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RSL - Reboot 2021: Lessons from the Pandemic
RSL - Reboot 2021: Lessons from the Pandemic forum brought together teachers of Russian as a foreign language from all over Russia and abroad to Moscow. The head of the forum organizing committee Oleg Ilyasov talks about the new lessons RSL teachers have learned during the pandemic.
– RSL - Reboot 2021: Lessons from the Pandemic, a large-scale forum, has just ended. Was it held for the first time?
– Our colleague Alyona Kalvinkovskaya has started to implement this idea back in 2018 and held an informal forum, i.e. a meeting of authors of RSL textbooks. Then there was a pause for reasons beyond control. And this year we decided to revive the idea and hold a forum on the results of the pandemic end, although this end isn’t really visible so far. Nevertheless, we decided to bring colleagues together after a whole year of an interesting, yet difficult online experience.
– Judging by the forum program, you brought together many speakers. It turns out that there were quite a lot of specialists in the field of teaching Russian as a foreign language, and they were ready to share their experience, weren’t they?
– It was also surprising for us that at the time of registration the forum received applications from very small towns, there are RSL teachers as well. Therefore, the forum geography turned out to be rather broad. It should be noted that the speakers included not only RSL teachers. For example, Vladimir Pakhomov, editor-in-chief of the Gramota.ru portal, was one of the participants who are not directly involved in the RSL field. But our idea was to attract other experts as well to extend our horizons a little. Therefore, we invited a wider range of experts who are involved, for instance, in both the Russian language and gaming technologies. There must be some kind of convergence, and it seems to me we managed to achieve it.
For example, Irina Penina, a play practitioner, works mainly with business clients. She conducts training on business skill development through gaming technologies. On the other hand, her experience and some discoveries, as well as the play she had presented on the forum gave RSL teachers good food for thought. And it was also interesting for her to discover a new development area.
– What gaming technologies are used in the field of teaching RSL and how actively?
– Please note how many various board games are sold now, and native speakers have a huge selection of such games. But there are very few educational games for RSL. We are very glad that Stas Kapustin, co-author of LinguaPolis game, came to our forum from Yekaterinburg. He brought a box of games with him. He has one RSL game - a kind of action game exploring Moscow. There you need to lay out the cards that form the playing field. It turns out to be a mixture of an exploration game and dominoes. He also has another game in English.
I believe learning through gaming experiences a real boom right now. The store shelves still lack the required products, but we see that RSL teachers create such games and use them online. There are a lot of developments that have not been packaged as a product and monetized yet, but it is already quite possible to arrange a separate forum dedicated to games in the RSL field.
– How has the RSL industry survived this year of remote studies in general? Many teachers, as well as students, believe that the online mode still cannot replace the offline one, perhaps just complement it.
– The first impression of the forum was a great joy that people finally met and were able to communicate face to face. And, alongside, there was a feeling that even though the online mode had been very annoying, it helped to significantly improve qualifications related to remote technologies. Because there was simply no way out. And the most important thing is that the online mode did not destroy RSL; on the contrary, it developed this area.
– The main disadvantage is probably a decrease in motivation for learning a language online, isn’t it?
– In general, yes, it is more difficult to motivate a student online, although, perhaps, this is more typical for participants of full-time RSL summer schools, when students come not only to study the language but also to see Russia. And in this case, a lot depends on the teacher as well - how the teacher will be able to motivate the students.
Read also: Russian online during the pandemic: is it a test or a window of opportunity?
– One of the important topics discussed at the forum was various delivery methods. Both bloggers and teachers who run their YouTube channels took part in the discussion. What methods were the most interesting?
– We did our best to select diverse but at the same time very high-quality speakers - those who can share something interesting from their experience. For example, Anna Golubeva, a publisher, spoke about The Flight, her new book for migrants. I am glad that our grandmasters continue to develop new interesting materials. If we talk about some new approaches, I really liked the report of Anastasia Semyina, a teacher and blogger from St. Petersburg. She made a very interesting comparison of the teacher's work on the YouTube and Instagram platforms explaining the advantages and disadvantages in each case. You can watch her report on our YouTube channel.
– Did you have speakers from other countries who teach Russian to bilingual children?
– Yes, we did. We had a separate section dedicated to children. Some participants discussed more strategy-related things, like Professor Elizaveta Khamraeva. Others talked about their specific textbooks, for example, Marianne Avery from the USA who had written Magpie and Sarafan, RSL textbooks for children. And Natalia Mavridou from Greece shared about "Zhar-Ptitsa", her educational-methodical complex.
– And it still seems that the online mode will stay in our lives and continue to develop. What do you think?
– Until recently, many people resisted shifting online due to understanding that a live lesson has more advantages. Although, there are those who work online only, for example, Yulia Amlinskaya from Spain. She has a whole online school developed for this. And now, people have moved their activities online on a large scale thus triggering greater competition, which pushes the parties concerned, including Amlinskaya, to develop further.
So there is a lot of competition online today, which has helped improve the quality of lessons. On the other hand, this experience enables us to successfully create blended learning and delegate some routine things to the online mode, which will be a big advantage for the offline one. We can say that the past year pushed us very strongly towards blended learning. People realized that this is an interesting tool and it would be strange not to use it. For example, I will continue to actively use both test and gaming platforms - this is very interesting indeed.