It’s been over two months since the government announced that schools would close to all but the children of key workers and vulnerable children. As I write, cautious and painstaking plans are being made to allow a return to school for some pupils from 1st June. Many questions remain about the next steps, but what is becoming clearer is that some form of blended or hybrid learning for cohorts or groups may well be a constant in the year to come. Since the lockdown began, I have witnessed some of the highs and lows of on-line learning through the eyes of my Y9 and Y7 daughters. Attending a Google school, lessons and classroom assignments have continued to be posted for all, bar Y11 and Y13. The routine of the school day has been maintained and on some occasions, teachers have been online during the lesson. I have smiled to myself as I overheard a chorus of Y7 voices telling their teacher, ‘You’re on mute!’ ‘Move your mouse to the right hand corner…!’ ‘Click on the microphone!’ My heart has skipped a beat as I’ve heard a teacher’s voice imploring, ‘I’d like you to stay online…because I miss you.’ I’ve also grown used to the voices and faces of my children’s friends emanating from their phones, sometimes problem solving a task together, at other times certainly off-task! Hats off to my children’s school, and to all our schools and school staff, for not just coping, but for being shining beacons as this world crisis has unfolded.
Of course, my children are among the lucky ones: internet access, chrome book, space to live and learn. As educationalists we know that the playing field is not level. My twitter feed has been alive with concerns around the impact of school closure on our vulnerable children – those for whom the free school meal may be their most nutritious of the day. We also know that it is likely that it is this group, and others from homes further touched by the economic consequences of the lockdown, for whom home-learning will work the least. As we move forward to the return to school for some year groups, it is worth thinking carefully about the needs of this group. For example, perhaps Y10 students who have little or no access to technology or who have not engaged with the learning packs sent home should be prioritised as the first group to return to school whenever possible and safe. It is certainly worth thinking creatively about whether this can be seen as an opportunity for this group to ‘catch up’. Once we know more, there is a key assessment and learning opportunity, plugging the gaps, that we would not want to waste.
Nonetheless, for the majority of pupils, particularly those in Years 7, 8, and 9, online learning is our only option in the foreseeable future. Many have shared useful suggestions and resources. Do read ‘Teaching in a time of COVID’ which contains a synthesis of useful links and this handy table created by Alison Yang of KIS International School in Bangkok:
While the table above does not recommend using synchronous learning, as we move into the second phase of the pandemic in the UK, I do think that there are instances when synchronous learning is achievable, appropriate and of use – especially if we are to attempt to teach new content. So in addition, do read Doug Lemov’s ‘Mastering remote teaching – Intro: two types of learning’ and follow-up videos to help you consider what might work for you, your pupils and your setting. Take a look at the ‘dissolving the screen’ and ‘means of participation’ as evidence of how a teacher can maintain their relationships with their classes thereby maximising learning. Many providers are also making freely available services and e-publications that may be of use. On-line quizzes and apps such as Anki and Quizlet can help with retrieval practice and interleaving of existing topics covered. For schools and staff that do not utilise some form of on-line platform like Google classroom, Edmodo is free to use and can be downloaded to phones and parents’ phones. Having used Edmodo in the past, I know that it supports the development of a student community and collaborative learning. During this period of isolation, this connectivity seems even more important. Can we write a story together, play a game of ‘Consequences’ or other, where the whole is bigger than the individual contribution, to help to maintain our sense of community?
However, even done properly, online learning is only a scant substitute for the kind of learning that can happen in a classroom and impossible for the very young or the household without internet access. Therefore, now is also the time to be realistic about what can be achieved, and to support each other, sensitive to the changing and evolving circumstances and their impact. Do take stock, do keep learning, but above all, let’s stay connected and support each other as we move forward.
About the Author
Clare Hodgson is an assessment adviser at Herts for Learning. Herts for Learning is the UK’s largest schools-owned company, providing a broad range of education and business services that support schools and settings to deliver improved outcomes for children.