Tuesday, 12 May 2020

Relections on the last 5 weeks

So - we are on the way back to school next week. It's been an interesting five weeks of learning for our ākonga and their whānau. These are a few thoughts and ideas I have had over this time.
I think before I get into the pros and cons, we need to be clear that this learning has not been normal online learning - it really is crisis education - you can read more about this in this article. I also have been thinking more about synchronous vs asynchronous learning online. This is worth a read even though it is about online learning in general, it gives a good explanation of the types of learning and is something to think about in our ākonga and moving forward in this space.

What has gone well?

I do believe teachers have worked exceptionally hard to get resources out to their ākonga in this time. The Ministry also worked hard to get out resources both paper and digital, as well as having the TV shows. Pretty impressive if you look at what some other countries have or haven't had during this time. Yes, some hasn't worked that well, but overall we tried hard!

Whānau have tried to deliver this work and encourage ākonga to do it! Some with more success than others and some, I think very sensibly just didn't even push it. Learning happens at home in so many different ways and those that took the time to be with their whānau and just do things together rather than do the workbooks or online tasks probably learnt more in some ways. This learning by being is underrated I feel. The learning that comes from cooking a cake together, walking around the block, talking and just generally being part of a whānau I believe is ultimately more important than the subject matter that gets handed out. They can learn about being connected with others, keeping a house running, planning meals, being bored and how to combat that, playing board games, doing crafts, all sorts of learning that will be beneficial in the long run.
I remember when I was at school, I was away for a whole term in my School Certificate year (Year 11 equivalent). I went to England with my mother and met family that I have never met before. It was a learning experience on it's own, and yes it probably impacted on my marks for that year (I didn't really like SC French anyway) but it was a great experience that I will never forget - unlike the content of that year of which I can't remember very much - quelle heure est-il? The learning you can get from being at home and just playing is underestimated by many.

Google Meet and Zoom - what a great way to communicate when you can't be there in person. I've never had so many face to face calls online and I've had the opportunity to connect with others around the country and the world. This has always been there but we don't always take those opportunities until they are forced upon us. I hope to continue some of these chats more often even when we are out of lockdown. You do forget how easy it is to catch up and maybe we need to take more time to do this.

I had lunch each day. Amazing! We don't usually take the time to just sit down and have lunch - and cooked lunches are even better - or go for a walk, or just stop thinking about work for 10 minutes. It was nice to actually shut my laptop and take a break. In some ways I felt I needed to take that break as being on a screen all day every day is very tiring. It would be good to think that maybe there would be some time to have a break at school as well but we often keep working through those breaks.

Some ākonga have loved working online. I have surveyed my group about what they loved and what they would change and most said they would like a mix of the online learning and face to face when we get back. This goes back to that synchronous and asynchronous learners I mentioned earlier.

Digital skills - many kaiako and ākonga have improved their digital skills over this time. They had to, even if they didn't really want to. This is also a negative as many really struggled, especially when whānau were not able to help either.

PD - I have had a lot more time to be able to read and digest things. It's been great to be able to research and keep up with the reading I want to do, as well as reflecting. More time to reflect and see what is and isn't working. I also had more time to write resources - no distractions to getting the work done.

What could be better?

To be honest, I don't like Google Classroom that much. It is just that, a traditional classroom. The teacher has all the control and the students do the tasks they are given. This goes against my thoughts on education where I believe the students should construct their own learning in consultation with and alongside teachers. I also believe learning is very personalised and although you can push out individual tasks for students in Google Classroom, it is easy to default back to the "assign to all students" option. Would we be better in a social network community type platform where you could breakout into groups, have individual conversations easily and have the student post to others. Would something like Discord work better for this type of community? Lots of questions and not so many answers.

Digital skills - Being online has highlighted how many of our ākonga do not have even basic digital literacy skills. There was a definite divide between those that managed well with the online side of leanrnng and many that really struggled. This is something we need to look at once we are back face to face. How can we improve those skills and make sure they have basic knowledge?

Helping parents - I think many parents have really struggled with  things. They have struggled having their ākonga around all day and not being able to get out but they have also struggled with the learning. I don't think we put enough effort into helping them understand the learning, and supporting them in all of this. We focus on the ākonga but maybe we should be putting more focus on the whānau as a whole.

