This week’s Illinois Virtual School Teacher Spotlight is Jennifer Elwell. Ms. Elwell teaches French I-IV at IVS. She earned her degree from The University of Missouri – Columbia. Ms. Elwell’s hobbies include running, reading, watching and coaching her kids’ sporting events, participating in children’s ministries at her church, and community service activities.
Jennifer recently answered a few questions from IVS and provided her thoughts about online education.
IVS: Tell us about yourself.
JE: I’ve been married for 18 years and have three kids – a 13 year old son and 10 year old twins (a boy and a girl). We live in Metamora, IL. We are a very active family. We love to enjoy the great outdoors, travel, play games and sports, and visit our family in Missouri.
IVS: Why did you decide to begin teaching online?
JE: I decided to teach online right before our oldest son was born. I knew I wanted to stay home with him and teaching online allowed me to continue teaching and care for my son. It has worked out wonderfully. Over the years, I’ve been able to stay at home with all 3 of our kids and still teach French to students in IL.
IVS: What aspects about the online teaching and learning environment do you appreciate the most and why?
JE: I love the flexibility of teaching online. Like I said, teaching online has provided me with the best of both worlds – continuing my career as a teacher and being a mom. For the most part, I can set my own “working” hours and that allows me to participate in my kids’ events like school parties, sporting events, etc. It really is the best of both worlds.
IVS: In what ways do you interact and get to know your students? How does this compare to your experience teaching a brick-and-mortar course?
JE: I interact with and get to know my students through discussion board posts, course assignments, and various forms of communication like email, texts, and phone calls. In the discussion board area of the course, students write about themselves, their families, their activities, their holiday traditions, etc. (all in the target language). I learn so much about them by reading their discussion posts and their written assignments. Once I “get to know” my students, I’m able to connect with them by asking them about and/or by wishing them luck at a sporting event, a band concert, a dance recital, or even just Happy Birthday. My students always appreciate it when I remember their birthdays. My interaction with my students is important so that they know that I’m a “real” person, not just a computer grading their work and automatically responding to their messages. My communication with them keeps their learning personal and shows them I care about them inside and outside of the classroom environment.
IVS:What benefits exist for students when taking an online course?
JE: Opportunities are almost endless for students taking an online course. Online courses are flexible, are for credit or enrichment, and are as rigorous as face to face courses. Online courses allow students opportunities to take courses that they might not have otherwise been able to take at their local school for whatever reason. Also, online courses teach students so much more than the course content. It teaches them the importance of communication, time management, and being a responsible, diligent learner–all of which are important life skills.
IVS: What strategies do you use to keep your students motivated and engaged?
JE: I use a variety of methods to keep my students engaged in my French classes. Students love learning about culture and eating, so throughout the semester, we celebrate French holidays like Mardi Gras and Christmas. Students enjoying cooking and eating holiday foods and learning about the similarities and differences between our traditions in the United States with those in other Francophone countries. We do many activities during National French Week. Furthermore, I offer many additional resources to my students like music links, websites with extra practice, French newspapers links, movies in French (with or without subtitles), etc. I’ve found that when students are engaged in learning the culture, both past and present, they are more motivated to learn the language.