Throughout my career, I have always wanted to learn more about teaching. I read about teaching; talk about teaching and love watching others teach. But, never have I had to have learned quite so much in such a short space of time. The onset of online learning was sudden – we had a few days’ notice and suddenly I had to transfer the Secondary English Curriculum into a virtual world. How would we cope when our subject is so enriched by students’ discussions? How would we continue to develop students’ critical and creative thinking? How could we ensure that students continued to improve their written and verbal communication skills?
Five weeks in and we are starting to settle into a routine and we have found solutions to many of our questions. I have been ably supported by a department that is full of expertise and is characterised by their willingness to try things out. And yes, we miss our students’ faces and long for our classrooms, but what has surprised me is that there have actually been some real positives, from both a teaching perspective and for the students’ learning.
I am still learning as a teacher and the online world has not just facilitated this, but has made my own professional development a more dynamic and diverse experience. I have accessed lectures; seen amazing theatre productions of plays that I teach; read blogs from teachers around the world and communicated within our own NLCS Community with ease.
Only this week, teachers from across the school were sharing the benefits of online teaching, whilst in a live online discussion group. For us, as teachers, it had given us, in the words of Mrs Hannah Smith, ‘the kick start to be innovative’. There have been so many times during the last five weeks when I have asked myself why I had not been using TEAMs in this way before. It is an amazing platform and the implications for collaboration, extending students’ learning and for moving towards more ecologically sound practices will last beyond lockdown.
We have had to be more versatile and we have all been pushed to change and develop new practices. Think for a moment about the Music Department – they have had to find creative solutions to teaching a subject that relies so heavily on practical application. The PE department have relished the chance to teach students more about the way our bodies perform, as well as coming up with ways to engage our whole school community in their bid to keep us all fit and healthy. My own small successes seem small in comparison, but the moment when I am annotating students’ ideas on a poem, live on my iPad, watching my writing mysteriously appear on a shared screen was a mini triumph.
So what about the benefits to students? What will they take from this? It is our belief that when we all come back together in our classrooms, our students will be far more independent. They will have realised that there is a lot they can do by themselves. Those students who were the first to ask a question, will now, hopefully, review the instructions, go back over what has been asked, try to start on their own before seeking help. And whilst we are always available to help, we all know that being more independent is going to have far reaching beneficial impacts. Not relying on adult support for everything they do seems to be building their confidence and we hope to see this continue.
The students’ digital literacy has also improved considerably. They are more able to navigate their way around the platforms we are using; they can upload files and name them correctly. The frustrations of trying to help a child find their homework on their laptop, whilst every file is named ‘Document’, may be a thing of the past on our return!
We also feel that students’ time management skills would have improved. The use of a calendar and a day of mini-deadlines will have allowed the students to organise their time more effectively. It is without a doubt that parents have been hugely instrumental in supporting students with this, but as time goes on, students will be taking more responsibility for their time. With university only a few years away for some, it is essential that they learn to work within systems that work best for them.
Another benefit that I had not considered at the start of this process was the effect on our quieter students. It does seem, for some, that the online environment has given them the chance to share their ideas and queries more frequently. The one-to-one facility that the online platforms provide means that children can reach out to us in many different ways. They may ask a question on chat that they might not have asked within a classroom setting. This is something I really want to take forward when we return to the physical school setting. How can I continue to harness the voices of our quieter students? Will technology still provide the best way of doing this? How can I take the very best of this online experience and permanently build it into our curriculum?
And there I am again – learning. Learning online does not stop us from learning. It makes us innovate, consider, plan and collaborate to find the best solutions for our students. I miss the noise and the laughter and I miss seeing all the fantastic people I work with on a day-to-day basis, but has my learning been affected? No, I actually think it has been improved.
Head of English
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