“Zooming” into 2021 – using technology to support remote learning
So here we are again; at time of writing 300 days since the start of the pandemic and no one could have predicted where we’d be at the start of 2021. “There’s no place like home”, “Home is where the heart is”, “Home sweet home” – how often have we heard those phrases? Yet somehow, at this point in time, the most appropriate seems “Homesick”: sick of being at home! Ironically, in the real world (pre-COVID) I am quite the homebird. Yes, I’ve been known to cancel plans last minute in favour of a glass of wine and a night in with Strictly; yes, I’m happy to snuggle up on the sofa with my family. Find me a teacher who isn’t fast asleep and snoring on the sofa by 9pm on a Friday night! But a dear friend said to me the other day (and I think it was meant with love…): “The problem with you is, you’re a budgie. Happy to stay in your cage as long as you know you’re allowed to fly around outside sometimes. Take that away from you and you’re a nightmare”. This comment came on the back of my second period of self isolation (Trip Advisor: 1 out of 5 stars: would not recommend) when I had all but lost the plot. She’s right: being home is great when you have the option; when you can’t go out and socialise, that’s exactly what you want to do!
So 2021 began and so did Lockdown 3.0. I feel in the last year I have experienced more apocalyptic shifts in my teaching style than I ever thought possible. It’s like I’ve finally cracked the ‘jog’ setting on the treadmill and then someone pressed the ‘increase speed’ button….then ‘increase incline’…then started throwing rotten fruit. It just keeps getting tougher.
Lockdown 1 (March – July): All children at home, teachers doing their best to plan and deliver remote learning. At this time, wellbeing was (and still is paramount). We monitored engagement with learning tasks, spoke to any vulnerable children and families weekly and checked in regularly with learners. It was a juggling act. But we cracked it. No live teaching, no video explainers, but it worked. It served a purpose.
Return to school (September): Small groups, delivering blended learning which was done at home for those self isolating, in school for those who attended as and when they attended. Another juggling act but lovely to see the children in person.
Self Isolation (November): Myself and my class in self isolation. Delivering our first proper Google Meets which served as wellbeing checkins and a little teaching. Monitoring wellbeing and learning and checking on engagement.
Blended Learning (January – onwards): My school decided a tweak was needed to our approach. In came daily Google Meets, a structured timetable for learning, where engagement of children was monitored, a bubble bulletin released on a Friday with the timetable for the following week and video explainers. It’s working brilliantly, but it does mean regular 10 hour days, between planning, resourcing, filming, timetabling and the other day to day teacher life – giving feedback on learning, telephoning parents and children who need support, working in the hub onsite, as well as the professional development opportunities which continue throughout.
I’ll be honest here – the major issue for me is I’m a bit of a dinosaur. A technophobe-asaurus if you will. I’ll clarify – it’s not that I don’t want to use technology; it’s that technology really really really hates me. I can’t stress this enough. Oh, and not just school-based technology. Since January 2021 began (and we are currently on day 14 as I write), the following gadgets have given up the ghost: Washing machine (not fatal – at time of writing, I can give it a hit and it kicks back into life); Sky Box (pass – just decided to stop working one day); Dishwasher (flooded and turned itself off) and (most worryingly given the current climate) Laptop (stopped letting me download. Anything). I also broke two glasses but I think that’s just my clumsiness. Seriously, when I need tech support now from our ever-patient IT expert in school, the conversation goes like this:
Me: Sorry to bother you. Again.
Him: Have you-?
Me: Yes, I’ve turned it off and back on again.
Him: Is it-?
Me: Plugged in. Yes.
Him: Read the error message again.
Him: Yep, never heard of that before. It must be you.
And so this is me now. I’m mastering technology one step at a time, but by goodness it terrifies me. People are now realising the reason I taught year 6 for so long is that I had a class of in built tech support! Let me just say – in all the years I taught year 6, there was no problem that they couldn’t solve. Honestly – and I was more than happy for them to teach me. I am still a firm believer that we learn as much from the children as they do from us.
