Teaching and Learning Remotely: an interview with a teacher from Italy
by Ben on March 19
We now know that schools and early years setting will be closed from tomorrow, with provision set up for children who have parents working in vital public service areas and for vulnerable children. Schools across the world have already been closed for some time, and teachers in other countries have been coming up with new ways to support children now that they will be at home.
We spoke to Portia, a teacher from the UK who is currently working in a pre-school class at an International School in Italy, to see how things have gone there so far. She shared some of her experiences and advice.
How are you staying in touch with parents?
To ensure we carry on with our teaching and learning in our pre-school class we have been using an online journal to keep in touch. This is used by the teachers and parents and each class has tasks set for them each day in literacy, numeracy, topic, PE, songs, story and a welcome video from the teacher every morning. The children and parents can log on to watch the videos or complete the learning activity and post back pictures/ videos of themselves. For example, this morning, we got all the pupils to find 10 cuddly toys and line them up in order of size labelling them 1 – 10.
How are you staying in touch with staff? What work are you able to do whilst at home?
We have an online conference meeting with all EY staff twice a week. Our pre-school year group teachers are in touch via WhatsApp throughout the day, this has become so importance not just for our work, but also to keep our sanity and support each other. This has been a big change to our normal teaching environment, and it shows the value of having a good team.
Most of the teachers have children at home and are pretty much in lockdown in Milan, which means having to stay inside all day. In the last week it is now forbidden to go outside unless it is to go to the supermarket. Parks and outdoor areas have been closed off and in the last two days the police and army have started to patrol residential areas to implement these strict measures. This has been super hard on parents, teachers and children’s wellbeing and way of life.
What tech did you put in place when you were initially closed? What have you implemented since?
Initially when our school was first closed, we started to put work up onto Google Classroom. However, on reflection, we decided to move to another online journal which we felt was more aimed towards the age of the children we teach. This has been really effective and being able to upload videos of us teaching and seeing the children in their pictures and videos is lovely.
We have also used Blue Jeans video calling with the children. We had about 10 children log on with their parents and we read a story. It was hard to talk or hear anyone so we had to put the microphones on mute so everyone could hear. The children loved seeing their friends’ faces.
Are you continuing to provide support to parents who are looking after children at home?
Yes, we can message and get feedback from the parents through the online journal. All parents are at home now as everyone must stay home. This has been a huge change and strain on the parents, most of them are having to juggle working full time from home, looking after their children as well as supporting their children in their online learning. In the primary and older years, the children are getting many hours of online work a day, many of whom need some guidance or support, especially if the parents are not fluent in English. This is a steep learning curve for many parents. We have seen many videos where the parents are trying hard to help, but probably unsure of how to support or teach in the way we are used to. It is also hard for children to be housebound day after day and not be outside much.
Which types of activities/lessons are easiest to convey remotely? Which are most popular?
We have had to be very creative in our planning of learning activities, bearing in mind that not everyone would have resources at home while also making learning fun and active. The most effective and fun activities have been sending the children on hunts around their house – for a phonics activity we sent the children on an ‘s’ hunt and they each made videos and described what they had found. We have adapted activities we would do in class. We also got them to do their own story time videos with their favourite books, which in class they often do through their play. Next week we are getting the children to find their favourite toy and start to create a picture book using their toy – “A day in the life of..” Getting the children to use their own toys and objects around the house has been very engaging and motivating for the children.
We also include a lot of YouTube video songs which we sing in class, these are familiar to the children and have proven to be super effective in their English language development. The children have been excited about having songs at home that remind them of their class.
How are you developing the activities that you are preparing? Have you had to produce new resources? Have you had to develop new skills? E.g. producing audio or video
Over a short time we have all had to learn how to adapt and change how we plan and implement learning activities and a lot of thought and discussion goes into whether the parents would be able to support the children, whether they would have the necessary resources, and asking whether the activity will be effective and engaging enough. Some activities have worked so well, and we have always reflected on what is engaging and has supported their learning and what doesn’t. After the first week and seeing what they were able to do, it became a lot easier to think of new ideas. As a whole school of teachers, we have all had to quickly get used to using new systems of teaching, which has been a steep learning curve for some! We have also thought about how long we expect the children to be working on these activities, as well as being mindful of the amount of screen time they will have.
Thinking about all the tech you’re using to support the nursery what do you think is most useful?
Being a school with mostly EAL pupils, making and uploading videos have been most effective. The children love seeing their teacher read their favourite book in a way they are used to. The Blue Jeans app for video calls has been used for staff meetings as well as starting to use them for class calls.
What advice would you offer nurseries in the UK? What should they be planning now?
I think that preparation is key, try out new ways of doing things and reflect on what is effective and what isn’t depending on your class and children. Also, it has become clear to us that parents aren’t sure how to support their children’s learning. What comes naturally to us is more challenging at home, the dynamics are different, and every family is unique. Therefore, clear instructions, videos and pictures to model how the activity will be carried out really helps the parents as well as the children to know what to do.
If you needed to close the nursery again in the future, what might you do differently?
Take more resources and stock up on things at home we use every day. The school closed without much warning and some teachers were limited in the resources they have at home.
Is there anything else you would like to add that may help others who are preparing for the closure of their setting?
We are concerned about the long-term impact of online learning as opposed to classroom based. We don’t have all the children logging in and have only about a quarter of the class carrying out all the learning activities, these tend to be the more able and higher level of English language children.
Also, sadly the children are asking to go to school and see their friends and teachers. It’s hard as they don’t understand why they can’t. There is such a focus on their social, emotional and physical development at this age and that is very hard to implement and support in this new online learning environment. We learn so much from each other and this is something we as teachers are struggling to support at the moment.
On the teaching side of things, sometimes it feels like we are just getting through this situation, which is frustrating, because as teachers we want to know we are supporting and seeing progress in all of their learning. We are planning, organising and implementing learning activities, but often we can’t act quickly to their responses, provide appropriate support materials or monitor their progress in the same way. This is especially hard when the children who need the most support aren’t logging on at all. There is also concern that when we do go back, it will take some time for the children to get used to our classroom daily routine again.
Thank you for your time Portia, and we all hope that you can continue to make such a positive impact on the children’s learning during these challenging times, as well as remaining safe and well yourself.