Australian schools and teachers are currently grappling with completely re-imagining how teaching and learning looks and, what’s more, we’re being asked to do it seemingly overnight.
The thing is, we’re not the first country to be charged with this task. In fact, we are up to 8 weeks behind some of our colleagues in other countries. So, wouldn’t it make sense to learn from their experiences, successes and challenges to give our students the best version of this that we can?
To help Australian teachers navigate their way through these challenging times, I’ve sought insights and advice from four international teachers who are further along this remote teaching journey. I hope by sharing these experiences it will help you move forward and work in a way that is calm, reasonable, purposeful and sustainable. (Check out my blog post on tips for preparing students work during school closures here).
I interviewed four teachers:
Kaz from Beijing
- School has been closed since January 22.
- Teaches year 5 in a private bilingual school.
Nicole from Beijing
- School has been closed since January 22.
- Teaches year 4 with a team of 7 other teachers. They teach a group of 130 students.
- Year 4 team are sharing the teaching load- Each teacher is taking responsibility for a different subject.
Heidi from Hong Kong
- School has been closed for 7 weeks.
- Teaches year 5/6.
Tina from South Korea
- School has been closed since February.
- Teaches at a language Centre with 100s of students.
What does a day of teaching look like?
We have 2-hour time slots on Zoom for students to log on to. I teach the first 2 hours, the next 2 hours are specialists and the final 2 hours are the Chinese teachers (it is a bilingual school). I have divided my class into small groups of 4, giving opportunities of 30 minutes for them all to get on. This can be just pastoral care (most important) and not academic but they are free to get on and ask questions about anything I have posted.
Our first week of this looked different. We were recording videos motivating students to get up and get to work and trying to model the more difficult assignments. The issue is that being at home we didn’t have chart paper and some of the tools we might need to do a good job. Parents complained because they wanted more interaction daily with teachers so the second week, we started the daily Zoom chat times.
We started out giving way too much work (many parents wanted equivalent of a full school day) but quickly realized it was too much. We are now required to send a weekly overview, and a daily announcement via Seesaw to our parents. Here is what grade 4 expectations are:
- Math – daily
- Reading – 3 times a week
- Writing – 3 times a week
- Read Alouds – 3 times a week
- Our team also does grammar twice a week, daily brain breaks, and one mindfulness activity on Fridays
Because we have teachers and students around the world, we are all required to work on Beijing time. Hence, we have 2 office hour shifts to accommodate all our students.
- 9:00 am – 12:00 PM
- 3:00pm – 6:00 pm
Parents know which shift you are on weekly, and students always have a teacher they can reach out to during these shifts. During these shifts is when we hold our class meeting Zooms, math tutorials, Zoom assemblies, Zoom read alouds, etc.
Heidi (Hong Kong)
Secondary school is following their same timetable that they would have at school. Students login to a Zoom meeting at the normal time of their class.
Primary school is following an adjusted timetable. Every primary classroom does a Google Meet (we will be switching to Zoom next week) twice a day. We do one from 9-9:45 to go through the home learning for the day, answer questions, do a mini-lesson if needed/appropriate, and have some kind of contact with each student. In the afternoon all of the primary classes have their 2nd online meeting of the day from 2:30-3:00. Teachers check-in to see how the day went, some will do another mini-lesson if needed, some will do a game together or tell jokes. A focus of wellbeing is important. Students will have tasks during the day that shadow a regular day at school. Class aides help answer questions online throughout the day and respond to Google Classroom messages. Class teachers are checking student work during the day and planning ahead individually and as year level teams.
In lower primary, they are also running small group reading circles on Google Meets with the class teacher and class aide. Some of the special needs (classroom aide) support in lower primary includes one-on-one sessions and some small group sessions. Some of the support still incorporates IEP (Individual education plan) targets, but also focuses on skills for daily lessons (e.g. phonics work, vocabulary front-loading, etc).
How do you assign work to your students?
We use the Platform Seesaw. However, we also use Flipgrid and Zoom with our students regularly.
Heidi (Hong Kong)
We assign class work through Google Classroom, Sutori and Seesaw. Google Classroom is the “one stop shop” that would be the first-place students check. On Mondays we share the “learning grid” for the week. This has the schedule and lessons outlined for the entire week. Then each day we upload the additional links that may be needed for certain lessons (e.g. link for BrainPop, SeeSaw, Sutori, etc). All students have the option of completing any of their school work offline- doing it as paper and pencil if they choose to. We just ask that they take a clear photo and then upload that to “hand it in.” We do plan activities that are non-screen time activities as well (e.g. cooking a meal with their parent to practice following a procedure… connected to procedural writing). The kids loved this and really liked sharing pictures with the class.
Are all of the students doing the work you give them? How do you know?
No. The first 3 weeks were good but after that we has been a slow decline. Seesaw has the ability for me to track work by activity completion, so it is very easy for me to keep track.
Heidi (Hong Kong)
No, definitely not. You know the students that you have who will be diligent and you know the ones that will be less than diligent. We do have some families that are overseas as well, so they are on different time zones or have opted to enrol their child in school somewhere else temporarily. Because we use Google Classroom, SeeSaw and Sutori… we can see everything that the child is working on and hands in. Some items we request they hand in so we can give feedback and others we only check off that it is completed. With my special needs caseload, I will also follow-up to check if they are completing their work as well because I have class access to their Google Classroom so I can see their assignments. I will email students and cc in the class teacher and parent when following up on different tasks that may need finishing.
How are you communicating with parents?
