Key points:

  • Kids need structure.
  • Different ages need different approaches.
  • Technology and learning platforms are useful, but it is important that children still feel that they have a teacher.
  • The biggest challenge is for families.

Remote education, home learning, or as they call it here in Denmark, ”fjernundervisining”. What ever you know it by, many countries have been forced to close schools in the interests of controlling the spread of the coronavirus. Is this the education revolution we have been waiting for?

Thousands of schools have had to navigate their way through this sudden, unfamiliar experience. Schools could be closed for many weeks, and there was very little notice in order to prepare. There is undoubtedly a huge impact on teachers, students, parents and the homelives of each. There is talk of the potential for changes in social behavior and there could also be a change in the way we think of learning and teaching. In this article we look at one international school’s approach to distance education.

Skt. Josef’s School is a Danish private school and International School on one campus with one-thousand students. Located in Roskilde, this school hasn’t even closed it doors for a snow day in twenty years, when suddenly on 13th March the unthinkable happened- student were told to stay at home.

There was very little time to prepare a plan, but teams of teachers quickly organized themselves to devise a plan with the student in mind. The directive was that students should have some feeling of a structured school day but also not to be overwhelmed and stressed by having all teachers posting their assignments at once. In addition, work assigned to the students should not be ‘busy’ work. And finally, it is very important to keep the ‘learning-loop’ in place. This means that teachers needed to assign work at predictable times that involved some learning process, the completion of some task and mostly importantly, receive feedback from the teacher.

Consideration needed to be given to the broad age-range of the students (5-16 years old), and the technologies available at home. Furthermore, the government also asked schools to provide emergency care, for example, if the parents worked in the health care system.

Kids need structure

Different strategies were needed depending on the ages of the students. Students need a structure for themselves and for the parents helping at home. We ignored the usual timetable schedule and created a new one for home. The new schedule for our secondary classes has two to three subjects a day, with different subjects for each day of the week. This way students receive, for example, two assignments per day and then they complete and submit that assignment on the same day. This was done so that students received manageable chunks of work. Each day they can experience success and start a fresh the next day. The students also know which two teachers are available to talk to that day via chat or video. This strategy was done to avoid too many assignments being issued at the start of the week and students getting lost in where to start, unsure of who to speak to, or generally being overwhelmed.

A slightly different approach was taken in the primary classes. In the primary the student usually has one main teacher for most of their lessons. The primary teacher assigns an English and a mathematics practice task each day with one project from another subject. Students at this age need daily practice in reading and numeracy. The classroom teacher is available to answer questions from students and parents via our Intranet.

Technology and learning platforms

Fortunately, our older classes, Year 6- Year 11 are all using Microsoft Teams as a learning, communication and organizational tool. Therefore, it was straight forward for teachers to use this as a means of delivering lessons and for students to submit work. Teachers post a notice to the students’ homework page via the Intranet (that way parents are also able to see when work has been allocated), and form there, students can receive their assignment on OneNote. Teachers are also working from home, but they need to be available to communicate with the class throughout the day. They can answer questions, provide support and even video chat.

Children in our younger classes, Year 1- Year 5 have limited access to tablets or laptops. The school believes that children already receive enough screen time at home, so we are not going to add to it at school. The younger children might confidently know how to use an iPad but are they able to use that device as a learning tool at home? Therefore, instructions have been sent to parents and parents play a very important role. It is important that the children still feel that they have a teacher, therefore work is sent back to the teacher for marking and feedback. Instead of stickers in the children’s workbooks, teachers have been sending funny memes to reward and acknowledge children’s efforts and achievements

What are the challenges?

The biggest challenge is for families. We do not know what is happening in each home. Some homes, for example, have two parents working full-time from home, an older student needing peace to study, a younger student needing help form the parents because they are less able to work independently AND have a toddler in the house requiring lots of attention. It has been very difficult for some families to have an office, a school and a day care all in one apartment. All we can do is try our best.

Fortunately, many wonderful online learning subscriptions have gone free throughout the school closure period. The teachers can use our existing subscriptions as well as try out some new ones. However, another challenge is that some online systems have been unable to cope with the added traffic to their website. One website was placing children in a queue, “You are 5835th in the queue, your waiting time is 11 minutes”.

A Revolution?

Will this bring about the revolution in education that the likes of Sir Ken Robinson or Prince Ea have been calling for? Potentially. After one-week teachers are refining their lessons and approaches. ‘Necessity is the mother of invention’ and this situation has shown it necessary to try new ways. It has forced some teachers to try out new technologies, and others to think more creatively about their lessons. It will definitely provide us all with experience so that we can provide more meaningful learning from home opportunities, such as homework, or work for children unable to attend school because of illness or anxiety. When the schools open again, we will have new insights into our teaching practices, and that just might bring a change to what we do in our classrooms.

Dom Maher
Head of International
Skr. Josef’s School Denmark