Dear parents and carers,
Well, it's certainly been an interesting first week or so of 'school'.
Thank you once again for your positive comments either directly to the school office or via your children's class teachers. It's fair to say that they have once more been very well received by us all.
Class teachers and their Year Group Leaders were tasked with setting up and putting into place a working remote teaching programme with very little notice and although we had used Google Classroom before, this was always going to test our resolve and professionalism and yet there is no surprise to me that it has been done with such positivity!
We are now into the second week of teaching and learning in this way, and I wanted to let you know what to expect from your class teachers in the coming weeks and the role we would like you as parents and carers to take when supporting the children at home.
Google Classroom is our platform of choice and our experiments with Google Meet as well as Google Sites have been really positive additions.
From Monday 18th January, I have asked class teachers to continue to provide either a recorded message with task introductions for new work (they may be recorded by other year group teachers too), or provide links to high quality alternatives if they already exist.
Class teachers will continue to be available for at least one hour a day (specified by the individual class teacher) for live written support, guidance or just a hello on Google Classroom and we will also be adding to all classes a daily live Google Meet.
Several colleagues have been trialling this in the last few days and it has provided a superb opportunity for teachers and pupils to see each other and either catch-up, complete tasks, be read to or simply say hello.
For the vast majority of class teachers 3pm will be the set time for this 'daily round-up' and it will be of varying length, but typically approximately 15 minutes. This will bring the school day to a natural end and I will not be expecting teacher colleagues to be monitoring their online classrooms from this time.
Please do bear in mind that on days that class teachers are in school supporting our critical worker children, they may not be able to commit to the round-up for that day - and there is no expectation for them to attempt to get home and start one, however they can if their personal circumstances make this feasible.
Many of our class teachers are also balancing childcare and remote learning work in their own homes with their own children during the school day, and as a result, 3pm may not work for them either, but I have asked class teachers to inform their classes in advance of the time of each Google Meet.
Schools are taking different approaches to their remote learning provision. Here at Patcham Junior School, most of our remote teaching so far has been based on teachers recording a short video and then sharing it with pupils. These videos either give instructions to pupils on what to do so they can work independently, or directly explain the concepts being taught. Teachers will carefully explain new ideas, model to pupils how to use this new knowledge and then give them feedback on how they have done and how to improve. During these lessons, pupils might be asked to pause the video at key points, to enable them to complete the tasks. This also means that students can go back over the videos to help embed their understanding of the topic. Pupils then submit their work via Google Classrooms, for teachers to review and assess.
It's useful to mention at this point that our decisions regarding how we are conducting our remote learning provision is based on educational research of what is likely to work well rather than what we simply think will work well as well as assessing what can be achieved by our colleagues and their own, individual circumstances.
In April 2020, the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) who are a charity that synthesise and share educational research with schools said the following:
“Pupils can learn through remote teaching. Ensuring the elements of effective teaching are present – for example clear explanations, scaffolding and feedback – is more important than how or when they are provided. There was no clear difference between teaching in real time (“synchronous teaching”) and alternatives (“asynchronous teaching”). For example, teachers might explain a new idea live or in a pre-recorded video. But what matters most is whether the explanation builds clearly on pupils’ prior learning or how pupils’ understanding is subsequently assessed.”
More recently (January 2021) the Research Team at OFSTED said the following:
“Some think that a live lesson is the ‘gold standard’ of remote education. This isn’t necessarily the case. Live lessons have a lot of advantages. They can make curriculum alignment easier, and can keep pupils’ attention, not least as the teacher has more control over the learning environment. But live lessons are not always more effective than asynchronous approaches.
There are some specific difficulties in doing live lessons. It can be hard to build in interaction and flexibility. This means that giving feedback can actually be less effective than when we use recorded lesson segments followed by interactive chats, or tasks and feedback. Using recorded lessons produced externally can allow you to easily draw on high-quality lessons taught by expert subject teachers. The challenge here can be to make sure they are integrated with the curriculum.
Because evidence suggests that concentration online is shorter than the length of a typical lesson, filming a classroom lesson may be ineffective.”
So, to summarise, it is the quality of the teacher instruction that matters more than the way in which it is delivered. Our priority is always to ensure that the quality of teaching is the best it can be. The effectiveness of this approach was borne out by the fact that our pupils who engaged with our remote learning during the first lockdown returned with relatively few gaps in their learning as a result.
Moving forward, as I've mentioned above, over the coming weeks teachers will be introducing live elements to their teaching e.g. touching base with their classes or to discuss a specific topic. This blended approach uses the best of both methods.
Marking of work
The children at home have engaged in numbers far in excess of what we experienced during the first period of partial school closure, so thank you all for supporting your children at home so consistently. We recognise that you are also juggling your own lives whilst having you children at home, however the amount of work being submitted by the children is also really encouraging.
As you can imagine, 100+ pieces of work being submitted each day per class as a minimum means that it is impossible to mark every single piece and the impact on the quality of the teaching would be extremely counterproductive.
I've asked colleagues to prioritise the work they physically mark and feedback on and to ensure that this happens across a range of subjects. That said, every submitted piece of work will be looked at.
I have not specified to colleagues a time frame for when work will be looked at and potentially marked and feedback given and it is unreasonable to expect that work submitted will be definitely marked by the next day. Work submitted on a Friday will not be marked or looked at over a weekend. Due to the added workload, the need to rest and rejuvenate in periods of down time is even more essential now. To that end, parents and carers should refrain from attempting to contact teachers over the weekend or in the evening via Google Classroom and any urgent messages should go via the normal routes through the school office during normal working hours wherever possible.
If we are mindful and respectful of everyone's differing experiences of the lockdown and working in this way, we are more likely to be successful in keeping the whole school community in fine working order!
Wednesday Screen Break / Hobbies afternoon / Outside Play
From Wednesday 20th January, all class teachers will be working remotely together to plan and prepare for the following days and weeks of online teaching as well as using the time to assess work submitted by pupils. During the normal operations of a school week PPA as it's called, is a built-in time for these activities for all teachers.
As a result, there will be no teaching staff presence on Google Classrooms from 12pm on a Wednesday. I urge you all at home to take this time as your personal down time for school work too. Turn off the screens of your laptops, iPads and mobile phones if you possibly can. Children (and parents and carers) could get involved in a hobby, spend some time outside, read a book, build some Lego, watch a movie or simply lay down and day-dream of brighter, more enjoyable times to come.
Critical worker children in school will still be provided for as normal.
Thank you once again for your continued support.