Last year I trialled digital learning logs with my Year 7 maths and science class, which you can read about here. Overall, I found it beneficial as my students were given regularly dedicated time to reflect on their learning, with a focus on what work they are proud of, the challenges they faced, how they overcame these challenges and what they can do differently next time. While students appreciated the time to stop and think about their learning, time was also a barrier to this initiative. Sometimes it felt like there was no time to do this and if we used lesson time to reflect, then we will fall behind. This challenge became very obvious in the last term of the year when students had a large number of assessments and end-of-year activities that we missed some of our dedicated time for learning logs.
So I’ve created the third iteration of the learning log, which only has six weekly reflection activities and a goal setting/tracking page that is equivalent to two weekly reflection activities. So there is a total of eight weekly activities, which provides a buffer for other things that come up during the term like assessments, excursions, incursions and other disruptions. I’ve changed some of the reflection activities to embed more extended writing which may be more suitable for older students. I’ve also incorporated an ACE score in some of the activities, which is a student self-assessment on their attitude, commitment and effort. This was inspired by Trangie Central School.
Like many teachers, I get LOTS of emails each day. In the past few years, I’ve noticed that my email practices were negatively impacting my productivity. Email notifications would break my workflow. If I was marking student work and I saw email notifications, I felt the need to read and sometimes reply to these emails immediately when it was not necessary. Even if I didn’t read the email, seeing and hearing the notification is a distraction. I was also tempted to check emails more often than I should. Time is a precious resource for teachers and I can’t have emails taking up more time than they should. Here is a summary of what has worked for me that may be useful for other teachers.
Turning off desktop notifications
I use the Outlook desktop app and notifications are turned on by default. I found the notification sound and the little pop up at the bottom corner of the screen was distracting me, particularly when I needed sustained focus. So I turned off desktop notifications. This way I can still have my emails opened, but I won’t know I have new emails until I am ready to look at my emails. Here are instructions to turn message alert pop-ups on or off.
Having a To-Do folder
The To-Do is a sub-folder within my inbox folder with emails that required me to do something, I use to have them floating in my main inbox folder, which sometimes caused me unnecessary stress as they constantly reminded me of everything I needed to do. Instead, I now immediately move these emails into the To-Do folder. I allocate time in my calendar to follow up on these emails.
Setting up rules to filter email notifications
I choose to receive Google Classroom emails notifications so I can keep track of questions and comments from my students. However, I don’t need these emails to constantly show up in my main inbox. I’ve set up a rule so that all Google Classroom notifications go straight into a special folder. Like the To-Do folder, I allocate time during the day to look at them. Here are instructions to set up rules in Outlook.
Unsubscribing from unwanted emails
Over my career, I have accumulated a number of subscriptions that I no longer need or find useful. I spent a couple of weeks subscribing from these each time an email arrived. My inbox is so much better now. See here for instructions on different ways to unsubscribe from unwanted emails.
Moving the email app to the last screen of my phone
I know many people choose not to have their work emails on their personal phones. I don’t mind it. I find it convenient but I turned off push email notifications on my phone years ago. I have also moved the email app to the last screen page of my phone so I’m not tempted to tap on it unless I actually need to look at my emails.
Not sending or responding to emails outside of core work hours
I deliberately do not send or respond to emails outside of core work hours. For me, emails are sent and responded to between 8 am and 5 pm on school days. If I wanted to draft emails outside this time, I set them on delay send so they are sent at 8 am the next work. Here are instructions on how to do this in Outlook. I personally believe it is important for leaders to set an example and not intrude on others’ personal time.
In high school, the curriculum often feels overcrowded and rushed. There are just too many things to cover and not enough time. However, it is important to give students the time to stop and think about what they are learning and how they are learning, which are important for becoming self-regulated learners. Students need to be supported to set goals, monitor their progress towards their goals, identify areas for improvement and evaluate the usefulness of different learning strategies.
Using learning logs to guide student reflection
Last term, I decided to prototype learning logs with my Year 7 mathematics and science class. We dedicated 50 minutes every week where we stopped “pushing through the curriculum” and wrote learning reflections. We used the learning log Google Slides template from the NSW Department of Education.
