Lessons from Teaching Literacy Students Online during a Pandemic


by Donna Clarke
Literacy Centre of Expertise Lead

We are not simply teaching distance LINC or making the choice to transition to online language instruction: we are using an online platform to best support our students, because we cannot access the classroom.

This uncharted territory creates yet another barrier for our learners, especially those in the lower levels.
I confess that I thought it was impossible, but I was wrong!

The learning curve, however, was steep and many lessons have been learned over the past eight weeks.

  1. Community is essential for all of us. The students were grateful to be checked in on and to have someone answer their questions. The anxiety was palpable but being able to count on their teacher and classmates comforted students.

  2. Online teaching almost doubles prep and learning time. In literacy classes it is critical to scaffold, spiral and review. Given that we are working on an entirely new platform, we must teach in even smaller chunks to avoid cognitive overload. Simultaneously, finding new and interesting ways to present material that resonates with the students takes time. A lot of time!

  3. Students want to be benchmarked. While the joy of learning can be the reward in itself, reality dictates that our students move through the levels so they can apply for citizenship and secure employment. They want the hours and assessments necessary to move to the next level.

  4. Literacy students are resilient, hardworking and grateful. I have always been impressed with my students and their strength and ability to adapt to Canadian society, but these qualities have surpassed my wildest expectations. They are attending class, putting in full efforts and learning new English skills every day – all in the middle of a pandemic. Bravo!

One thought on “Lessons from Teaching Literacy Students Online during a Pandemic

  1. Thanks, Donna. It is so important, as. you pointed out, to remember that we are not just teaching an online class. This was an abrupt move to online learning and all of us are trying to make it work. It is tough stuff. Like you, I also see that the students are motivated and trying their best to figure it out. Each day I am pleasantly surprised at how hard they work and how happy they seem to be in class. Thank you for your blog.

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