Many Hong Kong parents have shown concerns regarding the effectiveness of online learning, especially for young learners with a short attention span. In a survey conducted by the Education University of Hong Kong’s Department of Early Childhood Education in February 2020, nearly 70 percent of local kindergarten parents admitted that their children had trouble learning at home, among which over 70 percent attributed it to their children lacking the concentration or learning interest required to learn at home.
The same research also revealed most (pre-recorded) online classes during school suspension is a one-way learning process, with kindergarten parents feeling dissatisfied about the lack of diversity in learning activities. Despite the many challenges facing educators, parents, and students in the city, Qurio Education believes online learning, when done right, can be as engaging and rewarding as an in-person class. Earlier, we spoke to our award-winning, tech-savvy English teacher Mr. Mike Corliss, who shared with us the strategies he adapts to keep his kindergartners listening, talking, and learning in online classrooms.
EMPOWERING CHILDREN BY RESPECTING THEIR AUTONOMY
“We provide children with a chance to speak [their minds], listen, and collaborate in online classes,” said Corliss. “By giving children the autonomy to express themselves freely, we encourage them to authentically communicate and think outside the box.” When young learners are motivated to speak out and interact in class, they become the agent who chooses to use words they have learnt, he added. The learning experience and application of knowledge then become more natural, meaningful, and memorable – as opposed to forced answers and mindless recital.
Sometimes, young learners might get a bit carried away and talk about things that are not relevant to the immediate topic. While some teachers would focus on bringing these children back into line, Corliss thinks it is important to observe what children are passionate to talk about – and to create teachable moments – before steering the class back on track. This is the key secret to ensuring that online classes are as student-centred as in-person classes.
SHAPING INTERRUPTIONS INTO TEACHABLE MOMENTS
“When a distracted child is attempting to show other students a toy in his hand, we bring that into the lesson and make it a teachable moment. We might ‘spotlight’ the [child’s video] and ask them a challenging question about the toy, then have them respond in full sentences,” he said. Alternatively, teachers can invite the class to describe what they see in full sentences, or connect the discussion to the target phrases/tenses of the day. “When something goes wrong, you seize that to teach. This makes [online] learning more natural, more like real life – [where] we learn from mistakes,” he said.
Taking a little detour from the lesson topic might seem counterproductive, but acknowledging children’s voices is an act of validation, which is extremely important in child-centred learning and building young learners’ confidence in English speaking, Corliss remarked. “It’s the coach’s job to do their best to build trust, bring up a child’s interest in learning, and set fun, attainable goals for them.” “We listen to the young learners’ words, observe their responses closely, and design or modify lessons based on what might pique their interest to help them stay curious and foster creativity,” he added, “because learning is a dance between two minds. It’s not a one-way street.”
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1. The Education University of Hong Kong. (2020, March 3). Survey: Nearly 70% of Parents Find Their Children Have Difficulty Learning at Home. https://www.eduhk.hk/en/press-releases/survey-nearly-70-of-parents-find-their-children-have-difficulty-learning-at-home