We wrote in our learning log every Friday, for ten weeks. In our dedicated learning log lessons, we would first brainstorm as a class what we have learnt in mathematics and science this week. We did this on Zoom using annotation tools as we were in remote learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I shared the following template on Zoom and students used the text annotation tools to do a class brainstorm. The template was modified from an existing Canva template.
After we have completed our weekly reflection brainstorm, I would ask volunteer students to unmute in Zoom and elaborate further on their thoughts. Students will then individually write in their learning logs.
Here are some samples of our reflections.
Benefits of learning logs to guide student reflection
I liked this learning log template because it provided students with a variety of reflection questions. This is opposed to asking students to write a reflection or journal entry as an extended writing activity, which many students find challenging because not only are they trying to think about their own learning, but they also have to learn the structure and language of reflective writing.
As a teacher, I also found these learning logs useful as a form of formative assessment. I can use the students’ self-assessment on what they are confused about or from their questions on the topic to guide my lesson planning for the next week.
Challenges of learning logs and student reflection
Some of the challenges we faced were some students wrote very little in their learning logs at first and I had to work quite intensively with them to write more for each reflection question. Some students also did not yet see the value of reflection and completed the entries with minimal thought and as quickly as possible. However, their attitude and work standard improved over the term.
A huge challenge was TIME. As I mentioned earlier, the curriculum is overcrowded and learning often feel rushed. At the start, I found myself questioning whether I can spare 50 minutes each week for learning logs. However, after persisting for a term, I think the time is worth it. Having dedicated time to support students to self-assess, to think about their own learning and reflect on their successes will help them grow into self-regulated learners.
Where to next
Next term, I am going to continue the learning log with my Year 7 class, but I’m going to change some of the reflection questions. I would like to move them towards reflecting more on learning strategies and the significance of what they are learning. There are some sample reflection questions from an Edutopia post that I would like to incorporate. Eventually I would like to make better links between the learning log and their goal setting processes.
If you are thinking about embedding student reflection in your lessons, I would highly recommend scheduling a dedicated time for it each week/fortnight. Giving it class time show students the activity is valued. It is not something they do at home or done as an extension activity. While it does take time away from continuing with content, it is worth slowing down and allowing students to think about their learning. The learning log template I mentioned earlier is a great way to start.
In Sydney, NSW, we are currently in our second round of lockdown due to COVID-19. This means families are being asked to keep their children at home if they can and students are being taught remotely. For my school, we have decided that most of our remote teaching and learning will be conducted online on Zoom and Google Classroom. I’ve blogged about this in our first round of lockdown last year, but many have asked for more details so this post is to share how I set up my online classes. Note that these practices work for my students as many were already established routines (Google Classroom routines in particular) before online learning.
Every lesson is posted on Google Classroom
Even before online learning, I post every lesson on Google Classroom the day before the lesson. The lesson post would have the learning intention and success criteria for the lesson, the class activities we would be doing and all videos, slides, worksheets and other resources would be attached. This is so students can preview the lesson if they wish and it allows me to be more organised in class. At the start of a lesson, I put up Google Classroom on the interactive screen and everything is there.
For online learning, I still do the same thing. However, instead of posting the lesson as a Materials post, I post it as an Assignment post with a due date as the day of the lesson. This is because an Assignment post with a due date will make it appear on a student’s Google Classroom homepage. At my school, we have a whole school process that every lesson is an assignment post with a due date and all lesson posts for the day need to be posted before 8:45 am. So when students log on in the morning, they can see a summary of all of their lessons for today. Most of our parents have also signed up to Google Classroom Guardian so making every lesson an Assignment post allows parents to receive a daily or weekly email summary of whether their child has submitted the required work.
In my online learning Google Classroom posts, I also include Zoom details if there is a live Zoom lesson so everything a student needs for that lesson is in the one Google Classroom post. Many students are already overwhelmed with suddenly transitioning to a completely new mode of learning, by themselves at home, so I try to minimise their need to click on too many different things and potentially getting lost.
