WRITTEN BY ADAM PATTERSON, HEAD OF ELEMENTARY, AUSTRALIAN INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL SINGAPORE
Paul Kirschner has likened the global move to remote learning, triggered by COVID-19, to a hospital emergency room. With very short notice, educators have had to ‘triage’ approaches to teaching and learning to ‘save’ our students and, most importantly, their motivation to learn.
As with emergency medicine, which is often at the forefront of medical innovation, educators have found that ‘emergency education’ has also transformed teaching and learning, for the better. The pace of change and the necessity for Home-based Learning (HBL) has made what seemed impossible possible – delivered at a speed we could never have even dreamed of. Our next priority is to ensure that we embed our learnings from HBL into our existing approach of continuous improvement.
Even before Singapore’s Circuit Breaker imposed HBL on all students in Singapore, my team of teachers at AIS knew that this would not merely be a case of digitising the existing classroom experience. Not all instructional techniques transfer seamlessly to the online environment or produce the same results as they do in a physical classroom.
At AIS, we accelerated our adoption of ‘smart’ tools and machine-based learning programs to free up time for teachers to work individually with students. For example, programs that use adaptive technology to constantly provide a question to a child that is ‘just challenging enough’ ensure that content is individually suited to each child’s stage of development. We have found this to be particularly effective in mathematics and spelling fluency activities. Teachers receive reports on each child’s progress and can then individually tailor remediation or extension work for their students or correct any misconceptions. Adaptive questioning for standardised assessments has existed for some time, however, deploying this technology for our students at AIS has been fast-tracked by HBL.
Skills that students—and teachers—developed and refined during HBL, are being put to good use now that we have returned to school. These include online meeting techniques and etiquette and maximising learnings from online assemblies, musical recitals and stories. One of our Year 1 classes are benefitting from accessing information in a variety of ways. This class are using QR codes to access ‘mini lessons’ and teacher-created explanations. Instead of raising their hand to ask a question, students move to an area within their classroom to use QR codes which deliver a recording of their teacher’s explanation.
Working-together-remotely was key to HBL, and we have extended this to the new socially distanced classroom. This ensures that we do not lose the benefits of collaborative work, even when we cannot be together.
During HBL, teachers’ skill development in online teaching and learning was, by necessity, meteoric. Teachers became YouTube stars and award-worthy producers as they planned, shot and edited videos to explain concepts to students, often with special effects and engaging soundtracks. Some teachers even created virtual classrooms, hosted by their own emoji, to house a full range of resources that their students could access during, and after, school hours. We mixed new programs, such as Edpuzzle, to create interactive videos with embedded questions with old favourites, such as Garage Band, which enables students to provide voice overs for stories they have written. The pace at which our teachers trialed and adopted new technologies and pedagogical approaches was amazing; what would normally take a semester of professional development was rolled out in a fortnight.
While there have been many challenges throughout HBL —for teachers, students and parents— we have all come through this phase stronger and with a better understanding of the power of our community. Knowing that we can rely on each other in times of uncertainty and intense stress, like medical professionals in an emergency room, is one of my most profound ‘take aways’ from HBL. As always, we are stronger together.