Project Based Learning - this sort of links into the above, but I think we have lost our way a little with trying to continue with the projects that we have set up for ākonga. It's very easy to drop back into siloed learning and to not push the boundaries when you are under pressure. I do believe we can do project based learning individually and online - it just means moving away from the traditional forms of delivery and keeping true to your vision. You can see one example of a project based piece of work from SheCanCode - although this is time driven each week, it's a good example of giving student agency in their topic and passion.

Collaboration - this seems to be harder online, although it should be able to be done - more calls with each other, sharing resources and helping each other with skills and ideas. Wouldn't it be great if all schools could have shared their resources? Imagine the resource bank we could have in the country. I'm loving The Great NZ NCEA Hackathon 2020 for this - sharing ideas and knowledge and working together to improve outcomes for ākonga.

I do think we need to do more reflection and surveying of ākonga and whānau. Reflection is so important and we can't do this without gathering the voice of our community. How do we know they like or don't like what we have done? It is imperative that we get the feedback and move forward from that. I sent a survey for both ākonga and whānau and got some great insight into how they found the last 5 weeks. The biggest issue was the loss of social connection. How can we improve this online? Maybe the thought of a more communal online space could help - my comment before on Discord or some other platform like that might be a useful one to try and help with the loss of connection.

Digital divide - The Manaiakalani Programme has the following three things that show are part of improved learning outcomes for students:
  • an effective blended eLearning pedagogy that is materially changing the school experience of students from years 1 to 13
  • affordability of 1 : 1 digital devices for all students from years 5 to 13
  • provision of fast internet to all students to enable any time, any place, any pace learning
I think we struggled with a lot of learning because these things were not in place for our ākonga. There are still some without internet, some without devices and many that perhaps had internet but the connection was not great. This came out in a conversation on a Boma New Zealand Campfire (see my blog on this) as well as other issues that the ākonga on that call were very articulate in sharing.

It's hard in a pandemic - never mind being online as well. Hard to balance our haoura /wellbeing as well as all the other things on peoples minds. Need to challenge them enough but not too much, need to be aware of where they are at and how different their situations are. Week four seemed to be a hit the wall week for many including myself. How do we support our ākonga going back to kura? I did like this infographic put out by Hagley - thought it was a good way to address some of the questions they gathered from the community. We need to support both ākonga and whānau - so much has changed and there will be reservations about Level 2 and what that looks like for everyone.

Need to know the individual in order to meet their needs. This relates to the above as well. I do feel that ākonga that only started at our kura in the week of lockdown were severely disadvantaged and that this showed in the lack of engagement from some of them - hard to engage them when you don't know them very well. Trying to unpack their learning while at a distance is definitely an area I can improve on.

Where to from here?

I like these documents from the Leading Learning - Lessons Learnt in Lockdown and Preparing for Level Two. They are a good start for thinking about what we have actually learnt and how we use that information.
Albany Senior High School has also changed what they are doing when they go back next week - you can read how they are moving forward here.

We need to focus on the learning to learn skills - how can we help our ākonga be more resilient and be able to cope better if/when this happens again?

I read this provocation by Cheryl Doig yesterday, interestingly enough just a few hours before a workshop with Chris Clay on the same sort of thing (my blog for that will be out in a few days). Provocations for the future. What sort of future could we see? Let's dream big and not go backwards in any of our thinking - keep pushing to make things better.

There are probably more things that I have thought about over the last few weeks and not included but these are what is on top for me right now. I have been keeping a diary of what I have been doing each day and reflecting on what can be changed and what cannot. Back to the serenity prayer - thanks Mum for saying this all the time. I found this version, which adds a few lines that are very appropriate.
Serenity prayer, extended version: serenity, courage & wis… | Flickr


  1. Kia ora Sue, "Learning by being..." - had not heard that phrase before, but it is perfect and so true that it is undervalued. "I had lunch every day!" Lol. Many teachers will appreciate this. I wish they all had time to eat and relax in the middle of a busy school day. It would be so good for them in many ways!

    1. Thanks Bernice. Totally agree, lunch would be beneficial for many.