Live Zoom lessons
I run live Zoom lessons for almost every lesson, but not all. My live Zoom lessons always start in the same way. Students are admitted into the meeting room at the start of the lesson where they will see a holding slide with today’s lesson outline or a quick quiz, depending on the class. The holding slide replicates our classroom whiteboard set up when we weren’t in lockdown so it offers a sense of familiarity. The slide has a YouTube countdown music timer clip so students know when the live instruction will begin. This allows three to five minutes for students to enter the room. The countdown video lets them know their audio is working. I also let them use these three to five minutes to use the Chat function to say hi to each other.
In the first week of online learning, I teach my classes how they should behave on Zoom. We go through expectations and consequences so everyone has a shared understanding of how we act on Zoom.
In the first week, I incorporate activities where students have many opportunities to practise our Zoom learning routines including:
raising their Zoom hand and waiting for me to ask them to unmute before speaking
having a choice of asking questions by raising their Zoom hand or in the Chat
using the Yes and No reactions in Zoom to respond to regular questions to check their understanding to determine if we can move on (I use to ask them to type in the chat, but using the Yes and No reactions is much more efficient as you can easily see a tally of who is saying Yes and who is saying No in the participant list)
expecting to be randomly selected to respond to questions (before online learning, I used Class Dojo for a ‘no hands up’ approach to responding to questions, which we have continued on Zoom)
taking turns to use the shared screen annotation features, which is particularly good for maths and chemistry
Integrating other apps
While the annotation tools and whiteboard on Zoom are sufficient for most of the activities we do, sometimes I find it easier to connect a second screen such as from a document camera or an iPad. I find an iPad with an Apple Pencil are really good tools. I particularly like the Microsoft Whiteboard app on the iPad with the Apple Pencil to teach maths and chemistry as it feels more like writing on paper and makes my digital handwriting neater.
We have also used Quizlet Live on Zoom to practise our vocabulary. I think playing synchronous games like Quizlet Live allows the class to maintain their relationships and enables them to have experiences they use to before lockdown. Running games like Quizlet Live or Kahoot via Zoom works better if students have a second device. So they will view the Zoom lesson on their laptop and play Quizlet Live on their phone or tablet.
In face to face learning, a lot of my formative assessment and feedback processes happened with student interactions. This included checking their work books in class, speaking to them and being able to gather an overall sense of how they are going. Most of these practices require all of us to be in the same room and these have been the most challenging to pivot to online learning.
I don’t ask my students to take photos of their exercise books and upload it onto Google Classroom. I use to but found this practice to be unproductive and too time consuming for effective, timely feedback to occur. It also didn’t allow me to make adjustments to future lessons quickly enough. This is particularly important in maths as mastery of concepts are often required before moving on. So instead of asking students or post blurry photos of their work, I set quizzes every 2-3 lessons. For maths, I use Stile. While this platform is officially for science, I create maths quizzes in Stile because students can use their mouse or touch screens to easily write their working out and mathematical processes such as fractions that are difficult to type.
Overall, I try to make online learning include as many live Zoom lessons as possible where they involve explicit teaching with lots of worked examples. Google Classroom routines are set up so it offers familiarity to students and allows them to access everything they need in one place, reducing cognitive load as much as possible. However some practices in face to face teaching have to be adjusted for online learning.
In high school, students can have up to eight different subjects, all with their own assessment schedules. In NSW, Australia, the final two years of schooling would see students juggling approximately five to six subjects so five to six assessment schedules. If faculties of different subjects don’t collaborate in an effective manner, students may end up having an excessive number of assessments due around the same time. This may impact on their ability to manage their time and negatively affect their wellbeing. Many schools already have processes to ensure this is avoided as much as possible. I decided to play around with Google Sheets to see if it make this job more time efficient. The embedded tweet shows how it works. The editable Google Sheet template can be downloaded here. The template was created for my school to try for the HSC, so it will need to be edited to suit your context.
The week numbers are the column headings and the subject names are the row headings. If the Google Sheet is shared, teachers can check the boxes to indicate the week they would like an assessment task for their subjects to be due. The running tally automatically adds up the assessment tasks for a week. This can be used to indicate if particular weeks would have too many assessments due. The check boxes allow teams of teachers to have a discussion to moving assessment due dates and the running tally accurately updates the number of assessments per week. So if assessments have to be moved, it makes the negotiation process more efficient.
