Musings from the Plains
Supporting parents at home
Online learning is a new experience for parents. Schools need to issue guidance that speaks to them. Below are some tips to help them support children at home.
Feel free to adapt and use as you see fit.
Rules for virtual learning
If you are looking for some simple rules to support virtual learning, hopefully these will help.
The advent of the #CoronaTeacher
A corona extends from the Sun, millions of kilometres from the source, to spread light. Kind of similar to a teacher teaching virtually, to students all over the world, as the case might be.
Three months down the road from when the novel coronavirus first emerged in China, one of the biggest impact on society, apart from public health, has been on education. The kickstarting of digital pedagogy on such a scale has never been possible before. All the tech gurus and specialists put together could not possibly had such an impact in a mere 8 weeks after schools started closing across the world. Let's start by giving credit where credit is due.
The Chinese Government’s decision to offer virtual classes on a national scale was the single most important decision that set the ball rolling. Previously, schools were often shut and terms extended or holidays reduced to make up the difference. By almost dictating that the school day run as normal, virtually, they single-handedly pushed a lot of schools into the digital age. By enforcing self isolation, they removed the option of choice and travel which meant most ended participating in virtual learning.
The second is school leadership. This crisis truly highlights the massive power which resides within our school leaders. When they are truly behind an initiative the results are always spectacular. Which also makes me wonder why some school leaders were hesitant in using virtual learning before the crisis. I can never understand why certain schools spend such huge amounts on tech infrastructure, training and still not have much to show for it. I chalk this one, in those schools, to personal disinterest in tech-based pedagogy. If you lead by example, others follow.
The third is the ed-tech world at large, coming together to offer free solutions and training has helped a lot of colleagues take their first step into true virtual learning. From Microsoft Teams to Google Hangouts to Century to Mangahigh to Byju, everyone is on board to support the learning. Of course, there is always an underlying business strategy but this makes me wonder, what if post this crisis, they continue to offer their services for free? How will that help the continuation of the progress made?
Fourth, the teachers, they have been on the frontline and a lot of them struggled, often silently. Of course, we forgot to add the virtual staff room or the proverbial water cooler. They upped their game and learnt some solid skills. On Twitter, the bizz has been super positive. They identified where tech worked for them and where it didn’t. They curated learning experiences which worked for their students and these will shape the conversation on the development of education technology for years to come.
Finally, the parents, the unsung heroes, who had to look after kids at home or make arrangements. They became students themselves at times. Ensuring a child is occupied full time is a job in its own right, ensuring their education and managing your day to day, is a challenge indeed. Getting to set up a positive learning environment at home can be a challenge especially if you have dogs, cats, siblings, the odd inappropriate picture/statue in the background which can easily disrupt a virtual lesson. Not easy being a virtual teacher's assistant. Kudos to you all.
So thanks to the above teaching and learning has progressed into the virtual world but what have we learnt so far over the last three months?
Well, where it worked really well, clear structures were formed using some of the following:
Where it didn’t work:
Key problems encountered
With any digital learning experience there are always aspects of e-safety to consider so make sure that you are:
Tips for parents
Research studies have shown that positive parent engagement contributes to a successful online learning experience for children so identify how you can support the online learning process.
Hopefully, some of the above will give you an insight into some of the initial learning from the global online learning experience so far and you might be able to plan effective digital experiences both as a teacher and as a parent.
The value of trust
We had a parents evening today and a number of teachers were on song in the hall talking to parents and students about progress and next steps. The eager students who were jostling to go see their favourite subject were mingling with the not so eager ones who just wanted the evening to get out of the way.
Talking to parents and observing some of the conversations in the hall, it was quite clear that parents put in a huge amount of trust in our abilities to do the best for their children. Sometimes in the bigger scheme of things, the value of this trust gets out of focus and we end up concentrating on learning, targets, attainment, pastoral, progress and all the other buzzwords. But for the parents, the value of that trust always remains.
Now one may argue that all the above are parts of us valuing that trust but how do we instil that trust and make parents believe that we have their child's best interest at heart? Parents want to feel valued and respected by teachers. They want teachers that genuinely care about teaching. They want teachers that raise the standards and have high expectation for ALL children and not just the eager ones mentioned above.
I am sure you have overheard or been part of a conversation about a student who does not work at home. The parents end up with the responsibility/blame to co-teach at home and more often then not, they don't have a clue on how to go about this. We end up projecting our failure to connect with the student onto others.
