It's got to be better

But wait a minute, I said this at the beginning of 2020. The last two years have been difficult for everyone, especially schools. Will 2022 be any better? Covid has changed the way we do things. Teachers are feeling zoomed out and wishing for the luxury of a class of healthy students who are ready to learn. How good would it be to get back to classrooms and not have to work online with up to thirty students trying to meet their individual needs for task support, tracking progress and reporting.

The challenges of online learning

1. Tasks and their importance

Teachers have increasingly engaged technology to enhance their lessons and students have followed suit to improve their learning. However, setting tasks to be done at home and presented online have been new challenges and skills for teachers to embrace. In particular, it has focused on the nature of tasks and how they can be written and presented to students to encourage learning and develop their computing and Internet skills. For some student tasks pose significant difficulty. First, they need to read and understand the task and that depends on the clarity of the teacher’s design. Sometimes students read a task and their first question is “What do I have to do?” Design is key to a good learning task and the better tasks can be multidiscipline. Sometimes teachers in their eagerness to support students include a lot of scaffolding. This is a preferred approach to task design but must clearly separate the task from the scaffold otherwise a student’s first question is still “What do I have to do?” Part of the scaffolding needs to be a reporting framework so that students are clear about the teachers’ expectations, about focus, size and format. This scaffolding will be different from the investigation and research part of the task that guides the student to the appropriate content and indicates the skills to be used. The reporting framework will help the students to know with confidence if they have followed the teacher’s instructions and are on track to successfully complete the task. To assist students, teachers need to touch base regularly with students and ensure they are on track. Learning tasks of this nature are powerful learning tools but require excellent design and monitoring by the teachers which is more time consuming when tasks are not understood or inappropriate for the students for whom they are designed.

2. Using teacher time wisely

Time management has been a huge issue for teachers with large classes and multiple abilities. There is no easy way to deal with this matter except to say that teachers might spend a minimum time with every student to ensure they are on task but overall students experiencing learning difficulties need more teacher time. Aiming to lift the learning outcomes of every student does not require equal time for every student. During lockdown, many students finished their work quickly and had a lot of spare time. Good luck to them, they don’t need equal time with struggling students.

3. Assessment time

Some teachers reported that the lack of face-to-face teaching made it difficult for assessment. While written work could be delivered electronically, teachers were increasingly concerned about how much help some students were getting from others and found it hard to assess what was their own and what had been actually learnt. In this regard, some teachers wisely put aside time to test each student with questions that they needed to answer in a zoom meeting to explain how they did the task, what resources they used, what they believed they had learnt and specific questions from the teacher about what they knew and could do. Without this sort of interaction assessment of written product is at best dodgy.

Broader issues

1. Resources

Online learning has thrown up some challenges for schools to provide equal resource access to students. In many cases they have had to provide laptop computers for students who do not have and cannot afford such items including continuous internet linkage. While a level playing field is not possible with resources, schools are doing their best to provide a minimum of resource equality. But resources do not include equity when it comes to parent’s education and input into their child’s school work. The home working environment for students, an appropriate space, a quiet area, vary with the size of homes and the number of people in the home. Many parents have to work either away from home or at home and manage their time appropriately including managing a number of young children.

2. Gaps

Much has been made about the possibility of learning gaps and while these are acknowledged so too is the evidence that these gaps can be made up. This matter was covered previously in TCF News and the article Mind the Gap is available on the TCF website

3. Socialisation and welfare

As Christians we know that school is much more than academic achievement. Christian education is about the whole child and so Covid and lockdown have interrupted the socialisation of students and created a number of welfare issues for parents and schools. Of these the most talked about is anxiety, with an increasing number of students being recommended for counseling support. In the first part of this year teachers will need to be more aware then ever of students who do not seem to be fitting in, of any evidence of bullying and of students who are increasing absent from school. Intervention may be needed quickly and not further down the track when issues escalate. As schools settle down to a new year let us pray that disruption will not be the same as previous years. Let the teachers teach and the students learn and may the good features of learning in lockdown carry over and help both teachers and students in this endeavor. John Gore