So, let me share with you how I am trying to embed technology in my teaching and learning…and the level of success I’m having so far.
1) Google Meets
Let me just say I love these. They’re a bit nuts, especially with Foundation Phase-age children and I’ve met more pets and family members than I ever knew I needed to, but I love seeing the children “in person” and their smiling faces when we’re all learning together. I structure my meets to include a meet and greet, often singing a welcome song (on mute, otherwise the lag makes it painful!), a wellbeing check in and some form of a warmup. On Literacy days, this takes the form of our phonic of the week or our ‘WOW’ (word of the week) words; on Maths days, blasting numbers apart (42 = 4 tens and 2 units), practising magic stick techniques etc. Then I deliver an input exactly as I would in class, asking children to raise their hand either digitally or literally and to share their whiteboards/pencils and papers from home with the answers. We then take time to have a quick chat, share news, etc (and last week to have a play with the ‘chat’ function to save all the pizza emojis being sent mid lesson!) At the moment, I am lucky enough to have a great student, who is sharing the load with the planning and Google Meets. I love the interactive element of the meets…almost always. It did bite me last week when the (brunette) student asked the children to find similarities and difference between her and (“blonde”) me. Child answered: “You both have the same top of hair colour”, which I think is a telling observation that I need a trip to the hairdresser as soon as they are open again.
This app is fantastic. We post our timetable, learning for the week, meeting links, etc. Parents upload learning and ask us any questions or voice concerns they may have. Granted, we need to be mindful to manage our own work-life balance as there is no benefit to us replying to messages at 11pm, except to test whether sleep deprivation really is a ‘thing’, but on the whole the benefits of this app massively outweigh the shortcomings. Yesterday a parent commented that their child was struggling with not seeing her friends, so I picked up the private message, rang the family and spoke to the child and mum. We’ve since arranged a mini google meet with her and a few of the children in the hub as she said she was missing interacting with them.
This is a recent discovery, and although I’m still very new, my brilliant colleagues have talked me through how to use it and it’s great. It means that we can put a PowerPoint together and video ourselves talking through the learning at the same time. Perfect for the parents who can’t attend the Google Meets with the children as they can catch up on the learning and not feel as though they’ve missed out.
4) Video lessons
My team are making the most of video recordings to share learning with the children. The videos each week vary – there is always an introduction to the phonic of the week, the WOW words and any Maths warmups we want the children to practise. These are shared to our Sharepoint through our school website and children are asked to watch them before the Google Meet on a given day i.e. the Maths video on a Wednesday morning, etc. but if they cannot, the videos are available to watch at any time. In terms of wellbeing, this also means that if it works better for the family, they can frontload the learning, or catch up on another day, depending on what suits their schedule.
5) Explainer videos
These are fantastic – whenever we introduce a new concept i.e. accessing areas of the school website, uploading to Seesaw, etc, an explainer video is produced by a member of staff to support the parents in accessing.
For our Project Launch next week, we are going to amalgamate a few of these things including an iMovie, Panopto, video explainers and Seesaw. I don’t want to give too much away as our Project Launches are a closely guarded secret, but I promise to reveal all in my next blog and (as a hint!) I’ve already mentioned the project title in this blog…
This is just a quick guide as to where we’re at so far. Technology is constantly evolving and we are always finding new ways of making the learning interesting and engaging for the children.
In all of this madness, it’s important to remember that these are just my ramblings. I teach in a privileged area: nearly all of the children have access to an electronic device and the support of their parents. I know that not all teachers and schools are in this position. My engagement rate for Google Meets is an average of 94%; my daily engagement for learning tasks is the same. I am lucky. For all of us, the best thing we can do for our children and families is to be there for them. Whether through technology, learning, phone calls – monitoring their wellbeing is paramount…and helping out where we can. But we also need to monitor our own wellbeing and that of our families and loved ones around us. And on that note, I’m turning the laptop off and spending some time with my family. And a cup of tea and biscuits. Be kind to you – whatever that looks like. And if you haven’t heard it today – you’re doing a fantastic job.