This is an unprecedented time in Ireland and all around the world. While we knew schools were likely to close before the Easter holidays, I think few people expected it to be so sudden with an 11 o’clock press conference last Thursday sharing the announcement that schools would close from 6pm that evening until the end of the month. Now as we are one week since that press conference it is looking very likely that we won’t be back in school for the coming weeks.

Many schools are currently looking into how best to facilitate and support home learning through the use of digital learning platforms as well as things like email but it is a relatively new area for many schools and can prove difficult due to a variety of factors – internet access, access to devices, parental support, supporting children with additional needs, amount of work that parents are requesting, infant classes etc. so I’m hoping to address some of these concerns and offer some guidance (hopefully) throughout the blogpost.

Give yourself and the children a break

These are not normal circumstances so we can’t teach the way we normally teach. We need to think outside the box and be innovative and try new things and be willing to make mistakes (likely a lot of them) along the way. We also need to give ourselves credit for the fact that this is really new to us and there are lots of obstacles in the way. All we can do is our best and all we can expect from the children is their best and our best and their best might not be what we are used to because these are different times.

This can be a very stressful time for both teachers and parents – worried about the outbreak, about loved ones and there can definitely be a feeling of being totally overwhelmed. This is totally normal given the circumstances so our expectations of ourselves and of the children may need to change to suit the current circumstances.

Trust parents

Parents are the primary educators of their children. They know their child best and they should be in control of the what, when, how and the amount of schoolwork that will be completed at home especially for primary aged pupils. Some parents will want more and some will want less so provide suggested rather than definite tasks that HAVE to be completed.

Let parents chose for themselves based on their own households – some parents will be working from home, others will be working away from home and some are stay at home parents, there may be younger brothers or sisters or other people that need additional support in the household so parents will make decisions based on their own personal circumstances.

Think about the age of your pupils and your school context too

Think about the age of the children you are setting work for. Think about the level of work they could complete in the classroom independently. My expectations for my 5th class are going to be different to the expectations for Junior Infants. I also can look at my school context – availability of resources, access to devices/internet, support from home and my school context might be very different to yours so what works or could work for the children in my school may not work for the children in your school.

You know your class and school context so you need to decide what will work best or is most suitable for them during this time.

Corrections

As much as possible, try to provide work that the children can either correct independently at home or provide answer sheets. Using websites like Maths- Drills will provide parents and children with the answers to the questions. This will be great for revision purposes of concepts covered in class.

We use Work it Out so I’ve just attached screenshots of the answer pages for the children to self correct their Maths.

Alternatively you could do a set of 10 trickier questions and write the answers in a step by step format so the children can self correct themselves. I’m hoping to put a few of these types of questions together over the next few days.

For literacy work, the children could write into a copy as normal and then send an image to you by email or through Google Classroom/Edmodo/Seesaw and you could correct and annotate it there. Alternatively for older classes this could be a time for them to practice their typing skills and they could send you their work in Word format and you could add comments to it.

For project work, the children could complete the project by powerpoint or on a large piece of paper and photograph it and send it to you by email or through SeeSaw etc.

Teaching online

It is looking likely that school closures will be for the next few weeks. I know in my school we initially planned for 8 days only so once next Friday comes we need to think about alternative and additional ways to teach our classes. We focussed on revision in topics but we will need to move forward with teaching and learning now. Here are some things to think about.

What should I use?

There are a number of different learning platforms that you can use. Seesaw is one of my personal favourites as I’ve been using it with my class since September – see video below on how it works. (There are now ‘home learning codes’ so you don’t need to follow how I connect with the students at home.)

 

Alternatives include Google Classroom, Edmodo, Zoom – all of which are free of charge to set up and use with your class.

I do think it’s important to consider which platform to use as a whole school rather than individual teachers using different platforms. This will make life easier for parents and the staff as 1 document or tutorial can be put together to show how the platform works.

I have noticed some schools are reluctant to move to using these online platforms which I can understand but ultimately I think if schools are going to remain closed after the Easter holidays then it will be necessary to engage in some way with one of the platforms.

When should I be available?

This will vary depending on your own personal circumstances. As I’ve mentioned already – these are not normal times so what might work for some of your colleagues might not work for you. If you have young children yourself, or if you are looking after another person or if you are sick yourself then you may not be available to give ‘live’ lessons during the day. It might work better for you to pre record a video teaching a new concept or maybe you won’t video yourself at all – maybe you’ll find materials online that you can use with your class. Perhaps you’ll spend the next week before Easter on more revision work before moving onto new content afterwards.

What type of work should we be sending home?

I think the best type of work and activities to send home are practical things, open ended projects and problems and work that the children can either self correct or you can provide the answers too. As much as possible (especially with more senior classes) the work should be able to be completed independently.

