The E-Class and how it will end your drama with students rescheduling and canceling classes

Para português clique aqui.

One of my biggest challenges as a private teacher is the amount of flexibility some students demand and/or often need from us. I have, in the past, had students who were so busy they hired me for 20 hours for a semester, but wound up rescheduling so many classes that by the end of their contract I had dedicated a good 40+ hours to them. Here's an example I came up with to show my student he wasn't entitled to post-contract make up classes, or repositions,  as we say in Brazil. In three months, I had dedicated 5 hours more than he'd pay me for just to sit around and wait for him because he was so busy and couldn't make it. Now multiple that by 30, the number of students I had then, and you can clearly see how my life revolved around other people's schedules:


He understood it and we carry on with our course this year, and I am happy to say he is being more committed now. This, however, left a bad taste in my mouth: I wish I'd taught him, but I couldn't afford to not get paid to reserve the slots again (I have bills, you know). 

So here's my thing and a lot of teachers': we don't want students to miss class. We love our job. We spend our time preparing what to do and want students to succeed. It's not productive from an educational point of view and, at least to me, it means getting paid without doing what I like the most. I want to earn a living teaching, not sitting around. Bearing that in mind, I came up with an excellent alternate solution, which I am now calling "The Substitutive Class"; feel free to rename it. 

What the heck is that? - you may ask.

It's a recorded version of your class, featuring you giving instructions and practical tasks for them to do independently. You can do that when your student tells you at the last minute they won't turn up, or when you don't have availability for offering extra slots on the specific times they want/need you to. 

I often create them during the time I should be teaching someone who’s absent, and share the content at the moment their class should be ending. My idea is to dedicate that slot to that specific student, regardless of it being in an alternate way. This has turned into a great opportunity for me to learn how to create video lessons, and has awarded really positive feedback from busy students:

Before I came up with the idea, they would ask me when/if I could book them another slot, as they'd had urgent last minute appointments, which I often couldn't, as I am so busy.  Now, they contact me asking for the Substitutive Class and I feel like it's a great achievement for me and a fair solution to schedule issues; they can take care of their personal problems and study when they are free, I can organize my schedule to help other students and have a personal life too. And what's best: I can use the tasks I create over and over again; so the more I work now, the less I will later.

Here's a couple of things I do:

1. Find a topic your student will enjoy studying alone and turn it into a problem for them to solve


It could be something related to the last class you've had together, or about a topic they enjoy. Think of something they would like to discuss and work on in real life. I have taught classes on Teleconferencing Etiquette, Having an Terrible Manager in Your Team, Comparing Universities, Choosing a Supplier... Each one of them reflected my students’ unique backgrounds: an IT specialist, an HR director, a university dean and a purchasing agent. 

Tip:  It is needless to say you have to get to know your student a little in order to come up with good ideas. 

2. Depending on how much time you have got, prepare 1, 2, or 3 different tasks

If your student lets you know they are  going to turn up late, you can spend the time you would be sitting around preparing the tasks; if they don't turn up at all you can create a task at the 10 last minutes of their class; if they let you know in advance, you can create well-designed personalized tasks. I make it a point in elaborating on it more when I have enough advance.

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Tip number one: Each separate task should have a separate file and these should be created on googledocuments. Why ? - You may ask. Well, because google docs are all the rage. You can easy access them from any computer again, if you make a mistake you can correct them later and they can be coedited online. And separate documents just because you don't want students doing task 2 before task 1. Remember you won't be there to control what they do and catch their attention.

(Want more ideas on how to use google docs in class? click here)

Tip number two: Your first task should be captivating. I usually like to start with a vocabulary task, or a simple quote to activate the student's schemata, or a question on a polemic topic.

Tip number three: Your last task should be practical and get your student to use the content from the other tasks more freely. I highly recommend the case studies from Market Leader and the Video Lessons on Travel English from New English File. Have them produce something of their own or give their opinion!

Tip number 4: listenings/ watching a short video works really well as one of your tasks (I often use them as task 2):

Task 1 = Vocabulary 

Task 2 = Listening

Task 3 = Contextualizing it to student's reality

3. Record yourselfon separate videos

Make videos of yourself providing clarification and instructions on what to do:

Tip number one: You can use whatever you want, but I personally really like and recommend Zoom Meetings - the platform I use in class - as you can record videos and share your screen. 

Tip number two: don't worry about recording yourself for an hour. Remember in a real class you don't talk for an hour (or at least, you shouldn't). If your student opens a 35-minute video, it's very likely they will find it too long to watch. Instead, record separate clarification/instruction videos.

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Tip number three: don't record all instructions in one go. Instead, record a separe video for each task, and give it the same name as the correspondent googledoc. On Zoom, you can do that by pressing stop recording every time you are finished.

I am still a rookie, so mine aren't perfect (yet), and I still sttuter and feel uncomfortable, but I am overcoming that. Here’s a snippet:


4: Create a short "Why, hello!" video and send to your student as a WhatsApp message

Tip number one: Keep it short: remember the purpose of this is getting your student interested in doing the task.

Tip number two: Explain in this video why this task is useful and relevant from the standpoint of communication. You should answer the questions your student is constantly asking in his/her head: 

"What am I going to do with this?"

"How can I use it in real life?"

Tip number 3: Don't forget to remind them every task features a video, and they should watch the videos before trying their hand at the task.

5. Consider what and how to share

Tip number one: Do not provide an answer key. If you do, they might just copy the answers. When having students correct emails, for instance, I will mention the kind of mistake they have made, but I do not say what change needs to be made. 

Tip number two: If you simply send everything on an email, it's likely they will not be able to find it again. This is a great opportunity for you and your student to try googleclassroom:

google classroom

(For ideas on how to personalize courses using Google classroom click here)

6. The follow-up

Tip number one: The most crucial thing is not revisiting that task in class unless they have worked on it. After all, if you do the task in class with them afterwards, then it is just a regular class, right?

Tip number 2: You may provide them with a feedback video on their answers, or discuss the answers in class. My students tend to want to have me check their answers with them in class, and I think it's absolutely ok, as that's what I would do if I had had a regular class.

I hope this really helps!



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