- Daily emails and daily announcements on Seesaw
- Admin sends out weekly surveys to parents
- Head of School sends out weekly updates
- Zoom meetings if there is a student concern with counsellor present
Heidi (Hong Kong)
The school itself will send out any emails that need to go to all families. This is usually done every Friday afternoon with any information that needs to be shared for the up-coming week. With the use of some on-line platforms, parents get email notifications when things are posted. It’s important not to overwhelm the parents with a million emails especially if the parent has several children… then they’re getting double and triple. As a school, we have asked all parents to notify the class teacher and the front office if their child will not be participating in online learning for any particular days. We are still taking attendance. This is done by noting which students are attending the classroom Google Meets (soon to be Zoom) and which students are handing in tasks during the day… “evidence of participation.”
After several weeks of online learning we sent out a Google Form to ask parents about how they felt things were going. You can’t please everyone for sure… but it was good to get the feedback and our principal made sure to share all of that feedback back with the parents so they could see how the community was feeling about certain things (e.g. amount of time on home learning, quality of Google Meet sessions, etc.). We continue to adjust what we are doing based on feedback from parents, staff and students.
How do you assess your students’ work?
We have made the decision to not teach anything new during this time. We are only giving extension of topics already taught or revision. All activities are optional and there is no consequence for not doing them. We are not grading students, but we are giving feedback.
This is challenging. We gave our first math assessment but have no real way of knowing who did it on their own. After 8 weeks in, we still do not have a good solution. However, I do know that older grades are giving tests based on the honor system where it is timed (my daughter is in grade 8) and other schools are giving tests to grade 12 students on Zoom so that the teachers can “watch” to ensure they are taking the test themselves, not using notes, devices ect.
Heidi (Hong Kong)
We do not assess every task that is assigned. We choose particular tasks each week that we tell the students they will be getting feedback on. They know to prioritise these tasks and to look for the feedback from the class teacher. Some teachers choose to write their feedback on the task itself (which you can do through any of the platforms) and other teachers choose to give feedback verbally and leave voice notes. If there is a particular task that a child has really missed the mark on, the class teacher will email the classroom aide to follow up (if they are assigned to one). As for progress reports… there has been no official decision yet, but I would guess that we will be doing something alternative to how we normally would be doing our reports. Time will tell.
What advice do you have for teachers who are about to start remote learning with their students?
- Start small, focus on one app that you will use. So perhaps you will introduce Zoom. I would not use another platform for that week, unless your kids are familiar. Mine were all using Seesaw, but never from home. My first 2 weeks was navigating tech questions, and I am not tech savvy at all.
- Have a tech troubleshooting platform in place for teachers / students / parents. This info should go out ASAP as everyone will need some help. Who will they turn to if they can’t upload an app, can’t remember their password etc?
- Remember that the parents are overwhelmed – especially if they have multiple children and only one device. Keep this in mind as you are creating guidelines for how much time per subject.
- Lower your standards – of yourself and of them. Allow yourself time to adjust and reach out and help each other. If you can co-teach – do it!
Heidi (Hong Kong)
- Just be okay with things not working smoothly and acknowledge that up front (to staff, students and parents). It will take time to adjust to the new technologies being used and all of the hiccups that may come along the way.
- Make sure to take time for wellbeing for everyone. Academics are less important than emotional health right now. Make sure to pace yourself. We hit the ground running at 100 miles an hour back in February and now we are all just exhausted. Take time for yourself. Make a coffee. Do some yoga. Shut the screen. Don’t let yourself get bogged down. Reach out to each other to do Facetimes and just chat.
- I would also suggest setting up expectations for behaviour on Google Meets (rules for the classroom are the same that are applied to the meets). Most kids get that. They will need to learn how to use the platform you choose as well so that takes time.
- The biggest thing is to try not to stress about the things we cannot control (like the current situation) and try to focus on the things we can control. We also work in wellbeing blocks into the schedule weekly with different activities that might include colouring, mediating, GoNoodle… Then we have kids share back to the group later what they did. It helps the students connect and not just focus on the negatives.
- The last bit I would say, is that at least for us… it has been more work-intensive than any regular day at school. So, just knowing that upfront will help mentally prepare you. However, it will depend on the age level your teaching and the class. Also, mentally prepare yourself for the home learning to go on longer than you hoped for… we were initially only supposed to be several weeks and now we’re moving into several months.
Tina (South Korea)
- Keep things simple and expectations low
- Parents aren’t teachers
- Kids and parents may have anxiety about the virus
- They may have financial issues
- They may have food insecurity
- School is less important than any of those issues
- I would encourage teachers to do a read aloud every day and post the video, asking a few comprehension questions at the end for kids to respond to.
- Keep interactions positive and full of affirmations.
- I really think it isn’t realistic or even fair to put a lot of pressure on kids or parents at this time.
What a great insight these teachers have given to the world of teaching remotely in these challenging times. I think this also highlights just how flexible, passionate and creative teachers are!
What other questions do you have for our international colleagues who are weeks ahead of us in this area? What questions/support for remote learning would you like to access? Let me know in the comments below or over on the Oz Lit Teacher Facebook Group and I will do my best to support you.
I will be offering a few online teacher PD e-courses from the start of next term. I had planned to offer these courses later in the year but am determined to bring them forward now to provide teachers with ongoing PD while away from school. What would you like to access PD on? Let me know so I can build something you will use.
Finally, I recently offered 3 Zoom PD sessions and realised that not everyone got the messages about them. The best way to stay up to date with everything Oz Lit Teacher is to sign up to the email list, you can click here to sign up.