The same template can be used for faculties or teacher teams to track their workload to identify pressure points throughout a term or year. Just delete the text in column A and replace it other tasks or activities. These may be report due dates, assessment marking, parent teacher interviews, etc so teacher workload can be better managed.
I have a STEM class this year again. Yippee! The last time I had a STEM class was in 2019 and their first project was the cardboard games challenge, which I have previously blogged about. This year, my class is different (every class is different) and according to their pre-tests, needed more support in working effectively in teams and more guidance in designing fair investigations and communicating their findings. So we decided to dive into some mini challenges to launch into STEM, before settling into longer-term projects. The series of mini challenges are low prep, low cost, quick to do and are designed for students to consolidate the skills they need for more complex projects. The processes, scaffolds and success criteria are repeated with each mini challenge and are designed so there is a gradual release of responsibility.
This blog post contains an outline of each mini challenge and the resources I used. I used them with my Year 8 class, but they can be adapted to younger or older students. This post also contains a brief reflection on what worked well and what can be done differently.
Launch into STEM
Our project outline is shown in the graphic below.
Mini challenge one – rotocopters
The first mini challenge was rotocopters. This is a very easy challenge so students can focus on developing their skills to identify independent, dependent and controlled variables, selecting and using appropriate equipment to make measurements, using basic statistics to analyse results and writing an investigation report. When students have done this challenge once, they can start changing the design of the rotocopters to have it fall slower, spin faster, etc. To support students to brainstorm on ideas and negotiate on an agreed idea, we used a PMI chart.
I used the following scaffold and success criteria to help students design a fair investigation and to write an investigation report.
Our second mini challenge was straw rockets from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The NASA website has everything you and your students need, from written and video instructions on making the rockets to explanations on how rocket propulsion works. While this challenge seems easy, the extension opportunities are endless. We used the same scaffolds from the rotocopter challenge so students can get another go at improving their work. They can implement the feedback they got for the rotocopter challenge. For the air rockets, I introduced the following reflection questions for students to complete at the end of the challenge.
How much did you know about air rockets before this experiment?
What problems did you have with this experiment? This may include working in a team.What did you learn about yourself in this experiment? This may include working in a team.
Did you do your work the way other people did theirs? Explain.
What is one thing you would like to improve on if you did the experiment again?
If you were the teacher, what comments would you give to your work?
Mini challenge three – parachute challenge
Everything we did for the rotocopters and air rockets led to students being successful at this final challenge – to design a parachute for space exploration. Again, NASA has great resources for this. Check out their Eggstronaut Parachute Challenge.
We used the same processes, scaffolds and success criteria as the previous mini challenges. Students have done these processes twice and have received feedback twice. The parachute challenge is the time for them to become more independent learners. Instead of me pacing the students and releasing scaffolds as they are needed, students were given a project booklet and were allowed to pace themselves within a provided timeline.
When all three mini challenges were completed, each student had multiple samples of work from each challenge that showcase similar skills in designing fair investigations, communicating the results of investigations, and reflections on working in a team. Students can use these work samples to explain how they have grown over the term and how they implemented feedback to improve their work with each mini challenge.
So, what did the students think?
The class did an evaluation of the project. Here are some of their responses to what they liked most about the project.
I enjoy that we are given freedom in our projects to work creatively and not just writing in books.
I really love how our teacher is really understanding when it comes to our work because she does not pressure us like other teachers.
[I like] The rocket experiment, the parachute experiment and filling out the report.
What to do differently next time
Even though the project was designed so it accumulated to a portfolio in the end, many students ran out of time to document their learning progress. I also did not explicitly teach how to create a digital portfolio and articulate learning growth as well as I wanted to. Again the term got away from us.
Explanation texts is another aspect I would like to have taught more explicitly. Each mini challenge required students to explain the forces behind the rotocopter, air rocket and parachute and use forces to explain how their design changes worked. If I had my time again, I would have provided more scaffolding for students to express cause-and-effect relationships and how to move their writing from spoken-like to written-like.
