Snapping Forward

As I write this from Adelaide, Australia we are just putting to bed our Term 3, the first for 2 years without remote learning. The media is ablaze with experts applauding the amazing work educators are doing with one breath and warning of the dire effects remote learning is having on students with the other.

I have been very lucky to be at a school that worked hard to maintain the focus on pedagogy in our remote learning philosophy. We spent weeks researching the best practice models of our peers working in schools in Asia and other areas that had been remote learning for some time. We developed an asynchronus/synchronus model which focuses on wellbeing, authentic engagement and high quality learning experiences. While we can’t say our weeks have been perfect (who could?) the remote learning has been travelling steadily – do I even say in some cases better than our previous normal? 

As we do head inevitably back, there are whispers about not snapping back into our old practices. Rather than this rather dreary point of view, I’d rather take a positive spin – as we return to school what will we be snapping forward into?

Wellbeing and community first 

In developing our remote learning philosophy we began by looking first closely at how we support our students and community. We intentionally planned to support and foster our community in a variety of ways, from face to face student and parent zooms to inidividual phone and online sing a longs. 

This focus on wellbeing has been key – as the old adage goes – Maslow’s before Bloom’s. In these arguably stressful times we needed to ensure our students needs are being met. As we move back into the classroom this message holds strong.

Agentic creative pedagogy 

As we were faced with weeks of not seeing our students, our pedagogy, as always was key. We know the theories behind the ways our students learn best. The learning experiences have to be relevant, challenging and significant. In a classroom we can hide behind our teacher talk – in a remote environment the students need to be engaged or we run the risk of them tuning out and turning off – literally.

As the weeks wore on research out of schools in other countries facilitating remote learning told us that as the novelty wore off student interest would wane. We knew that to maintain engagement our students had to be challenged creatively and authentically. By holding fast to inquiry based learning and resisting the pressure to worksheet dump our learning experiences supported students to synthesise their learning and express this learning creatively, rather than regurgitate information without meaning – and it was fun!

Agency has also been key. In a remote environment there is the opportunity to embrace learner agency and design effective synchronous and asynchronous voice, choice and ownership in their learning. 

The urge can be there to work dump resources for students, worksheets and ‘crap-tivities’. When we develop agentic, engaging, challenging learning experiences we know that our students will tune in – whether from their kitchen, or when we return to school. 

Technology – purposeful, creative and collaborative 

As a bit of a tech lover it was a joy to see such a massive uptake by teachers worldwide looking for ways to engage with students. It has been a pleasure to see teachers worldwide take to YouTube, Clips and iMovie and this huge effort is really to be commended. Many staff learnt the skills in a week that have taken others years to develop.

The caveat here is that a video about a worksheet is still a worksheet. Technology isn’t in a bubble outside of pedagogy. What has worked for remote learning is technology being used to support students to create and synthesise. 

The teachers that I have seen as the most successful have not simply lifted a traditional classroom up and – using their clever IT skills – dumped it on to an online classroom. The teachers that have maintained the learning and holistic development of students have kept their eye on pedagogy, and supported student choice in choosing technology to express their learning. From a Stop Motion about the Feudal System to a Clips about place value it has been amazing to see the high quality learning our students have achieved in these unusual and trying times. The focus on technology being used to create rather than consume is a key as we move back to the classroom.

Clever use of online platforms such as Padlet, Flipgrid and collaborative docs have provided important opportunities for fellowship and also supported students to develop importantly collaboration skills. 

Using technology for creation rather than consumption and offering collaborative opportunities are great lessons to take from remote learning. 

The power of formative assessment 

“But how will we give feedback?” – this was a key question from staff as we headed into remote learning. Over our tech platforms of Google Classroom (Years 5-10) and Class Dojo (Prep-Year 4) we ensured that we could give immediate feedback. As the weeks progressed we began to realise that feedback, more than ever, is key. 

We don’t have that classroom experience of seeing that lightbulb moment (or not!). We discussed how we would structure our feedback  to encourage our students and celebrate the amazing work they were doing and while supporting them to reflect on their strengths and find ways to improve themselves further. 

A real shift aways from summative assessment also became key, with formative assessment really coming into play. We would see how the students tackled the task, how strong their grasp of the content was and use this information to both inform our practice moving forward and the feedback we give to our students. As we move back into school this best practice assessment, assessing for feedback rather than assessing to score is an important lesson.

Snapping Forward…

As we walk back into our classrooms with the Zooms and Google Classroom notifications a distant memory what lesson will we remember from our remote learning experience? I am hopeful (and quietly confident) that the creative pathways forged by this wave of change are permanent.

All Comments

Posted on September 07, 2022

Great, thoughtful post. Thank you.

One of the things I hope we take from this is the importance of fostering innovation when it doesn't seem strictly necessary. You mention that "Many staff learnt the skills in a week that have taken others years to develop." I suspect that without the support of staff who have taken years to develop those skills we would have had a far more difficult time. The importance of organisations giving time and support to innovation, became apparent quite quickly, and I think it remains. Who knows what challenges are going to be thrown up next.

Thanks again.

Posted on September 08, 2022

Thank you! Wonderful post explaining the challenges most of us faced during the last year or so. This rings true in many school situations. I especially appreciated your remote approach:

“By holding fast to inquiry based learning and resisting the pressure to worksheet dump our learning experiences supported students to synthesise their learning and express this learning creatively, rather than regurgitate information without meaning – and it was fun!”

Posted on September 13, 2022

Thanks for sharing. I love how you start with exploring "Wellbeing and community first" I think this is key and sadly something that some schools have "snapped back" from.

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