As an educator, I have always valued the advantages that technology brings but I will admit that for the longest time, many of us only spoke about it during educational conferences, discussing about a “volatile” world with many disruptions, ‘VUCA’ as we called it! It was a given that embracing technology and using it as an enabler was indeed a way of seamless and continuous connect with children, but I think after this pandemic hindsight, many would have advanced and built on IT infra and capabilities with a bit more efficiency. Our world, for most parts was restricted to software, hardware and MIS system evaluations (and yes, school apps) that allowed us tracking mechanisms and in some very remote cases, a bit of differentiation. For the longest time, our discussions centred around screen time that was inter- changeably used with technology, and because we never got past that debate and discussion, many states had many parents up in arms about this and protesting a ban on line learning. On-line learning for many parents was not the same as “school”. Given their limited exposure, online learning was treated as some alien creature that needed to be caged before it unleashed its evil powers and handicapped our children. Really? I think the fault lies with us as educators for not being empathetic enough back in the days when we could, because had we communicated and demonstrated the advantages of technology, this seamless transition to the lockdown times would have had us focused on what we can do to truly harness the powers of technology, and not engage in discussions convincing people about its obvious merit. There are many. And that is very obvious for those who recognise this. We could have tried these out like some pioneering schools did before the pandemic during our usual bandh’s and monsoon closures. Many more, could have tested their reach, the connectivity, the ability and the capabilities (perhaps governments could have looked deep and addresed this program of IT infrastructure then?). We could have planned and oriented our parents and children that the world would change, and with changing variables, the need to adapt was crucial. Technology plays an important, and I dare say a crucial part of this survival. Question is would anyone listen? Hmm, clearly not. We have to accept that when the first lockdown happened, many did not anticipate it lasting, the second was painful and shocked everyone and so
did the third. By the fourth, people where predicting it in India. Yet, we did not adapt. We got through those times with anticipation that things would “normalise”. The next 6 months will continue to represent the last 4 months with the one constant – lockdowns when spikes go up, and unlock down times when the numbers are in control. Changing weather conditions may or may not have a bearing, but our social distancing will, and this will dictate how quickly we get used to or succumb.
The news this week globally is that WHO has changed its narrative about air borne spreads, and reports from leading organisations about children being in lockdown longer to protect them brings home an important point – “schools” will be transformed from physical to virtual spaces that will ensure that children are emotionally and socially connected as a matter of priority, children will be engaged using activity based learning and “normalise” and learning continues seamlessly with shared feedback and facilitators working hard at improvising, optimising and ensuring that children remain engaged. Children continue to grow and progress, as the one constant what we can control! Learning is not about physical spaces you see – we made it like that with the way we communicated, and we allowed people to believe it was infra and range of extra and co-curricular programs that differentiated a school. For me, it was always about teachers and what the teacher was able to achieve in his/her classrooms. As a mother, for me, to see my child happy, engaged, connected (with the occasional bout of cribbing about something or the other – I consider that normal), is critical and for me this was achieved because of the teachers. Their abilities and their reach. Yes when they work with technology, yes when necessary they create and address challenges but it was always about the teacher and he/she inspires the child. So in all of this, we should be concentrating on skilling our teachers, providing them with all the help and resources they need (accepting that some need more help than others), hand holding them so that they can deliver, and honestly working this together as everyone is encountering a world that is unique and presents many challenges and opportunities, depending on which way you look at it.
The states that empowered children without regulatory restrictions are the ones whose teachers are using this time and experience to capitalise, sourcing tools, resources strategies to make this virtual learning a powerful engagement mechanism that will allow them to personalise learning. Ah well, another one of our favourite terms – “personalised learning”, we used during conferences but in reality did very little to operationalise. Here’s our chance. Having strategized, and guided many teams with strategies as they initiated virtual engagements with the first lockdown, here are some “checkers” that will enable you to benchmark what you do in your school, and perhaps consider skilling up to ensure that your school children are motivated to attend
classes on line, can cope with them, exercise independence and optimise their personal academic goals. Hey, think how easily technology enables you to track these personal and academic goals that you can set for every student? Some tips (well, some turn into many when I tend to write!):
Regular parental orientation focused on type of platform used (how to use it), content you hope to cover, expectations from this platform etc and providing them with a “HelpLine” for frequently asked questions would be critical. This must be done regularly every month, as you would have done quarterly with the syllabus in the physical world. Frequency in communication is a key with the parents!
