A phased return of pupils across the country is now under way, a move that has caused several difficulties for schools. With countries such as France, Germany and Denmark opening their doors ahead of us, you would think that we could draw upon some lessons learned… but it’s not that simple. These countries decided on a nationwide approach to reopening. As this is not the case in England, it makes it very difficult to establish a clear coordinated methodology.
Even though phased return models are clearly differing from country to country, they have one thing in common – not all children are back in classrooms. This presents a challenge never faced by teachers before; how can you teach lessons when some children are in front of you and others are distance learning?
I believe that we need to rethink our teaching approach in this context and be creative with existing resources. No matter how you are planning your phased return, you need to try and create a ‘normal’ school experience in these most difficult of times – and here’s some thoughts on how to achieve it.
How to teach and what to teach
How we teach has to adapt quickly. Humans are social learners; we thrive when working together in groups. Kagan structures, peer modelling and PSE being a prime area of the EYFS, are examples of how of our teacher skillset is designed to harness the benefits of social learning.
As much as possible, we need to replicate the social aspect of learning whilst our classes are split. The second issue is what we teach. The ability to differentiate, pick up on misconceptions and address errors quickly is impossible, so what we decide to deliver is crucial in making sure the divide between those in school and those at home does not create a disadvantage.
A possible solution
The social aspect of schooling and a decision about what to teach, I feel can be combated together by using existing technologies and new skills gained in lockdown. In my schools, we are contemplating classes working on weekly projects together, no matter where they are.
The teacher will host a live-streamed introduction on a Monday morning, allowing children in the class and learners at home to see each other, chat and then listen to the launch of their joint project. Even if this introduction is missed, it can be recorded and shared with those who couldn’t attend.
Learners can then work on this joint project through the week, collaborating through video conferencing and joint editing software such as Microsoft 365. Teachers can plan times when they check in on the progress of projects throughout the week. These projects will end with a celebration on Friday where learners in school and at home can screen share their projects and learners can peer evaluate and celebrate their efforts.
The crucial point here is that all children are working on common projects, much as they would do in normal classroom practice. In this new ‘on-site/off-site’ teaching approach, we are actually enhancing the student output by harnessing resources and ideas brought in from the home learning context.
It is clear that school leaders and teachers have adapted very quickly to collaborating remotely, the same can be true for the children. This approach also ensures that teacher workload isn’t duplicated by setting home learning tasks and in class tasks.
Teachers can and should begin teaching the basics skills of the 3 R’s to the children that are in class, we would be foolish not to, but we have to make time to consider how parts of our curriculum can be delivered in a blended learning model. More importantly though, working in this way will allow children to be together again socially and reignite their sense of belonging that we have lost in these difficult times.
These ideas are only a quick fix that get us through to July, after all it’s almost impossible to plan any further than this due to all schools having their own approach to phased reopening. If England does follow suit with other countries and set a nationwide model from September, then the connectivity between children at home and children in school will be needed even more. If we begin to problem solve this idea now, we give ourselves a head start for whatever the COVID future holds.
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