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Catholic Teacher blog: Teaching remotely

Sara Tacey  |  02 April 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting our world and lives in a myriad of ways – not least the need for schools to move to an online learning. Sara Tacey has worked for three years at Virtual School Victoria and has some advice for educators transitioning to online or distance learning.

‘Won’t you miss the students?’ That was the first response of my colleagues when I told them I was moving from teaching English at a large government secondary school in the outer northern suburbs of Melbourne to work at an online school.

It did take time to adjust from a rigid daily timetable of classes to a different setting, but after three years I’ve embraced the challenge of teaching online. I know each student and their needs. I get to work with them often over the phone and online.

At Virtual School Victoria (VSV), we teach more than 4000 students from Foundation to Year 12. Some students study with us because a regular classroom doesn’t suit them – they might be on the autism spectrum, or are elite sportspeople, ballet dancers or performers. Some have mental health concerns or physical reasons for not being able to attend a mainstream school such as disability or illness. We also have a number of VCE students who are undertaking just one subject with us when it isn’t offered by their home school.

Pastoral care

VSV has its own pedagogical model which comes from research about best practice in online learning, and the word ‘relationships’ sits firmly at the top. Each teacher at VSV has an important pastoral care role as a Learning Advisor, requiring regular contact with students and families.

Some teaching and learning happens in real time during online lessons or over the phone, but we also have online courses where students work at their own pace, interacting with each other through various tools such as discussion forums.

The same principles of effective teaching and learning in the classroom apply in the online space. Start simple. . . make sure all instructions for students are clearly expressed. This is also helpful for parents who will be guiding and supporting students at home.

Timely feedback

Provide checklists of weekly tasks to complete, linked to learning intentions and success criteria. Break tasks into manageable chunks. Give timely feedback. All of this can be done either online or in written work that is self-paced, for those who don’t have internet access at home.

For those who do have access to a computer, try a screen casting tool so students can hear your voice while you highlight key points in their work in the form of video feedback. You can also use screen casting to make simple instructional videos.

If you’re asking students to submit a response to a discussion forum, make sure their contribution is acknowledged by a teacher or a classmate . . . they may give up if they feel no-one is reading their work. Build in self-assessment and reflection tasks and encourage them to present work in a variety of formats. An oral presentation could be completed over the phone, or recorded as an audio or video file. Remember that your students’ ability to focus for lengthy periods may vary and plan accordingly.

Realistic expectations

It takes time for students to adjust to working independently, without a teacher watching them and prompting them as needed. Have realistic expectations of students and what they can do. Some schools may try to replace their full face-to-face timetable with daily sequences of online lessons through platforms such as Zoom and that’s one approach, but a balance of self-paced learning and direct teacher support works for our students at VSV.

Students – communicate with your teachers. Tell us how you’re going and the kinds of help and support you need. Set daily goals, make a timetable, try to be organised. Set up a study space with all your materials and equipment close to hand and put your mobile phone out of reach to avoid distractions. Allow time for enjoyable activities and exercise.

Remote, not alone

Teachers, reassure students you’re there for them. We’re all trying to cope with the implications of the current situation and our students probably feel stressed about that, too. My colleagues at VSV would remind you that ‘remote doesn’t have to mean alone’.

And remember also to reach out to other teachers – collaborate, problem solve, run online meetings to share concerns. As members of the teaching profession, we need to stay connected and work together.

 

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