This year has been like no other. I’ve previously blogged about the positives and challenges of teaching remotely during a pandemic, but even without a pandemic, this year was a year where everything I taught was brand new for me. This year, I taught Year 12 Chemistry, Year 12 Earth and Environmental Science and Year 7 integrated mathematics, science and geography (which we called Year 7 STEM). I have never taught any of these courses before, which meant prototyping new learning routines and practices. This post is a reflection on what worked and what I need to adjust in 2021.
Retrieval and spaced practice
Almost every single of my lessons starts with a quick quiz (the exception is when we have a formal examination). The quick quiz is three to five questions from the current topic and previous topics. In my earlier years of teaching, I used the quick quiz routine as a classroom management strategy rather than a learning strategy. The quick quiz allowed me to get the students on task immediately at the start of a lesson and let me do things like mark the roll, deal with late comers, check uniform, etc. But in the last few years, I started to incorporate retrieval and spaced practice into the quick quizzes. While students moan the quick quiz, they also say it helps them remember content as it is like doing small revision sessions every day. One of my Year 12 students told he absolutely hated quick quizzes in my Earth and Environmental Science classes but eventually realised it greatly helped him in remembering the course content. When he signed out of the school after his final exams, he told me to continue doing the quick quiz routine in future classes, no matter how much students say they hate it.
Homework and whole class feedback
My Year 7 STEM class had a weekly homework booklet. The homework was based on previous work they’ve done and was another way I incorporated retrieval and spaced practice. Instead of commenting on individual work, I dedicated half a lesson each week for whole class feedback and focused on explicitly explaining the questions that many students did not answer correctly. I felt the whole class feedback made the workload more manageable. There were times when I felt the Year 7 homework routine almost killed me. The weekly cycle of creating homework booklets, marking the booklets and collating data on the areas they need to improve on. I felt like I was always marking homework. But at least the whole class feedback meant there was dedicated time for students to process the feedback and act on it.
Regular no-stakes tests with whole class feedback
I was able to build a culture of no-stakes testing with My Year 7 STEM class. This class became very use to pre-tests, mid-topic tests and frequent quizzes. They had an understanding that these tests allowed me and them to know their strengths, areas of improvement and whether we can move on the next component of the topic. I found this was more vital in mathematics than science.
Regular opportunities for extension and small group remedial work
My Year 7 STEM class had every Friday as their “weekly check-in”. Every Friday, they had a double period to catch up on work they’ve missed in the week and depending on their progress for the week, some students did extension activities while other students worked with me in small groups. I found this made a big difference for mathematics. The gap for mathematics in my class was much larger than for science and geography. I had students who have very strong numeracy skills and can pick up new mathematics concepts very quickly, while others were the opposite. Then there are students who lacked confidence in mathematics. It was the students who lacked confidence in mathematics that really benefited from the small group instruction. It was during this time, when they felt comfortable in asking questions and “have a go” with questions that they thought was hard.
What I need to adjust?
Faded work examples
In all of my classes, I spent a lot of time on worked examples, particularly with Year 7 mathematics and Year 12 Chemistry. What I want to adjust next year is to include faded worked examples. Most textbooks and resources do not have faded worked examples and I feel the jump from whole class instruction with worked examples to independent practice is often too wide for most students. I did play around with faded worked examples with Year 12 Chemistry but did not have the time to consolidate the practice.
I started using knowledge organisers as another way to incorporate retrieval and spaced practice. It was going well until COVID-19 online learning. It was something that didn’t pick up traction this year, but something I want to revisit next year.
I started doing choral responses with my Year 7s as part of their quick quiz routine and as a classroom management strategy after reading about it in ‘Classroom management: Creating and maintaining positive learning environments‘. We had the choral response routine going quite well until COVID-19 online learning. I deliberately abandoned choral responses when we returned to on-campus learning to minimise potential infection spread. However, when we did do choral responses, it worked really well as a way to increase students’ opportunities to respond and it’s a practice I want to start prototyping again next year.
During the October school holidays, I read Running the Room: The Teacher’s Guide to Behaviour by Tom Bennett. As indicated in the title, the book is on managing student behaviour in the classroom. I’ve been teaching for nearly 13 years and I don’t think I have nailed classroom management (but I don’t think any teacher can say they have perfected any part of their practice, in any stage of their career). Classroom management is complex and this book offers lots of evidence-informed and practical strategies for all teachers, regardless of their experience and career stage, in a non-preachy way. The key messages I got from the book are
Be organised and plan ahead so that it is easy for students to behave and hard for them to misbehave.
