So, we head into the winter with Covid-19 on the increase again, alongside all the other usual seasonal illnesses. Increasing numbers of staff and students are staying at home and self-isolating. Perhaps your school is still operating a part or complete remote learning rotation?
How do you, as teachers, maintain a core curriculum while helping students catch up on lost learning, even when not in school? The temptation has sometimes been to slim down the curriculum offering. Perhaps lowering expectations of student engagement and outcomes. Maybe those at home are set activities, only loosely corresponding with what’s going on in the classroom. Perhaps students working at home are not expected to complete and submit work for marking/grading.
These approaches may be enough for short periods, but the reality is, when this current wave of infections subsides, a whole year will have passed and the Covid crisis will have eaten into a large part of 2 academic years. Who knows when it will end?
What we need are strategies to ensure that the students’ learning can continue, uninterrupted, regardless of whether the learning takes place in the classroom or round the dining table. Those working in the classroom will have the advantage of face to face interaction with the teacher, but you can be there for the students working at home too.
Being inclusive of all learners does require a change of approach and a sometimes radical re-think of how your students experience the full curriculum. There is no need to throw away the tried and tested methods of constructing a great lesson, but all your students will benefit from a re-evaluation of how the lesson is shared. The goal is to avoid, wherever possible, duplicating effort. This means making all learning available in one place, online, where all students can access it.
Live and online
Running a live online class in real time, for the entire lesson, with a class full of students in the room is very difficult and, anecdotally doesn’t work well, particularly with younger students. Without significant help and support in the classroom, this approach may be either impossible or at worst, not useful at all.
It is important to recognise, however, the value of live interaction with students. It won’t be the same as a normal, fully interactive classroom lesson but is hugely important to keep students connected with their learning and to maintain vital relationships with school. You have 2 choices:
- Hold live, online classrooms that include both school based and home based learners simultaneously
- Set aside time for live sessions with remote learners only
If you do plan to run a live, online session with students both at home and in school, here are some suggestions to ensure the experience is good for all learners.
- Have learning materials, activities and assignments pre-loaded into Fusion.
- Don’t try to hold the entire lesson online. This is the worst option for everyone. Limit the online section of the lesson to the lesson starter and introduction where you explicitly expose the learning to your students. Keep this online session to 20 minutes maximum.
- This is your chance to set expectations. Students at home need to be aware that they are part of the lesson and are expected to engage fully and, where possible, in real time.
- Ensure that the remote students have full instructions and learning materials ready to work on, following on from the introduction and verbal instructions.
- Try to remain in one place when introducing the lesson.
- If possible, wear a headset with microphone to ensure that your remote students can hear your voice clearly. More detailed guidance for live, online sessions can be found here.
If you are lucky enough to have help in your classroom, there are several ways they can really help you and your remote learners:
- Set up the online live session.
- Record the introductory parts of the lesson where you are setting out the learning.
- Upload any presentations, and support materials prior to the lesson and recordings after the lesson.
- Direct the webcam at the teacher.
- Manage remote students’ microphones and webcams.
- Convey students’ questions to the teacher.
It is worth recognising that holding a section of the lesson live online, although of benefit to remote students, will inevitably reduce the value to students in school. Judgement is needed here. Would it be better to create a short video of the lesson starter and exposition?
The rest of the lesson
The main section of the lesson might include a wide range of learning materials presented in a task list for students. Here are just a few suggestions:
- Video – pre-recorded by you, YouTube, digital content. Consider creating a school YouTube channel to easily upload videos. Create them as ‘Unlisted’ and make these available as part of lesson materials by creating a virtual YouTube file on Fusion.
- Documents that contain learning materials. When web based, this can also include embedded video, links, images.
- Quizzes, incorporating learning materials.
- Digital content – Learning materials provided by a 3rd party content provider.
It will be necessary to re-cap on prior learning, especially where there are significant numbers of students who missed earlier learning. Assessment can be built into activities, quizzes and live sessions. Questioning in real time would be the normal way to carry out most formative assessment. In a live online classroom session, this can happen as normal, however, questioning remote learners at the same time as students in the classroom is not easy. If possible, reserve a portion of the lesson to speak exclusively to the remote learners.
Provision for everyone
Finally, it is worth re-evaluating the overall provision of digital devices and internet for everyone in your school community. Your school should consider the availability of devices and internet access for students at home, particularly when they are sharing with siblings. Are there funds available to create a bank of devices for home loan?
This might be the time to review your school’s policy on devices in the classroom. If you are constructing lesson materials in your learning platform for remote students, ideally you want to make these available to all your students, including those in school, during lesson time. Having structured materials already set out for students them to get on with differentiated activities, working at their own pace with limited need for low-grade directional contributions by the teacher. This frees up teacher time for more effective interventions and personalised guidance for students in school and at home.
A flipped approach?
Having learning materials online can also support a more flipped learning approach. With flipped learning, students can learn in preparation for focused classroom learning and questioning sessions, ensuring that those precious, short interactive sessions are used to the full.
A learning platform such as Fusion is the ideal way to support a full learning provision for students working remotely, and for all students, including those working in school. With a full range of support for live classrooms, task lists, marking & grading, assignments and communication, as well as a comprehensive parent portal, it makes complete sense to be ready for whatever the rest of this academic year has in store.