Volume 18 Digital Issue
Overcoming the challenges of flexible learning
with Mary Grace Espiel
The biggest lesson for a teacher like me is to always be flexible in doing our job as educators, because we also have to develop our students to become flexible individuals who can overcome similar challenges in the future.
— MARY GRACE ESPIEL
With flexible learning swiftly becoming the new normal in education, teachers are faced with the daunting task of overhauling the traditional class setup they have grown accustomed to and shifting instead to flexible teaching methods. But despite the challenges, education continues through the collective efforts of everyone in the education sector.
English teacher Mary Grace Ramos-Espiel was one of the millions of educators in the Philippines who had to learn how to implement flexible teaching and learning strategies in order to keep providing quality education to her learners. She is also a textbook author, writer, and has facilitated trainings on how teachers can effectively adapt to a flexible learning modality.
As an educator, what steps did you take to adapt to the changes in the education sector?
The first step I took was to be open about things. I had to be open and accept the fact that teaching and learning for this school year would be very different from what I am used to. As soon as that sunk in, I started to learn. I was a mainstay in trainings about blended learning and using technology for distance learning.
I knew I had to be flexible. I started with creating flexible learning options. I did this by teaching bite-sized information during synchronous classes and exploring varied learning resources that I can use in making my synchronous and asynchronous activities easy enough for my students to do and to learn from. I made instructional materials available offline.
I also had to adapt a flexible learning design. I always tapped on the students’ schema when introducing lessons and I promoted choice by giving them options on what performance task to do for a specific competency. I took it easy with the number of assessments to give. I designed assessments that were easier to monitor and measure. I came up with assessments that are easy enough and interesting for students. I also designed assessments that are integrated with other subjects.
What challenges did you encounter in your implementation of flexible learning and how did you overcome these challenges?
One challenge was the need to use more technology. I was able to overcome it by changing my mindset from being a face-to-face teacher to an online teacher. I made friends with different learning tools and resources online. I learned, relearned, and unlearned until I have mastered certain technology that I found very useful in remote teaching.
Another challenge is designing and checking assessments. There are now no standardized tests, so I had to think of other ways to check if my students have attained the needed competencies based on the Most Essential Learning Competencies (MELCs). Public schools have modules. However, because I want to better check my student’s progress, I designed a worksheet template. I designed it in such a way that there will be a motivation activity, a discussion of the competency, a performance task, and some reflection questions. This made it easier for me to teach my students asynchronously and to check their mastery.
IN THIS ISSUE
Learning is a social process. That is why the biggest challenge was the lack of social interaction. I felt disappointed that the classroom that I used to find hard to quiet down is now a classroom where I’d do anything to hear students talk. I made use of the chat box if my students are too shy to speak. I used online tools for our discussion to be interactive. I also encouraged them to speak not only by telling them to but also by making them feel that our class is a safe space for them to speak. We also have our iSpeak activity at every start of the synchronous class where I randomly call one student to talk about anything for two minutes.
What good practices for flexible learning have you learned over the past months?
I have learned a lot from months of implementing flexible learning. Here are a few important practices that I think would benefit fellow educators.
Give very clear instructions. This is both during synchronous classes and in asynchronous activities using worksheets. It saves you from having to answer repetitive queries.
Promote choice. Give the students options for performance tasks, for how to respond in synchronous classes, and for how they will communicate with you.
Give reasonable deadlines and inform the learners about them ahead of time. This allows us to direct the learners. If possible, coordinate with other teachers, so not all requirements will fall on the same deadline.
Give more time for asynchronous activities. This allows the learners to develop student agency – power and responsibility over their studies. It also teaches them to be independent learners.
Give formative assessments. Since there are little to no standardized tests, formative assessments can help students master certain competencies, like those under grammar.
Provide feedback. While grades are not the biggest takeaway in this new normal teaching, a teacher’s feedback will help ensure the learning of students.
Involve the parents. Since the students are learning from home, their parents have to be active partners in their education. Inform parents what their roles are, and remind them that this does not include doing the tasks for their children.
Add a personal touch. The pandemic is already difficult for the students to handle. I make sure I don’t add to their anxiety. I had to be more patient. I communicate with them regularly and check on them once in a while.
Are there lessons you learned from implementing flexible teaching and learning strategies that you think could be carried over even in traditional classroom models?
I think the value being given to performance tasks is again justified this new normal school year. We can continue this in the traditional classroom. Giving more formative assessments can also be used in a traditional classroom. More than giving a one-time-big-time pen-and-paper test, it’s a practice that can better help students master competencies. The flipped classroom model can also be continued in the traditional classroom models of the primary and secondary levels. Teachers can already assign texts or tasks for students to do asynchronously before a face-to-face discussion.
The biggest lesson for a teacher like me is to always be flexible in doing our job as educators, not just because we might lose our jobs and not only because the situation requires us to be, but primarily because we also have to develop our students to become flexible individuals who can overcome similar challenges in the future.
How should teachers approach flexible learning?
I think teachers should approach flexible learning or teaching with an open mind and a big heart—an open mind to let themselves willingly learn the ropes of new normal learning and teaching and a big heart to be considerate to the students and to adapt changes that need to be done for students to still learn despite the pandemic.