The key lies in communication between teachers and parents. Traditional systems of reports, parents evenings, odd phone calls are archaic. Modern systems such as access to School information management systems and student data are also redundant as the onus is on parents to regularly check it and teachers to regularly update it. Both can go amiss at times.
So how do we go about it?
Well our school is trying. We are setting up a team of parents and teachers to help solve this problem and actively pursue a mutually satisfying result. Governors are getting involved in setting this up an perhaps getting students onboard would be quite useful too. Perhaps all aspects of home school communication needs to be looked upon and a clear protocol needs to be established and followed to ensure that the trust in embedded deeply. If you get your parents onboard and students realising that there are adults who care for them then a successful environment for learning will be established
In the end, rightly so parents only have their children that they focus upon whereas a teacher has the whole class to look out for. Without getting the parents onboard, ensuring every student succeeds is a monumental task indeed.
If you want to know of how our systems work and our plans to overhaul the area of home school communication, contact me on Twitter or pop a comment below.
Bringing about a tech revolution
I have been teaching 12 years now and from the very first day, I have taken technology for granted. I always worked in a school with a high ratio of computers per students, Internet access, VLE, information systems, the works. It's like a part of being a teacher to me.
This post is based on my experiences of bringing about change in countries where tech use is not the norm.
I cannot stress the importance of getting your school leadership onboard whatever you want to achieve. I am lucky to have a leadership that can see the benefits that technology brings to learning but I have had to convince some teams in the past of the difference it brings to learning. Once, to show the benefits of iPads, I asked them to buy some for themselves, which got them using it. Once they saw the potential, the rest was history. With leadership teams, its never us vs them, just a matter of perspective. Sometimes staffing might be more important than technology.
Vision, ownership and pace of change
Listen to what people want, but stay true to your vision. If you believe that it is the best and can prove it, don't get dissuaded by doubters. I once had a team member, who used to be negative about any change that you discussed. Eventually, there came a time when he wasn't involved in discussions. I am sorry but if all you will do is doubt about change without offering a valid reason, you are off the bus. Taking people onboard is important but not when it comes in the way of improvements to learning.
Another member of staff, once came up to me to give "advice" that we shouldn't go ahead with changing our email system to Gmail as it was my first big change in school and I should be careful how people perceive me. We had an archaic system of email which was staff only. The same person later raved about gmail and how it helped him and his students connect.
Regarding the pace of change, here's a quote from a very experienced SLT member "It's not mountain climbing where you go at the pace of the slowest person". In my current school, we were a decade behind UK schools and in one year we are on par if not ahead of them. This pace of change has been dramatic however the vision was there along with the support that helped bring this change.
This is the model we worked upon so might not be suited to your context.
Our essentials were the best Internet access we could get, site wide WiFi, mobile devices, Web 2.0 tech, data management software and teacher training. Later on Google Apps for Education (GAFE) became an essential component in our strategy.
We had about 80 desktops for a school of 500 users. 34 were for student use. Two sets of 15 laptops were also available. A 2Mb Internet connection and a WiFi system which used home routers to give access to the laptops where it was needed. I joined the school with a new Principal who had experienced first hand the benefits that tech brought to learning and that made my job a lot easier.
The first thing we did was come up with a strategy to this change and get key staff onboard. Next, the Internet speed was bumped up to 20Mb and eventually to 40Mb. Still slow by UK standards but pretty quick for Nepal and we are using it completely. We then decided to implement site wide WiFi to ensure that BYOD and our mobile vision brought tech into every classroom. Eventually we ended up going the tablet route and ensuring that a majority of our Secondary students could use a device in every lesson. This was ensured by giving iPads as part of a rolling program for Years 7, 8 and 12. In Primary, we invested in touch screen technology and collaborative tech like Osmo. We gave iPads and eventually Macbooks to teaching staff so they could get familiar with using the technology. We upped the number of computers and laptops for student use from 64 to 200 and have a set of bookable 30 Nexus 7 tabs and 30 iPad minis. We scrapped the Moodle based VLE which was not being used and started using Edmodo and GAFE. Socrative, Quizlet, Nearpod, Thinglink and many more tools were introduced through INSET sessions with the provision that the expectation wasn't there to use them all but whatever suited the teacher's style and classroom. We revamped the school website in line with our vision and also implemented a school wide information system called Engage and I can go on and on.
