it is difficult to retain the child’s attention during the lesson. This post-pandemic boom of online courses, including English courses for children, is a little confusing for parents. They are asking themselves: first of all, how do I choose a school that would be the best fit for my child, and second of all, will it be effective and not just entertaining?
Types of online lessons
Those who had to transfer their kids to online learning may have come to the conclusion that this method is not a good fit for all students. Perhaps it can work for high school students, but definitely not for the lower grades. It’s more like torture, not education. And everything that happened during 2020 was exactly that, torture, Everything happened so suddenly, and the teachers had to make do somehow, each in their own way. However, the teachers of extra-curricular classes adapted much faster and some of the classes even stuck to the online format, since it proved so useful during the pandemic. First of all, this includes language classes.
So what should effective online language classes look like?
Item 1. Attractive appearance
If online classes are offering children black and white scanned copies of textbooks or PowerPoint presentation slides with small hard-to-read black and white font all over, then it is not surprising if after 5 minutes the child loses interest and their attention is focused on anything but what the teacher says.
High-quality online lessons are a skilful combination of techniques taken from offline learning with the vast array of information and computer resources, authentic video and other materials drawn from the original English websites, in order to make the English lessons attractive, lively, interactive and effective.
Item 2. Retaining attention
Obviously, using technology means the students’ attention can be retained with the help of various programs with a large selection of video and sound effects, such as Word Wall, which can help build vocabulary, improve grammar, and organise learning to read and speak.
But not everyone can skillfully incorporate techniques drawn from offline learning into their online lessons. Some teachers, when switching to the online format, completely ignore the know-how that they have successfully accumulated and implemented in the classroom, and that is quite a shame.
· Firstly, the frequent use of video, audio and other special effects in the classroom tires children. This explains why there are certain age restriction recommendations for kids watching cartoons.
· Secondly, attention is retained much longer if you switch from one task to another: watching a video, working with the mouse, moving around, listening, discussing… objects in teacher’s hands, practicing with Word Wall.
· Thirdly, using objects from the real world during online classes can pique children’s interest even more than animated pictures. Children absolutely love to show teachers their pets, their favourite toys, drawings, crafts, books and so on!
Item 3. Gamification
Learning through play might as well be the motto of 21st century education. And when if not during online learning is it most convenient to resort to education through games? Overcoming obstacles, passing various stages and levels, completing quests, quizzes, getting prizes… The teacher holds all the cards. And if the school has its own educational platform with the interactive online classes, then, without a doubt, children will look forward to English lessons.
Item 4. The teacher
At the end of the day, the success of both online and offline learning and the effectiveness of the lessons entirely depend on the teacher. It’s the teacher who is responsible for the student’s progress, motivation and interest in the lessons and in the language being studied. Choosing the right approach for each student is a science on its own! And when it comes to online learning, it is a true art form.
An online teacher must be able to feel the changes in a child’s mood through the screen and respond to them with lightning speed. This requires not only a high level of professional pedagogical competence, i.e., possessing the necessary knowledge and skills about the student, but also a high level of empathy and established emotional intelligence.
If the teacher does not notice and respond to the child’s negative reaction to the proposed tasks, if the child is clearly bored, and the teacher does not change anything, then the lessons won’t be good or effective.
Item 5. Interaction
Positive emotional contact between a teacher and a student during online learning is key, but what’s even more important is to interact in the target language. At least 2/3 of the entire lesson should be conducted in English. Moreover, the teacher should not be the only one who is speaking.
Effectively teaching a foreign language is reliant on communication in the target language from the very beginning of the first lesson. The teacher and student should be greeting each other in English, repeating the learned material from the previous lessons, introducing new material, and consolidating it all in English. This should be conducted in the natural course of the dialogue, which will help the child to learn how to speak in the target language.
The items listed above can help organize an effective interaction between the student and the teacher during an online lesson. Attractive visuals and content, games, awareness of the mood changes and attentiveness to the student can help maintain a conversation during the online lesson.
If the student is silent during most of the online lesson, it is worth thinking about revising the chosen approach.
Our school of choice for online English lessons for 4-12-year-olds is Novakid. Classes last 25-30 minutes, and this particular duration was not chosen by chance. Research in the field of online education has shown that this period of time is enough for a child to be active and productive. Native teachers speak only in English. The extensive use of non-verbal means helps create a meaningful interaction with each child. There is a special interactive room designed for online classes, which allows lessons to be conducted with children using the latest innovations in the field of ICT and edutainment, i.e., learning through entertain