Overcoming challenges: Remote learning for primary

At Hopscotch, our thoughts are very much with all schools at this uncertain time and we are keen to support educators in light of the nationwide school closures. Each week we'll be posting a blog, direct from a teacher on the front line, about their experience and challenges they're facing. Below is the second in the series written by Lisa Worgan, Head of Curriculum at Victoria Academies Trust in the West Midlands.

About my school

Victoria Academies Trust is made up of a group of primary academies across the West Midlands, including Birchen Coppice Primary Academy in Kidderminster. Prior to joining the Trust, the school had been in an Ofsted category for several years. With 65% pupil premium children and many children entering nursery with poor language and communication skills, there are generally low levels of reading, writing and maths. Attendance and punctuality are an ongoing issue, and disadvantaged pupils often lack opportunity for wider enrichment experiences.

This year has brought different challenges for everyone

There has been a major focus on the quality of the curriculum, with all the changes and expectations set out by the new Ofsted framework. We have worked very hard on implementing a challenge-based curriculum, underpinned by pedagogy of real, immersive and purposeful learning within a cross curricular teaching of all national curriculum subjects. 

The principles of the curriculum are very much about:

  1. Immersing children into their learning - a hook, a trip, a visitor. Most of the children come into school with limited life experiences and it’s our job as part of the curriculum to inspire imagination and bring experiences into reality.
  2. Setting a real learning challenge that results in a public product where children apply their learning and knowledge into an outcome for an audience and that is difference making.
  3. Helping children to access key procedural and declarative knowledge. This is important in a school that has been in challenging circumstances for a long time, as there are major gaps in children’s learning.

Children not coming into school means accessing this type of curriculum is very hard. No experience, no learning challenge, no audience and no quality first teaching. You then add the challenges of deprivation that we are dealing with for some families. As we considered how to help children access the curriculum from home, it became clear some children might only have the exercise book and the pencil that they were sent home with.

This was going to be a learning challenge that I had never imagined

A survey of more than 6,000 teachers by Teacher Tapp last week found the vast majority of teachers in the most disadvantaged communities doubt their pupils have access to the right devices to access the internet. No internet, no computer, tablet or phone access – not even access to colouring pencils or paints. This was going to be a learning challenge that I had never imagined, let alone be in a position with less than a week for us to prepare.

So, what have we done to manage this? I will share with you a few examples…

  • Initially teachers set home reading, writing and maths tasks for pupils to undertake, and then gradually began to filter in some planned foundation subject-based tasks. We spent time in year group and phase teams on Zoom meetings, considering how to make our curriculum and subject objectives work through a remote approach. Shifting towards project based learning, where children become expert in areas of their choosing within a given theme, has helped teachers plan engaging ideas for learning, and we have seen that there has been an increase in pupil’s undertaking and sharing work back to teachers.
  • To help parents access learning for their children, we have shared activities through a number of platforms – through class pages on the school website, using Class Dojo for interaction and then, for some parents, posting packs of hard copies home so that they don’t have the barrier of technology.
  • For some subjects such as Art or DT, we made sure that pupils have a choice in terms of the materials or medium that they are using – but in this instance, it has been about making sure that any lack of resources at home do not provide limitation to a pupil who wants to engage. At the very minimum, they can sketch or do design work with the pencil and in the book that they were sent home with.
  • Although there are a lot of online video teaching and live streams from subject experts, many of which our parents have been signposted to, some of our teachers have been making their own guidance videos or model examples that can be watched. For our youngest children or those who have SEND needs, having a familiar face and approach will help keep them engaged. The feeling of engagement and connection with their teacher is so important, especially for some children where school is very much a safe and happy place for them.
  • Where possible, we have worked to find a range of extracts from books with visuals to photograph, scan in or print, as well as things that can be read online or watched on YouTube. Keeping our children engaged in a range of literary resources and reading has been an ongoing priority in school this year and we are trying to continue these principles remotely.
  • Autonomy and independence in the curriculum pedagogy are important, and in school we use different ways of doing this – from the 5B’s to Guy Claxton’s BLP tools (we call ours Learning Power tools) and DeBono’s CoRT 1 thinking tools. We have encouraged pupils to continue to use some of these learning tools in specific tasks to help them to work independently.
  • In some cases, we have been setting small learning challenges for pupils, even though these are being completed remotely. An example of this is with Year 3 and 4, who were due to create a gallery of Stone Age to Iron Age time. Instead we have asked them to sketch and label artefacts and replicas of objects from the time period (with photos from our historical loans box we had borrowed!) so that we can create a Twitter gallery of their drawings. This will help with pupil’s sense of pride and achievement over the coming weeks, and again allow us to keep some sort of normality to our learning approach.

Where next?

I know that beyond this, we still have a lot of planning and creative problem solving to do. I know I will also be spending time considering which aspects of the curriculum we can still cover, so that we can review where we may end up with gaps as we move towards the end of the year and into the next. This was something that I had a lot of anxiety about originally– what about the children who are behind in their learning, and how will we help them catch up over time? I have recently read something that has given me more of a sense of hope. They are not my words, but I will leave you with it as food for thought…

“What if instead of ‘behind’ this group of kids are advanced because of this?

Hear me out.

What if they have more empathy, they enjoy family connection, they can be more creative and entertain themselves, they love to read, they love to express themselves in writing?

What if they enjoy the simple things, like their own garden and sitting near a window in the quiet? What if they notice the birds and the dates that different flowers emerge and the calming renewal of a gentle rain shower?

What if this generation are the ones that learn to cook and organise their space and do their laundry and keep a well-run home?

What if they learnt to stretch a pound and learn to live with less? What if they learnt o plan shopping trips and meals at home?

What if they learn the value of eating together as a family and finding the good to share in the small delights of the everyday?

What if they are the ones to place great value on our teachers and educational professionals and the previously invisible essential heroes that we have: NHS workers, supermarket staff, truck drivers, social workers, rubbish collectors, just to name a few of the millions taking care of us right now whilst we are in a sheltered place?

What if among these children, a great leader emerges who had the benefit of a slower pace and a simpler life to truly learn what really matters in life?

What if they are ahead?”

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