Author and Hunter College professor Laura Baecher reflects on the benefits of recorded distance teaching videos for ESL students in her conversation with Edthena CEO Adam Geller. Here is part 5 their PLTogether Lounge Talk conversation.

Here is a transcript of their conversation.

– Welcome to PLtogether Lounge Talks. I’m Adam Geller, founder and CEO of Edthena the video coaching platform. Today, we’re talking with Laura Becker. She is an associate professor at Hunter College, who is the author of her book about video for teacher learning called “Video In Teacher Learning.” But she’s also a researcher about ESL and being a teacher for ESL students. Laura, thanks so much for continuing the conversation.

– Thank you.

– So first for those that may not be familiar with what ESL is, what does that mean? What is the program’s TESOL? What does that acronym mean?

– Alright. Well, TESOL stands for Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, because of course, we all know we have many, many English language learners in the United States, and they’re not always learning English as a second language. So English could be their third or fourth language. So those of us who work in teacher education and teacher preparation, we call ourselves TESOL. So we are working with those who teach English to those immigrant or US born speakers of other languages or multilingual learners.

– And for those listening to my introduction here, when I was kind of stumbling, it’s because in my head as a former classroom teacher, you know, who was drilled in ESL, it was English as a second language and so you know, I like that inclusive idea that, you know, maybe it’s your third language, maybe it’s your fourth language. Well, imagine I’m an ESL teacher coming to you, kind of trying to get my bearings for this upcoming year. Things have changed a lot. Where should I start? How should I be reframing my role as an ESL teacher?

– Well, that’s a challenging question. I mean, ESL teachers teach in a lot of different context. So they work from pre-K up through high school. In some situations, they’re self-contained teachers and meaning they have their own groups of English learners and they might be teaching English, math, history through the content areas. But in a lot of cases, in a lot of parts of the US, ESL teachers are co-teachers, they’re support teachers working alongside content or classroom teachers to ensure that the English learners in the classroom get access to the grade-level curriculum and also develop English language skills along the same time that they’re learning content. And so a couple of the ways that I think they’re needing to work more intensively now in the online space is really around those two roles. One is that creating access, the other one is the English language development sort of aside of what they do. So in terms of access to content, ESL teachers already were using a lot of tools. So tools that for example, might be translation tools or ways to access materials at lower Lexile levels while still retaining the same content, using a lot of images, modifying materials so they’re more readable. And that’s something that they’re still doing, of course, in an online environment. And one of the things that has been a challenge for ESL teachers is to get those materials from the classroom teacher and enough time to actually do something like prepare or alter or modify. So what’s interesting about, let’s say Google classroom or Schoology or any of the platforms is that as the content teacher, let’s say it’s, you know, the English language arts teacher, they’re teaching Romeo and Juliet. They’re probably posting activities, assignments, readings, videos up on the classroom site in a way that’s more accessible to the ESL teacher than was before distance learning. So now they can go in and what a lot of specialists in Google classroom, you know, you can assign everyone in the class the same assignment, or you can selectively assign and the students won’t know which one they’re getting, which version. So an ESL teacher could support the classroom teacher in the asynchronous times by creating modified materials, et cetera, assignments and then the classroom teacher can and the ESL teacher can both be teachers on the online classroom and assign and give feedback as they move through those weeks. And then on the other side, the English language development side can work very well too with the synchronous class spaces. So if, for example, the English teacher is presenting something on some of the characterization in Romeo and Juliet, and then sends students to do breakout rooms, the ESL teacher could work with ESL students in a breakout room and do some of those co-teaching techniques like reteach or add in more materials or check for understanding, or students could have more of that safe space in a breakout room to practice their English with their ESL teacher. So those would be like a couple of examples of ways that in some manner could make the ESL teacher’s role more visible and easier for them to execute as they’re serving the students.

– It sounds like also there’s an interesting opportunity with the use of some of these platforms. You know, I know for example, inside the Google meet context, they’ll have automatic captioning, you know, live captioning of video. And so maybe there’s even an opportunity to use some of these features that we may have called accessibility features to drive that ESL teaching that the teacher’s trying to do.

