ONLINE TEACHING: Interview with Alan Montanaro Malta, Helen O'Grady Drama Academy Malta

ONLINE TEACHING: Interview with Alan Montanaro

05th September 2020

Alan Montanaro is Director of Helen O’Grady Academy in Malta and Helen O’Grady Africa 

1. What, in your opinion, are the differences between zoom classes and physical? 

There is more control in physical classes because drama is, by its very nature, physical, it helps to be able to see the entire body.  Also, it can be a bit of a challenge to focus on all those little faces at the same time, and the teacher has to work that little bit harder to ensure all students remain engaged.

In the physical class you move in to explain and move out to observe the entire class acting, whereas with the online class it is the opposite: you move away from the screen so students can observe your body and then get close to the screen so you can observe them. 

Referring to students by their name is even more important online – it keeps them focused. 
Every lesson is considered a Parents’ Day because parents or family members may be watching.
It is generally a slower lesson but as we progressed, we got faster and included more of the HOG curriculum in the lesson – remember, we didn’t really have the time to train for online teaching, so we learned and polished our skills as we went along.
2. What were the most successful aspects of teaching online for you? 

We generally had good attendance throughout – this is, I believe, because we got pretty good at the delivery of a fun and engaging hour. Our lessons are energetic and not like any other online learning.
Introducing arts and crafts kept students interested. Students made sock puppets, hats, spectacles, and paper wigs that they could then use in their drama session.
Another benefit of having children in their home environment means that we could ask them to get random props quicky from their house and bringing common household items into the lesson: “You have 7 seconds to bring something blue” or “Bring an item of clothing and wear in in a way that it was not intended for”. 
We intend to continue offering online classes for students in vulnerable households during the pandemic.
We always have two adults involved: one teaching and one helping with any arising problems (an assistant) such as connectivity. This allowed the main teacher to get on with the lesson without leaving any students (and hidden parents) waiting. 

3. What have you found the most challenging aspect of doing lessons online? 

We are all sociable animals and everyone enjoys physical contact. 
Parents and family members are watching.
Internet connection and technology sometimes lets us down. 
Background noise – dogs barking and Daddy on the phone, baby crying, etc. 
Not everyone may have enough devices to go around.
Students connecting late. 
Relay (time lag) and feedback was difficult when doing speech all together.
Teachers often had to think on their feet which actually made the lesson exciting for everyone.
4. With hindsight what would you do differently? 

There is nothing we would do differently because we solved any problems as they arose and learned how to be better as a result. We had a very good communication network between the Principal/Director/Teachers and discussed any problems so we could adapt and change.
5. Did you include anything new in the zoom classes that you wouldn’t normally do in the physical classes? 

Fetching props and costumes from home during the class.
Online groups were smaller and this resulted in a general feeling of camaraderie. Students and teacher became very close, almost like a family.
A fun sense of competitiveness which they enjoyed and we exploited. 
Bringing more music into the lesson adds another layer of interest and enjoyment.
The explanations had to be slower and crisper. 
Time permitting students would say speech activities individually with lots of praises, wows and fantastics!
We also also asked our students to create their own Rainbows of Hope and stuck them up at our premises and showed them off on social media which the kids loved.
Our Youth Theatre had a joined class with South Africa which they absolutely loved – I would recommend more of this.
6. Did you leave any sections of the HOG curriculum out from the zoom sessions as they didn’t work? 
One introductory activity left out.
7. Please give a tips for zoom classes to make it easier for the children in the following areas: 

a. Intro Activities
Bring in household props. 
Discourage sit down time as this makes them lazy – always standing
b. Speech
Allow for the relay, don’t let it bother you – judge them on the energy. The objective at this point is not clarity as much as it is participation and energy,
Time permitting get students to recite one line individually – maybe get half of them to do the Articulation section individually, and the other half to do Projection – do not leave any one out (remember, mummy is probably just off screen)
c. Movement 
This worked best. Everyone’s mic is muted to avoid relay of the tune. 
d. Main Lesson 
Improvisations hard to do. A couple of teachers did do them.  So in this section we move to the snippet. 
e. Snippet 
Arts and crafts enhance the snippet.
Breakout groups for the older classes.
f. Youth Theatre 
Enjoyed the scripts and writing plays.
99 percent attendance or Youth Theatre every week. They loved the zoom classes. 

8. What things went wrong on zoom and how did you deal with it? 
Had to upgrade the zoom which was an additional expense. 
Technology problems. 

9. Did you have any amusing stories from your experience that you can share? 
In one class a father walked past on his phone in nothing but his underpants – and he just stood there oblivious to the class until, of course, he eventually realized and made a quick exit! The student of course was mortified. 
10. In what ways do you think that online classes have helped your teaching in the physical classes? 
Teachers have been observing each other more so they have learnt a lot from each other. 
Parents have let us into their living rooms so we have become family.
The number of parents who now refer to the teachers by name has increased.
We have come to know our students a little bit better because of the smaller classes. 
You start to see the homes where I students live – and the difference in privilege.


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