The Effectiveness of Online English Learning For Young Children
A lot can be said about the connections teachers make when coming face to face with their students for the first time. Eye contact and smiles are tools teachers should use to immediately create a welcoming environment. There is nothing better to put a nervous child at ease, especially when spoken words are not an option. Can these same tools be effective through a computer screen? Can a child, half a world away, learn from a stranger they can’t understand? Is it possible to convey warmth and a desire to teach through a screen? Is it possible to teach a language?
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Stacey S. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
Judging from the previous background
Six months ago, I probably would have said no to these questions. How is it possible? I have learned through my experience teaching online to children in China these past months, that it is possible. I’ve learned to appreciate the power of a welcoming smile. It’s the first tool an online teacher needs to pull. Not one from a bag of props under the desk. A smile, along with eye contact, conveys a feeling of interest. It puts the student at ease and tells them they’ve come to the right place. The stranger on their screen is not someone to fear, but someone who wants to see them there. That is an important fact to remember because they are not the only nervous ones.
Also Read: Why a Teacher Must Motivate Students
Challenges of the First Attempts
I was so nervous the first time I taught online that I focused only on my plan and what needed to be accomplished. I overlooked the most important part of the lesson, my student. I knew to greet her with a smile, but it wasn’t until reviewing the lesson video later that I paid attention to her face, to her emotion. She was in the “classroom” before I was due to enter. She had a concerned look on her face, but as soon as I appeared with a smile and a big “Hello,” her face relaxed and she smiled. She seemed ready. I didn’t notice her face that first time around, but I never forgot it afterward. Her reaction to my greeting is what I took with me to the nearly 500 classes I’ve taught since and all those to come. Never forget how the student feels and the ability we have to make them comfortable, even over the internet. This is the first step in getting children to learn English online.
Rapport in Online Teaching
As in a brick and mortar classroom, personal connections with children in an online classroom are not only necessary, they are possible. We can’t walk around. Our space is limited, but we can bond over pictures, movement, and song. We need to be creative because once the child is interested in us, learning becomes possible. Through engagement activities using photographs, flashcards of animals, instruments, family, landmarks, or anything that the student can relate to, the learning process begins. Children get so excited when seeing something they understand that they will listen to your words. Many of my students love cats. A connection is made when I point to a picture of a cat and I say “cat.” At that moment, they’ve learned the English word. It is then that we start to repeat and they begin to learn vocabulary.
Also Read: Storytelling in Early Childhood English Learning
The same process applies to teach letter recognition and sounds. Movement plays a fun role in teaching letters. Showing letter flashcards while saying the letter name is one thing, but showing the card and doing a pose with your arms and hands is much more fun. The student enjoys making a letter with their body and is more likely to remember its name than by just seeing a flashcard. Once they learn how the letter looks they can begin to write it. They can begin to learn the alphabet.
There are so many ways to engage children online. I had no idea it was possible before because I thought of the students as strangers, but that’s not the case at all. Just as in a regular classroom, true learning doesn’t begin until everyone is comfortable and receptive to it. Students need to trust their teacher and know it’s fine to make mistakes. We’re in this together. It doesn’t matter that these children are sitting in their homes thousands of miles away. The relationship that needs to be built is just the same as one next door or down the street. The amazing thing is, it’s possible.
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Online students have access to an English speaker all to themselves during their class time. A teacher who is focused on just them. Someone to not only teach them but to learn about them, their families, their interests. Someone who’ll listen to their stories or look at their drawings. These students can build a relationship in ways not possible with their everyday school teachers. Yes, it’s online, but we are teachers and our students are children just the same. It all starts with the smile that welcomes them to the classroom, followed by a connection to something they understand. Once those things are achieved, teaching English online to children is completely possible and very effective.
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