Create a class culture where it is the norm for students to behave in a way that lets them and others learn.
The book talks a lot about how people’s behaviours can be different when they are by themselves and in different group situations. A classroom and a school are large group situations and teachers need to create and sustain a culture where it is the norm to do the right thing.
The book re-affirmed a lot of things I’m already doing and gave me new ideas to trial as a teacher and a school leader. Here are 3 things I’ve learnt from the book.
1. Routines, routines and routines
I’ve always been a big fan of routines and Running the Room reaffirmed this practice for me. Explicit routines prevent behaviour problems from arising and helps create the class culture and norms. My classes have routines for starting a lesson, ending a lesson, entering different classrooms, how to transition between activities, etc. I have sometimes thought I was going overboard with the routines in terms of their detail and how we actually acted them out. E.g. We would practise how to line up, enter the classroom, etc. We go through these routines and practice them at the start of every term.
After reading the book, I am more confident that these routines support my students’ learning. I’m going to go further this term and trial practising the routines more regularly. So instead of going through them at the start of the term, going through them at least twice a term. The book emphasised that routines need to be taught, practised and re-taught BEFORE a problem occurs. Don’t wait for an issue to arise to re-teach a routine.
I’m also going to trial establishing more explicit routines for students to observe teacher science demonstrations, how to break off into small groups of science practical work, how each group collects and returns equipment, how each group asks for assistance and how homework is collected, distributed and returned.
Below are some of the routines for my Year 7 class, which I have further adjusted after reading the book, such as specifying the number of minutes that students must arrive to class after the bell (so there are no misunderstandings).
Of course, consequences are not all negative. Rewards and praise are needed to reinforce positive behaviours. Reading the book reminded me I need to be recognise my students more frequently for positive behaviours and avoid rewarding some students disproportionately. I have decided to trial using Class Dojo again to help keep track of positive behavious and support all students in gaining school merits.
2. Plan your consequences BEFORE you need to use them
Like all teachers, I’ve kept students in for detentions, called parents for misbehaviours and placed students on behaviour contracts. These things are bound to happen. Running the Room recommends planning and scripting how you will do these things BEFORE you have to do them. The purpose is to have a basic scaffold of what you are going to say and how you will respond in these situations. If you are an early career teacher, you can try role playing and practising what you are going to say to students/parents with a more experienced teacher.
In my earlier years of teaching, I had reflection sheets for students to complete when they are in detention to facilitate a conversation to support them to choose more appropriate behaviours in the future. I have no idea why I stopped using these sheets (perhaps because as I became more experienced, the number of detentions I’ve had to give has decreased), but I have now revamped them and them printed and ready to be used. I’ve also decided to let my students know how detentions will be operated so we have a clear understanding before they happen.
3. Have a removal strategy in place before you need it
Before I go any further with this, the book emphasises that removal should not be done on an ad hoc basis and it should be an unusual event in mainstream classrooms. However, sometimes there will be situations where a student needs to be temporarily removed from the class and a removal strategy should be in place before it is needed. This is something I want to work on as a Head Teacher. Do I have an agreed process with the teachers I supervise for the unlikely event that a student needs to be removed from class so that all students, including the student being removed, can continue learning? When such an event occurs, the class teacher should not have to think about who and where the student is to be sent to, what the student should be doing while removed from class, what happens after the removal, etc. It is important that students should know this process before they are removed (which hopefully will be never).
Overall, the book is one of the best books I have read on behaviour management. I love the emphasis on planning ahead and deliberately planning how you will run the room and set the class culture and norms. As emphaised in the book, these strategies are “rising tides – ones that lift all ships.”
In NSW, Australia, school students will return to face-to-face learning in the classroom full time from Monday 25 May. As a teacher and parent, I couldn’t be happier. As a teacher, I miss my students. As a parent, I feel my child needs the teaching expertise of her teachers, which are beyond what I can offer as a parent. So on the day before things move to new normal, I thought I’d reflect on my own joys and challenges of COVID19 online teaching and learning, from the perspective of a teacher and a parent.
