Distance Education: RGS The Grange
Circumstances have been challenging, emotive and provoked much ‘outside the box’ thinking. Nevertheless, educators have joined forces, shared ideas, resources and concepts and as a result, school children across the world have been given opportunities to continue to learn, despite these extraordinary circumstances.
Provision Design and Planning
At RGS The Grange discussions and preparations began in earnest three weeks before UK schools were officially closed. Looking at the global picture it was clear that school closure was a distinct possibility and it was vital we needed to be prepared. Our 1:2:1 iPad provision for all pupils from Year One meant that continuing timetabled academic lesson was possible, albeit remotely. The portability and versatility of iPad, combined with the fact our teachers and pupils are already accustomed to using the device, meant we could develop ambitious plans, safe in the knowledge our Digital Learning Programme (DLP) and status as an Apple Distinguished School provided secure foundations on which to build them. In the first two weeks of the remote learning venture RGS The Grange teachers’ pre-recorded quality teaching materials and utilised Showbie as a digital-glue, to allow the school to effectively continue to educate pupils, offering a high quality of feedback and support for all of our learners. Having had two weeks to experiment and test new ways of teaching, assessing and supporting our learners we felt that the one thing that we could refine was the personal experience and live contact with our students. Indeed, considering that both pupils and staff already use Google Accounts; the Computing & IT team quickly agreed that Google Meet would offer the best live-lesson provision. It was also decided that Google Meet should be used in conjunction with Showbie, a workflow solution that most of our academic departments already embrace whilst splitting the iPad screen between Showbie and Google Meet offered a great methodology for remote learning.
Furthermore, iPad tools such as split-screen view and apps such as Showbie were already familiar to our staff and introducing too many new concepts at this point was not something we wished to burden our teachers with. Our mantra was to keep things as simple as possible. However, we were also aware that not all teachers would be comfortable with teaching live lessons, so an alternative strategy was quickly devised; using Showbie to host pre-recorded lessons whilst a teacher remained online for questioning. There were also two ‘fallback’ strategies should teachers not be available online for whatever reason. This Digital Provision Guide was then put together, outlining the options.
Training For Staff
1. Live lessons
Without being sure when schools were going to close, it was deemed imperative to get teachers trained to confidently teach remotely. We hosted four sessions in four days at which attendance was obligatory. We modelled how to create a meeting in Google Meet, the best way to share invite codes with pupils and how to cast either yourself or your device screen. We showed how the Apple Pencil could be used in conjunction with Apps like Explain Everything and Keynote to become essentially a whiteboard to model learning on. We also demonstrated how pupils could split their iPad screen between two apps so they could follow instructions and work at the same time. We also encouraged staff, in the time we still had at school, to practice using Google Meet with their pupils so all parties had some experience of using the technology before remote learning became a reality. This provided particularly useful as many minor glitches were eliminated and ground rules were established.
2. Pre-recorded lessons
We were also able to put together three sessions regarding the best way to create pre-recorded lessons. Again simplicity was key here, and it turned out that simply using either the iPad or MacBook screen record function was a hugely popular concept for teachers. Screen record does what it says on the tin; records exactly what you do on your device but with the added bonus of being able to record instructions over the top.
This meant teachers could use Explain Everything or KeyNote to model work, record explanations and then post to Showbie. Another advantage of this concept was that lessons could be created and then shared more than once, thus saving time. One considerable point worth reiterating here is in relation to GDPR; it is extremely important that notifications are turned off when recording, passwords are not entered and only windows that teachers wish to be shared were open. We also put together a graphic to help:
Guidelines for Pupils
Equally as important was getting a firm and clear message to pupils about our expectations for their behaviour when participating in remote learning. In these extraordinary times, the support of pupils is essential and we needed to be able to demonstrate just how important their cooperation was when conducting remote lessons.
On Monday 23 March 2020, all UK schools were closed to pupils, other than for those children of Key Workers whose parents needed to continue working in the fight against COVID-19. Teachers were conducting lessons remotely, to pupils in all corners of Worcestershire via digital platforms.
We also asked for feedback from staff so we can look to make changes if things are not working or if things are going well, so we could share good practice. Here are a few selected comments:
- “It has been extremely satisfying to see that the independent learning and use of DLP we have fostered in the classroom have so easily transferred to the home learning environment.”
- “It has been quite a learning experience. I have had to prepare lessons in a different way – I’ve had to spend more time pre-empting the difficulties the children will have to make sure they know what I want them to do and won’t worry. I have missed the children and so it has been lovely seeing and hearing them again in photos, videos and Google meet and I have loved the surprises when they do something a little different.”
- “In terms of online teaching in Reception, it has been challenging at first to have not used Showbie previously however, now it is extremely rewarding. Being able to send videos, pictures and voice notes to one another has maintained that interaction between teacher and pupil very well. It has definitely improved my skills and developed the ways in which I use technology when teaching. It has also increased the children’s exposure to different apps and how we are able to use technology in different ways and for a range of purposes.”
- “One of the best things about RGS The Grange, is the fact that we are forward-thinking and if we adopt a new initiative, we do it wholeheartedly. This is the case with our DLP, which over the past years has become truly embedded in our teaching, but now, given the current situation and the need to teach remotely, has really demonstrated its full potential. I have personally been thrilled by the way in which our children and staff have seamlessly moved into remote teaching and learning, and not only that, but it has really highlighted how important our School Learning Characteristics are; to take risks, to be resilient and to persevere in the face of challenge; all these things we have demonstrated as a School Community. As a teacher and parent of the School, I couldn’t be more proud of what we have achieved and I know there is more still to come.”
So, it is very early days in what promises to be a long battle vs COVID-19, where teachers stand on the very front line. However, after seeing how the education community has come together over the last few weeks, I am certain it is a fight we WILL win. The extraordinary efforts by schools to ensure learning continues in adversity, have been nothing short of miraculous. The power of education should never be underestimated and teachers yet again have proven that in the most unusual of circumstances, they can react, learn and adjust to ensure provision continues.