During her time on Outschool—she began teaching full time last year—Marisa Hammond Olivares has learned what works well with her learners in East Asia.
She’s comfortable with learners from a variety of backgrounds after teaching English Language Arts for 16 years in Texas schools. Her teaching certifications also include special education and English as a Second Language (ESL). In addition, Marisa grew up in a multilingual family near the U.S. southern border and speaks fluent Spanish. All this sets Marisa up to enjoy interacting with many types of people.
On Outschool, Marisa typically teaches more than 40 ongoing classes per week with students in countries like Australia and New Zealand in addition to the United States, South Korea, Hong Kong, and Japan.
We talked to Marisa about what has worked well for her in teaching mostly reading comprehension classes to middle-school-age learners in East Asia.
Get to know what’s important to learners in East Asia
Marisa does a lot of observing, listening to, and assessing individual learners. At the same time, she’s observed some trends that inform her teaching to learners in East Asia.
Don’t make assumptions about learners’ knowledge of English
Marisa says that many of her students have attended international schools and are at grade level in English. They may even be advanced.
Note: To help learners find the right fit, indicate in class summaries what level of English is needed for a class.
Sometimes parents will ask Marisa whether a class will be a good match for their child’s skill level. “I might send a paragraph: ‘This is an example of what we read last week,’ “ Marisa says. “ ‘Maybe have your learner look at it. If you feel that they’re comfortable with it, then this would be a great class.’ “
If a parent has more questions, she might offer a quick individual class to get an idea of a learner’s abilities. “You do what you need to place them and make them feel comfortable,” she says.
Anticipate that achievement may be particularly important
Marisa finds that many of her learners from East Asia are especially disciplined and focused in class, and they seek challenges. Sometimes they want to get right to the class material instead of starting with community-building activities.
“Sometimes they don’t like the ‘extra,’ “ Marisa says. “It’s like, ‘Can we begin?’ There’s a sense of urgency that is there.” Over time though, rapport tends to build between classmates, and they may share a bit about their activities like a family vacation or a trip to a museum.
Be sensitive if learners seem uncomfortable making mistakes
Sometimes Marisa observes that learners seem stressed if they don’t get an answer right. As an educator, she knows that making mistakes is part of learning.
So when Marisa wants to assess learners’ knowledge, she may ask them to respond to questions in the chat box, where only she can see the answers.
She also invites learners to put questions about concepts they didn’t understand in private chat. Then Marisa will go over the lesson again without mentioning who said they needed more explanation.
“That’s our job as teachers—more than anything—is to keep them confident,” Marisa says.
Know that learners may need help with pronunciation
Marisa may work on pronunciation by showing learners how to say a word or repeating it a lot.
“They might have a hard time saying the word,” Marisa says, “but that does not mean that they don’t understand what they’re reading.”
Be open to different cultural perspectives
Marisa emphasizes that Outschool is an international platform and an opportunity for everyone to learn from one another. “I’m big on diversity,” Marisa says. “I love culture. I love food. I love holidays.”
She pointed to one story a class read that focuses on a Chinese American family who invited their neighbors to have an Asian meal of fish and tofu for Christmas dinner. “We got into a really great conversation about how everyone celebrates, or doesn’t celebrate, Christmas,” she says.
Recognize that parents may know different levels of English
Marisa notes that not all parents of learners in East Asia are necessarily at the same reading and writing level in English as their children are.
Keep in mind that you may be messaging parents but getting a response back from the learner, Marisa says. “You want to keep your messages very clean, very direct,” without any idioms or anything that might be confusing.
Schedule classes at times that work for learners
Marisa starts teaching at 5:30 am CT several days a week so that learners from East Asia can attend. She used to start at 5 am, but starting a half hour later gives her more stamina for a day full of classes.
“I learned that 30 minutes can make a big difference in my preparation and getting started for the day and having the steam needed, the endurance,” she says.
Marisa also finds that East Asian students may attend classes that she teaches at 8 or 9 pm CT. “They tell me, ‘My parents get me up early so I can take your class before school,’ “ she says.
Make your teaching qualifications visible
Marisa thinks that displaying credentials (like ESL) that show her background with students learning a second language has helped East Asian learners to find her classes.
She also indicates in her class summaries that all learners are welcome and includes keywords like “fluency” and “literacy.”
Be strategic to retain learners
Marisa also shares tips about how she keeps learners coming back to her classes.
Offer classes back to back to ease the impact of U.S. daylight saving time changes
When time shifts in November and back again in March, many learners in East Asia stay on the same time. So she creates classes that follow one another—for example at 5:30 and 6:30 am—and are the same or the next-level class.
“Maybe the same class doesn’t work for them,” she says, “but I might have the same class or the next level class, if they’re ready to move up, on a Monday or a Friday. So I try to keep some flow in there, some options.”
Create class funnels so one class leads to the next
Marisa believes this kind of strategic scheduling has helped her be successful teaching online.
For example, she may have a class for 5th- and 6th-graders followed by one for 6th- and 7th-graders on one day. Then on another day, she’ll offer a class for 7th- and 8th-graders followed by one for 8th- and 9th-graders. Learners are able to move to the next level class and continue in the same general time slot.
“I’m a firm believer in funneling,” Marisa says. “I think that was a big part of building my… success on Outschool.”
Offer personalized coupons to learners who’ve taken a break
Marisa understands if learners need to take a break from her classes for extracurricular or other activities.
She may reach out with an individualized coupon that parents can use for a certain period of time.
“I might message them,” she says, “ ‘Hey, how’s so-and-so doing? Whenever they’re done with athletics, this coupon is good through March. So they’re always welcome back.’ “
Schedule classes for the year
Marisa really schedules classes for the entire year. She organizes them by semester, but some classes are visible for the year.
What she has learned to do is to schedule her vacations when she schedules the classes. She’ll ask her regular students when they will be busy or taking vacation, then she picks the best dates for her own breaks.
Welcome each learner who comes into the classroom
Marisa emphasizes that educators never know who will enter their classrooms and need to adjust to individual preferences and abilities. No matter who it is, she says, it’s important to be respectful and kind.
“We as teachers need to be open-minded,” she says. “I think if we limit ourselves, we’re also limiting our students. We need to keep those windows of opportunity open… You just never know how people are raised or what they believe in.”
Watch the complete interview with Marisa to learn more about her experience teaching out Outschool.