Tuesday, 26 May 2020

Lockdown Learnings

After the first three weeks of online teaching and learning, I asked my Senior students for feedback about the challenges they were facing, but also the things they were enjoying. After reading through their comments, I kept these in the back of my mind when planning lessons, communicating with the students and setting tasks for them to complete. 

Three weeks later, at the end of lockdown, I asked the students if they'd comment again. I was interested to see if there was much of a change. Many of the messages, as highlighted below, remained much the same. However, there was a positive change in attitude towards learning online/from home from many of the students, when compared to the first Google Form. I thought it was particularly interesting to note how honest they were, not only with me but with themselves!

The most common positives across the three classes were:
  • Flexibility: Many enjoyed being able to work at their own pace, and complete tasks when they felt comfortable. If they completed that subject, they liked they were able to work on something else they needed to do, or they could look ahead at other tasks for that class to do.
  • Feeling part of a class: Rather than the teacher just asking if they had questions, or just explaining the task and leaving, the kids enjoyed opportunities to connect with each other, time to do things that weren't related to work like quizzes and chats, and also doing some tasks online with others in a similar way they would in class such as group discussions.
  • Increased independence: Although there were clearly some students who struggled to manage their time, several commented that they enjoyed the opportunity to further develop their independence and self management skills.
The most common negatives were:
  • Too much work: There was significant feedback from the students explaining they were feeling overwhelmed across the board with how much work they were needing to complete. Some felt they were being asked to complete more than when we were at school!
  • Lack of motivation: This was evident throughout the 6+ weeks. Due to the comfort of their own home, distractions, lack of self management and/or feeling overwhelmed (and who knows what other reasons!), there were lots of students who struggled to motivate themselves to complete their learning. This lack of motivation is what concerns me the most - have we now got an even bigger divide between the students who are ahead and the students who are falling behind?
  • Less 1:1 time with the teacher: I found this hard too. Much less opportunity for face to face feedback, and less 'teachable moments'. It seems many struggled not being able to ask questions as often, or able to seek immediate feedback. I don't know how they expected us to reply to their emails instantly though! (Certainly an admin nightmare, that I didn't enjoy!)
I previously posted about the things I was enjoying about online teaching and learning. They mostly related to student creativity and having those 1:1 chats with the kids. I plan to continue to provide opportunities for them to be creative where possible, and of course being online has made me rethink/be creative about the ways I can teach too! I would also like to try and continue some of the positives from lockdown (from my own experience, in addition to student feedback);
  • In class flexibility: I certainly enjoyed having a less regimented timetable, and it's clear the students did too. I will be giving opportunities for my Senior classes to develop their self management, and choosing how they utilise their time. If they want to work on another subject, then they can... here's hoping that doesn't backfire! This also relates to Ako Orewa, and the importance of students prioritising tasks/ deciding what is important to complete at that time and working at their own pace.
  • Knowing ahead of time what's happening: I always gave a vague plan of what was happening in the few lessons to come before home learning, but didn't always upload the actual activities or tasks they were going to complete. I am going to try give students time to check out what they are doing before class, so they are more aware of where we are heading.
  • Some time not related to work: A few students commented on the enjoyment they found from watching movies that reinforced or showed what they were learning about, or having quizzes and games with other students, or just general chat. I think sometimes with the pressure of NCEA, the pressure of time, the pressure for students to do well, we sometimes forget that they are kids. That they want to connect, share, reflect, analyse and sometimes they need a break. Just like we do.
Like many, I have felt nervous being back at school the last 10 days. Like online learning, it's going to take a bit of adjustment to get back into a routine, but we will get there! 

Friday, 8 May 2020

Online Teaching & Learning: It's not all bad!

I cannot believe we've already been online teaching for 5 weeks (and home for nearly 7). But to be honest, despite missing the kids, I have really enjoyed the experience. I've got a newfound appreciation for face to face learning though, that's for sure! And I have absolutely hated staring at a screen answering myriad emails.

There have been so many positives of at home teaching though. I thought I would post some of the highlights for me during this period so far.

Creating rewindable video content for students

Setting at home challenges for my Ako class and watching the videos they've created 'together'

Students engaging/commenting in the chat box of Google Meet during video calls 
(I honestly think this learning environment has given the opportunity for more students to have a 'voice' than when we are in a standard classroom setting, it has been great to have people share, who usually don't speak!)

Seeing the creations from my Topic class (integrated)

Lino-it brainstorms with my Year 11s

A shared Google Slides resource my Year 12s all contributed to

Having 1:1 chats with my Year 13s about their internal 
(They were more organised than we have these chats in class, as they feared awkward silences!)

As much as I'm looking forward to getting back to school, back into routine and back to connecting with colleagues and students, I've tried to take the positives out of online teaching. Hopefully only one more week to go, but I'm quite happy not having a commute and enjoy having an extra couple of hours sleep each morning!

Monday, 4 May 2020

Ako: To Teach & To Learn

In addition to the roll out of an integrated curriculum this year, there has been an inclusion of two non-curriculum related classes; Ako and Mai time. Mai time was developed to give students an opportunity to create passion projects around something of their choice. This means the students can develop skills and learn about things that are of particular interest to them. Ako time was developed for 4 key reasons;
  1. Increase awareness of topics and learning
  2. Improve student self confidence and social confidence
  3. Reflection on Mai time projects and progress
  4. Increased understanding of student levels and progress (see more here)
Therefore, I can include any activities within my lessons which help to develop/work towards these four aims. I love Ako time!! I think it is fantastic there are opportunities for students to develop practical, social and theoretical skills which they may have had little time to develop prior to this year. One of which is the ability to reflect. Each Friday morning students reflect on the week that has been - what they completed in each of their classes, what they found difficult, what they enjoyed and what their next steps are. See below the template for the learning journal my students (are supposed to!) complete each week (I can't believe it's already Week 12/18!). 

Some of my personal highlights from Ako lessons include listening activities, an activity about values and being open-minded, and student created games.

I had noticed, and had feedback from some students, that this group struggles to listen. It was taking a long time to get their attention to give instructions, once it was nearly 7 minutes!! As a result, we had a couple of lessons focused around listening. We played Chinese whispers, completed the Life with the Wright family activity and played Draw It (a simple game where you give step by step instructions of what to draw, and between each instruction the students pass their paper to someone else). The students started to become  frustrated with each other when someone wasn't listening, and started to empathise for their teachers and peers when they were trying to speak! Their listening definitely improved after this.

To encourage students to think about other people's perspectives, and challenge their own values and opinions, we completed the classic Sinking Ship activity below. I had planned for this activity to last about 20 minutes, but there was so much positive debate and discussion it ended up being nearly an hour! With some guidance, by the end of the activity the students were much more respectful of each other's opinions (still a way to go, but small steps!), and gave each other time to say their thoughts.

Finally, the students got into small groups and created mini games to teach and play with one another. I gathered a random assortment of equipment and gave each of the groups tokens to use in an equipment auction. They then had only 30 minutes to create a game they could run for 15 minutes with two other groups in the class! I was pretty blown away by some of the creativity the kids had, with minimal resources and not a lot of time. General feedback was that they enjoyed this activity too, so definitely something that will be repeated in the future!

Only a few days before lockdown I asked the students to complete a feedback form for me to gauge their understanding of their topics and what they are enjoying/not enjoying about school and Ako. There were a few common themes as outlined in the visual alongside - things they like about Ako, things they dislike and suggestions they made. I look forward to implementing some of this feedback into future lessons when we are back at school. At the moment it's really not the same!