2. Dedicated To-Do space:
The month’s overview available for parents in a dedicated space, and the week’s plan as well so that parents who tend to forget, can quickly “brush up”. Don’t forget work done every week, as parents are also overwhelmed with their respective work and house-hold responsibilities and would love this support of “knowing” when information is stored and can be referred to in a dedicated place.
3. Regular Feedback:
Weekly polls/feedback from parents, students are important so that one can course
correct and work out what was not working
4. Essential Agreements:
Every week, refresh their memory about essential agreements – log in times, cameras on or off, in the chat box marking their attendance as soon as they log on (clearly teacher must log in 5 minutes prior), eye breaks after a 15 mins session, when they need to answer, when they can ask questions, embrace flipped classroom techniques of sending reading material in advance, so the class is more about “solving”, home-work formats, consequences for not tuning it in, tests schedule, revision time, one-on-one time schedule, tuning in, mind maps and closures etc
5. Peer Feedback
Requesting a fellow teacher to “sit” in some classes, and share pointers, and you returning the favour will enable you to pick up “styles” especially with different subjects
6. Quiz Time
Like in the physical world, every lesson plan must include pre-assessment of the child’s pre-requisite knowledge, do plan for this via a quick quiz using Kahoot (there are zillions of options that you can research and use), and quickly determining their levels, adjust the course content. If possible, this should be done a day prior before you finish your last class so you alter your learning objectives quickly
7. Mind Maps
Use mind maps at the start of every lesson to let the children see what they will be learning, and this helps them re-cap for the week easily as well
Handouts are great ways to send a class summation to the students after a concept is completed, so that they have this handy when revising; in some cases use voice notes or handwritten notes as a whats app messages on the group chat with parents or students , whatever your policy may be
9. Checking for Understanding % Tracking Progress:
Mini-tests at the end of every week would be a great idea to ensure that everyone was tuned in and understood
Checking-in with parents every week if they are available or need based but most definitely every month so that you communicate how the child is doing, and where you need their help at home. These must be flexible times and one may have to adjust with working parents and their schedules. Make time for this.
b. These conferences must include qualitative and quantitative description about the
11. Socio Emotional Learning
Irrespective of your subject, teachers must check in on what the child is feeling – call it Talk Time – at least once a week, factoring in the socio emotional learning
12. The Must-Haves
Use of videos (downloaded and not using a google search at that time), props when teaching, blackboards or even stuff that is pre written so that you can show them visually), a lot of audio visuals
13. Group Work
Breaking the groups in smaller groups if possible, and when that is not possible, pre deciding groups depending on the student levels, so that work happens one on one
when kids need your attention, and for those who “get” the concept, they can “break-away” and “solve” with their partners
Using existing e-resources to explain a concept by first sharing that video, and then “walking” the children through it again by giving examples
15. Tuning-In; Energizers
Incorporating tuning in activities for every class to get the students motivated, using
drama and sports maybe as energisers, always acknowledging contributions of
16. Rewards & Assigning Roles
Setting up reward systems in class as motivational measures for engagement
17. Time-tested Tools:
Group work, research skills, case studies, open book questions, and getting kids to not listen all the time but either write in their notebooks or on line will ensure that they get a break from the static position; getting them to set papers
Use of events for subject teachers – like as CricketMath or Science Magic to bring an element of surprise; allow them once a week to bring their fav snack to class ….. and share their thoughts about some news article during this snack time (can be clubbed with Talk Time)
19. Plan for every child’s success
Create a differentiated home work assignment basis of the pre-assessment, polls and tests so that you motivate the students to attend class hopeful of succeeding and this is only when the home-work submitted gets the many stars from the teachers or a high grade
Virtual engagements have to be crisp (optimum time for each age group), fast paced, involve timely breaks, and use a lot of audio visuals, change of scenario and screen breaks. Virtual engagements will also have to bring in elements of surprise, guest lectures, changing the format, revision, testing and projects to ensure that the engagements are exciting for children. Collaborate with another school class, in another country if you can and see how the children get excited. Unless you communicate the vision to parents, and unless they recognise the thought process behind the effort you are making, there will be an expectation mis-match. Taking feedback from parents and students, and constantly investing your time on research and new formats will ensure your class has the highest attendance. Try a fancy-dress day for a change?? There are many risks that we will have to take to ensure that we engage with the children. I have
always believed that some of this comes with no “bonus” other than the satisfaction to see your children attend class with their camera’s on. For me, that is a greatest indication that children want to be there, heard, and seen. Some things do not have a price on them? There will have to be a ditching of ego, and embracing of corrections with an open minded, accepting failure and hardwork. What this does is remind us, that we remain learners as much as the kids, and this equal platform motivates us to do more, and learn faster.
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