All of this was achieved in a year and yes there was resistance to change in some quarters but we implemented a PD programme ranging from INSET days to ICT Wednesday drop in sessions for staff at lunch times and after school. We have PD screens in the staff room that show short 30 second clips on how to use tech but most of all we get the students to pressure teachers into using tech. They have become the catalyst of change. They go about asking teachers that I used this with Miss so and so, why don't you use it. Let me show you how?
I can continue going on all the things we are implementing to measure the impact of the change and how to train staff but this post has gone long enough.
In the end, to bring about a tech revolution it's all about your conviction and beliefs and how you go about it. Not all technology is good for everyone but if you have evidence then even the unbeliever will eventually succumb. They still might have personal issues but they can't deny the learning that occurs in their classroom as a result and that change should be the goal of every tech revolution.
Are you intelligently disobedient?
I have been thinking about the term more and more as I visit Nepali schools and also after reading a lot of tweets and blogs from my global PLN.
In schools, admins or leaders define the vision and policies of the school. This leads to conflict in the ranks. Obviously human nature is subversive to a degree and not everyone can be kept happy. There is a lot of backbiting and gossip however the majority of us end up towing the line. We keep our doubts to ourselves and don't try to challenge the status quo. Some do but they argue with passion, anger, heart and often due to ego.
A rare few challenge with facts. They observe, they collate evidence, they research, measure impact and then they challenge. They intelligently disobey and they often end up being the catalyst of greatness in their schools.
The term originated from the animal world - where animals like guide dogs can disobey the command of their owner in order to keep them safe. When translated into the human world it means challenging the status quo at times and often voicing opinions which might prove unpopular. Intelligently disobedient people can take risks, and can come up with creative solutions, all while keeping the needs of the learners in mind.
So if you have a no mobile policy at school or feel strongly about the negative impact of that new assessment policy on your students, be intelligently disobedient. Better yet teach your students how to do that.
Oh and there is a thin line between intelligently disobedient and intelligently obedient. If you do find that what you were against actually can work really well for learners, don't let ego get in the way. Support the change by sharing your evidence & convince others.
A staple of every school that I have taught in is the staff farewell session on the last day. This year was no different. As the speeches started rolling in, one thing emerged and that was a theme of kindness and acknowledgement. It was great to acknowledge our peers who helped us and learnt with us but the 'feel good' factor was how kind and generous everyone was.
It made me think about the role of kindness in the schools. Am I kind? What does that mean? How does that look in practice? Is kindness only talking to everyone gently? Is it just being concerned for someone when they are in your class or in front of you?
Can we tap into kindness to help our wards become better learners?
Establish a relationship through kindness
By showing them kindness during their times of distress especially when they have not got that concept for the umpteenth time whilst the class has moved on or when they have forgotten their homework or equipment or so on. Yes, there is a need to teach them discipline, but remember forgetting a few times in the bigger scheme of things is not important. Even when you have a persistent behavioural issue, often kindness in the face of adversity can help that child become more empathetic, even though they might not show that at the time. As Dr Stanley Greenspan suggests empathy comes often when children are empathised with.
Below are some direct benefits of being kind, children have (Sourced from the RAK Foundation)
What about staff?
Lest we forget, the other main body in schools, staff. It is equally important to be kind to them and often this is quite difficult. I'm sure there have been times when we all haven't been as kind as we could to a colleague. Some of you might think tough love can't be avoided at times. Maybe, but there are always better ways to deal with situations than criticism or just ignorance. Often forgiving someone's mistake is good leadership. They probably have punished themselves in their head countless times. We often don't compliment people enough as it is much easier to pick on things they do wrong. As I tell my team, you might do ninety nine things right but that one thing you do wrong often gets stuck in people's head - Don't let it get stuck in yours. Care about your own well-being too. Don't criticise yourself if you do things wrong. Remember, we all are not perfect.
Is there need for kindness or empathy training in schools?
Perhaps but there is great deal more to gain through role modelling kindness both to students and staff from the top down. Not only will this create a better work environment but it will make you personally feel better and that surely is not a bad thing.
Some practical suggestions (student level - staff I leave to you)
I am sure you all can think of countless others. Feel free to tweet them at me (@KSThakral) or mention them in the comment section below.
*Durlak, J. A., Weissberg, R. P., Dymnicki, A. B., Taylor, R. D., & Schellinger, K. B. (2011). The impact of enhancing students’ social and emotional learning: A meta-analysis of school-based universal interventions. Child Development, 82(1), 405-32.
