In these uncertain times, it's been great to see how schools and families have come together to support children's learning at home. The need to change how things work in a short amount of time has challenged everyone involved, but here we hear from a teacher, pupil and parent about how they have been able to make this work well for them and their class.
My name is Mairead McGinley and I live in Belfast with my partner Neil and four children. I’ll be the first to admit that waking up to the world of home schooling has been a shock to the system! Firstly I’m a total technophobe... the mere mention of 'upload' or 'attach' stresses me out. My eldest has only just got her phone and we are not overly keen on too much screen time or the kids being online, so when suddenly ALL their schooling was through devices it did send me into a bit of a tizzy.
The whole situation was surreal. I work long 12 hour shifts and coupled with the first few weeks inundated online yoga/ fitness/ dance session that I felt I should be doing along with the school work I think the whole family was stressed.
It took until after the Easter holidays for us to find “our own pace”. Now we just do what we can, and the wee ones get to do lots of play.
I have to say the see saw app & the teachers communication has taken a lot of the stress away for me, the teachers correct the homework and comment as they go along, so it feels like they are still being taught by their teachers and they can maintain some form of school work routine.
Aoibhinn being that bit older, communicates by voice message with her teacher & she really enjoys this interaction. One positive out of this it will be her ability to independently research topics which is a good preparation for her starting secondary school.
Homeschooling has been thrust upon us, but knowing we are all in the same boat & can only do our best... we are in this together (for better or worse).
My name is Aoibhinn McGinley Shiels. I’m in Mr McMahon’s P7 class in Our Lady's PS Belfast. Let's face it, the world's gone a bit mad. But for some parents and their kids, homeschooling has made it worse. For me, it was upsetting to leave school, not see my friends, not getting to do our Leavers' Play and not getting to go on our residential.
Homeschooling at first was confusing. Did I do the right section? The right spellings? Yeah, it was a lot to take on board. But after the Easter break, we were more relaxed and it started to make more sense.
We had our own pace as a family. I started to like it. Getting voice messages from Mr McMahon made me feel like I was still at school. I was encouraged to be more careful about my work as I knew he would be responding personally. We are a busy household and my two youngest siblings playing and shouting are annoying. But knowing that I didn’t have to bring a pile of books everywhere and I could just go to my room with my phone and do my work was relieving. Seesaw is a very encouraging app and it makes homeschooling a lot easier. I hope it's made it easier for others too!
I am Mr McMahon, a KS2 teacher in Our Lady’s Girls’ PS in North Belfast. During these times of isolation at home, it has been important to utilise technology and resources to support distance learning to try and ensure the pupils still have the opportunity to access quality education. It’s important to highlight that there is no one size fits all with regards learning and there are a number of considerations to be mindful of, including pupils with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities and for students who might not have access to broadband or the technology to work online. That is why prior to the lockdown, like many schools, physical school packs were created with a range of resources across the curriculum to benefit remote learning and to supplement anything done online.
For many parents and teachers alike, the prospect of distance learning during lock down was no doubt daunting. However, with an ever growing plethora of online resources and apps, digital learning doesn’t need to cause distress.
Like many other schools, we had to quickly adapt and prepare for distance learning. We were fortunate that we invested in various programmes and ICT training, making the transition somewhat easier. The software we had become acquainted with using occasionally would now become our new chalk and board!
There have been a number of online resources that our school community has found particularly useful over the past number of weeks. Not only were we seeking platforms to share work, but also sought programmes that would allow the school community to connect on a pastoral level.
Here are the top online resources that our school has embraced:
- SeeSaw - This allows our pupils to use creative tools to take pictures, draw, record videos and complete activities across the curriculum. Furthermore, families are able to see their child’s work and both them and myself can leave comments, give encouragement and provide evaluative feedback. This is consistent with a school approach in assessment for learning.
- Zoom - This is a video communication tool where, as the teacher, you can host calls with the pupils in your class. Zoom has given us an opportunity to help our class meet up with friends and continue that social and emotional interaction in a safe, caring and learning environment.
- School website & Social Media Platforms - They continue to be a pivotal and positive resource with regards giving updates, show casing pupil work and providing further work for home learning.
During time away from school the pupils are presented with a host of new and exciting learning opportunities on a daily basis. This is a chance to learn lots of new skills away from using technology and online all the time. For example, developing PE skills, spending time with family, learn how to sing or play a new song and bake a cake. It is an opportunity to embrace these learning initiatives and have fun!
It is both heart-warming and gratifying to see our community come together to help others in need. Provision of food parcels and counselling have been other ways our school have provided support within the community. Parents and guardians have been heroic in keeping the learning going during this time. These are tough times and it’s understandable the different pressures that each family faces with younger children, work commitments and dealing with self-isolation. The main focus here is really the safety, happiness and wellbeing of our children.