The phrase is on the tip of everyone’s tongue - the new normal - it’s coming, but what does it mean? In order to define where we will be in education as we come to the middle of the strangest year of most of our lives, we need to take a step back and consolidate what we have learnt from this unprecedented few months. What's coming next will be different, but we can adapt to it, and may even make what we do better...
1) Education has to change, whether we like it or not
With schools starting to reopen, whether you agree with the timing, methods and processes which have been put in place, one thing is certain: education will look different as we move into the next phase of this ‘new normal’. The need for smaller class sizes, more careful movement and interaction will make new forms of teaching and learning necessary. This is not a bad thing in many respects.
The new normal classroom may well look more like a traditional setup, with individual desks and space between students, making groupwork as we know it more difficult, and preventing free movement around the classroom. However, teachers are (or should be) resourceful and adaptive to change, so perhaps we can take this new environment for what it is, and work with it for the benefit of our learners.
2) Distance can benefit language
In terms of language learning, this could actually work to our benefit. Smaller class sizes allow for more interaction between the members of the group, and more time for teachers to spend with individual students. In addition, the distance between learners means that they will need to be clearer with their language, speaking out more confidently to be heard and relying less on close-up non-linguistic cues such as pointing, gesturing and showing rather than speaking. More space between students means more outward communication to get the message across - could this be something we could harness in our teaching?
When teaching spoken confidence and paralinguistic features of communication to Chinese students (an area which is often a struggle for cultural reasons), I use distance to force my learners to magnify their message. Using bigger gestures, clearer facial cues and more voice projection all increase confidence with language, and encourage assertiveness in communication. Can this be worked into a curriculum delivered in the new normal environment?
3) Blended learning is here to stay
Reduced class sizes means more pressure on a school’s timetable, so the reality of what comes next for most students (at least those in urban / developed environments) is that an amount of blended learning will be necessary. The reduction in face-to-face groupwork has no effect on groups working together in online environments, so building in pre- and post-lesson work online will become a necessary supplement to what happens in the classroom.
The flipped classroom is an ideal solution to this. With some methodology and application of appropriate processes, pre-class work done online can be a great resource for creativity, gathering of ideas, preparation of presentations and other groundwork to inform the consolidation and discussion which can happen in the following physical classroom work. Flipped learning (if designed and delivered effectively) can develop a range of transferable, 21st century skills such as teamwork, organisation of content, time management, leadership skills, independent study and application of these skills to specific projects or tasks. This kind of work will be difficult to achieve in the distanced environment of new normal classrooms, so should be taken full advantage of at the appropriate time, and in the context of the work being done across the broader curriculum.
4) Textbooks will be a thing of the past
Love them or hate them, paper textbooks have been the mainstay of most teachers’ (and therefore most students’) study for years. However, often these are designed using a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach, where every student is expected to learn the same thing at the same time, and in the same order. Often, this is simply not realistic. In a room of 30 kids, who knows which students are having a good day, are ready to talk about the chapter topic, or have remembered the grammar from three lessons ago?
More digital resources will have to be part of teaching and learning as we move forward. This does not mean that students will have to lose their all-important paper-and-pen skills, but that the number of physical resources being passed around the room will have to be reduced. This opens up an emerging trend in resource design and delivery, and combined with flipped / blended learning, can tie together the work done in and out of the classroom through online sharing. This in turn reflects the kinds of activity that our learners will face in the world of work that they enter as they grow, so can only be a valuable tool to harness those transferable skills even more.
5) Assessment methods will look different
Large rooms full of test-takers sitting in place for long periods of time may well not be such a big part of assessment in the future. The stress of exams, coupled with the increased exposure to others combine to form a risky environment to be in (not least for invigilators). The logical solution is to take a more continuous, holistic approach to assessment, grading students on the skills and competencies that they demonstrate throughout the year rather than the answers they give on the day of the exam.
The movement away from mass education in classrooms full of people will make continuous assessment more reliable, as smaller groups give individuals more time to speak out, and give the teacher the opportunity to assess individual performance more thoroughly from day to day. Projects, presentations, online events such as webinars or podcasts can be assessed for language, preparedness and content, perhaps showing a truer picture of student performance than a single day crammed with exams on different subjects.
Overall, the picture building here will involve some change, and we will all have to adapt to the new ways of doing things, but these changes can provide us with opportunities to build a different set of skills in our students, perhaps to reflect the requirements of the world they are growing into more accurately, and benefiting them in the long run. Food for thought…
Tom Garside is Director of Teacher Training for Language Point Teacher Education, a training provider which is validated to deliver the internationally recognised Trinity CertTESOL in blended and online modes of study, and the new Level 6 Trinity College Certificate for Practising Teachers, a contextually-informed teacher development qualification for online and classroom language educators with a language proficiency of CEFR B2 and above. The next 5-week course starts on the 13th July, and the next 10-week course starts on the 20th July. If you are interested to know more about this new qualification, or you want take your teaching to a new level with our other teacher education courses, contact us or visit our course pages for details.