Working Online with Fifth Graders

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Working Online with Fifth Graders

Working Online with Fifth Graders



At the beginning of March, Tan Hynunh gave a webinar entitled The Fruits of Co-Teaching are Rooted in Intentional Co-Planning  for NYS TESOL. At the time he was in his eighth week of being in lockdown in Vietnam and the same number of weeks teaching his fifth graders online. In New York, we were just coming to the realization that we would be teaching from home indefinitely. We thought it would be good to hear about his experience working online and what he has learned. Here are his thoughts:

Where do you work? Who do you teach?

I work as a fifth grade language specialist at a private international school in Vietnam. There are a hundred students in each grade of the elementary school. Prior to Vietnam, I taught in Laos, China, New Orleans, and Philadelphia, where I immigrated in 1986.

How long did you have to prepare before the lockdown in Vietnam and being told that you had to teach online? 

We said good-bye to our students on the last Friday of January fully expecting to see their smiling faces again on the following Monday. On Sunday evening, we received an email from our Head of School stating that by government decree, all schools in the city would be closed to students and families for the next two weeks. Teachers were told to report to school as normal. What we thought was just a two-week stint morphed into months of virtual schooling and teachers eventually working from their homes. We are still waiting for a government lift of school closures.  The government has begun to ease some physical distancing rules and this week teachers have been allowed back on campus.

What did you do to put your classes online?

Initially, my classes were held asynchronously, now they are purely synchronous because my students have their own devices and are independent enough to join without parent supervision. Students join a Google Meet.  I greet each student and check in with the early arrivals.  Once everyone is there (or after 3 minutes of greetings), I send them to different breakout groups. In each group, there are no more than 3 students. Students share their laptop screens with each other and watch the welcome video, which recaps yesterday’s lesson and gives the instructions for today's collaborative assignment. The assignments rotate between synthesizing a content-based video, annotating a text, or co-authoring a piece of writing. I pop in and out of the groups to check in on students. If students need me, they return to the main virtual room where I welcomed them. We use that room to troubleshoot or hold conferences. 

Click here for an example of a welcome video.

How do you teach online- what applications do you use? 

I only use a limited amount of apps, which I fully  utilize. To help me reduce the number of apps, I use four buckets: curate, create, collaborate, content (adapted from Parris, Estrada, Honigsfeld, 2016). My platforms are:
  • Content: I create welcome and instructional videos on Screencastify.  I also embed comprehension questions on a content-based video into Edpuzzle.
  • Collaborate: Students join Google Meets to collaborate on various assignments (e.g. complete an Edpuzzle video, write text, annotate a text). 
  • Curate: All of the assignments and Google Meet links are embedded on a Google slide. 
  • Create: Students collaboratively write on a Google Slide.
Notice how I use Google Slides to curate information and as a canvas for students to collaboratively create. This is what it means to make your existing apps do more for you. There is no need to drown yourself or students under a flood of platforms. Less is more! 

Click here to see how I have students work collaboratively on a Google slide synchronously to develop their content knowledge and language skills. 

What do you think are the advantages to teaching online?

Language learners have increased access to tools that establish comprehension of content. Students can pause, rewatch, change the speed, and enable subtitles on many videos. They also have more voice in the class as their contribution is not limited to a raised hand and a spoken response. 

What are the disadvantages to teaching online? 

My American and Canadian friends would report the inequality of access to technology and internet access. Besides that glaring disadvantage, which we must address before another pandemic, another disadvantage is the decreased student-to-student interaction and teacher-to-student interaction. This decrease widens the achievement gap and triples our workload. What can be addressed in class with a quick conference now requires logging into a platform, finding the students or their work, providing feedback, and waiting for students to do the same on their side. 

What have you learned from the experience? 

Like Larry Ferlazzo said, “Lead with love, not lessons” (2020). I have learned that no matter where school is held, maintaining a sense of community is the most important thing we can do during sudden upheavals to regular schooling.  During a crisis like this one, students’ well-being trumps academic engagement. I encourage establishing a sense of community is the first thing we plan in our virtual lessons. 

What would you have done differently? 

I wish I had started virtual schooling with facilitating student interaction rather than disseminating work. Government mandated school closures are required to keep people safe, but it has also severed students’ connections with each other. I didn’t realize that my students needed me to be the bridge that brought them together.  I mistakenly thought my students needed to engage academically, so I created lessons that were done asynchronously, further isolating them from each other. I wished I had spent the majority of my time coaching students as they collaborated virtually instead of wasting weeks of updating work-completion documents, planning asynchronous lessons, and chasing after students to do work.

For how to create multiple Google Meet conferences and how to embed them into Google Slide, click here

What do you recommend/what advice would you give to teachers working online?

Lessons can be structured as collaborative experiences to achieve simultaneous goals: 1) to facilitate student-to-student interactions and 2) sustain academic engagement.  If we lead with lessons, we might crowd out students’ need to connect with each other. If we focus only on academics during this time, we might be only teaching half of life’s curriculum, which is how to be part of a community during challenges.

I am realizing that obstacles reveal opportunities.  Even though this is undoubtedly one of our greatest recent obstacles, we still have opportunities to serve our students and their families. I am heartened by the ways I have seen teachers rise up and continue to provide innovative opportunities for students to learn.  

I wish you, your family, your colleagues, your students and their families health. May you remain rooted in peace. 


Larry Ferlazzo's 7 Tips for Remote Teaching. (2020). Retrieved from
Parris, H., Estrada, L., & Honigsfeld, A. (2016). ESL frontiers: Using technology to enhance instruction for English learners.  Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

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