Victorian teachers forge the way in home-based learningACER news 16 Apr 2020 7 minute read
As schools gradually return in term 2 - albeit to a very new kind of normal - ACER experts share advice for parents, students and teachers on managing the transition.
With almost a week of experience under their belts, Victorian teachers have led the way in the transition to remote learning necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, and they have done a remarkable job. But as the rest of Australia prepares to return to school, anxiety about the realities of remote learning is high. Parents worry about trying to juggle working from home with educating their children, while teachers are being asked to learn new systems and teaching practices in an extremely short time.
There’s no doubt tensions are high. What practical steps can we take to minimise stress in the weeks ahead?
ACER Chief Executive Professor Geoff Masters says it’s important to ‘go gently’ at this challenging time.
‘While a term is a significant period of learning, it’s a relatively small proportion of 13 years of schooling,’ Professor Masters said. ‘We need to be realistic about what we want to achieve in the next ten weeks.
‘We don’t want students to slip too far behind so maintaining some kind of connection – in whatever form that might take – with learning, particularly in core areas like literacy and numeracy, is key.’
Engage students, support teachers
Professor Pauline Taylor-Guy, Director of ACER’s Institute and Centre for School and System Improvement and a former teacher, says maintaining connections with students is crucial to effective learning at this time. While there is no one-size-fits- all approach, and not all students have access, technology offers us many wonderful opportunities to stay connected. The research shows that online learning can be as effective as face-to-face learning when done well – but done badly, it’s hard to keep students engaged.
‘Remote teaching has unique challenges but the research shows that, just like in the regular classroom, the quality of teaching is the most important factor in successful distance learning,’ Professor Taylor-Guy says. ‘One of the ways we can support educators to deliver quality teaching is with appropriate training.’
The benefits of training in online delivery are manifold, Professor Taylor-Guy says.
‘Not only does making sure teachers have the right tools to teach online ensure the best learning outcomes, but it also helps eliminate some of the anxieties they have about online teaching,’ she said.
How are teachers coping?
The response of Australia’s teachers to the challenges of recent weeks has impressed Dr Phil Lambert, President of the Australian College of Educators. He says educators are being asked to make enormous changes to the way they work in a very short time but, in keeping with the profession’s reputation for innovation, creativity and adaptability, teachers are embracing change.
‘Our members are telling us they’re being challenged in significant ways due to the conditions created by this pandemic,’ Dr Lambert said. ‘But they’re adapting – either by learning new skills or by drawing more heavily on the skills of their fellow teachers.
‘It’s always been a highly collegial profession but this has never been more obvious than in the ways educators are stepping up right now to support each other.’
Dr Lambert also believes that education authorities have responded well to the crisis by providing resources and support for schools and students. And his advice to parents? Don’t try to replicate the school day but keep students engaged with learning and connected with their school however you can.
Tracking learning progress
Will assessment fall by the wayside in term 2? Not according to ACER School Assessment Services Manager Dr Jarrod Hingston, whose remit includes ACER’s Progressive Achievement Tests (PAT). He says schools already have extensive data from previous assessments to guide their teaching in term 2 – and, with a subscription to the PAT Teaching Resources Centre, the ability to choose targeted teaching resources that meet students’ individual learning needs – so there is no urgent need to add assessments into an already stressful situation.
Transitioning to home learning
There’s little doubt that this is a time of uncertainty and insecurity for many of us but there are things we can do to help ease the transition to home learning.
First, follow your school’s online learning plan. It’s the best way to ensure that your student is working through age-appropriate, curriculum-aligned tasks that will meet their learning needs.
Second, check out the list below of online resources and sources of support for teachers, parents and students, if you’re interested in supplementing the material provided by your school.
And last but not least, be mindful of your wellbeing needs. ACER consultant psychologist Eirini Lammi recommends some practical ways to look after yourself and your students in these unusual times:
- Follow a routine: life looks very different for most of us at the moment, but try to institute a ‘new normal’ by following a routine that incorporates both indoor and outdoor activities. The BACE Weekly Activity Diary is a popular free tool.
- Nurture acceptance: acknowledge what is within your control, such as the ability to stay informed through trustworthy news sources, and what is out of your hands, like following official advice on social distancing.
- Ask for help if you need it: there are a range of free apps and online resources to support wellbeing, such as:
- The government’s Telehealth service: search ‘telehealth’ to find the service offered in your state or territory
- Free meditation apps like Smiling Mind and Breathe2Relax, popular recommendations by psychologists
- Reliable, independent sources of mental health support, listed below.
The Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) has put together an excellent collection of research, sources of support and tips for making online and remote learning work. It’s designed for teachers but there’s lots in here for parents, too; for example, the suggested online content section, with links to trustworthy providers of educational content, like ABC Education and Scootle.
The various state education departments have published a huge amount of information in recent weeks in an attempt to help parents and schools get ready for term 2. Between them, it’s an impressive collection of resources, tips and tricks for homeschooling, sources of educational content and guidelines on parents’ responsibilities during this time, as well as how schools and teachers will help. Very little information is state-specific so it’s worth a trawl through as many as you have time for.
State education departments:
- NSW Department of Education: Learning from home
- Victorian Department of Education and Training: For parents and carers and For schools and teachers
- Queensland Department of Education: Learning@home and frequently asked questions
- South Australia Department for Education: COVID-19 update
- Western Australia Department of Education: Learning at home
- Northern Territory Department of Education: Learning together
- ACT Department of Education: Resources for Students and Families and Resources for Teachers
- Tasmanian Department of Education: Learning at home.
Other trusted sources
Find our recommendations of providers of great educational content – lesson plans, videos, interactive games and more – for students of all ages in this previous article on PAT Insights.
ACER offers a range of professional learning options for educators, including:
- Online teaching course (now available as an intensive for teachers)
- PAT professional learning courses.
Mental health service providers:
- Lifeline published this guide to coping with COVID-19 stress
- RUOK? wrote a guide to staying connected during social distancing
- Beyond Blue’s Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service page is regularly updated and contains information, advice and strategies for managing health and wellbeing during the pandemic. ■