Lessons Learnt

Lessons Learnt Teaching Through a Screen: Setting Work

A summary of many of the things I continue to learn in light of the current situation in education can be found here

We have done so many great things in school to facilitate students continued progress as they learn from home. We aren’t perfect either, and it is often humbling to see how well some other schools have managed their closure. With the extension of school closure running into the seventh week (and eighth week this academic year), it is important to keep reflecting on best practice. The key word here is INTERACTION.

Early Years

The challenges in setting younger children work is numerous and extensive. The likelihood here is that you are channeling your teaching through a grown up in their home. So, whilst setting the work and aiming it at the children, you are also presenting it to the family as well.

We are fortunate to have Seesaw as our online learning portfolio platform. They have been very supportive to schools and are now opening up a feature to allow families to upload work into the child’s journal. This means I don’t have to go into detail on the workaround that our current teachers have been doing for the past few weeks. Work is split into five areas, linked to the curriculum we teach (UK). The teacher currently has no live teaching, but does record a vocal instruction for each page of the slides that we share daily. This can be around 12-20 slides. This could easily be done in a google slide and embedded into a google site and shared to parents also, thanks to the addition of audio into Google Slides.

The activities are varied, often involve a two minute video/listen to the teacher, perhaps a quick activity on the device, or a my turn, your turn with a grown up, followed by an activity off the device. They are generally quick activities and can be done with general bits lying around the house.

Each week the teacher reads a story, and this has been done through a variety of ways, but the most effective way is to use the (currently free) Screencastify. (I’ll share a how to do this soon).

There has been a few parents who have asked for live lessons and live teaching, but the decision is still very much that even in class, you would not expect young children to sit for a length of time, and so doing it in front of a screen isn’t necessarily the best option.

The key here is to channel your inner Sesame Street acting. Speak to the screen and wait for a response you will never hear. Ask questions then pause and… did you say ‘orange?’ well done if you did.. etc. It’s why Sesame Street lives on all these years!

Primary

At this age there is a mix of some children who can access independently and some that need support. We have found that there is a good uptake in older children as they can figure things out themselves, the middle age groups are not as active, or do not produce the same amount of work, and again this is because they are old enough for parents to be able to be left to their own work, but not quite old enough to be independent learners. The younger age group are often ably supported by parents and so again they are fairly active.

This is less about the work that is set, but more about how it is set and the expectations. At our school we use Google Classroom from Year 4 and up predominantly. We have seen year groups present this in different ways, and have had differing feedback from parents.

The organisation is key – if using Google Classroom, keep it tidy, use Assignments for work and use the stream for announcements. Also we’ve had problems where work is set on google classroom but is actually also set in Seesaw. Instructions need to be clear.

Also, parents expect teaching, and so setting work with a paragraph of text will not cut it. There needs to be accompanying videos or voice instructions. The easiest way to do that is to use either a screen cast tool such as screencastify , an app like Explain Everything or other alternatives. If you have a way to host these videos on a site, share them from your school’s drive. If not, create a youtube channel and if preferred, upload your videos as unlisted. Therefore only people with the link can see them. Then you an provide a link to the video as part of your assignment that day.

Differentiate your tasks – and if not – set the bar at just lower than the middle. It is easier to extend students from distance than it is to support. You will also get far less complaints.

There is going to be more screen time for these kids, that is a fact, however, if they do have access to a screen to complete the work – in many cases they are more likely to do the work. Kids love screens. So educate parents on the need for screen time that is purposeful and educational. Having said that, make sure you set writing activities now and again that involve actual writing!

Time the work appropriately. Parents and children will stress about the time taken to complete these tasks and they may not finish it before you already have a new activity for them. Reduce anxiety by actively accepting half done pieces of work. It may even alleviate your workload as you can continue pieces of work over a few days.

Project based work can work – but there has to be constant feedback throughout – we are still getting paid to teach and we cannot pass on all the work to the parents – keep in touch every day – with constant messages and voice comments and videos. Praise pieces of work and share them for inspiration, but avoid over using clichés like “You are all working so hard, you are all doing so well,” and instead be specific.

Technology should be used and I disagree with other advice that says don’t try new things. As long as there is a central place to start from and that is well organised, there is no reason to not take advantage of the many edtech solutions that are currently out there.

Secondary

Again in secondary there is a big divide – Exam age students and, well, everyone else. A colleague recently said to me that although Year 11 and 13 students are a priority in terms of upcoming exams, actually our Year 10s and 12s are most at risk as they are losing teaching time, not revision time. He makes a valid point, it is easier to revise remotely, with low stakes quizzes and revision notes etc, but harder to teach the important content that still hasn’t been covered.

When setting work – there is definitely an urge to set a two week project. Of course for all but the best of our students, here’s what happens. If it sounds interesting – they do it pretty much immediately for a few hours, then they are done. They may not touch your subject again for two weeks. Or, they don’t like the sound of it, they see the deadline, and then they spend half an hour on deadline day getting something to hand in.

To improve Interaction, set small parts of project work and expect work done on scheduled timetabled days. Keep the timetable as close to the normal timetable as possible. If available, run a 10 minute video conference at your usual time. At the very least, be ready to answer emails and messages in that time.

Do not use Social Media for any classwork or communication. Google Classroom is the preferred way to open discussion and share work, but there are many other LMS that you may already have in place that will work fine. At the very least, create a google site with the information on for students to access. Google Sites are free and easy to use and do not require log ins. School websites can also be used to post work if you have limited options.

Set expectations early and do not waver. Secondary schools with the most success in these times, have been ones that have kept the school running as normal as possible. It is not an easy task for teachers though.

Specialists (Primary, Early Years)

It’s tough being a specialist teacher in closure. You are right at the bottom of the list in terms of importance, and in some cases, it is understandable. So how can we ensure specialists are contributing?

How about Specialist Day – where class teachers take a break and the work that day is set by specialists? Or stagger the specialists to submitting work on certain days only – Mandarin Monday, Tech Tuesdays etc.

Even better still, collaborate! Why not team teach a lesson that uses technology, where the tech teachers lead on the skills to use a platform, and the teacher concentrates on content. Or work with music to create a rap song all about recent learning, complete with a ‘sick beat’ generated from some music lesson learning. Create a PE workout for soldiers taking battle in Ancient Rome. (Okay thats a stretch but you get the idea) Remember, specialists teachers are here too!