‘Unprecedented times’ is likely one of the most commonly used phrases that we are hearing, and it is how I will start this blog.
We are in uncertain and unprecedented times. As educators, we are facing a challenge that has never been seen before as we enter uncharted territory. Our roles have not changed, the circumstances have. Being asked to navigate this new normal has not been without challenge, and it is my aim to share with you some of my experiences with using technology to create a home learning platform for my learners.
Strangely enough, it feels like setting “virtual learning” is something I have been doing for a lot longer than I have and I have learnt a few lessons along the way. I am hoping that sharing some of the things that I am learning will help people know they are not on their own with any frustrations or worry that they may have, but also may give you some ideas.
One Size Doesn’t Fit All
First and foremost, I think it is of paramount importance that when utilising technology for home learning you do what is right for you, your setting and your learners. This is not a situation where one size fits all and you will probably find you will need to change and adapt your approach along the way.
For me, it is really important, that if you are using technology, it is at least accessible to everyone – from the tech novice to the experts. We are asking learners, and their parents, to complete this at home so it needs to be as pain-free as possible.
We have chosen to use Showbie to set our home learning. This is for a number of reasons. Firstly, we are fortunate enough to have one-to-one iPads for all children from year 1 to year 6. This means that all these children have a device at home that they can access Showbie on. Showbie is also a platform that we utilise frequently under normal circumstances – I use it for nearly every lesson.
For our learners, and in our setting, it works wonderfully. We can set work daily and upload learning in a variety of formats from videos, images, Keynote (Powerpoint for non-Apple users), voice notes and the list goes on. It enables us to provide feedback and support for our children almost instantaneously. Children can upload their work in any format they choose. I like my children to upload voice notes or videos of the books they are reading. If nothing else, this means I can see that they are safe and enables me to maintain regular contact with them.
If Showbie is a platform you choose to use, there are two things to point out. One, turn off the group discussion if you are not there to man it. I made the mistake of not doing and woke up to 580 messages and some insights about my children that I did not necessarily need. Secondly, in terms of work load and saving time, what I like to do is upload the learning tasks for the week on a Sunday evening (you do not have to do this, it just suits me to do it this way) and you can lock the tasks so learners cannot access it until you allow it. This means that I am not uploading several tasks every morning and I can unlock what I want, when I want.
”We are asking learners, and their parents, to complete this at home so it needs to be as pain-free as possible.Lucy FidlerYear 5 Apple school teacher
As much as I love Showbie (and always have) it may not be the platform for you. There are plenty out there, do what suits you best.
Much in the same vein, we are setting learning on a daily basis because it is what works for us. I have seen a lot of criticism of schools and SLT that are doing this and I think that it is entirely unfair. For our learners, setting work daily provides them with a sense of stability and normality that some of them so desperately need. It also gives me peace of mind – I am in nearly daily contact with most of my children, it just makes me feel better to hear from them.
My last comment for this section, is in regards to the type of work set. Again, this is very much dependent on the needs of the learners. For me, I will not be setting any new learning for my class. Even with the greatest video and the best will in the world, it will be nearly impossible to secure any new learning under these circumstances. The learning that I will be setting will be around revising and consolidating what the children have learnt already and ensuring that the basic knowledge is maintained for their return to school.
When we first embarked on this journey, my expectations were my biggest frustration. I, like all of us, expect the best, and nothing less than that at all times. So, when children weren’t completing work, or typing a story on Pages (Apple alternative to Word) and hadn’t included a single full stop, I found this disheartening and deeply troubling. What a terrible teacher I must be if they can’t use full stops without me around?
I soon realised I needed to change my mindset. The chances of achieving the expectations that I sit in class at home are very slim and at least they are having a go. But also, why not turn this into a learning experience? In class, we get children to write in a very archaic style with pen to paper. How often does that happen in real life? When was the last time you wrote anything, at length, and used pen and paper rather than a device of some sort? It just doesn’t happen.
Now, I have shifted my focus to the editing process whilst using technology, rather than despairing that the basics weren’t being used. All too often, our learners assume that their iPads are more intelligent. For example, whilst typing a suggested word will appear and they just select it, because the iPad suggested it regardless of whether or not it was the word the intended to use. All of this can be explored and investigated through Showbie, so it may not be the pages of beautiful handwritten prose I would usually like, but a worth-while skill is still being learnt.
Websites and Apps
Going back to revising and consolidating learning – there are a number of websites that have been set up for this purpose and should not be overlooked during home learning.
It may feel like a cheat to say just go on this website once a day, but important skills are still being rehearsed, often in a way that children find enjoyable. I would most certainly recommend TT Rockstars, Hit the Button, Read Theory, Spelling Shed and Pobble 365 to start you off.
This is a great time for teachers to develop their own technology skills. I would definitely recommend experimenting with the way you set learning.
I have recently been experimenting with videos. There are two ways I have been making them, the bog-standard just filming myself and then uploading, but also using voice overs on Keynote. I have found that the second way works particularly well. For those of you who are not familiar with Keynote, it is the Apple equivalent to PowerPoint. I have been experimenting with using a voice-over to turn my Keynote presentations into videos. It worked particularly well when recapping a calculation method – the children could hear me whilst having the visual in front of them. This is something I would recommend trying.
There is also lots of free online CPD taking place. In particular, I would direct you to the Apple Teacher Badges. For those of you looking to develop skills using Apple products these are great and completely free.
To summarise, we are all doing the best we can in this trying situation. Technology can be one of the most useful assets we have, not just in continuing learning, but also ensuring our children are safe and well. It is an opportunity to experiment with technology and develop your own skills and practice.
But please remember, this is new for all of us and not everything will work the way you hoped. Find what works best for you and go with that. Most importantly, stay safe.