– Yes, absolutely. I mean, that’s a great example. Is if I’m in a classroom lecturing about Romeo and Juliet, a lot of that language just goes over the head of the language learner. They’re just trying to kind of get the gist of what’s happening. And then the head goes down on the desk and we see that all the time, because if I can’t understand anything, how can I attend or engage? But if I am presenting that same information, even unmodified, but I use Google slides as I speak, and that has that automatic captioning of PowerPoint. Students just being able to see the captioning, that’s a great linguistic support, for that, all that oral language that they’re normally hearing in classrooms, which we don’t use when we teach face to face but it’s so easy to use if we’re teaching online.

– If I am an ESL teacher and, you know, maybe I am just remembering, you know, my own time in the classroom, there was a little bit of the kind of that that co-teacher can come over and in some ways whisper in the ear of the student, right? And truly use the language to help drive their learning. And so, you know, I’m curious, like as a teacher, who’s supporting English learners, should I be thinking about more opportunities for one on one interaction with the students to kind of create those moments, to speak with them and hear them speaking and really drive that language processing?

– Yeah, I think one of the main challenges for traditional classroom teaching for a teacher who’s not trained in ESL, but is very sensitive to the English learners in their room and wants to support them, is that a lot of times those students remain quiet throughout the lesson. Maybe the teacher feels, “oh, they’re in a silent period, “I shouldn’t challenge them, “I don’t want to embarrass them”, but what happens, it sort of perpetuates. And those students don’t have much voice in the classroom, but with the online spaces, it’s really much easier to create a breakout room where I’m with some students and my other students are working. Everyone’s gonna work for 10 minutes on this, we’re gonna come back, post it to the Google doc, I’m gonna see that you’re working there. The other students don’t know who you’re with. You know, I can drop into that breakout room and encourage my students to talk and it’s much safer if it’s just me and the student or a small group. And the other piece is the wait time, you know, we know I need more processing time to prepare my answer when I have to now process it in my second language. So obviously there’s tools like Flipgrid and others where students can practice what they want to say, delete it, say it again, delete it. And that becomes a language learning opportunity actually, as they rehearse and redo, whereas in a live classroom, I just give my answer and then it’s done and actually, I don’t usually get much feedback on my language, but if my teacher has a rubric that says, “I want to hear this about Romeo and Juliet content, “but I also want to hear this in terms of the language use “that you have.” Then the teacher can listen to those oral presentations, as let’s say, small video clips and give responses to them that they wouldn’t have probably gotten in the regular classroom.

– Yeah, I’m just thinking back to our prior conversations about the use of video for teacher learning. And maybe we should be really in this moment making the pitch that maybe if you’re still on the fence about whether you should capture your learning episodes for your professional development, you should capture them for your students’ learning because, in the same way, their teachers can rewind and review that lesson to improve their practice, students could rewind and review that lesson about Romeo and Juliet and have that additional processing time that you’re mentioning.

– Yeah, I mean, and I think a lot of us are concerned of course, about access and students who may or may not have the connectivity or the devices. So a lot of teachers who are doing synchronous online teaching are recording the sessions for the students who couldn’t make it or who don’t have the bandwidth and we’ll need to watch that as a video. So you’ve created two great outcomes because you could also rewatch it now for professional learning, you can share it with others, for a community of practice learning. You cannot use it with your coach, but you could also give it to your students who will want to either watch it for the first time or have a chance to rewind and rewatch.

– Alright, Well, before we conclude, I want to ask you an extra credit question.

– Okay.

– So the extra credit question is, you know, tell us about something that has changed in your routine or your process or your day to day because of the pandemic that you think is positive and you’re looking forward to continuing.

– I think one of the things that I’ve been doing is I’ve been watching webinars. You know, I’ve never been someone really to enjoy learning from a video. I kind of had this thing against prerecorded for some reason. And now I feel somehow I’m accessing more. And I think it’s perhaps it’s just the way our lives have shifted, our time has shifted or it’s a need to continue to feel connected and learning but I feel like, especially with like social media or I might see something posted, a webinar on that I make sure to go to those now. And I feel like I’m learning a lot every week. And even if it’s tool-based, you know, maybe something else you can do with Google classroom. You just feel like you’re joining in this larger community and I feel, I work obviously at a university, but you get so many ideas from outside your own institutions. and I feel that I don’t want to ever go back. I want to make sure that the professional learning I engage in, I’m accessing the whole world. And so I think that’s been a positive.

– Well, Laura, thank you so much for joining us on PLtogether. If you’re just catching this part of the conversation, make sure to head to PLtogether.org for the rest of our conversation, as well as interviews with other education experts. Laura, thank you so much for being part of PLtogether.

– Thank you so much, it was a pleasure.

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