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Sakhalin International School campus
Sakhalin International School campus © SIS

Q&A: Reflecting on remote learning and testing at home with Sakhalin International School

Feature 6 minute read

Over the last year, as education was disrupted around the world, the International Schools’ Assessment (ISA) team has endeavoured to support schools to sit the ISA in order to enable continuity with their data and insights into their students’ progress. As many schools were undertaking remote learning, we made the ISA available to schools to test from home. 

We reached out to Rachel Storer, Deputy Headteacher at Sakhalin International School in Russia, to discuss how COVID-19 has impacted teaching and learning at her school, and how they navigated the at-home testing experience. 

What is your role and background?

I am currently the Deputy Headteacher at Sakhalin International School and also teach English and the International Middle Years Curriculum (IMYC) in our Middle School Department. After completing my teacher training and first teaching post in England, I moved to international teaching first in Malaysian Borneo, then Brunei and now here in Russia. 

Could you share a bit about the context of Sakhalin International School?

Sakhalin International School is located on the island of Sakhalin in Eastern Russia. We are a Shell affiliated school, owned by Sakhalin Energy Investment Company. Our students are a mix of nationalities, all located here as their parents work in the oil and gas industry. There are currently around 130 students on roll, ranging from our youngest Pre Nursery children up to our Middle Years students (3-14 years old).  

We teach the English National Curriculum in English and Maths, adapted for our international learners. In addition to this, our foundation subjects are taught through the International Early Years, Primary and Middle Years Curriculums (IEYC, IPC and IMYC). This provides a creative and thematic curriculum, which supports the development of the other subject areas with an international approach.

How has COVID-19 affected your school and teaching practices? 

As with all communities around the world, COVID-19 has impacted on our school and the teaching practices. At the start of the pandemic, our school was closed for face-to-face learning and we moved to a remote learning structure. Initially we had anticipated that this would be a very short period, but it became evident that we would be in this remote learning model for a lot longer. 

We are lucky to have a very dedicated and creative teaching team, supportive parents and remarkably adaptable students.  Moving your classroom online brings many challenges and our team had to adapt overnight to a new way of teaching and learning. Reflective practice and strong communication with our class parents was so important as we discovered what worked, what didn’t and continuously adapted to the needs of our students. It has definitely been a challenging journey for everyone in different ways and I think we’ve all learnt new things about ourselves and our students over our time online. 

After more than a year online, we have very recently opened our doors for face-to-face learning. Being back in the classroom is incredible! We used to take it for granted, but as a teacher and a mum, being out of school for so long has been a reminder of how important schools are in a community and face-to-face learning is for whole child development. It’s also a good reminder of how important education is and how fortunate our students are to have education available to them. 

Why was it important to undertake the ISA this year? 

We have been in the 'remote learning from home' mode for a whole academic year and the majority of our assessment/reflections have been teacher based. We felt that keeping the consistency of the ISA in our school assessment calendar gave some continuity for parents and would also provide us with data to compare to how students performed last year and next year. Whilst 'testing at home' wasn't exactly the same as in class as virtual, the testing and reporting structure would be consistent.

What were the main challenges of at-home testing? 

We had staff and children at-home across time zones and with different devices - our main challenge was making sure first that staff felt confident, that the children knew what to expect so they were not anxious and that parents were clear on the process. As we hadn't fully delivered ISA assessments online before (only Scientific Literacy), this was a new process for me setting it up whole school and also for teachers managing sessions.      

What worked well? 

While there were challenges, the ISA team were amazing (as always) and answered all my queries and panics! The ISA team are quick at responding and always exceptionally helpful and patient. This really supported us in our set up. Additionally, having the opportunity to run the 'practice test' and then the mock ISA assessment ironed out all concerns.

How have your ISA results helped you to understand how your students have progressed over the last year of disruptions and remote learning?

We were very proud of both the adaptability and resilience shown by the students over this very turbulent year. They did incredibly well in their ISA assessment despite the challenges they faced. The ISA data has provided us with a clear snapshot of individual students' progress over the year which will support our end of term conversations with parents. It has provided reassurance of where our online learning programme has continued to support our students' skills development. 

With the breakdown of data into specific areas, we are able to consider target areas as we plan for our longer term class focus. As teachers, we continued Assessment for Learning and reflective practice whilst online however, it is impossible to replicate the quality of face-to-face learning moments online. Having the continuity of the ISA, in a school year like no other, has given us some peace of mind regarding our student’s overall progression.

Can you describe an example of gaps or growth in student learning that ISA reports illuminated? 

The ISA data was very pleasing and in line with a regular year at Sakhalin International School. In general, areas of development in the classroom appear to be linked to identifying variables to help with problem solving. Remote online learning lends itself more to certain types of learning targets and activities. Other types of learning, particularly skills such as problem solving, lend themselves to environments with rich ‘classroom’ dialogue and discussion. As a school we believe in a variety of good quality learning experiences and cooperative learning, another reason why we choose ISA assessments, which analyse a student’s ability to process and apply knowledge and skills rather than traditional knowledge based testing. 

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