As many of us have experienced, heard from friends, or seen on the news, distance teaching has its challenges. Difficulties have ranged from tech glitches and connection issues to students not showing up to live virtual lessons. In addition to these challenges, teachers are making every effort to tailor instruction for students with special learning needs, including regular review of students’ individual learning plans. This can be quite overwhelming for everyone involved, especially the parents at home trying to balance home responsibilities with their child’s specialised needs. How can all involved work together to support the child? Here are some recommendations to consider:
The coronavirus pandemic doesn’t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon. Schools and educational institutions are preparing environments so that students can learn at home, should the need comes. This includes equipping them with the necessary technology to make the “virtual classroom” a reality. More often that not, STEM learning is not a focus in these virtual classrooms although it needs to be.
Coming into this new school year has been a mixed bag of emotions for everyone: anxiety, excitement, worry, relief. Although many schools are starting the year in-class, the possibility of switching to distance learning can add stress and uncertainty to the list especially for those juggling more than one child in school, work responsibilities, and maintaining some semblance of balance at home. There are quite a few news and social media posts of children trying hard to be excited about learning online but struggling. Understandably, this leads to concerns of substantial learning loss for our students.
I love feedback. I appreciate how feedback has helped me to improve in different aspects of my life. I believe in giving feedback that makes someone feel good about a job well done. For me, feedback is essential to growth! Yet, I can remember countless afternoons struggling to write feedback on all my students’ essays before the next class. I wanted to be thorough and write about all of the points I referenced in the lessons but my hands would cramp, my brain was mush, and by the last student’s paper I was barely writing a sentence or two that I hoped would help them improve. Not until a colleague showed me what she did — quick notes on each student’s work as she walked around and observed them during independent work time — that I began to feel like my time was being used more effectively and my students were able to implement recommendations. I also found that because I was saving time, I could talk with each student and really get a sense of their comprehension and academic needs. Those quick conversations with each student were some of my favourite times as a teacher.
When I was beginning my learning adventure at 6 years old – back when teachers used blackboards and duplicators (Banda machines) – playing a game in class was the BEST! In Southern California where I’m from, it was unusual to have rainy days but when it happened our teacher would have us play Heads-Up, Seven Up during indoor break. I can remember hoping someone would put my thumb down so that I could guess the mystery person at the end of the round. We would play this game the entire time and groan aloud when break was over. Playing that game was a welcome respite from the months of circle time lessons and worksheets. Did I learn anything from playing Heads-Up? I didn’t think so at the time but looking back with my “teacher eye,” there was communication, engagement, and reasoning involved. Of course, I doubt learning those skills was intentional but it taught me two important things when I stepped into my teacher shoes: 1) children will remember the experience of a fun and engaging game, and 2) children can learn concepts and skills, solve problems, think critically, collaborate, follow rules, communicate thinking, etc. while playing a game!
Whatever our opinions are on in-class vs remote learning, the unpredictability of coronavirus has necessitated that many schools opt for the latter to ensure the safety of teachers, school staff, and students. That being the case, the following are helpful tips for teachers, parents, and students.
Not to state the obvious, but education is in a time of dynamic change. This change will affect not just this school year, but long into the future of what education may be for our children and grandchildren. It is important, then, to rethink how education leaders, teachers, and parents/guardians prepare for each school year so that students can still meet, or exceed, learning goals and objectives. Beyond what can be seen on paper, education also supports a child’s need to experience, explore, and apply learning to real-life now and in the future. To do this successfully, teachers who are now dealing with a virtual classroom environment must adjust their teaching practises. Why? Because remote learning requires specific skills such as conducting classes using video conferencing, sharing content in different ways, and providing feedback on student assignments and projects.
With COVID-19 cases on the rise in many areas, a number of schools are opting for total remote learning when school starts. What does this mean for parents who have young ones starting school for the first time? If the anxiety about starting school in person during a worldwide pandemic wasn’t enough, the prospect of starting totally online can be overwhelming. Often, parents see entering school (Early Years to Key Stage 1) as an opportunity for their children to learn social skills, understand rules and routines, and set a foundation of basic skills that will prepare them for the next 12 years of learning.
It seems that in just a few months, anyone interested in or having to do with education is trying to understand the differences between distance learning, online learning, blended learning, flipped learning, virtual learning…you get the idea. Many of these terms have been used interchangeably with similar descriptions, but there are differences. For example, what’s the difference between a virtual learning environment and a virtual classroom? Then, once a difference has been identified…so what?
Maths questions and story problems have the unique reputation of being the focus of many memes on how confusing they can be (Question: If you have 3 pencils and 6 oranges, how many clowns will fit in a car? Answer: Blue because ducks quack.). Now imagine a teacher repeating, reviewing, and restating terms and solution steps so that students finally understand. A scheduled one-hour lesson can easily take half a day! Now imagine that scenario in a virtual classroom. (I can already hear the crying…from teachers, students, and parents!) Thankfully, G Suite for Education has tools that can support Maths teaching and learning, while making the experience engaging, interactive, and successful.