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Chatteris Tutor Joni live streams his lessons for students who are not able to access lessons in person | Image by Chatteris

Balancing Act: Catering to Cross-Boundary and Hong Kong-Based Students

Hong Kong schools are currently transitioning from online to in-person teaching. Chatteris’ own Aarohi Narain talks us through how we’re supporting all students through this period.

Imagine yourself hula-hooping. 

Now, imagine, without warning, someone throwing five balls at you and demanding that you juggle them at the same time. 

While smiling. 

Even on the best of days, that’s what teaching can feel like. As a teacher, you have to entertain your students enough to keep them engaged in the material and achieve your lesson objectives, as well as tackle any classroom management issues that crop up. When you factor in technology, for a lesson to run smoothly is no less than a miracle of multitasking. 

For Chatteris Tutors like myself who are placed at schools with high proportions of Cross-Boundary Students (CBS), a demographic included in the newly expanded “One for One, Adopt a School” project, the multitasking is taken up a notch. During in-person classes- currently running alongside online classes- some tutors cater to Hong Kong-based students while also delivering their lessons online to students who are unable to physically attend due to COVID-19 related travel restrictions.

Chatteris Tutor Joni live streams his lessons for students who are not able to access lessons in person | Image by Chatteris
Chatteris Tutor Joni live streams his lessons for students who are not able to access lessons in person | Image by Chatteris

This was the case for Jonathan Chan, a tutor at Lions Clubs International Ho Tak Sum Primary School in Tin Shui Wai where approximately 40% of the students are CBS. 

“At Lions Clubs, we have been catering to CBS by live-streaming lessons via Microsoft Teams on a mounted camera in the middle of the classroom. This enables CBS to access the exact same lessons received by the local Hong Kong students,” says Jonathan. 

In periods where schools have been suspended– both CBS and local students must study from home– our training to co-teach in front of a camera proved to be most useful as we employed this live-streaming technique for all of our classes.”

Jonathan notes that one of the greatest challenges has been eliciting responses from the CBS via Microsoft Teams as it is more natural to call on students physically present in the classroom. Since speaking is the principal focus of lessons delivered by Chatteris Tutors, this means that it’s easy for CBS, who may already have less exposure and formal English training than their Hong Kong-based peers, to fall behind. 

Echoing Jonathan’s experience, tutor Anneliese Murray at Carmel Bunnan Tong Memorial Secondary School in Tuen Mun has faced issues fully involving CBS in lessons too.   

“Technology can play up, meaning sometimes I can speak to the students on Zoom but they cannot respond to me, making it difficult to sustain any kind of interaction,” she remarks. 

Simultaneously supporting students attending a lesson online and in-person can be a challenge | Image by Aarohi Narain
Simultaneously supporting students attending a lesson virtually and in-person can be a challenge | Image by Aarohi Narain

“Further, the time is already very stretched and for this reason I have often found myself focussed on the students in the classroom, especially as speaking lessons can require me to move around the classroom quite a lot in order to listen to students’ responses.” 

My school, Christian Alliance SW Chan Memorial College in Fanling, identifies an estimated 15% of the students as CBS. For the most part, teachers have adopted the course of dividing most classes into Hong Kong-based and CBS cohorts. 

Although this meant that I created two versions of the same lesson– one that made the most of the face-to-face format, while the other encouraged oral English with online tools accessible in Mainland China– I was able to better focus on the needs of CBS. As I learnt more about my students and developed a rapport, I found myself better equipped to incorporate themes and references relevant to their daily lives.

It was when I began to see CBS students enthusiastically joining online extra-curricular activities that I realised the impact this strategy was having. Students no longer felt forgotten by teachers and peers, and displayed a greater interest in learning English. 

In a similar vein, Anneliese’s troubleshooting approach has been to send resources to CBS along with personalised memos to use them at home. While this measure, too, entails some extra labour, it has had the positive effect of letting students know they do indeed count.  

Meanwhile, for tutor Grace Baxendine at Leung Sing Tak Primary School in Tai Po, where 15% of the student body are CBS, using props and games has led to some key successes. For example, along with another teacher she led a lesson featuring an innovative board game format and a large dice to stimulate interest. 

Incorporating novel activities is a great way to create excitement in the online classroom | Image by Grace Baxendine
Incorporating novel activities is a great way to create excitement in the online classroom | Image by Grace Baxendine

“As soon as we rolled the dice, the students were roaring with excitement. The board game activity allowed students to read sentences from the story we were learning from and they loved physically seeing their counter move along the board… every one of the students read aloud really well, and we finished the lesson with a tremendous sense of joy and achievement,” says Grace. 

“The four CBS in this class also had noticeable grins throughout the lesson! Finally, they were on an equal level with their classmates. The lesson was a huge success… how you engage and involve the students can make all the difference when it comes to online teaching.”

At the moment nobody knows when or in what capacity we will go back to– if at all– the brick-and-mortar classroom full time. However, teachers all over the world are seeing the merits of trialling interactive teaching tools, offering positive affirmation, and applying inclusive pedagogy. Looking ahead, continuing to develop strategies to foster effective distance learning, while creating space for deeper multicultural understanding, is crucial. 

“A success which must not be underestimated has simply been the ability to virtually meet and teach the Cross-Boundary Students despite the current border restrictions, which will help to counteract the educational disadvantage they are suffering from not being in the classroom. It is my hope, “ says Jonathan, “that they will not be significantly behind their peers upon their return to the classroom.”

To learn more about the broader context underpinning the opportunity gap between Hong Kong-based and Cross-Boundary Students, read Addressing the Opportunity Gap: Contemporary Challenges in Hong Kong Schools.

Interested in taking on the challenges of teaching? Apply now to become a Chatteris Tutor.

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