As the cases of the coronavirus in Victoria continue to grow and the possibility of a return to learning at home becomes a possibility, I thought I should really stop and reflect upon my experience as a parent supporting our daughter as she learnt from home. I had intended to submit this to the governments review, but time got away from me.
Structure and Rigidity of Online Learning
The learning was very methodical. In many respects, it followed the same structure of the schools day with a block of literacy, numeracy, integrated and personal/social learning. This was supplemented by weekly activities provided by the specialist teachers. Students were encouraged to submit tasks each day, however the only aspect that seemed to be explicitly required was logging into the daily video conference.
A few weeks in, students were given an additional option to pursue a passion project. For my daughter this became Minecraft. This choice came as a breath of fresh air and became a focus for the rest of the time. Sadly, there was little guidance provided and this often led to hours of tinkering and never actually produced any sort of question or problem. It was a reminder that even passions need to be cultivated.
Communication with School
In regards to communication, the parent portal was used to broadcast information via the news feed. This included links to things like daily learning, weekly assembly and any other updates. For those wanting to contact the school, the platform provides a module for messaging a student’s teachers.
The problem with this is that the expectations associated with communication were unclear. Although solutions were put in place, there were no protocols about what would be appropriate. Was it appropriate to provide updates on the struggles that I was seeing at home or were these actually being picked up in the daily conferences? These were things we may have written in the school diary, however for fear of coming across as a helicopter parent, I often stayed silent.
Play and Social Spaces
Each day there was an hourly class video conference. This session usually had a particular focus, such as writing or numeracy. There was also opportunity to connect with other students. However, this space was managed by the teacher. This was the same with the use of Google Classroom. Although there is a space for writing posts, students were encouraged to use this for questions and conversations about learning task.
Although so many of the structures were carried online, one that was absent was a deliberate social space encapsulated in the yard. A part of me understands why. Some may abuse such an opportunity. There is no means of putting in place clear habits and policies before moving online. Also, it would become another thing for teachers to manage. Maybe such a space is the responsibility of home, I still think that this social side is one of the limitations to moving online, a place for play and experimentation.
As Kathleen Morris touched upon in her post on Facebook Messenger for Kids:
One thing that instantly annoyed me about Messenger Kids is that there are so many distractions from the core features of messaging and video calls. There are filters, stickers, and mini games (like spinning to choose a llama head during a video chat… go figure… kids love it!).
My 6 year old is SO drawn to these features as are her friends. So far, this is their main interest during video calls. They don’t talk very much. They just play.
Initially, I kept prompting in the background, “ask them what they’ve been doing”, “stop playing with the effects and talk!”
Then I took a step back and thought, this is what they want to do. This is play. They’re only 6/7 and if they were playing together in the same room, they probably wouldn’t be sitting chatting about what they’ve been up to. They’d probably be playing in a way that’s sometimes hard for adults to understand.
So my way of thinking now is that it’s okay. Maybe the novelty won’t last. However, when my daughter is talking to her grandparents, for example, I’m insisting that she talks rather than simply playing with the effects. It’s about changing your interactions to suit who you are communicating with; a vital lesson for both online and offline encounters.
The Role of the Parent
I found it hard to know my place within the learning process. Maybe this is because I myself am a teacher, but I actually think this made it even harder. Although information was sent home about the expectations of where, when and how students would learn, it was not clear the place I served as an aide within all of this.
In some ways, I felt more akin to being a relief teacher with little agency. Although I was happy to help my daughter unpack various tasks, she regularly made clear, “but you are not my teacher.” Even with a planner provided each day, this did not necessarily elaborate on the intricacies of the various steps and strategies the school or teacher uses.
If schools are forced to work remotely again, it will be interesting to see what stays the same and whether any lessons are learnt. Simon Breakspeare talks about the importance of recognising the effort put in, my fear is that that for many there has not been enough time for such reflection.
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