“The learning curve was steep… for me, it was figuring out what teaching methods worked virtually. For my kids, it was using their mouse to draw a somewhat recognizable circle on the lesson screen.”
By Madli Rohtla
When I taught my first class at VIPKID, it was like doing a new workout and realizing I had muscles I never knew existed. There I was: sitting in a colorful tech incubator, wearing headphones, and teaching a Chinese child on my screen how to sound out the letter B. Our students, naturally curious and unassuming as children should be, didn’t really think much of the fact that their teacher was now inside a computer. But the learning curve was steep for both parties. For me, it was figuring out what teaching methods worked virtually. For my kids, it was using their mouse to draw a somewhat recognizable circle on the lesson screen.
This new medium was exciting for our students. In one of my first classes, an adorable young student remained in the classroom long after I had logged off. He flipped through the lesson slides and called out “Teacher! Teacher!” in hopes that I would re-appear magically just like I did before. Another student spends half of the class time writing on the lesson screen (“look at my fine motor skills!”). Yet another enjoyed typing codes of letters and numbers into the chatbox as if generating names for a new generation of robots from Star Wars.
While the Internet creates unprecedented barriers, like being at the whim of fickle wifi, it also removes some barriers found in the traditional classroom. Initially, the team was concerned about the effectiveness of our program for timid children who do not speak as much. As it turned out, it was comforting for the more introverted children to learn in their home and away from the pressure of the classroom and competing classmates. One of my star students was a rather shy 5-year-old girl, who didn’t speak much and always sang with me. Once, as it happened to be a good day, I asked her if she liked monkeys. But since we had just talked about eating muffins, she thought I meant “do you like to eat monkeys?” Greatly amused, she replied with attitude, “I don’t like monkey!”—the grammatically correct way to discuss one’s culinary preferences. [Her mom eventually noticed that she would speak English outside of class. And not just words, but whole sentences! I know the saying goes that actions speak louder than words, but in our case, words are loud enough.
But there’s more to online teaching than eating monkeys. One teacher pulled out a LIVE bunny to teach a new b-word. Another one blindfolded himself and made an alligator using play-dough. Both of these things would be challenging to try in a live classroom, but are completely acceptable—and safe fun!—online. Who would have known? I wouldn’t have either if I hadn’t tried.
Madli was the very first teacher to teach on the VIPKID platform.
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