Lockdown learning – the new entrant virtual classroom experience

By Kerry Tetupu on August 30, 2021 in Assessment for learning

Ko Whakapunake te maunga

Ko Te Wairoa Hopupu Honengenge Matangirau te awa

Ko Takitimu te waka

Ko Taihoa te marae

Ko Ngati Kahungunu ki Wairoa te iwi

I tupu ake au ki Uawa

Ko Kerry ahau

Kia ora koutou. I'm Kerry Tetupu and I have very recently joined the team at Evaluation Associates | Te Huinga Kākākura Mātauranga.

As the news was announced that we were going into Level 4 lockdown, my first thoughts went to all the classroom teachers out there. I knew you would already be jumping into action – planning, preparing, and creating so that you could tautoko your ākonga. 

And then I thought about the online meetings. My own personal experiences of online meetings with new entrants can be summed up by the lyrics of a Celine Dion song. "There were moments of gold, and there were flashes of light. There were things I'd never do again..." With that sentiment in mind, I want to share with you what I learnt that helped me navigate my virtual classroom space. 

1. Set the scene for learning 

Just like in our classrooms, how we set the scene for learning is crucial. We need to be explicit about what our virtual learning spaces should look like, feel like and sound like. Taking time to talk about expectations for learning will always be time well spent.

When it comes to virtual classrooms, this might include giving students time to practice the different functions before the start of the lesson. I remember in the last lockdown starting off by teaching everyone where the mute/unmute button for the microphone was. We spent a few minutes practicing muting and unmuting and checking that everyone had worked it out successfully. The result was a much smoother lesson. Students were able to confidently navigate their microphones and engage in conversations. 

Student at home learning off iPad

2. Take your time

Online classrooms can be nerve-wracking, and as teachers we like to be well-prepared for the unexpected. The temptation can be to over-plan and try to do lots of different things to keep the pace going. I know this was the case for me. I was so nervous about teaching online that I filled my first zoom meetings with lots of tasks which I tried to churn through.

I quickly learnt though that it was better to do less and take our time with it instead. I opted for choosing two to three well thought-out, simple learning tasks that gave ākonga time to explore their ideas and practice the learning. The result was an improved learning focused atmosphere that was calmer and more relaxed.

3. Read, read, read 

Virtual classrooms are a great space for reading aloud to ākonga, and the benefits are far reaching. Effective Literacy Practices state that reading aloud promotes active listening skills, enriches vocabulary, provides insights into the way that language works and supports knowledge building as tamariki make connections between what they hear and what they already know.

Not only that, but being read to can be a highly engaging learning experience. I know my tamariki really enjoyed being read to, and it allowed opportunities for discussions and further learning afterwards. 

4. Use what students have around them

One of the challenges of lockdown learning is that our students don’t have access to the same resources they would in the classroom. Instead, we need to encourage our ākonga to get creative and use what is around them.

I found scavenger hunts were a great way to encourage this creativity and were transferrable across different curriculum areas. 

Wanting to teach phonemic awareness?  Not a problem. 

“Who can find something in their house starting with mmmm"?

That was always my favourite as you could guarantee that someone's mum would inevitably be pulled into the screen.

Planning for learning that used what students had available made sure that the learning was accessible for everyone and kept the lesson flowing.

5. Key into student motivations

Using student motivation and interests can be a great way to set the learning for the day. 

In my class we used picture books based on student interests. There were pirates, there were fairies and of course some greedy cats.

Once I had decided on an interest for the day, I would plan around that. It was well-received (possibly in part because of the dressing up that went along with it). After a check in and recap on the previous meeting, we would start the session off by reading the picture book and then we would get to work.

Let’s take the Greedy Cat example. After reading aloud and discussing the text, the teacher can model step-by-step how to draw a cat as ākonga follow along and then create shopping lists together.

There is so much potential for learning when you build lessons around student interests, so have a think about what motivates your learners, and go from there.

6. Keep Connected

Finally, but possibly most importantly, keep connected with your colleagues. 

Make space in the day to check in with other teachers. Regardless of how well-prepared we might be, things don’t always go to plan and being able to reflect on the lesson with a colleague can sometimes be just what is needed. I know it was for me. 

It gave me an alternative perspective on why something might not have worked, gave me a space to celebrate the wins, and reminded me I was not alone in this. 

It’s not uncommon practice to stick our heads in the door of the neighbouring classroom at the end of the day to share our experiences, so don’t stop this during lockdown. Keep "sticking your head in the door".  

Share the highs and the lows and remember you are not alone in this.

So, to my fellow junior school teachers, as you drag out the dress ups and prepare your playlists, I hope this blog has helped to spark some ideas around navigating virtual classrooms or affirmed the great things you are already doing. 

Whether your focus is online teaching or promoting student well-being, kia kaha, you’ve got this!

Our team are here to support you with navigating the virtual classroom space.

If you'd like support navigating the virtual classroom space, get in touch with Kerry today

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