Lockdown online learning has taught parents across the world one very important thing that all practising teachers know: getting children to sit down and learn is not very easy. So having stated the obvious, what actually works?
Of course it’s a complex answer, involving the leadership and management of school culture as well as the resourcefulness and brilliance of individual teachers.
The nuts and bolts of rigour around attendance during online learning at my school have worked like this:
- Teachers register students in their form time at the start of the day, using our online MIS as usual (we call our tutors academic mentors, because that’s what I believe they should be.)
- Our receptionist checks attendance records regularly during the day and chases teachers where necessary.
We have a clear escalation policy:
- Teachers first chase a missing student
- If there is no success then it goes to heads of faculty (HoFs)
- HoFs can then escalate to SLT if there is still no improvement
Weekly records are passed from the receptionist to our head of faculty in charge of attendance (always create a specific leadership responsibility if you want to improve something). The head of faculty then does some further digging before passing refined notes on to the weekly pastoral meeting (weekly meetings ensure rigour becomes routine). This has worked well at picking up attendance issues.
“I heard of a child in another school checking into Microsoft Teams whilst riding a horse.”
But attendance is not the same as engagement. Amusingly, I heard of a child in another school checking in on Microsoft Teams whilst…riding her horse. I guess the lesson (physics) was relevant to her keeping her balance, but I was sceptical of how much learning about the lesson content went on in her head that afternoon…
We approached engagement from a different angle – from our HoFs – but there is important background.
At Chase Grammar, as in many schools, students are tested to set potential outcomes at GCSE. We use CAT4 and then set our students aspirational targets which are +1 and +2 above their baseline predictions. These targets can then be used as a monitoring measure for progress, and of course engagement.
And Google Drive came to our help here. Our head of achievement set up a shared document where HoFs had the responsibility to enter concerns about students not submitting work, or submitting under-target work. And we are able to review this at SLT to look for patterns and take more creative and more formal routes to ensure attendance and engagement improves.
“Heads of faculty had the responsibility to enter concerns about students not submitting work, or submitting under-target work.”
During this second lockdown we decided to continue with our usual pattern of twice-weekly virtual assemblies. These have been great fun, with Monday’s whole-school assembly setting the theme of the week, and Friday’s House assembly celebrating achievements and ending with week with some fun quizzes. An unexpected aspect has been the “Hello how are you?” engagements in the “chat” box which start as soon as we open the channel for everyone to log on. Teachers and students engage in some good humoured catching up. We even had comments in Latin one week!
“Put on a good show and people want to come and see it.”
Here are some final tips for engagement in online learning from teachers at my school:
“Put on a good show and people want to come and see it, it is the same with online learning, make it accessible, fun and challenging and students will want to attend and engage. Show case your enthusiasm and they will follow!”
“Take the time to try to reach out and connect with the students not just on an academic level but on a personal level. Just spending a few minutes chatting to them to let them know that there is someone who cares and has time to listen. Give pupils some ownership of tasks so they feel more inclined to engage in the lesson. “
“If working with the very young, mix it up a little to keep their attention. Praise constantly at any opportunity.”
“Split lessons into chunks, so that students have to stay for the whole lesson, and make sure you have extension tasks for fast workers. Have the chat box open in a second device so students can answer questions and you can see who is engaging. Tricks like “3,2,1 go” and “fastest finger first” work well for adding comments in ‘Chat’.”
“Use images to engage and increase curiosity. Engage, ask lots of questions, encourage use of “chat” and use of “hand up” on Teams. Get students researching and feedback to you. Use quizzes to break up activity. Reward.”