“This can’t be right”
I once observed a student say this during a discussion about a guessing game we were creating based on numbers. She believed zero was both even and odd. When another student presented counter evidence, she considered the point. “I really didn’t think of it this way,” she said.
She was displaying intellectual humility.
As we educate young learners are we creating intellectuals who are always sure of themselves or are we integrating the concept of intellectual humility.
What do I mean by intellectual humility?
To me it means an ability to say no when you don’t know an answer however that is not the end of it. It is then finding out the answer and continuing the discourse. It also means to consider alternative viewpoints from the point of view that I might be wrong. One has to understand the limits of one’s knowledge unlike general humility which is often linked to traits like unselfishness, sincerity and honesty. If you are looking for a more intellectual definition see the end of this post.
If we can teach our learners to be constantly in a state of open mindedness, receptive to new ideas and new sources of evidence, we create better learners who can engage in a civil discourse much more effectively. "A person with a fixed mind-set and a high IQ, for example, might take on an arrogant stance, presuming they “already know everything” and therefore inadvertently holding themselves back from learning something new." Once this type of mindset is embedded, it is difficult to change over the course of a person’s life time.
"Without humility, you are unable to learn," says Laszlo Bock, Google's VP of hiring. "Successful bright people rarely experience failure, and so they don't learn how to learn from that failure." This is one of the top qualities they look for in employees. There is an excellent example of Google CEO Sundar Pichai demonstrating intellectual humility in his original interview at Google. Read here.
If you would like to learn more about intellectual humility, please follow this online course from the university of Edinburgh
So how can we start training our students in intellectual humility? As the rule of three goes, below are three simple methods you could experiment with in your classroom:
1. Encourage discussions on a topic where everyone’s view point is acknowledged.
2. Ask students to elaborate with evidence and not opinion. Teach them that distinction.
3. Role model examples from the past where once you thought you were right and now have changed your mind. Get them to share theirs.
"(Leary et al., 2016) define intellectual humility as recognising that a particular personal belief may be fallible, accompanied by an appropriate attentiveness to limitations in the evidentiary basis of that belief and to one’s own limitation in obtaining and evaluating relevant information (p1)"
"Now watch this video by Kathryn Schulz where she reflects on the notion of “being wrong,” arguing that we often have “error blindness” and that we have created a culture with an aversion to being wrong. Schulz invites us to reverse this narrative and recognise the power that comes from learning from our prior mistakes and uncertainties."(OpenMindPlatform.com)
For further reading, see Schulz’s book, Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error.
Gaming our way to the top
Children love games, in fact, we all do so two years ago we started a project to look at how gamification principles like leaderboards, levels of challenge, rewards and competitions could support learning.
Being an inclusive school, we support a varying range of abilities and one of the major challenges most international schools face is a transient student population. Students join us with varying levels of interest and proficiency especially in Mathematics and English. Personalisation is core to the school’s vision and our gamification programme focussed on empowering learners to access our curriculum based on their pace. Another focus was enabling staff to use innovative methods of instruction to support student learning.
As part of a School Action Research Project, we investigated the impact gamification makes on attitudes, engagement and learning outcomes. We reviewed a number of platforms and mapped their impact on our processes from a pedagogical point of view. A direct result was the pilot of Mangahigh in Year 5. As part of our data analysis based on standardised assessment, we identified students who were at risk of becoming disaffected and decided to use this as an opportunity to engage them.
Mangahigh uses Artificial Intelligence to generate and mark assignments so it had the added benefit of reducing staff workload. Key staff like numeracy and assessment coordinators were trained via the support that was offered by Mangahigh. Between us we worked on a strategy and decided to focus on a year group which had the most number of underachieving students.
Staff development was critical so we conducted workshops and highlighted the benefits of using gamification and continued to support them throughout the pilot. Similarly, we ran workshops for parents showcasing how the pedagogy worked and discussed how to shift the focus to education based games instead of conventional games.
We wanted to start by setting a weekly homework or a class task initially. At this point, our strategy went out the window, as students went wild with it. In the first week, they logged more activities compared to the entire month before. We saw levels of engagement increase. Within the first month, data analysis showed that some of the identified students were catching up to age-appropriate levels. Teachers were supporting students with clarification of concepts and some students were racing ahead of the curriculum. Once the pilot was over we took stock and looked at positive outcomes and issues faced by teachers, parents and students. We devised solutions and extended the pilot with Year 5 teachers now training peers from other year groups.