I think it’s important for the school and in particular teachers in the same year group (within the school) to have very similar work for the children. Otherwise parents will begin to ask questions and will compare with other teachers about the level and quantity of work being sent home for the children to do.

I also think less is more – remember that lots of parents will be trying to work from home and don’t need the added pressure of keeping up with a never ending list of activities. It is a stressful time for everyone. Provide ideas, choice and flexibility and let parents be in control of what will work for them in their own personal circumstances.

Some ideas for each subject

Literacy

  • Reading – read your own book/write a book review, summarise a chapter in the story using a comic strip, complete a character profile, find interesting words and create a word dictionary, predict what will happen next, change the ending, create a new cover for the book,
  • Oral language games and activities – board games, following instructions, categories games (how many colours can you name, boys names, girls names, things that begin with the letter A etc.)
  • Writing – keep a diary of what you get up to each day (recount), procedure writing, short stories, explanation writing, persuasive writing – create an advertisement for your favourite food/drink (or create your own),  free writing on whatever topics interest you, write a letter or email to your aunt/uncle/grandparents/friends

Numeracy

  • Working on tables (addition, subtraction, multiplication and division) Math Magician – great for practising
  • Multiple challenge – how many multiples of 5 can you write in 30 seconds?
  • Revision work based on content covered in class
  • Make up your own word problems based on addition/subtraction/multiplication/division
  • Shape hunt (inside and outside)
  • Some easy ideas below using things you’d find in the kitchen cupboard

Gaeilge

  • Revision of key vocabulary and phrases for the themes you’ve taught already – practice with someone at home
  • Writing – 2/3 sentences a day
  • Follow instructions to complete a task (see below) (This activity is from Twinkl and I just added some help with the pictures and vocabulary the children might not be familiar with)
  • Reading (could be done through something like SeeSaw)
  • Revision of verbs

 

Project work

These can tie into S.E.S.E or other subjects too.

  • Country
  • Famous scientist/mathematician/sports star/ musician
  • A person in History
  • Someone I look up to
  • Myself
  • My Family
  • Invent a board game
  • Invent a country
  • Design an amusement park
  • Create a brochure on your favourite place
  • Invent a homework machine
  • Choose a history topic – complete a project on W.W.2, Nelson Mandela, 1916 etc.

Perhaps it could be an option for one teacher to look after Maths, one for English, one for Irish and one for S.E.S.E or in smaller schools you could take 2 subjects for a week and then swap over.

When should I send the work home?

We sent enough home for 8 days (Wednesday 18th until Friday 27th) and next week we’ll send home work for Monday to Friday. This is easier to manage for us (in my own school) and parents can then pick and choose what to do and went as they have a menu of activities to chose from.

You could also send a daily email with work for the day or an email every 2/3 days with work for the next few days.

How should I send the work home?

I think email is the best way to send the work home. We attach a list in a word or PDF document. Everything that the child will need to complete the work is included (they brought home a few books on the Thursday schools closed).

Sending by post could be an issue as the virus can live on surfaces etc. and I would personally worry about this so this is why we are sticking to email but this may not be an option for some schools or children so waiting for a few days to send by post could work then.

Teaching online

We haven’t explored this option yet in my school. I’ve been using SeeSaw with my class since September so I have continued to use this but we’ll look into other options over the coming weeks to see what will work best for our students.

Live vs. Pre Recorded Videos

There are pros and cons to both types of videos. Personally I think pre recorded would work better for me and my students as there won’t be a set time they have to tune in to lessons but can catch up later in the day (this is particularly important for children who may not have access to their own devices or who may be helping with younger brothers or sisters while their parents take work calls etc.) It will also allow me time to edit the videos etc.

Live may work better for other people though and it would definitely be an advantage if children could check in in ‘real time’ and ask questions and the teacher could support them straight away.

Worried about others watching me teach

Personally I’ll do the videos for my class exactly how I do the videos for my blog so I’ll talk through things step by step and the video will be on the page or device I’m using not on me personally. This is another reason why I would personally opt for pre recorded videos. But overall I think this is something we’ll get used to – I know it can definitely be a bit unnerving especially at the beginning.

Where?

There’s a number of options. Personally I think something like Zoom would work best for this. Meetings can be scheduled and children (with parental support) can join the group and lessons can then be taught. (There is a limit of 40 mins when there are more than 3 participants but I think this should be plenty of time to do a quick lesson once or twice per day or even every few days)

 

Overall I think it’s important to remember that this is a stressful time for lots of families (both for children and their families as well as teachers themselves) so there is no correct answer or right way to do this. All we can do is our best to support the children in our classes as much as possible and try not to be afraid to make mistakes as we navigate the world of online learning. I think its also really important to remember that not every child or every family will engage and that is ok too.