How to Build Meaningful Learning Experiences While Tutoring Online: Tips from Online ESL Teachers

15 Nov 2021

By: Kris Jagasia

Tutoring is having its edtech moment. Whether the hundreds of millions raised by edtech platforms or the string of ongoing requests from districts for new interventions (the latest being Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and a $50m request-for-proposals to tutoring solutions to help students recover from the pandemic), tutoring is being touted as the answer to bridging the pandemic-induced equity gap in education.

We feel that to support English Language Learners (ELL) who have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic (growing roughly 30 percent slower than a year of typical student growth) tutoring needs to be built with careful strategies based on research-backed methods. Tutoring works best when research-backed frameworks and methods are placed into the hands of quality human teachers when well-designed technology meets the best of human teaching and is aligned with the efforts of local schools and districts.

For classroom teachers that need to pivot online, we know getting started can be daunting so we’ve asked our community of online English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers to offer some tips to their classroom counterparts.

Online ESL Tip #1: Build Smart

“I find it most effective to be flexible with my lessons. This means following a curriculum but incorporating relevant resources as the need arises.” –Claire Ellis, South Africa

Research shows that ” effective online learning results from instructional design and planning”. Designing unique materials or an entire curriculum is not feasible nor a good use of time for those starting out. When developing your skills as a tutor, do so in stages; find a starting point that suits you. You cannot predict the language proficiencies of your potential student. Instead, create a teaching infrastructure that allows you to support the needs of your students.

Online ESL Tip #2: Be Yourself, Be Human

“Building a relationship with a student is key. It allows for more meaningful conversations to arise as well as learning to happen more naturally.” –Craig Lockley, United Kingdom

When a teacher remains professional but authentic they are able to forge a genuine connection with students, particularly important for online ESL teachers as class sizes are smaller, often consisting of a single teacher and student. When a student feels connected to their teacher, they are more likely to feel more comfortable exploring new concepts and of course, making mistakes. Enthusiasm is contagious!

Online ESL Tip #3: Set Standards

“You should create rules that guide student interactions. You also need to develop a protocol to overcome unexpected situations or. interruptions that arise from being online”. –Sarah Rose, Spain

In any student and teacher relationship, it is important to establish a set of standards that help guide the trajectory of a lesson. For example, in order to address student communication needs on a video conferencing platform, you need to train students to use it effectively and then utilize functions that benefit you and the standards you have in class. This might involve requiring students to have stable settings and regular internet access.

Tutoring works best when research-backed frameworks and methods are placed into the hands of quality human teachers, when well-designed technology meets the best of human teaching and is aligned with the efforts of local schools and districts.

Kris Jagasia

Online ESL Tip #4: Meet the Learner Where They Are

“Treat each student as an individual and so their learning should be personalized. Explain that the learning process is flexible, not linear; they might have to review concepts several times before retaining them.” –Peter Spraggs, United Kingdom

Online teachers often get stuck into the trap of a “one size fits all” approach, lumping learners into beginner, intermediate or advanced categories. Yet it is critical to understand the individual needs of each student you encounter. This can be deciphered through unique assessments that address different aspects of language learning. The outcomes of these assessments should guide a teacher in making a personalized learning plan for each student.

The most successful learning is done when a student feels valued, honored, and empowered.

Online ESL Tip #5: Invest in Yourself

“It’s so important that you invest in a good headset!” –Samantha Fouche, Namibia

“Buy yourself two books: ‘How languages are learned’ by Nina Spada et al., and ‘The Teacher’s Grammar of English’ by Ron Cowan. The former will help you develop strong teaching strategies while the latter provides an excellent understanding of grammar and the types of errors ESL students make while learning.” –James Heywood, co-founder Off2Class, Australia

As a tutor, you may think that the most important thing you need to invest in is your students. However, when you make an investment in yourself, it makes others want to invest in you! Make room for learning and individual growth.

Kris Jagasia is the co-founder and CEO of Off2Class, an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher toolkit that saves time and drives equitable English Learner outcomes. Off2Class is used as a curriculum, assessment, and professional development tool in ELL district teams across America, and thousands of individual ESL teachers use Off2Class as their education infrastructure, to tutor online and in-person, in over 120 countries. Kris has built many of the key teams within the business including teacher support and success, marketing and sales, and takes an active role in managing U.S. K-12 operations.

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