‘Our kids are a lot better at adapting to change than we thought’ — one teacher’s remote learning experience

Ashley Meyland, Student Leadership Leader, is in her fifth year teaching at Gowrie Street Primary School in Shepparton, Victoria.

Gowrie Street serves a wonderful, diverse community including 30% of students who are Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander and 20% of students with English as an Additional Language. Due to the COVID-19 crisis, the school has shifted its teaching practice online.

We sat down with Ashley via video conference to talk about the positives of her remote learning experience. Here’s what she shared with us.

The Conversation has been edited for length and clarity

More one-on-one contact — an extended conference

‘In a classroom environment, you will often only get the chance to have one or two minutes of one-on-one learning with a child, maximum — there are so many kids in the class that need attention.

Working remotely, we have been structuring our days to include a set time where we can talk to each kid; I’m finding that leads to more in-depth conversations with them.

I'm getting a lot more feedback to my students through remote learning. We’ll talk about their reading and their writing, and they can practice my feedback in the moment to see the impact. It’s valuable for the students in the immediate and in the longer term, because I’m able to collect more specific data about their progress.’

Revisiting practical strategies — and discovering new ones for new environments

‘I’ve been lucky in that I can come into the school to collect resources after our planning sessions each week. I have made the time to find a range of books that are really suitable to the topics that I'm teaching; I'm looking at different reading strategies to help us solve unfamiliar words and really build up that knowledge of being able to read fluently.

In my videos for class, I'm getting students to use items from around the house to spark learning and introduce unfamiliar words. For example, I'm using sticky notes in my videos, but that’s not something every family has at home, so I’m encouraging students to be creative with random objects. It’s a new level of engagement with the lesson.

On a practical level, reading lessons look similar to their in-person, in-classroom counterpart. I have the physical book with me on the screen and I’ll hold up the learning intention to the camera. The only difference I'm finding is you're not getting that immediate feedback from your students. That’s where phone catch-ups become important – students are able to directly refer back to those lessons. I steer my conversations with the students — and the families, too-  towards our specific focus areas for reading and writing.

I now get videos back from my class showing the kids reading, seeing them using the strategies that I was talking about in my videos. It’s really nice to see.’

Room for reflecting on teaching practice

‘I’ve noticed that I'm very clear with my delivery when I'm making my videos. I don't have any distractions around me to make me lose my train of thought. I'm able to cover every single part of my lesson plan.

I’ve been spending a lot of time before I record each of my lessons preparing to emphasise the most critical points of my lesson plans. I try to focus on student need — I might go over the same thing five times in the video where I feel they need more time with a concept. I’ve learned that I know my kids and how they learn, so I can confidently use what I know to direct my focus.

Obviously, the first few times you record yourself, you're just picking on the negatives, but over time I've been able to reflect. I’ve been finding a lot of positives in my teaching, especially as I focus quite tightly on the content that's being taught.’

Creating a community of learning

‘Our kids are a lot better at adapting to change than we thought. I was apprehensive about the effectiveness of remote learning, but I have had positives from all my students and families. The kids are so excited to be learning, and the families are loving the face-to-face contact through our videos.

Our relationships are so much stronger because we’ve been thrown into this situation together. My families are now comfortable just asking me random little questions about their child’s learning that they wouldn’t have asked — even if they had questions before this happened. It's really brought us together as a community.’

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