The focus was on developing Mathematics proficiency through the use of gamification principles across the Primary School. The programme empowered teachers to develop innovative pedagogical practices that incorporated data-driven planning.
Students take CEM tests in September and these are used to measure annual progression. Analysing data showcased higher than average gains for age-related Mathematics progression after the project was introduced. Even taking into account the highest ever annual gains historically, the year on year progression was almost half a years worth per child!
Measuring progression of disengaged students showcased huge jumps. Boy A who was -0.4 and -0.5 in his two previous CEM tests jumped to +0.98 in one year. Similarly, Girl A who was -1.5 years behind her age reduced the gap to -0.07 within one year. These success stories can be attributed to greater use of data generated via Mangahigh, which enabled our teachers to support students by reducing the burden of assessment and assignment setting and focussing on informed lesson planning and targeted interventions.
The end result was that over the course of the programme, our students won the FOBISIA Mathematics challenge (twice) and 17 gold medals as part of the annual Mangahigh challenge. More importantly, though, there were some amazing individual success stories that inspired the whole school community.
Our initial work on this project was also published by Mangahigh to inspire others on how to embed gamification successfully in schools and now it has been recognised as an example of outstanding use of Digital Technology for Learning at the education Oscars, the International School Awards 2019.
To us though the main success has been that our students have fallen in love with Mathematics again and this continues even when they don’t have Mangahigh in front of them.
Ignite that passion
This past week has highlighted that if you give staff and students the freedom to creatively explore a subject, the outcomes are phenomenal. The energy levels that they showed truly amazed me and trust me they tend to be pretty high in our normal lessons.
Now, I can spew how we used gamification techniques, planning rubrics, targeted activities, differentiated challenges and so on but none of that matters compared to what our students brought to the table.
Creativity, Imagination & Energy.
There was a sense of community, there were tears, there was grit, there was resilience, there was passion, there was risk taking, there was learning, there was collaboration, reflection and action and let’s just stop writing all the learner profile buzz words as well.
I can tell you about the teacher that came in, looked at the energy in the room, got shocked and walked out. “Oh My! This is Computer Science Week!” Or I can tell you about the group of parents that came in on a visit and ended up in the Innovation Lounge when activities were on full swing. What a way to sell your school especially when their children say out loud “I want to go to this school”.
I wish I could bottle the energy up and share it with you all. If you are interested in finding up what we got up to, please go through this Twitter collection or the YouTube vid at the end.
Computer Science Week 2018 highlights
In the end, students loved the experiences we setup for them, they engaged with the subject and brought something new to the table for each activity they took part in.
So as I sit here reflecting on the week and the lessons learnt, which student showcased what potential or how a particular child that we normally find difficult to engage with in lessons was observed leading from the front, one thing is clear, we have got to ignite that passion in our lessons as well. My teachers were on point this week and they skipped lunches, they stayed back, each day their energy quotient went up to match the students and the students responded in kind. A feedback loop of sorts and it was amazing to be part of it.
But is it sustainable every day?
So how do we go on from here, the challenge for every educator who sets up something like our Computer Science week is, what about the lessons after the event and also what about the other teachers and I do apologise to the colleagues who had to bear the lessons after us. Trust me, I have been at the receiving end of that in the past as well.
The answer to it, yes. That passion I saw in colleagues was always there and just like the kids they need a planned approach to bring it out. If you think of each lesson as a mini event and build on the principles we used in the week, there is no way lessons will not be as engaging.
The reason for designing such events is not just for the students but for teachers as well. In my view, it is one of the most effective form of teacher development, learning through action. No amount of lectures or courses one attends can ever hope to match the hands on learning that my colleagues went through this week.
Try to remember your favourite teacher, the one who got you excited about a subject and inspired you to want to do well. A great teacher has the ability to make not only the topic interesting, but also the process of learning, opening up students’ eyes and hearts so that they have the acquisition, critical thinking and self-reflection skills needed to make the most of the opportunities that are offered to them.
By training and allowing teachers the freedom to focus on the process of engaging students and inspiring their interest in learning, instead of being forced to focus on the outcomes and results of assessments, we ensure engaged students, who take ownership of their learning and develop a life long passion for the subject.
The question I will leave you to ponder with is, how do you go beyond the basics to ignite a passion, curiosity and fascination in your learners?
I am Sunny Thakral. If you are here on the site then you know a bit about me. If not then I am a teacher and these are my musings. Hope you enjoy them.