“Zooming in from the Corridor.” Teaching ESOL Remotely

My name is Esme and I teach ESOL (English Speakers of Other Languages) in the centre. During the course of the pandemic I have been teaching students remotely. This year I have students from Romania and Somalia and last year I had students from Syria, Mauritius, Romania and Somalia. Some of my students have never been to school at all and in many ways you are starting from no background or experience of education at all. Our students are from a range of countries and also a range of time that they have been in Ireland. Some students have been here for 3 months, some for over ten years. They all have basic literacy levels but language can vary from being able to say not much more than ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’ to being pretty confident in the language, living and working here and doing day to day things using English.

For remote teaching I’ve used WhatsApp video calls and Zoom. Most of the students have or can use WhatsApp on their phones so it’s easy to set up. For one to one classes it is particularly helpful. However, the disadvantage is not having an easy way of being able to share pictures or words so I much prefer Zoom. It is more interactive. It is great if a student has access to a laptop with a bigger screen than a phone. This way they can see my gestures and facial expressions and there is a feeling of it being more natural and for getting a group dynamic together.

It was much easier to go on Zoom when the class had already been formed together face to face. I have recently started some new classes on Zoom and although it has taken longer we have managed to get a nice group dynamic going, one where we are all relaxed and working well.

Remote learning has been great for some students who have childcare and health issues as coming into the centre is difficult. For some being able to be in their own home has been good; they have been able to concentrate better than in the classroom, without any hang ups they may have with the other students has been a good thing. For others it has been hard.

There have definitely been some challenges along the way. I’ve had a student Zooming in from a bathroom, one student from a corridor because it was the only suitable place in the building where they lived.

I’ve had students with children and grandchildren in the background especially when we were all on lockdown. At times my own children have come in and have asked for more TV and more chocolate biscuits and I’ve had to say yes when I was teaching! I think the key is once we are all kind to each other, patient and tolerant. We were all doing our best to find a quiet place and to remember to be tolerant when it is not feasible.

Face to face teaching is definitely preferable especially if we can be without masks or any social distancing. Teaching ESOL learners involves using our whole bodies. The students are watching each other’s body language to understand. For example, if we were talking about colours you would say ‘Show me the green, show me the red’ when we do a lot of work on recognising. I might have pictures of food around the room and say ‘go to the one you like’ and they might stop at the coffee or the chocolate cake so there is a lot of moving around, touching and feeling. If we ware talking about medicines we bring in real boxes of medicine, plasters, tablets, real things, tangible things, so people can touch and feel, and point and gesture. Just how anybody trying to communicate with someone in a different language uses everything they have.

This was difficult to do remotely but as tutors we have learned a lot this year about how we can replicate the living and breathing classroom. It is difficult where Zoom is just visual and static and only using our voices. It isn’t the same and we would much rather be back in the classroom. Thankfully this now looks like a reality.

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