I participated in a third online seminar organised and hosted by Professor Judy Robertson and the Centre for Research in Digital Education at Moray House. Claire Sowton ran the Twitter backchannel on @eddiged on the #MHOnline tag, and Jenni Doonan curated the chat channel. These back-channels are an essential part of a vibrant, large online seminar like this (there were about 60 delegates).
This session addressed “Supporting Family Learning During Lockdown.” Speakers included Lizzie Overton (Head Teacher Danehill Primary School) and Jo Murray who shared experiences and discussed how we can support families with home learning.
The Head Teacher’s experience
Holly Linklater spoke to Lizzie first. Online platforms were discussed and the challenge for parents who might have been asked to log in at a particular time on a particular day to find out what their children were being asked to do. Solutions seemed to be based on projects, or enquiry tasks around key questions for the whole family, with ideas for parents on the kind of tasks that children of different ages might be expected to do. Parent response has been mostly positive when asked; although some have complained about it not being sufficiently “academic”, the perennial problem of parental ignorance of how their children learn (my words, not those of any speaker).
Basic skills in using the platforms are important, particularly in managing of the microphones, in making the online experiences successful.
Holly asked about evidencing progression in the lockdown regime, which Lizzie responded to by talking about the change to end of year reports, for example, which will be based around conversations with the parents and children. These kinds of changes are likely to become more permanent improvements to the way that educators and schools work in meeting the needs of learners.
The final message from Lizzie was that she hopes that school will feel more like home - a lovely concept that characterises the aspirations
Video conferencing around Scotland
Tommy Lawson was asked to update us on the situation with teachers operating live video chat, and he painted a picture around the local authorities and the varying advice and policy across the country. It seems to be variable, mostly related to child protection but also to teacher protection. He posted a link to the UNICEF guidelines and segued in a nice video message from Charlie Love in Aberdeen on how they are using G Suite, and Google Classroom. Charlie spoke about the importance of children “checking in” and how they put protocols in place for parents and staff to enable this with Google Meet. These related mostly to eliminating distractions, but also to positioning of the camera on a “blank” space or wall. Reporting mechanisms were put in place to enable young people to report anything that upsets or concerns them during one of these meetings.
The parent/teacher’s experience
Jo Spiller spoke with Jo Murray, who is a parent and primary class teacher who talked about her experience of home-schooling from both a professional and personal perspective. She talked about the context first, before going on to talk about the experience of getting to grips with what was allowed and what not, especially at the beginning of the COVID-19 measures being introduced. Weekly learning grids seem to be common, and Jo’s school sent packs out of basic resources including pencils and maths/literacy tools. Keeping relationships alive has been found to be important and a feature of the inline live video connections, which have been more about sustaining community and relationships than project or academic purposes than at first thought.
Challenges with access to computers and connectivity were again discussed as significant in terms of the impact on “widening the gap.” Home schooling for children with additional support needs is a problem, especially where school resources sent home are undifferentiated. As a parent, Jo has established routines and connectivity to her child’s social group as part of her home schooling regime. She stressed the importance of routine now. For teachers, she advises that expecting parents to be spending time interpreting learning grids and preparing resources for their individual children is unreasonable. It certainly seems unsustainable.
In questioning, Jo said that parent-school relationships are key, such that parents are confident in supporting their children even if that means not doing the grid. Lizzie observed, especially for new teachers, that the job is all about relationships, and that this has become more sharply evident in the current crisis. She thought that schools has become too big: she suggested that 100 pupils makes for a functional school. She also identified the willingness of staff to work collaboratively is important too.
The Moray House Online seminar series continues next week. You can find details here.