I absolutely loved learning new ways of working with technology
In just under two months, I think I have learnt what I would usually learn with technology in 12 months. This included new ways of using Google Classroom, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Screentastify, Loom, Explain Everything, Microsoft Whiteboard, Microsoft Stream. You name it, I probably learnt it. Leading whole school technology meant that I had to learn probably a lot more than others in order to make recommendations for whole school approaches. It meant learning as many digital tools available, evaluating the pros and cons for your own school context, setting up whole school processes, communicating the case for change and then supporting all teachers, students and their families through the change processes, in a very narrow timeframe without the luxury of the usual consultation and prototyping processes. These are complex processes without COVID19.
Seeing some students thrive in online learning
Some of my students thrived in the flexible approach to online learning from home. These were the students who already worked well independently and had strong metacognition and self-regulation skills. They were able to work at their own pace and not be dictated by the school bell. If they needed more time to do their maths, they could. They could continue learning without being forced to move to another subject and class. If they finished early, they can pursue personal interests. Some of my Year 12s liked doing their work at 9pm the night before and sleep in the next day. Some students were able to better fit in their class work with their family schedules. For example, they could do their class work before school started so they can go to a medical appointment in the afternoon.
It was hard, very hard to be a teacher and parent simultaneously
On some days, I worked from home. This meant I had to be a teacher for my own students and support my own child to learn from home. There were some days in late Term 1 (when there were very high new cases of COVID19 being reported each day) where we decided to keep our younger child at home from day care. These were really challenging times. I had to schedule my own Zoom lessons around my five-year-old’s Zoom lessons, juggle supporting my own students on Google Classroom and helping my five-year-old with her work on Seesaw, timing the three-year-old nap times around Zoom meetings and ensuring I didn’t use YouTube and the TV too much as a babysitter. I have never want to have to do this ever again.
But I became a better teacher by being a part of my child’s learning
While I never want to go through teaching online from home and being a parent supporting online learning from home ever again, I did learn to be a better teacher from playing a larger part than usual in my own child’s learning. Being 5 years old, my child cannot operate Zoom and Seesaw independently so I often sat next to her to help her mute and unmute, and to type or take photos on Seesaw. I learnt a lot of new teaching skills while watching my child’s teacher teach on Zoom and how she structured the learning on Seesaw, which I used with my own students. High school teachers have a lot to learn from primary school teachers.
I’m really glad things are moving on from tomorrow
While I enjoyed many parts of online teaching and learning, I’m really excited that things are moving to a new normal from tomorrow. I can’t wait to have all my students back in the classroom and my child cannot wait to have her teacher back. And I’m excited to be able to get new home readers.
Our school’s usual parent teacher conferences happen in the hall. It’s like speed dating where each teacher has a small desk in the school hall and parents move from one teacher to another. However, COVID19 means we can’t run our parent teacher conferences in our usual way. So we decided to use Zoom. Overall it was a success. We had 78 teachers hold hundreds and hundreds of conferences.
How we did it
Our school uses the NSW Education Zoom so only people with a Zoom account can enter a meeting room. Each meeting room has a password and a waiting room. The teacher is the host of their own meeting room and they have to let the parents in from the waiting room. We used the following steps to set up the conferences.
We used Edval for parents to book times. Usually we allocate 5 minute blocks per teacher. This time we allocated 10 minutes so there was enough buffer time to make sure all conferences ran on schedule.
We created a meeting room for each teacher. In the future, we will use each teacher’s personal Zoom meeting room.
We created a parent guide to explain how to create a Zoom account and how to join meetings. The parent guide listed all teachers’ meeting room IDs and passwords. We decided to send out meeting room IDs rather than links as it was less overwhelming and easier for parents using tablets for Zoom.
We created a teacher guide with step by step instructions. We emphasised teachers need to effectively manage the waiting room and stick to their conference schedule.
We encouraged students to be part of the conference and help their parents with Zoom.
Zoom enabled teachers to share their screens so they can show student samples of work to parents. This would not be possible over the phone.
COVID19 can make us feel isolated. A Zoom parent teacher conference, where you can see each other’s faces, is very valuable in fostering the school-home relationships in these uncertain times.