What I’ve learned about Remote Education

Lately

Think I’ve had enough

Of generation, information, every station

And I can’t turn it off

Bad Decision – Two Door Cinema Club

So, we are rapidly approaching week 5 of remote learning this year. Like many of you I’ve been juggling the ‘normal’ work of being in the classroom with designing and delivering remote learning. In my school we have taken some different approaches to others for a myriad of reasons. This doesn’t make you wrong or indeed me right. What I will do is look at some things we discovered from Lockdown 1 (got to love a prequel) and how we have adapted our learning this time. I first posted this on Facebook and Twitter as my remote teaching golden rules – I think it’s time I explained them properly, and in the context of my school…

Safeguarding Trumps All

This shouldn’t need to be said but, after several online discussions it would appear that the task has overtaken the need to ensure we have proper safeguards in place. Our policy is based on advice from our LA, which gave very clear guidance to aid staff keep themselves safe in these uncertain times. There are lots of things going on right now that we wouldn’t do in normal times – don’t let the safeguarding slip and allow yourself to become another statistic for the Teaching Regulation Agency.

Keep It Simple, Stupid

In Lockdown 1 I had a great conversation with Jodie Lopez about simple tools to help remote learning. What we both agreed was that we shouldn’t introduce completely new tools that the children wouldn’t have seen before. Lots of great people were sharing all kinds of advice and there is free trials kicking about for all sorts of excellent things. However what we don’t have is a knowledge of how computer literate our families are. I had been looking at the excellent Kami to make our learning a bit more interactive but then realised that our families had to be a) using Chrome as their browser and, b) willing to download extension to their computer. As a parent myself I thought that I might be comfortable with this but that many wouldn’t. I’ve spent hours on the phone and email talking families through Google Classroom so the thought of adding anything else made me recoil slightly. That’s not to suggest that there isn’t some fabulous tools out there to try but always consider the family with poor connection and older devices before you deploy something. It’s also vital that you have a ‘spare’ child account in your platform so you can test things. We’ve released learning into the wild that looks fantastic from our end, only to find that the children didn’t have permission to access certain things. Check and check again.

Cut Down the Screen Time

We’ve all read the DfE guidance about how much learning we should be providing each day but there is nothing to suggest that our children need to be glued to a device during school hours. I’ve seen the effects of too much screen time in my own children and others. Seeing children with eyes red and streaming because they’ve spent too long staring at the iPad/computer is a sobering experience.

So consider activities that need little screen time, perhaps giving guidance on screen then letting children go to an independant task away from the screen.

Live Isn’t Always Best

Probably my most controversial piece of advice. But it is borne from knowing our school community and also the limitations of infrastructure within school.

Many of our families have older siblings at middle and high school. Many of their lessons are live and there are demands on devices within the household. Now add in a parent or two working from home and the availability of support, particularly with younger primary children. Our internet connection in school is poor enough that another teacher showing a YouTube video in class can make a noticeable difference to the download speed. Upload is nearly non-existent. This meant live lessons weren’t really an option for us unless staff did them from home (let’s park the staffing issue aside for a moment) which led us back to safeguarding.

Calm Down

We all have lots of parents/carers doing really great stuff with their children at home. We also have those who are struggling and feel they are letting their children down. As staff we are close to burning out ourselves trying to meet the demand from the DfE, perhaps whilst looking after your own children at home. So stop trying to do everything now. Make sensible plans with deadlines you can meet. There’s lots of superfluous work that can take a back seat at the moment – deal with the here and now.

Feedback

Use things that help. The DfE guidance specifically mentions whole class feedback as a good option right now. That’s far better than going through each piece of work on Google Classroom (or email as I know some school are doing for work submission) and typing a comment. If you must do this then consider using something like Mote (GC) or Voice Notes (MS Teams) to give verbal feedback. This has a two-fold advantage of being quicker and allowing the children to hear your voice – handy if you aren’t doing live lessons every day.

Notifications

Don’t be a slave to the bing! It’s too easy to have Classroom notifications on and directed to your device. Then you become a slave to the bing. You wouldn’t mark a child’s work in school the moment they hand it in so don’t try to do that online. Make set times that you will feedback and let people know. Similarly have boundaries when it comes to emails – I chose not to answer the parent who emailed me at 11:35 on a Friday evening until the Monday morning. No harm came to anyone as a result of that.

Video

Video is a brilliant and quick way to explain things. Tools like Loom and Screencastify make it really easy to talk over a presentation to give the children a bit more guidance. They are also quick to produce and require nothing more than a working webcam on your device. We’ve made little explainer videos for families to show them how to do certain things in Google Classroom – that’s sometimes more effective than writing a ‘how to’ guide.

Templates

If you are using GC or MS Teams as your learning platform then make template documents for the children to work on. It’s easy to set up so that it makes a copy for each child – in Classroom this has the effect of automatically naming it too. Then you can embed hyperlinks into other documents to point children in the right direction.

Workflow

Use tools in your platform to make life easier for you and the children. Have a convention for naming tasks and use Topics (GC) or similar in Teams to organise work. Don’t put everything out on a Monday morning or you will have the child who has everything for the week done by lunchtime. Schedule tasks for each day – this gives you the added bonus of knowing when things are likely to be done so you can plan your feedback. Don’t forget some children could be accessing work at different times so don’t set the assignment to close at the end of Friday as this could stop somebody handing in over the weekend.

Meets/Teams Eats Bandwidth

Lots of queries I see are about seeing all of the children all of the time in a meeting. The systems are designed to cut things off if bandwidth becomes an issue – streaming 30 smiling faces into your home eats bandwidth, especially if other people in the house are trying to do their live lesson at the same time! It’s fine for children to turn off cameras and microphones once they are in the Meet and have said hello. There’s a useful ‘Hand Up’ function in Meet so that anyone needing attention can ask. Then they can unmute/video on to ask their question. Remember that all of these systems were not originally designed for what we are doing now!

Keep Safe

This goes back to Safeguarding being key. It also applies to checking you have permission to electronically distribute the work you are providing. If you are using chunks of text do you have permission? I’ve been using the excellent Talk 4 Writing home learning booklets for English and it took me about 10 minutes to speak to Pie and the team, explain what I wanted to do with the booklets and get their permission. Nobody likes a thief so make sure you are doing things properly!

And Finally…

This isn’t an exhaustive list of how to do remote learning. It is a culmination of our experiences in school over the past 10 months of doing this. The main pointer I can give you is to know your school community, speak to them about their needs and try and meet them where you can.

Share your good practice around; there are plenty of people on Twitter and Facebook who are struggling for ideas right now, you might have the one thing that saves them a weekend of panic.

If you want to know more about how we are doing it then please feel free to contact me on Twitter or Facebook.

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