As Australian and New Zealand schools navigate reopening, I have been thinking a lot about Adam Voigt’s recent article where he wrote about the need to ‘Marie Kondo’ Victorian schools, or consider throwing out things in our schools that don’t bring us joy.
It’s an interesting concept to consider. The emergency remote learning that has occurred during COVID-19 school shutdowns has led many of us to adapt and adopt new teaching methods and styles. Now, in this current, messy ‘in between’ space as we slowly return to ‘normal’, it seems a good time for all of us in the education space to consider what brought you and your students joy during blended learning, and what did not.
Technology has been at the forefront of this emergency online teaching experience, whether willingly or otherwise. Alice Leung, a teacher I follow on Twitter, shared that ‘in just under two months, I think I have learnt what I would usually learn with technology in 12 months.’
In my role at Texthelp of supporting and educating customers, I have certainly experienced this in my work at Texthelp. I had to engage with all my schools and teachers online, digitise my materials, and determine which meeting platforms would work best, all while making sure I was catering to the diverse needs of those I was working with. It was exhausting and enlightening.
And while a lot of technology that the education industry used during the school shutdowns became necessary tools to simply continue learning, many schools and jurisdictions had all these tech tools at their disposal even before the emergency. They just had never really been taken advantage of until now.
But, rather than simply going back to the way things were, John Hattie wants us to consider collating and sharing all the ‘excellent examples of learning away from school’ and think about how we could introduce them into a regular school day. For me, when reflecting over the last few months and all the craziness, there are three key takeaways that I believe should be kept as educators and students return to school.
The first is embedding support for the diverse range of learners into all teaching and learning. This is not a new takeaway. In fact, it’s something I thought I did well, but that I now realise I can do better. Chrissie Butler in CORE Education’s blog suggests turning ‘Learning support’ into ‘support for learning’ for everyone, a term that is inclusive of all. She encourages us to recognise that tools and supports we build into online learning with specific diverse learners in mind actually support all learners.
An example of this is video captioning. Captions enable viewers who are hearing impaired to access the video content. However, captions also enable users who prefer to watch videos with the sound off to access the content in their preferred viewing style. Similarly, our reading support tool, Fluency Tutor for Google, was originally designed to develop reading fluency for struggling readers or English Language Learners. But, due to emergency remote learning, schools have discovered new joys of using the tool. They are now using Fluency Tutor for all readers and are recognising it is an ongoing solution to a school’s lack of diversity in home reading materials.
Writing for Teacher Magazine, Dr. Helen Street notes: ‘As schools return to face-to-face teaching and learning, we need to ensure we provide opportunity for autonomy, agency, choice and control for everyone, every day.’ For much of the last few months in education our actions have been very reactive. We have often felt we have had no or little choice as we navigated emergency remote learning. However, now that we have some time to breathe and reassess, it’s important to ensure we are giving choice and agency back to our students. This can be as simple as letting them decide how they learn best and what tools they need to do so.
Read&Write, our literacy tool, enables all students to make their own decisions about the support they need at any given time, no matter where they are or what digital platform they’re working on. With its variety of features, students can discover which tools work for them, giving them ownership of their learning. And for those who may be struggling to learn, Read&Write gives them the ability to read, write and study without having to ask someone to help or give up their autonomy.
My final takeaway may be obvious but it is the fact that technology that worked while remote learning can work in the classroom as well, as long as it’s meaningful for the learner.
For example, during blended learning, I saw the ease in which the Google Suite of tools supports teachers to assign, engage and assess learners, thus helping their students through their learning journeys. Similarly, the ability to include built-in captioning while recording in Microsoft Teams has been incredibly useful during this emergency, and will continue to be beneficial for students with hearing impairments or those who prefer reading over listening to content. When you consider the benefit to the student, it’s clear that these supports aren’t just for home learning but can be used in the classroom as well.
Chrissie Butler talks about walking in the learner’s shoes before you press send on that online activity, which is such useful advice. Now that we have time to re-evaluate the tools we're using, we have to consider which ones bring value (and joy) to our students.
Just recently, I created a ten frame maths activity in EquatIO mathspace. While you can do this on a variety of different platforms, including physical manipulatives, I had to consider the learners I was making this activity for, which was a Year 1 - 4 age group all with a primary diagnosis of Autism. EquatIO mathspace was not only a time-saver for me, but it created a a de-cluttered and distraction-free environment that would be useful for my learners as well.
While it has certainly been a hectic time and continues to be as we navigate our way back to the new ‘normal’, I hope you have the opportunity to reflect on what you would keep after the blended teaching of the last few months.
To learn more about emerging strategies and common tools that could support teaching and learning in this new normal, check out our webinar series on future-building teaching in blended learning environments for both literacy and numeracy.